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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Back to/from "Reality"

Most everyone has uttered the phrase “ I need a vacation” moments after their vacation has ended.  If you have every gone away with children, or through airports, or with a long  car ride, you understand it ain’t easy.  Throw in a couple of amusement parks and oversold flights and you get the drift.

So as we transitioned back to “reality” over the past few days our couch time included a healthy dosage of mindless entertainment.  More specifically,  the last few evenings were spent watching Kardashians, Eastwoods, America's Got Talent, and, gasp, the NBA.

This just in...  what the hell is this country watching???  Why are we green lighting these projects?  Are we not embarrassed?  

E! had a Kardashian marathon Memorial Day and like so many moths to the flame, we engaged.

The matriarch, Kris, drives erratically while frantically typing away on her mobile devices racing from one place to another.  Her husband, the former man (and Gold medal winner!!) Bruce Jenner goes ignored and disrespected as he transitions through menopause.

Their kids, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall, Karthage, Kaos, Kronos, Kockblocker, Khan, and Rob all rome around LA having fancy lunches, signing divorce papers, shopping for homes, and mugging for any camera in sight.  

It's all a show.  Every last frame of it.

Income based on image.  Lifestyle based on facade.  

And apparently we cannot get enough of it.  Sadly, I must admit it kept me amused for a few episodes.

But why?  There is nothing redeeming about any of the "stars" on screen.  The one person who actually trained to become a World class athlete is ridiculed and cast as the shows Barney Fife.  The matriarch has some success due to marrying well many years prior.  And the child with the most fame has her generous posterior, caught on camera sexual escapades and absurdly brief marriage to thank.  They are all a vacuous mess in the oil spill that is reality tv.

The same can be said with Mrs Eastwood and Company.  Yes, Clint's wife has a reality show too.  Another West Coast Hollywood family blending families and has been hangers on in an attempt to cash in on the 15 minutes culture we sadly all crave.  Like Kelsey Grammer a few years back Clint seems to want to shut his spouse up and thrust her in the spotlight so she will stop nagging him about a bit role in his next film.  

You can almost hear his scratchy voice telling her "Go ahead...  call back that E! exec producer..."

Even the antithesis of mainstream, Howard Stern, has crossed over to the dark side.

Admittedly one of his biggest fans and a devoted listener, it hurt a bit last night watching him judge hack stand up comics, male dance revues, and ventriloquists for the lame and wholly un-original America's Got Talent.  Here Stern, Howie Mandel and the frozen faced Sharon Osbourne "X" those folks they deem unworthy or unable to fill a Las Vegas arena with their talents.   Quick, name me the past winners of this show.  Better yet, name me 5 of the American Idols.  Save for the outcome/payout this show is the Gong Show.  And Nick Cannon ain't no Chuck Berris.

A retread show looking for original talent.  The irony is too rich.

But would a network exec realize that?  Better, would they know what ironic means?  "I don't know what it is, but I can tell you when I see it."

It's all over your dial.  And there is no sign of a change.

It costs a lot of money to produce scripted television.  And it is far riskier to take a chance on a creative idea rather than a cheap, tried and true (lazy), money-making one.  Take a look at the budgets/revenues of Housewives of Wherever vs Mad Men for a hard truth.

So what can we do?

How about not watch?!

I know I am dumber for falling victim the past few days.

You can vedge out to far better.  Or, maybe even read a bit.  I know this great blog.

For tonight you can give the NJ Devils some love.  The NBA is as bad as the shows mentioned above. No drama.  Contrived storylines and overpriced "stars."  

The Guide predicts the Kings in 6...  but you never know.  Gotta love a final that pits a 6 seed versus an 8.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Giving Thanks

Some days have far more battles in them than others.  For those of you in sales doesn't it seem every encounter during the process is intentionally designed to fluster and confound you.

End user stage creates unrealistic goals expected in ungodly timeframes.

Your vendors customer care concerns itself more with bottom line rather than personal attention and overall satisfaction.

Delivery finds itself reliant on oversized logistics companies.  Tracking packages and proof of deliveries become endless puzzles consuming massive amounts of time.

And then the after market...  headed back to the scene of the crime in an effort to clean up all the prior messes.

Wrong size?  Color?  Damage?  The UPS driver was surly?

It's all a bloody war.  Taxing and frustrating each step of the way.

Then you head home.  And Timmy needs braces.  Marcia got a C- on her Algebra final.  The water heater needs to be replaced.

Long story short...  sometimes you just need to leave it all behind.

Which makes the short trip South beginning tomorrow all the more special.

I came from a pretty solid family life.  My wonderful parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary later this year.  They are the definition of the American Middle Class.  Couple of lifelong residents who fell in love, chased the normal existence that was work, home, values, family, and pretty much made it their bitch.

They never had much, but they wanted for nothing.

Modest little house (15k or something 40 some years ago.)  Doing all they can to see I could go to college.  No one ever went to college.  If I got there that would signify some upward mobility.  Making sure the next generation will have more.

It's the basic model I find myself trying to emulate.  What can I do to give my daughter more?  What is the secret?

So it comes as no surprise that these wonderful, unselfish people would send my family on vacation.  And my sisters family too.

Truth is last year kinda sucked.

And a vacation really isn't in the budget this year.

