Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory"

One of the great pleasures of living in Los Angeles is being able to attend screenings of classic films, many shown in 35mm. I haven't taken full advantage of this in recent years, but I going to make an effort to start taking in more classic (and perhaps not so classic) movies that get screened throughout the area.

Last night I went to see Paths of Glory, a brilliant 1957 WWI film directed in glorious black and white by Stanley Kubrick. The motion picture stars Kirk Douglas, who is never better, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris and Richard Anderson. The plot involves a French Army division sent on a suicide mission to take a German position called "Anthill." Douglas is regiment colonel in charge of the troops. Despite his protestations, he leads his depleted ranks into a bloodbath.

Embarrassed by the mission's failure, Douglas' commanding general (Menjou) decides to make an example of the troops and calls for the court martial of three lowly soldiers. All three are fated to die, as their trial is a mockery, despite Douglas doing his best to defend them.

Paths of Glory is an anti-war film that shows the absurdity and treachery of war. The battlefield scenes in the film are horrifying, with men falling from bombs, gunfire and barbed wire.

Every single performance is wonderful, especially Douglas. The cinematography alone is worth the time, but this is a powerful film that stands as one of the greatest of its era and remains one of my favorites.

The New Beverly Cinema, which was showing the film last night, had an excellent 35mm print of the film. The image and sound was near perfect and it truly made the experience of seeing it 1000 times better.

In the past ten years, I've lost some of my passion for film. Maybe it's been something internal, or perhaps it was my dissatisfaction with the industry. Seeing Paths of Glory (and Rear Window and Jaws earlier in the year) on the big screen reminded me why I ever wanted to make movies in the first place. I can feel something churning inside of me.  Could it be another movie?

I love this scene. When Douglas comes close to tears, it's so moving.

Check out Paths of Glory when you get a chance.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Movie Review: "Dope"

Dope is a new coming of age film written and directed by Rick Famuyima. Famuyima co-wrote and directed the film The Wood ,and co-wrote the sensational Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor (definitely check that one out). Dope is one of the most fantastic films I've seen this year. Filled with humor, drama and a real danger, you would be remiss to pass it up if it comes to your neck of the woods.

Shameik Moore (I guess best known for Cartoon Network's sketch show, Incredible Crew) stars as Malcolm, a self proclaimed geek who lives in "the Bottom," a rough neighborhood in LA, where every corner poses a threat to him and his two best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons from Transparent), a lesbian who dresses like a boy, and Jib (Tony Revolori from The Grand Budapest Hotel). All three love comic books, skateboarding, playing original music in their punk band, getting good grades, and 1990s hip hop. Malcolm fashions his hair like Kid from Kid 'n Play and wears acid washed jeans and colorful shirts. It's an understatement that they stick out in their inner city high school. Most days they slip by unnoticed, but there are times when Malcolm is hassled by punks who steal his Jordan high tops.

Malcolm is destined for greatness and determined to get into Harvard. He just has to get out of his neighborhood.

One afternoon, while trying to avoid a group of thugs in one alley, Malcolm takes a wrong turn and runs into Dom (A$AP Rocky), a charismatic drug dealer. Intrigued by Malcolm's earnestness and high IQ, Dom (not your stereotypical movie dealer; his IQ seems up there with Malcolm's) asks our hero to deliver a message to a beautiful young woman named Nakia (Zoe Kravitz). A series of back and forths lead to Malcolm getting an invite to Dom's birthday party at a local club.

Diggy and Jib convince Malcolm to go, and the three best friends wind up at an out of control bash, surrounded by booze and beautiful women. It's the best night ever, until the cops raid a drug deal going on in the back room. Dom has some 30 + keys of MDMA that could send him away for a long time. Desperate, he hides the Molly and a loaded gun in Malcolm's innocent looking backpack.

The next day, Malcolm discovers the drugs and the gun and gets caught in the middle of two drug dealers looking for the merchandise. From there the movie takes off as Malcolm, Diggy and Jib try to figure out how to get rid of the drugs, all while he prepares for the SATs and an interview for Harvard.

