Upcoming Gigs:

Fri, March 6 - Sun, March 8: I'll be back in the pit of IC school (Immaculate Conception) in Elmhurst to do Seussical the Musical.  It's sure to be a fun show.  7PM Friday and Saturday.  2PM on Sunday.

Sat and Sun, March 21-March 22:  I'm back with the amazing classic rock band, Second Time Around.  We'll be playing consecutive nights at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin from 8PM to 11PM (or thereabouts).

Fri, March 27: I'll be joining Ken Slauf and Glen West with Crazy Wizdom at Adelle's in Wheaton.  7PM to 10PM.

Fri, April 17: I'm playing with Ken Slauf for the first time at Foxfire in Geneva, IL.

Fri, May 15: The Chi-town Showstoppers will be whoppin' it up at Blue Chip Casino in Indiana.

Fri, May 30, it will have been a while, but I'll be back at Dock's in Wauconda playing with Second Time Around. 9PM to 12:45AM.  Come on out and have a few!

Monday, June 1: Second Time Around kicks of the summer in Schaumburg, where we'll be showcasing its library concert series.  Stay tuned for details.  Rain date on June 4th.

Tue, June 20: Ken Slauf, Glen West and I will be playing again this year at Schaumburg's fabulous Hop and Vine celebration from 6 to 9PM.  We had a blast here last year once the rain stopped!

Fri, July 3: I'm back with Second Time Around at Dock's in Wauconda for our outdoor show on the porch and fireworks over the lake.  This is a great event every year.

Sat, July 11: Second Time Around is back at Barrington Brew Fest, an annual outing for us, and always a blast.

Sat, September 19: I'm playing a concert with a surprise band at a surprise location, for now.  Details to be revealed soon!

You can also catch me and my colleagues almost every Sunday at 10:30am at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church for contemporary, uplifting music.

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For my upcoming gigs, check out the right hand margin.

Lots of other gigs on the docket, so check out the right hand margin and see if you can make it out for any of them.  You can also catch me most Sundays at 10:30AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, 367 Spring Road in Elmhurst, IL.

 

Original Song of the Week: Two for the Price of One

 


A New Poem

I'm in a bit of a pissy mood tonight, and when you're in a pissy mood, sometimes there's nothing better than a poem.

 

Guy A and Guy B

 

I sat on the couch in your parents’ living room.

You sat in the chair across from me.

I said I wanted to ask you out before anyone else did,

because I’d heard some other guys were thinking about it;

I had to beat them to the punch.

And you said yes, but you had to wonder,

and I knew you had to wonder,

“Who are the other guys?”

And after we watched Tom Hanks do his best with subpar material,

we ate crab legs,

and you must have been thinking,

“Where would Guy A and Guy B have taken me?  A place that serves duck and lamb instead?”

I eat duck and lamb now.  But I grew up eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

For me, crab was a stretch.

You’re lucky I didn’t take you to a place that served

scalloped potatoes and ham.  That was a staple in my home.

So was beef stroganoff.

And tuna casserole.

For you, I ordered bottom dwellers.

By comparisson, a delicacy.

When I graduated, you wrote me a letter and got me a pen.

It was engraved.

And I wondered, “What did you get for Guy A and Guy B?”

New Song: A Life of Invention

Here's a new tune you can download, A Life of Invention, written for my son's bar mitzvah.  Enjoy!  And thanks to Tim Marin for his guitar and bass work, and Glen West for mastering the song.
A Life of Invention

 

Here he comes
The man with many questions
You can't begin to answer
He'll always leave you guessing
Here he comes

Here he comes
He won't wait 'til tomorrow
The only time is now
Oh, here he comes

He's taking his mark
at the starting line
And charting the course
Inside his mind

Xs and Ys
Ones and zeros
With eyes on the prize
Comes the conquering hero
He won’t stay here long
In the present dimension
He’s craking the code
To a life of invention

Here he comes
Whether wresting with religion
Or seeped in indecision
Or pulsing with precision

Here he comes
And not to be undone
He wields a rubric and a drum
Oh here he comes

He’s bound from the blocks
From the starting line
And running the race
In record time

Xs and Ys
Ones and zeros
With eyes on the prize
Comes the conquering hero
He won’t stay here long
In the present dimension
He’s craking the code
To a life of invention

Saying No to College Competition

Confucius may have said it first, but I remember the following quote best from The Brady Bunch Movie in which Mike Brady tells his children, “And as a wise man once said, 'wherever you go....there you are.'” (see 0:33)

Parents of high schoolers may have a hard time embracing this little tidbit when it comes to preparing their kids for college, when so many forces tell us that where you attend college is the most important decision you and your child well ever make.  It's hard not to get stuck in idea of achieving at all costs.  Case in point: while volunteering last week at Feed My Starving Children, I sat next to two women of high school sophomores and heard them discuss their kids’ impending college searches, and phrases like “ACT practice test,” “hire a tutor” and “a good college resume-builder” peppered their conversation.  I got the feeling that while packing food for the starving was all well and good, adding an entry for next year’s college applications was even better. 

