One More Time- Are You Ready For Some Football?

This year’s Super Bowl pits the Rams versus the Patriots.

Super Bowl 53 is set for Sunday February 3rd in Atlanta.  During the weeks and days before the Super Bowl I really get bugged by one silly quirk.  In radio or TV commercials for food, beer, big screen televisions and other items, if they want to make a reference about the Super Bowl, they have to call it “The Big Game.”  The only way these ads can say the words “Super Bowl” is if they are officially and financially tied to the NFL and the Super Bowl in sponsorship form.  Do you know how stupid that sounds?  Ooh!  “The Big Game!” What COULD they be talking about?  So to the NFL I’m going to stick with just saying I look forward to the SUPER BOWL.  Now go sue me.

Be Square and Stay on the Grid

Every year a few days before the Super Bowl, I get my students to put their initials on a grid of score squares for the game. Then we draw the numbers that will go on the vertical and horizontal axis.  I explain to them how the team’s scores at the end of each quarter will dictate who wins some extra candy treats in school the day after the game.  The sad part of this is most of my middle school students don’t have much interest in watching any sports. While I’ll sound like a ‘get off my lawn’ old man, they’re too goddamn busy playing countless hours of Fortnight or 2K video games.  Still, I hold out hope that they at least acknowledge the presence and of an event that tens of millions of people will be watching.  One of my constant missions is to show my class news clips, current event features and other points of world happenings. I try to open their eyes so they see there’s more to life than moving to another level on MineCraft.

Good luck to my students and their Super Bowl Square picks.

Hot Time in Atlanta

No matter which teams are playing, I enjoy getting sucked into all the fun of every Super Bowl. I’m way into it because the whole phenomenon is over-hyped, over-commercialized and bloated.  In other words, it’s very American!  Back in 2000, I won a full expenses paid trip to the Super Bowl in Atlanta for me and my buddy Marko.  That was the year the St. Louis Rams and their ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ beat the Tennessee Titans, who came just one yard short on the game’s last play to tie the score.  Marko and I spent 3 ½ days partying in Atlanta and did just about everything you could do during Super Bowl Week.  On Super Bowl Eve we took part in a game that involved flicking folded dollar bills at some strangers covered in whipped cream.  Good times.

The 2000 Super Bowl ended with the Titans falling just a yard short of tying the game.

The End of Eating Season.

I once heard a sports radio host say he felt relieved that the day after the Super Bowl was approaching. Why?  Because he said that was the end of “Eating Season.”  He aptly described how for many of us, the season of culinary over indulgence begins at Thanksgiving then segues into Christmas holiday parties, office bashes and family events.  Then there’s the lead up to New Year’s Eve, not to mention all the late season football (pro and college) that’s watched. Next you’ve got the three rounds of NFL play-offs and then the capper of all pig-outs of chips, dips, nachos, sliders, pizzas and plenty of booze, yes the Super Bowl itself!  Forget New Year’s Resolutions, the day after the last NFL game of the year is a good time to re-assess one’s physical shape and what to do to change bad eating habits.

The day after the Super Bowl ends ‘Eating Season.’

Not So Fast S.I.

One more point on this time of the year.  About two weeks after the Super Bowl, the release of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue happens.  There’s all the drooling over tanned super models hanging out in exotic locations, posing in barely there pieces of mesh, string and dental floss.  Often a strategically placed splatter of brushed sand is used to cover up a naughty bit or two.  A few years ago, so called ‘plus sized models’ like Ashley Graham broke through the teeny bikini glass ceiling and appeared in the swimsuit issue. These non-twig-like models struck a critical victory for 99% of the women in the world who are of normal size and eat a diet that consists of more than lemon slices and boiled kale.  Well I just read that this year’s Swimsuit issue will not be released until mid-May.  The idea being it’s best to promote swimwear and fun in the sun when we’re not in the dead of winter.  When that swimsuit issue is on newsstands I’ll have further comments on it. 

The annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue won’t be out until May.

So enjoy the Super Bowl, good luck to my students who sign in on game score squares, use your imagination on that dollar bill flicking game, prepare for the end of “Eating Season” and be patient for the S.I. Swimsuit Issue, it’s only three months away.  

P.S.  If you’re betting on the game, take the Rams and the points.

Remembering Brian ‘Bubba’ McCarthy

Late last month a friend told me Brian McCarthy, a former baseball teammate, was very ill with cancer and the outlook was not good.  This was stunning news and I kept Brian and his family in a morning prayer/reflection I take part in every day. Sadly, Brian McCarthy passed away last weekend. 

Brian McCarthy’s senior photo (1980)

Whenever someone near my own age who I know passes, I get numb. Brian was one year younger than me so yes, once again I’m numb. Numb with disbelief, numb with shock and numb with hurt.   It’s a reminder that as young as we all may feel, we are mortal. By this age most of us have been through these kinds of situations but familiarity to them doesn’t soothe the ache.  Still, my primary thoughts are with Brian’s family and his many friends. I wish them all only peace and the ability to cope through this sad time and beyond.  

