Friday, November 30, 2007

Finally! A Reality Show Worth Watching!

I have to say that I'm not typically one to watch televised talent competitions -- in fact, with things like "American Idol," I usually watch the first few episodes where the folks with talent like me try out. Once the good ones start, I'm finished watching, simply being content to find out who the winner is when the paper runs an article.

With the advent of Fox's "Next Great American Band," however, that's changed. I love watching week after week as bands that were formed with a specific genre in mind are put in a position where they must adapt to the artist chosen by the producers. There have been some incredible groups this season, and many of them have made it to the final five. Here is a sampling of who I've really taken a shine to:

The bluegrass-based Clark Brothers, here performing Elvis' "I'm Saved":

The neuvo big band Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, performing "One Time Show":

Sixwire - a group of middle-aged dads - performs the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time":

Tonight they performed songs by Rod Stewart, and next week it's Queen. It's a great show, and every one of the finalists is in for big things down the road. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Bad Infomercial Equals Good Comedy

This is a totally ridiculous post -- I'll admit that up front. But when I ran across this while surfing the net, I couldn't help but link it to my blog, if for no other reason than the fact that I read it and busted a gut laughing.

I'm sure many of you have seen the informercial for that ridiculous "Magic Bullet" kitchen contraption; I've seen it several times -- in fact, A. used to poke fun at me for wanting to watch it every time I ran across it (or watch it at least until the point where Hazel says, "Dinner. Yeah, that's always a production."). Despite the frequent viewings, however, I never took the time to analyze it. Now, I found someone who has, and it's absolutely hysterical. Here are the first two paragraphs from their review, followed by the link for the complete article. Enjoy!

The Magic Bullet is a miniature blender that gets lauded on its infomercial as the "Personal, Versatile Countertop Magician"—a description that must have polled better in focus groups than the more accurate "Cuisinart for Hookers."

Most infomercials are content merely to demonstrate their products and parade an endless number of testimonials. The infomercial for the Magic Bullet, however, is unusual in that it sets up a scenario in which the action is supposed to take place. The events of the Magic Bullet infomercial occur in the morning aftermath of some vaguely-described "barbecue" held the day before by a perky blonde named Mimi and her Aussie husband Mick. One by one Mick and Mimi's guests awake from their slumbers and stumble into the kitchen. As the party-goers struggle to recover from their hangovers and recall what they did with their wedding rings, Mick and Mimi provide entertainment. That entertainment consists of watching Mick and Mimi use the Magic Bullet to prepare food. After all, why hire a magician to perform at your party when you've already paid for a "personal countertop magician." So the Magic Bullet is no mere food processor: It actually turns your house into Benihana's! In addition, Mick delights his yuppie guests by using wonderfully cockney expressions such as "Bob's your uncle, Fanny's your aunt"—which is almost as much fun as watching him grind coffee beans.

Read the complete entry for "The Magic Bullet" here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Going to the Welles One Too Many Times? Hardly.....

In recent days, I've moved into another one of my side forays into movies and literature, this time involving the great Orson Welles. As I begin to read the first two volumes of the Welles biography written by Simon Callow, and as I move further into watching films from his career that are NOT "Citizen Kane" and "The Third Man" featuring Welles as either actor and/or director and/or producer, I'm really finding myself developing quite an appreciation for the talent he possessed.

After watching "F is for Fake," an early 1970s documentary that Welles created which discussed fakery in art and literature, I commented to Dave that I had a difficult time with it because it was so un-Wellesian. In the ensuing exchange of emails, I was led to the realization that it was very much a Wellesian film -- just not in the same classic 1940s genre in which I had (in my mind) pigeonholed OW. Now that I've gotten him out of the category in which I had boxed him (thanks for the dialogue and new viewpoint, Dave), I'm excited about tackling "F is for Fake" again, along with many other of his later films and documentaries.

Sadly, what so many people in today's generation (and as I'm nearly 40, I feel qualified to talk about today's generation) know Welles for isn't so much this

as it is this

And because of YouTube (as much as I love visiting that website), even more people are becoming familiar with him more as a parody of himself and as a pitchman for wine, fishsticks, and frozen peas than they are as one of the top ten film directors of all time and the creater of what is consistently voted as the greatest American film ever made. Sad that for younger folks, his career has been reduced to these few doing-it-because-he-needed-the-money pitches (and even the now-famous outtakes of him trying to work through a Paul Masson commercial in a drunken stupor).

