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Monthly Archives: April 2012

It’s The Little Things That Matter

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I had one of “those” days a few days ago. It wasn’t one thing going wrong. It was several. The doorknob to the bedroom was broken. A foam cup full of diet soda had slipped from my hand, spilling all over a table. One of the dogs had just made a little “deposit” on the living room rug.

Nothing major wrong, no cause for alarm. But the total series of events was enough to frustrate me to the point of severe grouchiness. We’re talking Oscar from Sesame Street grouchy here, snapping at unsuspecting passersby such as my beloved wife, the dogs and the cats.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. It’s really not the big stuff in life that makes us crazy. It’s the steady parade of little minor irritations that add up that makes us snap.

Now I know this isn’t exactly a new insight. We’ve all seen the signs that say “don’t sweat the small stuff.” And the ones that add “… and it’s all small stuff.” But how often do we really think about it?

We’re fortunate that the vast majority of us don’t have to deal with major, life-changing potential catastrophes regularly. And when we do, most of us just deal with it — because we have no other choice.

Case in point: 2008. That was the year that I sincerely hope was the worst of my life. Between June and October, my mom died following a two-week hospital stay, my wife was hospitalized for weeks to undergo a life-threatening treatment for a life-threatening illness, and I was downsized from my job of nearly 10 years.

So yeah, 2008 really stunk. But while all of that was going on, did I give up and collapse in a puddle of self-pity? No. Did I want to? Yeah, at times I did. And that’s when I discovered the flip side of little things.  It was the little pleasures that helped me cope with the big stuff going on all around me. I could enjoy 10 minutes with a really good cup of coffee. I could appreciate the happiness that our dog and cats could provide, even briefly, on a tough day. I could celebrate a sunrise, a summer shower, a sunset. I could take refuge for a few moments in a book or magazine article. Those little things kept me going, putting one foot in front of the other, doing what I had to do.

And there was plenty to do. Bills had to be paid, the house cleaned, the pets fed, watered, walked and taken to the vet. Life’s little pleasures helped me get those things done.

Fortunately, life has gotten better in the intervening years. Mom’s gone, but my wonderful wife recovered quite well. After a good bit of looking, I was fortunate to find a new job. At the moment, life is good. And the little things that were good four years ago are still good today.

Maybe we need a balance of major and minor events occasionally to help us keep things in perspective. Just remember, if the little things are getting you down, other little things can also lift you up.

Of American Idol Winners and Losers

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OK, American Idol fans, this one’s for you. I’m one of you, have been since the beginning. And I’ve gotta say a few words about my favorite contestant this year, the one who — as usual — stands no chance of winning.

We all pick our favorites each year, of course. And I have a near-perfect track record of choosing the folks with no realistic shot at winning.  I think the last time I picked a winner was Year 1, when Kelly Clarkson blew away the rest of the field right from the start.

Trouble is, I’m not a part of the largest Idol voter demographic, which, by most measures, is teenagers with cell phones. Lotsa good singers do well with that group, as is evident by this year’s Top Ten. But the young singers to whom the voting audience members relate are seldom, in my not-so-humble opinion, the BEST singers.

This season’s group of contestants is the most talented the show has had in several years, no question.  But for my money, the best singer, hands down, is Elise Testone.

At 28, Elise is the oldest, most experienced singer on the show this year, and it’s apparent in everything she does. She’s been around long enough to have real, gritty capital-s Soul in her voice, and she doesn’t act like a giggly teenager. She sings real rock, soul and blues music, not watered-down imitations, because she CAN.

But Elise has been a regular in the bottom 3 contestant group, in danger of being eliminated from the show. Why? Because the aforementioned teen voters can’t relate to her. She doesn’t pander to the fans, and the fact that she’s a woman, not a girl, likely turns some voters off. When she sings Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” you know exactly what she’s talking about, and it’s not holding hands at the malt shop.

The only thing that’s kept her on the show this long (she’s in the top 6 as this is written) is raw talent. And as AI has proved many times over the years, that’s just not enough  Anyone remember where Jennifer Hudson — you know, Oscar AND Grammy winner — finished on the show? Try seventh place.

