Friday, April 30, 2010

Buffy SHEDS!! . . . well kind of . . .

The third question we almost always get when someone meets Buffy after "what's her name?" and "what kind of dog is she?" is "does your dog shed?"

The funniest part about this question is the fact that after I tell people that Buffy doesn’t shed, people often insists that she does. Okay, people first off, don't argue with me about my dog and second: just because a dog has long hair doesn't mean that it sheds!!!

The length of dog’s hair has nothing to do with the degree which dogs shed, neither does the size of the dog. While the breed of a dog is often an indicator of a dog's shedding tendencies some dogs buck the trend of their breed and shed in way that is not expected.

There are three kinds of dog shedding. There's dogs like Poodle mixes which many refer to as hypoallergenic.

First off there's no such things as a "hypoallergenic dog." When people are allergic to dogs often it's because of their saliva and dander (poo) as much as their fur. Hypoallergenic dogs do shed hair, you may not notice it because it's just not at the level of a Labrador.

That's the other extreme. Dogs like Labradors shed hair on a daily basis. Without constant brushing these dogs end up leaving impressions of their bodies in hair on furniture whenever they get up after lying down.

Finally there's dogs like Buffy who for the majority of the year don't shed at all and then once or twice a year they shed their undercoat. Buffy has two coats, longer fur and a shorter fur that lays closer to her skin and it's that fur that she sheds. Not all Shetland Sheepdogs like Buffy shed, but last week she started.

Buffy gets a daily brushing from Diana. Usually some time in the evening when we are chilling out watching television, Diana will scoop Buffy up in her lap and brush her. It takes 5 minutes at the most. After a brushing Diana will pull a small ball of hair out of the brush about the size of a quarter.

Yesterday was different however. After 10 minutes of brushing and repeatedly pulling hair out of the brush, Diana was left with a pile of hair and a relieved puppy (she didn’t really seem to care about the hair, she was just happy to be able to shake herself out).

A lot of people I talk to about dogs are very concerned dog shedding when thinking about getting a dog. If it’s an allergy issue first off get an allergy test. The one I did involved drawing some blood. They give you a number that corresponds to your level of dog allergy. If it’s below a certain number the symptoms will dissipate over time and if it’s above a certain number the symptoms will get worse and again. If it’s about keeping your house clean, well that’s has a lot to with size and if you do a good job of brushing even a high-shedding dog can be managed without too much work.

The main thing to keep in mind is that shedding really shouldn’t be the number one reason you chose a certain dog. The dogs temperament, personality and health really are more important at the end of the day.

Every once in a while especially when I’m wearing black I notice some of Buffy’s hair on my clothing. The funny thing is that at first I'm initially annoyed but after a second, I smile. Her hair is a reminder of puppy that I love and the small price I pay for sharing my life with Buffy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Part Time Lover by Stevie Wonder

One of the reasons that I don't cheat on my wife, Diana, besides the whole "I love you her, I made a commitment to her as my wife and I would even want to be with another woman" is the fact that it would take too much effort. There's all the scheduling, erasing e-mails changing clothes, coming up with lies and having one more person to take care of.

I mean it's a lot of work.

Can you imagine doing this blind? Stevie Wonder, we know that you're a genius, an innovator of popular music and one of the most important and influence American musicians and song-writers. If you weren't blind you still would be admired for everything that you've accomplished but the fact that you did it all without the sense of sight makes me feel that much more inadequate. I mean it's bad enough that you're better at tennis than I am.

Okay, Stevie you really are a wonder, now you going to be all like "I'm such a genius that not only can I create amazing music but I can also successfully pull off an affair and have a 'part-time lover.' AND I can do it BLIND SUCKERS!!!"

"Part Time Lover" was one the biggest songs in 1985. It was the first song to be top four of Billboard charts at the same time: The Hot 100, R&B, Adult Contemporary and Dance. It may seem odd that song about cheating would be embraced so much by American culture. It's not so much a reflection of how much people accept cheating or participate in extra-martial affairs but this fun almost comical look at this subject in "Part Time Lover" is a way that we can deal with one of the most insidious, selfish and hurtful things someone can do.