Before you rush off thinking this is some high jinks comedy, let me warn you, there is REAL DANGER in Dope, established early by a scene depicting the shooting death of a no name character. Famuyima is not afraid to get you laughing out loud (and Dope is really funny) before jolting you with an act of violence, such as a security guard getting beat up or shotgun blasts tearing apart the chests of drug dealers. And because he has written three wonderful characters, and these characters are so well inhabited by the actors portraying them, you will feel dread as the movie progresses. You will ear for Malcolm, Diggy and Jib, and you really hope that they make it out of the movie okay. Dope reminded me of Spike Lee's early films, ones that mixed humor with deep seriousness, and gave you something to chew on after you left the theater.

Famuyima has made a movie that is essentially a nostalgic 90s hip-hop movie and hid it inside a contemporary setting. Cell phones, iPads and Bit-coin are all central to the plot, but the characters aren't device happy. Famuyima found a way to incorporate modern gadgets into his old school story without making it feel forced or tacked on.

Besides a killer soundtrack full of great rap songs by Public Enemy, Naughty by Nature, A Tribe Called Quest and Eric B & Rakim, Dope features outstanding original songs written by Pharrell Williams that are performed by the trio's punk band, Aweeroh. Williams serves as one of the film's executive producers. Forest Whitaker was one of Dope's producers and provides narration throughout the movie.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Keep On Keepin On

The past couple of weeks I've been doing some soul searching about what I want to do next regarding writing. I began one novel, about a teenage girl with CF who loves comics and winds up having to escort a boy on crutches around school as punishment for some stupid behavior. I wrote 30 pages before it got too hard. Not because I didn't know where the story was going. In fact, I have every detail of that story in my head. No, it's getting intimate with their girl's battle with CF that sticks a dagger in my spirit.

I'm sure I'll return to this story when I'm in the right frame of mind, which really bums me out because it's the original story I wanted to do before I wound up writing Legendary.

After I put that one aside I jumped back on to a script I was writing.

The third act. That's all it needs. The third frickin act.

Didn't happen.

So I waited.

Sometimes inspiration comes from nothing, and I found a post-it I wrote five years ago with a title for a book. That's it, just the title. That faded, dusty post-it was speaking to me last week when I discovered it buried on my dresser under a pile of old birthday cards and a lone sock missing it's mate. So I thought I'd give it a try.

Nothing more to say about it. Not making any promises.

I struggle, my friends. I struggle to find a purpose in writing when my son goes through so much. I struggle to see what kind of meaning any of my scribbles can have.

But I'm trying, and I hope you'll stick around to find out what I have in store.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Great Strides update 2015

The final amount that Team Jacob raised this year was over $10,000. A stunning achievement. Furthermore, Sophie and Jacob were both in the top five for teens/kids raising money for the walk.

The Valencia walk raised over $70,000. That's staggering. Valencia is not a large city, yet our community continues to pull in some big bucks to kick CF's ass.

If you're reading this, thank you for your support and prayers. If you donated, don't worry, chill, cheetah, your thank you note is coming. I made a promise and I will stick to it.

I never realize how stressful the walk is until a week or two after it's done. I feel a weight off of my chest. I've become so accustomed to suppressing my fears and sadness over CF. Yeah, that ain't a good thing.

Thanks again.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Super Heroes and a Real Super HERO

Jacob and I went to see the latest Avengers movie yesterday. He thought it was awesome and had a hard time deciding which he liked better than last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy. Before our screening, there were no less than three super hero movie trailers! This wave of comic book movies has no end in sight.

Watching the film, though, I couldn't help but think that Iron Man, Captain America and Hawkeye don't hold a candle to the guy who was sitting next to me. While the stories of extraordinary humans with mighty powers are fun and a great way to escape, the real hero in my life is Jacob. What he lives through on a daily basis is more than any kid should have to endure. I wager to say that Bruce Banner wouldn't complain so much about his anger issues if he was living with cystic fibrosis.

