Cyber-ed to death

Thank goodness “Cyber Monday” is over. I don’t think my email inbox could handle another day of overload like this:

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(This is just an unedited, screen-grab sample of the email I received, there’s plenty more where that came from.)

Until a few years ago, I thought “Sweetest Day” was the worst retailer ruse that could be foisted upon us, the smartest scam manufactured by marketers in a ceaseless effort to separate unsuspecting customers from their hard-earned cash (or credit). But Cyber Monday has taken it to a whole new level… or an all-time low.

Kudos to the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation for creating #GivingTuesday:

Giving Tuesday was started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation as a response to commercialization and consumerism in the post-Thanksgiving season (Black Friday and Cyber Monday)

You don’t really need that new gizmo. But 42 million Americans are food insecure. 564,708 people in the U.S. are homeless on any given night. 783 million people around the globe do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Please find a charity that speaks to you, and open up your heart and your wallet. Not just today, but all year long.

New season starts January 20th

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A pledge pin? On your uniform?

This is Buffalo Tom. One of my all-time favorite bands.  buffalo-tom

They first caught my ears in 1992, when I was the overnight DJ at 97X in Oxford, Ohio and played their song “Velvet Roof.”

I soon listened to the rest of that brand-new album, Let Me Come Over, and thought every tune was a gem. They won my heart and we’re still together.

The intriguing cover of the Let Me Come Over album

The intriguing cover of the Let Me Come Over album

Nearly a quarter of a century later, Buffalo Tom is still rocking. Oh sure, they’re all married with kids, and have real jobs now (lead singer Bill Janovitz sells real estate near Boston). But they have continued to put out albums that sound great.

 

Like many other artists whom I adore but the general public manages to ignore, Buffalo Tom is using fan-funding to release their upcoming album. http://www.pledgemusic.com/artists/buffalotom/discussion?project_id=14435

For a mere $9.99, you can get a digital download of the new album. If you don’t like it, I’ll refund your money.

 

More Gilmore

Never thought I’d see the day when new episodes of Gilmore Girls were available. My wife and I loved watching the show when it was on the WB (remember that wacky network?)and later the CW back in the early aughts. It always had a reputation as a “chick flick” type of show, but that was lazy pigeonholing, probably because the cast featured very strong female characters. In my humble opinion, it was one of the best written shows going, and show creator/producer/writer Amy Sherman-Palladino and her writing partner husband Daniel are true geniuses.

The show never made much of a dent in the ratings during its seven seasons on the air. But the episodes hold up very well (due to the strong writing, naturally), so it gained a new generation of fans thanks to the magic of Netflix. So much so that they “got the band back together” and created four new 90-minute episodes which debuted on Netflix yesterday.

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My wife and I watched the first one last night, and after nearly a decade away, they haven’t missed a beat. All the things that made me love Gilmore Girls were present and accounted for:

  • rapid-fire dialogue
  • witty pop culture references – no one else could pull off lines like these:
    • “you Spinal Tapped the painting”
    • “Ööö-ber”
    • “Brett Ratner gave him the keys to his pool house”
  • quirky characters
  • fantastic music

The characters and the dialogue make the show, but for a music-head like me, the songs are a great big cherry on top. As soon as I saw Grant-Lee Phillips reprising his role as the town troubadour, I knew all was well in Stars Hollow. (And the woefully underappreciated Sam Phillips – no relation to Grant-Lee – is still featured in transitional “la-la” music too!). Later in the show, we got to hear snippets of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”, and Kirk singing The Carpenters segueing right into the Shonen Knife version of “Top of the World.”

The Tom Waits song “Time” was a perfect choice for the scene at Richard’s funeral.

And Lane’s band (featuring Sebastian Bach from Skid Row!) rocked out a great version of Joe Jackson’s “I’m the Man.” Joe could rock it too:

Grant-Lee also chased off a competing town troubadour (his sister), played by Louise Goffin (Carole King’s daughter, who duets with her mom on the show’s theme song). But my favorite moment was when Grant-Lee was featured later in the show, doing a Fountains of Wayne tune, “Valley Winter Song.” It was probably only 10 seconds of screen time, but it truly made my day.

