The Quest for the Olympic Gold-en Rule – Quit Being Stupid!

Are you feeling a little nauseated? Headache, fever and a chill? Perhaps just an occasional pain in your tummy that comes with an auditory groan? Have you been watching the Olympics on NBC?  Okay, now I see what the problem is. Olympic fever. In a few days, you’ll feel better.  In the meantime you can distract yourself by watching something light like, “The Night Of” on HBO. (That’s a joke, it’s very good, but really heavy.)

I, too have been watching the Olympics on NBC. Initially, I didn’t think I cared, but actually I’ve been enjoying most of the coverage. Yes, I’ve even watched women’s volleyball which I normally detest. Those ladies are really good!  If you’ve been keeping up with social media, you may have noticed folks getting bent out of shape over the treatment of women during coverage of many events. You’ve probably heard of Katie Ledecky, “the male Michael Phelps.” Oh boy…that’s no good. Are you a fan of Corey Cogdell? She’s the wife of a Chicago Bears player. Oh, and she also won a bronze medal in trap shooting.

I didn’t even know trap shooting was a thing. Here’s an informative video:

 

This treatment of women is awful, archaic and chauvinistic. I’d also like to bring up Simone Manuel. I actually watched her win the gold medal. It brought tears to my eyes how excited and shocked she was to have won. What an achievement for anyone! One of the first questions NBC asked her was how it felt to be the first African American female to win an individual swimming medal. Of course she said she was proud and took inspiration from others before and hopes to offer inspiration to future swimmers. Good answer. I realize this may not be the popular opinion here, but can’t we let her have a moment to enjoy her victory as an American? I feel like if we keep putting labels on everyone, we are going to remain separate from one another. Do we call out if a winner is an Italian American or Chinese American? No. I realize it’s an historical event and we should definitely talk about it…in a few minutes or even the next day. Give her a chance to enjoy her win as Simone.  Geez. And I can’t even talk about how we’re making fun of how a woman athlete looks during competition. That’s inexcusable. Shame! Shame!

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I digress…back to NBC. First, I’d like to start out by saying I love Bob Costas. I think he’s one of the best interviewers in the business. He once had a late night talk show where he interviewed celebrities. Sports and non-sports people. His questions were so interesting.  Why was that ever cancelled?  Maybe I was the only person watching it.

bob costas

Okay, we’ve got that out of the way. During the first week of the Olympics, I tuned in when I had free time, mostly in the evenings. Here’s what I noticed…the broadcast was very America-focused. I was only seeing events where Americans were top contenders. Usually the events I saw ended in an American winning a gold or silver. The only medal ceremonies I saw were for Americans. This made me wonder if Americans were winning every single gold medal.  I looked into it and no, Americans did not win every event. Was NBC broadcasting these events for ratings? As a fan of the Olympics I was interested in seeing anyone win. I didn’t care what country they were from. Since I’ve been watching the coverage I have seen one medal ceremony that was not for the USA. ONE!  That’s nuts!

Did you see Usain Bolt win his third gold medal in the 100-meter run? He’s the fastest man on the planet three times over. I didn’t see him receive his gold medal. He’s pretty famous and they sure made a big deal about him before the race. I also saw Max Whitlock from Great Britain win the gold medal in men’s floor exercise, while Diego Hypolito and Arthur Mariano from Brazil took silver and bronze. I had no idea who these guys were, but I was thrilled for them. They were ecstatic. Jumping up and down, crying, laughing…it was a pleasure to watch. No medal ceremony. What the heck?

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After voicing my concerns to Steve (my charming husband) he mentioned that Olympic events are televised on other channels. I wasn’t able to find much. We watched about an hour of golf on the Golf Channel. (Go figure.) I was glad to see this broadcast was not focused on the Americans, but more on the leaders in the competition. Honestly, I NEVER watch golf on TV, but this was pretty interesting. I’m not sure who won. The gentleman from Great Britain was in the lead when I tuned out. I mean, c’mon, it’s golf.

Memo: Yes, Justin Rose of Great Britain won.

Over the weekend, I did see an improvement in NBC. I saw some backstories on athletes other than Americans, which was refreshing, but no medal ceremonies. This seems like encouraged poor sportsmanship to me. Are we only interested in events where our country is the best? That’s not the spirit of the Olympic games. We are supposed be celebrating the best athletes the world has to offer. Certainly an American win offers a sense of pride, but we should also encourage and cheer for other countries. And for pete’s sake! Let’s treat the women with a little respect!  Bob Costas told me that 53% of the American Olympians are women. That’s the most in Olympic history.

Bottom line: We are all human beings and we are all capable of achieving great things. We should embrace every victory from every country, every woman and every man.  And, of course, Bob Costas.

Bob Costas Real

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And the Home of the Brave

Happy Independence Day, Everybody!

When you think of the Fourth of July, you may think of John Hancock putting his well, John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. You may think of freedom for all people. Or maybe you’re just glad to have a day off work and eat a hot dog or two.