They’re not alone.  The race to college is a national phenomenon that for many begins in the toddler years and lets up only with an acceptance letter from Harvard. 

Last March, Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post authored an excellent article about “the parenting arms race.”  In it, she highlights the story of Wilma Bowers, whose daughter was sneered at by fellow classmates after applying to James Madison University – a fine school by all accounts, but in the community of McLean, Virginia, anything short of Ivy League or Stanford is considered “settling.” (if you have time, read the comments section of this article as well – enlightening stuff).

This idea isn’t confined to hyper-competitive parents and their children.  A very down-to-earth friend of mine told me her son waffled a bit about attending a university in Colorado because part of him felt like he hadn’t pushed himself to get into a more highly-ranked school, and one of my own daughters has made similar comments.

But it’s important to consider the wisdom of Confucius and Mike Brady.  After all, you take yourself with you wherever you go, and if you’re a person who’s going to succeed (however that’s defined), you will succeed regardless of the school you attend.  Sure, going to college is important for many people, but where you go to school?  Not so much, even if you do happen to consider earnings the best measure of success.  According to a study by Stacy Dale, it’s the level of school a student is accepted to, and not where the student ends up going, that best determines future financial success.  And today’s CEOs of major U.S. corporations come from a more diverse group of schools than in the past, when graduation from an Ivy League school was more of a prerequisite.

A recent phrase that's been used recently is "authentic success," but it's really just common sense: do something you love, treat others as you want to treated, and give back.  This is nothing new.  

When my kids were two years old, I wrote the song "Head Start."

You go and visit your neighbors with kids
And brag about what yours just did
And hope her milestones measure up
Life's one big competition

Even then, I could sense that it would be very easy to fall in the hyper-competitive trap.  Fifteen years later, I hope I've dodged that bullet more often than not.

How Accurate Do Historical Films Need to Be?

Journalist Christian Caryl recently wrote a commentary in the New York Review about the movie, The Imitation Game, highlighting many of the film’s historical inaccuracies that he feels aren't trivial.  On the contrary, he contends that the film cooks up a portrayal of Alan Turing—the gay, wartime, British mathmetician who is the film’s subject—that is so far off-base, it crosses the line of artistic license and leaps into a world of artistic negligence.  He writes that the film “not only fatally miscasts Turing as a character—it also completely destroys any coherent telling of what he and his colleagues were trying to do.”  The film, he concludes, sends an “extremely distorted picture of history.”

I was intrigued to hear Caryl articulately make his point last week on NPR’s radio show, "Worldview,” along with show host Jerome McDonnell and film contributor Milos Stehlik.  At the crux of the debate was this: how accurate should historical films be, is there a line that should not be crossed, and does it really matter?

Whatever integrity Caryl built up for the first half of the show—during which he skillfully pointed out the problems with The Immitation Game—was quickly obliterated when asked about Selma, a film that's suffering similar scrutiny for its portrayal of Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King.  Caryl admits that the latter film takes “a lot of liberties with the history, some of which I found a little tough to swallow” and claims that people’s view of Martin Luther King with be “strongly shaped” by the movie.  Oddly, Caryl still recommends Selma.  Why?  “I thought it was just a damn good story.”

So, presumably, if the makers of The Immitation Game had simply made a better movie, then the historical errors could be overlooked?

During the show, host McDonnell didn't initially let Caryl’s inconsistencies off the hook, and asked him why he was okay with Selma.  Again Caryl answered, “You know, it’s a crackin’ good story…The Imitation Game I think is a bad story. A stupid story.”

Hmmm.  I personally don’t care what Caryl thinks is a good story vs. a bad story, and I’m thankful he’s not in a position of determining which films get made and which do not.  Whatever valid points he made in his essay were completely erased by his own inane argument on the radio.

But more distrubing to me is the following remark Caryl made: “A lot of people nowadays get their history from movies.  It’s that simple."

Excactly where he collected the data to formulate such a far-reaching claim is unknown, but it must be a sad, sad world Caryl lives in when most people with whom he interacts are clueless nincompoops.  Who are these people Caryl speaks of whose intellects are so flimsy that a two hour film can completely mold their viewpoints?  It’s true that I lean left politically and generally hate the right-wing attack on liberalism as “elitist,” but you know what?  In this case they would be correct to cry foul.  How much more elitist can one be to presume that most filmgoers (but not Caryl himself, of course) will have their sense of world history shaped by a movie?

