Friday, June 24, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act I: Steve Miller Band with Peter Wolf

The Opening Act:  Peter Wolf

Warm up acts generally fall into two categories:  Those on the way up and those on the way down.  I have never considered them a vital part of deciding to see a show or even part of the overall experience.    Peter Wolf may have changed that for me.

I had never heard the name before as a solo act, but I was familiar with the J. Geils Band that Wolf sang lead for during their years at the top of the charts.  When he took the stage I was a little surprised.  He was rail thin and even with large shades to cover his eyes; I could tell he was older.  Then Wolf cut loose.  

His voice was strong and true on every note.  It did not occur to me until he mentioned during the intro of a song that he had once done a duet with Mick Jagger -- it is Mick's vocals I was hearing!  Wolf's dancing around the stage sealed that image - he did all the Jagger moves except the rooster walk.  But to say he was channeling Mick would be to take away the unique spin he put on every note.  Similar genre but Wolf's own style would be accurate.

The song list was a mix of songs I had not heard before and hits from his J. Geils years, except Centerfold.  I really expected it but it never came -- not even as an encore.  His harmonica playing was also spot on -- and not something that was drowned out by the rest of the band.  Wolf was having a good time performing and was connected to the audience.  A great set.
This warm up act, did indeed warm me up for the main show.  It was an appetizer that had its own satisfaction.  Apparently, the headliner thought Wolf's show was good too; as I spotted Steve Miller standing just behind the sound guy offstage enjoying Wolf’s performance.

Headliner:  The Steve Miller Band

I know nothing at all about Steve Miller the person.  In fact, I can’t recall even seeing a picture of him until at least the late 80s.  It never mattered, because what I knew about Steve Miller was in the music that he produced. The very first CD I ever bought was The Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits 1974-78 (German pressing).  It was phenomenal. If I had it on vinyl I probably would’ve worn it out because the number of times I replayed it. I knew probably 75% of the music that was on the CD, the other 25% I came to love. That is why this concert was a great lead in to my Summer of Live Rock & Roll.

My SMB favorites were the same favorites that everyone else in America had…the songs that made him and his band famous and led to their recent induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall Of Fame.  What made things just a little bit sweeter, was the fact that I found out a few months before the concert that I had a direct connection to his band.   His keyboard player for just over the last two decades was Joseph Wooten, whom I went to high school with. In my senior year of high school, he and I played the accompaniment for fellow student Beth Harper, as she sang  Linda Ronstadt’s Long, Long Time.  He was a great keyboardist then, and even more so now.  But enough gushing, let me tell you about the concert.

The playlist for Steve Miller’s concert was more or less in chronological order starting in 1968. As I said above, I had no history on the man so I had no idea that he had been around that long. The first few songs he sang, I was only slightly familiar with having heard them only when I started to dig up music to get ready for this concert.   Part of the way that I get ready for a concert is to listen to the artist’s music in the weeks prior; as a result I had been listening to a lot of Steve Miller Band recently.  It did not take long however, until he was playing songs that I was more familiar with.

Steve Miller’s voice was strong and controlled. He was hitting every note that he meant to hit. Bob Seger rock the crowd,  I take heart that some Rock & Rollers never age.  Aside from the great music that I was hearing, I noticed something else. He was having fun. Not only that, his band was having fun too.  The crowd was enjoying the music and they were enjoying the crowd. It makes for a perfect evening.

Likewise, his guitar playing was exacting. Every note was clear and exactly the note it was meant to be. I am always a little bit leery about going to see someone who has gotten a bit older – – often times it does not work out well.  But, ever since I saw

I won’t bother you with details on every song, but a few things happened during the concert that made it excellent. At one point he was performing the song Abracadabra, and rather than singing at the way I had always heard it, he turned the melody into something much more playful and intricate. It still paired well with music, but it was a different way than I’d ever heard it before.

 Miller also played at least one new song, not sure how new but he had to have the lyrics in front of him to perform it. Did not get the title of the song, but wish I had because the song was good. He also proved himself the Joker at one point when he started off singing something very slow and melodic – – and it took a few minutes for the crowd to realize that what he was singing was Jet Airliner.  As soon as the crowd was in on the joke, he went on to something else.