At the very least, I can make sure my two children have an appreciation for his work -- yet another step in making sure that they are indoctrinated into the world of fine literature, classic film, and great music (I can hear my wife sighing now, knowing what they are in for in the years ahead).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Evening with Desmond Tutu

(Photo to the left courtesy of the SABC website, which ran a story about tonight's event.)

In a single word -- amazing.

In a long string of words -- amazing, inspiring, moving, breathtaking, loving, forgiving, accepting, believing, praying.

This is about the best way I can come up with to describe what it was like to be at Washington National Cathedral tonight to listen to a talk delivered by Desmond Tutu entitled "The Spirituality of Reconciliation." In the many years that I have been going to events at the cathedral, it was the first time that I saw every seat in building filled -- thousands of people had come out to listen to him.

I had seen Archbishop Tutu before; his daughter was one of the clergy residents at our church in Northern Virginia, and he attended services often whenever he was in the area. At those points, though, he was just another member of the congregation, and people treated him as such -- no gawking, no pointing, no gasps. He was simply another welcomed member of our church family who was helping to fill the room.

On this night, however, he filled the room all by himself -- and I don't mean that in terms of the size of the crowd he drew. When he walked up to the podium to speak, he filled the room in a different way -- with his warmth, his humor, and his love. He spoke often during the course of the evening about a God who opens up his arms to embrace everyone, and that's exactly what the Archbishop did tonight.

It was an incredible 45 minutes, and one which A. and I will never forget. Even in a room that large with thousands of people in attendance, there was complete and utter silence as he spoke. There was no way that I could write my thoughts and impressions throughout the speech, but I was able to jot down some of what he said (and I hope you'll forgive me for just jotting down these quick snatches of his talk):

- We are like God, and we are meant to imitate God.

- God would much rather we go freely to hell than compel us to go to heaven.

- Part of the glory of being us is to have a God who allows us to have autonomy.

- We are in the forgiveness business because this God and this Christ are in the forgiving business.

- Forgiving refuses to give up on anyone; the God in whose image we are created never gives up on us.

- God picks us up, God dusts off, and God says, "Try again."

- An enemy is a friend waiting to be made.

- To forgive is not altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest.

At the very end of his remarks, he told a story (that he said he has told often, but wanted to repeat again) about a chicken farmer who one day goes out to his chicken run and sees a chicken that looks strange, but he knows it is a chicken. One day, a traveler comes and says, "That's no chicken; that's an eagle." The stranger asks the farmer to give him the chicken.

The visitor takes the eagle out of the pen, walks up to the top of a high mountain nearby, turns to face the rising sun, and says, "Fly, eagle, fly." The eagle takes off, circles for a few moments, and then flies off in the distance and vanishes from sight.

And then in almost a whisper, Archbishop Tutu said, "God says to us, 'Hey, you are no chicken; you are an eagle. Fly, eagle, fly.' God wants us to shake ourselves, put out our pinions, and take off and soar. And we fly; we fly. We fly towards goodness. We fly toward transcendence. We fly; we fly. We fly towards compassion and laughter and caring. We fly. Fly, eagle, fly."

I can't speak for A., but for me this evening was one of the greatest blessings I have ever received.

(Note: The cathedral has posted the video of the Archbishop's appearance on their website; you can click here to watch it.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Your Middle Name Says a Lot

I had been tagged a while back by RDL for this little exercise, and I'm only now able to get around to it. As the rules require, I'll start by posting the rules for the game:

1. You have to post these rules before you give the facts.
2. Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had.
3. When you are tagged you need to write your own blog-post containing your own middle name game facts.
4. At the end of your blog-post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So, let's see how this goes (not sure that I'm about to do this correctly, but at any rate...):

W: Wary of a lot going on around me -- of things that might threaten my family; of people on the street who seem just a bit off-center; of other drivers.

A: Awed by a lot of things in life: watching my children every day; being married almost 11 years; good music; good literature; good film; beautiful architecture; natural beauty; religious thinkers and speakers. I'm awed by a lot, come to think of it.

Y: Young at heart, but not in the traditional sense of acting like I'm 16 all over again. For me, it's more that I cherish memories from when I was young and draw strength from going back to those places and seeing those friends from time to time.

N: Neat-freak; my wife might argue compulsively so -- alphabetizing and categorizing my books and albums, wanting everything put back in the exact spot from which it came, etc. Of course, with two small children this is nearly impossible.

E: Emotional, particularly during a good movie or television show that's tugging on the heart-strings. And I was an absolute mess when I read "Tuesdays with Morrie," particularly since a friend had given it to me right around the time one of my grandfather's had passed away and I had had to say goodbye to him after a visit knowing that it would be the last time I would see him.

