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Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Stuff I Wrote

I kept on blogging in 2016, but the focus was more on picture posts and music links than anything else. Still, I did come up with some things that I liked:

Top Five Fictional Presidents
Behold the Hunter!
Plaid
Leaving Football Behind

A Moonlit Triptych
May Apples
Mugs, Jugs, and a fellow named Toby
The Adventures of Phil Spiderman

"Always" (thoughts on the conclusion of CASTLE)
In (partial) defense of SCORPION
Adventures in the 716
From the Fair

Around WNY: Rainbows, flames, and giant ducks
STAR TREK and me: TREK at 50
Myself in Three Fictional Characters
Collars: Love 'em or hate 'em?

Autumn around the 716
"She's so broken insiiiiide!" (A love letter to Crazy Ex Girlfriend

Here's some stuff about Star Wars:

On THE FORCE AWAKENS, part 1 (The Phantom Lucas)
On THE FORCE AWAKENS, part 2 ("Wait, what?")
On THE FORCE AWAKENS, part 3 (Poe, Rey, Me)
On THE FORCE AWAKENS, part 4 (That Kid Ain't Right)
On THE FORCE AWAKENS, part 5 (The Praise Awakens)

ROGUE ONE and the State of STAR WARS (written long before Rogue One came out)
In which I read a really good book about Star Wars

Here's some stuff about food:

Nachotots!
Mississippi Roast
Shakshuka
Mojitos

Onward to 2017.

2016 in review (or, "Whew, at least THAT's over.")

2016.

This was a terrible, terrible year.

Maybe not for me personally, but there really was a sense this year – for me, at least – that a long era of potential optimism, which managed to keep flickering even through awfulness like 9-11-01 and the Great Recession, was now well and truly gone, and that a shadow has fallen through which we have little choice but to fight and scrape and try to hold to as much of the progress of the last 40 years as we’ve made.

I guess there really are times when society progresses in three-steps-forward, two-steps-back fashion, but this year it really does feel like there’s a giant signpost ahead indicating that it’s time to take a few steps backward.

Yeah, 2016 was crap.

My year’s-end questionnaire awaits:

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I just keep my resolutions the same: read a lot, write a lot, and do cool stuff. I guess I did...OK. I fell behind on writing goals, in terms of publishing. Forgotten Stars III won’t arrive until March 2017, and that’s my own damned fault. But I did get a lot of other drafting done, to the point that I now have a backlog of completed first drafts.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

No, but a person I know online – a young woman who moved out of her abusive home and is now working to put herself through college – did. I’m rooting for her and her husband, hard.

Did anyone close to you die?

No. But holy shit, was this a year for the Reaper.

What countries did you visit?

Just the US, except for in my dreams.

What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

More readers. Getting more books out will help.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I typed the words THE END three times. So that’s something.

What was your biggest failure?

Not getting Forgotten Stars III out, I suppose. And our home continues to be only about 70 percent moved in-to, if that makes sense.

What was the best thing you bought?

It wasn’t really a year for buying lots of stuff, but there was some of that. While antiquing I managed to get a few nifty Toby jugs, the collection of which I have increased a little since then (I have an odd weakness for these goofy things). Books, here and there. Jewelry for The Wife and some cool stuff for The Daughter. And I got a really swell deal on a pair of new-with-tags vintage Lee overalls, which I am slowly breaking in from their raw state. Awesome!

Whose behavior merited celebration?

As always, The Wife and The Daughter. Also the cats and the dee-oh-gee.

And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who ran for President with grace and class and did her damnedest to be a fine candidate who would have been a decent President.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Take a wild guess.

Our incoming President is a loathsome turd, and his administration is shaping up to be quite the turd-filled punch-bowl. His party continues to be a revolting crew, mostly motivated only by power and by no desire to actually do good work for anyone save the rich and the white and the male. And the degree to which Donald Trump’s campaign and victory-on-a-technicality have enabled the very worst among us, from the KKK to literal Nazis, to crawl proudly from beneath their rocks is truly dismaying.

Where did most of your money go?

Food, booze, paying down bills. That NYC trip we took in 2015 had quite the lingering price tag. (That said, I’d go again tomorrow if I could.)

What did you get really excited about?