Is this song playing in your head? Yeah, me too. (Soup Dragons, I’m Free)

Usually for the 4th of July Steve and I stay home. We can easily see fireworks from our front or back yard and we’d just rather not deal with a huge crowd on a holiday weekend. You may think we’re old, but I’d prefer to think we are content. So there.

In the past few years, new neighbors have moved into our area. We live on a cul-de-sac and there is a huge retention pond area behind our house. Apparently, these are both perfect areas to stage an amateur fireworks show. Some folks like to start the festivities a couple of days before just to test out the potency of their stash. Hopefully, you won’t be carrying a hot bowl of soup when this happens, because I promise you will soon be cleaning that hot soup off of your shirt and the floor.  In our neighborhood, we like to set off one or two really loud boom-booms randomly throughout the day. We don’t want anyone relaxing or becoming complacent in their freedom celebrations.

Although Steve and I very much look forward to the professional city spectacle, we dread the DIY pyromaniac show. It goes on for days. Starts at 11am and goes until midnight or later. Yes, you’re right fireworks are illegal in Illinois, that’s very astute of you. But they are legal in Indiana which is very close by. In Indiana, there are dozens of fireworks-only shops that sell stuff  with a “buy one, get 8 free” theme. I can assure you, no one bought just one.

The afternoon started off with Steve having to give the evil eye to our neighbors because they were lighting off their firecrackers (yeah, I said firecrackers) directly over our house. One does not enjoy a holiday when fearing the house will burn down.  I’m talking full-on fireworks here.  Not the snakes and snaps of my youth.  And it wasn’t even dark outside! Steve must be very intimidating because our friendly neighbors aimed their arsenal at someone else’s house.

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Once it got dark all bets were off.  It was like everyone was vying for the “Champion Badass” title. We walked to the park at the end of our block to watch the city show and saw several “shows” all around us. Steve brought a can of beer with him and I was nervous about him getting caught with it. “Are you kidding?” he said, “there are obviously no cops around here.”  Good point.

After the professional show, we ran for cover back to our abode. Our drunk neighbors were just getting started and we didn’t want to take any shrapnel. The conversation continued…we live with a cat. Her name is Sadie. She is afraid of many things, loud booms being one of them. She’s not the only one. Raise your hand or your eyebrow if your pooch or kitty freaks out every Fourth of July. Okay, Amanda, Linda, Susan, Donna…you get it, I’m not going to actually count you all. Maybe you’ve seen  that compression vest you can buy for a dog to calm him down. Or maybe your pet just flips out either way. Poor Sadie recently suffered a stroke. That’s the bad news. The good news is she’s lost a good portion of her hearing. This was the first year she didn’t hide under the bed for 2 days. As we were congratulating Sadie for being so brave, we started thinking about others who may not like fireworks…like veterans who suffer with PTSD. I did a little research.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 there were 19.3 million veterans living in the United States. Here’s the breakdown:

7 million vets from the Vietnam War – 15 out of 100 suffer from PTSD, but up to 30 out of 100 have suffered from PTSD in their lifetime.

5.5 million vets from Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom  — 11-20 out of 100 suffer from PTSD

It’s harder to gather how many older veterans suffer from PTSD. The culture was very different then. Men didn’t talk about such things, but here’s how many vets there are from other wars.

1.1 million vets from World War II

2.0 million vets from the Korean War

4.4 million vets who served during peace time.

This is a quote from an article I found on this very topic:

‘An estimated 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan wars were diagnosed with PTSD, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. While fireworks don’t trigger PTSD for all soldiers or veterans, it seems to be a more common occurrence in recent years. Cindy Ramminger, coordinator of the PTSD clinical team at Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville, said fireworks were an issue for veterans from as far back as the Vietnam and Gulf wars.’

What I’m trying to tell you is that there are a lot of veterans among us. I can’t image the men and women from our armed forces take joy or comfort in hearing loud explosions that sound like bombs in their own neighborhoods. Isn’t the Fourth of July supposed to be another day to honor them?  Don’t we always say they are fighting for our freedoms? I wonder if anyone has ever considered their feelings.

Cindy Ramminger, what do you think?

‘It can remind them of what might sound like an incoming rocket or mortars or gunfire, which can cause them to get on alert and it can cause them to be frightened,” Ramminger said. “It can push them into a flashback (and) can cause intrusive thoughts, so they’ll start remembering a traumatic event like when they got blown up in an IED attack or lost a friend to some kind of explosion.’

I decided to ask a couple of veterans I know for their thoughts. One man I spoke to was a Navy SEAL in combat. He said he doesn’t mind the fireworks and is able to distinguish the noise of fireworks from actual combat sounds. I found it interesting that he does not like to discuss his time as a SEAL at all.  I know it’s not because he’s not proud or a patriot. Maybe he has figured out how to separate that part of his life from his civilian life. I am genuinely happy for him that he has been able to find peace in his civilian life.