In the first verse Stevie sings about using a one ring telephone call as a signal to let the other one know they made it safe at home. Then the next verse goes on to explain that he will flash the lights to let her know that this night he is free? So, the other person just happens to live across the way and will stay there and watch to see if the lights happen to flash? Wouldn’t the single ring phone call be a better signal?

Like early 1960s rocks songs about idealized teenage love, “Part Time Lover” is about the idealized situation of cheating on someone romanticizing about the plan and adventure of being undercover rather than the emotional consequences of betraying someone that you love. Now the song does have a twist in the end when someone comes to the door and Stevie realizes that his lover has a “part time lover.” He doesn’t seem overly distressed at this idea, it’s more of a “you get what you give” kind of response.

While many Motown artist floundered in the 1980s, Stevie Wonder transition with great success with the synthesized sounds of the time. Songs like “Part Time Lover” are great examples of the pop sensibility and musical reinvention that is characteristic of Stevie Wonder’s genius.

Stevie Wonder reflected American society. Like the way the songs he recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s dealt with the Civil Rights movement, "Part Time Lover" is a response to peoples' questions about the dynamics of relationships in the 1980s. The one constant throughout all of his music is the sheer joy that expressed even with an issue like adultery.

Just look how happy he is to be grooving in a trench coat and hat in the video. He makes the idea of one of the most despicable and reprehensible actions seem like fun. Wow, this man really is a wonder.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Photograph by Ringo Starr

“Photographs are for people who can’t remember.”
- Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney) from Up In The Air

Once upon a time I would agree with that statement, somewhere around early high school when I got tired of how my mom was constantly taking photos of our family. I hated stopping whatever we were doing every five seconds when we were on vacations to take a photo.

I eventually got over this but some of this attitude carried over to college. I have some photos mostly from formal dances when there was a professional photographer hired, but I didn’t really take any of my own.

I recently found a CD full of photos from my college years taken by one of my fraternity brothers and I kind of regret not taking more photos. Looking back I’m glad that he took a second out of the craziness to capture the moments. I am so grateful that my mom took the time to take so many photos growing up.

I love photographs and in the past couple years I’m amazed at the moments that my wife and I have captured. From our first apartment to our wedding, our family, vacations and our dog. I love having photos for us to look back and reminisce.

“Photograph” by Ringo Starr, the drummer from the Beatles, captures the power of a still image. Written with George Harrison, “Photograph” is one of the Ringo’s most endearing and memorable songs from his solo career.

“Photograph” is a break-up song in which Ringo sings to his ex how much he misses her and can’t get over living life without her. Even though the song has a sad undertone it has a warm and nostalgic glow to it.

The melodies' coutures capture the feeling of looking at a photo and smiling. The photographs makes Ringo feel sad because he is remembering the great memories. This bittersweet feeling is worth the loss as it truly is better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all.

In 2002, one of Ringo’s best friends and fellow Beatles, George Harrison died. On stage next to G Dhani, Geroge’s son and surrounded by George’s musical family Ringo performed “Photograph” for his friend.

Ringo Starr "Photograph"Concert for George
Uploaded by chrisclement. - See the latest featured music videos.

As Ringo smiles throughout this song, it’s hard not to feel the sunlight shining through this song.

It’s in this performance that we realize that photographs aren’t for people who can’t remember but for people who want to remember. Yes, many things in our past are painful and we would rather forget these thing. However there are also joyously profound moments that sometimes leaves our minds and every once in a while a photograph brings those memories back.

Even though we often see photos of moments that we don’t remember they still give us a warm fuzzy feeling. Knowing that these moments happened brings up hope. If we had these great moments in the past, we're bound to have them in our future.

Friday, April 23, 2010

You’re So Vain by Carly Simon

Okay, one of the many cultural referential jokes is “Yeah, and you probably think this song is about you. . .” from the classic Carly Simon song and I’m getting tired of NO ONE understanding this joke. I mean it works SO well. For example:

Comment: Where’s the mirror? I can’t get my hair right! I think it’s messed up.
Response: Yeah, and you probably think this song is about you. . .

