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High hopes and alternate plans

When Heidi’s book, Fever Pitch, got nominated for a RITA earlier this year and she insisted that I was going to accompany her to New York for the ceremony, I realized that I was going to have to haul my suit out.  I am lucky in that I have a job that does not even require me to wear a tie, let alone a suit, so the last time I had worn it was probably to one of Anna’s daddy-daughter dances.  The last one of those was in 2012, and I’m pretty sure I just wore khakis that year. So to say that it gets worn a lot is pretty much an out-and-out lie.

29651a808da1e27484391a246303e43cI was not terribly surprised when, in March, I went to try on my suit pants and they did not fit.  Not even close.  One of the depressing things about your 40s is that you will never have a 20-something body ever again.  It’s not been a secret that my weight has crept up, slowly but surely all through my 30s. After many false starts, I I figured it was time to really try to do something about it. After all, I had a goal, right?  I wanted to fit into those suit pants by the end of July, right?  I figured if I tried to lose 20 pounds in 4 months, with the right tools and attitude, I should really be able to do it.  That’s not an unhealthy rate of weight loss, and it was reasonable.  Why set yourself up for failure?

And I did pretty well, by and large.  After about 6 weeks of using MyNetDiary.com, I had managed to lose about 10 pounds.  But trying to get the second 10 pounds off was proving to be more difficult than the first.  Add this to the fact that I had been less strict about what I ate and had a couple weeks of really bad eating, and well, I started making backward progress, then took the weight off again, then held steady.  Work’s been extra stressful lately and my go to activity when I feel stressed or tired (which is pretty much all the time) is to eat – and I usually gravitate toward unhealthy choices.

It was becoming abundantly clear to me that I was not going to fit into those pants by the end of July. It was a huge disappointment for me and I kind of had to mourn this fact.  But with the date rapidly approaching, I was going to have to come up with another plan.

71b90dec20e054124477f0afb7f5eac1I took the week off work this week just because so today we headed to Men’s Wearhouse, where I had bought my suit in 2010 to see if they could match the pants with the suit coat I had.  Fortunately, since I had bought them as “suit separates” and not a whole suit, they could do that.  Otherwise, I was going to be on the hook for a whole new suit.  The guy took my measurements and went to find the pants I needed.  He came back and said that he didn’t have the color I needed but could order them, but he gave me the same pants in a different color to try on.  I about did a double take when I saw the waist size he gave me – higher than I have ever been, and after having dieted – and then had heart failure when I saw the price tag. $200 for pants I’m going to wear one evening?  It seemed ridiculous to me and fortunately, Heidi concurred with that assessment.

So we went over to Younkers and we found pants much more in our price range.  And since we had decided I wasn’t going to wear a suit, we found a cool blue shirt and a sharp red tie to go with it.  And then she looked down at my black shoes that I wore because I knew I was going to be trying on dress pants.  No no, these shoes will NEVER do, and I ended up with a new pair of shoes as well which, frankly, I needed because the ones I do have are in pretty sad shape.  I even scored and picked up a fun summer shirt at 60% off that is lightweight and pink and makes me look good.

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After all this, I spent just a little over $200, which would have only bought me a pair of pants at Men’s Wearhouse, but at Younkers bought me pants, two shirts, a tie and a pair of shoes.  For failing, I was winning pretty hard at that point.

But there’s still the point of the waist circumference which I will not utter here for fear of sinking into the floor from embarrassment.  I guess the only answer is to try again, start tracking everything I eat, make better choices, not let stress dictate what I eat and treat my body a little bit better again. Because I was really enjoying feeling better after losing that little bit of weight. As a friend of mine told me, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Even though I didn’t manage to meet my goal of fitting into my suit pants in 4 months time, I did learn that I was consuming many many more calories in a day than I needed to.

With firm resolve, I will look even better in that pink shirt than I already do.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Life stories

 

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The future of blogging

bloggerDoes blogging even have a future? Didn’t it die about the same time that social media was on the rise?  I’m just not sure I know anymore.  I’ve had this conversation with myself before, but now, in 2015, it seems somehow different.

