Ipods, a Crow and a Diamond

A couple weeks ago, a Sunday night, Kates and I were watching TV when one of the new iPod commercials came on -- the one that starts with a close-up on Bono’s face as he’s singing his heart out in front of bright blue lights; then the camera pulls out onto the vivid color screen of the new video iPod …

In a burst of whimsical musings, I started talking about the revolution that is the iPod. And how it’s forever changing the way we listen to music. And …

Kates just looked at me and, as I kept babbling, the smile grew wider and eventually exploded into uncontrollable laughter. I eventually joined her …

The obsession continues …

* * *
Over the weekend I picked up copies of Sheryl Crow’s new ‘Wildflower’ album and Neil Diamond’s ‘12 songs.’ Critics have been oogling about both of them since they were released a few weeks ago, and now I understand why …

For the mainstay in popular music that Crow has become, it‘s hard to believe that ‘Wildflower’ just might be her best album yet. I was hooked with the album’s first track and it didn’t stop there. ‘Wildflower’ is filled with lush melodies and vocals that are combined with some sweet guitar strumming and instrumentation.

It’s far from the more sultry, darker songs of her self-titled album, less pop-ridden than ‘C’mon, C’mon’ and closer to the stuff she did for ‘Tuesday Night Music Club,’ but better. It’s as if ol’ Lance inspired a whole new Sheryl! All told, ‘Wildflower’ is a cool mix of upbeat and mellow songs (and lyrically pleasing anti-war sentiments in ‘Where Has All The Love Gone’) that I could put on repeat for hours.

‘12 Songs,’ meanwhile, is even more mellow, and even more stripped down. The entire album is comprised almost solely of Diamond and his acoustic guitar. Only a few songs feature extras, but even then it’s subtle piano plinking, bells or a tad bit of percussion (the final track, 'We,' is a Beatles-esque 'When I'm Sixty-Four' type tune, and perhaps my fave on the disc) -- all things that make this collection a great disc to slip in and unwind to after a hard day’s work …


Good reads ...

We'll start tonight with the news that capped off the evening news tonight: Author Stan Berenstain has died at 82. Some of my fondest childhood memories will always be of reading Berenstain (or as I called them 'Bernstein') Bear books with my parents ... and I hope some day I can share the same experience with my own children.

Here's more of the stories I found particularly interesting today ...

a 'Hey Jude'? Duude. ... this Washington Post story in a couple words is -- pretty awesome. It describes teens' and young adults' increasing appreciation for classic rock music -- something I can definitely relate to. I only wish I had such a club to join when I was in high school to, say, invite Pete Townshend or Brian Wilson for a visit.

Speaking of ... Here's feeding my fascination with the Beatles, and lately, with John Lennon's death ...
a Beatles book tells epic story of epic band
a Lennon's killer marks 25 years of infamy

a The Bicycle Diaries: Is it possible to live in America without a car? Uh, sort of.

More reasons for my increasing interest and appreciation for NBC's Nightly News cast ...
a NBC's lead in evening news wars increases
a NBC's Williams keeps dialogue going with viewers

a Meet the Prez: Bush Impersonators Milk the Laughs And Make Hay

a Anatomy of a resident ... and interesting perspective about what's not real about 'Grey's Anatomy' (... the best show on TV.)

a Pussycat Dolls: More than a novelty act? ... I'll agree with anything who says they're a copy cat of the Spice Girls. Watch their 'Stickwitu' video and the bad acting couldn't be more obvious -- they don't even appear to like each other... It's all this pop crap nonsense that makes the above mentioned story about young people discovering classic rock so much more refreshing.

... and finally news from baseball ... and two of the sport's biggest soap operas this offseason.
a Weak market leads to another Marlins fire sale
a Red Sox are full of holes


'Rent' check

Let’s face it … the weather outside was rainy and crummy. Kates and I had been bickering for most of the afternoon and then I lost her in Target.

Then we saw ‘Rent.’

The two of us walked out of the theater bubbling with smiles and, well, feelings of love. I simply said, ‘Awesome.’ Kates added, ‘Yes. I think we will be owning that on DVD.’

Chris Columbus couldn’t have put together a better film version of our beloved musical. His vision and interpretation of Jonathan Larson’s script and music was spot-on. Having most of the original cast act it all out makes it even more worthwhile. In a nutshell -- the film version of ‘Rent’ was everything I had imagined and dreamed it would be. … it’s just too bad it ranked fifth on this week’s box office list.

What’s more, Columbus put new life and refreshing spins into scenes and lyrics I hadn’t cared for previously. I loved the depiction of ‘Tango Maureen’ with Mark and Joanne doing the tango in a spiffy dance hall and Maureen parading around them in a slick red dress. The choreography of the gang on a subway train during ‘Santa Fe’ was very cool. And Joanne’s and Maureen’s engagement party ‘Take me or Leave Me’ spat scene was among the most comical of the film.

Even the cuts and alterations were hardly noticeable. The voicemails weren’t sung, but the lines were there and we still got to hear Roger and Mark’s deadpan ‘speak’ at the opening of each message. And sure I fretted last week about learning that ‘Goodbye Love’ was cut from the film, but seeing it now, I’m not sure how the number would have fit and Columbus’ take on Mark and Roger doing ‘What You Own’ helped us to the flim’s climax just fine. It wasn’t until a few hours after seeing the film I realized ‘Contact’ had been eliminated. But then again, I didn’t see where it belonged in the Broadway version.

It seemed almost every review I read for ‘Rent’ the last few days had a critic complaining that Columbus’ vision wasn’t far enough out of the box, or imaginative enough. … I, however, wouldn’t have wanted this ‘Rent’ film to be portrayed any other way.

* * *
In case you missed 'Desperate Housewives' tonight .... it was bye, bye, George.

But my favorite scene? That would have to be when Bree saw George singing' Don't Give Up On Us Baby' on her front lawn, stomped up to her bedroom, pulled a shotgun from under her bed, loaded it and shot off the speaker of George's van. HA-larious!

Oh and 'Grey's Anatomy.' Still no contest. Best show on TV. ... need more reasons why?