Now from what I remember of Brian from back in the day, if he was here right now, he’d probably say “Hawk (my nickname from way back) cut the maudlin crap and lighten up!”   O.K. Brian, for you, I can handle that.  So here are a few of my memories of one Brian “Bubba” Mc Carthy.

I first knew Bubba from our Little League baseball days.  He was on the Pirates, I was on the Orioles. We both were pitchers. When playing ball, Bubba was always blowing huge bubbles from the massive hunks of Bazooka or Bubs Daddy gum that were jammed in his mouth.  In fact our team referred to him as “Bubbles” because of the constant pink bubbles he’d blow during a game. Maybe that’s where the nickname ‘Bubba’ formed. I never asked.

Bubba was a damn good ball player and steady all-star for his team.  One distinct memory was when we played the Pirates in a single elimination tournament game at old Elm Field. That field was located where the Elmhurst Portillo’s restaurant now stands and it was the only place in town with brick dugouts.  I was pitching out of a final inning jam, two outs, bases loaded and my Orioles were up by one run. Bubba was up to bat and worked me to a 3 and 2 count. I sailed a high fastball just out of the strike zone that he swung and missed at. Game over, we won, the Pirates went home. Whew! Not that this mattered much, we Orioles got eliminated a few days later by those pesky damn Mets.

Fast forward to high school baseball.  Starting with sophomore year, I made each York team as a pitcher. Bubba was on the freshman squad and played all 4 years for the Dukes.  We finally became teammates on the York summer league team of ’78 and then during the Spring season of ’79.   Bubba was a steady pitcher mixing a decent fastball with sidearm curves and really good location. During that summer season he was our go to starter and in that spring season, a reliable reliever putting out run scoring threats and saving games for us starters. 

Brian ‘Bubba’ McCarthy in the middle of his team of baseball Dukes.

Despite being a year younger, Bubba would sometimes lead me. He showed me a good hideout during boring baseball work-outs.  While the rest of the team was taking batting practice, we’d ditch into a football storage room underneath the gym stairs and lounge on padded tackling dummies, exchanging lines from “The Honeymooners” and other jokes.

During pregame work-outs Bubba and I would hit fly balls to our outfielders and see who could sky the highest pop-ups with our long skinny fungo bats.  Once the games started we’d sit in the bullpen beyond the left field home run fence and do a running play by play /color commentary of the contest at hand.  

As anyone who knew him will tell you, Bubba McCarthy was a very funny guy. He was always quick with a dry or sarcastic comment that would crack up everyone, including coach Erl Ellingsen and our summer ball coach Dave Trayser.     

During my last semester at York we were in the same Probability and Statistics class.  Freshman baseball coach Mr. Aggen was our teacher and the first 15 minutes of every class would be held up while we talked about sports.  Mr. Aggen finally decided to give Bubba and I the first 5 minutes of each class to give a formal sports update to the class on what was happening with Chicago teams.  I worked part time at White Castle and brought in a couple of paper hats for us to wear during our in class reports I called the White Castle Sports Update.  At the end of the semester we had a White Castle party with my mom making a burger run and delivering several bags of sliders for our class to munch on. 

Whenever we’d talk about the fine cuisine at White Castle Bubba would say a funny line like, “I should grab a few, I haven’t taken a healthy one in a while.”  A glib line like that was his specialty!

It was great to have someone like Bubba as a co-conspirator for my own shenanigans.  That last baseball season at York included several beer fueled poker parties happening at my house on weekends.  Bubba was always on hand for the cards and the cracking of jokes and camaraderie. 

After graduating York, moving on to college and respective careers I lost track of Bubba McCarthy but heard from mutual friends that he was married and doing well.  That was great to know.   I always smiled when thinking of the fun I had with him.

Bubba, you were always aces in my book, and I’ll let you have the last word on this post.  This is a direct quote that you wrote in my senior yearbook: “Drink beer and eat sliders, and good luck in college.”  

Drink beer.

Eat sliders.

Better Late Than Never Pt. 1

I used to be on top of every hot trend and happening in pop culture. As I settle into middle age my ‘hip quotient’ has dimmed somewhat and I’m O.K. with that. Anyway, here are a few things I was admittedly late to the party for:

For a period of time last year Wendy’s did a $1 per Double Stacker burger sale.  Until this money saving promotion happened, I never had eaten a double stacker.  Warning, they are cheap and very easy to get addicted to.  My goal is to stay away from Double Stackers in 2019.  So far, so good.  

Last month I finally figured out how to use my Xfinity DVR which has been part of my cable package since late 2017. You’d think that a former radio geek/producer/audio file like me would be all over modern technology. Not true! Just catch me using the microwave oven, it’s like watching a monkey doing a math problem.  I’ve always been a more old school writer and creative type. However, now that I’ve mastered the DVR, I’m a TV show recording maniac. 