CF is a pain in his tookus. Besides the obvious traits of the illness, here's some of the stuff he has to put up with. He misses school because his chest hurts or he's coughing too much or his stomach is really bothering him. He has to wake up aat 5:30 AM just to fit in his breathing treatments, take a shower (which helps open the lungs, as well as make his hair look good) and squeeze in a couple bowls of cereal. At night, when he's exhausted because his body is working overtime to keep him healthy and he made it through the school day, he does extensive homework and has a snack before it's time for his nightly breathers and then it's off to bed.

By now, this has become a routine for him, for all of us, and while there are the occasional moan and groans, for the most part he weathers it all really well. I question if I could have handled something like this when I was 13. Doubtful.

This kid, throughout it all, is the funniest, most interesting and loving young man I know. I wish I could say that he learned this all from me or Julie, but I believe that it's just Jacob's nature to be a really great kid. He is an example we all should follow when it comes to handling the curveballs that life throws at you, or in his case smacks you upside the head with the moment you're born. I only wish I could do more for him when it comes to raising money for CF. The best I can do is write.

And so I write because it's what I was born to do, and because I can use words to appeal to you. Please, consider helping us find a cure to this monster called cystic fibrosis. Help us prolong the lives of men and women and children.

One of my favorite scenes in a super hero movie is in Spider-Man 2 (the Tobey Maguire one). There's a brilliant sequence when Spidey has to stop a runaway train with every ounce of strength. He manages to save everyone on board, but collapses. The passengers lift him over their heads and carry Spidey back into a passenger car, where he can rest. When he comes to, even though these strangers have all see him unmasked, they tell Spidey that not worry. They have his back and they'll never reveal what he looks like.

This is our chance to help out my hero and show him that we have his back. We can all lift him up by donating to end cystic fibrosis so that he may someday rest without worry.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Flashback Thursday: Don't Be a Turkey!

Here I am in the 90s, when I worked for Tony Gardner and never wore a belt. I was also a bit , ahem, skinnier back then. ANYWAY, I post this pic and ask if you've considered donating to Great Strides this year.

You haven't? Well, don't be a turkey. Help change the lives of thousands of children, teens and adults living with cystic fibrosis, like this guy...

Jacob thanks you.

Here's the link: Jacob's Donation Page


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My take on "Justified"

One of the finest shows on TV these past six years has been FX's Justified. Based on an Elmore Leonard novella entitled Fire in the Hole, the series followed the exploits of a Deputy U.S. Marshal named Raylan Givens, as played by the exceptional Timothy Olyphant. Raylan's primary nemesis was Boyd Crowder, an outlaw from the Kentucky hills who once worked in the coal mines with Raylan. Boyd was played to perfection by Walton Goggins.

While Raylan and Boyd were strutting their stuff week in and week out, the producers of Justified, led by show creator/showrunner Graham Yost, also created a stellar group of women characters who often stole the spotlight from the two peacocks of the series. In particular Joelle Carter as Ava, Natalie Zea as Winona, Erica Tazel as Rachel Brooks, plus guest stars like Mary Steenburgen as Katherine Hale, Kaitlyn Dever as Loretta McReady (she's an up and comer we should all keep our eyes out for) and Emmy winner Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett.

Tonight Justified airs its series finale. I had the opportunity to see it last night night at a special screening and I have to say that it's fantastic. Fans of the show will not be disappointed. If you're a writer wanting to see how great TV writing can be, you can check out each season on Amazon or Hulu Plus.

Yesterday I wrote more about Justified over at Popdose. I hope you'll check it out.

Here's the link:


Thursday, April 9, 2015

I have been a jackass; don't hold it against my son

I know. I've been terrible at sending "thank you" responses to all of you awesome people who have donated to Great Strides in the past couple of years. Please... please, please, please... don't let that affect whether you'll make a donation to Great Strides this year. Want to be pissed at me, that's cool. I deserve it. I've been a jackass and let a general malaise hover over me like a storm cloud that refuses to rain. But this isn't about me. It's about Jacob and the thousands of other children and adults living with cystic fibrosis.

What can I do to make it up to you? Want a short story? I'll write you one. A short film? May take a little time, but consider it done. A copy of King's Highway? Send me your address and it's in the mail. A copy of Basement Songs? Okay.