But rather than "give you money (I mean what could be there anyway, really??- I wonder) when we die," my mother said.  "We want to see that you all have a great time together while we are here to see it."

It's amazing.  It's humbling.

It is most welcome.

These days when things are moving so fast and days fly by like so many softball pitches, or spelling tests, we NEED to enjoy the fleeing moments.

If a movie comes out that piques your interest, go see it.

A band that you heard good things about, hear it.

You cannot take it with you.  And why would you want to?

Thank you mom and dad for your generosity.  Thank you for your unyielding kindness and example.

See you guys next week.

Hope you have a terrific Memorial Day weekend and plenty to smile about.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What's Old is Old Again - A Cinefile's Response to Hank B

Hank B's thoughtful and passionate blog post What's Old is Old Again (read here) got me to thinking.

Hank laments the loss of "edge" or "guts" that comes with age. He sees both manifested in aging superstars' revisiting classic rock or pop standards. He also sees it in music consumers' laziness in allegedly preferring these efforts to the raw, fresh energy of the struggling bands to whom Hank B admirably devotes so much of his time and passion. And he takes such folks as Paul McCartney (whom one could argue has nothing left to prove to anyone) to task for getting stale and playing it safe.

I agree with Hank's deeper point ---  that we all struggle with how not to get stale, and to age gracefully. And perhaps we use artists as a metaphor for our own struggle.

I have always been passionate about what was newly called in the late 1980's and early 1990's "Independent Film". I was religiously devoted to IFC and  Sundance Channel, pored over Film Comment magazine, and worshiped at the altar of the Weinstein Brothers Church of Miramax.

I vigorously and stridently took people to task for preferring typical Hollywood schlock to gritty, challenging, bold films --- films that grew out of a writer, director or even an actor's soul and vision rather than a marketing study.

I never toured the film festival circuit with the same discipline that Hank tackles the NYC nightlife. I did, however, frequent local theaters that attempted to bring "Art House" films to suburbanites, such as Montgomery Cinemas in Montgomery NJ, Doylestown's County Theater, and Easton PA's (now defunct) Cinema Paradisio. My own brush with grittiness came with the opportunity, via my wife's cousin who was in The Business, to act as an extra in a low budget independent film Falling For Grace, where I danced to ABBA's "Dancing Queen" with B.D. Wong and Margaret Cho.*

Somewhat because of marketing and the vagaries of the film business (recall that, with the best marketing, an entirely subtitled film like Life is Beautiful, or an entirely silent film like The Artist, can grab the attention of the American masses), no one has ever heard of ninety percent of those independent films of the 1990s.  But most of these films are forgotten today not because they were too edgy, but because, frankly, they were not very good movies.

They were movies full of raw, edgy energy for sure, but the appeal was often the "anti-marketing marketing" back story of the making of the film, with highlights typically along the lines of  "working outside the studio system" or "used my bar mitzvah money and maxed out my credit cards" or  "had to shoot in 2 takes tops because we didn't have permits" or "developed story through actor's improv" and so on. What often resulted was meandering dialogue, gratuitous but un-artful sexuality, and pornographically exploitive violence.

But the ten percent of those films that we do remember forced Hollywood to reinvent itself , led by what I consider to be Generation X's  Citizen Kane, Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

For me, the long lasting benefit of my devoted following to now famous directors Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused) , Ang Lee (The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman), and Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy), was realizing that what made their work truly engaging and energized was not simply a Zen-like "beginners mind" although that certainly played a role.  All of these filmmakers had a deep and broad knowledge of film making and a true love of films from far away decades and cultures. In interviews, when they listed their favorite movies and influences, they inspired me to delve into film history, introducing me to Kurasawa, Fellini, Truffaut, Cassavettes, Bertolluci, Antonioni, Renoir, Leone as well and a new appreciation for the directors of the 1970s -- Scorsese, Coppola, Cimino, Lumet, Spielberg, and even Don Siegal.

So are our former independent mavericks to be criticized for looking backward? I think not.

Van Sant returns to the 1970's and the birth of the gay rights movement in Milk.  Tarantino reinterprets the midnight movies in Grindhouse, and the "Guys on a Mission" war movie genre with the extraordinary Inglorious Basterds.  Linklater takes on the classic backstage drama (aided by an uncanny performance by Christian McKay as the legendary maverick director) in his excellent Me and Orson Welles. And Ang Lee has embraced the conventional western in Ride With The Devil, and subverted the same genre with Brokeback Mountain.

Even Kevin Smith ( who perhaps will never surpass Clerks and Chasing Amy), after numerous variations on the slacker romance woven through the eyes of Jay and Silent Bob (his anarchic and profane version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), takes a wild left turn with his uneven but challenging view of religious fundamentalism in his 1970's style exploitation homage Red State**.

So perhaps it is part of the artistic process of aging gracefully to dip back into one's own history, and the history of one's craft, examine the roots of one's influences, and re-interpret them anew.

Because sometimes what is old is old yet again, not because it is safe, but because it is true.


*Due to change of director and re-shoots, I ended up on the cutting room floor. But my wife's cousin kindly burned a copy of my two scenes for me as a keepsake!

