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Category Archives: Random Rants

Just a Suggestion…

If the job posting specifically asks for 3 samples of your writing,  a two-sentence email response and an attached resume’ probably won’t get your name on the shortlist…

Shopping on Thanksgiving? No.

I’ve written before about the loss of Thanksgiving to the great commercial steamroller of Christmas, Inc. And I really wasn’t planning to rant about it again, because I generally don’t like to bore my many readers with repetition (especially when I have newer, better ways to bore you). But recent events compel me to rant yet again about the creeping disappearance of Thanksgiving.

Black Friday — the day many retailers start to see black ink instead of red on their balance sheets — has become an explosion of pent-up pre-Christmas consumer spending for some years now. And that’s fine. We spend one day giving thanks for what we have, and the next pushing and shoving to get what we want. Capitalism at its finest. I have been known to participate in such fine madness myself on occasion.

But an increasing number of retailers this year have pushed back the doorbuster specials and blowout prices to as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. I find that appalling.

Are we Americans so caught up in our lust for the latest electronics, toys and kitchen appliances that we can’t manage to take even ONE single day to celebrate our many blessings? Honestly, for everyone reading this, no matter your circumstances, you are better off, in a material sense, than probably 98 percent of the world.

Don’t believe me? Try watching a TV show. The Amazing Race takes contestants around the world in a quest to win $1 million. In each country they visit, the contestants typically must perform a task native to the country and culture they’re in.

Two weeks ago, the players traveled to Bangladesh. The country has roughly half the population of the United States, but has a population density of nearly 2,800 people per square mile. Know what that number is for the U.S.? Try 87.4 folks per square mile. Tell me that’s not something to be thankful for.

Or consider this: we just had an incredibly divisive presidential election in the United States. A lot of people said things for or against a particular candidate quite vehemently. Try arguing against the official candidate (singular) in China. Freedom of speech is something to be thankful for. So is democracy.

On a more individual level, we all have things to be thankful for every day. Family, friends, good health, a roof over our heads, sufficient food and clean water, too many things to list, really.

Take away any one of those things, and how important is the latest i-Gadget in the bigger scheme of things? Is a single day to reflect on our good fortune without shopping too much to ask?

Come on folks, slow the consumer train down just a little. There’ll be plenty of time for shopping on Friday. Keep Thanksgiving as it was meant to be — noncommercial.

Paradise by the …

So it comes down to this.

Meat Loaf endorses Romney.

Billy Ray Cyrus endorses Obama.

We’ve reached the point of C-list (at best) celebrities endorsing politicians. And for what purpose?

Honestly, does ANYONE think the opinions of these fine gentlemen will influence even ONE vote in this year’s presidential election? Neither one is exactly burning up the music charts these days.

What is it that makes famous folks of any stripe — actors, musicians, chefs, authors — think their endorsement matters? Do they really belive they can make a difference in the way people vote?

Don’t get me wrong. I firmly support the right of celebrities and non-celebrities alike to speak their minds. That’s a fundamental part of American democracy. But there’s no reason to expect that their opinion is any more valuable, or any more rational, than my next door neighbor’s.

Mr. Loaf might believe his presence could sway undecided voters toward Romney. But think about it.  His biggest hit album (Loaf’s, not Romney’s) was released in 1977.  He hasn’t been a significant presence in the music world in decades. He’s actually never had a presence in politics.  So why would we consider his opinion relevant?

And Billy Ray Cyrus’s career follows a similar trajectory. Today’ he’s better known as the father of Hannah Montana.

Do political endorsements matter at all? Sure. An endorsement by a respected diplomat or statesman or stateswoman carries some weight.  But in the end, the vast majority of voters are far more likely to make up their own minds about a candidate than listen to any outside voice. And that’s as it should be.

Ah, but if only we could get someone (Cee Lo?) to create a mashup of  “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “Achy, Breaky Heart.”

The Trouble With Music Today…

OK, you can relax. This isn’t going to be one of those “get-off-my-lawn” curmudgeonly rants.  I promise, I’m not going to be complaining about how much better things were way back in the Dark Ages when I attended Walrustropolis High. (Go Pauls!) — although our football rivalry with Carpenter High was the stuff of legend.

