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guilty pleasure monday: we can work it out (stevie wonder)
Aug 30th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

and you know how i usually loathe covers.

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i have waxed pretty regularly about my contempt for most cover songs. so many attempts are lackluster imitations of a perfectly good song. and to cover a beatles song takes massive cojones. that, or completely narcissism, i suppose. the sheer perfection of some songs doesn’t stop people from giving it a go. (yesterday is the most covered song. ever.)

that being said, from time to time, someone gets it right. and that one in this case is stevie wonder, no small talent himself. i was reminded of the truly awesome nature of this cover during the gershwin awards program honoring macca last month.  so many of the people singing mccartney’s songs fell flat. (the jonas brothers? REALLY?) but steveland? he rocked the house.

so here’s my end-of-summer present for you. get down; get funky. and get back up again.

(just remember your motrin if that latter bit is challenging for you.)

guilty pleasure monday: amsterdam (crowded house)
Aug 23rd, 2010 by wrekehavoc

ok, not too old. and not very guilty. but very well-loved.

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sometimes, what i miss most in a lot of modern rock are signs that there are thinking people behind the songs. don’t get me wrong; i’m not one of those cranky oldsters who thinks that nothing good has been written since the beatles broke up. and while i try to desperately steer my kids toward modern alternative that actually might speak to them, i often come up empty. so much sounds so derivative to me. so much sounds forced to me.

i feel often like i have heard that song before.

and that’s why i was so delighted to listen to crowded house’s new album. sure, the lineup is a bit different — drummer paul hester sadly took his own life a few years back, and neil finn is fronting it without his brother, tim, who was around for woodface, a stellar effort. but i sometimes think of neil finn as the energizer bunny of rock and roll — he just keeps at it. (his son liam, who we saw perform with him on this tour, is following steadily in dad’s footsteps, too — really well, i would add.)

while some of the new effort doesn’t do much for me, there are a few songs that stand out. and the best of the bunch, methinks, is the cerebral amsterdam. apparently, he had one strange, strange day in the netherlands; i’ll let you listen to it and make your own interpretation. i love the poetry of his words and how they fit, hand in glove, with the slow, moody music.

i know i need to give new bands more of a try, and i’ll continue to keep my ears and mind open about it all. but i must confess a certain delight when old faithfuls come out with new and intriguing stuff.

guilty pleasure monday: you do something to me (paul weller)
Aug 16th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

you can thank eastenders for this one.

first, the song.

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and then, the explanation.

paul weller is not exactly a household name in america. but plenty of people have heard of the jam and even the style council, two bands in which weller was instrumental. (har de har har. i made a funny pun there, kids. wreke really needs to drink more coffee and stop being such a dork…but i digress.) weller has gone on to become a very respected and awarded artist in britain; pity he hasn’t gotten more attention here in the US.

anyway, what does paul weller have to do with eastenders?

we in the US are seven — yes, seven — years behind what people in the UK see on the long-running soap. people walk the streets on my TV who have since gone on to the end of their storyline. and some people, like my beloved kat and alfie, are actually making their return now (though they’re not gone yet from our storylines here.) kat, the proverbial eastend tart-with-a-heart, and alfie, a goofy but kind wide boy, are meant for each other. but the getting together part? a bit complicated, and it makes for one of the funniest, if not the funniest, eastenders episode ever.

but still, their passion is left, er, unconsummated, despite the insane lengths alfie goes through to try and get a condom in the middle of the night. yet when we realize that moment what a gentleman alfie truly is, paul weller’s song is playing in the background, a languid testament to those deep feelings of love.

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i bet this one gets a lot of play at weddings in the UK.

guilty pleasure monday: rainbow high (from the musical “evita”)
Aug 9th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

i want to be Rainbow High!

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the other week, i settled in with BC (who was under the weather) and started to tuck into the film version of evita starring madonna and antonio banderas. i attempted to explain the state of politics in argentina in the 1940s; the nature of eva duarte’s poverty-stricken and sad childhood and then subsequent attempts at sleeping her way to the top; and the actual reality of che guevera, who, while an important character in this play, isn’t actually historically present. girlfriend enjoys musicals, as i do, and so i impressed upon her how musicals can also be about serious subjects and not just singing for singing’s sake. and oh, by the way: evita is my absolute favorite musical of all time.

just as eva was meeting juan peron in the movie, girlfriend asked me to turn it off.