**Last year while visiting a friend in Los Angeles, I got to see a screening of Red State at Tarentino's New Beverly Cinema, followed by a Q&A with Smith, who is a skilled racounteur and was, true to the independent spirit, promoting the movie on his own dime. Alas, the Q&A was much more interesting and thought provoking than the movie itself.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What's All the Hubbub?

There were again moments of an elegant and concise piece on gay marriage and the controversy therein.

But can't that be summed up in one sentence?

Who cares???  Or...  What does it matter?  Does it really make a difference if man wants to marry man?  Is this really the social topic that will dominate this years Presidential election?  After all Romney has all the look and feel of a Ridley Scott replicant and Obama, well, has been a touch ineffective the past 4 years.

The rhetoric and discourse MUST be toward jobs creation, emphasizing math and science in our classrooms, green and/or clean energies, legitimate health care reform, obesity awareness, banking regulations, lobbyist crackdowns, alleviating the overcrowding of our prisons, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug use, etc...  etc...

Where exactly does gay marriage fit in?  

Right.  It doesn't.

This great Nation of ours has a red states worth of REAL issues that need addressing.

We should not waste our collective time on what is inside a woman's body or whether that woman wants to marry her girlfriend Liz.  

That shite ain't helping pay the mortgage.  It ain't making a pint of strawberries any cheaper.  And it sure ain't making my commute to NYC any easier to digest.

Why we continue to define our political parties with social issues and not fiscal, or POLITICAL issues remains a mystery?!

We are all inherently different.  Let us embrace, not distance ourselves from that.  How could someone born and raised in Greensboro, NC possibly relate to someone born and raised in Philadelphia?  

There are sure to be some similarities but for the most part the two folks will bring a wholly different World view.  It is taught from generation to generation dating back to the 18th century.  

Now, when information and content travel at the click of a mouse we expect a uniform resolution to the sanctity of marriage?  Ya know, cause heterosexuals have done such a wonderful job keeping marriage a viable and sacrosanct institution.  

Look around your neighborhood...  or circle of friends...  relatives...  and start counting the straight marriages that have failed.

Then do the same with all those gay folks pretending to be straight in order to "fit in."

It's all very embarrassing.

And if homosexuals wanna join the fray why the hell not?

They too will benefit from lousy spousal insurance plans, cold/hurried dinners, car pools from hell, friction filled bedrooms, and overall angst.  < other marriages...  not mine ;-)

Everyone should have that right!  

Why doth we protest so much?  

Maybe because that is an easy one to decide on and the majority of real issues require longer debate... deeper thinking...  hard truths.

Caveman logic can be applied to gay marriage and its ramifications.  Me no like.  Me think wrong.

Much like my thoughts on the whole silly discussion.

Later this weekend...

Is the Facebook IPO worthwhile?  Did we really need to make Bono richer?

What summer music/tours should you be seeing?

Can the NHL supplant the NBA in viewers during my lifetime?

Fan our page here:  Thanks!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Tuesday Night in Manhattan? Sure. Starring Chappo!!

Modern Rivals, Dominion NYC

Burp Castle on E 7th St

NYC Hat store open until 1am

Naturally a purchase was made (not by me)

Historic McSorley's

Amazingly it was more subdued here than Burp Castle.  2 great mugs!!

Ukrainian store next to McSorley's.  Nesting dolls= Super cool

New Cooper Union building looks  so odd in this neighborhood.  Modern in the land of brownstones.

Chappo.  Not ideal photo venue.

The aluminum foil "moon" effects were simple and effective.

Looking forward to seeing these guys in bigger venue.  Hear that Bowery Presents????

Over the past few weeks I have heard the Eleanor Roosevelt quote "Do one thing every day that scares you" on a few occasions.  It also follows me daily due to its prominence on lululemon bags...  of which there are several around my home.  You can never have enough black workout pants ya know???

The quote is memorable in addition to being a solid life plan.  What fun is it playing it safe and taking the easy route?

And why can't an ordinary Tuesday evening become extraordinary?

Gonna be tired in the morning?  No doubt.

Wednesday gonna suck and drag longer than other days?  Probably.  But if I got an uninterrupted 8 hours sleep there was a good chance the day would still suck.  The clients and their problems are not going anywhere.  Nor are the bills...  or homework...  or softball coaching obligations.  Life is an unending series of excruciating events in which we attempt to balance the fine line separating laughter from tears.   That is not a complaint, merely a fact.  

Andy Dufresne learned how to echo Roosevelt's sentiment:  "Get busy living, or get busy dying."  Still think Morgan Freeman's voice uttering that line is among Hollywood's finest achievements.

Last night was one of those special NYC nights.  A night that began with little to zero expectations will undoubtably end up on this blogs best of 2012.  

NYC band Chappo released their first full length LP "Moonwater" yesterday.  It is a mix of psychedelia and pop with enough layers to interest classic rock fans, Dead heads, hipsters and the rave crowd.  Smart and funny.  Off beat and mainstream.  This is a very promising record and a band confident enough to sell it.  The show last night was the album's formal record release party.  And what a party it was...  down to the balloons, confetti and booze!

It starts with singer and band namesake Alex Chappo.  His soaring, John Fogerty-esque, is a real treat.   He has a vibrant twang and soul that brings his words to life.  