Comment: All these guys keep hitting on me, it’s so annoying!!
Response: Yeah, and you probably think this song is about you. . .

Comment: Mr. Tang, EVERYONE keeps making fun of me!!
Response: Yeah, and you probably think this song is about you. .

Well, maybe I shouldn’t use this line on my third grade students but anyways, this line is really useful to point out to people not only that they are being vain but also how self-centered they are acting.

“You’re So Vain” is a great song about a girl sticking it to a guy. It’s empowering, fun and has a great swagger to it. Released in 1972, this song captures the change in music from idealized teenage love to discussing more relevant and realistic issues in relationships along with groups like Fleetwood Mac.

In this song Carly tells off a guy and then points out he’s vain for thinking that this song is about him. Wait a sec, that doesn’t really make sense. . .

Oh God, Men, have you every had a conversation with a girl and just gotten hopelessly confused? “So you want me to do that, but you’re not asking me to do that, than why don’t you. . . what?!?”

I’m starting to get that feeling. . .

This song is clearly about someone and Carly chastises the guy she is singing to for thinking it’s about him. So who is Carly singing about? I mean she uses the “you” pronoun both in the chorus and verse, is she just messing with our heads? Ladies, am I missing something because of my male perspective? It’s like she’s making the guy feel bad for all of the crap that the stuff he has pulled and then when he feels bad she says “oh, AND by the way, if you think this is about you, you’re REALLY VAIN!!!.”

So now he feels bad for being a bad dude and on top of that, he’s confused about who she is actually talking about. And if you didn’t think this song was about you than you’re a jerk of a guy for not realizing what Carly is talking about.


[whimper] . . . I. . . don’t. . . get . . . it. . . . .

This song doesn’t seem as funny anymore.

. . . sigh. . .

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gov. Crist Takes A Stand

Last week Florida Governor Crist vetoed Senate Bill 6 which was the first bill in the country to use a "merit based system" to determine teacher salary (follow the link for the news story). This bill based teacher salary on student performance as opposed to advanced degrees and years in the classroom. This bill also took away the possibility of tenure for new teachers.

There is idea that the only thing a public school teacher has to do to reach tenure is to show up for a couple years, fill out some paperwork. Then they will get tenure and never be able to be fired. Because of a lack of a merit based pay scale teachers in America are not motivated to do a good job which is why we have problems in our education system.

Let me clarify a couple things. If you are teacher who has tenure, you can be fired. Teachers on tenure tracks often have different evaluations than non-tenured teachers but they do have them and if tenured teachers slip in the job performance they can be fired. I've seen it happen.

As a non-tenured teacher every year I have more formal and informal evaluations than friends of mine who work in engineering, sales, publishing and non-profit charity work. The only people I know who are evaluated as often as me are my friends who are graduate students.

Now these evaluations are usually done by a principal or at the high school level a department head. Before these observations a meeting occurs before hand in which the teacher and administrator discuss the lesson and things that the principal is looking for in the teacher's instruction. The administrator observes the teacher teach and then there is a debriefing meeting.

These evaluations mean something; they just aren't put away in a file. They are looked at when districts decided whether to rehire teachers and they do measure the quality of work that teachers do. This is why when people talk about a merit-based teacher salary system, I'm a litle puzzled because it actually exists. If you are doing a great job, you are asked to come back, and you get a raise. There's your merit pay. And if you don't do a fantastic job your contract is not renewed.

I know this for a fact because I have teachers friends who have been not had their contract renewed, who basically have been fired.

Here’s the thing, I agree that student performance should be considered when evaluating teachers but it shouldn’t be the only thing. For example, let’s say that all third graders should know their times tables. If a group of student’s doesn’t than the teachers pay is reduced. Yeah, this will make a lazy teacher work a little harder to get their kids to learn but what if a different teacher has a classroom in which two of the students are mentally retarded. A teacher working really hard with these students may only get these students to learn basic addition facts. In Florida’s plan there is no accommodation for taking these special needs students into account. That's not only unfair to teachers but also their students.