Here’s the original from Fountains of Wayne, it first appeared on their fantastic album Welcome Interstate Managers.

Being on Gilmore Girls has been a boon to Grant-Lee Phillips’ career too, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Here’s a quote from a recent interview:

“It’s wild. When I first started appearing on that show, I couldn’t really get a sense of how it would impact my notoriety, my profile. But what I have experienced is there’s a younger crowd especially—and this exists all over the world where I tour—they have discovered me through the ‘Gilmore Girls.’ They show up to my gig in Hamburg with their ‘Gilmore’ DVDs. I think it’s quite amazing,” he explained. “I’m very grateful for ‘Gilmore Girls,’ and the fact it’s turned on a whole new generation to my stuff.”

Here’s a clip of all of Grant-Lee’s tunes on the original run of GG:

Thank you Amy Sherman-Palladino for a wonderful Black Friday gift for every member of your cult audience: more heaping helpings of greatness. And thank you Netflix for giving Gilmore Girls a new home.

 

Puppet Show and Spinal Tap

On the Forbes list of the highest paid comedians for this year, there are a few surprises… head-scratchers, even.

top-comedians

It’s not surprising at all that Kevin Hart tops the list. Seinfeld is a no-brainer as well. But I actually had to Google “Terry Fator” because I’d never heard of him before… and I consider myself a comedy aficionado. Turns out he is a ventriloquist/impressionist who won Season 2 of America’s Got Talent and parlayed that into a standing gig at the Mirage in Vegas. Who knew that having puppets in your act could be so lucrative?

puppet_show_and_spinal_tap

Another dude that plays with dummies, Jeff Dunham, was also in the top 5, raking in a cool $13.5 mill. And I threw away my sock puppets when I was a kid. Who’s the dummy now?

hill-dummy

Names 9 and 10 were unknown to me as well, but maybe that’s because I’m xenophobic (it’s OK, so is the president-elect). Russell Peters is Canadian and John Bishop is a Brit. Forbes even wrote about Russell Peters’ lack of name recognition.

bart-simpson-who-are-you

I suppose Terry Fator, Russell Peters and John Bishop have millions of reasons to not care about whether I’ve heard of them or not. its-all-about-the-benjamins-tshirt-preview

 

Deep (fryer) thoughts on Turkey Day

A few things I’ve read recently have really rung true, and I think they’re worth pondering before we share food and fellowship with family and friends today.

There’s a nice long article about President Obama in the New Yorker, and here’s a quote from it on what he’ll say to his daughters about the post-election spate of bigotry-driven incidents:

“What I say to them is that people are complicated,” Obama told me. “Societies and cultures are really complicated. . . . This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it’s messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding. And you should anticipate that at any given moment there’s going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn’t stop. . . . You don’t get into a fetal position about it. You don’t start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.”

Here’s Pope Francis addressing the newly installed cardinals this past Sunday:

Ours is an age of grave global problems and issues. We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts.  We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy.  An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs.  An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class.  An enemy because they think differently or even have a different faith.  An enemy because…  And, without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act.  Everything and everyone then begins to savor of animosity.  Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence.  How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenseless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference!  How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us!  Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings.  The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting.  We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church, which is tangibly evident in the College of Cardinals.  We come from distant lands; we have different traditions, skin color, languages and social backgrounds; we think differently and we celebrate our faith in a variety of rites.  None of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches.” 

And now for something completely different (but not really), here’s a quote from writer/director/actor Harold Ramis in a Judd Apatow book called Sick in the Head that features interviews with famous comedy folks:

“Life is ridiculous, so why not be a good guy?”

And for dessert, there’s this classic from the Dalai Lama:

my-religion-is-very-simple-my-religion-is-kindness-35

So yes, today is a day to be thankful. But every day is a day to be kind. Happy Thanksgiving!

“Dutch Reach” – not as dirty as it sounds

I want to be adored (just like The Stone Roses), but I don’t want to be “doored” when I’m riding my bike.

pee-wees-big-adventure-bike-is-for-sale-on-ebay-preview

The “Dutch Reach” is a simple way for car drivers to reduce the number of “doorings” tremendously. By opening your driver’s side door with your right hand instead of your left, you’re more likely to look backward for oncoming cyclists. Here’s a fun 90-second video from Outside magazine that demonstrates it:

Windmills, tulips, wooden shoes and saving cyclists’ lives. Thank you Holland!

dutch-boy-ad-1960

 

The opposite of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

As any good child of the 70’s knows, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are “two great tastes that taste great together.”