Reads of the week

Neil Diamond pushes aside insecurities to make triumphant return

Mayer moves to blues, funk and soul

Roger Bart dispenses creepiness as Desperate Housewives druggist-boyfriend

Blogs of the network stars

VHS tapes are outmoded, but they're not trash ( ... and here's some tips for what to do with them)


Today I'm thankful for ...

… a good night’s sleep.

… television with Thanksgiving Day parades and football.

… Paste Magazine.

… parents who’ve always been caring, supportive and willing to listen.

… my brother, and his wonderful new wife.

… music (on this day, mostly Ben Folds, Toby Lightman, Paste samplers and Blessid Union of Souls).

…My mom’s amazing cooking …mashed potatoes … and her prayers.

… good health.

… a job.

…owning a house.

… Grandmas & grandpas, uncles, aunts and cousins.

… Rummy Royal.

… Mountain Dew.

…a durable car that puts us up with our cross-country holiday travels.

… puzzles.

… the coolest, caring, most fun, best in-laws a guy could hope for.

… PBS and Dave Matthews Band concerts.

… coming home … and going to sleep.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

... Now let's all break out in song in memory of the plentiful turkeys
that we shall eat!

No day but today!

The heart may freeze or it can burn
The pain will ease if I can learn
There is no future
There is no past
I live this moment
As my last
There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret
Or life is yours to miss
No other road
No other way
No day but today

This one’s for those of you who bought the two-disc Broadway recording moments after you first heard "Seasons of Love." Or saved the earnings from your part-time job to afford a ticket the first time Jonathan Larson’s brainchild came to a stage near you. Or watched the Internet trailers a zillion times.

This is the day you’ve been waiting for. There is no day but today.

Today is the day that Mark, Roger, Mimi, Collins, Angel, Maureen, Joanne and Benny finally appear on the big screen, officially etching their stories in time, and soon on DVD, for us to enjoy long after the Broadway lights at the Nederlander Theatre have been dimmed for the last time.

Today -- after years of close calls and ugly rumors that teeny boppers like Justin Timberlake or Christina Aguilera might dare assume the complex roles -- we finally get to see "the musical that defined a generation" on film, with all of its passion and energy filling our hearts again.

Yes, "Rent." The story of a diverse group of impassioned and defiant 20-somethings living against the backdrop of New York’s East Village, amid struggles with AIDS, love and defining themselves.

There’s Mark Cohen, the budding filmmaker, and his roommate Roger, an aspiring songwriter with AIDS. And that endearing "Light My Candle" moment where love flickers between Roger and Mimi, a rebel junkie who’s fighting her own demons.

There’s Maureen, Mark’s ex-girlfriend-turned-lesbian who hooks up with lawyer Joanne. And there’s computer whiz teacher Tom Collins and cross-dressing Angel who develop an unmatched love during a chance meeting.

And we all know the story of Larson, who died of an aortic aneurysm on the eve of the show’s first preview without ever seeing its smash success, the Pulitzer or Tony Awards it would win.
The musical portrays the cast over the course of a year, following their ups and downs. But like few musicals before it, "Rent" stars a cast trying to find their way and dealing with real problems our generation could relate to.

Sure, this musical is filled with deep, dark aspects, but ultimately it’s about acceptance and hope and living each day as though it might be your last. For us younger Gen Xers and older Gen Ys, "Rent" is the musical, with all of its ‘90s quirks that gripped us, much the same way "West Side Story" and "Hair" spoke to our parents in the 1960s.

"Rent" encompasses the pressing desire to leave a legacy. A new age carpe diem. The notion that with a good family of friends your hopes and dreams can be achieved.

For me, the musical also conjures memories of the Broadway soundtrack blaring through the sound system of my high school auditorium or backstage areas during dinner breaks or set construction for our latest theater production. And a couple years later, I actually saw "Rent" on Broadway, a night -- aside from graduations, my wedding date and probably someday the birth of children -- I consider one of the biggest thrills of my life.

Yeah, I’m a little skeptical of the movie version -- new arrangements of the music, the addition of spoken lines and the elimination of some signature songs, namely "Goodbye, Love." But I have little doubt the message that makes the "Rent" story so powerful will reverberate today, and again and again.

No day but today.

a La Vie Boheme finds a new life; 6 original cast members reunited in Rent

a Road full of obstacles made 'Rent' overdue

a The Broadway Hit Takes a Gamble by Bringing Its Cast, and Conventions, to Film

a 'Rent' jumps the divide from stage to film, still infused with the power of its creator's spirit

a Original "Rent" cast moves up to big screen

a Movie payday for Rent

a Timeless Themes Make 'Rent' A Treasure

a 'Rent' veterans turn musical into lively movie


Watching the American Music Awards

My thoughts tonight as I watched the AMAs ...

… Could Mariah Carey have been wearing any less clothing? At least she apologized for her opening number sounding so bad.

… even while he’s sold millions of records, Rob Thomas still might be one of the most underrated musician/songwriters of our time.

… Lindsay Lohan!?!?! HA!! I could hardly stop laughing all the way through her horrible performance. If anyone in music producer land is reading this -- Please! You have GOT to be kidding me! Pull all of her records from the shelf NOW!

… I was about to say Hillary Duff had some talent … until I started suspecting she was lip-syncing.

… we’re almost half way through the show now, and let me just nominate Cyndi Lauper and Sarah McLachlan for the sweetest, most pleasing performance of the night! Surrounded by an array of stringed instruments, McLachlan’s signature voice combined with Lauper’s crooning added a whole new dimension to “Time After Time.” …. But I have to agree with Cedric, man. Seriously. The big wigs almost wrecked the performance by showing the whole thing in black and white…

… I’ve never caught on to the Santana craze. All his guitar riffs sound the same to me.

… What’s up with Michelle Branch’s red hair!?

… And what’s up with all the country performers!? They already had their awards show last week!

… Paris Hilton gets my nomination for best dressed of the night. She looked hot AND respectable. What a novel idea!

… The Rolling Stones performance was … ah …good?

a Vignettes from the 33rd annual American Music Awards
a Winners seem few and far between at American Music Awards

Wrigley bleacher renovation!

Hey Cubs fans! ... if you haven't seen these already, here's a link to some pretty sweet and interesting photos of the bleacher expansion going on at Wrigley!