Granted, Elise hasn’t done a lot to endear herself to fans. She doesn’t really take criticism from the judges well, and as noted, doesn’t pander to younger voters the way some contestants do. And yes, she did have a point last night that the judges have been harder on her than they have on some others.

But I have a feeling she’s destined for great things. And I’ll wager that at least some of those voters who aren’t crazy about her now will appreciate her music more when they’re older.

So rock on, Elise. You won’t win Idol this year. You’ll lose to someone safe and saccharine and nonthreatening. But even if you’re eliminated next week, know that lots of us out here are listening, and will buy your music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIo905yCWUg

Remembering Dick Clark

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Wow, so Dick Clark, the “World’s Oldest Teenager” is gone. Hard to believe. He always seemed to be one of those people you expected to be around forever. Yet another of the icons of my youth is history, something that seems to be happening with gradually increasing regularity lately.

I’m too young to have seen American Bandstand at its peak int he 1950s and ’60s, but it was a regular fixture of my Saturday afternoons in the ’70s. In small-town middle America, there was no local club, no hangout, no gathering place for music and dancing. But there was Bandstand, reliable as ever, to show us the latest bands, dance steps and fashion — polyester and platforms, anyone? — of the era. And Dick Clark was the kindly uncle to shepherd us through the brave new world of singer-songwriters, pop divas and disco the big cities were enjoying.

Keep in mind this was all way before the Internet, YouTube, blogs, or even cable tv. We had three channels on television and small-town radio stations that signed off at sunset. Bandstand was a window to a new world, one with infinitely more possibilities than our tiny little speck of the map could ever envision.

Perhaps even more influential though was New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. I can still remember how exciting it was when the very first edition aired, December 31, 1972. I was so excited — as only a newly-minted teenager could be — to have an alternative to the boring old Guy Lombardo’s ritual “Auld Lang Syne.” Finally, here was something in touch with MY music, with MY generation!

Yes, I realize that today’s younger folks probably regard “N.Y.R.E.” the same way I considered Lombardo way back when. But that doesn’t’ detract from the revolutionary nature of the show back then, or the enjoyment I’ve continued to derive from it even as recently as last December. Over the years, I’ve traded toasting 1973 with Dr. Pepper and my parents for toasting 2012 with champagne and my wife, but it’s still great to ring in a new year with some good music. And I have Dick Clark to thank for bringing that into my life.

I’ll leave it to others to opine about Clark’s many other shows and business accomplishments, and his personal traits. All I can say is that for one young man in one very small town, he made the world a brighter, more exciting place, and I thank him for that.

Rest in peace, Dick. New Year’s Eve won’t be the same without you.

A Sense of Wonder

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Earlier today, the space shuttle Discovery made its way from Florida, flying up the East Coast and over the monuments of Washington, D.C. on its way to its final home at the Smithsonian Institution. The shuttle, always a breathtaking sight, was no less so atop the modified 747 that took it to Washington. The magnificent craft drew thousands of onlookers on its last journey.

As well it should. The space shuttle represents the pinnacle of aeronautical achievement that started on a beach in Kitty Hawk. in 1903.

It’s easy to take for granted the incredible technological achievements of the past half century. But we shouldn’t. If you stop to think about the things humankind has accomplished, it’s truly staggering.

The instinct to explore, to wonder, is a natural part of the human condition. Consider how many thousands of years men and women gazed at the night sky and wondered what’s up there. From the earliest humans to today, it’s likely that everyone ever born has wanted to know more about the mysteries of space.

Only in the last half-century or so have we been able to begin to find out. From the Russian Sputnik to the American Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, to the International Space Station, we’ve figured out how to escape the constraints of Earth’s gravity and actually see what really exists at the edge of our imagination.

And then we built the space shuttles. Possibly the most complicated machines the world has ever known, the shuttles had no equal. We sent them into space 135 times, trusting their ability to keep up to 7 people alive. We’ve brought them safely back to earth.

