Thursday, October 13, 2005

It's been quite awhile since I've dipped my toes into the political realm in this blog...

... but this Miers nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court has me to the point of needing to post the following.

Issues of import: abortion (and it irritates me that so many people only mention Roe v. Wade, but never mention Doe v. Bolton), including partial-birth abortion, parental notification for minors, rights of the unborn’s father, and embryonic stem cell research (which gets to the heart of the issue re: personhood). In addition: euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, homosexual marriage, affirmative action, private property rights & imminent domain (the Kelo case), right to bear arms (2nd amendment), the so-called “separation between church and state”, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform debacle, the improper citing of international laws to supercede the Constitution. There are other issues as well.

It’s not just one issue for me…. it’s the whole slew of issues that matter to me. And I want to be assured (not with a simple “trust me” by one politician) that ANY potential SCOTUS or Federal Appeals Court nominee has a long-standing, well-reasoned and well-articulated judicial philosophy that would lead me to believe that their future decisions on these types of issues squares up with my own position on these same issues. There are opposing judicial and legal philosophies with the Federalist Society one end and the ALCU and it’s ilk on the other. How does any nominee stand up to either of these philosophies?

With individuals like Luttig, Alito, Pryor, Estrada, Garza, JRB, Owens, E. Jones, there is a track record… a written record of previous rulings and other writings from which can be gleaned a particular judicial philosophy to determine not just how someone will most likely rule on a given issue, but more importantly how that person thinks and reasons (wisdom and discernment). There is little or no written record for Miers on these crucial issues. And what little has been forthcoming so far has been conflicting at best, and in some cases very disturbing. Senate hearings will produce nothing more than parsed and well-chosen words from a nominee (any nominee) unless he/she is too stupid to know any better. No track record to peruse and examine? No need to nominate. Period. End of story. Don’t care about the nominee’s gender, or ethnicity, or educational background, or religious persuasion, nor platitudes from friends and family. Just the facts, ma’am!

Ten straight years of giving the Republicans a majority in Congress. The last five years of which with a Republican President. There is NO guarantee that between now and January 19th, 2009, any more SCOTUS members will retire or pass away. With every single opening that occurs, each and every nominee MUST (I repeat, MUST) be to the right of O’Connor and Kennedy on these crucial issues. Senate Republicans don’t want to fight for these sort of nominees? TOUGH! That’s their job. Deal with it, Mr. Spector, Mr. Graham, Mr. Hagel, Mr. Frist, et al. If they’re not willing to do their job, then what’s the point of continuing to vote them (or any other Republican) into office? I'm beholden to my conservative principles, not to the Republican Party.

I’ve supported Bush through the GWOT as well as many, many other issues. But I’ve grown very weary of his (and the Congressional Republicans', I might add) continued stubbornness on three key issues:

• Immigration/National Borders (forget the kowtowing to Mexico, and any amnesty ideas, just pass HR3938 co-sponsored by J.D. Hayworth or anything to the political right of that bill, and then sign it Mr. President),

• Federal Spending (don’t care about percentage of GDP, the national debt is over $6 trillion… I want federal spending for each of the next five years to be LESS then each previous year… with NO tax increases. Don’t know what to cut? Tough! That’s your job, Mr. Congressman. Start with the multi-million dollar pork-barrel Alaskan bridge to a tiny island with only 50 residents, and continue from there. It’s not that hard for figure out. Congress refuses and continues to spend, spend, spend? Veto the bills, Mr. President. Don’t want to do it? Tough! That’s your job.),

• And now the Miers nomination (sorry, Charlie... it's blatantly obvious that she ain't even close to being qualified to sit on the highest court in the land, so don't even try to convince me otherwise).

This link to CWFA
is one of the most cogent, detailed and reasoned expression of my concerns about Miers and the entire process of nominating and confirming justices to the federal benches.

It's definitely worth reading!

Monday, October 10, 2005

The arrival of my new "baby"...

She arrived 9/24/05 @ 4:15 PM.
She weights approx. 7 lbs.
She's 40 inches long.
She's my first-born.
She's sweet.
She's beautiful.
She's got a lovely and versatile voice.
It's going to be a challenge to tame her.
But I'm willing to take the time to get to know her.
It'll be slow-going at first.
But I think this will be the beginning of a lasting and wonderful relationship.
And, just like real babies, it's not the kid that's expensive.... it's the baby food, diapers, clothes, doctor's visits, schooling, (cables, strings, amp, instruction books & DVDs, lessons, etc.) that really start to add up real quick.


She's a Canvas brand electric guitar with a Semi-Hollow Body (CSC70).
Maplewood body and neck with a gorgeous Brown Sunburst lacquer.
Rosewood fingerboard surface with BowTie MoP position markers.
Two black Alnico5 Humbucker pickups.

I haven't named her yet (that is a requirement, yah know).
Gotta think about it, still.

But, she's mine... and ...(*sniff*)... I'm so proud!!!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Been Busy...

Sorry for the long delay, but I've been busy with stuff. Work's been crazy. Also, two guys from my church have gone through recent tragedies. One had his 37-year-old son die suddenly in his home in the Midwest, and the other just lost his son-in-law to a long battle with brain cancer. Also, my brother-in-law just went through gall bladder removal surgery late last month. And, less than two weeks ago, his own daughter (mt niece) went through the same procedure. As you can see, it's been a bit nuts lately.

I've been meaning to post a couple movie reviews, and I hope to have them up here soon. A DVD review on "Sin City" and how its strengths and weaknesses mirror "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", and a review of Bill Murray's new flick "Broken Flowers" (currently in theaters).

Tomorrow, I'm goin' guitar shoppin' with a fellow colleague from work. I've been around music for much of my life (stage manager, lighting operator, promotion, etc.), and I was an active lyricist/songwriter for a long period of time. I briefly took piano lessons a couple times, but never really thoroughly learned how to play an instrument. If I don't do it now, I never will.

So I'm looking for a low-end electric guitar (probably a Squier or an Epiphone), and a TASCAM CD-Trainer device. It's a combined belated-Birthday-gift / early-Christmas-gift to myself. Nothing fancy. No visions of Johnny Rockstar in my eyes. Just something for me to pluck at to my heart's content, and also to get back into non-collaborative songwriting again.

'Til next time...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The date was September 6th, 1994...

It was 11 years ago yesterday that I arrived in California, effectively making this state my new home. I was born and raised in the western section of Philadelphia, with family and friends scattered throughout that whole region. But the Golden State enticed me (especially after vacationing out here in ’89 and ’93). So, I boxed up a ton of my stuff and shipped it all ahead of me via UPS. The remains of my belongings I jammed into my car. And with my itinerary in hand, off I went on a one-week journey across the country.

I spent the first full day just getting mileage under my tires until I finally arrived at the western edge of Indiana. From that point forward, I followed parts of the old Route 66 for a lot of sightseeing. The first place I felt compelled to visit was the tomb & monument of President Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL. From there I drove down Illinois, across the Mississippi River, and under the famous Arch of St. Louis. I then spent some time at the Meramec Caverns in Missouri (the one time hideout of Jesse James and his gang), with its labyrinthine underground passageways filled with massive, intricate stalactites and stalagmites formations.

From there was a serene drive through the Ozarks until I reached the tiniest sliver of a forgotten piece of Route 66 that sliced across the southeastern corner of Kansas. Oklahoma, with it’s endless rolling hills and naturally greenery was a soothing stretch before I finally reached the Texas Panhandle.

As Tom Snyder writes in his handy Route 66 Traveler’s Guide and Roadside Companion, “Without a river or some continental rift, border crossings between states usually pass without notice. But not here. Almost immediately after entering Texas, the land changes. It’s almost as if someone looked carefully at this place and decided, without regard for political interests, that the state line just naturally belonged right here.”

Flatter. Drier. Much less green and a lot more beige and brown. Countless crevices and crags and miniature canyons litter the entire stretch of the upper panhandle of Texas. I can’t fathom how anyone with nothing but rickety covered wagons ever managed to cross this unforgiving landscape. I spent a day near Amarillo, hiking through Palo Duro Canyon and the Lighthouse Trail.

The following day lead me into New Mexico, a pastel portrait of the American southwest. Although it was raining when I finally reached Albuquerque and Santa Fe (incredibly wicked thunderstorms, I might add), this region of the U.S. is so naturally gorgeous. I took time to visit the Acoma Pueblo, the naturally formed Ice Cave and lava flow at the base of Bandera volcano crater, and a post-sunset drive across a ghostly stretch of Route 66 to Canyon Diablo.

I rolled into Arizona like the numerous tumbleweeds that blew across the highways. Spent some time at the infamous Meteor Crater (about a mile in diameter!), drove past an amazing field of marigolds near Winona, and then went up towards Little Colorado (a scenic overlook on the way towards the Grand Canyon). I remember meeting a young boy who was a member of the Navajo Nation. His name was Anthony and he was originally from east L.A. He currently was spending time with family on the reservations, learning his craft with the hope that one day he could move to Denver and become a master silversmith.