As of now how much test scores are considered in evaluation is up to the district and in all of the 5 districts that I student taught or worked in as a teacher have taken into account student test scores in evaluating teachers.

For me this isn’t about politics. Governor Crist made a decision that was logical and reasonable. He wants a bill that not only takes into account students with special needs but gives more independence to districts to evaluate teachers. And really is created more bureaucracy at the state level going to help schools at the local level?

Are there teachers out there who have mediocre principals that let them slide by doing horrible work? Yes and I’m sure these teachers are scared of being held accountable for what they do. But those teachers I believe are symptoms of mediocre administrators or principals who have unreasonable work loads. Think about it, if you go to a restaurants and the wait staff is incompetent, the manager is the one to blame, they hired them and set the expectations, same thing with a school.

I’ve never met a teacher who actually feels this way, who is against a merit-based system because they don’t want to work harder. We are just worried about its effect on the students and having an evaluation system that not only holds teachers accountable but also helps teachers improve as educators so that we can better serve our students.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Let It Be by The Beatles

“It will be all right, just let it be.”

These words told to Paul McCartney from his late mother in a dream inspired “Let It Be,” the title track from The Beatles final studio album.

In the ten short years that The Beatles were together they recorded songs that included every single pop genre of the time and predicted many to come in the future. From songs from musicals:

to hard rock:

The Beatles did it all. So it should come as no surprise that they would eventually do a gospel song. The Beatles had a lot to say about life but most of the time it was centered on around idealized teenage love. As the ban, matured deeper subjects broached like in “Hey Jude,” which was originally written in an attempt to reconcile Julian, John Lennon’s son when John and his first wife were getting a divorce.

“Let It Be” examines the way we live, the way we react and who we are. With a deliberate tempo and a simple but carefully crafted melody, McCartney sings a song of calm. He asks us not to ignore our problems but to take a moment and reflect. Sometimes we are so quick to want to fix something, to help the people around us sometimes we miss the truth, the reality that some problems don’t need to be fixed, sometimes our friends need to help themselves. Sometimes we need to let go..

Maybe this was a message from Paul to all the Beatles fans who would soon be dealing with the breakup of the most influential group in popular music or maybe this was a simple contemplation that helped McCartney deal with the inner turmoil in his own life.

Regardless “Let It Be” stands as a reminder sometimes the hardest thing to do in life is absolutely nothing. Often in life the most difficult situations that we face are completely out of our control. Whether it’s losing a job, breaking up with a boyfriend or dealing with the loss of a loved one there is some part of these situations, which are beyond our control.

While our head tells us that these changes are “for the best,” our heart yearns to change the situation, to take some action, to do something about it. And if we truly believe that things happen for a reason then all we need to do is to let it be.

Friday, April 16, 2010

You Can’t Hurry Love by The Supremes

If you ask me for advice on how to maintain a healthy relationship with someone you love, I have a couple of words of advice. Now I don’t think my relationship with my wife, Diana is the greatest thing EVER, but I am proud of the our relationship and the role we have play in each other lives. My experiences with Diana give me some perspective on what works and what doesn’t and I’m happy to pass on my thoughts subject.

Now if you ask me what’s the best way to find that special someone, I got nothing for you. Diana and I met her freshmen year (my junior year) at Northwestern University at marching band camp. Now marching band rehearsed Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and most of the time we had football games on Saturdays. We were also in the Alice Millar Chapel Choir which rehearsed on Tuesday and Thursdays and performed every Sunday. So it wasn’t exactly a challenge for me to find time to get to know Diana. I literally saw her every single day.

Diana and I have absolutely no illusions about the sheer luck, happenstance, or fate if you will that brought us together. Most people are not as fortunate as Diana and I and “You Can’t Hurry Love” by Supremes gives the sage advice that I pass on to my friends whenever they ask me for help finding that special someone.

I love “You Can’t Hurry Love.” It’s hopeful, innocent and simply a joy. I get so happy listening and thinking about this song. On a musical level, I totally geek out more over Motown music than many other genres of music. Every time I listen to a song produced in the height of Motown I find something new to be amazed about. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time you know how excited I get about music, but with Motown I just get me giddy with joy.