This wasn’t a year for excitement, to be honest. It was a year for hoping for the best and, when not getting it, hoping against the worst (and then getting precisely that).

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

My life is OK. But that of my country is not.

Thinner or fatter?

About the same.

Richer or poorer?

About the same.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading, writing, and cooking.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Wasting time on the Internet.

How did you spend Christmas?

At home, with the family. My sister was in town for the second Christmas in a row, so that was nice. This year it wasn’t snowy. And since Christmas fell on a Sunday, we still had to whisk the dee-oh-gee off to a local park for his Sunday nature walk. He was confused as to why he didn’t get a donut from Tim Horton’s afterwards, though. (They were closed.)

Did you fall in love in 2016?

Stock answer: I fall in love on a daily basis.

How many one-night stands?

Stock answer: As a gentleman, I decline to answer. (Real answer: Zero.)

What was your favorite TV program?

Person of Interest ended with a solid finale. Castle ended with a less-solid finale (in fact, that show’s last season was pretty painful, in the end). We enjoyed Cutthroat Kitchen and we fell in love with Crazy Ex Girlfriend. We continue to enjoy Big Bang Theory, Superstore, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. Stranger Things is amazing! And we like Cutthroat Kitchen. MasterChef has started to get pretty irritating, I must admit.

Oh, and The Musketeers. That show deserves its own post.

I watched most of Jessica Jones but have not finished it, because it was pretty depressing. Luke Cage is great, although as of this writing I am still three episodes from finishing it. We enjoyed The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt and await its third season. We need more comedies!

Stuff I’m interested in watching: Daredevil, The Man in the High Castle, Poldark.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I usually go with “I don’t hate”, but I can’t say that anymore. I hate what the Republican Party in this country has become.

What was the best book you read?

I didn’t read as much as I intended to this year, which could well have been a big factor in how “Off” the year felt in general. Books I liked a lot included:

Lost Stars, Claudia Gray (a really effective Star Wars novel that does not focus on any of the major “classic” characters)
Grigory’s Gadget, E.A. Hennessy
Without Benefits, Nicole Tone
How STAR WARS Conquered the Universe, Chris Taylor

What was your greatest musical discovery?

A symphonic metal band called Without Temptation. Imagine a heavy metal band inspired by The Lord of the Rings.

What did you want and get?

An “Instant Pot!” Now, I just have to learn to use it.

What did you want and not get?

President-elect Hillary Clinton.

What were your favorite films of this year?

Wow. As I write this, I realize that the last film I saw in a theater, in initial release, was The Force Awakens. I may have gone an entire year without seeing a single movie in the theater. That is pretty mindboggling. I used to love the theater-going experience so much that I’d see just about any piece of shit. Now, the time-and-money commitment just isn’t there. Amazing. I won’t even be seeing Rogue One: A STAR WARS Story until January 2, 2017.

I think I can guarantee that I won’t go the entirety of 2017 without going to the movies. If nothing else, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is coming out, and I’m actually a lot more excited about that than I am about any impending Star Wars film.

What did you do on your birthday?

As usual, I worked! We celebrate my birthday each year with a trip to the Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival (we missed it in 2015, actually, due to our scheduled NYC trip that year), which is always a few days after my birthday proper. We had a great time, though.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Overalls and scarves. And I’m started experimenting with button-down shirts. I know. Weird.

What kept you sane?

The family and the cats and the dee-oh-gee. Hiking. Writing.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

America Ferrara, Amy Acker, Jim Caviezel, Daisy Ridley. Just to name a few.

What political issue stirred you the most?

All of them. And we’re about to swear in a President who is literally on the wrong side of all the things.

Who did you miss?

Good lord, was 2016 a year for losing great talent or what? My God. All of them. Each and every one. Just terrible. (Especially Carrie Fisher. With her passing, we’re getting into the passing of the people who shaped the things that most made me who I am.)

(And I actually wrote the above paragraph before Debbie Reynolds died. This goddamned year can not end soon enough.)

Who was the best new person you met?

So many astonishing people, I can’t believe it! Many online, but a few offline as well (mostly through work).

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016:

An awful lot of Americans either believe terrible things, or are willing to believe terrible things if they think it will somehow profit them to vote for someone who believes and says terrible things.