I love my son more than any words on a blog can get across. I do not have thousands of dollars to donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to continue their groundbreaking research on treatments for the disease and progress toward a cure. So I must turn to you, my friends.

I apologize. And I beg you, please consider donating. When we say every little bit helps, I'm not just feeding you a line. If 250 people donate just $20, Jacob reaches his goal of $5,000. That's nothing.

That's all I have for today. Thanks for your time.

Here's the link:


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Great Strides 2015... with an AWESOME video

Jacob has pneumonia again. He has a cough that causes him to double over, shaking his entire body. He's had trouble sleeping through the night thanks to the cough. Well, thanks to CF. A simple cold can quickly turn into something else with CF kids, as it did in this case. But Jake is a champ. Although he's in a lot of pain, he still manages to  crack jokes and make us laugh.

I bring this up as a segue into the following announcement: The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Great Strides walk for Valencia, CA (which is where I live) will be on May 9, 2015. This post is the beginning of my fundraising for Great Strides.

Here are some facts that you probably know, but I'm going to repeat them:

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening illness that effects the lungs and digestive systems of people born with it. In people with CF, the body produces a thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and obstructs the pancreas.

Because of the mucus in the lungs, bacteria likes to grow and wreak havoc. CF patients often develop lung infections that can be life-threatening. The mucus blocking the pancreas prevents natural enzymes from helping break down food and absorbing nutrients. To date, this has been Jacob's biggest obstacle. But we know families whose children who have to be admitted to the hospital at least once a year.

Every since Jacob was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at ten weeks old we have participated in Great Strides. In those 13 years, our family has raised over $100,000. This is a figure that I'm very proud of, but until there is a cure for CF we will continue doing whatever we can to raise money and awareness for this horrible illness.

Since 2008, we've been making fundraising videos to help support our fundraising efforts. This year, Jake had a really fun idea that required a little more work on his part and help from his friend, Sam.  I think it turned out pretty cool, and I know that Jacob was very excited about it \.

Please watch the video. Even though he gets a little "animated," I think you'll see that Jake is one great kid. If you listen closely, you can hear his favorite song by One Republic playing in the background.

This year I'm directing people to Jacob's personal fundraising page. I hope you'll go check it out and consider helping us find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Here's the link:

As always, I am humbled by the generosity of my family, friends and the strangers who are kind enough to make a contribution.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Basement Songs Rewind: Coldplay, "Fix You"

The 2015 Valencia Great Strides is a little over a month away. Among the things I want to do this year (including personally thanking everyone who donates-- sorry!) is repost some of my CF related posts and columns from the past years.

This year is kind of exciting because Jacob and I are working on a special fundraising video that we hope to have completed this weekend. Fingers crossed,

Anyway, here is a 2011 BS entry for Coldplay's "Fix You." Every time I hear this song, it's hits me with an emotional wallop, especially the live version. This entry ran in April of that year, so there are references to the Indians already playing winning baseball (they would finish 80-82 that year, bleh).

Thanks for reading.


Here are two phrases I never thought I’d say in this year: “The Indians swept the Red Sox” and “Cleveland is in first place.” Hope springs eternal each spring when Major League Baseball begins its season. We fans are optimistic even when our team is mid-market and does not have the gargantuan payroll of ESPN favorites like the Yankees and Phillies. A scrappy group of aging vets and wet behind the ears youngsters can show the world that you don’t have to be the richest team to succeed; you can develop talent in the farm leagues and make savvy trades. Yeah, that’s what we fans of smaller market teams tell ourselves each year before the first pitch is thrown.
Springtime is a season full of hope in our household, not just for sporting reasons. The spring also marks the time of year when the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation holds their annual Great Strides walk in our hometown of Santa Clarita, CA. For those of you who have read the Basement Songs over the years, you know why Great Strides is significant to the Malchus family (and the Popdose staff). My son, Jacob, has cystic fibrosis (CF).