A number of Navajo were selling their wares there, and Anthony was a heck of a salesman for a young teen. I bought one of his handmade silver bracelets, with chips of turquoise and blood red coral arranged in the “Steps of Life” design. I wished him well on his own journey. He shook my hand, and with a broad smile said goodbye.

The Grand Canyon! I cannot properly describe it to you. I don’t think it’s possible to do so. The sheer vastness of the region just makes you dumbstruck. It’s God’s playground. With a chisel in one hand and a paint brush in the other, He must’ve had a blast creating this place. I only had the chance to spend the major portion of a day along the south rim, and each turn and vista you come to amazes you, thrills you, beckons you, infuses you, inspires you, calms you, quiets you. It’s one place I would definitely want to return to for an extended stay.

I headed back towards Route 66 and its parallel I-40, and tried to out-race several fierce thunderstorms as they traced their way across the north. Dense clouds of charcoal. Wide funnels of water like streaking quicksilver etching the sky and drenching the parched landscape. Lightning sparking so frequently it was a natural fireworks display traveling east while I continued west towards the California border.

My final day was a long drive through Needles, Barstow, and the Mojave Desert in the heavy summer heat. Through San Bernardino, then across the notoriously perpetual Los Angeles traffic jams. Hopped on the last portion of Sunset Boulevard toward the coast, then up the PCH with the Pacific Ocean glistening in the mid-day sun.

At 3:30 PM I arrived, finally, in my new home town. I asked a stranger to take a photo of me at the beach to mark the occasion. I’m here, I thought. I don’t know what’s ahead, but I’m here. And I’m happy. And those seven days solo across the country was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

Eleven years later. Reasons have changed. But I’ve remained. I’ve fully become a Californian, despite it’s sometimes infuriating faults. Yesterday, I had to mark the occasion with, of all things, jury duty (ugh!). I lucked out. I wasn’t picked for a trial, so I’m good for another 12 months before they can pull my name again.

And tomorrow??? Tomorrow I turn… 42 (yikes).

Monday, September 05, 2005

Reminiscing With Glenn

So, getting back to the day I was briefly in Disneyland meeting up with an old friend of mine who was in town on business. The last time I saw Glenn was back in the spring when I was visiting family back east for Easter. At that time I had met up with him and my good friend Paul (he and his twin brother, Phil, were the founding members of the first band I worked for) at the famous Pica’s Restaurant in Upper Darby (affectionately known to the regulars as “Frank’s” - one great Italian restaurant!).

So, there we were. Two guys in their 40s in Disneyland. Granted, we were in the non-amusement-park area, kinda like a large outdoor mall. But there we were. Very odd. Anyways, we just walked around before dinner and caught up on things. Reminiscing about old times. I first met up with all my old buddies when I was in college, back in the 80s. 1983 to be exact.

I remember sitting in the front row of my Western Civ II class in early January – the first day of the winter semester – when this inquisitive guy named Phil sits down beside me and asks “What’s that?” (pointing to a notebook on my desk with some of my poems and lyrics handwritten in it). Turned out that he was putting together a band and he could use a songwriting collaborator. We’ve been best friends ever since.

My finding out that he had an identical twin brother (who was also in the band, and who also attended the same college) was very surreal. Later that semester, I’m walking across campus when I see who I thought was Phil walking in the opposite direction, heading toward the Connelly Center. I yell out his name and wave. He waves back with this strange look on his face, and keeps right on walking right into the building.

“Now that was odd,” I thought.

Phil wasn’t in class that day, so I waiting until the following Monday to approach him about the incident. Come Monday, I see Phil in class and give him hell for how he acted on Friday. Phil tells me he was home sick on Friday.

I said, “Well, that’s bullshit. I saw you on campus just before class.”

Then, in typical Phil fashion, he says, “Oh! That was probably my twin brother Paul.”

“Yeah, right! You just happen to have a twin brother who also goes to Villanova?” I snarked.

“I didn’t tell you I have a twin brother before?” he said obliviously.

“Uhhh, NO!” I exclaimed, realizing he was serious (and Phil is rarely serious. It’s not in his nature). “Well, that explains why your brother gave me that ‘who the f*ck are you?’ look when I waved at him the other day.”

“Yeah, he’s in the band,” he says with a chuckle.

“He’s in the band??? Phil! I’ve known you for two months, and only now I’m finding out that you---?”


We spent a good number of years together with the band, which started off as a cover band, but slowly changed to half cover tunes and half original music. I did some songwriting with the brothers (some good, some not so good, and a few that were really, really good), as well as promotion, stage managing, occasional stage lighting. The band went through countless band members: at least six different guitarists, four drummers, two saxophonists, and God knows how many lead and backing vocalists. Paul and Phil were on keys and bass, respectively.

The very first gig they performed (under the second of many permutations of the band) was a dance for incoming freshman at Cabrini College (a small, all-girls Catholic college at the time). Glenn was doing the sound with third rate equipment. He had two large fans going full blast trying to keep his equipment from frying out. I was handling a makeshift lighting panel which was nailed into a bunch of 2x4s.

The place was packed. Everyone was dancin’. Angelo was too afraid of making a mistake, so he’d turned his amp down and just pretended to play guitar through half the songs. The lead singer was reading song lyrics written on the palm of his hand while on stage. And the circuit breakers kept on tripping. It was my task to wad my way through the dance floor and flip the breakers back on within four beats. I had to do this at least a dozen times throughout the night. I got quite good at it, while Dan kept the drum beat going and the crowd sang accapella until the power came back on in perfect 4/4 time.

The following Monday while on campus all the guys christened me with my new nickname (“Madman”) for running around like crazy at the gig three nights earlier. Try as I might, I could never shake that nickname. But only a select few are allowed to call me that nowadays. Six years with that band. And another three or four with another band after that. Countless gigs at local joints in southeaster PA, south Jersey and northern Delaware.

We kicked ass at places like the Rusty Nail in Ardmore, PA, the Stone Balloon in Newark, DE, La Costa in Sea Isle City, NJ, and Margarita’s in West Chester, PA (our old lighting equipment is still there). Of course, there was also the countless nightclubbing, too. From the old Pulsations in Glen Mills, PA, to the Oasis in Wildwood, NJ, to Scandal’s and Samantha’s in Ocean City, Maryland. Summer rentals in Avalon, NJ and OC, MD. And more alcohol than I’m afraid to remember even if I could.

Our years in our 20s were a magical time. Yet, after awhile, that lifestyle starts to get really old. By the time I turned 30 I was pretty much done with the whole scene. While various friends started tying the knot, and others continued to cling to their fading youth, I turned a leaf of my own and headed west. And that happened exactly 11 years ago tomorrow. But that’s for another blog post.

Glenn and I started off reminiscing about the old times and the gigs, the night clubbing, the summers down the shore. And then we started talking about politics, and businesses, and families. Comparing aches and pains, medications, grey hairs and expanding waistlines. My, my how times have changed.

In two days I turn 42. Forty-two! SH*T! There are times I feel younger than that, and there are times when I feel older than that. And there are days when I feel exactly that age. Time has flown and the past has receded like Phil’s hairline (heh-heh).

Twenty years ago I graduated from Villanova and spent most of that summer with sand between my toes, embroiled in the “Great Plastic Pink Flamingo Raid of 1985” (complete with loaded water pistols and numerous pints of beer). I also spent two and a half weeks as an alternate juror on a murder trial (true story). Oddly enough, tomorrow I’m stuck with jury duty again (ugh!). Hopefully I won’t get picked for another trial.

Maybe I should stick a plastic pink flamingo on my balcony for old time’s sake. Instead of a beer, I’ll salute it with a glass of red wine.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

ARRRGH!!!!.... just got a rent increase notice!

Frell!!! I know my rent rate is relatively low, and I've been bracing for this notice for the last six months. The increase goes into effect December 1st. Just before Christmas. Very classy of the landlord, huh? An 8+% increase, too. It sucks, especially given that I've have some major problems in the apt for quite a long time. And the new manager has been aware of those issues for a full year (when she first came on board). I stapled to my rent check a nice, long 2-page letter detailing my lack of patience in getting these issues resolved to. I dropped it into the front office's mail slot earlier this evening.

*sigh* I'm pissed... more so about the lack of prompt repairs than about the rent increase. (grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.....)

Chapter 16: A Day at Bergamot & 3rd Street

So, what happened to Chapters 14 & 15? Don’t worry. They’re soon to come. This chapter ended up getting written first. Enjoy.

Yesterday I headed down to L.A. to visit some art galleries and museums. The weather was gorgeous, so I decided to drive down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). It’s always worth the view, even in poor weather. And there was minimal traffic (always a plus). I reached Santa Monica by 12:30, and decided to visit Bergamot Station (a former train station that’s been converted into some 40 galleries and museums). Tucked away in the east end of town, the buildings are erected in cinder block, dry wall, and corrugated metal (giving the place a somewhat industrial ambience).

