There are some albums that for me not only define a point in my life but also define the artist or artists who made them. While there may be other albums I love by that artist, that specific album will always be the one I point to when I say “This is what they sound like.” Here are a few of those albums.
Queen – A Kind of Magic: It almost seems offensive to pick just one album to “define” Queen. Freddy Mercury was truly mercurial, reinventing himself (quite successfully) almost on a whim. And yet the powerful, soulful, and almost operatic performances that he and the rest of the band brought to rock and roll are undeniable, and the entire range and depth of their considerable ability is on display in this one compact album. Granted, I have a special love for it in that it encompasses not only the soundtrack for one of the greatest movies of all time (seriously, I once wrote a class paper on just one scene from this film), but also includes the themes song from one of the other greatest movies of all time. All that having been said though, this is still an amazing work of art on its own. To truly appreciate the range and scope of this album, check out “One Vision”, “A Kind of Magic”, “Who Wants to Live Forever” (one of the most beautiful and poignant songs I have ever heard), “Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)”, and “Princes of the Universe”. You won’t be disappointed.
Genesis – Invisible Touch: The first Genesis album I remember being old enough to really appreciate, this one absolutely floored me. From the first time I heard “Land of Confusion” I was hooked. Granted the video was pretty cool, but that was just a bonus. When I listened to the entire album I became obsessed. I would literally spend hours listening to it (no, it wasn’t healthy, but this isn’t about me, this is about Phil Collins… and my obsession with him… shut up.) Three amazing musicians explored all kinds of new territory, including a practically unheard of (at the time) nearly 11 min. long song, as well as a nearly five minute long instrumental piece that is absolutely amazing. The best songs on the album for my money are “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”, “Land of Confusion”, “In Too Deep”, “Domino” (the aforementioned 11 min. song, so brace yourself), “Throwing It All Away”, and “The Brazilian” (the instrumental piece). Give it a try; it’s a lot more than just a pop rock fixture.
Jimmy Buffett – Last Mango in Paris: I first got exposed to Jimmy Buffett the same way lots of fans did: someone I knew (in my case my Dad) owned a copy of Songs You Know by Heart, and I listened to it incessantly. Eventually after several years I decided to take a risk and venture out into, you know, actual albums (instead of just the “greatest hits”) and this was one of the first I stumbled across. Johnny Loftus of allmusic nailed it for me when he wrote that “Last Mango in Paris’ host of high points make it essential for anyone enamored of Buffett’s live shows, or even the casual fan looking to expand beyond Songs You Know by Heart.” While the songs all had the same wry wit and fun I had come to expect from Jimmy Buffett, there was also something fresh and unexpected in some of them. In particular I recommend “Please Bypass This Heart” and “If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me” for the sound and texture of them, “Gypsies in the Palace” and “Jolly Mon Sing” for the storytelling, and “Desperation Samba (Halloween in Tijuana)” just because it’s a fun, different sound from this versatile artist.
Billy Joel – Piano Man: As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been a lifelong Billy Joel fan, and it started with Glass Houses. The defining album for me when I think of Mr. Joel’s work however (I’m sorry, I just can’t call him Billy, it just feels too informal; we’ve never even been introduced) is Piano Man. It’s more than the storytelling that is evident not only here but throughout his career, and it’s not just the title track that (admittedly) had such a strong influence on my perception of him for decades to come. There’s a passion and theatricality to the songs on this album, as well as a certain gritty realism, that defies simple classification as “pop music” or “soft rock”. The soaring vocals are matched by Mr. Joel’s earnest and full-bodied compositions. The stand-out tracks on this album are “Piano Man” (obviously), “You’re My Home”, “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” (which I always silently dedicate to my family in Long Island), “Somewhere Along the Line”, and “Captain Jack”.