I'm not so sure I like the idea of expanding further though ...

Turkey pardoning

A great segment on NBC news tonight about presidents and the annual turkey photo-op ... Just watch the video ...

Turkey pardoning: An often awkward tradition


Good reads ...

Some good reads I've collected over the last couple days ...

a Ants nibble at hospital patient’s eye ... there are few better ways to start a day then driving to work and hearing the DJ's on my favorite radio morning show talk (and crack jokes) about stories like this one.

a Curtain call of crucial characters ... a list of one Chicago Tribune writer's favorite characters currently on television.

a Trey Anastasio begins anew after Phish

a Anniversary of John Lennon's Death Looms

a "The OC" looks to indie bands to give its storylines an emotional punch

a A legend signs off ... Ted Koppel will leave TV news on Tuesday by replaying one of his most beloved 'Nightline' segments -- a profile of Morrie Schwartz. Should be good.

... and finally. I've never been a fan of Johnny Cash. I have, however, always been a fan of Reese Witherspoon, and reading these reviews actually makes me want to see 'Walk the Line.'
a Two rowdy lead performances enliven Walk the Line
a The Love And Lore Of The Man In Black
a Witherspoon walks away with Cash biopic

A Saturday in the Life

Kates and I are becoming more of old married couple everyday ...

Here's why ...

We began our day by sleeping in 'til a little after 9 ... and then shared in a breakfast of French toast (which she made), while I read my morning newspaper and worked on the Sudoku puzzle and she read her latest novel -- with, of course, 'Best Week Ever' playing on the TV in the background ...

After cleaning up the kitchen, I moved outside, raked leaves, mowed the lawn and cleaned up the yard -- while she showered and dressed for an afternoon of work at the library ...

After completing our respective work, we went grocery shopping -- fought the hoards of people buying for their Thanksgiving meals, and then observed from the checkout line as a little girl begged for some candy and her ruffian grandfather told her "Candy's not good for you. You know why? Because all of your teeth will fall out -- like this -- " ... The man proceeded to pull out his teeth. I burst out laughing and looked away, telling Kates what she heard but didn't see because she had her back turned ...

Almost two hours after entering the grocery store, we hit up Taco Bell for a quick supper and brought it home. We unloaded groceries. We ate our Taco Bell. And here we sit, watching 'Sex and the City' DVDs, and between episodes discussing thoughts about the next home improvement project or someday having children ...

A Saturday in The Life.


The Best of 2005

Some of my favorites pics and posts of the year ...

An early winter morning at the Kenosha harbor ...

An April morning on Kansas City's Plaza ...

It doesn't get much better than this: June at Wrigley Field, watching the Cubs and Red Sox from behind home plate with tickets we bought from a scalper for $35 each, and then hearing the guys sitting directly behind us talk about buying their tickets for $100 each.

.....7.04.05 -- Summerfest: Night I.....

.....7.05.05 -- Summerfest: Night II.....

.....7.06.05 -- Summerfest: Night III.....

.....7.25.05 -- Vacation 2005!.....

.....7.29.05 -- It's 'Wicked' baby: The other side of Oz.....

.....8.19.05 -- From Tornado Alley to 'Suicide Alley': A night with Shawn Colvin.....

.....8.28.05 -- A weekend on the farm.....

.....8.29.05 -- No Clowning Around: One of the most memorable stories I've ever done.....

.....8.31.05 -- Ben Folds & me.....

One of many, many Brewers games we made it to this this year ...

.....10.03.05 -- All I needed was baseball .....

.....10.12.05 -- Movin' Out: Where Billy Joel and ballet collide.....

A fall sunset at the Kenosha harbor

.....10.23.05 -- Going home: My return to Northwest.....

.....11.11.05 -- The best kept secret in pop music: A night with Toby Lightman.....

.....11.23.05 -- 'Rent' is due and paid for .....

.....12.04.05 -- In the Christmas spirit .....

.....12.16.05 -- the Miracle on State Street.....

The Christmas List 2005

It's the middle of November and one of the local radio stations
started playing Christmas music today ...
You've GOT to be kidding me ...
Fine ...

... Then here's my Christmas list.

Anything on the wish list ...

white video iPod ...

... a snowblower ...

...cash ...

or ...
Gift cards from:

Perhaps even a new roof ....
a deck ...
or a new bathroom ...

Trying to 'Smile'

It's been one of those days. You know, when your dreams and aspirations are so big you feel helpless to actually do anything about them ...

Last night I bought Brian Wilson's infamous 'Smile' album and have been listening to it almost every moment I've had it home. Meanwhile, I'm prepping for next week's release of 'Rent' and a feature I'll be writing about it by listening to the soundtrack during my commutes to and from work, and reading and re-reading the full script in my down time.

And I'm thinking, God, when will I find the inspiration and motivation to write something as influential and powerful as these works of art!? ....

* * *
Thank you Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, McDonald's and Best Buy for giving me the ability to finally bring home a copy of 'Smile' ...

Amid the storm of snow flurries last night, I left work for Old Navy to return a pair of black, pin-striped pants I'd bought a couple weeks ago and decided they weren't really my style and I'd never wear them. ... From there it was on to Barnes & Noble where I previewed a couple CDs with that cool little swipe-it-and-listen device they have. And my mind was made up: 'Smile' it would be.

Next stop: Best Buy for 'Smile.' With a $1-off any purchase coupon I got a couple weeks ago during the McDonald's Monopoly game, 'Smile' was mine ...

Kates and I had made a pact to limit spending on unnecessary items for the next couple months with the holidays and tax season coming up ... but since I returned a $30 pair of pants at Old Navy and bought a CD for about $13, thus putting about $17 back into our bank account, I convinced her it was OK ...

* * *
About 'Smile' ...

It's the story and album every avid Beach Boys fan knows. It was shelved in '67 and rose to legend status as the greatest album never completed. Finally Brian Wilson took it back into the studio and last year it was released to much fanfare... And the only reason it took me this long to get a copy was the aforementioned pact on unnecessary spending.

Knowing the backstory, I bought the album, opened the fancy album cover and inserted it into my CD player with high anticipation and trepidation ...