Late August is not the best time to go (it’s usually very hot), and several galleries were closed - either due to vacations or due to new artworks being installed for September. But many of the galleries were still open, and it had been several years since I had last been there.

When you go to art galleries (especially those in big cities) you know that you’re going to come across the usual installations of what some people call “art”. You know what I mean. The hard left political statements. Or the brashly thrown together pieces that your basic 5-year-old can muster on a rainy day. It’s inevitable. Basically, what it is is an artist either trying too hard (not stepping back from his raw emotions) or not trying hard enough (unskilled or unschooled).

Some of the first galleries I visited contained just that. One was a large pile of consumer products painted gold. Another was a series of large paintings (clinical, but well done) that were an obvious spoof on those BATF television commercials. (It’s funny… these guys trash mouth capitalism, yet they have absolutely no problem selling their pieces for 4- or 5-figures.) Then, there was the exhibit against capital punishment: a series of paintings and accompanying commentaries depicting various moments of real executions.

Some of the paintings were quite good and riveting. And my own stance on this issue has softened a bit in recent years. But I just couldn’t help but think of the number of executions that have occurred in this country over the last 30 years (less than a thousand, I think). All of whom were found guilty in a court of law of heinous crimes. And I then juxtaposed that number to the over 45 million innocent unborn who’ve been slaughtered in the name of “choice” over the same period of time. I couldn’t help myself. As I was about to walk out of the exhibit I turned to the guy behind the counter by the front door and stated, “It’s a shame you don’t see exhibits like this on the topic of abortion.” And I walked out the door.

But, I was pleasantly surprised that there were quite a few galleries showing a good number of quite interesting (and even at times quite riveting) pieces of art. Even abstract “modern” art. One was an exhibit of abstract polymer wall hanging sculptures by Ron Reihel (link) who used various phosphorescent chemicals in his artwork so that the colored imagery drastically changed when the lights were turned off. They were also time delayed and changed colors over time, so that by becoming interactive with the art you could “paint” a landscape with a lamp and then watch as the minimalist scenery turned from noon to dusk to night.

Another artist by the name of Jen Pack (link) displayed her abstract pieces made from fine silks, transforming them into feathery frames, finely threaded waterfalls, drips of paint, and layered landscapes.

Another huge abstract painting (nine foot wide and 4 foot high) by Andy Moses, (a similar piece is here), entitled "The Magic Land", was a simple yet striking blend of horizontal streaks of various hues of lavender, peach, azure, magenta, cream… pale, and fluid, and with a thick satiny sheen.

Then there were the more complex pieces from artists who’ve challenged themselves and fine-tuned their skills. A pastel piece called “Aparicion II” by Adan Hernandez whose series was a mixture of neo-expressionism and Chicano noir (link). Perfect film noir mood complete with a foreground figure sporting an overcoat and fedora, with a neon motel sign in the background, rain streaking in the jet-black night.

Two artists exhibited at one gallery in particular gave me hope that artists are finally beginning to take their craft seriously. Javier Gil (from Uruguay) (link) displayed a series of pastels on handmade Japanese paper. “Movement of Empire Series” were surreal, urban landscapes of Manhattan - buildings sweltering in heat at sharp angles.

On the opposite wall of the gallery was an absolutely masterful series of oil paintings by Jeff Weekly (from NY & LA) - unfortunately, I can't seem to find a web link of his work. They were stills and portraitures in a clear noir style. Moody, dreamy, haunting, and somewhat sepia-toned with a touch of the surreal. Painting the human face, especially realistically in oils, is the most demanding and also the most unforgiving. Weekly’s paintings of a young girl were incredibly lifelike and engaging. Definitely museum worthy!

After spending several hours walking from gallery to gallery, I stopped by the café for a very late lunch – sitting outside enjoying a turkey sandwich with a glass of freshly made tart lemonade. The sky azure, the breeze cool, the sun screened through the table umbrella. A family eating at a table behind me, their little boy happily playing in the dirt with his miniature plastic dinosaurs.

It was 4:30 when I left, and too late to head over to the LACMA on Wilshire. So I decided to head back west and do some window shopping and people watching on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. A bustling three city blocks closed off to automobiles - foot traffic only. Restaurants and clothiers, cafes and bookshops, movie theaters and knickknack shops. With a cacophony of cultures ambling about. And the inevitable slew of street performers, hucksters and narcissists display themselves like human works of art.

By 7 o’clock it was time to head back home. A nice, relaxing drive back up the PCH. The brilliant sun ahead, inching it’s way toward the horizon. A blazingly orange disc dunking itself into the slate blue ocean.

A day well spent.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Chapter 13 Miles of Hell

When I moved from Philadelphia to Southern California 11 years ago, one of the many reasons why I chose not to move within the Los Angeles city limits is because of the friggin' traffic. I like driving. I hate traffic. Saturday afternoon, I'm driving down the 101 and the 5 freeways to get to Anaheim to meet up with my friend, Glenn, who was in town on business for a few days. Clear sailing, for the most part, until I got to the downtown area of L.A. on the 5. It took me almost an hour to drive a 13 mile stretch of highway.

This isn't Monday morning drive time, nor is it Friday evening rush hour. I'm talking about a Saturday afternoon. While stuck on the highway (with my bladder about to burst), I'm flippin' through radio station after radio station, trying to get a traffic report. After 20 minutes of near fruitless searching, I finally get a traffic report on KNX... and... nothing! Not one word about any problems on the 5. Which means one of two things: either something just happened down the road and there's no report yet (not likely), or I'm just stuck in something that's considered normal for the 5 at this time of day on a Saturday afternoon. Great! Just great!

Now, I know that the main reason for this frustrating madness is because of the antiquated highway system in that part of L.A. We're talking about the 5 freeway which (up to that point) is a breezy 10 (and even sometimes 12) lane highway suddenly narrowed down to six lanes and, in many spots, even down to a paltry four lanes (two in each direction). Ancient and unfathomably thick concrete overpass monstrosities prevent any remote possibility of expanding the freeway to a more reasonable number of lanes through this section of town. It just ain't happening. But once I got past Fullerton it's back to a more sanely 10 lanes, and I'm finally about to reach Anaheim by 5:00 PM. My bladder is thankful.

So I meet up with Glenn at the Disneyland Hotel. Yes... Disneyland. Never been there before. Never really had an inkling for it. It's not that I harbor any dislike of things Disney... not at all... it's just... well... it's hard to explain. My sisters, on the other hand, are total Disney freakazoids. Well, anyway... since I was only going to be there for a few hours, it didn't make sense to cough up a ton of cash to ride a bunch of rides. Instead, Glenn and I walked through what is basically a very large open-air mall. We also ate a fine dinner at the Napa Rose restaurant (excellent grilled salmon). We had reservations, so we were sitting in the foyer waiting for our table to be ready.

And then it happened. Something that happens every second of every day in Disneyland and Disneyworld. A pleasant young staff woman walks up to us and, as though a little switch was flipped deep inside her brain, her facial expression changed into this forced smile, flashing her pearly whites, from which emanated that sing-songy voice asking us if we're enjoying our visit?... would you like to order a drink while you're waiting for your table?... no?... well okay then... bye-bye... and off she went to the next party waiting to be seated.

Her movements even became mechanical in the process. Extending her arm out in a stiff jousting motion with the drinks menu in hand, and the sharp retraction of her arm when we decline to order a drink. The proper erect stance, the cocked head with the gracious "Thank you", the swift and flawless turn on her heels as she walks away (a kind of pirouette which would make the average ballet dancer blush with envy).

I guess that's what bugs me about the whole Disney experience. That whole forced pleasantries thing. It must be drilled into the staff so hard from the get-go that all genuineness is lost from the ear-to-ear grin and the batting eye lashes. I don't know about you, but give me Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck any day of the week over Mickey & Donald.

I know it sounds like I'm being harsh. I'm really not. It's just not my cup of tea, I guess. Maybe if I was in a better mood after having been stuck in traffic for an hour to get there. Oh well. Maybe next time I'll like it... a decade from now... with a couple kids in tow, begging me to ride the Flying Dumbos just one more time.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Comments are now open for everybody!

FYI: I've opened the "Comments" field for everybody (including those who do not have their own Blogger account... didn't know I could do that until just now... duh!).

Note: I will delete comments that are obvious spam or contain profane material.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Chapter 12 O’Clock Phone Call

Well… it looks like I won’t be going to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this coming Saturday (postponing that until the 27th). Yesterday, at noon, I got a call from one of my old friends, Glenn. Glenn is a piece of work. How to describe Glenn… hmmmmm… this could be difficult... okay… I think I’ve got it… do you remember the character of Rick on the old TV show “Magnum P.I.”? That’s Glenn!