Caryl's inconsistency and unsubstantiated claim notwithstanding, the question still lingers:  Does any of this matter?  Do films need to follow a guideline and be careful to portray history accurately? 

I'll answer the question with a series of additional questions: Is Amadeus an accurate portrayal of Mozart and Salieri?  Did Oliver Stone and Anthony Hopkins depict Nixon accurately in the film Nixon?  How about the character of Thatcher in The Iron Lady?  Or J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland?  Oscar Schindler in Schlinder's List?  How about Hitler in Downfall?  Or Muhammad Ali in Ali?  The list goes on and on and on of films that were not meant to be the final say in a person’s life, but rather an entertaining interpretation. 

In other words, artistic. 

Huh.  Go figure.

Caryl overlooks a few other important points:

1)     All art is slanted, be it film, photographs, paintings, and yes, even documentaries (I doubt even Caryl would claim that Michael Moore’s films are objective).   And funnily enough, a film like Zero Dark Thirty which some blasted for supporting the use of torture, I found to be a film steadfastly against torture.   What?  A piece of art can conjure up multiple viewpoints?  Nah!

2)     People are not as dumb as Caryl presumably believes.  I have seen Nixon the movie.  It does not shape my viewpoint of Nixon the man in any way, shape or form.  I have not yet seen Selma, but I gotta believe it won’t shape my view of MLK more than the words and images of the Man Himself.  This brings me to my last and most important point...

3)     Historical films provide a gateway for learning more about the subject.  I knew nothing about Turing before seeing The Imitation Game (which I quite liked, by the way).  I still know little about him, but I at least have the salient facts down: Turing was a brilliant, gay man who—along with many others—helped crack the code to the Nazi’s Enigma Machine and was later arrested for having an affair with another man.  Now, that isn’t much to go on.  But you know what?  Because of the film, I may now choose to investigate further so that in time I’ll have a more complete picture of Alan Turing, The Man, instead of Alan Turing, The Character

In that sense, we owe a great debt to The Imitation Game.

Let's allow filmmakers do what they do best: entertainment us.

A Modest Tribute to Wayne Disseler

My mom’s husband of twenty-two years died yesterday, and though words are never adequate to sum up a person's life, I’d like to at least pay a modest tribute to the man my kids called grandpa.

My earliest memory of Wayne is probably from 1992, when he drove me in his truck to downtown Milwaukee to pick up a recliner that I’d left behind at an apartment on Juneau and Van Buren.  This is actually a fitting memory, because more often than not, Wayne was helping someone.  He wasn’t happy relaxing – he wanted to be doing something.  As luck would have it, I was often in need of just such a person, both at my first home in Pennsylvania and again in Illinois, where Wayne helped paint my wife’s and my bedroom, build a broom closet in the kitchen, and insulate around the radiators.  Whenever he assisted, he was a master at handing me a tool before I needed it, like a gifted nurse to a surgeon, and now everywhere I look around my home, I see little improvements that Wayne helped complete. 

It was fortuitous that Wayne – despite having been raised outside of Wisconsin – was a Packer backer, often vocally so, for it helped solidify our relationship.  Wayne’s mood often rose and fell with Green Bay’s performance.  I have a funny memory from October of 1999, when Wayne and my mom visited my young family in Pennsylvania.  The Packers were playing Tampa Bay, and the Buccaneers scored a touchdown with less than two minutes to play in the 4th quarter to take the lead.  In disgust, Wayne couldn’t take anymore and retreated to the spare bedroom.  And then Farve did the same thing he’d done in weeks 1 and 3 that year: he drove the Packers for a game-winning touchdown!

Wayne loved hanging out with my kids, and for many years my family flew annually to Texas (where my wife had lived years earlier, and where she had earned Wayne’s nickname for her: “Alice from Dallas”).  It was here that my daughter Sarah crawled for the first time, and over the years Mom and Wayne loved showing her, Jessica and Sam their recently adopted state, from the Kennedy Museum on a very blustery February day to the Stockyards on a very hot day in July.  Some days were more low-key, spent playing in the pool, enjoying Wayne's chilli, or playing the card game sheepshead, during which Wayne would harrumph about my mother’s poor play and accuse the kids of cheating when they took a trick.

I have many other fond memories, from our trip to Clearwater, Florida, to the time Wayne and Mom babysat my twins so that Alice and I could get away for a three-day vacation, to our seeing "Damn Yankees" on Broadway.  He was always joking, always loving, and always supportive.  My kids, my wife and I were blessed to have him a part of our lives.

So long, Wayne.  Peace.