I also talked with another man who was in the Air Force  for 5 years. Three of them were served in the U.S. and 2 in Europe.  Fortunately, he did not see any combat. He let me know that he does not suffer from PTSD, but acknowledges that amateur fireworks could be a potential trigger for a veteran that is afflicted. I asked him if we should be more mindful of the meaning of the holiday and other national holidays. He said yes and pointed out that fireworks should not be the sole focus of Independence Day. (The holiday, not the Bill Pullman movie about aliens.)

And what about people from war-torn countries who lived with these horrible noises for years? People who came to the United States to escape bombs and explosions? It must be awful for them to endure such a loud holiday. I don’t personally know anyone who is a refugee so I can’t ask them, but it would be an interesting question to ask them.

It seems a weird tradition to me anyway. We celebrate our independence from England by making loud noises with boom-booms from China. Don’t get me wrong, they are absolutely beautiful and I love watching a professional show. In fact, I got engaged with watching fireworks at Navy Pier. Fireworks have a special place in my heart…when done by professionals at an appointed time and place.

I would think the answer here is to leave the fireworks to the professionals. Seems like every town has a spectacular display for you to enjoy. That way everyone can enjoy the holiday.  Veterans and other people who are affected will know the time and place of fireworks and can plan accordingly. I suppose it all goes back to being mindful of others. There certainly seems to be a lack of that going around lately.  I think we have become a selfish society. Kind of a “screw you, I’m gonna do what I want” mentality. “It’s my right, I don’t care.” It makes me sad.  I see it while driving, while standing in line at the store and especially on Facebook.

Here’s my final thought…say there’s a veteran in your neighborhood. She’s a good woman. She may be a Mom and work a civilian job just like you.  She served her county and loves her country, but she saw some pretty hard shit. It’s tough for her to talk about. Her holiday isn’t a pleasant one because of the loud, random booms coming from your house. Perhaps she has to completely leave the area and go somewhere more secluded. Would you still keep lighting off all those huge rockets and M80’s if you knew that?  If you knew it really upset a veteran in your neck of the woods, would you do it? Let’s all try to be nice to each other. It will make everyone feel better.

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Da Sweet, Sweet Smell of Victory and da Agony of da Feet

If you’ve been following me on Facebook recently, you’ve been bombarded with pictures, videos and various calls to action. My favorite cover band, Puddin’ Head competed in “The One” cover band competition at Bourbon Street from October to December, 2015 in Merrionette Park, IL. A little background…Bourbon Street is the place every band wants to play. It’s really hard to get a gig there. This place is massive (used to be a Handy Andy store) with several large rooms in which bands or DJ’s perform.

The Rules: After an audition, 10 bands were selected to compete. Each week bands were given themes as described below. After performing, the band would be critiqued by 3 or 4 judges. Judges scores accounted for 25% of the total score, while 75% was based on audience votes. (Semi-finals and finals, the audience had 100% of the votes) Every week one band would be eliminated from the competition. No band could repeat a song throughout the contest, so it was in a band’s best interest to submit song choices early. Each audience member and band member was given 2 votes. Vote for the band you came to see and one other one. First prize: 10,000 smackers.

The One

If any of you thought this contest or even the process would be easy, you are completely mistaken. If I may be honest with you, the band was quite dysfunctional at the start of the contest and we were signing up for two months of intensive time together. The first week was a basic audition to enter the contest. Our first hurdle, choose two songs that all five of us could agree upon. Not an easy task, to say the least. We all finally agreed on “Blue Collar Man” by Styx and “I’m the Only One” by Melissa Etheridge. For this round, and every round after that, 3 to 4 judges would critique our performance. It’s always lots of fun to be publicly judged by others, especially when you don’t know the people. Were they qualified musicians who had mastered their craft and thereby able to offer constructive criticism? (Yes, that’s rhetorical.)

We made it through the audition round. Now, on to the real contest. Every week had a different theme. The first week each of the 10 bands were able to perform six minutes of whatever they wanted. Again, all five of us had to agree on two more songs. I have to admit at this point, I was feeling very nervous about blowing it for the entire band. I didn’t want to choose songs that were too challenging in case I messed up, but I didn’t want to choose songs that were boring. In the end, I went big and choose two strong songs, “Walk Away” by Kelly Clarkson and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. We nailed it. Were the judges impressed? Not sure. They seemed to like my voice, but one judge told me I should use more vibrato. Strange observation. Another judge said we should interact more as a group. He was right about that. We made it through that round without a problem and set out to incorporate the changes required.

PH British 5

 

80s Night: We were all stressed about the contest, worrying about the time commitment and the song choices. We had to choose songs quickly and we had a tough time. We only needed two. It was interesting to find that we don’t have many 80s songs on our present set list. Much arguing via text and telephone occurred. Long-winded texts full of emotion. As I was reading one, another would come in. It was bananas. After choosing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Tom Petty and “Material Girl” by Madonna, we had a real gig to perform outside of the contest. Have you ever had to attend a family function while being angry at them all? You still have to smile and act like family. That was a tough gig and I was so glad when it was over.