Glenn can be intense. Glenn can also be hilariously sarcastic. Glenn’s favorite band is Genesis, and Phil Collins can do no wrong (and don’t you forget about it!). Glenn is an enigma. Glenn was also the soundman for the bands I used to work with back in the 80s and early 90s. We also had another soundman by the name of Tom. Glenn was not happy about this.

Now, it begs to be stated - no, infallibly proclaimed - that there exist only two types of soundmen in the music industry: (1) short, dumpy, cheesy mustache, intense personality, and highly particular about their equipment (in more ways than one), or (2) tall, lanky, frizzy or stringy hair, and extremely aloof (as though they have one foot in some other alternate reality, whether naturally or chemically induced). Glenn (by the way) fits into Category 1. Tom was in Category 2.

I dare you to disprove this theory. It cannot be done. I’ve tried and failed. So have many others. Every touring musician I’ve ever mentioned this observation to has nodded their head in discouraging agreement. Walk into any bar or club that has live music, especially rock bands. Look for the soundman. It never fails. It’s one of those mysteries of the universe that can never be fully explained.

Glenn has mellowed over the years. He’s also no longer a soundman (though he still has all of his equipment, just in case). He’s flying into Anaheim for a conference and figured, since he was in the area, why don’t we get together and catch up on things, reminisce about old times (oh, stories from the good ole days… heh-heh-heh). So, this Saturday I’ll be driving down to Anaheim. Glenn, I should also mention, also has a thing for all things Disney (it’s an odd image combo that I still can’t quite reconcile in my brain), so I have this funny feeling I may be making my first visit to Disneyland that day as well.

Way back in 1984, a whole bunch of us college friends, musicians, and neighborhood buddies pooled our money together and rented a house down the Jersey shore for the summer. Most of the stories from that summer will never ever be told to anyone outside of those who experienced them firsthand (even if names were changed to protect the guilty). Labor Day weekend was the big summer-ending block party/beer bash. We went through over a dozen full sized kegs before nightfall. The party was so successful that the cops going off-shift would stop by in their civvies once they went off-duty to join in on the festivities.

That was also the weekend that we hung a life-sized image of Glenn in effigy, complete with his Resorts Casino shirt, an empty pizza box, and a strategically placed hotdog. It was all in good fun, but he deserved it. (Heck, when any of us guys got our chops busted we pretty much deserved it as well.) My good friend Paul and I also knew that Glenn’s old girlfriend was going to be coming to the party, so we being good songwriters (but definitely not good singers) decided to re-write one of Glenn’s favorite song by Phil Collins (“Theme from Against All Odds”), complete with lyrics referring to Glenn’s pizza delivery service, and some good times with his old girlfriend in his Chevy Vega.

The gig is going well. Everyone is well lubed and feelin’ fine. Glenn’s there... and, oh… who’s that there?... is that?... could that be?... Holly?... Glenn’s old ex-flame?... well whaddayahknow! Out comes the cassette tape from my back pocket. Plopped it into the sound system, and...

The look on Glenn’s face was priceless! Most of the people in the street were completely clueless, wondering why the great music suddenly changed to two guys singing way off key about pizza slices and something about “the backseat of (my) Vega’s not the same anymore”. The guys in the house, though, knew exactly what was going on. Glenn turned a shade of red I didn’t think was possible in nature. He also promptly corrected us that it was the front seat of his Vega, not the back. Holly, though, had a sheepish grin on her face and took it all in good fun.

Yes… it was a very good block party. And we were only on our fifth keg at the time! Everything else that ever happened in that fateful house that summer will remain hermetically sealed in the fried brains of the participants. It’s surprising that any of us can even recollect any of the events anyway.

So, Saturday I’ll be meeting up with Glenn. Should be very interesting.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Chapter 11: Synchromy – Color as Music

One of my favorite artworks is a 1919 painting by Stanton MacDonald Wright:

(link here)

SMW was way ahead of his time, and never quite got the notoriety he deserved for breaking new ground in the arts.

Having lived in California for most of his life, before his passing in 1973, he was strongly influenced by the early Cubism movement as well as Asian art. SMW (along with Morgan Russell) developed a new color theory in the early 1900s, believing that color had sound equivalents… and that if they painted in color scales as music is composed in scales, their paintings would evoke musical sensations. They called this new movement “synchromism” or “synchromy”.

Just as music is composed of particular notes (A through G, with sharps and flats), certain chord combinations, and key signatures (major and minor) - each of which can evoke a different mood - SMW had arranging the full color spectrum as “notes” on a palette. And by using different color combinations into various “color chords” and “color key signatures” he would then paint with a certain palette of colors to evoke or enhance a particular mood he was trying to convey. The results are paintings rich in complex color harmonies and lyrical melodies.

The painting in question (titled “Synchromy in Purple”) is on permanent display at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on Wilshire Boulevard. In the summer of 2001, I was lucky enough to seen a full exhibit of well over 60 of his paintings which were on display as part of a traveling exhibit that also went to North Carolina. His theory is fascinating. And whenever I visit the LACMA I always try to find that painting and spend some time just contemplating it… absorbing it’s mood… listening to it’s harmonies.

It’s been at least two years since I was last at the LACMA, and I think I need to go back down there again sometime later this month. The popular King Tut exhibit is going on right now, and it’s going to be a madhouse (especially on the weekends). So, rather than waiting for hours in line to be briefly herded through that exhibit, I think I’ll check out the rest of what the museum has to offer… and take another long look at this favorite painting of mine.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chapter X: Make A Wish Upon A Shooting Star Tonight!

Short and sweet!

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower returns with it's best viewability late tonight and tomorrow night (Thursday & Friday, Aug 11/12). For those of you on the west coast (Pacific Daylight Time), the best time to catch a glimpse (if the sky is clear and dark... meaning, away from city lights) is after Midnight. Thursday night at around 1:00-1:30 AM will have a nice cluster. Dress warm... look straight up and slightly north & east... scan the sky with your eyes... and wait... be patient. You just may see the occasional shooting star streak across the sky.

Make a wish!

Dare to dream!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Chapter 9 Lives Ain’t Just For Felines

No, I’m not talkin’ about reincarnation. This is a one-&-done kind of existence in this universe. We do our best to try and do the right things in this life. Sometimes we’re successful… other times we make mistakes... we occasionally fall down... we get back up... and we move forward with a valuable learning experience tucked in our back pocket.

Sometimes we look back on our lives along the way. We contemplate choices we made. What if I went to this college instead of that university? What if I married (or didn’t marry) my childhood sweetheart? What if I made that career choice instead of this one? But these types of reflections don’t do you much good. The past is past. You can’t make any changes to what’s already happened. Yes, you can learn from your mistakes, gain wisdom from the aftereffects of decisions you’ve made along the way. But, these “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” aren’t gonna get you where you need to go in life.

Now, when we look forward to the future… that’s where the potential lies. That’s where a myriad of choices take us down a multitude of directions. Possibilities are endless. We take stock of who we are and where we are, and we begin to formulate the various roadmaps of the rest of your life... you take in as much knowledge and information and advice as possible, and then ultimately choose the one map that’s right for you. And, it’s no guarantee that things will turn out perfectly or exactly as you hope or plan (they rarely do). But it’s the road you choose, and it’s the path you’re on.

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we catch a glimmer - a tiny sliver of our potential future – which can be experienced almost as powerfully as any real life event. It happened to me a few months ago, when I least expected it. About three years prior, I lost my mom after a long illness. Being with my Dad and my siblings as we tended to her during the last weeks of her life was itself a profound and unforgettable experience. It was not only painful to witness, both mentally taxing and emotionally wringing… it was also spiritually powerful and moving. It’s something that will stay with each of us until our own last breaths.

Now, my mom is buried on the east coast. So I don’t get that much opportunity to not only visit family and friends, I also don’t get many opportunities to visit her grave site. So I made a decision that whenever Mother’s Day rolls along, if I’m not back in Philly at the time, I’ll instead visit a local cemetery wherever I was at. I buy a bouquet of flowers, and I begin to walk through a section of the cemetery, looking for any grave stone or marker which has the word “Mother” or “Mom” written on it. And if there aren’t any flowers there, I take one from my bouquet and I leave it there. And I continue doing this until I eventually run out of flowers. Then I say a prayer, walk to my car, and drive away.

This past Mother’s Day, I followed my self-imposed routine. I got back in my car, turned over the engine, and just sat there in silence… staring out in space, with the sun flickering through the trees. And suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I was witnessing myself doing this ritual some ten years into the future… walking through some unknown cemetery, placing a flower here and there. And then this little girl comes up to me and asks me, “Can I do this, too, Daddy?”

“Sure,” I say to her as I hand her one of the flowers.

And she takes the flower, and begins to walk around looking at various markers. Suddenly she stops. And she just stares at one marker, deep in thought… as though she were trying to make an important decision.

I walk up to her and ask her what the matter is.