The show began with their with the 80s infused "What Are You Kids on?"  Rapidly sung lyrics over pounding drums and easy chair guitar licks.  Sing a long and foot tapping fun for sure.  Be careful, there is a  California-tinged,  Joe Walsh vibe going on here.  Good to see the wa wa pedals in full effect too.  They have a similar feel to other up and comers like Givers, Real Estate, Grouplove and Caveman.  

Chappo welcomes the long riff and jam led by keyboardist and co-founder Chris Olson.  The hypnotic and infectious "5-0" included such a jam.  The song, and their live re-imaging, stood out for sure.  As did their hit single "Come Home."  The song, from 2010 and used in a Ipod ad years back, was played to a slower tempo and Chappo handled it with a deft touch.  It is an early front runner for Summer Song 2012.

Dominion NY (Dominion NY) was a great sounding venue- seriously the most crisp and well mic'd band I have heard in a while!!!- and worthy of a return visit.  It is a cleaner, more spacious Mercury Lounge if you will.  

These boys deserve bigger.  Based on how they perform their material look for them in the Bowery Presents circle real soon.  A tour is forthcoming and you should be on the lookout.  Start here and thank me later: and for more bio/expository stuff:  Chappo piece re: SXSW

Other Highlights:

Leaving close to 7:30 from NJ and being parked in SoHo before 8 (free street parking mind you!!) was a plus.  As was the burger joint SoHo Park Time Out NYC review located on Prince and Lafayette.  Not the best meal and far from the best wait staff in town...  but a quick and efficient sandwich and better than average hand cut fries made it worth while.  10 minutes in we had beers and our food order. Now that I think of it it should have been spaced better...  it allowed for more beers than necessary.

Dominion NY is near Astor Place and since Chappo started at (GASP- 11pm) we had some time to explore some East Village favorites.

We had not been to Burp Castle in many, many years. (Burp Castle on Facebook)  Located on 7th St the floor level bar is filled with large fresco's of Belgian Monks in various scenes of beer tom foolery.  Way back when the place played Gregorian chants and its servers were dressed in brown monk's garb. Oh, and you had to remain silent when worshiping their extensive selection of Belgian ales.

Gone are the "monk" servers and silence.  At least it was last night.  Must have been some home brew meeting or something.  Loud, overweight middle aged men with bellies full of their crafts romping and hollering throughout.  "Try some mead" they implored us.  There were even fake Viking hats on a few of them.  And this place is small!!  Naturally when I made an attempt to move past a drunken lass (the center of all the Viking attention) I knocked over/shattered an empty glass vessel.  "Aargh!!!" they shouted as I whisked my maiden to safer harbors.

Would you believe the safe harbor was the notoriously raucous and unapologetically low brow McSorley's Pub (  We got right up to the bar and had blacks and tans.  No frills.  No fanfare.  Most rewarding and comfortable to say the least.  Central casting could never replicate the bar keepers on staff- older gentlemen with white aprons cut from the definition of "old school."  Ready with a joke or a piece of information at a moments notice.  Approachable and aloof at the same time.  When asked how many mugs are on the premises they conferred to get an accurate number.  I guessed 5 thousand.  Their estimate was more like 4 thousand.  Mugs washed over and over in a drop down sink.  Mugs filled over and over with beer since way back in 1854.  NYC's oldest bar and never has it felt so new.  A step back in time and a smile inducer for sure.  Next time we eat the burgers!!

There was some hat shop too that excited someone in my party too.   Never underestimate the retail stop during your walking tours!  A happy date is a good date.  

A Tuesday evening so bloody worthy we have toyed with trying it all again tomorrow night.  Justin Townes Earl at Webster Hall?  Delicate Steve at Bowery?  Where to eat?  Grab a drink?  

Anywhere and anytime.  The moment we stop searching for the next adventure is the moment we lose relevance.  Scared?  

Then head right toward it.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What's Old is Old Again

A few weeks back the actress Rita Wilson was spotlighted for her debut album, AM/FM on the terrific television show CBS Sunday Morning.  Yes, Mrs Tom Hanks was featured as her new LP was ready to drop and showed her playing at, GASP, LA’s famed Troubadour theatre. 

Now, we are going to ignore the fact that Wilson said Hanks, and his influence, had NOTHING to do with her record getting a green light.  Wake up kiddo.  You ain't Carole King much like you ain't Jill Clayburgh.  Timing is everything, Mrs Hanks Wilson.   Politely smile and play coy when asked that question.  It demeans us all when you suggest it is not a factor.  Nepotism in Hollywood???  Um, there more than anywhere...  and that is saying something.  

We are also going to ignore the fact that her voice, although pleasant and, admittedly, above average, might even have the chops to be a recording star.  Or at least have the ability to fill a room and not offend them.  After all, Celine Dion packs her theatre in Vegas every night. 

I’m even going to look past the albums content…  which is laced with cover versions of 70s and 80s soft rock standards.  Do we need another version of  “Come See About Me?”  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”   Probably not.  But that has not stopped it from entering our lives.

OK, ok, by calling out those things that is acknowledging them, not ignoring them.  But those issues are less troubling than this.

The biggest problem is America’s fascination with slowing things down once they hit a certain age.  It is why Rod Stewart can release several “Standards” LP’s and not get the tar beat out of him.  It’s why Paul McCartney can sing a sappy Valentine number on this years Grammys.  Glenn Frey is touting a similarly sappy record of “classics” these days too.