There were three songs that really stood out to me, not only because they were my favorites but musically they were performed in a manner that was the best that I ever heard.  The Joker:   A favorite of every SMB fan.  I can only imagine how many times he is played the song, but when he performed it for us -- it felt like it was still his favorite too.  The crowd did it as a huge sing-along.  Jet Airliner:  the song has special meaning to me, because every time I have left to deploy somewhere it runs through my mind on that initial take off. It’s about leaving to go one place, but still being connected to the place you are departing.  Joseph Wooten performed a wicked keyboard solo during the song. Again, I have no idea how many times Joseph has performed it over the years but it sounded absolutely fresh and with dynamite energy.  Fly like an Eagle:   Another great keyboard solo from Joseph and some dynamite music and vocals from the rest of the band as well. By the time the song came up, it was really showing that Steve was having a great night. He was smiling and the music he was giving us was terrific.

Throughout the concert, Steve Miller kept changing guitars. I’ve seen many musicians do this during a performance, usually trading the capabilities of one instrument for another to play specific songs.  There seemed to be a little more method to the madness and the way this was being done that night, as the guitars seem to match the chronology of the songs. It was almost as if you could match the guitar to the specific song it inspired him to write. The variety was amazing, from simple 6 string, to double neck 6/12 strings and a guitar/sitar.

When I go to a concert, I expect to have a good time. After all, it is not easy to get good seats because of the myriad of privileged tickets that seem to get distributed before the event even goes on sale and if you do get good seats you pay a high premium for them. If I’m going to a concert is because I want to hear that person and I consider them worthy of my attendance and I walk in the door with high expectations. Those expectations get even higher when I am a fan of a particular artist, and in this case I was, so before the first note was played – – I was expecting something great.  I was not disappointed – – in fact my expectations were totally exceeded.

My only disappointment was that I didn’t catch one of the guitar picks Steve Miller flung into the crowd.  As a guitarist myself, it would’ve meant more to me than an autograph.  Maybe next time.

Note:  Joseph was nice enough to take a few minutes before the performance to come out and say hello. It was almost 40 years since we saw each other last, but what are a few decades in the bigger scheme of things.

The Venue:  DTE Energy Music Theatre

The basic design of the theatre gets a B at best.  I am probably more sensitive to stairs due to having a family member with accessibility challenges, but even without that, multiple staircases up and down to get to a bathroom or anything else was the result of poor layout planning.

Worst of all was the crowd control.  I was in the fourth row center, but due to a rude person and his friends in the front row -- who insisted on standing and leaning against the front of center stage throughout the entire show -- I would have had just as good a vantage point for several hundred dollars less by sitting further back.  Yes, he paid for a front row seat, but I paid a premium for my seat too and it was not to stare at his back during the performance.  He should have been told by security to sit down or move to the side (this is what happened when I went to Bob Seger a few years before).  Better yet, require him to change seats with the people whose view he was blocking.  We were all there to enjoy the concert, not just him and his buds.  Concert etiquette, dude.

I am not sure who to give a shout out to for the sound, might be the band – – might be the venue. It was loud, but not overly so. I’ve been to a few concerts where the band totally goes overboard with the volume because it’s Rock & Roll.   This concert did not do that, instead the volume was loud as it should be for Rock & Roll, but not so loud that you needed earplugs or left with a headache. Let’s hear it for the sound dude!


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dearly Beloved...

"Not The Prince, not A Prince, and not Prince something -- just Prince."  I vaguely remember that day and that clarification when I first heard one of Prince's song's on the radio and asked someone else in the room who it was.   The song was Sexuality and the only reason I even heard the song was that I was in Germany, the only other country besides Austria where the song was released.  It was probably a bit too blatant to get airplay in the US.    That's okay, it was quickly followed by 1999 and Little Red Corvette, which was released in the US, and quickly blasted Prince into serious airplay.  Now he is gone.

Too many great musicians leaving us -- among the things that I admired Prince for was his ability as a musician.  He played all the instruments on his first 5 albums --- check out his solo during a performance at the R&RHoF induction in 2004, starts at 3:30.  George Harrison would have been impressed.

His song writing skills were equally admirable.  I have always appreciated any writer that can turn phrases to play with the words -- double and triple entendre and even just saying things straight out.  Prince's lyrics were never toned down or censored.  Instead they were openly and unapologetically sexual; they were meant to illicit emotion on a sensual level and not merely for shock value.  Darling Nikki is my favorite Prince song -- the music paints a carnival sideshow image -- while the lyrics are full on explicitly sexual -- all of which plays out in your imagination.   Not for kids, but such a great work of what music can be when approached on multiple levels without restraint.