It opens with baseline and tambourine. Then the drums come in and when Diana Ross starts singing everything drops out except for a relaxed, and hip guitar line accompanied by the bass drum of the drum set playing the rhythm of the bass line. Building up the instruments you get interested, feel the grove and by dropping out instruments right when Diana enters, it draws you into her voice like she is whispering you a secret.

Then there’s the colors. Motown is all about using bright vibrant musical color combination. Diana’s voice in the chorus is doubled with muted trumpets that are slightly whiny and vibraphone, which gives a little pop the beginning of each note. This arrangement of sounds just adds a layer of light to the sound bringing out the melody in a subtle and beautiful way.

Diana isn’t the greatest singer of all time, but the Motown producers wrote songs that perfectly fit her voice. The way she accentuates the ending consonants of the words works even though outside of the context of this song sounds just weird. She singing about getting advice from her mom and her thin yet bright voice captures that youthful spirit that so many people connect with.

In there anything sweeter than when Diana sings “keeps on waiting, anticipating” and hesitates in the middle of the word “anticipating,” as we wait for the end of the word. It’s a small thing but it’s SO exciting. The creativity and expression, not only having great words but singing in a way that makes you understand the meaning even if you don’t know the language. It’s awesome.

When you’re down and about to give up on love, you can’t forget how great love can be and how wonderful the idea of love is. Hope begets hope. By thinking about how great love can be, it makes you want to believe that it exists even more.

You can’t make love happen, but that’s what makes it so great. Be patient it’ll come. Now when do find that person let me know. We’ll see what we can do to make that hope a reality.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones

When The Beatles released “Yesterday” in 1965, pop ballads were unusual. However the success of Paul McCartney’s introspective masterpiece opened the doors for rock stars to show a different side of them which has become a standard practice. The following year, the Beatles continued recording slower songs like “In My Life,” a beautiful and affirming song of devotion.

That next year, the Rolling Stones released their most enduring ballad “Ruby Tuesday” and instead of reflecting on the life-affirming power of love, the Stones told the story of a groupie.

Comparisons between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles reveal much about the two groups. These groups reflected two sides of a coin, two perspectives on reality. Characterized more as bad boys, the Rolling Stones’ music had a darkness around it while the Beatles had a glow. While the Beatles for the most part reflected idealized views of love and life, the Rolling Stone described the darker realities of human emotion.

Starting with Mick Jagger’s voice at the beginning of the song with no introduction, “Ruby Tuesday” immediately draws you in. The sound of a cello, which was played by Richards and Wyman, and piano creates a barren and lonely musical landscape as Jagger sings ominous words “yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone.”

A recorder, played by Brian Jones (the only deceased member of the Rolling Stones) dances around adding a folk like touch to this song and the song blossoms open in the chorus.

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday,
Who could hang a name on you,
When you change with every new day,
Still I’m going to miss you.

Even though this is a girl that no one could figure out and seemed to change with every day, Jagger sings how he’s going to miss he which is why this song is so powerful. People come and go in life and most of these relationships are imperfect. Even though there are things that may annoy us about these people, we still miss them when they are gone.

Beautifully poetic and intriguing lines like “lose your dreams and you will lose your mind” make us pause. Jagger’s haunting voice filled with regret, foreboding and love forces us to listen. And the unique musical atmosphere of this song stays with us long after the song is over like the feeling a memory that you can’t remember.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Job Interview

I thought the interview went well. We talked enthusiastically about my background, my intentions and who I was a teacher. I learned a lot about not only the positions but also the school. As I left the interview feeling proud of how I represented myself I hoped that I would be chosen for the second round of interviews.

It was exactly hope that made difficult when I found out later in the evening that “they are moving forward with other candidates.”

Hope is a tricky thing. If you don’t hope for something better you will attain anything in your life that is meaningful. However, if you hang on to hope, it sets you up for disappointment. Sometimes what you feel with hope unfulfilled is more than disappointing, sometimes it’s painful.