Where have you gone “Maggie May?”  “Lovely Rita?”  “Smugglers Blues?”

When the  AARP eligibility comes in the mail does that necessitate relinquishing your guts??  Your edge?  

I’m all for nostalgia and the warm comfort of things past.  But at what cost?  

The new artists who are struggling to make a living in the download era can ill afford to compete with dinosaurs playing tired retreads.  McCartney and Frey made money in the business when it was there to be had.  They can now safely goof around in a studio (most likely in their palatial estate- one of several palatial estates they own on several continents) riffing on Cole Porter tracks and phoning in lazy remakes of songs long forgotten. 

Meanwhile new bands like Chappo, or Alabama Shakes, or Blind Pilot, play 200 nights a year in clubs the size of Rod Stewart’s maid’s bathroom in a valiant attempt to make a living at the thing they love.

We are the ones to blame because we constantly look for the easy way out.  “Hey I know that song!  And isn’t that Glenn Frey singing?!  I loved the Eagles so I have to love this.  I'm gonna pick up that  disc with my double chai latte.”  Beats thinking!

Not really.  We all want to hold on to our youth and remember things past.  But for a moment let’s think of the artists creating new music and exhibiting creativity in a business that is near impossible to make money in these days.  And there is plenty of good stuff out there, believe it!!

Where have you gone rock star??  Right, you are cashing royalty checks and making a duets album with Tony Bennett. 

Good grief.

Become a Fan on Facebook for some newer artists to follow!  Fan Us Ya'll

Thursday, May 10, 2012

AWOL Nation, Webster Hall, NYC 5.9.12

Aaron Bruno stage diving during "Jump on My Shoulders"

Back in November, California band AWOL Nation commanded and dominated Webster Hall supporting its high energy and well crafted debut album Megalithic Symphony.  A review can be found here: GTS AWOL Nation Review.  Last night frontman and leader Aaron Bruno brought a very similar act to the stage that for whatever reason lacked the pop and electricity the November evening provided.

Was it the relentless touring the band has been on since early last year?  The soft, and rather mellow crowd that failed to fill the venue?  Bruno's reluctance to sing every note (rather allowing the crowd to help out whenever they could?)

All of the above?

It's possible.  But that is not to say the one hour set is unworthy of your attention.  Bruno, on his worst day, is still a formidable leading man.  Think, a somewhat muted and shirted Iggy Pop with a hint of pop star thrown in.

As the band played its encore Bruno commented on how his band refuses to play to a label, or classification.  "We play all kinds of music."

It's true.  And the setlist is full of strong and diverse numbers.  "Not Your Fault" is an edgy, anti-love song that mixes humor and angst.  It's sweeping synths flow nicely with Bruno's grunt and howl.  The ballad "All I Need" is rooted in southern Gospel.  Last night it was a highlight.  As was the trippy and electric bass explosion called "Kill Your Heroes."  It was the biggest sound of the night and most rewarding.

The problem is that track, "People," "Guilty Filthy Soul," and "Jump on My Shoulders" were all played during the first half.  Other than mixing up the setlist this show had all the same elements of November, with less, as the French might say, "I don't know what."

A very good time indeed.  But perhaps new content and some time off might benefit this likeable, talented, and very promising band.

AWOL Nation "All I Need"

AWOL Nation "People"

AWOL Nation "Kill Your Heroes"

More info here:  AWOL Nation Official Site

AWOLNation Setlist

NYC band Bear Hands ( opened up last night and they have a little something going for them too.  Aside from being another in a long line of bands with the word "Bear" in it, Bear in Heaven, Panda Bear, etc...  they also happen to have an 80s synth inspired content with a lead singer channelling his inner Robert Smith.   Unsure if he was putting on an affect on his voice or if that was the authentic live voice.  From track to live act the two sounds are quite different.

Their set was tight save for some slower songs that require a bolder stage presence to pull off.  All and all an agreeable band that would fill in quite nicely on your new downloads list.  Take a look/listen to "High Society" which is streaming on their website.  Their new album is forthcoming.

Bear Hands.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Perils and Joys of Youth Sports

Our local youth 3rd/4th softball league is now in full swing.  As it nears its midway point I am reminded how rewarding it can be.  The folks that run it and many of those involved are kind, generous and a reminder of what is right in this world.  During the past week our squad has had to reschedule games due to illness and dance recitals.  Wouldn't you know that investment bankers and other important folks were trading emails and phone calls from their Manhattan offices and bending over backwards to accommodate these conflicts?  Several components working in unison to benefit their children and ever-scrambling parents.  The beauty is everyone associated works as a volunteer.

Mind you this is recreation softball.  There is a playoff system and a trophy is awarded at the end of the season.  But it is classmate versus classmate.  Town girl versus town girl.  Bragging rights are at stake.  But none of these girls will be including game video for their college recruiting tapes.  It is rudimentary.  It is fine tuning skills and teaching fundamental concepts.

Naturally there are kids (and parents and coaches) who are uber competitive and looking to add hardware to their collection.  That's cool.  Kids should be learning about competition and the impact winning and losing can have on them (and their peers.)  Truth be told our staff craves victories like anyone else.  We might not step on your jugular to make it happen though.  Or maybe we might?  Some nights you never know.