“It doesn’t say ‘Mom’ or ‘Mother’ on this gravestone. And I was thinking… maybe she was a mom, but it’s just not written on the stone. Or, maybe she didn’t have children of her own, but she was like a second mom to everyone else’s kids… like your Aunt Carmela that you always tell me about,” she says.

And I say, “If you want to leave a flower here for this woman, you can do it. It’s okay.”

And she gives this expression on her face that she’s made up her mind. And she bends down to place the flower on the grave site. She blesses herself. And I do, too. And we continue to walk past the row of gravestones.

And then, suddenly… there I was, back in my car… in the present… the engine still running… the sun still shining through the trees… and moisture welling up in my eyes… blurring a glimmer of some distant possible future. And I wonder how the rest of my life will turn out. Will I remain single, like a number of my uncles had been? Will I one day marry, but soon after become widowed without ever having children of my own (like my Aunt Carmela)? Or will I be blessed to find that soul mate (something we all search for, whether consciously nor not), and one day… ten years from now… be walking hand-in-hand with my daughter. I don’t know. I don’t know what God has in store for me. Yet I try to make peace with whatever He has planned me.

And I have no idea why I just told this personal story to a bunch of strangers in cyberspace. I just had to, I guess.

I’m reminded of something one of my brothers once told me. He said that every time he hires a new employee he always tells them the same story, and he always asks them the same question.

“Have you ever heard the story of the three frogs?” he’d ask the newbie.

“Uhhh… no,” they say with an inquisitive look on their face.

“There are three frogs sitting on a log on a pond. One frog decides to jump in the pond. How many frogs are now on the log?” he inquires of the employee.

“Ummm… two!” they will always respond.

“No,” my brother would correct. “There are three frogs on the log. Just because you decide to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you actually did it.”

The moral of the story: at some point, you have to take action.

I think I need to go skinny dipping in a pond! (HAH!)

Next up… Chapter 10.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Chapter 8mm Silent Film Projection

When I was a kid (long before there was such a thing as camcorders, VCRs and DVDs) I remember my Dad would whip out his handheld 8mm-film silent movie camera whenever there was a special occasion ripe for the family archives - birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations, whatever. Usually, he’d have to attach what I called the “landing strip” of spotlights on top of the camera in order to blind everybody - I mean, in order to illuminate the scenery. Snapshots being liberally taken as well, we were a camera crazy family - documenting everything.

After the movie film was developed, Dad would load it into the clanking film projector. Then he’d set up the portable movie screen (about five feet square, which you would set up like a tripod, and then pull up the screen like an upside down window shade). Mom, my older brothers and sisters, and I would set up the dining room chairs like a row of theater seats. Off went the lights, on went the projector, and there in our living room on our mini silver screen flickered a replay of our lives. Birthday candles being blown out... Christmas gifts being ripped open... processions being passed by... various delectable desserts being consumed. Smiles and laughter and tears and surprises... and conversations. Lots and lots of conversations conflicting in a chaotic cacophony. But all occurring in silence.

Sometimes, while watching our lives pass before our eyes, we’d try to recreate the conversations from that recorded event. Re-singing the “Happy Birthday” part was easy. But the other conversations were lost in memory, so we’d make up the things the people on the screen were saying… putting different words in people’s mouths… projecting imaginary thoughts onto the screen just like the moving images from the roll of film. It was all in good fun. And it was a long time ago.

How often do we, in our daily lives project our inner thoughts - imaginary conversations, or false assumptions – onto others in our daily lives?

Case in point: The other day I was driving to work, minding my own business. I’m driving along the highway, up a long, steep hill. My windshield was dirty. Smart thing to do when your windshield is dirty? Turn on the wipers and spray some windshield cleaning fluid. Ahhhh... now I can see.

Next thing I know, this guy in a silver sports car zooms pass me on my right, then cuts in front of me. No big deal. This is typical fare on California highways. He then beings to clean his own windshield. I happen to get some of his cleaning fluid on my windshield. Great! (I think) I can continue cleaning my own windshield with his own fluid. But this guy continues to spray his windshield fluid… for a long time… and looooooong time. Then the passenger of the vehicle rolls down his window, sticks his arm out, and flips me the bird.

What the f***?

So, here’s this guy who happened to be behind me when I was innocently cleaning my windshield. He apparently got pissed off because he thought that I was purposely spraying his car in the process. He then goes out of his way to speed past me, and proceeds to “return the favor”. And then he promptly has his colleague request in that all-to-familiar hand gesture that I attempt to have sexual intercourse with myself (something I don’t think is anatomically possible). Talk about getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Talk about... projection.

And we all do this, in some form or fashion. We make assumptions. I can hear my high school physics teacher now: “Never assume! Because when you ‘assume’ you make an ASS out of U and ME.” (Ugh... the things that your remember from your school days.)

Someone does or says something. We get bent all out of shape. We go home. We toss and turn in bed replaying the event over and over again. We construct and deconstruct and reconstruct conversations, arguments to rectify the situation. We get up the next day. We meet up with the offender to set him straight... and... we find out it was all an innocent misunderstanding. You were so far off base on your assumptions.

Or we make an assumption about someone’s personality without really knowing the person. Another case in point: A couple weeks ago I happened across a neighbor of a friend of mine. I’d met her casually a few times in the past. Seemed like a nice enough person. Somewhat attractive. Successful career. Appeared intelligent. She was sitting in her car outside a Laundromat, reading a book while her laundry was in the dryer. I say hello. I ask what she’s reading. She proceeds to tell me about all these crazy conspiracy theories about the current political administration. Apparently, this book paints Bush, Cheney, Rove, etc… as the devil’s spawn. She believes this stuff. I mean literally believes this stuff.

Okay. Bad enough she drinks what I call the “Michael Moore Kool-Aid.” She then apologies for her stuffed up sinuses because her allergies have kicked into overdrive, and she doesn’t want to take any allergy medication because she’s pregnant and she doesn’t want to harm her baby in any way. Seemed smart, right? The very next sentence out of her mouth was how “awesome” her most recent batch of “special brownies” was. She made “special cookies” too.

Did I tell you that she’s an RN?... a Registered Nurse?... I mean...

WHAT THE F***???

I made the wrong assumption about this woman. The guy in the sports car made the wrong assumption about me. All without any of us ever really knowing each other. We projected what we thought onto the screen of our lives, rather than first allowing ourselves to really get to know each other.

In looking back over the previous posts in this blog, I think it’s safe to say that that woman I sent several messages to probably made a number of assumptions about me without ever really wanting to get to know me. And I (I’m sure) made a number of assumptions about her from what little information I could glean from the small amount of text on her page and her few pictures.

And you (whoever you are), who at this very moment is reading this blog, have made various assumptions about me through the course of chewing through these posts. Some of it may be accurate. But some of it may not be. We’d all be wise to remember the words of my high school physics teacher.

Where am I going with all of this? I have no idea. A seed of an idea was in the back of my brain. I let it grow a bit. It bore some fruit. Then I served it on the page. Just some food for thought, I guess.

Next up... Chapter 9 Lives Ain’t Just For Felines

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Silent Treatment In 7 Easy Steps (Step 1: The Simple Hello)

I remember when my friends and I were in our 20s and we were active in the weekend ritual know as the “meet market” (or as I would call it, the “meat market”) – scouring some bar or night club of choice for the evening. The guys would be in desperate straits trying to figure out the next way – the best way – to come up with an opening line to meet & greet a woman. For the most part, I just stayed in the background and observe from afar as each friend would – one by one – get shot down like soldiers in a bloody battlefield. It was quite entertaining to watch, really.

I hated the meat market scene. Always did, even though I attended that ritual on a fairly regular basis. But, it was mainly for two reasons: either (a) I was working with one of the bands doing lighting or stage managing, or (b) I was hanging out with some great friends. But to just go out for the sole purpose of trying to “hook up” was so absurd to me. All that anxiety compressed into smoke-filled rooms loaded with phony pretenses, mixed with bad cologne/perfume, and outrageously expensive glasses of some libation of choice. Poor lighting along with dulled senses due to the consumption of some form or legal (or illegal) substance added to the surreal atmosphere.

I was a designated drivers before there was the term “designated driver” – not so much to not let my friends drive drunk (although that was certainly a factor), but more so because I and quite a few other guys were sick and tired of having to wait until well after closing time to get back home because one guy (usually one of my best friends, Phil) had this bad habit of thinking that he could finally hook up or at least get a phone number from the dregs that remained in the club at 2:30 in the morning. It was not a pretty sight (poor Phil). What was even more sad was the sight of Phil, some time afterwards, shuffling down some dark street with his socks barely on his feet, his shoes in hand, thinking that he’s whispering (when in fact he wasn’t) some old girlfriend’s name, trying to find her house at 3 o’clock in the morning, looking for what would today be termed a “booty call”. Sad… very sad. Hilarious, too, because he was rarely successful.

