A Lesser Known Gem of a Movie

A couple weeks ago I took up one of those Facebook challenges. Each day (for 10 days) the ‘challenged’ was to show a picture from a movie that had an impact on me personally but leave no reason why or any other explanation. These did not have to be the “Greatest” movies of all time or anything like that, which was fine with me.  I was also supposed to nominate a new Facebook friend each day to take on the same challenge.  That part I refused to do because I don’t like throwing others into those kinds of frays. Silly me, I don’t want to be like the parent who tries to peddle their daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies to co-workers.  No thanks on that.

So as the first 9 days rolled on, my film list included “Network”, “Ordinary People”, “Tender Mercies”, “The Godfather,”  “Good Will Hunting”,  “Citizen Kane”, “Hannah & Her Sisters,” “Brokeback Mountain” & “Waking Ned Devine.”  For different reasons, each of these movies affected me personally and that’s why I proudly posted them. 

But it was my last pick, Demetri Martin’s “Dean” that I wanted to write about or give a further “explanation.” Martin wrote, directed and starred in this movie. Late last year I mentioned this film as a new favorite of mine. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t some mega-selling movie that gobbled up awards or nominations when it was released a couple of years ago.  What matters is what I got out of it personally, how I was impacted by this small movie.

A ‘Comedy About Tragedy’ pretty much sums up this movie

Dean is a twenty something cartoonist trying to get over the recent death of his mother.  Meanwhile Dean’s father (Kevin Kline) is coping with his wife’s passing by selling the family home in Brooklyn and relocating to New York City.  Dean travels to L.A. for a job interview and to meet up with friends there. He then falls for a young woman who introduces her name by saying “It starts with an “N” and ends with ‘icky’.”  Dean and Nicky (played by Gillian Jacobs) have an awkward start to their relationship but they casually bond and click.  Heck, I fell for Nicky’s quirkiness and saw how Dean could do the same.

Dean himself has a dry wit who says funny things to his friends that he just sees as simple truthful observations. I saw his humor and persona aligned with my own.  (We often gravitate towards those who are like us and that would be the case here.)           

There’s more to the story including Dean’s father’s tentative courting of his real estate agent played by Mary Steenburgen. Dean and his dad continue to navigate through their grief, albeit in different ways.  Without spoiling things, the words that end the film are touching without being sappy and wise without being pompous. It’s a perfect close to a story about love, loss and hope.

Nicky and Dean start off in an awkward way but things between them get better.

Dean’s personal revelation culled from his mother’s passing was something I’ve been looking to find for many years.  In fact I was searching so long I actually gave up on locating it.  Here in my middle years not only have I lost most of my family members, I’ve also experienced the deaths of six non-relatives, most at very young ages, who meant as much to me as family.

In Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 film “Grand Canyon,” Steve Martin’s movie producer character had a great line (told to Kevin Kline, ironically) when he said, “All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”  I’m not sure that’s true but in the case of “Dean” I found an answer to the riddle of missing special people in my life.  The impact of that answer makes this movie more than worthy of being on my ‘personally significant’ list.

Check out the trailer for “Dean.”

If you get the chance, catch “Dean” on DVD from your library or on a streaming service, cable, whatever.  I’m not saying you’ll get out of it what I did but you’ll like the movie nonetheless…

The Best Bar Band I Ever Saw

In June of 1979 I graduated from York High School. While most of my friends left Elmhurst to attend downstate or out of state colleges, I stayed home and went to the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.  When my pals came back for their first Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks I was hearing stories about this great band they saw in their college town bars; a quartet called Kool Ray and the Polaroidz.  A name like that makes you think they were a punk or new wave band but these guys played pop and rock hits from the 50’s, 1960’s and early 70’s.  Kool Ray covered Chuck Berry, Elvis, the many bands from the British Invasion era, The Doors, Motown and other familiar oldies.

Students loved to dance to this band whose members weren’t much older than their many fans. They rocked bars, clubs, outdoor festivals and frat and sorority houses.  Kool Ray was becoming well known throughout Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.  I was hoping they’d travel to the Chicago area so I too could see them but they were doing just fine touring Illinois college towns like Charleston, Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington Normal and other locales.   

Fast forward to January of 1981 when I transferred from College of Du Page to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale to study communications.   After the first week of classes, I saw that Kool Ray and the Polaroidz was playing that Friday and Saturday night at T.J. McFly’s, a popular bar on Carbondale’s main strip.  Friends from my dorm and I went out that first night to see the band and it was a wild and fun time!  Not only did this group play many of my favorite songs of all time, they played them so damn well.

