Upcoming Gigs:

Fri, Feb 13: I'm leading the music at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard for the service at 8:15.  I'll be playing with several fabulous musicians, as we incorporate bass, drums, violin, French horn and vocals into the service. 

Sat, Feb 21: the fabulous Chi-Town Showstoppers will be playing a private event in downtown Chicago.

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, 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!

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

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: Feed that Fire

 

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.

Get to the End, Already

A friend of mine has an unusual (I’m avoiding the word I’d like to use) custom of reading the endings of books prior to starting them, thereby alleviating any unwanted tension in her life.  This perplexing habit contradicts my own insistence that endings of books, plays and movies not be divulged in any circumstances save for pacifying a blubbering child (“Honest, Sammy, E.T. is going to be just fine.”).  But I learned this week that there’s another exception to the rule.

Over the past several years, my wife and I have watched – or tried watching – a multitude of TV shows that we missed over the past decade and a half by not having cable.  Countless friends and family members said we “just have to see” this show or that show, and as our enjoyment of watching SNL and The Tonight Show kept diminishing because we didn’t understand any of the pop culture references (a cableless home has its disadvantages), we decided to catch up on various shows on Netflix.

We started with Six Feet Under and gave up after a season.  Weeds?  We lasted maybe half a season.  Mad Men?  We found it depressing and mean-spirited, which seems to be a trend in critically acclaimed cable TV shows these days.  The meaner it is, the better the critiques.  Downton Abbey:  yeah, sure, it’s well done, but it’s basically a soap opera, and I kept hoping that Luke and Laura would make an appearance to spice things up a bit.

But then we heard about Breaking Bad.  Surely this must be a show worth watching.  After all, everybody and their mother was talking about it, and I heard that even Charlie Rose was in the finale.  It had to be good!

Somehow my wife and I managed the impossible and went into series completely ignorant about the subject matter except that it involved a meth lab.  And sure enough, after trudging through the first season and a half of unsympathetic characters, blood, murder and the unseemly underbelly of American society, I didn’t care one iota about Walt and his foray into meth production.   We’d finish a show – always expertly done – and feel kind of…assaulted, similar to how I felt after watching The Silence of the Lambs way back in ’91.

But here’s the thing: I watch TV to be entertained, not assaulted.   I guess I prefer laughing to ridiculous jokes on Scrubs than I do watching a man choke another man with a chain.  Call me crazy.

But I still felt like I needed to know the ending to Breaking Bad.  I mean, I knew what was going to happen: Walt had a terminal illness, for crying out loud.  One way or another he was !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! going to die.  But I kind of wanted to see Charlie Rose (does Charlie start doing meth?  Does he end up being murdered?), so, breaking the rule, I did what I had to do: I skipped half of season two and all of season three, four and five, and went straight to the second last episode.  Sure, there were characters I didn’t know, plot lines I had to catch up on, but I was able to follow things pretty well, and in the end, none of it really mattered anyhow.  I mean, Walt did in fact !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! die.

And now with the hours and hours of my life that I saved by not watching Breaking Bad I can watch reruns of Cheers and Scrubs.  Sure, I know the endings of those shows too, but unlike Breaking Bad, at least I’ll have a few laughs along the way.

Hmmm.  Maybe my friend who reads the endings to books first isn’t so far off the mark after all.

Record Night Returns

Record Night returned with a vengeance last Friday at a new venue and with an addtional medium, as five of us met in Wauwatosa, where – in addition to music – a half an hour of Zeppelin’s 2007 reunion DVD made it into the mix, along with a turntable that jumped the groove if one stepped in the wrong location of hardwood flooring.   It was a minor hurdle to overcome in the name of Record Night.

The themes: Kevin’s was “Concerts I would have liked to have seen or that I would like to see again.”  Paul’s was “Stuff I’ve purchased in the past three or four months.”  JB, Pete and Frank had no theme and generally grabbed a selection from one of two boxes of LPs, though the miracle of wifi allowed us to tap into a few Youtube videos and mp3s.  In this sense, it was our first 21st Century Record Night.

And away we go… 

Paul       Hall and Oates, Bad Habits & Infections

Pete       Rickie Lee Jones, Weasel and the White Boys Cool

Kevin     Sly and the Family Stone, A Simple Song

Paul       The Shins, A Simple Song

Pete       Cheap Trick, Ooh La La La

(JB was busy getting the record player moved, a more technical task than one would think).

Kevin     Andy Gibb, Shadow Dancing

(Kevin’s first concert, 1978, Wisconsin State Fair)

Paul       Badfinger, Without You

Frank     Bad Company, Bad Company

(Interlude – white JB works on turntable, we watch Zeppelin’s DVD from their ’07 reunion concert.  Fantastic!  WAY better than I expected).

JB           Honeydrippers, Good Rockin’ At Midnight

Pete       Spinal Tap, Big Bottoms

Frank     The Firm, Satisfaction Guaranteed

Paul       XTC, Great Fire

Kevin     KC and the Sunshine Band, Who do you Love

(his second concert, 1979, Wisconsin State Fair)

(JB remarks, “I have no theme!”  It’s okay, man.)