CF is a life threatening illness that creates a thick, sticky mucus in the body. This mucus clogs the lungs, creating the potential for infections. It also blocks the pancreas, preventing it from releasing the enzymes he needs to absorb nutrients. There is no cure. Each day, Jacob undergoes three breathing treatments with a nebulizer and dons a chest vibrating device called “The Vest.” He also takes oral enzymes with each meal to ensure that he stays strong and healthy. It’s a hell of a lot for anyone to live with, let alone a spirited nine-year-old boy who just wants to be “normal.” Jacob handles most of his daily routines in stride, although his anger and frustration has risen steadily over the past year.

Each year our family organizes a team of walkers for our local Great Strides. We call ourselves “Team Jacob.” Among the efforts we’ve done in the past is edit short videos to introduce people to Jacob and this dreaded disease. It’s an effective tool, sometimes too effective. Jacob’s big sister, Sophie, can no longer listen to George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Workin’ on a Dream,” songs we used in previous videos. Hearing those classic tracks remind her of the images we pieced together and hurt her heart too much. I know how she feels. A couple of years ago a family we know used Coldplay’s “Fix You,” as a part of their campaign and from now on that song will always be associated with CF and that family. Listening to this live version of the song is even more powerful, with the audience singing along with Chris Martin, as I imagine the combined efforts of all CF families and their friends singing as one.

It’s become our tradition to hold a gathering at our home after each Great Strides walk. This is the least we can do to thank our friends and family for joining us in the morning walk and helping support our cause. Over the years our team has grown. In addition to my brother and his family, Julie's brother, Seann, the Cruz family and our neighbors, the Wills, school friends like the Conards, the Boss family and the Stinsons have been there for us. There is also my high school buddy, Jay, and of course, my parents, who drive out from Tucson each year. 2011 was also special because Julie’s mom and dad were visiting from Ohio and were able to experience it with us. I dream of someday having all of the good people who have helped us over the years to come out and join us. As inviting as our small ranch style house is, I don’t think they’d all fit.

Our little party was festive, with music playing in the kitchen, kids running around and tackling each other between belly laughs, pizza and beverages for everyone, and a game of corn hole for all who wanted to play. Meanwhile, with free MLB games on television all weekend, a small group of men sat in the living room and watched the Indians take on the Seattle Mariners. As I’m accustomed to doing during these get togethers I wandered between the small groups and took in bits and pieces of conversations. I sometimes can’t believe how blessed we are to have so many people who care about the welfare of our family. I must admit, though, that I kept getting drawn into the living room, where my brother, my dad and my father-in-law were all enjoying the baseball game.

The Indians are in first place.

What a great feeling for a Cleveland fan. Still, I’d make a major league trade of all the joy I receive from watching my favorite baseball team win some games if I could fix my son’s illness. As much as I like hearing that the Indians are in first, I’d love to hear a different phrase, one that goes like this:

CF stands for cure found.

If you would like to help the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, you can visit this link to make a donation.

Originally published on Popdose, April 17, 2011

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Basement Songs Rewind: Paul Simon, "Father and Daughter"

This was originally published in 2007, when my daughter was 8. Time is a runaway freight train.

I worry about Sophie. My concerns run deep ranging from how does her brother's disease
affect her to is she receiving enough attention? The greatest fear I have for my daughter is that she somehow feels a lack of love on my part. I can tell her "I love you" until I'm blue in the face, but unless my actions show it, these are just words. Because of these fears, I try to set aside time and activities for just the two of us. I'm excited because today she is coming to spend the whole day at work with me, part of a "bring your child to work" activity the studio is having. Something else we love to do is watching baseball games. We have as been to several Dodgers games in the past couple of years. Sophie really tries to follow the game, asking questions about the players and how baseball is played. It's not all about hot dogs and cotton candy. Sophie is a remarkable, smart, talented little girl who is growing up to quickly. I love her dearly and she is the reason Paul Simon's "Father & Daughter" is on of my favorite basement songs.