Kool Ray blasted through The Who’s “Can’t Explain”,the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride”, the Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” and Marvin Gaye’s “Heard it Through the Grapevine” to name a few. I still remember them doing the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and in the middle of the song, during an extended bass line jam, they infused the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” by singing, “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.”   These four musicians had it going on.

 During that semester at S.I.U. Kool Ray and the Polaroidz returned to T.J. Mc Fly’s for two night stands (Fridays & Saturdays) about once a month.  I caught them several more times and even got educated on songs I wasn’t familiar with.  They did Marvin Gaye’s soul-pop romp “I’ll Be Doggone” which I never knew before. The same went for Robert Palmer’s “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming” which to this day is in the top ten of my favorite rock songs. Their cover of Elvis’ “Little Sister” was another money in the bank play.  Kool Ray released an album of cover songs which included an aces run through Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman” among other songs.

As I mentioned, this band wasn’t just a group of hacks, they were very capable musicians, young and full of true rock roots credibility.  In 1981, the disco era was on its last legs and while punk or new wave music was making inroads, college students like me appreciated seeing and hearing the best music of the 50’s thru 70’s played back to them live.  Dance floors were always packed and Kool Ray’s players were stars in a small but intense galaxy.

I only lasted at S.I.U. that one semester as too much partying and not enough studying knocked me back home to Elmhurst where I found my academic niche at Elmhurst College .  In time, I was able to score a vinyl single of original material from Kool Ray, it was a pop song called “Day In and Day Out.” Another original was the Beatlesesque cut titled “I Heard You Fell”, which sounded at least as good as the stuff I heard on top 40 radio.  I often played these songs on my college radio shows at Elmhurst College’s WRSE FM. One other Kool Ray original that I never found on vinyl but to this day I could sing the chorus of was “Diane.” “Diane, you blow me away, you’ll never change, you’ll never stay, Diane you’re the one for me!”

One of Kool Ray’s original songs was a pop splash titled “Day In And Day Out”

As time went on, the band made their way to play a club in the south suburbs of Chicago called “Ryan’s” that was once a bowling alley. I saw them there and other places.  In the summer of 1983, I made it a point to catch them play a bar on the north side of Chicago and met the group personally for the first time.  Writing a weekly music column at the time for my hometown newspaper, I wanted to feature Kool Ray and the Polaroidz.  Between sets I asked their road crew if I could have twenty minutes with my favorite unknown rockers and they were more than accommodating.  Until that point I never even knew the names of any of the band members.  There had been a couple of changes in personnel but the mainstays were guitarist Doug Johnson and bass player Dee Pearson. They did most of the singing and were the engines that drove Kool Ray and the Polaroidz.

Doug and Dee had an interesting way of explaining why they focused their shows on playing hit songs from the way back past.  Doug said the band remained big fans of that era of classic rock/pop music. The band saw themselves as curators and preservationists who wanted to play songs that should never be forgotten.  Sure they were paid for the gigs and paid well, but the passion and performing of that music came from somewhere deeper.  These young men were sincere artists and a great show happened every time they were booked to play.

Take a listen to Kool Ray & The Polaroidz’ original song “I Heard You Fell” and enjoy.

I last saw Kool Ray and the Polaroidz in the early winter of 1983 when they played a low key club on the northwest side of Chicago.  It was a snowy cold night and this was one of the few times the band rocked in front of less than a full house of fans.  That didn’t matter to me, I still enjoyed their sets just like that first time down in Carbondale. 

All these years later, I sometimes wonder whatever happened to this band that brought me so many hours of live music enjoyment.  Did the guys move on to so called ‘real jobs’?  Did they pack away their Gibson and Rickenbacker 6 strings and 4 string Washburn basses?  Does anyone know? Kool Ray and the Polaroidz, I wonder where you are…

A Few Things On My Mind


I’m a TV news junkie and there’s a phrase often used during newscasts that continues to drive me nuts.  It’s said when a shooting occurs somewhere and the on-site reporter or news anchor will say, “Shots rang out.”  Shots do not ring out.  Shots or better put, ‘gunshots’ are not bells.  I’ve shot guns before, and they don’t ring.  Not to get over dramatic but a better phrase to say would be “Shots were fired.”  That is a more accurate depiction of what goes on when shootings happen.  Of course here in the Chicago metro area, shots are fired way too often.  I don’t want to get into that issue right now, let’s just use better nomenclature to describe the firings of guns.

Gunshots do NOT ring out. They’re not bells, gunshots are fired.