While it came out in limited release in 2017, I only caught up to the warm witty movie “Dean” last year. It’s one that is now locked into my DVR storage.  “Dean” is about a young cartoonist who is working through the death of his mother and occupies himself by trying to stop his dad from selling their home.  He then finds love in L.A.  Try “Dean” out, it’s an under the radar treat and one I enjoy watching over and over.

Check out the trailer for ‘Dean’. I guarantee you a witty, dry humor funny and touching experience.

I don’t subscribe to Netflix because if I did, I’d probably be glued to my TV 24/7 and never leave the house.  So contrary to the photo below, I have not yet seen the Netflix offering “Bird Box.”  I have friends who subscribe so I will catch up to this movie in time.  The sensory issues of the ‘don’t take off your blindfold’ plot remind me of last year’s fine thriller “A Quiet Place” and also a lesser known movie from 2015 called “It Follows.”  If you want to be creeped out, find a way to watch “It Follows.”

Anyway, thanks to this Sandra Bullock starring film, people are now on social media doing “Bird Box Challenges,” walking around with blindfolds on banging into walls and falling down stairs..  Some are even trying to drive cars with their peepers covered!  So now the “Bird Box” producers had to put out notices asking their fans to stop attempting such dangerous stunts. 

Eating Tide pods, snorting condoms up the nose & spitting them out your mouth, swallowing cinnamon and the dance to the “In My Feelings” song challenge are just a few of the other idiotic stunts pulled by goofs with too much time on their hands. We live in a participatory world full of knuckleheads who are eager to be temporary YouTube stars and frequent patients in the E.R.   Social media mongrels will sniff up the butt of the latest ‘thing’ to do and the “Bird Box Challenge” is just the latest. 
I’m just glad Vincent Van Gogh isn’t around to star on YouTube, otherwise people would be lopping off their ears.

Since leaving country radio years ago I only check into the newer offerings from Nashville on rare occasions.  That explains why I missed out on Carrie Underwood’s 2015 single “Smoke Break” until late last year.   I always liked Carrie’s voice and this song is without a doubt my favorite of hers.  Great lyrics that anyone who’s been over worked or over taxed can identify with.

Enjoy the lyrics video for Carrie Underwood’s fine country anthem “Smoke Break.”

I’m only a year or so late on this next ‘catch up’ but I recently heard the music of country singer-songwriter Ashley Mc Bryde on CBS TV.  Wow! She’s like a mix of Miranda Lambert, Wynonna Judd and Brandy Clark, in other words REAL country music.  Nominated for a Grammy this year, Ashley Mc Bryde’s climb to stardom has an interesting back story and my next blog will address more about that.  She had plenty of naysayers and I’ve got more to say on that.  Until then, here’s the link to the title cut of her debut album “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.”

For those who say Country music isn’t ‘country enough’ anymore. Just click into Ashley McBryde.

One more item on the music beat, one of my favorite things about surfing You Tube is finding songs that were hits for bands that were then covered by other groups.  There are also plenty of unknown aspiring singers who can do justice to well worn songs. This year on my Facebook page I’m going to post up some of the better covers I’ve heard.  With that said, I’ll close off this first blog of 2019 with the Jay Hawks doing up the old Grand Funk single “Bad Time.” 

The Jayhawks have plenty of great original songs but they also can do justice to an old pop hit like Grand Funk’s “Bad Time.”

Last Song People! (For the year that is)

This will be my last blog of 2018 as I look towards some fun things to happen in the New Year.

Come 2019 I will be self-publishing my media memoir “Raised on the Radio.”  Yeah, yeah, you all have heard this from me before but I can safely say the entire manuscript (all 81,000 plus words) is finally completed to my satisfaction. During this past summer I realized what was missing was the tone of the book. It needed to be amped up to express how much fun I had when in radio.  To put it bluntly, as I wrote in it, “Working in big city radio was a fucking blast!”  During the month of November I tuned up that tone to where it belonged and finished the final edit.

While writing “Raised on the Radio’ I adopted the late Glenn Frey’s mantra,‘Perfection is not an accident.’  The book is now as perfect as I can make it and once formatted for download and an online cover is made, it’ll be on sale. Look for it to be out this coming spring and you’ll be able to buy it from Amazon.

Just so you know I have other books to write too.  My next project will be a trilogy of fictional short stories that center on York High school in contemporary times.  I think this set of tales will happen much faster because I have a laser-like focus on what’s going to happen in those stories.

Speaking of York High School, later in 2019 I will be going to my 40th (yes, you read that right) my 40th York High School Reunion!   I feel like it was just yesterday when the York administration handed me a diploma and ‘participation trophy.’  The only reunion I missed was our 10th,because it seemed like we were barely out of college and since I still saw many of my former classmates during that time, a reunion felt premature. Sometimes I joke that going to class reunions results in glasses of booze being thrown in my face from the former high school girlfriends whose hearts I broke.  In reality, that’s not true! I’ll write more about the 40th reunion of the class of 1979 in the coming months.