And yes, that’s Mr. Ice Castles on the left and “Ralph Malph” on the right.

Even in the 80’s, when Walkmans were all the rage, the Reese’s beat went on.

(What’s with the creepy store owner lurking in the background? He’s like Mr. Hooper‘s evil twin. And what’s with folks walking down the street eating peanut butter straight out of a plastic tub? Sure, that’s plausible.)

But not every combo works as well as PB and chocolate. Here’s Exhibit A: Swedish Fish flavored Oreos.

2016-08-26 22.28.44

Swedish Fish are fine on their own, and original Oreos are a classic, but when you combine the flavors it’s clearly too much of a sweet thing. Waaaay too much of a sweet thing. We’re talking instant hyperglycemia. And the flavor combination isn’t quite as  bad as orange juice + toothpaste, but it’s close.

This happens a lot with established brands like Oreo. Instead of trying to create new products, they just slap different flavors on their cash cows. Which is why these products actually exist:

oreo_watermelon2 oreo_pspice oreo_fruitpunch oreo_candycorn

And there’s plenty more where that came from. Lays is another big offender. They love cluttering the shelves with gems like these:

lays-weird

“I’d really like a handful of cappuccino flavored potato chips right now” – said no one ever!

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sriracha Oreos on shelves next summer.

They grow up so fast

My mother-in-law put this on our fridge:

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It’s a recent photo of our 15-year-old son Peter (he’s just being a goofball throwing up gang signs – love his sense of humor), contrasted with a photo of him from what seems like weeks ago, but in reality was nearly a decade and a half ago. I know every parent says “it goes so fast” but I usually don’t think about it much, until I’m confronted with it every morning as I grab eggs out of the fridge.

Sure, it makes me sad to realize that our babies are growing up, but it’s also a great reminder to cherish making Peter’s breakfast every weekday morning (2 eggs, scrambled, with cheddar cheese) instead of considering it a thankless chore. Soon enough, he’ll be getting his own breakfast at college (and it had better not be kegs and eggs!).

This trip down memory lane made me think of a great tune from 22 years ago, a song by the Velvet Crush called “Time Wraps Around You.” (Never heard of the Velvet Crush? Neither has 99.4% of America – and that’s a crying shame.) It’s on one of my favorite “hidden gem” albums of all time, Teenage Symphonies To God. 

 

The entire album is pure jangle pop delight, very Byrds-like. You can spin it here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEvr99j7ruPxvmyorUkIeVP_yxNYkHjjJ

 

Lenny, no Squiggy

Leonard Cohen, the “songwriter’s songwriter” passed away earlier this week. His best-known song, “Hallelujah,” had an interesting gestation period. It first came out on Cohen’s 1984 album, but didn’t really make much of a splash. Jeff Buckley covered it in spectacular fashion a decade later, but it wasn’t until after Buckley passed away in 1997 that the song actually hit the mainstream. It was featured in the first Shrek film in 2001, but again there was a bit of a twist. A version by John Cale (Velvet Underground) was featured in the movie, but a version by Rufus Wainwright was on the movie’s soundtrack album.

I think it’s great that Cohen was still writing and recording until the very end (his latest album came out earlier this year). I think it’s sad that he was cheated out of millions by his former manager and had to tour the world in his 70’s (387 shows from 2008-2013) just to try to replenish his nest egg.

While “Hallelujah” is Leonard Cohen’s most famous song, his tune “Democracy” is the one that’s really striking a chord with me during election week:

Just like with “Hallelujah” something tells me there might be a bit of a time lag before the lyrics of this song truly catch on as well, but I hope it’s soon:

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street
The holy places where the races meet
From the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat
From the wells of disappointment
Where the women kneel to pray
For the grace of God in the desert here
And the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the USA
Sail on, sail on
Oh mighty ship of State
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the Squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on
It’s coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst
It’s here the family’s broken
And it’s here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the USA