On the subject of conversations, when you watch movies or TV shows there’s a line used that is totally out of bounds.  I don’t know if anyone in real life EVER said it.  It happens when one TV or movie character has to turn down an invitation to do something or go somewhere, they will say to the person inviting them, “Can you give me a “rain check?”  Now the term “rain check” comes from what was written on major league baseball tickets in case a ballgame was rained out.  I don’t even know if that phrase is still on ticket stubs anymore but more important, I have never, ever in my life heard anyone say, “I can’t make that party, can you give me a rain check?”  Art often imitates life and vice versa but “rain check” is a term that belongs in neither place.  It reminds me of how comedian George Carlin mocked the term “Mary Jane” which was believed to be slang for marijuana.  As Carlin stated, “It’s in all the books, Mary Janes, marijuana,.nobody ever said it!” 

The next time someone in real life turns down an invitation and says “Give me a rain check” will also be the first time.


When using public restrooms has anyone else but me noticed the absence of writing on the walls or the sides of toilet stalls? It’s almost non-existent now and has been for the past few years. Not that I enjoyed reading all the obscene poems or crude drawings of penises on crapper walls or phrases like “The joke is in your hand” scribbled above urinals but it seems graffiti like that has gone the way of 8 track tapes.  My guess is social media and the ability to post your weird thoughts online (often anonymously) has done away with bathroom comments and art.

Graffiti on bathroom walls has gone the way of the 8 track tape. Now we see all those postings in social media.


Lately when watching new movies I’m seeing a trend of showing teenagers bedrooms dressed up with strings of lights and all sorts of extra flair.  I’ve caught it in films like “Love, Simon”, “8th Grade”, “Blockers” and “Midnight Sun” to name a few.  It’s usually the girls’ bedroom that’s glammed with lights and trinkets and since I have no business being in or near teenager’s bedrooms I’ll guess this is the way it is with kids in real life. Maybe? Heck, when I was in high school my bedroom walls were adorned with an action poster of hockey star Phil Esposito, a stage level shot of The Who in concert and a promo poster for Animal House.  And I will confess to a “dig me” wall that had a dozen framed photos of me playing baseball and carrying on in school.

Movies & TV are showing teen bedrooms all lit up with cute lights. When I was that age I had one black light poster but no black light to go with it.


In the first week of the New Year I suffered a severe burn and did it in the most unusual way.  In my morning routine I was carrying a bowl of freshly cooked oat meal to my room. The bowl was on a small plate and as I moved too quickly, the bowl slid off the plate, fell to the floor and splattered on my bare feet.  Most of the piping hot oats landed on top of my right foot.  It burned hard and I quickly flicked the steaming chunks off and winced in pain.  At the time I was so busy cleaning the mess off my floor I didn’t notice how much my right dog ached. Even a cold shower a few minutes later wouldn’t ease the pain and by the end of the day I had four strips of scabbing on the top of my right foot.  I was careful when putting on my sock and shoe on that foot and yet those scabs opened up a couple of times, ouch!  Two weeks later I now have scars where the injury took place and a weird story to share about what happened.

Rather than burn my foot with scalding oatmeal, I’d rather walk on hot coals.

Speaking of feet, most of you know of my phobia of bare feet, especially toes.  Well in about a month there’s a new reality TV show coming to A&E. It follows the work of a podiatrist who helps patients with wonky toes and feet.  The doctor is African American and his show is called “The Toe Bro.”  Just like my oatmeal on foot story, I am NOT making this up.


Recently while watching “The Hunt for Red October” on cable for about the 20th time, I smiled at a phrase I thought would make a good name for a band.  It’s in the scene when Sean Connery’s submarine captain character Marco Ramius directs a crew member to “Re-verify our range to target, one ping only.” The crew member played by Sam Neill questions this directive and Connery again says he wants “One ping only.”  So I was going to suggest “One Ping Only” as a band name. It’s offbeat and clever to those familiar with the “Red October” movie.  So I Googled that phrase online and there’s ALREADY a band called One Ping Only.  They’re a Chicago based group who claim to be “Purveyors of Dive Bar Rock.”  For more information on One Ping Only, check out their website and songs at


Sorry Captain Ramius, there’s already a Chicago based band called ‘One Ping Only.’

The One Ping Only band beat me to that cool moniker.  I’ll keep watching movies in search of other potential names for groups of aspiring musicians.  In fact the other night while watching “Jaws” on cable I came up with another band name that has a nautical tie-in to it.  How about “Ben Gardner’s Boat”?

Try this kit for finding a cool name for a new band.