He also wrote songs for others, which is really hard to do while keeping the honesty in the sentiment.  I once competed for a job as speech writer; up to that point I had no idea how difficult it could be to find someone else voice and then to produce words using that voice while suppressing your own from becoming dominant.  That was in a fact based environment, the difficulty on channeling that way for an emotional environment has to be mind-bending.    Sheila E's Glamorous Life, The Bangle's hit Manic Monday (originally written for Apollonia 6), and Sugar Walls by Sheena Easton were all Prince penned songs.

Prince also co-authored or contributed to some great songs as well, which is tremendously difficult as you have to bend to another's input while trying to champion your own. Prince's collaboration with Stevie Nicks created Stand Back and he shared writing credits with Madonna for Love Song.  A successful cover is also the sign of the universality of a song as a new performer puts their own spin on his words and music to take it to a new audience.  Listen to Sinead O'Conner sing Nothing Can Compare 2U, I Feel for You by Chakka Kahn, or When You Were Mine performed by Cyndi Lauper  - each is done in their own style but the composer shines clearly through.

The most memorable characteristic of Prince's music was the multiple layers of style he placed within every song.  During the first MTV Video Awards, Michael Nesmith (The Monkees) won an award for something and during his acceptance speech he made a comment that the categories of music should not be separated as "Soul" and "Rock & Roll" but just a single category of "Rock".  To me Prince said the same thing with his music.  He blended styles.  You could find R&B, Funk, Rock and more all blended in the same 3 minute tune.  Prince was part of the transformation to a purer rock & roll, one based on a culmination of styles rather than a labeling of them.  

A friend recently said that he felt Prince's death was not the end of music and that many other music legends are still among us plus new music is constantly being created.  Nice reminder of both the music that is still here and the music to come. Every day, some child somewhere picks up his first instrument and plays his first note. To some it will be a significant addition to their own life and internal peace. Others will share those notes and it will contribute to all of our lives. We all need to support and encourage music in education and in life.  

Dearly beloved,
We are gathered here today; 

To get through this thing called life.

His music makes getting through better.   Wish I could have seen him perform live during my Summer of Live Rock & Roll -- but alas -- no.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll

When I was younger, it was very rare that I went to live music events.  My parents never saw a huge value in paying to attend live music events if you could get the same music on the radio for free.  As a result I have only flashes of any live music before I was in High School.  The earliest memory of a live performance was a band performing Cliff Roberts’ song The Horse at a party for kids whose fathers were in Viet Nam (saw Bozo the Clown doing magic tricks during that party too). 

High School changed the concept of live music as every dance I went to from 9th grade on had a live band.   DJs were unheard of and a few of the bands were good enough that they are still around.  Slap Water was the band that performed at my prom and then later at one of the reunions of the class three decades later.  Having experienced parties at friend’s houses where a record player was the source of music; I knew the difference live music could have.  Slow dancing especially was always so much better when the band was live. 

The first big name, sit down and listen type concert I went to was when I took my Dad to see Johnny Cash.  Even if you did not like his music, he was known to put on a terrific live show that also featured wife June Carter Cash along with the Carter Family and his brother Tommy.  But this was the 70s and there were dozens of bands on tour -- the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Segar, Elvis, and so many more.  This was before MTV and music videos, so the stage show made each concert an amazing experience.  Alice Cooper toured with a guillotine on stage, ZZ Top had live long horn cattle and no KISS was complete without explosions and Gene Simmons spitting blood.  Unfortunately, I went to none of those concerts.  

In the past couple of years I have been able to see the Eagles, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, and ZZ Top live, but the march of time has not been kind to my favorite bands as death seems to be catching up with them.  Flash forward to 2016...because of prior concert attendance I started to get notices for upcoming concerts featuring my favorite bands in March.  The first was Journey & the Doobie Brothers, but Ticketmaster’s app kept screwing up and, because they have no humans you can call anymore, by the time I got it resolved the only seats left were undesirable (who the hell pays $100 to sit behind a pillar on the far left of the audience?) or ridiculously expensive.  But then more concert notices started to arrive in my mailbox – and these included advance purchase codes and the like; so I was able to get good seats at prices I considered worthwhile.  Based on kismet and a reminder of the mortality of humans from Glenn Frey’s passing, I have declared this my Summer of Live Rock & Roll and started to pick up tickets as the shows were announced.  So far, I have seats to attend four great concerts with nine stellar acts: 

The Rock Hall Three for All featuring Heart, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and Cheap Trick.  This was the second notice that came and I jumped on it and managed to score great seats.  I had lobbied for both Heart and Joan Jett to get into the R&RHoF, glad they both finally did.   Cheap Trick was just icing on the cake; Cheap Trick’s Live at the Budokan album is still one of my favorite live albums.  