On of the joys of parenting is pushing your favorite music on to your children. When Sophie was baby, barely speaking, she sang along to "Someday, Someway" by Marshall Crenshaw, and created her own lyrics to The Buggles "Video Killed the Radio Star." She doesn't barely recalls those songs anymore. When I play them for her now, she just looks at me funny. Later, just before Jake was born, she had a favorite Ryan Adams song and always requested several Andrew Bird tracks from his excellent The Swimming Hour cd. And then there's the Boss.  I worship at the altar of Springsteen, and Sophie has been converted into a proud disciple. How many 8- year old girls know the lyrics to "10th Avenue Freeze Out?" Even I have trouble remembering all of the words. Hell, even Springsteen does!

I'll never forget the last show I went to in 2002. The day of the concert, the family was listening to a mix tape I'd made for Sophie, and "Darlington County" began plying. Sophie shouted out "Daddy, do you think Bruce will play this one tonight?" Knowing full well that Bruce made up set lists the day of the show, and that he hadn't played that song much on the tour, I smiled and replied, "You never know." I had a pretty good feeling I wouldn't be hearing "Darlington County" that night. "I hope he does!" She said, before singing along with the chorus.

That night, as you might expect, Bruce and the band DID play "Darlington County". Can you believe that? When Bruce and the E. Street Band next tour, I plan to take Sophie to the concert. She ought to be 9 or 10 and I hope it will be a lasting memory. Of course, as Sophie was quick to point out to me when I told her of this plan, "It will depend if it's a school night, Dad." The girl, God bless her, really loves school. Still, with all of the Springsteen music we share, it is still a schmaltzy, African rhythm folk song by Paul Simon that best sums of how I feel about her.

"Father and Daughter" was originally released on The Wild Thornberrys Movie soundtrack. At the time the movie came out, I was still working for Klasky Csupo, the company that produced The Wild Thornberrys film and TV series. Because I work in the cartoon business, this form of entertainment was an early bonding method with my daughter. She liked RugratsHey Arnold and, yes, The Wild Thornberrys. When the film came out, she was pretty excited to see it. It was released about a year after Jake was born and my worries about Sophie were just beginning. It's not that she expressed anything that would indicate she wasn't feeling loved, but I still worried about it. Halfway through the movie, the song begins to play as the character Eliza (voiced by Lacey Chabert) is sent away from her family for the first time. Just watching Eliza leave her family and the sadness that was felt by every character made me reflect on the precious time I have with Sophie. It feels like just yesterday that I was dropping her off at daycare for her first day. Now, she's nearly done with 2nd Grade and excelling at school and swimming. Where has the time gone?
Simon had already written on children's classic, "St. Judy's Comet", for his son back in the 70's. This new song was written specifically for his young daughter. It's the perfect companion to the early treasure. Like so many of the songs I gravitated to when I began training for my marathons, "Father & Daughter" was relegated to my cheap little MP3 player and it will never be deleted. Sure, I have he Springsteen songs and others the whole family shares, but the simplicity and directness of Simon's lyrics hit home with me.

"I'm gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you'll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father who loved his daughter more than I love you"

I am so proud of Sophie. Her caring and generosity, plus her enormous heart so full of love and empathy make her a very special daughter. They also make her a very special human being, one from whom we can all draw inspiration. With so much craziness in our lives, and so many heavy issues to deal with, Sophie handles them with grace, panache, and most of the time, with a smile on her face. As she gets older, I'm sure she'll have her own music to turn to for comfort and guidance. However, I hope that this basement song by Paul Simon somehow makes it into her own collection of music.

--Originally published April 27, 2007 on Popdose. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

So, Yeah, I dropped the ball on Legendary

Last summer I was pretty ambitious about my serial novel, Legendary, which ran on Popdose for three months. I posted a new chapter every other day, each one with at least one song and an original work of art. I was so excited about it and I had planned to write entries about each chapter here on the BS Blog.

What I didn't realize is how exhausting the whole project would be and how quickly my energy was used up at the end of every day. I failed miserably.

I apologize to anyone who was paying attention, which may be about 15 people.

Hey you 15, SORRY!

Anyway, I'm going to do my best to finish what I started and write a little blurb about each music artists I used in the book.