I found it tough initially to get past the absence of Al Jardine's, Mike Love's and pre-drugged Brian Wilson's distinctive voices, and the realization that this recording is not the Beach Boys in their glory years but an entirely new studio band accompanying post-drug-induced Brian.

But after listening a couple more times ...

'Smile' truly is a masterpiece of musical art ...

It's full of innovative composition, melodies and production, all stretching across vivid American themes. And the instrumentation is convincing enough to make you believe this album actually was recorded in the '60s. ... 'Heroes and villains' rocks and has an element of fun the original lacked. 'Good Vibrations' (although I don't think the original lyrics used for this album are as good as the Mike Love-Wilson lyrics of the 'Good Vibrations' we all know and love ...) is still one of the greatest pop songs ever created. ... Yet 'Child is Father of the Man' with its bouncy melody, followed by the haunting high notes, harmonies and instrumentation of 'Surf's Up,' just might be my favorite section of the album.

For a good read on the journey that was Brian Wilson's 'Smile,' start with this entry on Wikipedia.


Baseball thoughts ...

It's about time.

Today Major League Baseball players and owners agreed on a stiffer steroids policy that's comprised of a 50-game suspension for a first failed test, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.

Too bad it's too late. How and why it took Don Fehr and his boys so long to understand what owners were asking -- I will never understand. Yeah, I'm as passionate a baseball fan as the next -- but dang it, guys, this is the intergrity of the national pastime we were talking about. It's hallowed records, images and the influence players have on younger players ...

Jim Litke adds: Look at a timeline of events beginning with the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home-run chase in 1998 and you'll find enough tips that were missed, bungled or purposely ignored to fill up another "Naked Gun" sequel. (more...)

Yes, I can be satisfied with the comfort of finally having a drug policy that MLB should have instituted three years ago when the first steroids testing came in to play. But I think I speak for most fans when I say I'm not sure I'll ever forget the sour taste of having to muddle through last year's clouded offseason, the now infmaous testimony to congress and the increased suspicion that followed.

* * *
As a Cubs fan I'm biased, so it's no surprise I shook my head today when I learned Derrek Lee did not win the NL MVP. But Albert Pujols!? He was the least deserving of all the top candidiates.

So he led an injury-laden Cardinals team to the playoffs ...

Bah! The Cardinals still had great pitching (Hello!? Chris Carpenter just won the NL Cy Young), on top of a batting lineup that was stacked even without Scott Rolen. And Pujols' numbers still weren't as superior as Lee's and Andruw Jones'.

Lee led all three in doubles (50), slugging percentage (.662) and batting average (.335) and he finished second with 46 homeruns. And without Lee's play, it's highly unlikely the Sosa-less Cubs would have been in postseason contention through August.

Meanwhile down in Atlanta, Jones led the league in homeruns (51) and RBIs (128) while leading a Braves team filled with rookies and helping them to yet another division title.

Sure, Pujols is undoubtedly and consistently one of the best players in baseball. But let's not give him a pitty MVP just because he's been second to Barry Bonds for all of his short career.

* * *
And finally today...
Orioles won't bring back Sosa, Palmeiro

uh, ya think? ... last month I called for the two to retire.



I've often said one of the best things about being a writer is some of the interesting and unique environments and people I see every day ... and fantasizing about what it would be like to actually be in their shoes.

So today, after getting in my office by a quarter to seven, cranking out a health story for tomorrow about Seasonal Affective Disorder and feasting on a couple pieces of coffee cake, I went for my noon lunch appointment at the hospital with a source whose overseeing a new music therapy program. ... When we finally connected (cell phones are a marvelous invention!) we grabbed a couple sandwiches (I had tuna) and ate in the hospital cafeteria.

I proceeded to learn all the ins and outs of this new wave of music therapy and the impact it can have on patients, and how, in its soothing tones, it takes patients away from their pain to a more peaceful and relaxing place, and ultimately helps them heal faster. As many interviews are, it was an eye-opener to yet another marvel of this world and the lives we live.

Beyond that though, it was more the hospital itself that captivated me. I mean, I've been in hospitals and interviewed docs and nurses before. Maybe it was the fact it was a Monday morning -- you know, the morning after 'Grey's Anatomy'. Maybe it was the fact I was feeling distinct today in my beige corduroys, turtleneck sweater and heavy black jacket.

But I couldn't ignore the buzz of all the doctors in white lab coats and nurses in blue scrubs going about their daily routines, and eating among us in the hospital cafeteria. And then walking out of the hospital with my white foam cup (it was water, but I liked to think it looked like coffee), down the hospital corridor and through the skylit atrium.

It sure felt a lot like Seattle Grace. Or maybe I was just wishing it did.

* * *
In other news ...
a ‘Housewives’ desperately needs a makeover
a In Life and Her New Film, Reese Witherspoon Washes the 'Blonde' Away

And a little about one of the most charming shows on television right now ...
a CBS Has a 'Mother' Complex



For once an exciting Sunday afternoon in Packer land!

Packers 33, Falcons 25


'Lost' shows no signs of losing it

Another great 'Lost' story from the LA Times ...

If you're not a fan of 'Lost' and you don't get the fanfare surrounding it, this story explains it ...

Showing no signs of losing it: "It's got story moxie, this 'Lost.' One of the great, and equally vexing, things about the show is that it's a mix-and-match of types and situations from other movies and TV shows you can't quite reference in the moment, although you're pretty certain you've seen this scene before and possibly groaned at it before. Meanwhile, the show is exceedingly democratic in the way it parcels out the gestalt moments ... (more ...)"


The best kept secret in pop music

A couple weeks ago I wrote on this site about discovering a fresh new singer/songwriter by the name of Toby Lightman. All of this came after a call to our newsroom, combined with a press package and CDs, offering news that Lightman would be playing Carthage College ...

Tonight, was that performance.

In a stellar one hour and 15-minute acoustic set, Lightman showed the small crowd of 50 or so why she just might be the best kept secret in pop music. With the kind of guitar strumming you'd expect from Sheryl Crow, Jewel or Melissa Etheridge, and a set of chops that rivals Joss Stone or Alicia Keys, Lightman's performance was every bit as passionate and soulful as her debut album -- and more.