Oh, and Mr. Joel, feel free to call me Bobby.Related Posts:
One of my favorite conversation starters has always been to ask people what they would do if they were filthy rich, but excluding the boring stuff. Everybody says buy houses, cars, take care of family, whatever. I want to know about the crazy stuff people would do. What are the really wild, silly, or just plain idiotic things you would do if you had more money than sense?
Here’s my list.
First, I would have a mascot of myself designed. You know, the kind with the really big heads that they have at sporting events. It would look just like me, only bigger. Then I would pay someone to wear it and follow me around all day, trying to get people to cheer me on as I went about my daily routine. I might even hire a marching band to follow me around as well.
Does anyone else remember this commercial? I would do this. I would go to the nicest restaurant in Washington D.C. and I would totally do this. I would also treat the entire orchestra to dinner, because I’m that kind of guy.
I’d get a t-shirt cannon and launch t-shirts through the window of every Keynesian economist’s office that said “Sorry about breaking your window, but at least I’m stimulating the economy”.
I would have my own musical soundtrack, and it would be played by the group that would follow me everywhere. This group would, of course, be composed entirely of little people. Don’t ask me why.
I would offer to donate $1 to any politician’s re-election campaign for every foot of the highest skydive they do out of a moving airplane. There’s just one catch: their parachute would have to be packed by the poorest person they represent. Never let it be said I don’t have a sense of social justice.
I would donate $1,000,000 to the first Ivy League university that conferred an honorary doctorate on me. I’ve always wanted to be Doctor Bob. I’ve always wanted to bring down the tenor of the Ivy League even more.
I’d donate $5,000,000 to Oral Roberts University if they bestowed an honorary degree of divinity on me so I could be Reverend Bob. I would then turn around and donate $10,000,000 to the Anti-Defamation League and GLAD. Never let it be said I don’t have a vicious sense of humor.
Of course, the one I’m most famous for among friends and coworkers is Butter Bob.
Imagine, if you will, a statue of me (to help I’m about 5’9”, average middle aged Caucasian male) that’s 50 feet tall. Only this statue is carved entirely out of butter.
That’s Butter Bob.
My Not So Humble Wife wanted to be a part of it as well, so I decided she could have a macaroni statue that’s 49 ½ feet tall standing right next to mine, and we’ll have a statue of our dog carved out of Kraft powdered cheese mix next to it and a swimming pool of chilled milk next to that, so when Butter Bob inevitably melts and falls over it will create a grand cascade of mac and cheese goodness.
If anyone has their own fun ideas, please share!
Some guys will say that “I love you” are the hardest words in the English language to string together, but “I was wrong” are even harder, for both men and women. If you don’t believe me, make a mistake about something, anything, but make sure to do it in front of at least one person. It’s even more difficult when we have to challenge our own sacred cows, our most cherished ideas and beliefs.
Once we’ve staked out a position on just about anything re-evaluating it, even in the light of new facts, can be hard. It’s not just a matter of admitting error; most of us are personally invested in our opinions and beliefs, and we have defended them in arguments, sometimes passionately, and to go back and admit that each one of those passionate defenses was wrong can feel shameful. The desire to double-down and discount any contradictory information can be alluring (what psychologists refer to as “confirmation bias”), and the more invested we are in our own position the more likely we are to fall prey to it.
I understand this tendency as well as anyone. Back in late 2002 and early 2003 I truly believed that invading Iraq was the right course of action and would end in a quick victory for the U.S. and its allies. I believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; I believed that we were doing the right thing for the citizens of Iraq and for our allies; I believed that we would have a quick and relatively easy victory; and I believed that the benefits would vastly outweigh the costs. I was wrong.
When No Child Left Behind was first passed, I believed it was good legislation. I believed we needed some kind of accountability in schools, some way to measure when children were actually learning and to end “social promotion” so as to stop graduating kids who couldn’t read or do math. I believed this new system would fix the problems we had; instead it just created new ones. It endowed us with perverse incentives ranging from “teaching to the test” to cheating for cash and prizes. And kids still aren’t learning. I was wrong.