I know, that’s not very charitable. I don’t care. It is, as far as I’m concerned, a perfectly accurate reading of the current state of play in this country.

But on a more personal note, the old lessons apply: Read a lot, write a lot. Go for walks and look at sunsets. Take all the pictures you want. Learn new things and try new stuff. If you have a dog, take him for walks. Buy books for your daughter, even when she complains that she likes to pick her own books (let her do that, too). Nothing fits your hand so well as your lover’s hand. Eating out is fine, but learn to cook things, too. Have a place to go where they know you and what you order. Don’t be afraid to revisit your childhood passions now and again; you weren’t always wrong back then. Overalls are awesome, it’s OK to wear double denim, and a pie in the face is a wonderful thing!

If you take selfies, post your six favorite ones:







Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

I’m posting two songs this year, because they both fit. The first is from the brilliant Hamilton, and the second is from the also-brilliant Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The first might become something of an anthem to keep at heart as we move into what seems to be a pretty dark bit of history, and the second – well, the song’s title sums up 2016 for an awful lot of people. (By way of context: the man singing the song, named Greg (played by Santino Fontana), has been pursuing a pretty toxic relationship with Rebecca, but he has recently realized that he is an alcoholic and is leaving town to belatedly go to college and get his life on track.)




Is it 2017 yet?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"You are my lucky star...." (Something for Thursday)

Under any other circumstances, I would greet the passing of Debbie Reynolds with a tip of the hat and a congratulations to her for exiting a long and wonderful life in which she did many amazing things.

But her daughter, the luminous Carrie Fisher, died the day before.

As the kids say these days...I can't even.

From Singin' in the Rain.






Sunday, December 25, 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Every December when the Trans Siberian Orchestra brings its Christmas show to town, there's some inevitable scoffing at the thing. A lot of it ends up taking the form of "You know that they're just a hair band, don't you?" My response is always, "No shit! Of course they're a hair band! Why should that matter? We have country Christmas music, and jazz Christmas music, and classical Christmas music, and Celtic Christmas music, and so on. Why shouldn't the hair bands of the world get to do Christmas music too?"

So in that vein, I searched out some "Heavy metal Christmas music", and here is a small sampling of what I found. If you ever went through a "Hair Band" phase, this is some fun stuff.







Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas (LOVE ACTUALLY edition)

This Christmas season I've seen a number of think-pieces online about "Why [Your favorite Christmas thing here] Actually Sucks", and I've seen several of them devoted to one movie in particular: LOVE ACTUALLY. And hey, whatever floats your boat and all, but I still love the movie. First a couple of musical selections from the film, and then the text of the post I wrote years ago in which I waxed poetic about how much I love the film.











---



So. Love Actually. This is one of my favorite movies, so I'm going to wax poetic about it for a while (with spoilers, by the way). Some people watch A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life at Christmastime; for me it's My Fair Lady (which I haven't watched yet this season) and Love Actually (which I have). The other day Mrs. M-Mv posted her own appreciation of the movie:

I know that many folks dislike this film -- too long, too sentimental, too... something. Everyone has a suggestion for a storyline that needs to go or a character that could be deleted. Even Roger Ebert: "I once had ballpoints printed up with the message, No good movie is too long. No bad movie is short enough. 'Love Actually' is too long. But don't let that stop you." [Emphasis added.]

I, on the other hand, think the pace, the narrative, and the characters are practically perfect in every way. Moreover, I think the film wears well: I've seen it at least six times since it was first released -- more, if you count all of the partial viewings -- and it's funny, sweet, and effective each time.

That's true, isn't it? I have yet to read a critique of this film that fails to mention the "fact" that it is just too long of a movie. Heck, even the movie's director, Richard Curtis, seems to feel that it's too long; in his filmed introductions to the deleted scenes on the DVD, he says something along the lines of "Well, the original cut was three-and-a-half hours long, so if you think the two-and-a-quarter-hour version is too long, it could have been worse." But I heard that and thought, paraphrasing the movie's Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, "Who do I have to screw around here to get to see the original cut?" I've never found Love Actually too long; in fact, it's one of the rare films that leaves me wishing I could spend more time with these characters, in their world.

I want to know if Harry and Karen repair the damage to their marriage that Harry caused with his near-miss of an affair.