Once upon a time, I always directed new friends to my blog because I felt like it really encapsulated who I was as a person, highlighted my interests and represented me more or less authentically.  Now, I hardly ever do because it’s not updated nearly as much as it used to be.  I’ve been struggling with this blog a lot in the last few weeks because although I have the desire to update it and keep writing, I lack the time and the follow-through.  It’s easier to do a Facebook post.  Even though it’s limited to 140 characters, I’m likely to get more response from a tweet.  Tumblr is kind of a mixed bag, as is Instagram, but still, who even reads blog posts anymore?  Once upon a time, the potential existence of this shirt, produced by a good friend and from what is probably my favorite movie of all time would have gotten its own blog post.  As it turns out, it got Facebook and Instagram mentions.

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Isn’t this the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen?

I find myself faced with the possibility that this blog has outlived its usefulness, and only 8 posts from 2000 posts.  It’s not widely read, but that’s never been my main point in writing it. Sure, the comments and attention are nice – I am human after all. It’s been a long time since I met a new person via blogging – that happened all the time during the mid 2000s.  That was always the thrill of blogging, stumbling across a previously unknown blog and then starting to e-mail the author based on common interests.  I gotta say, I kinda miss that.

It feels so wrong to leave my blog neglected and un-updated for weeks at a time.  It’s like neglecting a child, only DHS is not likely to come after me because I don’t write in my blog for 10 days.  A part of me wants to retire this one and start anew, but I’m afraid that a new blog would be as neglected as this one has become.  And all I would probably write about is music anyway.

Ultimately, I feel like calling an end to my blogging days would be failure, despite over 10 years at it and nearly 2000 posts. It would be a failure to no one else, but to me, it’d be like giving up on something that once gave me so much joy and pride.  It’s not that I’m not still proud of it – even my stupid posts from the early years of the blog represent me as I was at the time – but I’m just not able to update as much as I would like and it seems to be reaching a smaller and smaller audience, despite posting each entry to Facebook, Twitter and (occasionally) Tumblr.

I love blogging, even though I don’t do it nearly as much as I used to and I lack the ability to keep it updated like I used to.  This is basically related to my love of long-form writing, which seem so out of vogue in our short attention span theater society. It gives me a chance to expound on things that I can’t give justice to in a tweet of Facebook post. Is it awful that this gets updated twice a month when, in years past, I’ve had more than 30 posts in a month?  Is it just changing times? Or is it changing me?  Does it matter?

Blogging about blogging is so meta, I can barely take it, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.  What is the opinion of the peanut gallery?

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Blogging

 

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Bathhouse Betty, aka The Divine Miss M

3519d0871a89d9dcf8d8a703e63ab8eaAs I said before, I’m no Bette Midler stan by any stretch of the imagination, but tomorrow night I’m headed to Omaha with my friend Kyl to see Bette Midler’s Divine Intervention Tour.  I think that it’ll be a pretty awesome show, and I’ve spent the last 6 weeks or so getting acquainted with some of Bette’s songs beyond stuff from the Beaches soundtrack and her new album It’s The Girls. It’s been an education, let’s just say that. Oh sure, I knew “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “The Rose” but there were so many deep cuts I didn’t know existed, I thought I’d do a quick blog post on the eve of the concert highlighting five songs I discovered.  The funniest part – they were ALL covers. I sometimes wonder if Bette had any songs that weren’t recorded by someone else first.

But when I was searching for videos to accompany my list, I found this piece of history. And I knew I had to abandon my original idea and post this instead.


As the title indicates, this is a Bette Midler show recorded at New York City’s Continental Baths back in 1971. I am never not amazed by the fact that Midler got her start singing in that particular gay batthouse, accompanied by Barry Manilow on the piano, earning her the moniker “Bathhouse Betty” (which I had never heard of until she released an album called Bathhouse Betty in the late 90s.) As a recent A.V. Club article said “while audiences around the country were getting a proxy version of’30s Berlin decadence in the musical Cabaret, gay New Yorkers were living the real thing at Continental, complete with libertine sex and their own personal Sally Bowles.” I can think of nothing that describes this performance more accurately.