The York High School Class of 1979 will have a 40th reunion this year.

In the New Year I’d like to hit up some karaoke nights and want to check out the places that host house bands that play live to whatever song you want to sing. I’m also culling personal writings & jokes that I’d like to try out at an open mike for comedy.  I could picture my stand-up special being called “No Bare Feet Allowed!”

Yeah, my barefoot phobia has yet to subside but I will be making my regular rounds to East End Pool in the summer.  Come March I’ll order my new swim pass and a short couple months later I’ll be reunited with swim pals like Miriam, Barb, Jim, Melissa, Connie, Desiree her husband Steve and others.

 I’m looking forward to another summer at East End Pool.

Come 2019 while not making specific resolutions I do want to treat myself better.  There are times my closet could do with some new clothes, nicer shoes, etc.  I often put things like that off but it’s time to enjoy some extras, because if not now, then when?  I do for others whenever possible but too often doing for my own self takes a backseat and that should change. Also, I may be looking to buy a new car (my first in many years) and I’m making a vow to take better care of my yard. More frequent lawn trims and tending to the flowers beds and such.

One thing  I’d like to change is my cell-phone. I hate having a complex android phone and want to switch it out for a simple Cricket flip phone that takes calls and allows me to text.  That’s all I want!  I don’t need all that other stuff so if anyone wants to put a simple bid for a Samsung Galaxy 3 phone, let me know!

Thanks to the perks of my radio career, for over 20 years I saw countless concerts, most of them for free.  That left me kind of‘live showed out’ for a long time.  Now I want to get out and see live music again. I’ll just have to brace for the fact that I now have to pay to get in.  The first show I want to see is Elton John in February.  The Allstate Arena is a 15 minute drive from my house and there’s no reason to not see one of my all time favorite performers.

I want to get out to see Elton John in concert at the Allstate Arena in February of 2019.

So now we wind down these last couple of weeks of 2018. I’m going to be seeing several new films in theaters which I’ll give mini-reviews on my Facebook page. Of course there’s Christmas to celebrate and then we move on to a New Year. So until I start new blogging, I want to wish all of you who read my silly ramblings the best holidays possible and to have a healthy and Happy New Year!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Richard Speck is Dead! (Burp!)

Here is an excerpt from my memoir “Raised on the Radio” which will be released in the spring of 2019.

This story takes place when I was the Executive Producer for the Murphy in the Morning Show at WKQX FM, Q-101.  Lots of fun things happened with Murf and this is just one example of that.

(Robert Murphy, the host and overseer of on-air boozing)

In early December of 1991, our program director Bill Gamble suggested the Murphy in the Morning Show do a “Drink and Drive” public safety bit on the air.  It’s a standard radio thing where one or two show members drink alcohol all morning live on the air and keep getting measured for their blood alcohol content with a breathalyzer device.  It’s part stunt and part public service.

I called the Illinois State police and arranged for a uniformed trooper to come to the radio station with a breathalyzer machine. Promotions hired a bartender to mix the drinks from a portable bar cart that was set up in the studio.  It was agreed that Danger Dan Walker and newsman Dave Mc Bride would do the boozing, keeping track of how much  alcohol they downed. Murf would stay cocktail free to keep the radio ship from running into the rocks and shallows.  Eleanor Mondale was noncommittal on whether she’d be drinking.

The day before this drinking show, Gamble told Mc Bride and I that if some serious story like a plane crash or a deadly mudslide crossed the newswires, I was to take over the reading of the news.  We didn’t need a normally straight arrow newsman, half in the bag and slurring through information on a fire at a nursery school.  A sober person would need to handle that kind of news.

(Day Drinking commences. L-R Robert Murphy, Eleanor Mondale and Danger Dan Walker)

So on the morning of the cocktail consuming, Dave McBride started with an Old Fashioned, Dan Walker had some Gin or Vodka concoction and Eleanor was drinking lemonade.  As Dave and Dan kept downing drinks, the state trooper measured their blood alcohol levels on the breathalyzer. He also answered Murphy’s questions on the testing procedure.

(Did Q-101 Newsman Dave McBride down too many ‘Old Fashioned’ cocktails?)

About halfway through the show Dave spotted breaking news that famed spree killer Richard Speck just died of a heart attack in Illinois’ Stateville Prison.  Back in 1966, during one horrific night Speck killed eight student nurses in a Chicago apartment. He spared one woman who hid under a bed and it was speculated he lost count of how many people were in the apartment.  Richard Speck was sentenced to death but that eventually got reduced to life in prison.