As for who I'm going to take, I'll have to give this some thought; don't know many folks who blog and whose name starts with Y!!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Margaret Thatcher -- The (Funny) Iron Lady

Peggy Noonan recently wrote a column comparing the way Hillary Clinton reacts to certain events with the way other strong-willed women of history responded. I had to share this short excerpt which relates a story about Margaret Thatcher:

The story as I was told it is that in the early years of her prime ministership, Margaret Thatcher held a meeting with her aides and staff, all of whom were dominated by her, even awed. When it was over she invited her cabinet chiefs to join her at dinner in a nearby restaurant. They went, arrayed themselves around the table, jockeyed for her attention. A young waiter came and asked if they'd like to hear the specials. Mrs. Thatcher said, "I will have beef."

Yes, said the waiter. "And the vegetables?"

"They will have beef too."

I'm not sure if it's a requirement or not, but it seems that some British prime ministers have a propensity towards dry -- but hysterical -- humor. Churchill was notorious for it; here are two of my favorites:

1. (It turns out that this one actually dates back to something printed in the Chicago Tribune in 1900 and didn't originate with Churchill at all, but it's still humorous.)

Lady Astor: "If I were married to you, I'd put poison in your coffee."
Churchill: "If I were married to you, I'd drink it."

2. To Liverpool socialist MP Bessie Braddock, who told him, "Winston, you're drunk.": "Bessie, you’re ugly. And tomorrow morning I’ll be sober, but you’ll still be ugly."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

An Unlikely Collaboration

During all of the hoopla lately regarding a Led Zeppelin reunion (which I've been hearing about for years; is it really going to happen this time?), I heard a more subtle line of conversation regarding a new album being released by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Yes, you're probably having the same reaction I am: how in the world would someone who cut his teeth on early-70s blues-influenced rock and perhaps the finest country/bluegrass artist around today manage to find any common ground?

Well, I decided to find out for myself, and the other night put my hands on many of the tracks from their album, "Raising Sand." In short, I was floored; it is one of the most natural collaborations that anyone could ever expect, and it has already vaulted to being one of my favorite albums. I highly recommend it, and the song "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" alone is worth anything that you would pay for the entire album.

Here is a short little documentary/album teaser to whet your appetite a bit more. I give this album five out of five stars.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Twenty Years Gone

My 20-year high school reunion -- that phrase is still difficult for me to comprehend, even after having just gone home to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to meet up with some of my high school chums (and some folks that I might have spoken to for all of three minutes between my freshman and senior years). It's remarkable that two decades have gone by, and that I've gone from this strapping young fellow

to this older, slightly more rotund man

I think that I definitely won the award for the most number of times that people looked at my high school picture, then looked at me, then exclaimed, "Holy crap!" Saying that I had changed more than just about everyone else there (save one or two) is a mild understatement.

As I drove around my old hometown for a few hours before the reunion, I discovered that I wasn't the only one who had changed significantly in 20 years. Much of the area surrounding my hometown is no longer rural, but is instead full of strip malls and new businesses and warehouses. The old country church that I attended for many years isn't even really in the country anymore, sitting instead on what is now a busy highway and surrounded by farmland that is being developed into several-hundred-unit subdivisions. My high school is completely unrecognizable, having morphed from an asbestos cleaning (three cheers for 1970s construction!!) to a complete rebuild.

But more than slapping me in the face with the reality of how much things have changed (despite my best efforts over the years to deny it), attending this reunion in a way was very cathartic for me. I didn't attend my 10-year reunion, partly because I was living in Alabama at the time but mostly because I wasn't sure how much people that I hadn't really talked to in high school would want to talk to me that far after. It was so refreshing for me to go to this one, though, and it proved to me that everything that I had worried about with the previous reunion was utterly ridiculous. Seeing old friends gave me such an amazing feeling, and in some instances I actually started to develop a great new rapport with people that ran in different circles than me back then.

As one friend was saying, 20 years ago everyone was worrying about dates and cliques and popularity, and there was a certain degree of inequity in where people fell. Now, the playing field is level; everyone for the most part is married, has kids, and was or is in the working world -- and all the thoughts of a social pecking order have long since vanished.

Things went so well that we're thinking of going ahead and trying a 25-year gathering and not waiting another 10 years. Maybe folks will recognize that there is great worth in getting together more than we do, and strengthening the bonds that were always there but that we somehow managed to overlook.