At this level the benefits from winning and losing can be equally important.  As our squad struggles to get its footing, losing 2 straight one run games, our approach has been altered.  We would have loved to win those games, but how can we learn from it?  We left a few runners on.  We threw the ball to the wrong base with 2 outs.  We didn't hustle to first base.

No biggie.  We can build on that.  Learn from our mistakes and do all we can to improve when faced with the situation again.  It is no different from the parallel work world many of us find ourselves in.

Perhaps we relied too heavily on a project manager to handle something for us only to see them fail and damage our reputation.

Or we overslept and attempted to drive to work only to get stuck in traffic preventing us from attending a meeting.

Next time do the damn work yourself and for God's sake drag your ass outta bed on time!

At the same time the season itself calls to attention the importance of commitment.

As my daughter seriously contemplates ending her soccer career (which runs simultaneously with softball) we find ourselves emphasizing finishing what one has started.

It would be easy to say "OK, you don't wanna play anymore, no problem."

It would free up plenty of Sundays for us moving forward and send the message that if you face adversity make sure you head for the hills rather than face it head on.

Isn't it better to have her finish out the season?  She can then take the benefits and/or challenges it presented her and use her lessons moving forward?

Who knows, maybe she ends up still digging it when the season concludes?  What if the final game sees her come into her own with a hat trick and a newly found love for the sport?  No way of knowing unless she finishes her obligation and understands the NEED for task completion.

This applies to anything your child is involved in.  Whether it be an instrument, or dance class, etc...  The more we allow our kids to dictate when he or she is "through" with something is the very moment we relinquish control.

This isn't to say push them beyond capabilities either.  The moment you sign your kid up for everything known to man is the moment you become Joan Crawford.  It's just a matter of time before you are beating your kid with wire hangers or worse, making them resent you and/or tuning you out altogether. We all know the mental abuse is worse than physical.  Engage in both and soon find yourself in Dante's lowest circle of Hell.

Let's all remember how to win too.  In the SportsCenter highlight reel we now live in kids find it acceptable to look for the easy way out.  So many kids are guilty of playing for show rather than substance.  Dunks are valued more than jump shots.  Home runs capture our attention but the beauty of the bunt is now frowned upon.  Taunting is the new sportsmanship and the whole thing can be very, very ugly.

Before we played our Monday night hoops last night I was witness to the end of a 7th/8th grade AAU basketball practice.  This was/is supposedly an elite group of young athletes.  To my surprise, and joy, a 5' tall women was berating the group for their "effort" during their practice.

"If you think you are going to make your high school team with that effort???  Are you kidding me?  I am not going to come here every week and waste my time!"

It was a thorough undressing.  The kids sat their unnerved, but I was unconvinced they were getting it.  Ability does not always make you a winner.  Drive and determination, and a whole bunch of mental toughness and discipline, will ultimately determine your fate.

Going through the motions has never won anybody over.

And it is not about to start now.

Be committed to whatever you bury yourself in and do all you can to better yourself and those around you.

It is why I will continue to align myself with the softball leadership team (much to my daughter's dismay.)

These are lessons that are as important today as they ever have been.

Just hope they are instilling these same values in lacrosse too.  Where on Earth did this sport come from?  America's pastime is no longer and it scares me a bit.

Oh well, that topic for another day.  Time to go fill out the lineup for tonight's game.  Class in session t-minus 5 hours.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Movie Review- "The Three Stooges"

Ronald "Ronnie" Ortiz-Magro, Jr (after being slapped by Moe): "Hey, that's assault!"

Moe, before delivering double eye poke: "Yeah? Here's your pepper!"

Why do we like what we like?

If most of us are honest, we really don't know the source of our desires and tastes.

There are some things that invoke deeply polarized visceral reactions from people, things for which there is no middle ground. Things like scotch, olives, golf, raw seafood, Howard Stern, cowboy hats, or  jazz -- you either passionately love them or hate them.  And I think these powerful likes and dislikes tell us the most about ourselves, especially as these opposite poles meet in the "things we love to hate."

I think The Three Stooges fall into this category. You love them, hate them, or perhaps love to hate them. They provoke strong reactions from everyone. Even those who hate them know who they are.

During the Great Depression, vaudevillians Moses Horwitz, Jerome Horwitz, and Louis Feinberg created hundreds of short movies in which three holy fool archetypes -- the bullying loudmouth (Moe), the idiot man-child (Curley), and the clueless dreamer (Larry) --- witlessly stumbled through countless get rich quick schemes. Hilarity ensued, not just from their John Woo-like balletic violence against each other, but from how snobby heiresses, scheming con-men,  cruel cops, and puritans of all stripes became deserving victims of the resulting collateral damage.

In this, the Age of The Remake, it was only a matter of time. After years of stop and start "development hell", the Farrelly Brothers' "The Three Stooges" has arrived. 

Before Judd Apatow, from the early nineties to the early aughts, the Farrelly Brothers dominated movie comedies .  Their list of hits -- Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary, Me My Self and Irene, Kingpin, Outside Providence, Shallow Hall and Stuck on You ---with varying degrees of artfulness but with plenty of laugh out loud moments,  redefined movie comedies with a distinctive blend of slapstick toilet humor and surprisingly sweet characters. Their recent efforts, The Heartbreak Kid and Hall Pass, have been more uneven.