I love that this footage survived (although judging by the quality, it appears that it barely survived) all these years and here I am in 2015 watching it before I go watch a 69 year-old Midler perform. Although she’s arguably less camp now than she was then, I’m super excited for the show tomorrow night. A friend of mine who saw the show in Las Vegas said the audience is definitely the AARP set – quite a difference from the folks who watched her perform at the continental 40+ years ago. I just told him that’ll be us at Madonna in 20 years.

Because you KNOW Madonna will still be touring at 76.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2015 in Bette Midler, concerts, Music

 

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Mix CD Redux: Diana Krall – Rarities, Live Performances, etc.

Back in the day, I used to be really into Diana Krall. Now, she’s an artist that is mostly uninteresting to me. She’s a hell of a piano player, but so much of her recent work has been so sedate and, frankly, boring. But around the year 2000, when I first discovered her and her When I Look In Your Eyes album, I couldn’t get enough of her.

It just so happens that I discovered her music at the time of the Napster revolution, which meant that no longer did I have to buy a bunch of compilation albums to get the one Diana Krall track. It also gave me access to a ton of live performances that were otherwise hard to get or completely unobtainable.  This led me to create, probably 2002-ish, the mix CD very cleverly titled Diana Krall – Rarities, Live Performances, etc.  For some reason, I’ve been thinking of this mix CD, and I thought, what the hell, let’s write about it.

img016A few thoughts:

  • Most of the songs on here did not come from Napster, but rather, from Audiogalaxy, the heir apparent to Napster after the Feds shuttered it.  I arguably got more from Audiogalaxy than I did Napster because the whole time I downloaded off of Napster, I was on dial-up, whereas with Audiogalaxy, we had broadband.
  • Diana clearly knew it was hip to sing with Tony Bennett way before Lady Gaga did.
  • I noticed that a lot of these songs aren’t really rarities – some of them are just album tracks. Songs like “Besame Mucho” and “Cry Me A River” were from her 2001 album The Look Of Love (which bored me to tears) and I’m not sure if the version of “I Love Being Here With You” is from the album or if it’s a live version.  Regardless, when I recreated the playlist, I put the version from Live In Paris on there.
  • The live version of “Frim Fram Sauce” has so much more kick than the album version. No idea who did “Frim Fram Sauce” first, but it’ll always be a Diana Krall song to me.  Her piano playing is just breathtaking. I can play piano, but she can PLAY piano.
  • When you’re a singer like Krall whose stock and trade is in singing standards, pretty much every song you do is a cover. “The Nearness Of You” was introduced to me by Barbra Streisand, which was probably why I downloaded Krall’s version. Sadly, “The Nearness Of You” will always be a Streisand song to me.
  • Speaking of covers, the live version of “A Case Of You” comes from an appearance on Craig Kilborn.  Everybody and their dog has covered “A Case Of You” but hers is one of my favorites.
  • There have been so many other songs that of hers that have come out in the last 10 or so years since I made this CD that I could easily add to it.  When I was assembling it in iTunes, I had to resist putting others on there.
  • Finally, “Charmed Life” is my favorite song on here.  Even though in this video of the song, Diana looks like she is perpetually irritated.
 
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Posted by on May 23, 2015 in Diana Krall, Mix CD, Mix CD Redux

 

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Karaoke wins and wants

Karaoke_mic_620Awhile back, a friend of mine said to me that they were amazed at how I can get up and sing karaoke. They are a pretty outgoing person, but for some reason, singing in front of a group is just not something they think they could do. For what it’s worth, I’m convinced that the secret to a successful karaoke night is having about 3-5 songs in your wheelhouse that you know you can do. How you know you can do them is up to you – but my advice is always to practice before you get up in front of a room full of strangers.  The corollary to this is don’t assume that just because you’ve sung along to it on the radio for 20 years means you can sing it solo with just the instrumental track backing you up. Take it from one who knows.

So here are a handful of my “know I can do them and do them well” songs that I usually start with whenever we go do karaoke, which is never often enough. I need more karaoke friends, seriously.