When I was barely a teenager, 13 or 14 years old, I was honestly a little homophobic. I was very uncomfortable around homosexuals or even the idea of homosexuality. I don’t know why; maybe because I was just starting to understand my own sexuality and everything was awkward, and I had to reject everything that I couldn’t understand. Maybe I thought there was something wrong with them. Maybe I thought they were “coming to get me”. I honestly have no idea. I was wrong.
It’s hard to admit that you’re wrong. It’s hard to admit that what you truly, deeply, firmly believed was absolute, unvarnished truth at one point in time simply isn’t. I think that’s because nobody holds these ideas and takes these positions planning to be wrong; we honestly believed we were right at the time, whether it’s because we didn’t have sufficient information, or because we were misled, or simply because we were endowed with certain prejudices, or maybe just because it seemed like a good idea at the time but since then it’s proven not to be.
There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t make you evil. What’s bad and wrong and makes you a bad person is when you’re wrong, demonstrably wrong, and you refuse to acknowledge it, own up to it, and change. Unfortunately more and more often what we’re not only seeing but demanding in our politicians is that they stake out a position and they cling insistently, tenaciously, viciously to that position and refuse to back away from it regardless of how the circumstances might have changed, or how it might have been proven that what seemed like a good idea at the time simply wasn’t, or how it might have been proven that “Look, you were never right in the first place, just admit it and move on.” We call them flip-floppers, we call them wishy-washy, we use it as an excuse to attack rather than acknowledging that they’ve grown and matured.
We tell kids “When you’re wrong you should admit it.” We expect of adults that when they are wrong they will acknowledge it and change. What we need to demand of our leaders that when they are wrong they admit it, they acknowledge it, and they do something about it.
To all mothers everywhere, but most especially to My Not So Humble Mother.
Sometimes it seems as if my life is less a continuous journey from one point to another and more a disjointed, constantly interrupted bashing about through random stops in time. This is particularly the case when I look back on my teens and early twenties, when I managed to find every way to creatively screw up that I could that didn’t involve drugs, violence, or jail (although I may have flirted with all three at some point, Your Honor). Among the few signposts I have as I journey back through those tumultuous memories are the songs I listened to, the soundtrack that accompanied my foolish decisions and what seemed to me at the time to be heroic deeds.
Dire Straits – Making Movies: I love this album for a lot of reasons, some of which are personal memories from my senior year of high school (and if My Not So Humble Wife is reading this, let me remind you honey that was about fifteen years before I met you, so you don’t get to hold it against me), and some of it is because the song “Romeo and Juliet” was indirectly referenced by Douglas Adams in So Long and Thanks For All The Fish (it would be the song with the really good guitar bit when Arthur goes flying), or so I was told when a friend first introduced me to the album. Having listened to the song many times, I have no reason to doubt his word on this. It really is an excellent guitar bit. The album covers a fair bit of terrain artistically, more I dare say than on most other albums from Dire Straits (except possibly Brothers in Arms), and while the expected jazz-rock fusion is there for the entirety of the album they manage to find a lot of room to experiment. In addition to the aforementioned “Romeo and Juliet”, I highly recommend “Tunnel of Love”, “Expresso Love”, and “Hand in Hand”.