Lynyrd Skynyrd and Peter Frampton.  Not the first time I had tickets to see Lynyrd Skynyrd,  the last time was 1977 but a few weeks prior to the concert date, fate intervened when Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with backup singer Cassie Gaines and assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick were killed in an airplane crash and the concert was cancelled.  (Details).  Frampton Comes Alive! rocked my 1976 as we all took guesses at what the mouth guitar lyrics actually were – our interpretations were no doubt dirtier than his.  

ZZ Top and Gregg Allman.  The last time I saw ZZ Top I was in the upper bleachers of a State Fairground venue with two friends.  Too far away to see the show well and big screens had not become standard yet.  Los Lobos was the opening act and they were great. Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers were ahead of my time, but I got turned on to them after the band had been through various breakups and reformations.  My love of guitar driven Dixie Rock led me to their music and they ended up with 3 songs on my 50 Best Bike Riding Tunes list, more than any other artist.

Steve Miller Band.  Last ticket bought, first show I get to go to.  This to me was a Holy Grail.  I have loved Steve Miller’s music for a long time and to finally get to see him in person is even better.  I really wish they had offered a VIP or Meet & Greet option for the tickets, but alas nothing was out there.  Scalpers have some better seats but not sure about the cost versus value.

NOTE:  Just found out later that the concert included special guest Peter Wolf & The Midnight Travelers.  I had never heard of them. So I looked them up and discovered that Peter was the former lead singer of the J. Geils Band and his standard concert playlist contained most of the J. Geils’ hits.

Now begins the count down for each concert date, but even before that will be the receipt of actual physical tickets in the mail.  E-tickets for a flight -- great idea; vapor tickets for a live rock & roll experience – totally unacceptable.  Getting and holding that ticket is the second step on your way to what you hope will be a one of a kind musical experience, and it is also the only real physical reminder you will have decades later – once you have worn out the tour T-Shirt and the ZZ key chain has been lost.  You will come across the ticket in that place where you stuck it for safekeeping or some forgotten drawer -- then holding it again in your hands and closing your eyes you will remember not only with your mind but with your soul.

Even on its best day, radio will never come close.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Great BBQ, Down at the Crossroads

One of the best things about traveling by car is the chance to try out local eateries which lie somewhere in between where you came from and where you're going. As I was cruising from Huntsville Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia I was forced to stop at a red light in Henagar, Alabama. Because of that stop I was treated to the most delicious smell that was coming from a smoker located just off the road at Bama Boys BBQ. Now this place, as you can see from the picture, is not overly huge but it was just big enough to serve some of the best barbecue that I've had in a while.

I opted to just get half pound of pulled pork and some of their Spicy Sauce (they had Sweet and Hot as well), to go along with it. The meat was tender, moist, delicious, and flavorful without any sauce at all. The Spicy Sauce had just the right accents of heat that supplied a nice slow burn as I ate the pork. Not only that, they were generous enough to give me three helpings of sauce which was exactly the right amount for the portion of meat I was making a meal of -- I hate it when I run out of the sauce before I run out of the meat, although, in this case, the meat would've been delicious by itself.

So, if you find yourself at the top of Sand Mountain because you are cruising down US 75 or US 40 -- take a minute and stop and to enjoy some of the best roadside barbecue I have found.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

He Introduced Me to the Girl With Sparkling Earrings

As I sit here, I find myself listening to Seven Bridges Road and feeling numb over the news of Glenn Frey's passing.  I have not felt this way since John Lennon was murdered or upon hearing of plane crash that took Jim Croce's life before that.  This is deeper and felt more in my soul and heart than either of those previous incidents. While both Lennon and Croce's music and words had great impact on my life, neither were around long enough to have the lifelong impact that Frey did and does.  It is odd I chose this song but somehow logical.  Seven Bridges Road, although written by Steve Young and not Frey or one of the Eagles, captures me in a special way -- starting with the Eagles five part harmony on the opening line, the bluegrass/gospel feel they gave the song, and the lyrics that constantly remind me of love and willing separation. 