1 – Merle Haggard / Mama Tried
Something about “turning 21 in prison doing life without parole” makes this song so damn much fun to sing. It’s also, at 2:14, super short so it’s almost over before it starts. Maybe not that great if the rotation is really big, but it’s easy to sing and totally in my range.

2 – Glen Campbell / Rhinestone Cowboy
Maybe this song is only easy for me to sing because I’ve been singing it since I could talk. You can ask my mom and dad – they’ll attest to it. It gets a little bit out of my range, but forces me to sing from my stomach which is good. All I can say is the last time I did this song, I totally owned it.

3 – Roger Miller / King of the Road
I love the version that Rufus Wainwright and Teddy Thompson do of this song on the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, but it’s not substantially different from the Roger Miller original. It’s also one that requires no vocal acrobatics and stays in my range. I’m starting to think that for a song to be something I can sing, it has to be at least as old as I am.

4 – Rupert Holmes / Escape (The Piña Colada Song)
This was the most recent one that I sang at karaoke and realized that I really could do it quite well. Like “Rhinestone Cowboy” you have to sing from you stomach, especially on the choruses. The verses are easier to fake your way through, but once you hit the first “If you like piña coladas…” Thisis a really fun song to sing, a total 70s song and one that is unfairly maligned.


Now for a couple I really really want to try, but would take some significant practice.

Savage Garden / I Want You
I think this is highest on my “wish I could do it” karaoke bucket list. But it has LOTS of problems. The first problem is the largely unintelligible lyrics. The second problem is that said unintelligible lyrics are sung by Darren Hayes in such a rapid fire progression that you can barely breathe. The third problem is that Darren Hayes’ voice is significantly higher than mine, although it likely wouldn’t require me to use falsetto like other Savage Garden songs might.

Scissor Sisters / Take Your Mama
Speaking of falsetto, mine would have to be perfection before I could attempt this one. It’d also have to be my first song of the night, as my voice gets worse as the night wears on.

Mayer Hawthorne / The Walk
Yet another artist whose use of falsetto makes it nearly impossible to do one of his songs for karaoke. I’m also seriously hindered by the fact that I have never seen any of his songs in any karaoke book ever. Watching this video makes me wish Hawthorne would bring back his hipster glasses.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2015 in karaoke, Music

 

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Make your dreams come true

A friend of ours was recently in Milwaukee and posted this to his Facebook page.

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For people of a certain age (my age), that picture brings to mind only one thing – the madcap adventures of Laverne & Shirley. For you young ones out there, Laverne & Shirley followed the adventures of two single girls living in Milwaukee working at Shotz Brewery as bottle-cappers (until they relocated to Burbank after 4 seasons.)  When I was growing up, it was on right after Happy Days and right before Three’s Company on ABC on Tuesday nights. It was must-see TV before NBC thought to use it for their Thursday night line up in the 90s. I think my dad tolerated us watching Laverne & Shirley, but he really hated that we watched Three’s Company.

And when I think of Laverne & Shirley, I also immediately think of a drug store in my hometown where we got our prescriptions filled. It was never very busy, but we knew the owner from church and his daughter was in my class in high school.  We also ended up going to pharmacy school together and were roommates for 3 years. Anyway, the drug store had a front end that always seemed to be dark – although I could be misremembering. One thing that I do remember the front end having is this little gem.

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What was it with the 70s/80s and making a board game to go along with every bit of pop culture? I suppose it’s analogous to how video games are made for just about anything nowadays.

I got to wondering – what would the object of a Laverne & Shirley board game be? I did a little bit of searching and the object was (duh) to make all your dreams come true. The way you do this? By collecting the most hours spent out on dates in 1 week.  There’s apparently a diary that you fill up with your dates and what not, but mostly, it seems a bit incomprehensible to me. Clearly, I was NOT the target audience for this game.

The drug store is now closed, but I wonder whatever happened to the Laverne & Shirley board game that was on the shelf.  Did someone buy it before it closed? Did it get thrown away? I hope not, but it doesn’t appear to be worth a whole lot as evidenced by eBay listings.  Some joker is trying to sell one for $99.95 on Amazon – good luck with that.