What do we do? Give up and be satisfied with out lives the way they are, never take a chance and never dream beyond our circumstance? Part of me admires people who can. That’s just not me.

Can you imagine working a job that doesn’t really challenge you, being in a marriage with a wife that doesn’t motivate you to be a better you, and living a life with friends who accept mediocrity in how you treat them? I can't.

Can you imagine not feeling that drive, that spark inside you that gives you the courage to face another day? You can’t.

It is exactly that spark that is my spirit. What feeds my spirit is looking for the sun beyond the clouds and even though sometimes the darkness in the sky seems impenetrable, We can’t stop searching.

Life is meaningless if you let that spirit die inside of you.

There are many different reasons that I can explain why I didn’t get to the second interview. Maybe I didn’t have the right experience, maybe the other candidates were simply a better fit or maybe my personality didn’t match the atmosphere of the school. I’ll never really know so I guess it’s best not to dwell on it.

As Joseph Campbell said, "The adventure you're ready for is the one you'll get." This job simply wasn't the right one for me. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to had this interview and it was a great experience regardless of the results.

So on to the my next adventure. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like, but I hope, no I know it will be a great one.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ms. Jackson by Outkast

There’s nothing easy about an unplanned pregnancy.

The recent season of “16 And Pregnant” has explored the struggles between young unmarried teens dealing with having a child out of wedlock. While the show focuses on the relationships between the teens, one of the most interesting of the show is the interaction between the teen father and the teen mom’s mother.

In episode 2, featuring Nikkole, her boyfriend Josh (who repeatedly broke up with her, to date other girls and then would get back with her) did not get along with Nikkole’s mom. In own the most shocking displays of immaturity and selfishness Josh got into a fight with Nikkole’s mom while she was in labor.

There is something between a daughter and mother that a husband or boyfriend will never replace and never replicate. For most woman it’s essential that a man is on good terms with their mother.

For Josh, one of the first steps in cementing the break-up between him and Nikkole (besides the fact that he cheated on her soon after she gave birth) was his issues with Nikkole’s mom. If Josh ever wants to be part of Nikkole or his child’s life, the first step is apologizing to Nikkloe’s mother as Outkast attemps in “Ms. Jackson.”

“Ms. Jackson” is shockingly original. The song sets a man apologizing to his ex-girlfriend’s mother for how he treated her daughter. I’ve never heard a song breach this subject so directly and it’s musical landscape while drawing from many different influences is audacious, quirky and unique.

Drum beats are played in reverse throughout the song creating a sucking sound that awkwardly maintains a beat reflecting a tense and uneasy situation. The music paints the words in the songs sometimes with subtle hints like the piano line which plays the beginning of the “Wedding March” (the cliché “here comes the bride” melody). Other times it’s more in your face like in the second verse. Behind the words “you say it’s puppy love,” you can hear puppies barking and then immediately after with “we say it’s full grown” you can a grown dog roar. Musical touches like these add a surreal almost comical feeling that somehow seems to make the serious subject of this song that much more significant.

The rapping is so fast that it barely seems to fit in the beat. The velocity reflects a urgency from the protagonist to convince Ms. Jackson that he has changed. In the first verse, he says that he will pay for the bills and that he loves Ms. Jackson. While a custody battle is on the horizon he feels that his voice has not been heard and that he is unfairly being cut out of her life.

Within the flurry of words, there are profound statements: “You could plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather,” “Forever never seems that long until you’ve grown.” It’s interesting how this rapid fire style of rapping forces your ear to engage. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to understand every word but the emotional message is clear and Outkast gives us times to breath (even though they don’t seem to need to) pausing the music for dramatic purposes, “Forever, ever?”

The last verse degenerates into anger as the protagonist address his “baby mama” directly.

Jealousy, infidelity, envy
Cheating to beating, envy and to the G they be the same thing,
So who you placing the blame on
You keep on singing the same song
Let bygones be bygones,
you can go on and get the on and your mama.

This song interestingly switches perspective almost as if the Ms. Jackson’s daughter is in the room and he finally addresses her directly. He spits out words with venom as he realizes that he he can only give so much.