 Sometimes there's a part of me

Has to turn from here and go

To me Glenn Frey is synonymous with the Eagles and most of my favorite Eagle songs were those he wrote or co-wrote with Don Henley.   I did like his solo music as well, but the way those songs relate is different.  I am no longer an adolescent who can bend a lyric to match my own life's circumstance and while Smuggler's Blues is a favorite of mine, I have no way to relate since I have never been a drug smuggler.   But at a time when my adolescent mind was learning to understand how much music could influence the raw emotions I was beginning to feel, I found myself bending those lyrics and music every way possible and never lacked for things in my own life that related to every single note and word.

Best of My Love was the first song that I can remember hearing on the radio that was by the Eagles. If the legend is to be believed, it is also the song that first started giving them some major airplay. A disc jockey in Wisconsin was convinced to play the song one evening and soon after was flooded by requests to hear the song again and again. Without the benefit of national music venues like MTV or Satellite radio, the song still managed to spread across the country by word of mouth.

To me, the song related to my first major breakup with a girlfriend. Keeping in mind, that in adolescence it was possible to meet someone on Friday night and even though the relationship does not even last until the next weekend the intensity of the emotions you felt because of it is both extremely real and deep. The song to me always felt like so much warmth and loneliness at the same time. It is hard for me to listen to the song now and not think back on that particular moment in my life. Music has that effect.

At the same time that Glenn Frey and the Eagles were exploring their folk rock sound, I was learning how to play their music on my acoustic guitar. This just ingrained the music further, because not only could I listen to mournful lyrics and music when I felt sad or was exploring the depth of a new emotion, I could actually play the songs too. My high school guitar teacher, Ms. Waggoner, used a lot of modern music for lessons in class, providing us with mimeographed sheets of lyrics and chords that we learned how to play. A lot of that music was from the Eagles.

I like the way your sparkling earrings lay….

One thing that did happen when I learned how to play guitar, was that I had also learn how to sing or at least be willing to sing as I played. I was lucky that my voice, at least at that point, had about the same range as Glenn Frey’s. Therefore, I spent a lot of time working on the Eagle songs that he sang lead on. Peaceful Easy Feeling was and still is among my favorites. The opening line, held so many possibilities for so many summer nights of my own. Just me and a girl down by the Chesapeake Bay at twilight -- the look in her eyes as she listened to me trying to be some sort of troubadour with cricket singing backup.   Looking back, there was so much innocence in those times, but yet such deep and heartfelt passion.  I can still smell the blend of salt sea air, wildflowers, her perfume, and strawberry lip-gloss.  This was also one of three Eagle songs that I used to love to slow dance to during that period of my life because it had such an easy beat to follow that my clumsy high school self could follow and not look too awkward.  One of the other great slow dance songs was Tequila Sunrise

As I listen to the lyrics now, I have no idea how I possibly could related the song to anything in my life at that point. Keep in mind; this was when I was still in high school and still a few years away from being able to legally drink. It wasn’t until a few years later that I had and enjoyed an actual tequila sunrise.

Somehow I found a way to take a song about a guy who was a hired hand, this woman that he came onto, and a situation that led him to the conclusion he should move to Mexico.  Maybe it was in the chorus that I found commonality with the song.   Maybe it was just that I enjoyed the feel of dancing that close to someone during that confusing period of my life. Adolescence can be a very lonely time even if you have many friends and activities to keep you busy. The insecurity of not knowing who you think you are, who other people think you are, and who you actually are can be abated by holding someone close and feeling their body against yours as you stop the outside noise for a while and allow your heart to beat in time with another.

Side Note:  At one of my final guitar class concerts in my school, I partnered with a friend of mine who played some wicked rock ‘n roll freestyle on his electric guitar.  We merged that with some Spanish-style guitar riffs that I had been toying with and came up with a song that we performed together. Basically, one of us would play background while the other one showed off and we pass that back and forth until the last refrain were both of us were doing what we considered to be some rather awesome cross play that ended to thunderous applause. Well, that is the way it seemed back then – – I actually have a copy of the song somewhere on a cassette tape. I keep using as an excuse that I don’t have a cassette player anymore for why I don’t to get out and listen to it – – although I think it is probably that I don’t want to destroy the dream of that performance. How does all this relate to Glenn Frey? We called the song Tequila Sunrise with a Twist.  It was also the last time I ever performed on electric guitar in public.