The last thing I’ll say about Laverne & Shirley is that it did have one of those amazing TV theme songs that we just don’t get anymore. I kind of miss that. I remember this song being on the radio, but I’ll be damned if I can find a full length version of it anywhere.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Random thoughts, tv

 

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A nearly FROOT-less endeavor

It’s been raining records around here lately, which is not a bad thing except for my wallet. I managed to score a vinyl copy of Dolly Parton’s 1999 album The Grass Is Blue, due in no small part to Borderline Music in Chicago. Once we get around to working out the logistics, I’ll be getting a vinyl copy of Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven on Earth on a gorgeous picture disc. And after what seems like forever, a friend of mine who lives on the east coast found a copy of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation: 1814 in the $1 bin and snatched it up for me. For the record, that album is really her best, IMHO.

But the latest vinyl record that I got took three tries to get, so it almost didn’t happen. Marina & the Diamonds FROOT is on track to be one of my favorite albums of the year – if the Brandon Flowers record is as good as it seems like it’s going to be, Madonna’s going to have to be content with the bronze medal when it comes to my album rankings this year. And that’s assuming nothing else better comes out between now and the end of the year.

Marina’s last record, Electra Heart, wasn’t released on vinyl at all so I wasn’t sure that FROOT would either. There was a FROOT vinyl box set that was available for about 2.5 seconds on her web site before it sold out, with 6 vinyl 45s of the 12 songs on the album, each in a different color of vinyl.

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It would have been cool to have, but ultimately, it was too pricey on the secondary market and I’d rather have the whole album vs. 45s. Probably would have just sat on a shelf unplayed and records are meant to be played, damn it!

Fortunately, FROOT did get a full-on LP vinyl release, including a limited edition “diamond-white vinyl edition” that was not (initially) available in the U.S.  I was going to order one from Marina’s web site, but the shipping cost more than the record, so I ended up ordering it from Amazon UK. That turned out to be a big mistake.

My initial order of the album shipped on March 18, but didn’t arrive until probably the second week of April. Even for shipping from the UK, that was a long time. As it turned out, it took an unintended trip to India prior to being rerouted back to the U.S. and eventually to my doorstep. When it arrived, it looked like every little bit like it had taken a trip around the world. The box, which was surprisingly slim and flimsy for shipping vinyl overseas, was bent and dog-eared. More importantly, the album cover was bent and the record warped so badly as to be unplayable.

So as much as I didn’t want to go through the hassle, I decided to return it to Amazon UK for a replacement.  I had to pay the shipping back, which they said they would refund me up to $12. It cost me $16.75 to send it back, so I took a little bit of a hit. When I got my shipping refund, they refunded me $2.29. At this point, I should have just ordered it straight from Marina’s web site. But I didn’t want to fuss with it any more so I just put up and shut up and waited for my replacement.

The replacement arrived mid-week last week, arguably in worse shape than the one before it. It was bent very badly and the record was warped again. It was playable-ish, but warped badly enough that the needle dragged across the surface of the record on it’s way back to the cradle. Yeah, that wasn’t going to cut it either. My wife, who is an expert at getting results by calling out shitty customer service on Twitter, tweeted photos of it and it didn’t take long for Amazon to get in touch with me. I explained the situation to them. They did not make me return the damaged goods this time – not that it’s really any good to me because it’s not playable and I certainly can’t resell it – and refunded me approximately $18 on my shipping from the previous return. In addition, they shipped me yet another copy of FROOT with expedited shipping.  The third copy arrived Monday in pristine condition, packaged in a much sturdier box and lined with bubble wrap.

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Was it all worth it? In the end, yes. The “diamond white” vinyl is seeing a U.S. release exclusively via Urban Outfitters, but seeing as it’s on back order on their web site and the closest Urban Outfitters store is 3 hours away, I’m glad I don’t have to mess around with that. It’s as visually appealing as it is pleasing to the ear, but really, all the visuals associated with this album have been great – colorful in a way that’s reminiscent of the Sticky & Sweet Tour. I can’t wait to see her live again, because you know it’s gonna happen.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Amazon, Marina & The Diamonds, Music, vinyl

 

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