A free concert for all who attended, it could be better classified as a steal. For those who didn't make it, it was a major missed opportunity.

Lightman took the stage with her percussionist, Coach (he sat on some kind of box -- I've forgotten what they called it -- and beat its sides like a bongo) and played every track from her debut album, 'Little Things.' Although a little shy and seemingly overwhelmed at first, Lightman soon warmed up to the crowd, glowing, giggling and conversing with us in between songs.

It also became obvious she loves what she's doing. Exuberating a contagious energy, Lightman also seems refreshingly humble. A New Jersey native and graduate of UW-Wisconsin (woo hoo!) the 26-year-old only began playing guitar her freshman year of college, in between studying radio and television.

Hearing and seeing Lightman play her minor radio hit 'Devils and Angels' rocked, literally. And the new material Lightman 'tested' on the audience was a wonderful teaser for all the possibilities her next and in-progress album holds. But to put a spin or comment on every song just wouldn't do this night justice.

Perhaps the part of the performance that epitomized Lightman's personality and talents came when she told the crowd she had a couple songs left to play and a girl in the crowd yelled out for her to play 'Everyday.' Lightman answered sweetly, 'I was going to play it, but I can play it now if you'd like.' She proceeded to retune her guitar and told the crowd a story behind 'Everyday' -- that on the day she wrote the song she was in an odd mood and decided to completely retune her guitar in some funky way. So when she performs the song, which she loves, it takes her longer than she'd like to retune her guitar. Then, as if to question why she made the song so complicated, Lightman muttered just loud enough for the crowd to hear, 'I'm an idiot.' ... when the laughing had subsided and all was silent again, Lightman went on to play the beautiful ballad that is 'Everyday,' singing the chorus: 'But I'll see better when the smoke clears/when the smoke clears inside my head/and I can listen when the screaming doesn't repeat everything I've said/All that remains is me and who I am at the end of the day/And this happend everyday ..."

When the concert ended, the lights came up and the crowd swelled around Lightman. I got her to sign my CD and Kates and I began our walk to the car ...

Kates couldn't have said it better: She's not going to be playing small shows like that much longer.

The sports lessons that keep on giving

Sharing some recent readings and rants ...

Jim Litke: Canseco Offers Civics Lesson -- We have Jose Canseco to thank. He might be the last guy you would pick to teach anybody about anything. But stay with me for a moment here while I propose that he taught fans a valuable civics lesson — namely that the system works. (more ...)

Palmeiro: B12 shot may have caused positive test -- Rafael Palmeiro gave his first public explanation of his failed drug test Wednesday, on the eve of a congressional report on whether the former Baltimore Orioles slugger lied under oath when he denied using steroids. (more ...)

On another topic ...

Lines Between News, Entertainment Blurring. While this story points to examples during the live 'West Wing' debate and ESPN's sportscenter for the questionable blurring of news and entertainment, I didn't see any problem with using the NBC news logo on 'West Wing.' After all, 'West Wing' does appear on NBC and the network gave approval...

I'm not sure I can say the same about ESPN's use of Steve Phillips imitating a Boston Red Sox GM and answering questions about the Red Sox offseason drama. Without initially seeing the stunt (the reasons for my declining viewership of Sportscenter is a whole different post, but this rant provides a pretty darn good starting point ...), I read this story and, frankly, what ESPN was doing infuriated me.

The following day, I had Sportscenter going on the TV during breakfast and reading my morning paper when ESPN pulled the stunt again. This time putting Phillips in the role of the Houston Astros general manager. One by one some of ESPN's most recognized anchors popped up from the 'media' and asked questions of Phillips. Yet I found none of Phillips answers that intriguing or insightful. I mean really, what does STEVE PHILLIPS, know about Roger Clemens' plans for next season or the state of the Astros infield. Even then Phillips' answers seemed to be less authoritative, almost as if even he felt imitating a MLB GM or the segment itself was overstepping some boundaries.

To me, Peter Gammons, a true baseball expert and insider sitting behind a desk, is much more interesting and appealing than some watered down press conference that's more visual than educational. But apparently ESPN doesn't see it that way.

Please ESPN, think about going back to your roots and just show me the sports highlights. That's the only reason I tune in to your 'legendary' show. I want to know whether my team won, I want to see the best plays of the day, and how the standings look -- and yes, with a little expert insight on the side ... I DO NOT want to see another heavy metal-laden highlight reel that's overloaded with so many graphics I can barely make out the players, or some mindless ESPN short that's really a sellout piece of advertising coming out of nowhere to break the flow or your program, or Stuart Scott talking like some suave pop star he ain't, or Sean Salsbury arguing with another analyst like it's the WWF, or Chris Berman bumbling up half the program talking about the good 'ol days of -- well, just about anything ... If I wanted any of that I'd turn to E!, MTV or -- well, the History Channel.

Just give me all the sports highlights. Yes, even the lowly teams like the Kansas City Royals, because surely somebody, somewhere loves the Royals and wants to see the highlights, even if they played the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and got trounced.


Still thinking about 'Lost'

I'm still thinking about 'Lost' last night ... imagine that.

As much as I hate to admit it, I just know I'm going to keep going back to last night's episode. The network really was right -- we are going to be talking about this episode all year ...

Dang it.

The moment I walked into work this morning, the watercooler talk began. 'How could they kill Shannon!?' and 'At least it was her and not someone else' ...

And the Internet surfing began, desperate for more clues. Turns out I was the only one in our group that caught Jack whizzing by in the hospital scene. And that led one of my cohorts to remember one of the first episodes this season when Jack had to decide between saving the woman who would soon become his wife and (insert dramatic music) Shannon's father ...

Once again it all comes together. And yet again a sign that everyone on the island is connected or has crossed paths before ...

Reruns or not. It becomes clearer and clearer that you have to watch every nano-second of every show (even the reruns) if you have any hopes of getting it ...

a USATODAY.com: 'Lost' loses another main character
a MSNBC: A love is ‘Lost’ as show labors on
a USATODAY.com: 108 'Lost' theories

Watch out boomers! Here WE come!

No offense Mom and Dad, but this is a nice and so true story (at least in my case and officespace, anyway) about MY generation.