I remember back in the 80s, there was some study done which asked women what was the best or most successful “pickup line” for them to hear from a guy. The question was absurd in and of itself, but the answer the women gave was even more priceless. The consensus answer was………… (drum roll please)………… “Hello.”

At the risk of sounding snarky in my response to this answer, I said to myself: “No sh*t, Sherlock!” It’s what the guy needs to say AFTER he says “hello” that we’re looking for, fer cryin’ out loud. This kinda summed up all the reasons why most people eventually just throw up the arms in frustration and say “the heck with it.”

Well, after I got out of the local music scene (which was in Philly at then time), and as I got older, this “scene” got even more tiring. By the time I turned 30 and moved to California that was it for me. I’d on a rare occasion go to a club or bar, or check out a band somewhere. But before too long I was done with it all. If that’s the only place where the ladies were, well they weren’t going to find me there. I’ve got better things to do with my time… and money… and sanity.

Time passes.

A LOT of time passes.

Fast-forward to my previous blog post titled “Prologue” (8/1/05)

After pretty much minding my own business, I come across MySpace, and after some time I then come across a picture of someone who just knocks me out. She was looking for someone… anyone… that’s “real”. Hmmmm…. So, after over a week of just twiddling my thumbs I decided “oh, what the heck”… and I risked sending her a message. The simplest, shortest message a guy could ever send. One that women say is the best way to strike up a conversation, right??? I mean, what could go wrong?

I sent her the dreaded one word message: “Hello.”

And I waited...

and waited…

and waited…

Seven days go by. She’s read the message. But no response. Either way.


Just as I thought when I was younger, the simple “hello” obvious doesn’t work (despite that comprehensive scientific study… maybe they didn’t finish tabulating all the data).





(well, at least ones that I can’t be without)

Caveat --- My music collection is a lot larger than this, and a lot more varied. My tastes change with my moods; one day I’ll need to blow out my ears with in-your-face rock, the next day I’ll want to zone out with some Gregorian Chant. So, this is certainly not a definitive list. And although I cover a wide enough range of years and styles, the bulk of CDs come within the mid-70s-to-mid-90s timeframe. You will recognize many of the artists, yet these are not quite your typical selections. Anyway, here’s the list. It’s subject to change at any moment. But (for the time being) this list (such as it is) is mine, so… whatever.

The 20 CDs you should not be without (in no particular order):

1. Jude Cole ~ A View From 3rd Street (A troubadour’s troubadour, he’s put out five CDs… this one being his second release. It’s his best because it’s so raw compared to his later works. I had this on cassette for years and worn the darn thing out. “Baby, It’s Tonight” was his one big hit, but it’s preceded by a better song entitled “Hallowed Ground,” and I still get chills when listening to “This Time It’s Us”.

2. Crowded House ~ Recurring Dream (Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one. But I couldn’t choose from their four releases, nor from Neil Finn’s solo works. I’ve seen these guys in concert four times. These guys are tunesmiths. Period. So, get this “best of” collection. And make sure it has the extra “Live” CD. It has the best live performance of my favorite song, “When You Come”!!! Sad side note: In case you weren’t aware, a couple months ago the happy-go-lucky former drummer, Paul Hester, ended his long battle with severe depression by committing suicide.)

3. The Rembrandts ~ Untitled (Most people know these guys as the duo who wrote and sang the theme song to the TV show “Friends”. This second release of theirs has their hit “Johnny, Have You Seen Her” on it. These guys just write great little tunes. Nothing pretentious, just well-crafted material through and through.)

4. Sass Jordan ~ Rats (This tiny little Canadian femme just plain kicks ass on this CD! Stevie Salas on guitars. A George Clinton cameo. Her two best releases are “Racine” and this CD. “Rats” is the strongest of them all. It will knock you out just how good this really is. She puts Melissa Etheridge to shame.)

5. k.d. lang ~ Ingénue (A complete opposite to Ms. Jordan, k.d. lang has a voice like no other. This is probably her most popular CD with “Constant Craving” as the big hit. Forget her lifestyle and her politics, just listen to that wonderful voice.)

6. dada ~ Puzzle (Their debut CD – unfortunately - being their best, this power trio from Santa Monica are able to fill out a sound like few trios can. Clever lyrics are interlaced with rockin’ musicianship.)

7. Paul Carrack ~ Blue Views (The “Voice”. You know him as the lead singer from the classic 70s hit “How Long” by the band Ace. He also sang Squeeze’s biggest hit “Tempted” as well as Mike The Mechanics “Living Years” and “Silent Running”. This solo CD from the mid-90s is pure Carrack at his vocal best. It includes a remake of “How Long” as well as his rendition of the Eagles hit “Love Will Keep Us Alive” – which he wrote, by the way.)

8. Henry Lee Summer ~ Debut (I just like this guy. It’s his best CD, and it includes another of my favorite songs with haunting lyrics - “Just Another Day”.)

9. Farmdogs ~ Last Stand In Open Country (I’m a big Elton John fan… well, actually I was. His best years were from 1969 to 1976. His second best period was from 1980 to 1989. Unfortunately, his stuff after he went sober [post-1990] just plain sucks, in my opinion. I really couldn’t choose from his early period. And I’ve overdosed on listening to his stuff over the years. So I choose something from his close associate – his main writing partner, Bernie Taupin. The lyricist extraordinaire. Bernie is not only the co-songwriter of this band, he’s also the lead singer! The Farmdogs only released two CDs in the 90s; this being the first and the best. Songs like “Shameless”, “Color Bar”, “Barstool”, “Bone Of Contention”, “In Paradise” and of course the title track will keep you gripped to the fine story-telling in a folky/countryish style.)

10. The Doobie Brothers ~ Living On The Fault Line (Yeah, you know the Doobie Brothers. But this jazzy album is filled to the brim with great songs: “Little Darlin’”, “Nothing But A Heartache”, Echoes Of Love”, “You Belong To Me”, You’re Made That Way” and of course the title track. Just great, great stuff.)

11. Journey ~ Evolution (This band is both overrated and underrated. But I love ‘em. Steve Perry’s vocals are beyond compare. Add to it the incredible musicianship of Neal Schon, Steve Smith, Ross Valory and Greg Rolie. This being the last album with this lineup of band mates, it’s probably their best work. The soaring guitar work and piercing vocals in the opening track “Majestic/Too Late” sets the tone. I love it. You don’t? Tough!)

12. Toto ~ Mindfields (These guys are consummate musicians. There resumes as individuals will boggle your mind. Severely underrated. Rather than choosing from their early work, I choose “Mindfields” because it’s recent [1999] and it has their original lead vocalist, Bobby Kimball, back at center stage. Almost all the tunes are well-crafted. Give it a listen and be surprised at what you’ve missed.)

13. The Manhattans ~ Greatest Hits (You’ve got to have some R&B, right? But not Motown, or Atlantic/Stax. Instead, I’ve chosen The Manhattans. They just have that sound, you know what I mean? That “it” sound. Songs like “Shining Star” and “Kiss, And Say Goodbye”. Classic stuff that never grows old.)

14. Tony Bennett ~ Jazz (It’s a CBS Records Double LP Collection. It’s filled with atypical fare as compared to the usual Tony Bennett material: “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, “Solitude”, “Give Me The Simple Life”, and one of my favorites… his rendition of “Close Your Eyes”… awesome! You should compare his rendition of “Sweet Lorraine” to that of Nat King Cole. Two greats who deliver that song in different ways and they both sound great.)

15. David Sanborn & Bob James ~ Double Vision (This album is an extremely sensual piece of work. Al Jarreau sings incredibly on "Since I Fell For You", with the remaining CD being all instrumental. It's nearly 20 years old, and it still holds up pretty well. And Sanborn's sax has a warmer tone than on much of his other CDs. "Moontune" is very enticing.)

16. Grover Washington, Jr. ~ Winelight (This is classic GWJr! Very smooth and soulful contemporary jazz saxophone. And he's from my home town of Philadelphia. This one is definitely his best work. Just like the Sanborn selection, this CD is all instrumental except for the hit song "Just The Two Of Us" with Bill Withers on vocals. Released 25 years ago. It could've been released today.)

17. Big Tent Revival ~ Amplifier (From my Contemporary Christian Music [CCM] collection, these guys [with Steve Wiggins at the helm] are top-notch. It rocks! It’s got clever lyrics set to great music. “Lovely Mausoleum” is hauntingly effective. And there are several “hidden” tracks at the end of the CD. The best is a great rocker called “Rivalry”. I love this CD!)

18. Out Of The Grey ~ Remember This (Another selection from the CCM genre. Female vocalist with pop sensibilities. Well-crafted songs that don’t preach, yet still get the message across very effectively. I can listen to “All I Need” over and over again and again.)

19. Al Stewart ~ Modern Times (Early Stewart, here. This is the album right before his breakout hit “Year of the Cat”. I remember listening to my brother’s old LP when I was much younger. This guy is a storyteller like no other. I’ve always come back to this album. It’s always been my favorite of his. Not a bad song in the lot. It’s all great. The title track is just… just... wow.)