"The Three Stooges" development started back when the Farrellys (who always cited the Stooges as a key influence) were at their peak. At one point, Sean Penn was on board to play Larry, Russel Crowe slated to play Moe, and Jim Carrey was halfway through a De Niro-as-LaMotta 80 pound weight gain regimen to play Curley. Timing, scheduling conflicts, and the Farrellys' dropping Hollywood stock combined to stall the project for over a decade.

Its hard to imagine the three acting powerhouses listed above improving on the current cast, whose embodiment of the voices, character, and physicality of the original Stooges, is uncanny.

Sean Hayes of Will and Grace, with shaved head and bushy wig, captures Larry's nasal voice and loopy delivery perfectly (For you back-in-the-day WXRK listeners, Billy West, who performed the classic "Larry Fine at Woodstock" bit on K-Rock, was Hayes's voice coach for this role).

Will Sasso, cast member of Mad TV --- the much edgier and darker Saturday Night Live competitor, my devotion to which resulted in a huge gap in my SNL knowledge -- as Curley can only be described as channelling the late Jerome Horwitz's beefy comic grace and puppy-dog like loyalty and enthusiasm.

Finally, Chris Diamantopoulos, a pleasantly handsome "Oh yeah, that guy" actor with a string of supporting roles in various TV series ( Charmed, 24, The Starter Wife, Sopranos, Nip/Tuck ), is unrecognizable and pitch perfect as the bowl cut, baggy eyed, barking Moe.

The plot is structured as three separate half hour Stooges "shorts", each serving an act in the boys journey to raise the money to save the orphanage that raised them. The orphanage plot serves as a clever explanation for the Stooges innocence and childishness -- never having been adopted, they have lived to adulthood in the orphanage, never before having contact with the outside world until forced to venture out to raise the $860,000 needed to save it.
They are matched against villains Sophia Vergara (Modern Family) as a scheming seductress, and Larry David in drag as their Margaret Dumas at the orphanage, Sister Mary Mengele.

And speaking of things you love to hate, the cast of Jersey Shore is at their most watchable in a very funny subplot that wryly comments on the modern phenomenon of inadvertent (and inexplicable) fame.

What else to say? My guess is that my review, or any review, will not have the slightest impact on who sees this movie. So I'm not even going to venture a recommendation. The finest single malt scotch means nothing to you if you hate scotch. And I hate scotch. But I love olives. On the other hand, I hate golf but I do love raw seafood and Howard Stern. But I hate cowboy hats and jazz....

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Then and Now, Part 1

Like acid wash, the TV show Dallas, and Bruce Springsteen, what once was old is new again.  Many times driving "dads taxi," SiriusXM's "First Wave" or "80s on 8" is the preferred New Jersey suburban roads.  It is the reason my daughter requests me to sing Neil Tennant's beyond queer lisp from "West End Girls."  It is why her secret song with her neighborhood friend is "867-5309."  She can learn the 70s and 60s on her time.  You should be a little more mature before you get into Stones, Beatles, Dylan territory anyway.  

Not to mention the correlation between the alt synth acts of today and their 80s influences.  

Is there such a thing as original thought these days?  Original song?  

So many of my friends and peers might dismiss an artist as derivative, or cheesy, or irrelevant, because they "sound" like INSERT BAND NAME HERE.  

Are these the same folks that dismiss Led Zeppelin because they were Robert Johnson rip offs?  Or ignore the Stones cause they stole from Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters?

Of course not.  And doubtful they would go examine the source materials either.  They likes what they likes and ain't nothing else getting in there.

Too bad.  

Truth is there were plenty of great songs, acts, performances from the 1980s.  And the same can be said of 2010's.  Take a look/listen to the selections below once the 8 track or cassette you have been playing to death is over.  

You might find yourself with something unexpected.  The best case would be a new memory, or smile.

Then:  Tony Carey "A Fine, Fine Day (for a reunion)"   Huge storytelling classic from early MTV and one that holds a special place in this bloggers heart.  Can't explain the appeal...  is it the Meatloaf-esque hair?  The mobster storyline?  The Hammond organ?  All good from the 80s...

Now:  Wilco "Born Alone"  Sure, Jeff Tweedy is a revered rock star with enough critical acclaim to choke Tony Carey.  But the organ?  The rasp and scream.  The mood and melody I know, it's only rock and roll, but I like it.

Then: Nik Kershaw "Wouldn't It be Good"  Another staple of early 80s video rock.  Primitive computer effects and drving electronic drum beats played over glorious synths.  You want to hate it, you really do.  But when all alone you crank it up and belt out the chorus.  Just admit it!!!

Now:  Friendly Fires "Hawaiian Air"  Synths still very much alive these days.  And simple lyrics and melodies.  The simple notion of a simple toe tapping beat has never really left.  Nor has recognizing solid talent.

Then:  Tears for Fears "Head Over Heels"  A giant hit from an absolutely GIANT band.  Again, not a revolutionary approach displayed here.  Rather, a smart and concise idea executed to perfection.  The biggest question might be who obsess over that librarian??  We get the 80s had that androgyny thing going...  but geez.