(Spree killer Richard Speck at the time of his arrest in 1966)

Dave McBride was pretty buzzed and wanted me to handle the news on Speck’s death.  “Why?” I asked.  Dave noted because this is what Bill Gamble said about serious news, that a sober person should read the bulletin.  I laughed and said everyone is going to be thrilled that Speck’s dead!  Outside of mass murderer John Wayne Gacy, he’s the most hated man in Illinois. I told Dave not to worry about it and have fun delivering the news on the dead killer.

So on his next newscast Dave McBride, sounding quite wobbly, reported “Richard Speck is dead.  (Pause) And I’m feeling pretty good about that!”  The whole show busted out laughing. He shared some of the details but we were all lost in the delivery of this story.  The next newscast Dave reported “Richard Speck died today.” Then clinking the ice in his glass by the microphone he said, “That calls for another!” Another round of loud laughs followed.  I think his last comment on the Speck death was, “Anyone feel bad about this? Because I don’t!” More belly laughs were heard.  This was classic Dave McBride.  The booze loosened him up enough to take a heinous dead criminal story and make it something hilarious.

(Even co-host Eleanor Mondale was asked to blow into the breathalyzer)

Near the end of the show after tallying up the cocktails, Mc Bride and Danger Dan Walker were found to be legally drunk. They easily blew past .10 on the breathalyzer which at the time was the legal limit for blood alcohol content while driving.  Also, our bartender covertly slipped vodka in the lemonades Eleanor drank and she crossed the .10 line without realizing it.  Dave and Eleanor both lived in the city so they took cab rides home after that show.  Danger Dan was driven home by engineer Captain Jim but not before throwing up in Jim’s car.

(Still buzzed after the show. L-R Dave Mc Bride, Danger Dan Walker and our friendly Illinois State Trooper who deemed both of these guys to drunk to drive)

Ever since that drunken morning show, anytime I hear news of a famous killer dying in prison, like when Charles Manson took the dirt nap, I think of Dave McBride’s comments on Richard Speck and say, “And I’m feeling pretty good about that!”

 

Coping With The Holidays After A Loved One Passes Away

As my Thanksgiving vacation from school began Friday afternoon 11/16 the first thing I did was go to the wake of a co-worker’s father.  The next afternoon I attended the touching memorial service and reception for the wife of a longtime friend.   Neither passing was unexpected but that doesn’t take away the pain the surviving family members are experiencing.

One thought that ran through my mind was how these losses of life took place right at the start of the holiday season.  I experienced this same sad timing four years ago when my sister Marianne died two weeks before Thanksgiving. Two years before, it was my Aunt Lois who passed and three other people I personally knew also died in mid to late November.

As anyone who’s experienced the deaths of loved ones knows, the first year of every milestone/marker is especially tough to handle.  Be it birthdays, anniversaries and cherished dates of note, there are adjustments and a ‘new normal’ to cope with.

Believe it or not,  25 years ago the movie “Schindler’s List” was part of my coping with the loss of my father.  My dad was diagnosed with terminal metastatic lung cancer in late May of 1993 and he passed away peacefully surrounded by his family three months later.

Two months after that, my sister Marianne, her husband Jack and their two kids moved to Albuquerque New Mexico when Jack accepted a work transfer from the post office.  This meant for the upcoming holidays it was just going to be me and my mother and no other family around.  We had relatives in Arizona and Ohio but here in Illinois, we were on our own.  And we had no desire to travel anywhere.

Thanksgiving for us was low key and we moved on to buy and mail gifts to Marianne’s family in preparation for Christmas.  My mom and I got presents for each other but made no special plans for the Christmas holiday.  We were stuck on what to do.

Finally we came up with the idea to go out on Christmas Eve to the Water Tower Place movie theater to see you guessed it, “Schindler’s List.”  The movie was not playing in the suburbs and I reserved our tickets by phone.  So on the night before the world marked the birth of Jesus, my mom and I sat in a sold-out theater watching the stark and depressing film that depicted Jews in concentration camps trying to survive the holocaust.  Looking back, I bet at this Christmas Eve screening my mom and I were probably the only gentiles in the place.

Not exactly a ‘get in the holiday spirit movie’ we spent Christmas Eve watching “Schindler’s List.”

Next on Christmas morning, my mom and I planned to visit our family’s cemetery plot and decorate the graves of my father and his father.  We drove out early to Mt. Greenwood cemetery.  This would also be the first time we’d see my dad’s tombstone in person as it had been installed just a few weeks before.  A light snow covered all the markers and we brought a broom to locate my dad’s last resting place.  I found his stone marker with the first sweep of the broom and my mom and I burst into tears.  My dad had been gone for four months but seeing his gravestone like that drove home the permanence of his passing that much harder.   It was an awful experience on what is supposed to be a joyous holiday.

After dusting off the snow, we posted up wreaths & trimmings on our family plot.  Some prayers were said then we walked back to my car and made the thirty minute trek home.   Keep in mind my mom and I had yet to open any presents or make any Christmas greeting phone calls to family members.  It was ten o’clock in the morning and both of us were already physically and emotionally drained.  And yet, there was STILL Christmas to celebrate.  Ugh.