20. Jim Croce ~ The Definitive Collection (With this collection you get all but two songs from his three major label releases, before his untimely demise in ’73 from a plane crash. You also get a good selection of earlier material; both solo works and duets with his wife, Ingrid. He’s an Italian Philly troubadour who graduated from Villanova University [my alma mater]. And one of my high school teachers used to play keyboards with him back in the 60’s. This guy is much greater than the “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” song he’s known for. His songs will make you laugh and cry and nod your head and dream and smile.)

Honorable Mention: Sky ~ Sky2 (Double-LP) (Okay… I don’t have this on CD, only on vinyl, and my record player died quite a few years ago. So I only have a well-worn tape copy of my vinyl LP (their second release). Relatively unknown, these classically trained musicians are: classical guitarist John Williams, keyboardist Francis Monkman, drummer Tristan Fry, guitarist Kevin Peek, bassist Herbie Flowers. It merges classical, jazz and rock music unlike anything that you’ve ever quite heard before. If I ever found this on CD I’d buy it in a split second just to get the piece titled “Sahara”. I’ve never heard an instrumental piece become so vividly visual in my mind’s eye. That tune is a work of art.)

That’s it. For now. As of this moment. Stuff I’d highly recommend. Music I love, groove to, zone out, jam and jiggle to, mellow into, dance romantically, sing completely off key at full blare while driving down the highway with the windows wide open, with the steering wheel as my drum set, keyboard, guitar and bass. It makes yah feel good. That’s all that matters, right?!

So… GO! Now! Buy! Listen! Argue! Make up your own Top-20! Post your comments and suggestions below.

Friday, July 01, 2005

EC:WC FCA Review – Beyond The Sea

A West Coast Critic review:

A 100% vanity project for Kevin Spacey, this film is a loosely-based fictionalized biopic about crooner Bobby Darin. Spacey is known for his strong affection to Bobby Darin’s music, and Kevin now had the reputation, influence, and money to get this project from dream to script to screen (he’s listed as lead actor, director, co-writer and co-producer).

Watching it gives the impression of a Gene Kelly musical within a musical. And the story is told within a story from the POV of Darin both as an adult and as a young boy. I give Spacey credit for the unique style and story delivery, but there’s something lacking. Even though he takes a dig at himself early in the film when a character questions whether “Darin” is too old to play himself in a biopic, it still becomes obvious that Spacey is still too old to play Darin.

What really makes it so obvious is that he doesn’t have Greta Scacchi play Sandra Dee (she’s obviously too old for that role), he has her playing Sandra’s mother. But Spacey was too emotionally attached to this project to see that about himself.

Spacey is also singing all of the Darin tunes throughout the film. He does an admirable job, but he’s no Bobby Darin. There’s question as to whether he’s actually singing one tune - the song “Beyond The Sea” (the hit song on which the film is titled) - or whether it’s a Darin overdub. It doesn’t matter, since Spacey is overdubbing himself throughout the film. This is standard for musicals, as it’s very difficult to record live singing on film.

And this gets to the point about Spacey not being right for this role. Spacey mentions in the DVD extras that he didn’t want to use Darin’s vocals so as not to get locked into specific arrangements. But since he’s dubbing/lip-syncing to his own vocal tracks, it would’ve made better sense to get someone who could better match Darin’s vocal style. But to do that would make it even more glaringly obvious that Spacey is TOO OLD for this role.

One other weakness of the film is it’s central focus - the main character. Is the life story of Bobby Darin enough to carry a movie? That question is up for debate. Kevin Spacey certainly seemed to think so. He probably wrung out of the project as much as anyone could have from the brief history of the famous singer who died too young yet lived far longer than he should’ve.

I’ve always liked much of Spacey’s work, going all the way back to his stunningly powerful role as Mel Proffit in the first season of the TV series “Wiseguy”. He does a good performance in “Beyond The Sea”, but it’s not Oscar nomination worthy. Overall, it’s an interesting film with some fine music and some good performances in a style that harkens back to the 50s/60s. I’ll give it 3 wine bottles out of 5. Afterwards, pick up a CD of some Bobby Darin music (but not the movie soundtrack). Maybe that’s all that Kevin really wanted to accomplish with this film. If that’s the case, he may have succeeded.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

EC:WC FCA Review - The Life Aquatic

A West Coast Critic Review:

I never thought I would ever say this next sentence. This Bill Murray movie is completely unfunny.

I just spent the last 118 minutes watching film stock that left me emotionally unmoved in any way. It doesn't even deserve to be called a bad movie because a really bad movie would make you chuckle at the lameness of it all. There wasn't even a moment that was unintentionally funny. There was nothing to make me cry one sappy tear. Not one piece of action to make me even wince slightly in awe. What's so mindboggling is that it's so weak even with a cast that includes Angelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Michael Gambon. This movie is so vacuous that MST3K couldn't even successfully parody the poor thing. It's THAT bad.

This isn't even worth one of my usual five wine bottles. This vapid, mind numbing, brain cell reducing DVD is barely worth 1 corroded cork. (Oh no, Mr. Bill!)

.... bad.... just.... just.... that bad.


Just Desserts, indeed!!! link here

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California man, angry over a U.S. Supreme Court decision expanding government power to take private property, says he will try to use the ruling to seize the New Hampshire home of Justice
David Souter and convert it into a hotel to be named the Lost Liberty Hotel.

Souter voted with the 5-4 majority last week when the Supreme Court ruled a Connecticut city could use its powers of eminent domain to take private homes to make way for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices.

The justices said the project served a public purpose of revitalizing a depressed local economy, but critics have called the ruling an unprecedented expansion of the powers of government to seize private property in America.

"This is a serious project and if we get enough money from investors we will proceed with it," said Logan Darrow Clements, who runs a California video production company called Freestar Media that he said is dedicated to exposing abuses of power.

"It's solely for the purpose of showing (Souter) that his decision was unjust," he said. "We hope to make a profit as well but I don't agree with eminent domain so the irony is that we are going to use eminent domain against him."

Clements said he had contacted officials in Weare, New Hampshire, for an application to build a hotel on the property where the Supreme Court justice's home now stands, arguing that a hotel would increase tax revenue and provide an economic boost.

He said the hotel would be called the Lost Liberty Hotel and would include a restaurant called the Just Desserts Cafe and a museum with a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America.

He said instead of a Gideon's Bible, each room would include a copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged," which many people embrace as a treatise on liberty and self-determination.

"This is not a prank," he said. "The town of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land (from Justice Souter) we can begin our hotel development."

The Supreme Court had no comment on Clements' plan and the Weare Board of Selectmen could not immediately be reached for comment.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

In light of Congress' recent vote on a Constitutional Amendment to ban flag burning...

I've chosen to re-post something I wrote eleven months ago (July 15, 2004, to be exact):

Here are some serious Constitutional Amendment ideas to chew on:

How about a Balanced Budget Amendment (like 40+ of the States have in their own Constitutions)? One that includes:

1) A requirement that Spending increases by no more than the increase in the rate of inflation plus the increase in population, on a year-by-year basis,

2) A two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress in order to increase Spending above that rate, good for only one year,

3) A two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress in order to increase Taxes, good for only one year,

4) One half of all yearly surpluses automatically goes toward Nation Debt relief, the other half being returned to Taxpayers. Any annual shortfalls automatically trigger an across-the-board spending reduction if Congress does not act within a timely manner to implement tailored budget cuts,

5) A Presidential Line-Item-Veto (as 40+ States already have in their own Constitutions for their Governors), with a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress in order to override the veto.

6) A Ban on all non-germane, rider amendments to Congressional legislative bills.

Speaking of Taxes... How about a Constitutional Amendment to Repeal the 16th Amendment, thereby ending the Income Tax and the I.R.S. in one fell swoop. We can then go back to collecting Federal revenues the way our Founding Fathers intended: No Capitation, or other direct tax shall be laid unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 4). The 16th Amendment overwrote this clause, thereby obliterating the Founding Fathers' intent on limited government.

How about a Constitutional Amendment to Limit Terms for both offices of Congress (just as there already is an Amendment [#22] to limit the terms for President - Two Terms. 8 years, 10 years maximum):

1) Two Terms for U.S. Senate (12 years. 15 years maximum due to vacancy appointments),

2) Six Terms for U.S. House of Representatives (12 years. 13 years maximum due to vacancy appointments).

How about a Constitutional Amendment to put appropriate Checks & Balances on the Federal Courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court to limit Judicial Activism and instill Judicial Restraint when the Courts overstep their bounds into legislative and executive realms:

1) This could include instituting Judicial Term Limits to 20 years or a Mandatory Retirement Age of 75 (whichever comes first).