Don Henley is the lead singer on Desperado, which is probably one of the reasons I never learned how to play this myself until many years later when I was able to sing it.   A song about someone who is desperately alone because he won’t open himself to those around him -- and a warning that he better let someone love him before it’s too late.   How relatable is that at almost any age let alone during the stormy period of trying to become someone.  I wrote about the way I related to the song when I made an entry about Linda Ronstadt.  I will say that I actually prefer her version of the song because Linda’s voice captures both the warmth of someone who cares and the pleading of someone begging to be considered.  I recently had a conversation with someone about slow dancing to this song in particular, and after much consideration and searching my memory I have come to the conclusion that yes, it was Desperado.

Another song with lead vocals by Glenn Frey, another song that related to every single long-distance drive I made during that period of my life. I wanted to run across that woman who was driving a flatbed Ford and slowing down to take a look at me.

On 24 July 2015, I was able to see Glenn Frey as well as the rest of the Eagles perform live at Joe Louis in Detroit. It was the most I’ve ever paid to see a single act and it was worth the price. This is called the History of the Eagles tour and as a result the show was performed is almost a discography from their very early tunes going all the way through the stuff off their last album.  Each of the group’s members who had worked as a solo artist also had a spotlight section where they play those songs as well. The most animated of all the performers was Joe Walsh -- no surprise there -- but the one who is solo section I enjoyed the most thoroughly was Glenn Frey. I had forgotten how many songs of his that he recorded as a solo performer that I was both familiar with and enjoyed. Smugglers Blues, You Belong to the City, Party Town, and more.  Maybe he knew that this would be the last time he would perform in his old hometown, or maybe the crowd just fired them up. Either way it was an awesome performance.

I can relate almost every song that Glenn Frey or the Eagles ever released somehow back to my life. And even though I’ve been listening to some of the same music since 1974, every time I hear it -- it is fresh, new, and sometimes starts to relate to me in a whole new way.

I will end this missive with one final song of the Eagles that I will enjoy anytime and anywhere it is played. I have heard Hotel California compared to many others that have mystical lyrics that can be either written off as deeply veiled criticism or random drug induced hallucinations. I know the song outline was produced by Glenn Frey and then Don Henley wrote the lyrics with his assistance and input. I know the song is a ballad, and as with any ballad you can fill in whatever open spots you choose to with whatever story that you want it to relate to. Maybe that is why the song has always been my favorite. I can rewrite his meaning every time I hear it. Isn’t that the true definition of great music when it can inspire an emotion or a feeling in you that was never purposely intended by the person he created it. 

A final word…

Critics almost unanimously hate the Eagles.  I remember reading how horrible and simplistic their music was perceived to be by writers in the music industry.  That hatred continued on for the life of the band, even in the years when they were split up.  Every list of Greatest American Bands that included the Eagles would also include a disclaimer that they were only being included because of sales and not artistry.  I think the real issue was that the Eagles were found and made successful by people, versus some critic being able to claim credit for their notoriety.  I have never understood how a critic can expect to be able to claim fame for a creation they had no part of; which is why I don't read them.  By way of disclosure, I have only ever read one copy of Rolling Stone because of the elitist attitude that they knew more than you about what you should like.  They didn't and don't.

You may not be aware but Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was the best-selling album in the US for the entire 20th century and is only outdone by Thriller for highest in the world for the century (which by default makes the Eagle's album the best-seller for a group).   So, critics hate the group that the population of Earth liked enough to lift to those heights?  Good reason for everyone to ignore critics.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Points of Genius In Dad's Routine

Recently, I spent some time with my Dad and as you might imagine I quickly adapted his routine while there. My Dad is just over 70, but is doing extremely well and can get around fairly good for a man of his years.  I think one of the most memorable parts of his routine was how each day started. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I was to be awake and ready to walk out the door by 5:45 the morning.  Keep in mind that while I'm there, I'm technically on vacation and I am having to get out of bed at 5:45 in the morning on days that are supposed to be for sleeping in.  No easy task.