"Ms. Jackson" is astounding song. The poetic rapping and original production creates a powerful the emotional statement of a frustrated father trying to reconcile with his "baby mama's mama."

Josh from 16 And Pregnant and the character in "Ms. Jackson" are two sides of the same coin. Next time feelings of conflict feelings on conflict arise between you and the mother of someone you love, pause, and think about whether it's worth it, because this is a coin that you do not in your pocket.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Sermon from the Non-Christian

Okay, Jesus died on the cross. He rose from the dead a couple days later. He hung around for a little bit and went to heaven. Because of all of this we have Cadbury Eggs. Glory Hallelujah!!

As a dedicated Christeaster, I make sure to make it to my wife’s families’ Catholic Church twice a year, sometimes more (especially if my wife is being a Cantor). This year as I stood in the back of a crowded church, I started to wonder why there was only one woman in the entire congregation wearing an Easter bonnet and if there really was anything me as a non-Christian could get out of this holy day.

I didn’t really come up with much.

Then today at work one of my co-workers was telling me how she went to a funeral and watched a mother bury her son who died of cancer. The death had not been quick but rather long and painful. This was one of the instances were mercy came in death, not life.

The mother was inconsolable. As the people went outside into the cold and the wind she turned away from the casket. On this day when she buried her son, it was simply too much for her to watch her child be placed into the earth. This made me think.

The life of Christ is a story to me. I don’t believe that everything in the Bible is factually true. I agree that Jesus Christ is a real historic figure but as to his miracles and the circumstances of his death, resurrection and ascension . . . eh . . . I don’t personally believe that stuff. Regardless of your belief in Christ, the story of his life is amazing and is one of the most revealing and important reflections in our culture of the human condition.

Look death is scary. It is the ultimate unknown and the resurrection of Christ provides answers about the afterlife, proof that there is something beyond. It’s a story that I would love to believe. How wonderful would it be to known that if we do good we will get a reward, that there is some universal logic that balances our actions and our consequences?

One thing that I took exception to at the sermon I heard on Sunday was the idea that non-Christians are constantly looking for answers about the afterlife. I mean, I do wonder about it, but most of the time I just focus on being the best me that I can be when I am alive.

No one should have to bury his or her child. It’s a horrible, unimaginable prospect. Maybe there is comfort in the story of Easter that can help us get through these tough times, maybe not.

When my co-worker told me about the funeral something hit me deep down inside. Maybe it has to do with my age, or maybe it’s something deeper. Or maybe there is something in our own humanity that we all share.

Easter is one answer, one way to deal with the inevitable in our lives to make sense of it all. For those who believe the story, it’s the reality of humanity and for the rest of us it’s a reminder of the fears that tears us apart and the hope that binds us together.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Billy Elliot!

Billy Elliot! is the best new Broadway show that I’ve ever seen in the past ten years.

I haven’t seen every new Broadway show that’s out there but I saw Wicked and the Jersey Boys which had long and successful runs in Chicago, where I live. While seeing both of these shows were fantastic experiences, they didn’t really work for me.

As much as seeing witches fly in Wicked was awe-inspiring and as original the story is, the music is inconsistent. What’s disappointing is that the music sounds like “Broadway music” falling into this new modern musical genre of songs that are a little bit too long with words that simply aren’t that meaningful.

Jersey Boys featured beautifully performed and authentic 1960s pop music but totally side-stepped some important historical plot points, like how they stole most of their musical ideas from African-American performers. The best part of the show ended up being the fact that it becomes an oldies sing-along concert which while fun, is NOT what I’m looking for in a Broadway show. It would have been far more effective as a concert at Ravinia.

Billy Elliot! embraces what it means to be a musical, utilizing all of the artistic elements for one reason: to tell the story. The acting is direct and passionate. The set designs while not revolutionary skillfully creates Billy’s world. The music, brilliant composed by Elton John, adds depth and emotion while not drawing much attention to itself.

Then there’s the dancing.