From USA TODAY -- They're young, smart, brash. They may wear flip-flops to the office or listen to iPods at their desk. They want to work, but they don't want work to be their life.(more ...)

Remembering the Fitz

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald ...

A few months ago, I got an assignment to read a new book by author Michael Shumacher, titled 'Mighty Fitz.' At the time, I knew nothing about the Edmund Fitzgerald. I'd barely heard of it. Sure, I'd heard the Gordon Lightfoot song, but up until a few months ago, it was just another song I heard on the radio, never really paying attention to the story the lyrics told ...

All that changed after reading 'Mighty Fitz,' a shipwreck and mystery I have since become fascinated with.

The story I wrote and had published a few weeks ago follows ... and make sure you check out the end of this post, where I've placed some very cool links...

* * *
The world may never know what caused the Edmund Fitzgerald’s defeat against a November gale and its sudden plunge to the depths of Lake Superior, but Michael Schumacher’s newest book will certainly shed some new light on the mystery often called "the Titanic of the Great Lakes."

As next month marks the 30th anniversary of the legendary shipwreck and the deaths of all 29 crewman on board, Schumacher has completed his latest book, "Mighty Fitz," which examines the Fitzgerald’s productive life on the Great Lakes and her untimely demise.

"Nobody survived this thing to tell the story," Schumacher said in an interview with the Kenosha News. "Here it’s a big mystery and I think that really, really captivates people."
A 729-foot long ore carrier, the Edmund Fitzgerald left the Burlington-Northern Railroad dock in Superior on Nov. 9, 1975, with more than 26,000 tons of taconite pellets. The massive ship, which was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, was known as one of the hardest-working vessels on the lakes.

But shortly after the Fitzgerald headed out for its routine run to Detroit, the last of the 1975 shipping season, it met a pounding storm. Losing ground, the ship’s radar cut out and she began taking on water amid mountainous, 16-foot waves.

With another huge freighter, Arthur M. Anderson, trailing it, the Fitzgerald changed course and kept communication with Anderson as they sought safe harbor at Whitefish Point, Mich. During the Fitzgerald’s last communication about 7:10 p.m. on Nov. 10, Capt. Ernest M. McSorley gave no indication his ship was in peril, telling the Anderson crew, "We are holding our own."

No distress signal was ever put out and 10 minutes later, Anderson could detect no signs of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

In "Mighty Fitz," Schumacher relays in vivid detail the story of the Fitzgerald, its 17 record-breaking years on the Great Lakes, its tragic demise, the search effort and investigation, and the speculation and controversy in the aftermath of the disaster.

A St. Joseph High School graduate, Schumacher is the author of six books including acclaimed biographies about music legend Eric Clapton, poet Allen Ginsberg and folk singer/activist Phil Ochs.

But writing about the Fitz hit closer to home for Shumacher, living on the shore of Lake Michigan and having a lifelong fascination with the Great Lakes. Among 25 documentaries he’s written, three have dealt with the mysterious shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Schumacher also was a fan of Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian folk singer who wrote and recorded "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts in November 1976 and earned a Grammy nomination for song of the year.

Schumacher dedicated "Mighty Fitz" to the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald and to Lightfoot "for giving us a song to remember them by."

"That’s what caught everybody’s attention," Schumacher said. "The Fitz was the largest to sink but there were shipwrecks with more loss of life, more times over. The Lightfoot song really made people aware of this shipwreck."

By writing "Mighty Fitz," Schumacher set out to not only keep the topic alive, but provide a more complete account of the events surrounding the Fitzgerald than any other author has done.

He succeeds in his approach by detailing all angles of the story in gripping and dramatic proportions, starting with a Nov. 8, 1975, weather report that warned of two low-pressure systems colliding to form a storm over the central states and upper Great Lakes.

"History dictated the forecast in the vernacular, if the two systems met, all hell was going to break loose," Schumacher wrote.

The book’s initial chapters continue with accounts of the ship’s Nov. 9 loading process and the launch of the fateful voyage, woven in between personality sketches of the crewman living on the Fitz and the tragic details of other ships that succumbed to the fury of the Great Lakes.

The drama only increases as Schumacher pieces together the final hours of the Fitzgerald in blizzard-like conditions.

Sailing against heavy seas and wind gusts of 100 mph, the ship had suffered some damage. It was leaning on one side and its radars were inoperable.

Still, in conversations with the Anderson and other nearby ships, McSorley gave little indication the Fitz was in danger.

"Part of this stoicism was pure McSorley and part was longstanding tradition," Shumacher wrote in the book. "From long experience, McSorley was rightfully confident in his ability to master a ship through a storm, and though he had been cautious enough to admit the damage to his ship to the Anderson and ask for its help, it was not in his nature to cave under pressure. He would bring in his ship, even if he faced hell and high water."

But somehow the ship did go down -- fast and likely without warning.

The second half of Schumacher’s book begins with the search for the Fitzgerald wreckage and the eventual discovery of the ship split apart with its stern lying upside down in 530 feet of water.

The book also tackles the hearings, testimony and controversy that followed the Fitzgerald tragedy, from the court battles over divers being allowed to visit the wreckage to the disagreements over how the Fitzgerald sank. In their investigations and official reports, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Lake Carriers Association all differed on the reasons for the Fitzgerald’s sinking.

The writing process was the most intense of any of his books, Schumacher said. He had to endure a few dicey interviews with the family members of lost crewman and witnesses who had either been burned by the press or were exhausted of talking about the 30-year-old mystery. Schumacher also sat down for rare interviews with two of the three surviving members of the Marine Board of Investigation.

Schumacher did an extraordinary amount of his own research, spending hours in libraries and buying any Fitzgerald or Great Lakes book he could find. He also spent the beginning of the year at the Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., sifting through the agency’s huge vault of reports and transcripts.

"I stood at the photo copy machine there for a couple days and just copied these documents," Schumacher said with a chuckle. "… It was to the point where it was the only thing I was thinking about. I was dreaming about the Fitz, literally dreaming."