Spending Christmas morning at Mt. Greenwood Cemetery wasn’t the brightest idea I ever had.

Somehow my mom and I soldiered on through the rest of the day. We made the phone calls, opened gifts and had a nice meal of chicken and vegetable trimmings.  That year we learned how nobody makes up the rules or guidelines on how to handle those first holidays without loved ones.  You do what you do and learn what works and what doesn’t. That first set of holidays without my dad was gut wrenching but they got better after that.  In fact, the next year my mom and I spent a wonderful Christmas in Ohio visiting her sister, father and my cousin Linda.

My mother passed away very suddenly in October of 2009 but for all our Christmases from 1995 on we always spent part of that day seeing a new movie in a local theater.  I still go out and see a  new film every Christmas day. One year the flick I caught was “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The crazy scenes of drug use and debauchery in it weren’t exactly in the spirit of the holidays.   This year’s Christmas day movie choice will probably be the Dick Cheney biopic ‘Vice.”

Anyway, to show how things can come full circle, I noticed that in early December “Schindler’s List” is coming back to movie theaters to mark the 25th anniversary of its initial release.  It was and always will be director Steven Spielberg’s greatest cinematic achievement and I’m going to watch it. But this time I’ll see it BEFORE Christmas Eve.

This blog is dedicated to all the loved ones who are no longer with us.  We miss them all the time and especially at the holidays. 

Previews of Movies Due in Theaters

In the last 2 months of each calendar year a slew of interesting movies get released to theaters.  Not all are Academy Award contenders but since the nominations for Oscars are announced in January, it is from mid-October through December when most of the best films debut at your local big screens.  I took the time to load up the trailers for some of the notable offerings.  For a look at the release dates of these movies, click to this calendar link. Pick what you want to check out and we’ll see you at the movies.  https://www.imdb.com/calendar/

Here are the links to the previews-

CREED 2   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u22BXhMu4tI

GREEN BOOK  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkZxoko_HC0

THE FRONT RUNNER  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDQd_gaMGoI

VICE     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jO3GsRQO0dM

ON THE BASIS OF SEX   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28dHbIR_NB4

THE FAVOURITE  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYb-wkehT1g

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5l8cvuo7IA

MARY POPPINS RETURNShttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3jsfXDZLIY

THE MULE     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rINpjy808o

WELCOME TO MARWEN 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6dy7xQ8NeE

AQUAMAN   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDkg3h8PCVU

For me personally I’m most looking forward to seeing: “Green Book”, “Vice”, “The Frontrunner”  “The Mule”, “The Favourite” and “Mary, Queen of Scots.”   So sit back, enjoy and please silence your phones before the movie starts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rebuttal to Rhapsody’s Bad Rap

Full disclosure– I have always been a fan of the rock group Queen.  I collected their records and saw them in concert twice.  Some may say this means I could not be objective in reviewing the new movie “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  I see it the other way.  If anyone is going to be critical or carefully speculative and discriminating of the movie it would be a longtime fan like me who wants to see their story portrayed in an accurate and appropriate way.

Actors playing the band Queen sing together on the classic mini opera “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

It’s hard for me to follow or agree with the barbs and sharp detractions some critics gave “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  However I will say, as a band, Queen was often given short shrift by the music critics.  It appears some movie critics are following suit with their film reviews.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is more the story of lead singer Freddie Mercury which makes sense.  He was the consummate showman and the most visible guy in the band.  However, all four members are well represented and the actors are dead ringers for the real life stars. Watching Gwilym Lee play guitarist Brian May, was almost spooky because of their resemblance and his stage mannerisms were spot on.

Still, it’s Rami Malek playing Freddie Mercury who IS the movie.  Equipped with prosthetic teeth to mirror Mercury’s choppers, Malek has the look, the speaking voice and mannerisms.  Much is made of Freddie’s extra incisors during the film but that’s just a small bite of the story. (Pun intended)

Rami Malek IS Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury in a well played role that is sure to get him an Oscar nomination.

From a disapproving father, skeptical record company executives to loving his girl Mary but having sex with men, Freddie Mercury was a complex person in private and a bold and bright star onstage.  Some of my favorite parts of this movie are when he talks about how natural and true he feels while performing in concert and the recording studio.  When you see Mercury writing songs and how a sense of satisfaction rolls over him when in the right groove, it’s a great insight to special artistry.

Queen’s music is a joy to re-live in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  The inside stories about how those songs came to be are more than just a “Behind the Music” anecdote or two.  For those who followed the band’s discography fairly closely, you will see some date and chronology inaccuracies in the script.  This may have been done for dramatic purposes and we need to remember this is not a documentary. It is an interpretation of a constantly evolving group of musicians who dared to blow off formulated artistic patterns to forge their own visions.