No, this is a complaint about SOME of today’s music. The kind that’s disposable, formulaic, overproduced crap.

Now I’ll be the first to admit there was some fantastic music made in the happy corners of my youth, lots of classic stuff that still gets airplay today.  And I’ll also grant that there’s good music being made today. But so much of today’s music played on commercial radio is dull, repetitive noise.

So what prompted my complaint? Two recent listening sessions on my lunch hour.

A few days ago, as I was driving to lunch, the car’s satellite radio presented me with something magical: a Bruce Springsteen concert recorded in 1976. It was vintage Springsteen, with all the passion, the fire,  the wonder of youth. The music that spoke to a teen-aged Walrus in a small town in  the midwest, music that showed, as Springsteen put it, “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” It was glorious, capturing all the hope and energy of life, with just a trace of the desperate suspicion that it won’t work out the way we hope..

That’s classic music that speaks to people.

Then came today’s contemporary  station on the way to Subway. They were playing fun’s We Are Young.  To my admittedly middle-aged ears, it sounded like a dirge. There was no joy, no celebration in the music. Even while singing “let’s set the world on fire,” the band sounded resigned, depressed.

Now I don’t expect every song to be Springsteenesque, even from Springsteen.  There’s a place for downbeat quasi-ballads. There’s even plenty of room on the charts for bad music.  The #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for this week in 1976 — the same week as Springsteen’s concert — was Disco Duck by Rick Dees.

Yes, the charts have always had some degree of really bad music.  But there’s always been a lot of great stuff around too.  The trick has been separating the rockin’ wheat from the boring chaff.

But in the last 15 years or so, the advent of the dreaded Auto-Tune and the near-takeover of pop songs by drum machines has made that sifting harder than ever. There’s just so much dreck out there.

Lana Del Rey.  fun.  (I’ll honor their style and not capitalize the band nane.)   Justin freakin’ Bieber.

Sure, there are still great artists recording.  Cee Lo Green.  Pink. Lady Gaga. Mumford and Sons. Drive-By Truckers.  And what do they have in common?

No obvious Auto-Tune.  No drum machine. Just a good to great voice,  ability (in most cases) to play their own instruments and a passion for the music.

And that’s what’s missing from the wannabes. Passion.  Without that, well, sorry, fun — your music isn’t.

Merry Happy…

Today is the second day of October. The second day of a perfectly lovely month, which comes complete with a very nice little minor holiday of its own called Halloween. As of this writing, there are 83 days left until Christmas. There’s even another, bigger holiday that falls in between Halloween and Christmas — Thanksgiving.

Both Halloween and Thanksgiving have their own traditions and decorations, yes? So why in heaven’s name did a friend post a picture on her Facebook page today a picture of a business in her town that features a fully decorated Christmas tree?

Bah, humbug.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas and all the trappings. My wife and I start putting up decorations and outdoor lights the day after Thanksgiving, and they stay up until her birthday — in mid-January. But I believe in giving every holiday its due. And in this case, Halloween is rapidly becoming an endangered species.

We’ve already lost the battle for Thanksgiving. The vast majority of retailers now decorate for Christmas no later than Halloween. Thanksgiving becomes nothing more than a speed bump on the expressway to Black Friday. Who cares about gathering with family and friends to celebrate our blessings when we could be standing in line outside Best Buy or Toys R Us instead, waiting for the doors to open at 5 a.m.?  TVs over turkey! Computers over cranberry sauce! Gameboys over Grandma’s house!

Granted, there are blessed exceptions — Nordstrom’s, for one. The upscale retailer doesn’t decorate its stores until the day after Thanksgiving. Signs in the stores say the decorations won’t be up before Black Friday “because we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time.”

Bravo, Nordstrom’s. Yes, your bold stand guarantees you will receive some of my holiday shopping dollars. But you might as well be a lone candle in a hurricane.

As for Halloween, what could be more (pre-Christmas) festive than a holiday that relies on costumes? It’s a great opportunity for children of all ages to dress up and play cowboy or cowgirl, astronaut, rock star or what have you. It deserves better than being run over by the giant marketing machine that is Christmas.