By the way, wach chapter is still up on Popdose, along with the music and art. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go to this LINK, which explains everything. Links to successive chapters are available at the end of every chapter, if that makes any sense.

I may still publish it as a Kindle book. Any opinions from anyone on that front? It kind of worked out for the Basement Songs book (still available in paperback from Lulu and Amazon- see the column to the right).


The Three Strike Rule... slowly coming back

One of the columns I used to write on a regular basis for Popdose was The Three Strike Rule. It was a weekly (!) review of some television series, usually new, based on its first three episodes. With the advent of instant opinions available on the web, I started to fall behind on my reviews and, frankly, lost some interest.

With binge watching and people discovering shows both new and old every day, I've decided to give it a try again. I'm not out to impress anyone, just offer my two cents and maybe start some conversations.

I must also admit that I felt some apprehension writing about television during a period of time when I was submitting spec pilot scripts to managers and agents. But you know what, I'm forty-frickin-five, so if someone wants to hire me they would have done it by now. I'm giving up, mind you, but I'm tired of holding back on writing about the subjects that I enjoy.

I love telkevision, and I do enjoy writing about it. I also enjoy podcasting about TV (which I've been doing for a couple of years), so perhaps this renewed energy for The Three Strike Rule will lead to something new and exciting.

Is that a hint?

Anyway, here's a link to the latest Three Strike Rule over on Popdose.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Return to the Joshua Tree

I spent the morning listening the U Talkin' U2 to Me podcast hosted by Adam Scott (Parks and Rec) and Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang) and their discussion about The Joshua Tree. I initially turned to this podcast to listen to the late Harris Wittels contributions to the show, but he left halfway through the recording. That's fine because the latter half of this particular episode touched upon side 2 of The Joshua Tree and the lesser known songs from the album (lesser known by anyone unfamiliar with the band besides their radio hits).

Man, that second side is almost perfect. It doesn't contain any of the anthems that side 1 does, and that makes the success of The Joshua Tree all that more remarkable. New fans of the band may have expected a full album of rousing songs that shook the rafters of baseball stadiums. Instead, beginning with the last track on side 1, the heroin tragedy, "Running to Stand Still," the rest  of the songs have a shade of darkness to them, especially the closing tracks, "Exit" (which was one of my late friend Matt's favorites) and the heartbreaking "Mothers of the Disappeared."

I'm listening to The Joshua Tree, as I write this and wait for the nebulizer cups to boil. I wonder what kind of dreams I'll have tonight. Will the ghosts of my dead friends dance with the memories of the friends I've lost touch with? The Joshua Tree was such a high school album, but most of the album has transcended that era. Perhaps someday my kids will discover it and fall in love with the music. One can only hope that such bright, smart and empathetic children will discover this haunting, spiritual record and claim it as their own. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Journey "Frontiers" Reimagined

It's no secret that I'm a diehard Journey fan. Besides growing up listening to their music, the song and story behind their hit from the Vison Quest soundtrack, "Only the Young," has a special meaning to me and the cystic fibrosis community. I frequently go back to their studio albums featuring Steve Perry, although I tend to listen to the first four with Perry (Infinity, Evolution, Departure and Escape) more than the others. Although 1983's Frontiers came out at the peak of their world domination (stadium tours! music videos! two video games!), and although I saw them for the first time on the tour to support that album, I've rarely listened to the LP in the past 32 years. It's not that there are bad songs on Frontiers (mind you, I'm speaking as a Journey fan; Journey haters keep your snide comments to a minimum), it's just that the album is so front heavy with the hits and ballads, and there is a cold bitter tone throughout the record, that returning to has never given me the thrill it did when I was 13.

A few years ago, I wrote a comprehensive overview of the band's history in my Popdose Guide to Journey, reviewing every album by the group. It's an exhaustive read, but I had a good time doing it. One reader commented on Frontiers recommending changing the sequencing of the songs and swapping out one of the lesser tunes for "Only the Young." That song and another soundtrack song, "Ask the Lonely" (featured in the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John movie, Two of a Kind) were recorded during the Frontiers sessions. They were cut at the last minute in favor of "Back Talk" and "Troubled Child" (according to Wikipedia).