There were some tragedies along the way, yes. We will always remember the brave astronauts who lost their lives aboard Challenger and Columbia. But the fact that only two shuttle missions out of 135 resulted in loss of life shows a remarkable safety record.

In part though, that’s why the shuttle sometimes seemed routine. We grew accustomed to successfully sending people into space and returning them safely to earth. When everything works the way it’s designed to, it’s easy to forget just how many things could have gone wrong, and how many times they didn’t. So many complex things had to happen either simultaneously or in sequence to keep 7 people alive, get them into space and return them safely home.

Think about how the great minds of history would have viewed the shuttle’s achievements. What would Aristotle, Plato, Leonardo, Einstein had to say about our exploration of the heavens? Imagine how the Wright brothers would see the accomplishments made possible by the shuttle.

How can we see it as anything less?

As Tributes Go, Not So Much

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Some Tribute…

The real crime is that they couldn’t come up with a better band name….


Be Afraid. Be VERY Afraid.

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Be Afraid. Be VERY Afraid.

Seems there’s a significant number of folks who thought the Titanic was nothing more than a movie. Many of them are our future leaders.

Just shoot me.

Axl Rose Is Not Polite. Neither is Rock and Roll

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http://tinyurl.com/7rdvct3

By now it’s old news that Axl Rose has declined induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The founder and namesake of Guns N’ Roses doesn’t want any part of the 26-year-old institution that wants to honor him and his band.

Rose has his reasons for rejecting the honor, and given the tensions among former GNR members, it’s probably just as well. And he’s not breaking new ground. The Sex Pistols also memorably snubbed the Hall a few years back, and didn’t phrase their rejection in as civil a manner.

In fact, the Pistols’ rejection was just like the group in its heyday — snide, obnoxious, in-your-face and not polite.

Just what rock and roll should be.

Don’t get me wrong. The Walrus plans to visit the Rock Hall someday, and most likely, will thoroughly enjoy said visit. Many of my favorite artists are enshrined there. But I’m still troubled by the question of why there should be a “hall of fame” in the first place for an art form that began as a loud, boisterous, even threatening form of rebellion. You can make the case that NONE of the artists inducted into the Rock Hall should be there — because the Hall itself shouldn’t exist. That’s just not what rock and roll is all about.

Think about it. The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, was a parent’s worst nightmare in the 1950s — A white singer who sounded black, singing with obvious passion and oh my, those hip swivels! We can’t have that on television — might give the kids ideas, y’know.

Others were no better. Jerry Lee Lewis, pounding that piano with a knowing leer. The flamboyant Little Richard tearing it up on both piano and vocals. Would you want your daughter — raised on a steady diet of Pat Boone — dancing to THIS?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqHQqb5ot74&ob=av2e

Make no mistake — rock and roll was DANGEROUS in those days.

And the danger didn’t really abate. The Shangri-Las were a cute girl group, but you knew they’d cut you in a heartbeat. The Beatles might have looked innocent in 1964, but they wanted to do more than hold your hand. You could imagine getting mugged in a dark alley by the Rolling Stones. The Animals, The Kinks, The Doors, all had that kind of edge.

In the ’70s, there was Springsteen, KISS, Tom Petty. Then came the punks — The Ramones, Blondie, the Sex Pistols and many more. Rock and roll could be melodic, but it always carried a risk, an undercurrent of black leather, fast engines and switchblades. There’s a reason the rallying cry of the 70s was “sex, drugs and rock and roll.”

Nirvana, Metallica and other bands kept the tradition going in the ’90s. Nirvana member Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters have kept the faith into this decade.

The bottom line is simple. There has never been a time when rock and roll didn’t have at least a slight tingle of something anti-establishment, something forbidden about it.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shatters that illusion, presenting rock and roll as mainstream Americana. The Hall not only admits children, it admits those under 8 years old FREE.

Oy.

As Ray Davies put it when the Kinks were inducted, “Rock and roll has become respectable.”

But it shouldn’t be.

And Axl Rose is continuing the tradition of making sure it isn’t.

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