Bruce Willis – The Return of Bruno: This album will always hold a special place in my heart for two reasons. First because it’s one of the first real records I ever owned that I bought just for me. Second because it’s one of the first records I played so much that just the mention of it is enough to make My Not So Humble Sister want to throw something heavy at my head. Ah, memories. So why do I enjoy this album so much? Is it because Bruce Willis is a great singer? No. But let’s not kid ourselves; neither is David Lee Roth, and everybody howled for his return to Van Halen. What Willis does do is attack the songs on this album with a passion and an honest love that you just don’t find in most singers today. What he may lack in technical performance is more than made up for in his virtue of an indescribable fun and joy. It’s clear that this is exactly what he wants to be doing, and he has the charisma to transmit some of that sense of fun to the listener as well. In addition to that, as I’ve previously mentioned I really do enjoy a good bit of harmonica playing. He may not be a virtuoso, but just because not every guitar player is Jimi Hendrix doesn’t mean we say they are somehow lacking, we just enjoy what they bring as long as they bring enough, and Bruce Willis brings more than enough. This album would be enjoyable enough on its own merits, and it’s doubly so considering it came out in an era of vanity albums being produced on behalf of other actors who didn’t understand they should have stayed actors. The best tracks off this album are “Young Blood”, “Under the Boardwalk”, “Secret Agent Man/James Bond Is Back”, and “Jackpot (Bruno’s Bop)”.
Sponge – Rotting Piñata: This is another album that I love as much for the memories (good and bad) that it invokes as much as for the music. It reminds me of a time in my life when I made some of the worst choices and best mistakes, and I ended up with some great stories if nothing else. I also learned some of the most important lessons, although I didn’t appreciate most of them until much later. Things like who truly cared about me and who didn’t; who I could trust, and how to figure it out fast enough not to get burned too badly; and exactly how much my family really means to me, and just how much they’ll forgive. Vinnie Dombrowski’s vocals, which sound like he regularly gargles with straight whiskey, blended with the gritty post-grunge sound of the instrumentals on the album immediately bring me right back to that place, and the shadowy (or at best semi-bitter) lyrics remind me again of all the damn fool things I’ve done, enjoyed, survived, regretted, and come out the other end of, hopefully better than I went in. Top tracks on this album are “Pennywheels”, “Miles”, “Plowed”, “Drownin’”, and “Molly (Sixteen Candles)”.
R.E.M. – Out of Time: This is another album that was pretty big my senior year of high school. Ironically this album starts off with “Radio Song”, a song about music on the radio controlling the tastes of the masses, which is kind of appropriate, since I feel like a lot of the best music on this album never got the airplay it deserved. I also seem to remember most of the R.E.M. fans I knew at the time being disappointed (if not outright horrified) by this album, which I find to be rather ironic as well, since this is the first album of theirs I loved from start to finish. Despite the two biggest songs on this album being “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People”, I personally feel like those are the least representative tracks for the album as a whole. For my money “Low”, “Near Wild Heaven”, “Belong”, “Half a World Away”, “Country Feedback”, and “Me In Honey” are a better sample of what the album is about.Related Posts:
Some of the worst advice I have ever heard is “do what you love for a living”, or alternatively “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it.” This advice is generally given either by people who are miserable in their own life choices and wish they had found a way to make this fantasy come true, or else it is the sort of illusory advice given by type-A personality entrepreneurs who would find success in anything they do because they are so driven they WILL succeed, even if they have to grab success by the throat and chokehold it into submission.
There are two inherent flaws with this advice as I see it, and I’ll break them down one at a time. The first is the fallacy of “do what you would even if you weren’t getting paid”. I honestly don’t know many people who have a passion for something that extends far enough to cover a career. Sure, plenty of people think they do, but that’s because they don’t have the time to really see it through, or else they don’t really make an honest effort at it. I’ll give you a couple examples: My Dad loved golf; I love video games. If he had the time, I think Dad could have played golf for a good four days a week, at least for a month or so. Then he would have started cutting back, because golf is tiring. As for video games, at my peak I was playing World of Warcraft like it was a second job – a part-time job. I played, I kid you not, at least twenty hours a week (after I quit I found time to start blogging. Not a coincidence.) When I would take a staycation from time to time, I would play upwards of forty hours a week in a single binge… and then lay off for a few days, because I needed a break. I then went back to my original routine.
The problem wasn’t that either Dad or I stopped loving what we did, it’s just that at some point most people can’t sustain the passion for something sufficiently to make a career of it. Those who can often do, or else they dedicate their lives to finding ways to incorporate that something into their lives in other ways, either though volunteer work or hobbies. Notice how at no point in that entire set of examples did I mention skill or demand; those would be elements of problem numero dos.