So it’s not surprising that Schumacher has his own theories about how the ship sank. He believes the Fitzgerald’s sinking was a combination of the ship hitting ground somewhere, thus cracking its hull, and taking in a catastrophic amount of water on its deck, forcing one or more of the ship’s hatch covers to cave.

Shumacher does not believe, as others have cited, the Fitzgerald broke apart on the surface of Lake Superior.

Although, no theory has been disproved, which is why the Fitzgerald shipwreck has captured so many imaginations.

"Nobody knows why it went down," Schumacher said. "It’s going to be one that really catches your attention and it’s the most modern of the big ore carriers to go down. There’s no reason it should have sunk."

More on the Fitz:
a 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald'
a Minnesota remembers the Edmund Fitzgerald (From the St. Cloud, Minn., Times, which also includes a cool interactive feature)


Thursday night TV

If you Tivo'd tonight's 'Lost' and 'Invasion' you might want to stop reading ...

... OK. For the last week ABC, in typical overblown fashion, had been advertising last night's episode of 'Lost' as 'every year there's one episode that everybody is talking about. This is the episode ... blah, blah, blah' ... tonight's episode, as usual, hardly stood up that claim ...


Shannon was shot. Shannon!! Shot!! ...and presumably killed. And oh! the look on Sayid's face when he looked up to see 'Mean Girl' from the back of the plane. Ooooooh boy! if people didn't like her before, they're REALLY not going to like her now!

So ok. The promos did deliver on one aspect. In the week leading up to the episode, we knew one survivor was going to be 'lost forever.' For all we knew it was going to be some obscure person, probably from the back of the plane. Yeah, like the writers could really kill off another prominent survivor, we thought. ... Nevermind Sawyer, he wasn't exactly 'lost,' so the former seemed to be the case when Cindy suddenly dissappeared. But then Shannon ...

Aside from the last five minutes, though, I wasn't impressed. It's too bad this was one of the few episodes that really made me feel for Shannon -- and want to slug her step-mother ... And was it just me or did anyone else see Jack whiz by as the doctor was preparing to tell Shannon and her step-mother the news that her father had died? ...

So let the countdown begin for next week -- the episode I've been waiting for all season!! -- the one where we find out about what happened to the back of the plane!! -- it'll be like the first episode all over again, from a different perspective!! Woo Hoo!!

Want more? 'Lost' message boards

* * *
As for 'Invasion' ... nice!

The story surrounding Larkin trapped in her vehicle and the fight to find her at the beginning of the episode was pretty intense. Then she gets in a truck with a creepy 'fisherman' (who appeared at first to be a killer) and the episode started to go a little south -- aside from the parts that cut away just before Tom was about to speak into his radio ...

Alas, all was revealed in the end and we find out that Tom was working with Mr. Fisherman the whole time ...

Love it.

Thailand's Only Pandas 'Married'

This and our country refuses to allow same-sex marriage ...

Newsday.com: Thailand's Only Pandas 'Married'
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thousands of people in Thailand came to the wedding party Wednesday, but the nuptial bliss belonged to a pair of animals: the country's only two resident giant pandas. (more ... )

An 18-year-old mayor!

This kid's just plain cool...

Newest mayor, 18, will juggle city's work with school work
Michael Sessions, 18, stunned everyone but himself by upsetting incumbent Douglas Ingles yesterday, winning a four-year term as mayor of this college town of about 8,000 residents. The Hillsdale High student, an official write-in candidate, bested Mr. Ingles by an unofficial total of 65 votes. (more ...)


Oh no, T.O.!

So Terrell Owens apologized today ...

And we should care because ... ?

I echo NBC's Brian Williams (Yes, even the national news networks called T.O. out today...how cool is that!) when I say how much I respect the Philadelphia Eagles organization for stepping to the plate and basically saying guys with the lack of respect and class that Owens has shown don't deserve to be playing, let along being paid millions of dollars, in pro sports. I hope the guy never steps on an NFL field again.

Who am I kidding though. Some owners just can't stand to lose games, and money, and somebody, somewhere will probably find a place for T.O. on their roster ... it's a cruel and unfair world we live in.

* * *
Speaking of NBC news and Brian Williams ... they announced on their broadcast last night that the network's nightly newscast is now available, for free, in its entirety on the Internet. Not only is that a smooth move for news-lovers everywhere, the country's No. 1 newscast is distancing itself even further from the competition. If that's enough check out the newscast's blog and its continued evolution ...

As a man in the business, I take the utmost pride in watching and reading the news each day, and staying informed and educated on the world around me. And the news agencies that continue to break ground and find innovative ways of presenting the news are the ones that really thrill me and I aspire to be a part of ...


Today's news

I had my first listens to 'The Corrs: In Blue' on Saturday night and listened to it a couple more times tonight before the Colts-Patriots game. ... This album is, without a doubt, so much better and more fun to listen to than 'Talk on Corners.' Beyond that, the lingering thought in my mind is how much the pop and harmonic vibe of a lot of these songs reminds me of another good band of sibling musicians -- the Carpenters. And I mean that in a good way ... 'In Blue' is a great album.

(Hey! ... don't knock the Carpenters! ... I'm proud of my range.)

* * *
A random collection of fun and interesting reads ...
a Pastel Witnesses: Sketch Artists Andrea and Shirley Shepard Are Happy to Do You Justice, Although You Might Lose on Appeal -- a very cool and somewhat hilarious look inside the world of courtroom sketch artists.

a Amateur Deejays Find a Niche on Live365 -- the future of radio?

a Horsin’ around: Dakota Fanning grabs reins for ‘Dreamer’ -- I know it sounds crazy to say this about a kid, but, as this article points out, Dakota Fanning is arguably one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood right now, and I've watched and loved just about everything she's done since 'I Am Sam.' ... Let's just hope Dakota doesn't grow up to be some low-down Lindsay Lohan. ...

a Tragedy doesn’t derail Dravecky -- If you're a baseball fan of the '80s, you know the amazing story of Dave Dravecky. This is a cool update on where he is 16 years after the abrupt end of his baseball career.

And finally, some more Bush cartoons to brighten your Monday ...

The 'West Wing' debate ...

It's interesting to note the atmosphere in our household last night during the 'gripping, but not really' live 'West Wing' debate last night ... Kates and I had it on, paying only mild attention to it as she did school work and I typed around on my computer -- pretty much like any other presidential debate.