ah well. i was a little disappointed, but maybe evita is not a musical for the younger set. (at least, not until disney decides to take a crack at it and make it palatable for kiddies. what a laff riot that would be.) i saw it on broadway in 1981 when i was a few years older than BC. on the occasion of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my parents, my brothers, my grandparents, and i drove to new york to see andrew lloyd webber’s masterpiece. i’m pretty sure i saw it when patti lupone starred in it, though i was more accustomed to elaine paige’s voice in the role thanks to the record Middlebro shared with me of the original cast production.

in any event, my grandparents’ 50th wedding celebration was marked by two things: the first, the fact that i fell in love with this musical productions. the second: my brother’s car breaking down high in the parking deck…on that date, which happened to be easter sunday. try to find a tow truck willing to pull you down several stories on easter sunday in manhattan… anyway, let’s just say i have memories of my brothers and father pushing the car down and around the deck until it was low enough for them to work with. i’m pretty sure i ended up taking the Route 9 bus home with my grandparents and my mom while the boys figured things out with the car.

yep, nothing says happy 50th anniversary like an unexpected trip on NJ Transit.

the vocal acrobatics that the role of eva peron requires is astonishing. it is not for the timid. and i was mighty surprised when i heard that madonna was taking the role in the film production. in fact, surprised is not really the word for it; i was disappointed. while i’m not exactly the biggest madonna fan around, i will give her props in several departments; however, her vocal skills would not be among those. and while she wasn’t bad in the role, i felt her take on rainbow high was passionless.

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this is a song to be BELTED out; and madonna is carefully working so hard to actually hit the notes that she doesn’t have a chance to infuse them with much emotion. the end of the song is even lowered a few notes, which is a bit jarring to anyone who loves this song.

i guess i should be thankful that a popular performer like madonna took an interest in this musical and shared it with the masses, who might not otherwise have encountered it.

and who knows: maybe one day, BC will watch it all the way through.

homeless
Aug 5th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

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every day, i drive through an area called seven corners. it’s a crazy confluence of roads, each sort of crashing wildly into the next. i have tried to count how many corners are actually there; but it takes too much concentration to simultaneously count and navigate through the area, so i’ve never actually figured out just how many corners there truly are in that intersection from hell.

this summer, there are two homeless men who work the streets here. an african-american man has the strip beside eastbound route 7; a caucasian man walks the strip on an access road that feeds into both 7 and ultimately route 50. both have signs that state that they are homeless vets. they have replaced the lady who walked this street last summer; i remember her vividly because not only did we give her money for her family, but BC insisted that we find help for this lady. (i called both social services and the nearest homeless shelter; of course neither could help her.  indeed, despite the fact that she was on that narrow strip of land day in and day out, they said that they could not locate the woman if they wanted to. it was a difficult lesson for BC; that agencies are not prepared to go looking for specific people, like lost pets, to bring in from the heat.)

i only drive on the access road the one man has claimed as his turf. this morning, i dug into my purse and gave the man some change; as i held it out, his rough hand gently scooped it out of mine. he blessed me; and i wished i knew more about how he ended up on this narrow plot of land in the early morning heat.

i often wonder about the stories behind each homeless person i encounter. there was a man i befriended 20 years ago who was on my walk from union station to my office. he had a teenager and was not happy about living on the streets and what that did to his relationship with his son. i would often give him some of my lunch, as i didn’t have much money to spare back then. as the months wore on, my friend started showing up with flour all over his pants and shirt. a local group was teaching him to work in a kitchen, and he was very excited about his baking classes. i cheered him on each day until one day, he was not in his usual spot. i never saw him again; and i always hope that somehow, he was able to take the skills he was learning and get back on a solid path to a life of  comfort and stability.

i fear this is not usually the case, though, with the people i see on the streets.

i have seen homeless people bathing in the fountain below the Capitol building, where only hours later, throngs of tourists will stick their hands and legs to cool off in the Washington heat.  i was once chased, along with a friend of mine, by a homeless man who snapped and went from friendly to threatening; he chased us all the way into the ladies room at union station until somehow, he was mercifully diverted. i often remind myself that homeless people are people like any others; most people are okay, but there will always be the liars, cheats, and people with serious problems in the world. these folks just have the added problem of no safety net to catch them and no place of their own in which to lay their heads at day’s end.

but i still wonder. i don’t know what i would do if i were in that situation. and as the economy fails, i suspect increasing numbers of people find themselves in this position.  friends who have come to visit DC often ask me whether there will be any of those people near their accommodations; they want to shield their kids, or they don’t want to be bothered by panhandling, which i certainly understand. but with the economy tanking, i wonder how many of those people will be coming to towns and villages which were formerly considered havens away from our big city distresses?

because in the end, couldn’t we all be those people?