I want to know if Sarah ever gets another chance with Karl, or if she ever manages to find love in a way that still allows her to care for her brother.

I want to know how the PM's relationship with a staffer turns out.

I want to know if Mark ever finds love after his impossible crush on Juliet plays out.

I want to know how Sam and Joanna fare as kid loves, and how Daniel and Carol make out as a potential couple.

I want to know if Colin ever matures beyond his need for impressive sex with American girls.

And I'd love to see a biopic of aged, battered old rocker Billy Mack, who late in the movie admits that his life, though lonely, has been a wonderful life.

Few movies seem as full of real people, to me, as Love Actually. That's a testament, really, not just to the writing, but the entire production, because the movie by its nature has to rely on its actors and editors to make the whole thing really come to life. Since each story in the movie is basically told in miniature, each cast member is put in the position of having to knock each scene out of the park. Luckily for the movie, they accomplish this.

So no, I don't think Love Actually is too long; not even close. And I think that beneath its exterior, which makes it look like the schmaltziest, mushiest romantic comedy ever made, the film is surprisingly insightful about how some relationships work when they're based on love.

The film's masterstroke is this: not everybody gets a happy ending. And, thinking about it, you realize that the movie is aware of an even deeper truth: that nobody gets an ending at all, save one, and that's the big ending, the one that really ends everything.

When we first meet Daniel (Liam Neeson) and Sam (Thomas Sangster), they are at the funeral for Sam's mother (and Daniel's wife). [Daniel is actually Sam's step-father, which raises other questions about Sam's life: has he already lost one parent, or were his parents divorced with his mother then marrying Daniel? We never learn, and for the purposes of the story in Love Actually, it really doesn't much matter.] Daniel is devastated, as is Sam, but it soon turns out that Sam's got another problem of his own: he's in love, probably for the first time in his life, with an American girl in his school who doesn't know he exists. When Daniel finally gets this out of Sam, shortly after the funeral, it's in a scene where the two are sitting on a bench, and Daniel finally appeals for Sam to tell him what the problem is, even if he can't help the boy. We're as surprised as Daniel is when Sam bluntly states, "Well, the truth is, I'm in love." Daniel and Sam spend much of the rest of the film, when they're onscreen, working out the details of how Sam can win Joanna's heart. It's a beginning that only comes out of a horrible moment of ending.

Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson) are middle-aged married folks. Harry is the boss of what appears to be a non-profit or something like that; Karen is the housewife who basically keeps everything at home going, doing the cooking and cleaning and making the lobster costume for their daughter who has just been cast as First Lobster in the school's Nativity play. ("There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?") Their marriage seems staid and dull, but not unfeeling; even so, Harry finds himself responding to the advances of his new administrative assistant, a comely young woman named Mia. They never have a physical affair, but Harry indulges the attraction to the point of buying Mia a gold necklace for Christmas, which Karen finds out about. When the film reaches its last scene, Harry and Karen greet each other somewhat warmly but cautiously, and nothing really is said of what is going on with them: are they divorcing? Was Harry away on business, or were they separated? Are they working on it, or is it ending? We don't know.

And then there's Mark, who serves as his best friend's best man in a wedding at the beginning of the movie. His problem is that he is himself desperately in love with Juliet, the bride who is marrying his best friend. This is hard for him to cope with, so his way of compensating is to treat Juliet very coldly, to the point where she thinks he hates her – until she visits him one day, hoping to find some good footage in the videotapes he'd made of the wedding, and realizes that all he taped that day was her. Late in the movie this plays out in a fairly charming scene that could give pause, as Mark admits to Juliet his love for her. Was this the right thing to do? It's tempting, I suppose, to say that he should never tell the wife of his best friend that he loves her, but I don't see it that way. Mark knows that he owes Juliet an explanation, and he knows that he has to find a way to be around her and not act like an arse, and he further knows that there's no danger that he's going to be coming between his friend and his friend's wife by doing so, because he knows them. Mark knows that Juliet is not going to love her husband one bit less, so he knows that what he's doing is not a potential act of abetting adultery. His is an act of reconciliation, and as he walks away, he says to himself: "Enough. Enough now." He's put himself in a position to move on, and it's a totally right thing for him to do, even though if someone else were to try the same type of thing, it might well be disastrous for all concerned.