I liked the new version of “A Star Is Born” but gave higher marks (a solid ‘A’ grade) to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  The plot of “A Star is Born” has been oft told and despite great work by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, it’s still a bit of a worn tale.  Freddie Mercury and Queen’s history is as unusual as a band’s story can be and this movie serves it up in a truly entertaining way.

FOOTNOTE-Before seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody” one of the trailers shown to us was for next summer’s Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”  It’s directed by Dexter Fletcher who was brought in to replace Bryan Singer for the last two weeks of filming the Queen movie.   Here is a quick look at the trailer for “Rocketman.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpOGT3GTO84

 

 

The School of Rock is in Session!

I teach Special Education to 6th, 7th and 8th graders at a therapeutic school.  My students have a mix of behavioral and learning issues and they always keep me on my toes.  Twice a week I teach these kids a course called “The Arts.”  Since music is part of this, I’m educating them on songs that tell little stories. Together they orally read lyrics to a couple of tunes from the past.  Next, I play them the songs and issue a short quiz.    These songs came out decades before these students were born so it’s a course on music history too.  I’d be more than happy to play songs from their era but let’s be honest, today’s music is beyond awful!

Anyway, here are a few of the song quizzes.

BRANDY, YOU’RE A FINE GIRL (Looking Glass)

Where does this song take place?

In Chicago                 On a western bay               On the east coast

What job does Brandy have?

Teacher                    Nurse               Waitress at a bar

What does Brandy wear that reminds her of a past boyfriend?

A golden ring          Diamond ear rings            A braided chain

Where did this piece of jewelry come from?

Italy                       Spain                         France

Why couldn’t Brandy’s boyfriend stay to be with her?

He was married to someone else

As a sailor, no harbor was his home

Brandy was married to someone else

What stories did Brandy’s man tell her?

How he used to be a baseball star

The guy shared about his life as a bank robber

He told sailing stories, talked about the oceans and more

 

SECRET AGENT MAN  (Johnny Rivers)

The man who lives a life of danger, what happened to his name?

He changed it for security reasons

They took it away from him

Nothing,.he’s still known as Patrick Berg.

Why should the secret agent man beware of pretty faces?

It could be a man in disguise

A pretty face can hide an evil mind

All that make-up means she might be ugly as a bag of worms

Where do we find the secret agent man in the song?

Swinging on the Riviera

Laying in a Bombay Alley

Both of these

What got the secret agent man in trouble?

He ended up spying on the Russians

He let the wrong words slip by kissing persuasive lips

Isis terrorists blew up his car

The odds said the secret agent man:

Would live a long and happy life

Might marry a princess and live in a castle

Won’t live to see tomorrow

 

LAST KISS (Wayne Cochran, also J. Frank Wilson, Wednesday, and Pearl Jam)

Who took the singer’s baby away from him?

Another guy

Her parents

The lord

Who was driving during their date?

The singer             The girl            They took an Uber

What happened on their car ride?

They hit a deer

They swerved into a stalled out car

Nothing

What were the last words the girl said to the singer?

You’re a lousy driver

Are you O.K. honey?

Hold me darling for a little while

What was the last thing the singer and his girl did?

Share an ambulance to the ER

Hugged

Kissed

What does the singer have to do to see his baby when he leaves this world?

Never date another girl

Be good so he can go to heaven

Learn how to drive better

 

SUNDOWN (Gordon Lightfoot)

The song starts out with the woman wearing:

Pajamas

Shorts and a T-shirt

A satin gown

Where is Sundown told not to be?

Any bar in town

The singer’s back stairs

A local school

Why is the Sundown a queen in sailor’s dream?

Because she loves to sail boats

She don’t always say what she really means

Nobody knows

What is such a shame in the song?

Losing ‘Sundown’ to another man

Not ever having met the woman

When the singer gets feeling better when I’m feeling no paid

What’s your first mistake with Sundown?

Getting lost in her lovin’

Breaking up with her

Letting her steal your car

What is Sundown wearing at the end of the song?

Her satin dress

Faded jeans

A new swimsuit

CLASS DISMISSED!

 

Elton John- A Concert Memory From 1976

July 29,  1976 @ The Chicago Stadium

You never forget your first ever concert and that is certainly true for me.  I was a fan of Elton John’s music since 1973.  Hit songs like “Daniel”, “Crocodile Rock”, “Bennie and the Jets”, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and the title track of the magnificent double album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” were all over the radio and I loved them all.

I really got hooked into Elton in Junior High when I saw a TV special called “Elton John and Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things.”  It was a documentary or “rockumentary” if you will, that told  much of the story of Elton the singer and his lyricist Bernie Taupin up to that point.  I learned lots from this show and bought Elton’s earlier albums to catch myself up on all of his music.

In 1976 nobody was bigger in pop/rock music than Elton John

Anything and everything I could read or know about Elton John was my away from school focus.  I was in the eighth grade school chorus and convinced our music teacher to let me sing “Pinball Wizard” during the spring concert.  She did and it went over pretty well.  Elton covered that Who classic for the movie “Tommy” in which he played the Pinball Wizard character.  Even Time Magazine did a cover story on the piano pounding rocker titled “Rock’s Captain Fantastic” which helped promote his semi-autobiographical album “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.”