So here’s to celebrating all holidays as the arrive. Let’s take back All Hallow’s Eve. Break out the mulled cider and save the eggnog for December. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to look for my DVD of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

Today in History….

Today, ladies and gentlemen, is a truly momentous day in history. A day to be remembered.

Why, I hear you ask?

Because on this date 12 years ago, Microsoft introduced a legendary product. A product that will live on in the annals of history. A product so extraordinary that grown men are humbled by the mere mention of its name.

Yes, folks, on this date in 2000, Microsoft introduced the one, the only (we can hope):

Windows ME.

Quite possibly the worst piece of software,  in my not-so-humble opinion, that the software shamans of Seattle (yes, I do know it’s really Redmond, but we’re all about alliteration here. Work with me.) ever  foisted on an unsuspecting public. How do I know? I made the mistake of buying a computer that came with it installed.

It seemed like a great idea at the time. Buy a new PC through a discount program arranged by  my then-employer. The computer had decent specs, better than the one I had, and of course it came loaded with the latest and greatest home OS Microsoft offered at the time, Windows Millennium Edition.

It proved to be a disaster.  Win ME was the most unstable operating system I’ve ever seen. The dreaded “blue screen of death” became a regular occurrence, as did random total freezes and failures to shut down properly.

And I was far from alone.  One popular computer magazine of the time called it the “Mistake Edition.”  It lasted just over a year in the marketplace before being replaced by the far superior Win XP.  Unfortunately for me,  my machine wouldn’t run XP, so I ended up suffering through another four years or so of ME. When I finally upgraded to an XP machine, it was like moving from an old VW Beetle to a Porsche. The difference was staggering.

The XP machine is getting on in years, and is due for replacement soon.  I managed to miss Vista,  which, from what I’ve read was pretty close to Son-of-ME.  I’ve also missed Win 7, which by most accounts has been a good OS. But the next machine will undoubtedly have Win 8, due for introduction very soon.  I’m afraid to find out if it follows the established pattern of every-other-version:  Win 98 good,  Win ME bad,  XP good, Vista bad, 7 good….

So I’m awaiting my next computer with some trepidation. We’ll see before long what Win 8 brings. Wish me luck.

 

Decline and Fall?

I try to be an optimistic soul, I really do. I look for the bright side of things most of the time. I realize most people are reasonably intelligent, most people are good and most people have at least some clue when they’re talking about music and literature.

But really, sometimes I wonder.

Although I’m late to the party on this particular example, I feel compelled to comment on it. I’m a lover of music, words and the combination of the two. Not sure how I missed this before now, but it simply boggles my mind.

Disclaimer: I’m an Eagles fan, have been pretty much since the band began. But I don’t think you have to be a fan to be dumbfounded by the question a music critic for the major metropolitan newspaper asked founding Eagle Don Henley three years ago.

The critic — who shall remain nameless here — asked Henley, via email, about the lyrics to Hotel California:

— “On “Hotel California,” you sing: “So I called up the captain / ‘Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.'” I realize I’m probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn’t a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?” [added emphasis mine] —

You’ve GOT to be kidding me! I first heard that lyric when I was a 17-year-old high school student and I knew THEN that it was a metaphor! How dense do you have to be to take that literally?

Henley, known for being rather curmudgeonly to begin with, responded thus:

— “Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention—and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”

Now, as far as I’m concerned, Henley responded to a moronic question quite well, giving it exactly the level of respect it deserved. But a quick Web search shows many more people thinking the exchange showed Henley to be a jerk than think the critic was a fool.

Sorry, folks, if that’s the best question a journalist can come up with — and misinterpret the lyrics so completely in the process — he or she is a poor excuse for a writer.

Psst. News flash:  The line “stab it with their steely knives” in Hotel California wasn’t just about knives (look it up). The song Life in the Fast Lane wasn’t about driving, either.

Oh, by the way, R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” isn’t about religion. And anyone who took Henley’s lyric that literally probably should stay far away from Dylan’s entire repertoire. And Elvis Costello’s. And maybe they’d better forget the writing of that Shakespeare guy, too….

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