The most notable unhappy ending, though, belongs to Sarah (Laura Linney), who works for Harry and has been in love with their office's graphic designer, Karl, for "two years, seven months, three days, one hour and thirty minutes" (half an hour less than the time she's actually worked in that office). Harry finally sits her down and tells her to do something about her crush on Karl, since it's Christmas and apparently everybody in the office knows already. Sarah's eyes light up briefly with the sense of possibility. The problem, though, comes in the person of Sarah's brother, who is institutionalized with some unspecified mental illness. Sarah is the only one to take care of him, and she does, out of an intense sense of duty (their parents are apparently long deceased). Her brother calls her on her cell phone constantly, usually to talk about problems that she really can't help him with, but she takes each call anyway – including two that come the very night she is finally trying to seize her chance with Karl. It's an awful moment that she faces: the two are in bed, beginning foreplay, when the phone rings; Karl says, "Can you help him right now?", and when she shakes her head, he says, "Then maybe you don't answer it." But she can't bring herself to do this, and she answers, telling her brother that she's not busy at all. The moment passes, and as far as this film goes, Sarah and Karl never get together.

Sometimes in our lives, our various loves come into conflict. The love people have for one another can't be exercised because of the love they have for their children; or, as with poor Sarah, her love and desire for Karl – her desire for a life of her own, even – is pushed back because of her love and duty to her brother. One friend of mine hated the movie, mainly for this particular plot point, but I found it entirely realistic. I've known people who have made these kinds of choices in their lives.

Of course, I wouldn't be so enchanted with Love Actually if the movie wasn't so wickedly funny. There isn't a scene with Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), the aging rocker, that doesn't leave me grinning at the very least. There's the wonderful moment when the Prime Minister has to literally go door-to-door looking for someone, at one point being exhorted by a trio of little girls who have no idea who he is to sing Christmas carols (the look on Hugh Grant's face when the PM discovers that his own bodyguard has an amazing singing voice is priceless). There is one hilarious moment after another.

Lastly, Love Actually is a beautiful film. So much of the movie seems to actually sparkle, and the music is, for a typical selection of romantic-comedy music, mostly wonderful stuff, including two gorgeous love themes by composer Craig Armstrong.

As a conclusion, here's the opening scene to Love Actually, with a brief monologue by Hugh Grant as the PM. Love actually is all around.



I don't know of a scene that better sets the tone for what's to come in a movie than this one -- so much so that I almost want to turn off the computer and watch the movie again right now.

---

I stand by every word.

-KS

Monday, December 19, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

One of these years I'll make it to see a live performance of The Nutcracker. Until then, this can suffice:


Don't have time for the whole thing? Here's the Suite that Tchaikovsky arranged. I played this every year in college, and it's one of few pieces of music that has a very strong time-and-place association for me.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

For some reason, this has been on my mind for a bit this year...and I'm not sure I've thought about it in years before that. It's the first season Christmas episode of The Wonder Years. In this episode, young Kevin and his brother have united forces to try to get their parents to spring for their first ever color television set, while Kevin wonders what he should get Winnie Cooper for Christmas, after she has given him a surprise gift (which he doesn't know what it is). Kevin waffles -- he wants to get her perfume, but settles on a snow globe -- and then he goes to give it to her, but she isn't home. Her family has gone away, because this is their first Christmas since Winnie's older brother died in Vietnam.

This is the episode's final sequence. Sorry about the dodgy video, but...the point comes through.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

You don't often hear straight performances of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" these days, do you? It seems that every take on that song has to introduce at least some sort of comedic element, like the Johnny Carson version I offered the other day. But then it occurred to me that except for caroling singalongs, nobody ever does a straight-up version of "Twelve Days" anymore!

Examples include, of course, this one by Straight No Chaser, which gets tons of airplay every year:


And then there's the Canadian Brass, with a version that should appeal to classical music lovers (especially brass players):


I heard this rendition -- actually pretty much a new song, based on the original, with a dark twist -- just last night on the radio:


Of course, you have John Denver and the Muppets, who don't do much to "comedify" the song other than play up the personalities of every single muppet who participates. I appreciate this minimalistic approach to being funny!