My biggest aggravation with the breezy advice “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it” is the “then find a way to get paid doing it” part. As if it was that simple. In many cases, the things people love to do people are already getting paid to do. Let’s go back to my previous examples. There are already people getting paid to play golf. They’re called professional golfers. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them (Tiger Woods, anyone?). There are even, to the best of my knowledge, golf pros at pretty much every country club in the nation, and every one of them is a much better golfer than my father was on his best day. Believe it or not, there are even professional video game players. Any one of them could romp me without paying attention. In the face of this, how does a simple person come along and just “find a way to get paid doing it”, especially when so many others want to?
Here’s my take on work: work is what you do to make the money you need to enable you to do the things you love. That doesn’t mean you have to hate your job; in fact, if you do hate your job (not just had a bad day, but actively hate your job and dread going in each day), seriously, quit. Find another job first if you must, but you might actually find being unemployed better for your mental and physical health. I did. But if your job is tolerable often that’s as good as it gets, and there’s nothing wrong with that; chasing the rainbows that someone else is offering will only make you miserable when you have no need to be.
If you can make money doing the things you love, hey, bonus. If you are one of the lucky few who gets paid doing what you love, do yourself and the rest of us a favor, keep your mouth shut about it, because nobody wants to hear it.
When I was younger, one of my favorite hobbies (when I could be bothered to roll out of bed early enough) was to go to garage sales, yard sales, and flea markets. I loved these things. I was the man for whom everyone else’s junk was a veritable treasure. To this day I have trouble driving past one without pulling over just to see what they might have for sale, even though I never carry cash anymore and my wife would kill me for bringing home anything anyway.
My biggest weakness at these things was my inability to walk away. As soon as I started to negotiate something, regardless of what it was, I was going to buy it. I think just about every seller figured that out and took ruthless advantage of it, because I bought a lot of stuff for way more than I should have (or maybe I just have a lot of pent up buyer’s remorse.) I’ve learned since that the secret to doing well in any sort of negotiation is being willing to walk away, and not just as a tactic, but really meaning it. At some point you have to be able to say, “there is no way I am going to get what I want here, and I am wasting my time by negotiating any further, so I’m going to walk away.” Not only does this work as a powerful tool to get the result you want, it also saves you from buying things you don’t want or need at prices you can’t afford.
I mention all this because I want the guys and gals in Congress to understand that I get it. I really do. It’s hard to walk away from a deal, especially when you’ve been working on it for weeks, months, maybe even years. It’s even worse when the problem isn’t you, or the guy you finally got to come around, or even the other 48 obstinate but well-intentioned folks you had to get on board, but this one last obstructionist jerk who is standing in the way simply because he can’t see how what you’re proposing is so very right for all of America. And there’s so much at stake! It’s not just re-election (although that’s in there somewhere, right?), and it’s not just that there’s a little something in there for your home district or state (but the folks back home do stand to gain a little something, I mean why shouldn’t they), it’s that this is what’s right for the people!
The problem is that a deal isn’t unilateral, and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. And even if I set aside all of my cynicism for a moment, hard as that is to do, and assume that all parties involved are honestly doing what they believe is best for their constituents and for the American people as a whole, that only makes things worse, not better. Because sometimes what one guy believes is best is completely and totally at odds with what another guy believes, and there is no compromise, there is no middle ground, there is no resolution to be had, and that’s the sad reality of it. I would actually almost prefer a cold political operator of old, who has his eyes on the prize, willing to cut back room deals to make sure everybody gets a little piece of the action and walks away with something they want rather than these wild eyed zealots on both sides who refuse to compromise on anything because they know, THEY KNOW they are right, and history, or better yet the next election cycle, will prove it.