For 80s night we decided to present a uniformed look. White shirts and neckties. It was a good choice. In later weeks, other bands tried to incorporate a more uniform look. 80s week was a success, although we did take some heat for performing a slower song.

Country Night: If you look at our current set list, you will find that there is not one country song. Not even a song that could pass for a country song. Here was our first big challenge: we had to learn two new songs from scratch from a genre in which we had zero experience. We picked “How Long” by The Eagles and “Stand Up” by Sugarland. Both are good songs that I actually like. Believe me when I tell you, we worked really hard on these two songs. I listened to them non-stop for almost two weeks. Honestly, country night wasn’t our strongest night, but we were very proud of our performance. The funny thing was most other bands didn’t authentically perform country songs. They did Southern rock songs or country songs in a rock arrangement. We thought we were supposed to do actual country songs in a country style. Hmmm…doubt setting in. This was the first time we were in the bottom three bands, meaning we were almost eliminated from the contest.

PH Country

Disco Night: I thought 80s songs were hard to choose. That was nothing compared to choosing two disco songs. After (too) much deliberation we decided to go with crowd favorites, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. Do you have any idea how many words are in “I Will Survive?” I can tell you, there are a lot. Okay, I flubbed one line…get off my back!! Just kidding, it was barely noticeable. The boys did an excellent job, as usual. The crowd was on their feet dancing and cheering. It was one of our best nights ever as a band. Much to our surprise, we were in the bottom three bands again. What? That just doesn’t make sense. Many of the other bands performed funk songs instead of disco songs and weren’t called out on that. Is there something fishy going on here?

Thanksgiving Break: This contest ran every Thursday night from October to December, so we had Thanksgiving week off. During this time, the remaining six bands were asked to make a one minute promotional video. The instructions I heard were, “Be creative. Promote the contest. Promote your band and showcase your personalities.” Also, we were told would be given “points” based on our video. On Black Friday I coerced the band to take part in filming a silly video. The concept was wacky, but they were good sports about it. My brother even came over to help film. We were also told that these videos would be on Bourbon Street’s Facebook page to promote the contest, but that didn’t happen. What did happen is that most of the other bands made a video to promote their band. Some were better than others, of course. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’s really good at editing. Each video was played before each band’s performance during the next round of competition. Everyone else’s video went off without a hitch, but when it came time for ours, the last 10 seconds got cut off. That was the funniest part. While we were greatly disappointed the entire video didn’t get played, we still won for best video. No points were awarded to anyone. Hmm…glad we went through all that trouble.

British Invasion Night and Video Unveiling Night: Here’s a genre we can really sink our teeth into. Let’s play some rocky roll! We selected “Pinball Wizard” by The Who, “She’s Not There” by The Zombies and “Help” by The Beatles. Not only did we have a good time playing these songs, it was one of our best performances of the contest. While most of the judges praised our promo video, one judge said he didn’t like it. He said he wouldn’t book our band based on that video. Steve promptly retorted that the point of the video wasn’t to get a gig, but to promote the contest, per Bourbon Street’s instructions. For the most part, the judges liked our set and we received many compliments from the crowd. Oh, and the judges really liked my pants. Well, that’s nice. Guess what? We were in the bottom three bands again. What’s going on here? How can that be? We brought dozens of friends and family members out every single week to vote for us. Is this thing fixed? The band who was eliminated that night was not Puddin’ Head, thankfully. It was another band of guys we really liked from Milwaukee. The judges saved them at the last minute, moving them forward to the semi-finals.

Before I move on the semi-finals, I’d like to point out a few things. Every band in this competition was talented. It really was a pleasure to hear each band’s performance. That being said, there was one band that was the alleged front-runner from week one. No matter what this band did, the judges just ate it up. They could do no wrong. Even when other bands had stronger performances, this band was still set up by the judges as “the band to beat.” Here’s the thing though, this band didn’t have nearly as many people as other bands did, but they were NEVER in the bottom three bands. Never. Not even for a second. Is it possible everyone loved this band, so EVERYONE used their second vote on them? It’s possible, sure. Still seems a bit odd, though. Every other band was in the bottom three at some point, but not this band.

Semi-Finals: For this night, the judges picked songs for each band to do. We all blindly drew a song from the 80s, 90s and 00s. Some bands got some really terrible songs. We did alright. It could have been way worse. We performed, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears and “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift. The guys hadn’t even heard the two girl songs and I had never heard the Taylor Swift song. Did I mention we had to put these three songs into medley form? Different keys and different genres in a medley. We had less than a week to put it together. Karl really came through on this one. With help from all of us, he was able to craft a seamless medley. It was quite good. The bad news was I had 8 minutes of lyrics to memorize. Have you ever listened to “Pour Some Sugar?” Those words are jacked up. As a group we did a really good job. We played songs we didn’t like that we had just learned in front of a big crowd. And we did it with gusto. Many of the other bands didn’t even perform their songs in a medley, as required, but the judges seemed okay with some bands bending the rules. This night two bands would be eliminated since the judges saved a band from the week before. This is where the curtain dropped on Puddin’ Head.