Waiting For The World To Change
Aug 5th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

Have parents become the whiniest group ever?

I have witnessed mothers publicly flagellating their favorite hipster bar/restaurant because it has the audacity to not provide high chairs, even though these places they frequented prior to parenthood cater more to the childless set.  I have heard parents chafe when their ginormous double strollers don’t fit on a city bus, cursing at the entire transit system because it requires parents to actually fold the monstrosity so that others have a fighting chance to get on and off the vehicle. I’m still marveling at parents who self-immolate and who consider litigation because their doctor decided to deliver a child by caesarian for the safety of mother and child, as that was not the birth the moms signed up for! Yes, I’ve heard America’s parents weeping.

And, in short, they are weeping for themselves.

Somehow, in this vast universe of possibilities, some people become parents, most in this nation by choice. And once you move away from the Pottery Barn Kids-decorated fantasy of sunny nurseries with clean sheets and sharp decor, you realize that parenthood is not a cakewalk.

Well, duh.

And many first-timers enter into this phase of their life expecting their life to be as it was…with a little addition who just sort of goes along with it all.  Oh, how your life will be different! the grandmothers coo.  But nothing’s going to alteryour world, nothing beyond having another mouth to feed and love and enjoy. Sure, you’ll change both health insurance levels and diapers, but it’s your world, and they are merely a part of it.

It stands to reason, then, that everything you enjoyed prior to parenthood should remain your entitlement. Of-the-moment restaurants and their patrons will welcome your babe with open arms, spit-up and cries be damned as your child’s cuteness will obviously render any disapproval moot. Your co-workers will surely be delighted when you announce that baby will be hanging out and squalling in your office each day.  And of course, that museum filled with paying patrons, priceless antiquities, and art will gladly receive your stroller bearing your awesome offspring.

Would it be nice if the world bent a little bit more towards the needs of parents? Certainly, and what a laudable experience it is when accommodations are mutually agreed upon. But sometimes, they’re not. And sometimes, they shouldn’t be.  Parenthood is not about the parents; it’s about raising a child in a society that is how it is. The world doesn’t need to be Disneyfied. Teach your child how to accept life as it is and also to peacefully work for change when situations merit that action. But stop cursing the world because it doesn’t bow to your every need.

In fact, perhaps parents should look inward and decide whether they need to alter their expectations. Maybe you can’t exist in the same ways that you did BC (Before Children.) But maybe there’s a new way to be found, one that works best for you, your child, and the world around you. For example, there’s no doubt that your baby’s adorable; but other concert-goers don’t want their date ruined by a bawling babe. So hit the kiddie concert circuit instead. Or rent a movie.  They won’t be little forever, and your life will change yet again. Embrace the change in yourself and in your life; and when the world doesn’t change with you, you can still find those positives that made you decide to start a family.

Besides. Once everyone realizes that it’s actually all about me, the world will be a better place.

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(first published on smartly.com)

float on
Aug 3rd, 2010 by wrekehavoc

rest in peace, psychofish.

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this past weekend, jools’ pet beta, psychofish, went to the great big fishbowl in the sky. truth be told, he went into a deep hole in our backyard, in accordance with jools’ wishes. i gave the boy the choice, of course: a burial at sea [read: flushed down the toilet], where psycho would ultimately rejoin his fellow fish in the chesapeake bay; or a hole in our backyard. BC protested about the latter; she didn’t want psycho dug up and eaten by some cat. but it was jools’ fish and jools’ decision, so he asked BS to go out back and dig a deep, deep hole with him.

i never wanted a fish. we don’t have dogs or cats because of our allergies. and we never thought to have a fish, either, until jools’ preschool graduation a few years back. along with a diploma, the teachers thought it would be incredibly cute to give each child a beta fish. they neglected to consult with any parents as to whether this would be a good present for the kids.

i could hardly contain my joy.

suddenly, we were in the position to have to run out to a pet store and find a more suitable home for the fish (assuming the sandwich bag would hold for that long) as well as food. oh, and how about some cute little plastic foliage for the fish to enjoy while we’re at it? and considering that the recipient has an older sister? make that two of each plus another fish to go, please.