But the observant reader will note that I said “I almost prefer”. There’s a reason for that. While these tin pot tyrants and modern day Neros fiddle away, the rest of us are finally getting a look at what politics really is, and more importantly I hope that the wider class of Americans are starting to get a sense of the real cost of government. Not just in terms of dollars, but in terms of choices. Because the truth is there are no free rides. For every up there’s a down, for every plus there’s a minus. Even if you’re okay with taxing the rich into oblivion to pay for everything, sooner or later you have to admit it won’t work, because there’s just not enough to go around. Even if you’re fine with gutting every social program in existence, sooner or later you have to accept the consequences of those choices. And the longer our so-called leaders give in to the temptation to go back and forth over their unlikely “deals” and never-happen “compromises” that do nothing but make for good TV, the more we end up paying for things we don’t need and can’t afford. The can gets kicked down the road for another year, the problem gets pushed for another election cycle, and nothing ever really changes.
Do us a favor, oh elected high and mighty. Take a real stand for a change. Take a stand against your own party, your own interests, your own re-election. Take a stand against everything that’s been tried before, and maybe even consider, I dunno, reading some of those endless policy papers you guys always ask for and always say would be “too costly” or are “too impractical.” Offer a new idea instead of a tweak, a rehash, a change at the margin.
And the next time someone, on either side of the aisle, offers you the same old thing in a new wrapper, walk away from the deal.Other posts you might like:
There are some bands, some performers that utterly transcend the genre of music, who go on to become legends. Time after time, album after album, they continue to produce world-changing music that inspires generations of listeners to either become performers themselves or, if not, to at least seek to their own form of achievement in whatever field suits them.
Sadly, these are not among those few.
While they each have managed to go beyond the level of “one hit wonder” in my own personal estimation, in the pantheon of music greatness they will never rise above the level of once-was or might-have-been. That’s not to say they didn’t make more than one album, just that they never managed to make another album I could get behind. They never quite hit it, they veered off in the wrong direction, or they petered out almost before they started, but at least each one managed to leave behind one album I could love forever before vanishing into the night.
Spin Doctors – Pocket Full of Kryptonite: Despite having produced one of the most execrable earworms of the 90s (“Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” – it’s stuck in your head just reading the name, isn’t it?), this was actually a fantastic album. The sound was something fresh and jazzy, a welcome change from both the pop ballads and the grunge invasion that were vying for control of the airwaves. The lyrics on this album tend toward to be sharp and clever, although sometimes a bit too clever for their own good. My personal favorite song is (arguably) the title track “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues”, from which the line “I’ve got a pocket full of kryptonite” originates. Other great tracks (that haven’t been overplayed on the radio) are “Forty or Fifty”, “Refrigerator Car”, “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?)”, and “Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist”.
Martika – Martika: O.K., true confession time. I was first drawn to this album because I had a huge crush on Martika back when she was on the kid’s show Kids Incorporated (I was a kid myself at the time). When I found out she was all grown up and had an album out, of course I went out and bought it immediately. I listened to it over and over, and fortunately for me I was at exactly the right age to enjoy it, considering the album was basically an average teen pop album and I was a teenager who liked pop music. Listening to it now, it’s pretty good for teen pop music; Martika has a strong voice, and the production values are pretty good. I think most of the enjoyment I get out of it is nostalgia, although actually hearing a good alto in pop music is so rare I’m almost ready to take it at any cost. If you decide to give it a try, I would suggest her big radio hit “Toy Soldiers”, her cover of Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”, and “You Got Me Into This”. If you don’t like those, you won’t like the rest.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – God Fodder: I don’t really remember when I first heard this album; it was sometime in high school and I just fell in love with it. Everything about it just says punk to me in a way few other bands do, especially bands that explicitly proclaim themselves punk. Maybe it’s the extra bass. What I love most about Ned’s is that they do what they do without being just like everyone else: the guitar lines are power-driven without being the standard “power rock” lines, the drums are hard hitting without feeling like the drummer is coked out, and the lyrics are rebellious and strong without needing to be screamed or merciless. There’s a beauty here that belies the notion punk has to be ugly in order to be raw. For a taste of what I mean, check out “Kill Your Television”, “Less Than Useful”, “Grey Cell Green”, “Capital Letters”, and “What Gives My Son?”
Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes: This is the one I expect to get the most pushback (read: blast of shit) from my friends about, but I’m not going to qualify it in any way. The simple fact is, this is a great album, and as far as I’m concerned the Femmes never lived up to it ever again. They had a few songs I liked after this, but it was never the same or even close. That having been said, when you set the bar so high on your freshman effort, it really is near-impossible to live up to it on any subsequent try, although their drift to different sounds (notably in country and deep alternative direction) didn’t help any either. All that having been said, it takes nothing away from the stripped down, severe beauty of this album, and if you haven’t taken the time to enjoy it in its entirety I strongly recommend doing so. Most of the songs on this album that are most worth listening to have become radio standards, so I’ll pick out the ones that tend not to get airtime that I think are worth extra attention: “Please Do Not Go”, “Prove My Love”, “To the Kill”, “Ugly”, and “Gimme the Car”.Other posts you might like:
About a week ago I was going through my Dad’s old movie collection, packaging it up and selling what I could, disposing of the rest. It made me realize something: my Dad and I had very different tastes in movies. Not that he had bad taste, mind you, just very different. James Bond, for instance. I like Bond films well enough, and I’ve seen all of them since Octopussy, but Dad had seen and loved all of them, and he had them all on DVD (and more than a few on VHS). As for John Wayne, he had more than a few collections, and he had most every John Wayne film ever made on DVD… all 169 of them. I never really understood his appreciation for John Wayne, but then I’m not sure he ever understood my appreciation for Tim Curry, so fair’s fair.
I had planned to talk about all the obscure movies that I found in Dad’s collection that I loved, but the truth is most of the ones we had in common were either well known (like Rocky II) or I’ve already mentioned (like Excalibur). So I’ll take this opportunity to cover a couple I did find as well as a couple I think Dad would have liked.
The Name of the Rose (1986) – Based on the book of the same name by Umberto Eco, this film stars two of my favorite actors, Sean Connery and a young Christian Slater (somehow I only seem to like a young Christian Slater). It’s the story of a Franciscan monk and his apprentice who investigate a series of strange deaths at a monastery. Call it a period mystery, if you will. I can’t really go into much more description without giving away lots of the plot, but the best part of this movie for me is the depth of characterization and world building. Apparently a lot of that derives from the source novel (which My Not So Humble Wife loves, although I’ve never personally read it), but the acting is top notch as well. While Connery drives the majority of the action, I want to give special attention to Ron Perlman as Salvatore; it’s a difficult role to play with empathy and he does it exceptionally well.
The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) – This was probably the first (and for a long time the only) western I ever really liked, let alone loved. I think this film gets a lot of grief for both deserved and undeserved reasons. There’s a certain amount of unrealistic expectations, in the same way that any iconic pop culture figure will have that any departure from established traditions will only exacerbate. That having been said, there’s also a certain amount of heavy-handedness: in the attempts to make the bad guys truly evil, to make Tonto more than a stereotype (and in the process making every other Native American in the film a bigger stereotype), and in the attempts to make John Reid into a larger-than-life hero. With all that having been said, I still believe this movie largely succeeds at being greater than its flaws, and if approached with an open mind and in the spirit of a western dime novel or “gritty remake” of an old radio show, it can be very appealing.