It wasn't always like this, though. For nice, straight renditions of Christmas songs, the go-to is almost always Mr. Crosby:


And finally, the mighty forces of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and friends.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I kind of get the vibe of late that this song is not terribly well-liked, but to me it's one of the most beautiful Christmas songs of the last thirty years or so. It's only very tangentially about Christmas -- the lyrics mention that it takes place Christmas Eve, and that's it -- but the song always touches something in me, the sense that comes each Christmas, along with all the joy and hope, of memories of friendships gone and loves lost. Some people get really introspective at their birthdays, but for me, it's always Christmas when I think about roads not taken and whether or not those roads could have been taken at all, of if it even matters.

Anyway, here is Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne". Maybe it's a little cheesy, especially with the tenor sax at the end (a friend of mine called it "the Kenny G part" a couple days ago), but it's a pop song of its time, and there's nothing wrong with that, really.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Oooooh! I used this a few years ago, but it was on a really really really dodgy copy, that someone posted to YouTube from a worn VHS tape. Now, the official Johnny Carson channel has posted a full, nice copy, complete with the lead-in bit! I was always a huge Johnny Carson fan. I loved his sense of humor: Carson was a master at the bite that somehow didn't leave a mark. He was just great, and I've never forgotten this bit. I saw it when it aired. I think my father and I were in a hotel room on our way back to WNY for one of my college breaks -- the Christmas holiday, obviously -- and this is just one of those things that you see once and never forget, until years later when you find it on YouTube. Oftentimes the thing you recall doesn't hold up, but this does.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas (the HAMILTON edition)

I manage to find some of the weirdest Christmas shit every year by just searching for some random thing with the word "Christmas". Here's a case in point: Hamildolph!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Franz Liszt wrote a suite of fourteen piano pieces late in his life, some of which are based on Christmas carols, and which he collectively titled "The Christmas Tree Suite". And here it is!


Interestingly, this is not the kind of virtuosic showpiece, full of fire and pianistic pyrotechnics, that one normally associates with the work of Liszt. But there is a good bit of wintry charm here. I'd never heard this piece until yesterday.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

This song has been performed by everybody, but never so well as when Judy Garland did it first.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas (and Symphony Saturday!)

I've fallen off the face of the earth in regards to the Saturday Symphonies, haven't I? Well, we'll break the chronological mold a bit here with this, a short symphony based on Christmas carols. It's the "Carol Symphony" by Victor Hely-Hutchinson. There's really not a whole lot to say about it, other than it's an enjoyable listen in this time of year!

Friday, December 09, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Military music groups at Christmastime! What could be better?





Bad Joke Friday

This one may be too bad for this feature, but....

Who delivers presents to baby sharks at Christmas?

Santa Jaws!

No no, stay seated, I'll show myself out.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Something for Thursday (John Glenn edition)

Former astronaut and politician John Glenn has died. Here is the NASA film commemorating his orbital flight around the Earth (previously featured here).


Glenn was 95. Wouldn't it be nice if we could get back to the astronauts being our heroes, and less so our business people?

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

How about a visit to the wonderful world of K-Pop!!!

(What's K-Pop, you ask? Quoting from Wikipedia:

K-pop (an abbreviation of Korean pop; Hangul: 케이팝) is a musical genre originating in South Korea that is characterized by a wide variety of audiovisual elements. Although it comprises all genres of "popular music" within South Korea, the term is more often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop music covering a range of styles including dance-pop, pop ballad, electropop, R&B and hip-hop music. The genre emerged with one of the earliest K-pop groups, Seo Taiji and Boys, forming in 1992. Their experimentation with different styles of music "reshaped Korea's music scene". As a result, the integration of foreign musical elements has now become common practice in the K-pop industry.

K-pop entered the Japanese market at the turn of the 21st century and rapidly grew into a subculture among teenagers and young adults of East and Southeast Asia. With the advent of online social networking services, the current global spread of K-pop and Korean entertainment known as the Korean Wave is seen in Latin America, India, North Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the Western world.

So there we go!)








I pretty much chose these at random. Do a YouTube search of "Kpop Christmas", and you turn up a lot of stuff, and that makes sense -- this is an enormous genre, and yet I'd bet that most Americans have no idea about it!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas (and Tone Poem Tuesday!)