Anyway, after dragging myself out on an ungodly hour on my day off, I would be standing in the living room waiting on my Dad to slip on his coat and hat so we could head to the local diner.  Usually, he would ask me to drive – – not that he wasn't capable but if I was driving it made it easier for him to accomplish small errands on the way to and from the diner. Nothing major, just dropping a letter off at the post office, maybe locking the front gate open in case a delivery was due that day... just little parts of daily life.

Even though my Dad has a newer car, he bought an add-on GPS that now sits on the dashboard.  I think the overall distance from my Dad's house to the diner is about 7 miles at most. However, on both the trip to the diner and the trip back, he insists on setting the GPS for the journey. I'm really not sure of more than one way to get from here to there and back, and I think you'd really have to try to get lost. He did tell me at one point that he was just fascinated by the fact that a satellite in space had the ability to track millions of cars at once (one of them being his) as they went about their journeys. I guess maybe I was jaded by the technology, but if you think about it a GPS is pretty amazing.

As I said, the journey is only about 7 miles so it is relatively quick. The town that he lives near only has one stoplight and at 5:45 in the morning there simply is not much traffic to even cause the light to be necessary. It is a nice little town, but it's one major claim to fame is being identified on the AAA list of towns that is a known speed trap. The speed goes from 55, to 45, to 35 in the course of a single mile. It is actually not difficult to make the car decelerate within that span of distance, but most people just aren't paying attention and before you know it they're doing 55 in a 35 with a cop on their tail. I watch my speed through town.

Once we arrive at the diner he has a specific parking spot that we have to pull into, actually I should say he has a specific spot that we have to back into.  Once parked and we enter the diner, there is already a cup of coffee sitting in his spot, at his table. His waitress knows exactly what he wants on each of the three days of the week, since it does vary based on the day but not from week to week. I am the wild card, and she actually has to ask if I want coffee and what I plan on eating that particular day. Usually, I order the same as him just to keep things easy.

As we eat, he talks to me about some of the changes in local politics in the town that have occurred since my last visit. I never lived in this town, as my parents moved here after I had gone to college, so I have no real point of reference for any of the things he's talking about. But I nod and enjoy just hearing my Dad talk about things. Some of the stories are repeated from prior visits or even from this visit but that's okay. As we eat, several folks come in to the diner and sit at the various tables throughout or the counter. Almost all take a moment to speak to my Father or at least say "good morning". It is a small town and part of the charm of a small town is being known by your neighbors.

At some point while we are eating our meal, my Dad will take out a bill from his wallet and put it on the table. At this point, the waitress is not dropped off the check but I guess he is making the assumption that at some point it will come and the money will be ready to go with it. The normal procedure is for the waitress to just drop off the check, and take the bill at the same time, then return the change to the table without my Dad or her even speaking.  I'm guessing my Father probably knows exactly what the bill is based on the day of the week when he is there by himself. 

We both finish eating and leisurely finish off our coffee. Then with no words about his actual intent, my Dad puts his hat back on and slips back into his jacket. I take it that he is ready to leave.  Most of the change that the waitress brought still lies upon the table and will become the tip. As we start to walk out the door, the staff behind the counter bids him goodbye and several folks at the various tables wave as we walk out.

Back in the car, we take another trip through town and then down the country road that leads back to his house. Thanks to the GPS and the close watch on the speedometer, the journey itself is quite routine. Along the way, I stop at the box by the road and pick up the newspaper that was delivered at some point while we were gone. While he feeds the dogs, I head into the house and turn the lights back on, as it is only 6:30 AM or so and still quite dark.  

All of this may seem really mundane, but when you haven't seen your dad in a while, just spending time with him is precious. My mind also wanders sometimes when he is talking and I remember things that happened over the course of my life while I was living at home and growing up. Different ways that he handles things and things he said during that period that he still says now. It is good to have times like this.

He eventually comes back in and taking off his coat and hat meets me in the living room where we sit in the recliners, turn on the news, and quickly fall asleep.  The after breakfast nap is also part of the routine. I think my Dad is probably a genius.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Velma. Was There Any Doubt?