We were disappointed. Well, I was disappointed and angry. It was such a weird night and it’s where a lot of realizations hit home for me. After our performance, one of the judges said we sounded sloppy. That simply wasn’t true. We heard other bands totally screw up and they were fawned over by the judges. The only bands that received criticism were the two bands that were cut. It was almost like the judges knew who was going to be eliminated, so they had to give just cause, whether it was true or not. Also, when it came time for voting, you wouldn’t have believed how many people were suddenly in attendance. It seemed like an extra hundred people showed up right at the end to vote. It was bizarre.

Needless to say, the finals went on without us. It was a stressful seven weeks. Scrambling to learn songs, practicing non-stop and being nervous for seven weeks straight can really take a toll on a person. While I was sad Puddin’ Head didn’t make it to the finals, I was a bit relieved to be done with the drama of it. Hey, remember that band that the judges picked to win back at week one? They didn’t win. Was this contest fixed the whole time? Did a few bands get a free pass to the finals, while others had to coerce their fans to show up every single Thursday night for 3 months? I think that’s possible.

Bourbon Street runs a vocal “The One” contest a couple of times a year. This was their first time running a cover band competition. Granted, there will be some hiccups, I get that. Rules were changed as the contest went on. Seemed like they were making things up as they went along. People got preferential treatment, seemingly. Some bands were able to hang out after the show to drink with the judges and the folks who organized the contest. Is this appropriate when $10,000 was on the line? Maybe not. Also, the number of votes each band received on a weekly basis was never shared. So it was really up to the venue/judges which bands would move forward. There was no proof shared about the number of votes cast or counted.

Meanwhile, we learned late in the process that some bands had made deals with each other to eliminate other bands. They would get their fans to vote for each other, thereby removing the fairness of the vote. Bands worked together to get rid of other bands they perceived as a threat. Things got a little ugly because of it. As you may know, in a competition people can get emotional about whom they “like” or “don’t like.” Honestly, I feel like our fans were kind and generous. They watched every band and clapped for every band. There was one night where I noticed that a whole side of the room wouldn’t clap for us or engage at all. It was so sad to see. Someone had told these people not to support other bands and those people did exactly that. They clapped and cheered only for their band. That’s pretty awful.

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Alright, it wasn’t all bad. We had the opportunity to perform on a nice big stage several times (for free.) Bourbon Street provided cool lights and a sound company to make us sound our best. We have really cool videos to share and we have beautiful photographs of the event. Although we were all frustrated with the process and the outcome, we are very proud of the work we did together. We learned a lot of songs in a short amount of time and we bonded again as a group. Plus, we received a lot of support from our family and friends. That made us feel great. We also feel good that we played by the rules the entire time we participated. We always kept it classy. We didn’t flip off the judges, like some did and we never schemed to get rid of another band. I’m also glad we met a lot of kind, generous and talented musicians. Am I glad we did it? Yeah. Would I do it again? No.

This was not a contest about musicianship. In the end, it didn’t matter if the winning band was the best band. It was a contest about how many people a band could convince to come out and vote. I’m sure the venue made a ton of money every single week and that was probably the point, right? I know our friends and family spent a boatload of cash there. If Puddin’ Head brought 200 people every week, we would have won no matter how good or bad we performed. If any other band had done that, they would have won. Talent got us all into the competition, but talent did not rule the day. Art shouldn’t be pitted against art. This contest did not support local music at all. It actually reminded me how shitty this business can be. Any band, good or bad, can play a gig anywhere they want if they can bring 100 people with them. It’s that simple. An excellent band that can only bring 20 people? Sorry, no gig for you. Why is this so? Because we’ve all let that happen. All of us…bands, bar owners and fans. We’ve allowed venues to treat us this way for years and now we can’t back out of it. It’s frustrating and wrong, and it seems unfixable at this point. To drive this point home, Bourbon Street did not even announce the winner on their Facebook page. Is it because the band they were rooting for the whole time didn’t win? How rude to not congratulate the band that, not only played at your venue for several weeks for free, but also got a ton of people to hang out at your establishment for all of those weeks. Not a professional or kind way to handle that.

But hey, don’t let me tell you what to think. You can find out for yourself. Take a peek at Bourbon Street’s Facebook page. You can see for yourself how much promotion they did on their end, which was very little compared to the promotion the individual bands provided. Also, check out the other bands that participated. And while you’re at it, like their pages and support what they do. They are all talented musicians who have invested time and money into their craft. Here are the bands in no particular order: Evolution, Take Cover, Me & The Fellas, Blue Sky Blind, The Heart Sutra, LAVA Rock, Party Anthem, Reverend “T” & The Soul Shakers, Jailbreak Chicago and of course, Puddin’ Head.