JB           OMD, Forever Live and Die

Frank     The Kinks, Conservative

Pete       Joe Walsh, The Confessor/Rosewood Bitters

Paul       Big Country, Wonderland

JB          Paul Westerberg, Silver Naked Ladies

(Frank departed at this juncture.  Something about a job, kids, a life…blah, blah, blah).

Kevin     X Cleavers, 18 (Unprotected)

(a band from Milwaukee!

JB           Tin Lizzy, Romeo and the Lonely Girl

JB           Ian McLagan, Mystifies Me

(in honor of the maestro who recently passed away)

Paul       Harry Nilsson, One

Kevin     ELO, Sweet is the Night

Pete       Shooting Star, Last Chance

JB           Neil Young/Stills, Long May You Run

Paul       David Bowie, Diamond Dogs

Kevin     Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Paul       Beck, Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime

Pete       Macklemore, Thrift Shop Feat

JB           Grateful Dead, Terrapin Station/Estimated Prophet

(The Dead - a first for record night!  Kevin is still not sold on this band.  Nor am I)

Paul       Geddy Lee, My Favorite Headache

(Pete was forced to stay for one last song before exiting)

Kevin     The Kinks, I took my Baby Home/Stop Your Sobbin’

(I still don’t get this band.  Always sounds like an out-of-tune garage band to me).

 JB           Beck, Paper Tiger

Paul       The Call, Let the Day Begin

(Another dead guy!)

At this point things are getting ugly, as Paul attempts to discredit The Who due to their meager output.  Several beers have made their way into our systems, and it seems like it’s a race to the finish – i.e. sleep – at this point.

Kevin     James Gang, The Bomber/Bolero

JB          The Who, The Seeker

(JB attempts to discredit Paul's discrediting of The Who.  Fairly successfully too, I might add.)

Paul       REM, Gardening at Night/Finest Work Song

Kevin     Bee Gees, Ordinary Lives

JB          Faces, Cindy Incidentally

Paul       Elton John, Honky Tonk Woman

Kevin     Duran Duran, New Religion

JB           Eddie Vedder, Hard Sun

Paul       The Alarm, Deeside

Kevin     Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Welcome to the Pleasuredome

John       The Jayhawks, Straight Face Can’t Hide 

And there you have it.  It’s true, JB managed to finish the evening without having played a Replacements’ song, but only succeeded on a technicality, as Paul Westerberg made the list. 

Next up?  We shall see, but I’m leaning toward a secret theme that attendees have to guess throughout the evening.

Musical Memories: B.J. Thomas

At quiet times, typically during the cognitive equivalent of brackish water, when I lie half awake and half asleep, my subconscious sometimes plays a mental jukebox from my youth, delving into snippets of music whose latent melodies bubble to the surface of recognition some forty years later, producing memories of transistor radios crackling with pop songs on 920 AM, WOKY Milwaukee.

My recollection begins around 1973 with “The Morning After” from The Poseidon Adventure, Marvin Hamlisch’s version of Joplin’s “The Entertainer” from The Sting, Sweet’s “Little Willy” and – who could forget? – “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn.  How about “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence (of The Carol Burnett Show fame), “Killing Me Softly with His Song” by Roberta Flack, or the early hits by Olivia Newton-John, The Carpenters, Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Todd Rundgren and Harry Nilsson?

Oh yeah.  It’s all coming back to me now, Celine.

About a month ago, my memory set its needle on the groove of the following lyric: “Hey, won’t you play another somebody done somebody wrong song.”

Holy crap.  That’s some obscure shit.  I had no idea where it came from, but I needed to know who the heck sang it.  Lo and behold, it’s not a one-hit wonder at all, and while he may not be a household name to many these days, he’s still around and still singing: B.J. Thomas.

Remember him?  I didn’t.  For reasons unknown, his name doesn’t get tossed around as often as the aforementioned singers of the 70s, but you’ve undoubtedly heard him, most notably in the 1969 classic movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Towit:

Yeah, that’s the stuff.  It reached number one on the U.S., and it wasn’t Thomas’s first or last foray into the pop charts; he’d already scored a few hits with “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Hooked on a Feeling” (the original recording, not the 1974 cover by Blue Suede).  To date, he’s the recipient of eleven gold records, two platinum records and five Grammy Awards, and he’s sold more than 70 million albums.

Clearly, he’s a guy whose name should be known.  Forgive me, B.J.  I have officially righted a wrong.

But it’s Thomas’s 1975 number-one hit, “Hey, Won’t You Play, Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” that still echoes within my interior walls with recollections of rides in the Plymouth Gold Duster, my Mom taking me to Sentry where we’d exchange our 8-pack of empty Coke bottles for a new set, and upon our return home, she’d fix me a bowl of graham crackers in milk (yeah, that was my snack of choice, along with apple sauce and cottage cheese with a dash of cinnamon).  Later, I’d get out the sprinkler and place it on the uneven patio blocks – uneven because I would often pry them up to peer at the ant colonies underneath – and I’d run through the water while my sister hung upside down on the swingset.

And from inside the patio doors, the sounds of B.J. Thomas would crackle: "…and make me feel at home, while I miss my baby…while I miss my baby.”