It's pretty clear that in this series I've stretched the definition of "Tone Poem" to "Any orchestral work that isn't actually a symphony", and hey, I can do that because it's my blog. So here's an orchestral suite of extracts from Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Christmas Eve. This music has nothing at all to do with any traditional Christmas music that we've all come to know, but hearing something new is always good, right? Rimsky-Korsakov's operas are almost completely unknown in the West today, which is a shame. They all deal -- like Christmas Eve -- with Russian folk stories and legends, which tend to be likewise less than well-known in our land.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

I saw this song mentioned yesterday on a list of "Christmas songs that aren't actually about Christmas". The notion regarding "We Need a Little Christmas" is that the song, from the Broadway show Mame, actually takes place at a time when it's nowhere near Christmastime, and the song is kind of a desperate grasping-at-straws search for superficial happiness by a heroine who is down in the dumps for whatever reason. (Aside from this song, I'm completely unfamiliar with the show.) I suppose I get the point of the article, but it really does always strike me as unfortunate that so many people are so militant about relegating the good cheer of Christmas -- or what should be the good cheer of Christmas -- to the confines of one specific time period on the calendar, with some people being very rigid about how the good cheer is parceled out (starting on the day after Thanksgiving and coming down on December 26).

Since we always seem so intent on packing Christmas and all its joy into as tight and concise a package as possible, this song seems to be pretty indicative of our approach.

(Side note: It's a shame that my main impression of Angela Lansbury is from Murder She Wrote, which wasn't awful but...well, looking back, I think she got to phone it in a lot on that show.)

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I'd never heard this sad and melancholy song before today, when someone mentioned it in a Facebook thread. The term "Hard candy Christmas" refers to a Christmas in which money is so tight that all the stockings can be filled with is cheap hard candy. There is always a sadness to this season, isn't there? We should always try to remember that.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

You don't really hear "Good King Wenceslas" a whole lot, do you? It's one of those Christmas songs that you have to look for if you want to hear it. It's an interesting song, full of details that I suppose aren't nearly as familiar now as they once were. Modern audiences likely have little idea what the Feast of Stephen is (admission: I had to look it up myself), and I likewise didn't know until I looked it up that Wenceslas was a real historical figure in Czech history. Wenceslas is clearly a Latin-sounding name, but what I didn't know is that it's a Latinized version of the Czech name Vaclav. The things you learn!

Anyhow, I've always had a bit of fondness for "Good King Wenceslas", with its archaic-sounding lyrics and its melody that traces all the way back to the 13th century. It's one of those carols that is part of the very, very long Christmas tradition.

Here are the Irish Rovers with "Good King Wenceslas".

Friday, December 02, 2016

Bad Joke Friday

I might have used this already...I forgot I had saved it. But it's still funny.


Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Just about every musical artist or act that sticks around for any length of time has some sort of Christmas recording out there somewhere, even if it's a performance or two from a variety show or something. Every year for this feature I try to think up some now-obscure acts that aren't well remembered at all beyond their likely singular hit and then I see if they did any Christmas stuff. This usually turns up an interesting little gem or two, like this: the Starland Vocal Band, performing "The First Noel".


Funny thing: the person who posted this to YouTube apologizes for the little "nik" sound that is heard a bit at the beginning of the song. He doesn't seem to know what that sound is...but those of us who grew up with vinyl records know, don't we!

And if you find yourself wondering, "Who the hell is the 'Starland Vocal Band', anyway?!" Well, here you go.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Time for the annual daily bit of Christmas music and/or video ephemera! As always, some of these will be familiar, and some will be less so. We start with a bit of the familiar, because both of these musical talents, brought together nearly 40 years ago in one of the most oddly wonderful collaborations ever, are both now gone.

Here are Bing Crosby and David Bowie.


And as a bonus, here are Will Farrell and John C. Reilly re-enacting the sketch, almost exactly as written. (Except for the very ending.)

Something for Thursday

Some film music today! John Barry is a composer whose work is...well, I don't want to say it all sounds the same, because it doesn't, but his sound is unique and unmistakable. He gets about as close to "It all sounds the same" as you can get without actually "all sounding the same".

Here is a suite from one of his finer scores, Out of Africa.