Now:  M83 "Reunion"  If you told me this record was made in 1983 I would be apt to believe it.  But all the packaging suggests it was last year.  And the author of each song (Anthony Gonzalez) was born in 1982.  So, there you have it.  

Then:  Pet Shop Boys "Domino Dancing"  Tennant's voice is so distinctive.  Upon hearing it you are immediately reminded of sweaters with shoulder pads, skinny ties with piano keys on them, mustard colored jackets, Bill Cosby and his pudding pops.  

Now: Cut/Copy "Hearts on Fire"  Synths and effeminate male vocalist?  You betcha!!  Shine the lights of the strobe, do a line or two, and get grooving!!  Well, maybe not the line or two.  That stuff should never make a comeback.  You here that Bobby Brown!!

Then:  Wang Chung "Fire in the Twilight"  It's from The Breakfast Club Soundtrack for Christ's sake. Case closed right?  What, you need more convincing?  This band is crazy underrated and should be on everyone's mobile device.  NOW!!!

Now:  Delta Spirit "Tear It Up"  Whereas Wang Chung had a West Coast sound, but were from Europe...  these guys have that sound from the authentic zip code (no, not 90210.)  Think more valley LA with all the guitars and angst to prove it.

A nice little sampling and hopefully one to get you thinking.

What has been omitted, both then and now?

Do you have better comparisons in mind?  Is the exercise futile?  Worth pursuing?

Time will tell.  But this is much is certain.  I am already looking forward to writing the next one.   Check us out here!!!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jack White, Webster Hall 4.27.12

DEAR AMEX/WEBSTER HALL/JACK WHITE/GARY OLDMAN...  the above photo was not taking by me...  found it on the interweb.  I understand you had strict no photo rule and as difficult as it was I managed to contain myself.

Sometimes it is best to let things breathe.  Like when someone fails to alternate merge when they know full well that is what is expected.  You could blow the horn and flip a bird.  But that has not changed the outcome, has it?  Take solace knowing that person is most likely unloved and otherwise an enormous a-hole.  No biggie.  Breathe. Smile.  Move on.

It can be challenging to take that approach both on the highway, and with everything in life for that matter.  If a movie fails to engage you after the initial screening that FIRST response often defines the experience.  If a waiter or meal fails to win you over more than likely the restaurants reputation is forever sullied (in your mind.)

Maybe it's unfair.  Maybe unjust.  Everyone is entitled to an off night or misfire.

The same can be said regarding the opposite reaction.  For example, a movie you have longed to see might strike you as amazing even though critics and audiences all admonish it.  You might remember a concert or meal as transcendent.  Meanwhile, in reality the event was enhanced by alcohol, or the communal experience with close friends, a spouse, or family.

First impressions, we are all guilty of applying them.

Which is why, in addition to a weekend and work schedule that have been unrelenting, this review has been slow to see the light.

Was Jack White's Webster Hall concert really that good?  Was it more spectacle than rock show?  Did Webster Hall really dominate the show?  Is alcohol impairment partially responsible?

The answer is yes and no.

Jack White, out celebrating his first(!) solo album Blunderbuss, performed to a sold out, polite, and adoring crowd last Friday.  First, it's hard to imagine this is White's first solo album.  He has been making music consistently since the late 90s, with stints in The White Stripes, Raconteurs, The Dead Weather in addition to collaborations with Danger Mouse and Alicia Keys (to name a few.)

White is a diverse and accomplished musician.  He is honky-tonk and country. He is rock and he is roll.  He is both showman and understated bluesman.   Days have now passed and the prevailing thought is Jack White is an authentic music treasure.

The small show, part of an American Express' "Unstaged" concert series that pairs musicians with directors/actors, highlighted White's diversity.  Most of the event can be seen here:  Jack White at Webster Hall . British actor Gary Oldman did the filming and the always wonderful Webster Hall was home to about a dozen HD cameras.

His opening track, "Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground," set the tone for the evening.  His driving guitar and howling voice announcing this will be a ROCK show.  He played two sets, the first with an all female band (The Peacocks), leaning more on steel pedal and showcasing terrific back-up singing.  The male band (Los Buzzardos), brought a similar energy to the second set.  They seemed more reliant on White for its direction.  It is a small complaint, if one at all.  The larger complaint might be his/their rendition of "We Are Going to Be Friends" fell a little flat.  Again, proceed with giving them a pass on one track.  They can't all be home runs.

But both bands are beyond competent.  It might be as simple as chicks playing looks hotter and sexier.  Therefore it is overall better.  The women in attendance probably would differ, or maybe not.

Either way, White was comfortable borrowing from his extensive collection.  He even covered Hank Williams' "You Know That I Know."  He asked the audience if it NYC was able to handle country?  They were.

It is funny Eminem and Jack White both grew up In Detroit.  One is the epitome of it's hard edged urban reputation.  The other, reminds us how Detroit is very much the heartland.  White, has his roots in blues and country, but his stories are also based in that same urban (and sometimes suburban) landscape.

He is an one of America's finest working musicians.  Given extended time to reflect that sentence sounds appropriate.  Not an overstatement at all.

Rock and roll is very much alive and well.  And its caretaker is quite capable of carrying the torch.