During my adolescent years, we finally got cable TV and got access to the station out of Chicago, WGN.  The station, broadcast mostly reruns of early 1960s TV shows and one show that was broadcast multiple times a day was Gilligan's Island. I had seen the show when I was younger, but now I was in a different stage of my life and I started to ponder one of the great mysteries of the universe, that later turned into a pop psychology staple: Which do you prefer, Ginger or Mary Ann? 
This was not just something I pondered, but I think any viewer of Gilligan's Island considered what they would do in that given situation – – surprisingly I had one friend who thought that Mrs. Howell might be an even better choice -- I always found people's rationale for their choice interesting to hear. They were so wide and varied and it was at a point in my life where it actually played into my own decision-making process as I considered their reasons and either added them to my own or rejected them.
Eventually, WGN moved on from Gilligan's Island and started broadcasting a cartoon show in the afternoon instead: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?  The show featured another group cast, and another of life's great  dilemmas: Velma or Daphne?  To be sure, you know you have entered a different kind of logic when you start picking between two cartoon characters for who would be the better girlfriend, but these are questions that must be considered and once considered totally justified in your own mind. For me, just like my choice from Gilligan's Island my choice was for the one less obvious.  Velma Dinkley was my choice and also the choice for lots of my peers.
But why Velma? I'm supposing each admirer could give you their own rationales but there are some common cores that run through them all. First, the glasses. Glasses have a certain brainy nerd stereotype attached to them automatically, but this is just a visual clue to an ultimate truth:  Smart women are sexy -- but this is one step further than that. Velma wore glasses but also did not hide the fact that she was smart. So she had two of the essential elements of truly sexy working for her: smart and confident.
Velma had a simple and uncomplicated hairstyle that featured bangs.  Between that and the orange turtleneck sweater your attention was always drawn to her face. Daphne was a bit more confusing always wearing different outfits and scarves in her hair. Sure, a few years later Farrah Fawcett's hair would intrigue all admirers but for now the simple style of Miss Dinkley was easier to compute.
As mentioned before, she generally wore an orange, longsleeved, turtleneck sweater and added to that a pleated skirt, knee socks, and simple shoes,  Nothing complicated there, at least not on the surface.  Was she going for a hidden cheerleader look? And what was underneath that baggy sweater?  She was not ultrathin like Daphne, she had curves. She had womanly curves. Sure, most of this was imagined and put in place by the viewer who wanted to see them there but you cannot deny that her shape was one that was easily admired and relatable. Where I grew up more women were curvy than were sticks. As a result, I have always been in firm agreement that real women have curves.
Her attitude was always semi-serious, as she set about vocalizing her theories of various crimes and at the same time she kept her sense of humor and was ready with a Scooby Snack when needed. She was appropriate for whatever the situation seemed to need her to be, with or without magnifying glass in hand.  Isn’t that what you would expect in a perfect girlfriend?  Daphne on the other hand, was mostly superficial and even extraneous.
Even though I can never recall seeing them in the cartoon, I had always imagined a smattering of freckles across her upper cheeks and nose that just added to her attractiveness.  Then, there was the imagined Velma. Who was she on a date? Did she do that magic transformation from library into wildly passionate sex kitten as soon as the lights were dimmed and the glasses came off?  Jinkies
Velma would remain a cartoon only object of interest until 2002, when Linda Cardellini became the first live-action Velma -- I thought the casting choice was a very good one.  For the first time there was flesh and blood behind all of those assumptions regarding Velma and beyond that she was three-dimensional.  It was nice to see that imaginary choice as a living breathing human being –
But wait there is more, over the years Velma has turned into a Cosplay choice for many women. Not every woman can pull on an orange turtleneck and pull it off as an acceptable fashion choice. There has to be more. Agreed, we are talking about converting a 2-D image into a real person, but even so the facial expression and brainy nerd behind the eyes has to show through the picture or else it just doesn't work. Also, I have seen many variations in her hair color (I actually prefer red to the stock brown) and even race that still work.  I am not surprised that the many of the women choosing this Cosplay are also inked;  I always had a feeling that Velma would be hiding a few nice tats under that sweater.
There is also a great website dedicated to Velma that includes discussion groups and an Ask Velma advice page.  Even though it has was updated last in 2013, it still has a wealth of great info, stories, and pictures.  Check it out.
So here's to you Velma, and all those who choose to Cosplay her, draw her, and those who (I am sure) fan-fiction her into a sexy beast we all knew she really was.
NOTE:  I always heard the Tina Louise (Ginger) was jealous that Dawn Welles (Mary Ann) got twice the fan mail she did.  In researching this I saw dozens of Velma Cosplay's for every one of Daphne.  Good thing cartoons can’t get jealous.