I’d like to show some love to my band. Karl, Steve, Otto and Art…you guys are the best. I’m so glad we did this together. You’re like a second family to me. It’s been an honor and privilege to share the stage with you. If the Village People taught us anything, it’s that you can’t stop the music. And the YMCA is a creepy place to hang out.

Village People

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Didn’t Watch The Oscars

If you say Oscar, I’ll say Mayer. Oscar! Mayer! Oscar! Mayer! Sure, I’ll have a hot dog. Yum.

Hot Dog

Some people get all goofy about the Oscars. I’m not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies. I have a Netflix account just like everyone else. I have all the cable channels, so I can watch the same movies multiple times, if I want. (Thanks HBO!) Although I don’t watch much comedy, I’ll watch just about anything else. Drama, sci-fi, action, documentary, foreign…all that stuff. Like most people, I enjoy movies that tell a riveting story and make me really feel strongly about something.

That being said, I still didn’t watch the Oscars. Okay, I watched a little bit. I watched Chris Rock’s monologue and I watched the screenwriter awards (duh) and I saw Louis C.K. present for short documentary. I thought the monologue was pretty bad. Chris Rock has made me laugh in the past, but his delivery seemed clumsy last night. He made some good points, for sure, but if he was trying to be funny, it didn’t work. Especially the line about “Rhianna’s panties.” That was so weird and creepy. As Chris was talking about racism in Hollywood, the mostly-white crowd kept clapping for every joke that was attacking them. It was like watching sheep being led to the slaughter. He’s talking about you, y’all. Is Hollywood racist? Yeah. Is Hollywood sexist? Oh yeah. Is that news to anyone? I figured that’s something we already knew. I just remembered I saw some other bit Chris did about PricewaterhouseCoopers…three kids came out and I think they were Asian. Am I right here? He even made a comment about it being racist. So…we’re just going to keep the bad vibes going? I read about Stacey Dash, didn’t see her. Seemed like she had an interesting message, but the Oscars was not the platform for that message. Who let that happen? So strange.

I thought Louis C.K.’s comments were funny and it made him seem more down to earth than anyone else in that room. He talked about how people who make short documentaries would genuinely be excited to win an Oscar because they don’t make any money doing what they do. “This Oscar will probably be the nicest thing they will ever own.” Those people will keep doing important work, hopefully. The Oscar won’t ensure a great role or opportunity next year, like most actors will get, but it may keep their Honda Civic running for a few more months.

Which leads me to the point of this essay. I didn’t watch the Oscars because honestly, the ceremony makes me uncomfortable. It all seems so dumb to me. Millionaires giving awards to other millionaires. I feel like this is another reason why other countries think Americans are idiots. So much money and energy is spent on this ceremony. We talk about it for weeks and weeks. What someone wears is crucial and we all judge them harshly on their selections. Do you do your job to win an award? Probably not. These people that we raise up to unrealistic celebrity status make millions for what they do, now there’s a televised event to honor them further? It’s too much. Too extravagant. Too wasteful. Have you ever seen footage of the first Oscar shows? They weren’t even televised and they didn’t last for 5 hours. It was a ceremony where professionals honored other professionals. It wasn’t a ratings grabber or an evening of pomp where celebrities are given thousands of dollars of swag for just showing up. The ceremony had an air of class, unlike recent years where it all seems like over-indulgent bullshit.

 Racist, sexist, fair, unfair…is your life any different today? Nope. I still had to go to work and I’m sure you did too. Oh. My. God! Leo FINALLY won! Are you kidding me? He’s been winning for years. That guy never has to work again. Were you feeling sorry for him because he didn’t have an Oscar? C’mon! His life is pretty wonderful, I bet. And was he the best actor? Seems impossible to pit art against art, but that’s a tale for another essay. I wish we could all get it together and get this BS under control. It’s way out of hand. Girls thinking they’re too fat or not pretty enough? Whole races of people STILL being excluded? Behind- the-scenes artists being snubbed? Of course we should appreciate art and enjoy film, but this ain’t the way to do it.

 Don’t even get me started on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame!

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Everyone Says Hi

It’s so weird to me that when someone we love dies, the world just keeps moving. I feel like everything should stop while we all process the sad news, but it simply doesn’t work that way. Monday morning when I found out David Bowie had passed away I felt like I had been punched in the stomach by a schoolyard bully. He took my lunch money, too. I was left alone by the monkey bars with tears in my eyes. During the weekly staff meeting, I reported that I was sad. A few of my co-workers said they thought of me right away when they heard the news, while other co-workers looked at me like I was a crazy person. Well, crazier than usual. They just don’t get it.