I've considered this reader's comment many times over the years (and if you're the person who wrote it, please chime in and take credit), and can only recall a couple of changes he suggested, in particular moving "Frontiers" to the top of side 2 and placing the power ballad, "Faithfully" into the second to last slot on side 2 (where "Frontiers" had been placed).

Over Christmas I gave this a try, and then began toying with the album even more. In addition to "Only the Young," I wanted to find a way to include "Ask the Lonely," which is one of my top 10 Journey songs. This week I came up with a track order that not only included these songs, but gave the record new life, bringing attention to songs that were buried on the second side and omitting two inferior tracks.

Here's how my reimagined Frontiers album looks:

Side 1:

1. "Separate Ways (World's Apart)" - No need to mess with perfection here. This is a great song to kick off any record.

2. "Only the Young" - Originally, "Send Her My Love" filled the second slot. Moving it down one and placing "Only the Young" here gives the record the flow of a concert. Two fast songs in a row keeps the energy up before moving into the first ballad on the record. "Only the Young" is also less angry that "Separate Ways," and a nice break before getting into the bittersweet "Send Her My Love."

3. "Send Her My Love" - Although technically a ballad, I'd call this song a mid-tempo rocker, similar to "Who's Crying Now" from Escape. Although it has quiet moments and is driven by Jonathan Cain's piano playing, the song moves at a fast pace and Neal Schon has an soaring guitar solo at the end.

4. "Edge of the Blade" - My toughest decision was to cut "Chain Reaction" from the album completely. While it's a fun, hard rocking song that appealed to me as a 13-year-old, it really doesn't add anything musically to Frontiers that isn't already covered by other songs. Following "Send Her My Love" with a blistering rocker is still the way to go, though, and shifting "Edge of the BLade" (which originally kicked off side 2) is a great way to achieve that. Additionally, it pulls one of the songs that were relegated to side 2 (often never listened to by casual fans because of the front loaded first side) into the spotlight. In a way, it replicates what "Keep on Runnin'" does on Escape.

5. "After the Fall" - This sometimes forgotten hit is a good way to close out the first side. It brings you down nicely from the assault of "Edge of the Blade," and has an excellent fade out that you can imagine ending with a needle lifting off of vinyl or a cassette deck snapping off.

Side 2:

1. "Frontiers" - An odd, experimental song, I never understood why "Frontiers" was shoved to the end of side 2. It has a really interesting percussion pattern by Steve Smith, Journey's excellent drummer. The way the song opens with the sound of wind and ends with the band a capella makes it a fine way to begin the second side.

2. "Ask the Lonely" - Inserting this great rocker as the second song of side 2 brings you back to the trademarks of Journey. It features the band's great harmonies, an impassioned vocal performance by Perry, and one of Schon's most succinct and melodic guitar solos. It also replaces the inferior "Back Talk", which was never a good song. Aside from the great drum beat on "Back Talk," the song does nothing for the album.

3. "Troubled Child" - The original track number two is nudged into the three slot. This is an overlooked slow rocker that also uses an unusual time signature for a rock album. I wonder if this could have been a single if the band had continued touring into 1984.

4. "Faithfully" - One of Journey's most enduring songs. Placing it as the penultimate song would have given listeners reason to listen to most of Side 2. And with this new song order, which I believe is stronger, it could have made Frontiers an even bigger success than it already was.

5. "Rubcion" - The original album closer and still the best way to wind down Frontiers,

I've been listening to this new version of Frontiers for awhile now. After getting my mind to adjust to not hearing certain songs following others (especially the original side 1), I've grown to love the reimagined Frontiers and actually look forward to listening to is when I'm in the mood for some Journey. In my mind, this song order flows better and provides the listening experience of Escape, which is a near perfect melodic rock album. Besides reconfiguring a Trevor Rabin album back in the late 80s (using a cassette deck), I've never toyed with an artists work like this before. I don't know if it's a challenge I'll continue with other albums, but I think this experiment was a success.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think.