And afterward, the two of us agreed that Vinick seemed to have won -- not based on anything he said, of course. He just seemed to be the more outspoken, yet grounded and dynamic candidate. Because what do we know about politics?

a TV Review: 'West Wing' debate lively in second half
aWho won "West Wing" live debate? That's for viewers to decide
a 'West Wing' goes live


Date nights

Aside from all the chilly weather, the hurricane-like rains, and the feeling I'm never going to see our lawn again with all the leaves that accumulate in our front yard every fall, it's been a pretty good weekend ...

I picked up Kates from school on Friday night, we grabbed a bite to eat at Noodles & Co., and took a jaunt to the movie theater to finally catch 'Elizabethtown.'

If you've seen the trailers, you know the film stars Orlando Bloom as a guy who has to fetch his dead father in Kentucky and make good with all the small-town folk there. And along the way he meets the uber-adorable Kirsten Dunst, who plays Claire, the girl who finds the way to his heart and teaches him how to enjoy life. Obviously the movies goes deeper than that -- it is a Cameron Crowe film, after all -- but you get the jist ...

The film is, well, as Orlando Bloom's character puts it when he comes face to face with his father's body -- whimsical. At best.

The trouble is, being a Cameron Crowe film, having high praise for his previous work and all the glowing stories I read prior to the release of this film, I went into it with high expectations. And I left feeling like it was average.

There are some good comedic moments, but the story line lacks a constant flow and drags a little at times. The chemistry between Bloom and Dunst (uber-adorable!) is good. And Judy Greer puts in a good performance as Bloom's sister, Heather. But that's it.

Here are some reviews that put it in better, and probably harsher, words than I could. But hey, that's why they're paid to do it ...
a Review: Bloom Can't Save 'Elizabethtown'
a Despite flaws, 'Elizabethtown' hard not to like

... For some real fun go to MovieWeb.

* * *
Last night Kates and I had tickets for ’Trying to Live … Happily Ever After’ at the Racine Theatre Guild, the first performance in a new comedy series the Guild is offering.

The show, written and performed by WMYX radio host Jane Matenaer and comedian Steve DeClark, takes a comical look at the trials and tribulations of surviving marriage, told from both genders' perspectives in a series of monologues.

DeClark, a stand-up comedian turned therapist could barely keep from laughing as he told me about the play during an interview for the News last week.

"My kind of big goal is people will see this and not only enjoy it but it will help their marriage," he said. "Everybody's trying to live happily ever after, but we don't really know how to do it. People don't want to go to marriage counseling, especially guys, but they'll come and see this because it's funny."

Said Matenaer, "It's really very funny. We've heard things like people were crying they were laughing so hard. I have one friend who said it's so true to life. You look around and people are nudging each other and saying, 'You do that!'"

... in the end though, we all live happily ever after, right?


The Very Best of Music

One of the big stories in K-town this week was the closing of an independent music store. While that’s bad news, it’s even worse the store was located right down the street from our house and I barely knew it existed. It’s situated deep in the corner of a strip mall we frequent, but looking at the outside it always looked more like a music instrument store then the top-notch record and CD store people have been making it out to be this week …

Either way you look at it, the store is closing this month after 20 years of business. The owner attributes the demise to dwindling store revenues over the years as more music lovers are going on to the Internet to get their music. The closing leaves us one surviving indie store, one that I actually hold a larger attachment to and stop by frequently. Let’s hope that one has a better fate for those of us who still think of our music as a larger art form and collection -- I’m talking about album covers, pictures, band and liner notes too -- and not just a cheap bunch of songs we rip off the Internet because we somehow feel entitled to them, completely forgetting the fact they’re someone else’s hard work and creativity …

Off my soapbox …

So I stopped by the closing store on my lunch break yesterday. Having a pretty good idea of what I was looking for, I flipped through the CD stacks pretty quickly and ended up walking out with three CDs for about 24 bucks.

Which ones, you ask? … ‘The Very Best of Supertramp,’ ‘The Best of Van Morrison’ and ‘The Corrs: In Blue’ … Yeah. When I returned from lunch and told one my co-workers she replied with a gasp and said, ‘What a range!’ … Yep. That’s me! And darn proud of it : )

While two of the three were kinda-sorta impulse buys, I had long been seeking the Supertramp album and pretty much went into the store knowing: if they had it, I was buying it.

Yes, Supertramp. … I first owe my mother for planting the seeds of my Supertramp enjoyment and making the mix tape that made it all possible. I can’t explain why, but I’ve long had this memory etched in my mind of her and I, about 6 or 7 years old, sitting in our camper during a trip to Terry Andrae, as we played Uno or Yahtzee, I think, and her pressing the boombox record button when certain songs came on the oldies station we were listening to. About five songs into the mix tape came the song ‘Dreamer.’ It was the first time I’d ever heard the song and since that day, the song has been one of my all-time favorites (I loved it so much I tried convincing my piano teacher in fourth grade that I devised and recorded the song -- and I think she believed me!). And even after repeated plays in my walkman and 20 years, the mix tape -- complete with renditions of ‘Hotel California,’ ‘Dust in the Wind,’ ‘Nowhere Man,’ ’Make Me Smile’ and ‘Barbara Ann’ -- still survives and plays regularly in this household…

But it took me about 15 more years to connect the searing harmonies, keyboards and fun of ‘Dreamer’ with everything else Supertramp had to offer. My purchase of the ‘Magnolia’ soundtrack ('Logical Song' and 'Goodbye Stranger') made the picture a little less cloudy for me, but it was really gaining appreciation for ‘Give a Little Bit’ and hearing a few plays of ‘Take the Long Way Home,’ ‘Bloody Well Right’ and ‘Breakfast in America’ on The Drive that etched Supertramp’s place as one of my favorite bands.

Getting back into the car after my purchase, I immediately ripped the packaging off the CD and began playing ‘Dreamer.’ I listened to it again and again on my way back to work, singing my lungs out and loving every second of the harmonies echoing around my car the way they were meant to be played.

Guaranteed, the album will be playing my car wherever I go this weekend …