I have learned that some people just don’t give a shit about music. I have read that “pop music of today is disposable.” Have you listened to what’s popular today? A lot of repetition…verse and chorus sound the same…weird topics about nothing at all. No wonder we only hear it in the background while we’re twerking in the club and then walk away, discarding the wasted tracks. It’s like a deep kiss from a sultry lover followed up by a stinging backhand slap to the face. I’m not saying music can’t be fun. There’s a time and a place for upbeat, dance/pop/country music that regales a summer evening at the beach drinking beer out of a plastic cup with one’s friends. But the non-stop, constant barrage of this stuff is enough to make an authentic music lover sad.

That being said, it’s easy to see why many people don’t care about music. I guess I was lucky that I grew up in a family that thrived on creativity. My Mom is a wonderful writer and can make up funny stories. Although she claims to have no musical ability, she is above and beyond, a music supporter. In a previous blog I told you about my brother and me listening to my Mom’s 45’s from the magical striped box in the closet. Paul and I listened to her records before we listened to anything we picked. The Beatles, The Doors, Neil Diamond, John Denver, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Herman’s Hermits…we heard them first through Mom. And you know my brother Paul is about the most musical person I know. (See previous blogs.) He is also the biggest David Bowie fan I know. I may have only been a casual Bowie fan, if not for Paul. Luckily, Paul encouraged me to listen beyond “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” to hear what Bowie was really about.

And what was Bowie really about, you ask? He was about life. He was a lover and a fighter. He was happy and he was angry. He was one of us. He wasn’t perfect or conventionally beautiful. He wrote and sang about what we all were living every single day. He showed us that it was cool to be different. It was okay to love yourself, no matter what. Fuck what those other people say!

Although it’s sad to see him go, we are all so lucky to be able to share in his life. And just think of all the people after us who will continue to celebrate his catalog of creation. It’s special to us because we were here when it happened and that’s why we are so shocked and sad. He told us to be heroes and now we have to be. We have to keep talking about music and art and fashion and innovation. Let’s inspire each other just like Bowie inspired us. Those people who don’t care about music…or just don’t understand it, leave them be. Wish them well and put on your headphones. You get it. Remember, you’re not alone. There are others just like you and we accept you just as you are, because that’s how it’s supposed to be. ‘Don’t stay in a sad place where no one cares how you are. Everyone says hi.’

 One time with me….Awwwww….WHAM, BAM THANK YOU MA’AM!!!!!!!

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Beautiful animation by Helen Green

Is This Cup Half Empty? (Dedicated to Ray North)

I’ve been struggling with a thought lately. Here’s my question: Am I living life to the fullest? What does that even mean? I hear people talk about it all the time, but who actually does it? I asked some of my friends and family what they thought.

I have a friend at work. Yeah, can you believe that? His name is Joe. He is a writer. Not only is he a genuinely nice person, but he makes me laugh every day. He’s one of those people that just makes the day better. You can give Joe the most boring topic and he will think of something clever to write about it. He self-published a children’s book, They Don’t Make Books About Uncles and he’s working on a play that I know will be successful…he’s just that kind of guy. Although I’ve only known Joe for a short time, I very much admire him and I know that he has changed my life for the better. He has inspired and encouraged me to write and create and try. That being said, I asked Joe what it means to live life to the fullest. We have the same job and it’s not always glamorous. Yes, we write and create, but there are rules and guidelines to follow and it can get monotonous and frustrating. It’s not always easy to be a creative type in the corporate world. Joe told me that it’s hard to live every moment to the fullest, but it’s what you make of the good things that happen. He said we have to fully enjoy the successes and the happy times. I happen to know that Joe’s family and friends are very important to him and he works to cultivate those relationships. Immerse yourself in the great moments and don’t worry about the small, mundane stuff. Maybe work is just what you have to do to get to the next great moment. I think Joe is on to something. He seems like a happy person to me.

Jeanne and Joe

I also discussed this topic with Steve. You all remember Steve; he’s my husband. You may remember him from such blogs as…you get it. I asked, “Steve, are you living life to the fullest?” He said, “Well, I sure am busy.” That’s not what I meant and I’m sure he knew that. Steve’s passion is music and sound. I believe that when he’s playing music or recording, he is doing what he loves most. In those moments, he is living life to the fullest. In our discussion, we talked about how it may be hard to live life to the fullest when you have to worry about bills and money. One cannot simply travel and take time out to write a novel or produce an album. How can a person be happy when he is hungry or homeless? Well, that’s an interesting thought. Is it only rich people who can really take advantage of a full life?

Jeanne and Steve

I have been listening to a book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic. In this book, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. It’s a choice one makes to pursue their creative endeavors in a responsible and mature way. She explains that creating is free. It’s for the rich and the poor. She mentions that if only the rich could create, the world would surely be a boring place. She cautions her listeners/readers to never make the artistic craft a burden. Work at it because you love it. Don’t do it to impress other people or even make a living. Do it for yourself; to make you happy. She describes a different way of thinking about being creative and talks about her path as a writer and novelist. She wrote Eat, Pray, Love for herself to work through her own life issues. It just happened to resound with millions of readers. (If you’re a creative type, I would highly recommend listening to or reading “Big Magic.”)