talk about the gift that kept on giving.

anyway, BC and jools both named their respective fishes with normal, friendly names. however, as the lady who fed them and talked to them each day, i gave them different names, names that stuck. BC’s beta, who is terrified of his own shadow, was re-named scaredyfish. and jools’ fish? the fish that acted like a dog and actually sat on his tail and begged for food? the fish that came to the edge of the bowl and would look to me for conversation? what a mondo bizarro little dude. i dubbed him psychofish. and i’ll be damned if i didn’t get attached to the little guy.  he even seemed to like it when i played the police really, really loud.

when he started to fall ill about three months ago, i started to fret. he began hanging out in his pink palm tree more than usual. (fish in a tree? how can that be?) after awhile, he just plunked down on the rocks on the bottom of his bowl and remained listless. i came to realize that something was keeping him from swimming, like a disease of some sort that affected his fin or fins. we tried cleaning his bowl a bit. i ran out to petsmart and found some fishy tetracycline. we tried this other stuff that was supposed to kill all the nasties in his water.

but nothing worked.

when i found him at the bottom, bloated and not moving, i cried. i knew i had to get it out mostly before the kids saw me or else they, too, would completely lose it.  and when the kids came home from their swim, i said to BS: la poisson est morte.  (we always speak french, albeit grammatically incorrect french, when we don’t want the kids to understand us. this plan will officially backfire next year, when BC has announced her plans to take the language in middle school.) he looked at me sympathetically; i then announced a family meeting where burial plans were decided and men were sent out to dig.

after covering ourselves in plenty of bug spray, we ventured out into the deepest, darkest corner of our yard, thick with vegetation (that probably is where jimmy hoffa currently resides.) there, BS, with jools’ help, had dug a final resting place for psychofish. BS had wrapped psychofish in the garment of ages, a paper lunch sack, and placed him gingerly in the hole. as BS started to shovel the dirt over our fishy friend, we all said a few words about the beta. then, as three of us are red sea pedestrians, BC and i said mourner’s kaddish, leading me to wonder whether G-d would strike me down for saying kaddish for a fish. (then again, that moment also made me smile because BC has been paying attention in services enough to know exactly when to say certain critical parts of the prayer.)

and then, jools started asking for a bigger fish.

guilty pleasure monday: seen the doctor (michael penn)
Aug 2nd, 2010 by wrekehavoc

if any guy on the planet deserves to harbor an inferiority complex, it’s this guy.

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check out the video. does the face look a little familiar? sure it does. it looks a little like this:

sean penn
michael penn is the brother of famous actor and apparently chronically-perterbed person sean penn. (whose acting i enjoy, so don’t be a hater.) he is also the brother of the late actor chris penn (whom you may remember from footloose or reservoir dogs, among other movies.) his dad leo penn was an actor and director who courageously refused to point fingers at other actors and directors during the happy-go-lucky mccarthy era and was blacklisted (but certainly made a ton of contributions in spite of that.) his mom, eileen ryan, also an actor, has shown up in all sorts of films as well.

oh, and don’t forget his missus.

aimee mann

(but we won’t even begin to talk about how i worship at the altar for aimee mann…)

yep, michael penn is definitely surrounded by amazingly creative, principled people who aren’t afraid of taking stands on issues, whether one agrees with them or not. but penn has consistently held his own for years and years,  a songwriter who crafts works carefully. he’s not necessarily the guy who will make that 3:05 hit radio-friendly single. but who the hell wants that when you can have literate, musical masterpieces?

anyway, i especially adore seen the doctor. it even has a killer hook: in fact, it sounds like one of those holy grail radio-friendly singles to me. but whatever.  the lyrics are so clever (even though watch him get bleeped for the f-bomb.) seriously, how can you not love lines like:

You’re just a fucking bore
like Dorothy Lamour
dolled up in Singapore
to meet the Commodores
Don’t call me anymore

the imagery alone is worth the price of admission.

anyway, michael penn, while maybe not a household name like, say, ke$hia (Dog help us — gah), is a busy guy, making music for film and television. along with his wife and michael hausman, he is a founder of united musicians, a group formed to help musicians retain the ownership of their own music. which, to me, makes perfect sense.

anyway, i love his melty, earnest voice. i love his thoughtful lyrics. i love it even more when he and mann sing together.

but for today’s guilty pleasure monday, i wanted him to shine on his own.


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