I have never been impressed with dancing at a Broadway show and I’ve been to over a dozen shows. More often than not the dancing in shows feels like an afterthought, but in Billy Elliot! the dancing is breathtaking.

Check out the “angry dance” after Billy’s dad prevents him from perusing his dream and audition for the Royal Ballet School.

What you saw on the Tony Awards stage is exactly what I saw on stage. The brilliant use of the coal sign and the riot police shields perfectly represents how the conflict in Billy’s community is affecting his life.

Billy Eliot! is based on a film, which features an 11-year-old Jamie Bell giving one of the best child performances in film.

[the only reason this film is rated R is because of the use of swear words, otherwise it’s a PG film].

Elton John and company tell this story and takes the emotional beatsof the films and expanded them onto the stage. For example, here is the original “angry dance” from the film.

The film does things with the camera that you can’t do on stage, and there are things happening on stage that you simply can’t do in film. While it’s the same, it’s different. If you’ve seen the film, you can expect to feel the same emotional notes but in a completely different way.

If you haven’t seen the film, go rent it. It feels as good as the cheesy music in the trailer promises. It’s a great film, mature and smart (in some ways feels like a great sports films). If you’re a musical and you’re in Chicago you have to see Billy Elliot! C’mon, this show made me almost cry when Billy finally does a boy pirouette after weeks of practice.

There’s no greater compliment for a piece of art than to say that it makes you want to experience more art. Billy Eliot! not only makes you wish you could watch the whole musical all over again but it also makes you want to dance.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley was the first great American rock star. He defined the teen idol, revolutionized rock music and left an everlasting impact on our culture. However, for a period he became irrelevant.

One of the first pop artists to expand into film (now a common occurrence), Elvis started out showing impressive range in “Love Me Tender.”

However his films quickly became jokes, the music he created which accompanied his film were no longer on the edge of rock’s development. Elvis, a man whose bottom half of his body was censored during television performances because of the suggestive ways his hips moved became about as threatening as the Jonas Brothers.

In 1969, Elvis decided he needed to make a change. He put together his legendary comeback special and jumped back into the studio. What emerged was From Elvis In Memphis, his first album not related to a film in eight years. It was country, gospel, soul, rock and most of it was Elvis. Distilled down to what made him change the world, Elvis gave us one last reminder of the power of his voice with his final number one hit before he died “Suspicious Minds.”

Like a great Motown song, the background instrumental and vocal singers are so well-crafted and full of soul, a monkey could record the lead vocal and this song would still sound awesome. The twirling guitar that opens song, the gliding strings lines, the pulsing horns in the second verse, the rolling bass line and the snap of the hi-hat rhythm all combine like ingredients in a stew. Every single piece can be easily separated and identified for their individual greatness but together they create a masterpiece of sounds and colors that doesn’t so much emote feeling but lives and breathes life.

The back-up sings act as a Greek chorus with the sounds of a gospel choir. They are haunting as they lead into the second chorus building up the exclamation “Yes I’m CRYING!! Ok, so I guess I was exaggerating a little bit, if a monkey did the lead vocals, this back-up singers would not save this song, but you get the point.

Elvis sings best when he’s in pain. The slight hiccup in his voice with the Shakira-like moan that he glides through the notes with are melodramatic but come across as genuine and heartfelt. His baritone has so much tone and depth, it’s like there’s a cathedral reverberating inside his body before his voice pours out of him. When Elvis sings “you can’t see the tears I feel I’m crying,” his voice slides down these pitches and even though his girlfriend can’t feel the tears he is crying, we can.

Emotionally “Suspicious Minds” sticks with us because it’s about something that we all struggle with in our lives, trust. When you trust someone you are taking a chance, but you need to take that chances or else you are destined for disappointment.

People act the way that we expect them to and if you believe that someone will betray your trust, chances are they will. Real love can only develop from believing that someone can be trusted and having that trust fulfilled. It’s not an exaggeration to be as torn as Elvis is when dealing with the way someone thinks.

How we perceive the people around us, shapes our interactions and “Suspicious Minds” reminds us how powerful and painful lack of faith can truly be.