Just a little food for thought.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

EC:WC FCA Review – Lucia y el Sexo (Sex and Lucia)

A West Coast Critic Review:

Released in 2001, this foreign film from Madrid, Spain, draws you into it’s masterfully intricate universe until you fall into its hole and you come back out again in the middle. I should state upfront that this is not child fare. Were it not for it being a foreign film, this movie would get an R rating for its strong sexual content… possibly even an NC-17. But don’t let this detract you. There’s something much deeper to this story than its initial carnal yet tastefully done exploits.

Told through a series of flashbacks, we peer into the lives of Lorenzo (a struggling novelist) and Lucia (his lover). The movie starts with the deterioration of their relationship, culminating in a horrible accident that takes Lorenzo away from Lucia. We’re then brought back to the beginning of their relationship six years prior, and we soon become absorbed into their lives and their thought processes along the way.

Lorenzo’s past haunts him until he’s forced to exorcise his demons by turning it into his latest novel. But his past ends up controlling him instead. Real people merge into fictional characters. And lives get intertwined into intricate patterns. Along the way we meet Elena, a proprietor of an isolated island beach hotel, who’s own life is inexplicably tied to Lorenzo.

The script is extremely well written. The color palette is perfect for the mood of the film. And the acting is impeccable. There were moments when I laughed out loud, and there were moments when I was brought to tears (even after the third viewing). You become a part of the lives of these people as you try to sort through their histories, which fold and link in extraordinary ways.

Paz Vega (who later played in her first English-speaking role in “Spanglish” with Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni) plays Lucia. Lorenzo is played by Tristan Ulloa (who previously played opposite Penelope Cruz in “Open Your Eyes,” the Spanish film on which Tom Cruise’s “Vanilla Sky” was based). Several additional characters are introduced throughout the film, and the entire cast is worthy of accolades.

This has become one of my all-time favorite foreign films (along with “Cinema Paradiso”). I give it 4 wine bottles out of 5… and maybe a couple corks as well. If you get confused after the first viewing, watch it again… and become fascinated at how well it all fits together.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

EC:WC FCA Review - Primer

A West Coast Critic review:

A small budget (a very, very small budget) independent film by first-time film director/writer/actor Shane Carruth. Less than 80 minutes long and shot on 16mm film, this is one plot-twisting conundrum of a movie about two guys who accidently create a time travel machine and then struggle with the moral consequences of the choices they then make.

There are NO special effects (except for one 5-second scene), yet Carruth makes this story believable. It's confusing at first because you become an eavesdropper; a fly on the wall in these guys lives, if you will. (heh... these guys lives... heh-heh-heh)

If you enjoy films like Pi and Cube or Memento, then Primer is right up your alley. If you don't like those types of movies, you'll end up ejecting the DVD before the film is finished. It's an acquired taste. And it definitely requires more than one viewing. The two commentaries on the DVD also help out tremendously with the plot. And if you really get sucked into the whole experience, you can lose your mind at the official website and forum here

Winner of the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Award in 2004, I gave this flick 3-1/2 wine bottles out of 5 a week before watching it, and I wrote this review 8 days from now.

EC:WC FCA Review - National Treasure

A West Coast Critic review:

A national disappointment. I like Nick Cage. Most of the time his performances are strong, and the roles/films are of decent to very good quality. This movie, sorry to say, just doesn't work. Even before 9/11, the plausibility of the twisting plot would be hard to swallow. Post-9/11? It's a joke. You find yourself rolling your eyes constantly.

It's a shame because the basic premise of the secretive treasure hunt is intriguing and could have been fun to follow. There were a few moments here and there that make you cheer or blink in amazement, but it just lacks the moral import that you'd get from the thrilling Indiana Jones flicks, or the geewhiz/ohmygosh quirky fun of The Mummy series. And Cage's performance is just dialed in as though he isn't even trying.

I had high hopes when word came out that it was hitting the theaters last year. It bombed, and now I know why. The art direction & sets are cool, but it's missing essential ingredients to make it all work. Some of the acting performances are embarrassing. Basically, the script needed a lot a re-writing... or maybe it was just rewritten to death. It shows on the screen.

This is a 2 wine bottles out of 5 movie. I'm being generous. Worth a night's rental to go with your microwave popcorn, but that's about it.

The good news? Word was that National Treasure had very strong parallels with The DaVinci Code novel (which will soon become a movie in it's own right). If that's the case, I'm beaming with joy that that flick may flop as well (and deservedly so).

Monday, May 23, 2005

EC:WC FCA Review - Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

This is a West Coast Critic review:

A very quirky and tongue-in-cheek space comedy in the vein of Monty Python. I've read the books by Douglas Adams, and this flick keeps the spirit of the novels (and the BBC radio series they were based on). It doesn't always work, with a few jokes and a couple scenes falling flat. But, for the most part, it's a fun ride. I laughed my a** off on a number of occasions.

If you're not familiar with Adams' work, then you may not quite "get it". And if you're an Adams worshipper, you may feel a little let down. But if you go into the theater with the proper mindset, you'll walk out of the theater giving it 3 wine bottles out of 5.

The special fx are cool, there's enough laughs to split your sides, and it's pure oddball escapism. I'd much rather watch this than yet another Star Wars "pre-quel" (and, no, I have not seen Stars Wars Part I, nor Part II, and I have absolutely no compulsion to see Part III... I'm Sith and tired of George Lucas).

Monday, May 16, 2005

Supreme Court rejects ban on out-of-state wine sales

Fresh from the presses (via MSNBC):

WASHINGTON - Raising the bar on states wanting to restrict online commerce, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that wine lovers may buy directly from out-of-state wineries, striking down laws banning a practice that has flourished because of the Internet and growing popularity of winery tours.

While the ruling only involves wine sales, industry groups expect that it will soon apply to beer and other alcoholic beverages currently regulated through state-licensed wholesalers and retailers.

Lawyers involved in the case say the ruling will also make it harder for states to restrict Internet commerce on other regulated items — from contact lenses to car insurance.

The 5-4 decision strikes down laws in New York and Michigan that make it a crime to buy wine directly from vineyards in another state. In all, 24 states have laws that bar interstate shipments.

The state bans are discriminatory and anti-competitive, the court said.

“States have broad power to regulate liquor,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “This power, however, does not allow states to ban, or severely limit, the direct shipment of out-of-state wine while simultaneously authorizing direct shipment by in-state producers.”

If a state chooses to allow direct shipments of wine, it must do so on evenhanded terms,” he wrote.

Kennedy was joined in his opinion by Justices Antonin Scalia, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Read the rest of the article here.

This is a GOOD thing (especially for us vino lovers). I find it to be very odd the way that the voting broke down. Scalia with Ginsburg & Breyer in the affirmative while Thomas, Renquist and Stevens were in opposition.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

EC:WC FCA Review – Hotel Rwanda

A West Coast Film Critic Review

One powerfully effective retelling of the African genocidal massacres of the mid-90s, shown through the eyes of a courageous hotel administrator. Don Cheadle plays the roll of Paul Rusesabagina, the assistant manager of the Hotel des Milles Collines (a Belgian-owned resort in Kigali, Rwanda). Rwanda had been run by the Belgian-chosen Tutsi clan - the taller, lighter-skinned, thinner-nosed citizenry. But when Belgium pulls out of the country, the French-backed rival Hutu clan seeks revenge for their years of oppression.

But not all Rwandans have this intense hatred of their fellow countrymen, many of whom have intermarried over the years (including Rusesabagina). His family and friends are forced to take refuge at his hotel, where he soon has to protect hundreds more of his fellow Rwandans facing persecution. Known for his style and smooth talk, Paul begins to cash in the chips he's collected over the years through the various friendships and relationships he’d built over the years as hotel manager.

For two hours, you are experiencing the escalation of this calamity through the eyes of Rusesabagina. It’s not only fine storytelling, it’s downright affecting. There are a few brief moments when the film director chooses to awkwardly preach to his audience. I felt that it wasn’t needed since the rest of the film does such a fine job of explaining things without beating you over the head.

There are quite a few harrowing moments in the film, including an absolutely haunting scene in which Paul and a fellow hotel employee need to drive through a dense morning fog and encounter what can only be described as an ethereal nightmare. Cheadle's performance here as well as in the scene immediately following is acting excellence.

The western world does not get off easy in this re-telling of the genocidal atrocities in Rwanda. Fingers are sharply pointed at the U.N., with particular emphasis on the lack of compassion and intervention from France, Belgium and the U.S. under the Clinton administration.

There are several extras on the DVD that are also well worth the viewing: a commentary by Don Cheadle on several key scenes, and two documentaries – “A Message of Peace: The Making of Hotel Rwanda” and “Return to Rwanda”. These extras help to explain the historical events which are the basis of the film, as well as the process of making the movie. I highly recommend taking the time to watch these extras immediately after the movie ends.

Hotel Rwanda is definitely a 4 wine bottles out of 5 film! With fine performances by Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo (who plays his Tutsi wife, Tatiana), it places recent history right in your lap. And it forces you to ask why this world is letting similar situations continue in Sudan and the Congo.