Fast forward to the spring of my freshman year in high school when a series of Elton John concerts at the Chicago Stadium was announced for late July of 1976.  My sister Marianne, also an Elton fan, took me and friends to stand on line at Ticketron to gets tickets for what was to be his final Chicago show set for July 29th.  We ended up with good seats and to show you how long ago this was, our tickets were around ten dollars, service charge included!

The night of the concert, I was out of my head with anticipation. While we all counted down to the day of the show to see our favorite rocker, the balding guy with the wacky specs was also on the minds of millions of fans.  In the summer of ’76, Elton John was at the peak of his popularity and THE live act to see.  He sold out all four of his Chicago Stadium shows and was even offered the chance to play more but he had other towns and dates to do.  This tour was called “Louder Than Concorde, But Not Quite As Pretty” and before the show I dutifully bought a couple of Elton T-shirts and a tour program.  Our seats were in the 2nd row of the mezzanine directly across the short side of the stadium to Elton as he faced us.

After a forgettable opening act of some long haired guy with an acoustic guitar and songs nobody ever heard before, it was time for E.J.  The Chicago Stadium lights went out all at once and the 20,000 fans started screaming with excitement.  The band played “Grow Some Funk of Your Own”, a cut from the “Rock of the Westies” album and Elton came out to bigger roars sporting large plastic white framed glasses like the kind you’d wear to watch a 3D movie.  He had red high top gym shoes, navy blue track pants and an emerald green glittery jacket over a striped polo shirt and a giant silver banana dangling from a necklace.  Fill in your own Freudian interpretation on Elton’s banana.

Shiny jackets and dangling phallic symbols were part of Elton’s wardrobe during that 1976 tour.

I had never been in the same building as such a big star in my life. Here was my favorite rocker singing to us!  It was a little unnerving and I didn’t really grasp everything until song two of the show which was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” He sang popular hit singles and delved into cuts from “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” which we fanatics knew backwards and forwards.

The summer song of 1976, in fact the biggest radio song of the whole year, was “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart”, a duet between Elton John and Kiki Dee.  Kiki was on this tour with Elton and came out midway through the show to sing that current single and “I Got The Music in Me” which was her hit a couple years earlier.  At the time I remember thinking Elton and Kiki looked and sounded so good together that maybe they’d end up marrying.  (I had plenty to learn about lots of things at the time)

So the night played on, hits like “Island Girl”, his cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Philadelphia Freedom” rang out and then it was time for Elton’s encores.  In the darkness of the cavernous Chicago Stadium thousands of fans lit matches and lighters which illuminated the whole place.  Remember, this was decades before cell-phones with lit screens.  Elton came out with a change in his jacket, now sporting an Uncle Sam styled red white and blue glitter get up and he and the band rocked out “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”  The best part of the night for me was when he howled “Saturday night’s alright, alright, allll-right.” The next part of the song is singing the “Woo ooh oohs” and the stadium crowd covered that part.  This chorus singing by over 20,000 fans gave me a shockwave of chills that I still remember to this day!

Elton rocking his fans in a spirit of ’76 sport coat. 

After blowing the roof off the place with that rocker, Elton came back for his next encore, this time in a bright pink glittery jacket as he quieted the crowd with the classic “Your Song” which then was followed by the night’s last song, “Pinball Wizard”.  Elton and his band turned that hit into an even more frantic and wild rave-up than their recorded version.  We were all screaming the words and going nuts and as the band wrapped up the instrumental close of it, Elton John waved goodbye to the crowd, walked off the stage and was gone.  About a minute later, while still screaming and cheering in the dark, the house lights went up and the show was over.

I count myself lucky to have seen so many incredible concerts in my life and for Elton John’s 1976 hits filled marathon blow-out to be my first, was even better.  In the following years I couldn’t help but hold that first show as the gold standard for other concerts I saw.  That might not be fair but when you have such a memorable event to recall as your virgin concert happening, it seems natural.  Over time I’ve seen Elton John live many times but my fondest and most dear memory was from that mid-summer night in Chicago.  Thanks Elton, you’re a once in a lifetime star and you brought me a once in a lifetime experience.

What a first ever concert experience for me to have!

POST-SCRIPT– I originally wrote this rock n roll memory back in 2013.  In November of 2014 my sister Marianne who took me and my friends to our first ever rock concert, passed away after a long battle with an auto-immune disease.  When delivering her eulogy I recalled all the fun we had together in our lives with a special accent to the Elton John concerts we two shared.  I closed off Marianne’s memorial service by playing Elton John’s “Your Song.”  My dear Marianne is missed to this day but whenever I hear an Elton song or hear talk about him, I smile and remember those wonderful times with my sister.