While I’m tossing all of these ideas around in my head, something sad happened. One of my brother’s best friends from high school, Ray North has been battling cancer for awhile. After a brave fight, Ray passed away on November 10th. My brother flew to Texas where Ray was getting treatment to be with him and to ultimately say goodbye. I hadn’t seen Ray since I was in high school. We went to the same school, but my brother and Ray graduated the year before I started. Basically, I knew Ray through Paul. Since I always thought my brother was pretty cool, I knew that Ray was cool, too. He was really cute, he could sing, he was in marching band and he had this killer smile. Oh, and he wasn’t rude to me, his friend’s stupid kid sister. Paul recently talked about when he walked into his new high school as a sophomore, he was very nervous. Ray was one of the first people to talk to Paul and made him feel welcome, including Paul in the “cool crowd.” That’s pretty powerful stuff. That’s a gift you never forget about.

At Ray’s wake and funeral I learned even more about him. He has a lovely family. A beautiful wife and four happy kids. Paul and his friend Eric, (also one of Ray’s good friends from high school,) made a slideshow about Ray. In every picture Ray’s smile shone. There were pictures of Ray goofing around with his family growing up and then enjoying happy moments with his wife and kids. I am not kidding, at Ray’s funeral, the church was packed. Not one empty seat. And it was a pretty big church. I was astounded at all of the lives Ray had touched at church, at work, through Scouting, or just within the community. Everyone in that huge room loved Ray. He wasn’t the type of guy you sorta liked. You could only love Ray. One quote from the homily stuck with me. It’s a quote from Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts.

“No one can pass through life, any more than he can pass through a bit of country, without leaving tracks behind, and those tracks may often be helpful to those coming after him in finding their way.”

Every person who spoke was touched by Ray. Ray enriched the lives of others just by being himself. He created a happy life for himself and for those around him. He wasn’t rich and he wasn’t famous, but without a doubt, he lived life to the fullest.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about living life to the fullest, but God or the cosmos, or whatever you believe in, brought me an example when I needed one. So, I’ll take a dash of Joe, a pinch of Steve, a generous portion of Elizabeth Gilbert and mix it all up with Ray to fashion my own life from now on. It’s probably not something I will be good at every day, but at least I have some wise and trustworthy guides to lead the way. I wish I could tell you exactly what it means to live life to the fullest, but I’m not still not entirely sure what it means. I think it’s a different story for all of us. It’s about finding contentment and creativity inside of yourself, loving everyone as hard as you can and ultimately leaving behind a legacy of infectious joy. Also, if you have a killer smile, that could really help.

Ray

Trend Report: Bananas

Today I Googled “what is trending now.” I’m trying to “see what the kids are into,” and “learn more about social media and the computer internet machines.” Guess what I found? It’s pretty sad, are you sure you want to know? Okay, I’ll tell you, but you have been warned. First, is the weather. “Be careful out there, everybody!” was the headline. A bit insensitive? Maybe. In case you didn’t know, there is catastrophic flooding happening in South Carolina. People are without drinking water and electricity and most importantly, homes. I even heard that cemeteries were flooding and caskets were floating through the streets. I feel for the people of South Carolina. I can’t even imagine what that’s like. Losing everything and being displaced, or worse yet, being trapped somewhere for days without the basics most of us take for granted.

Oh, wait. What’s this? Cosmopolitan calls the Kardashians “America’s First Family.” Wow, neat. That’s story number 2, for those of you paying attention. Catastrophe for real people…new title for the Kardashians. Hmmm…well, I suppose congratulations are in order. Great job, Girls!

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Things were getting a little heavy there, weren’t they? Whew! I’m so glad we got past that hump in the day. Does anyone else see a problem here? I’ve heard so many people complain about Kim Kardashian and Caitlyn Jenner and Donald Trump. Seems like a person can’t get away from hearing about them. For the record, I don’t have a problem with Kim or Caitlyn, but I don’t seek them out and I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of either. Why do we hear/read/see so much about these people? Because we keep reading it. We keep clicking on articles and videos to see what screwy thing Trump said today. We keep asking for it, so we keep getting it. Am I telling you to ignore politics? No, of course not. Did you know there are other candidates running for president? If you want him to go away, stop giving him your attention.

There’s a good lesson here, right? Ever heard the saying, “Garbage in, garbage out?” Well, I think this is true. If you keep absorbing all of the hate and stupidity that’s out there, that’s what your life will be. Constant anger and annoyance and trivialities. Let’s look at the bigger picture and focus on what’s really important. Our brothers and sisters suffering in South Carolina. Kids being shot at school. Those are things we should be trying to change. Let’s open a constructive and collaborative dialogue about those topics.

Another lesson to keep in mind: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” (Thanks Paul McCartney!) If we all cleared our heads of all the mindless drivel we encounter, just think of the all the room we’ll have in our heads and hearts to create great things. It’s astounding when you think about it.

Kim, Caitlyn, Don…best of luck to you. I’m out.

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