The Searchers (1956) – I had to watch this movie for a film class I took a few years ago, and I’m glad I did. After I finished, I immediately called my Dad and said, “Hey Dad, I take back everything I ever said about John Wayne. You were right.” He asked me what movie I watched, and when I told him, he wasn’t in the least surprised. “You started with the best.” The conversation went on from there, and we must have talked for an hour just about this movie and how amazing it is, and why. I could lay it all out for you here, but you should really just watch it for yourself. Not only does John Wayne give one of the most fantastic, nuanced performances I have ever seen, but the entire film is full of great performances, amazing visuals, and a stirring and poignant plot. If you only watch one western in your life, this should be it.
Cat Ballou (1965) – Now, if you’re going to watch two westerns in your life, may I make another suggestion? I remember watching this movie as a kid with my Dad and My Not So Humble Sister and it made no sense to me whatsoever. Why were people singing? In a western? (Bear in mind this film preceded Paint Your Wagon by about five years.) Isn’t that Nat King Cole? And I’m pretty sure that’s Jane Fonda. Wait, why is that gunslinger drunk? What in the world is going on here? That was basically my reaction to this movie the first five times I watched it. It took me a long time to realize (a) this was a comedy and (b) there was a plot, I just wasn’t following it. Once I got it all straight, I learned to stop worrying and just go with it, and it actually turned out to be a pretty funny little film. Not the greatest comedy or western ever but enjoyable, and Lee Marvin puts in an Oscar-winning performance, so it has that going for it. And hey, Nat King Cole.
While I’m more of a stay at home kind of guy, I do enjoy listening to the travel adventures of my friend Keri from Heels First Travel. So much so, in fact, that I’ve even considered traveling myself at some point (for those who know me, this comes as a truly amazing revelation). When I asked Keri for her top suggestions to take the edge off my travel concerns, she offered the following excellent advice.
I’m an avid traveler. And by avid, I mean crazy. Like spending 25 hours in Alaska because a cheap fare came up and I really wanted to see it but couldn’t take time off work. So at this point I’ve made almost every mistake with my flights, hotels, and tours you can make. And far from ruining my trips I’ve actually found it freeing. Because now “the worst” has happened and I no longer have to worry about what I might have forgotten and can dare to be impulsive, spontaneous, and last minute.
But it took quite a while for me to initially get into travel because I was afraid of messing up and not knowing what I didn’t know. So I’m here to spare you my paralysis. If you want to travel, start booking! Are you going to get things wrong? Yes! And is it the end of the world or will it totally ruin your trip? Probably not.
Things I’ve learned:
- Eventually you will oversleep and miss your flight. You will be able to rebook and/or afford a different last minute ticket.
- You will not hear your flight announcement and miss your flight even when you’re in the airport. You might do it twice. Or more. This is why they have airport hotels.
- No matter how much research you do, the place you most want to see, in my case the Louvre, will be closed, in my case on strike, the whole time you’re there. Think of it as a great opportunity to see the lesser known, hopefully just as awesome but less crowded, sites in the area.
- You will show up at the hotel only to discover you had one more page to go before your reservation was confirmed, you booked for the wrong dates, or the hurricane that swept through New Orleans over Labor Day left your hotel without power. This is what Hotwire and Priceline are for.
- Or you show up to discover the pictures on the website had caught that hotel at its absolute best, never more to be seen again. That just makes for a better travel story. J
- Public transportation is unreliable (2 hours wasted on a 36 hour stay in Sydney Australia) and cabs are far more expensive than you think ($200 to the airport). Just roll with the punches and think about it as investing in colorful memories.
- Sometimes the $5 mini bar snacks are better than wandering an unknown city at night for 45 minutes looking for a 7-Eleven.
- You will repeatedly forget and re-buy phone chargers, laptop chargers, deodorant, and toothbrushes. If you’re averaging forgetting one thing or less every trip you’re doing great!
Some consider me an expert at travel, but I’m not afraid (although maybe a little embarrassed) to admit I’ve already re-experienced 4 of the things on the list above since the year started. So if a so-called travel expert can make these mistakes, you’re totally off the hook.
For more on Keri’s adventures and travel tips visit www.HeelsFirstTravel.com.