4 January, 2016
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Happy 2016! Now see here.

The new year is still in diapers, and I’m mad already. Why do I allow this to happen? Why?

Because I care. Or because I can. One of the two.

Behold, my list of…

Seriously. Just stop it.

  1. The ridiculous forwarding of hoaxes on social media (Facebook, especially). There are a lot of cool people on my friend list, and I’m not patronizing them, believe me; they’re fun and smart folks. But the height of the ridiculous was reached several weeks ago when otherwise intelligent people began to copy and paste to their profiles the utterly, preposterously vapid notion that Mark Zuckerberg was giving away a huge chunk of his fortune to Facebook users, if they’d only forward the post saying he would do so.  Again — people who otherwise are bright and savvy were cheerfully passing this on, many with the obligatory infuriating disclaimer, I figured ‘why not?’ Couldn’t hurt! Oh, but dear heart, it does hurt. It hurts the appearance that you might have a marginal lick of horse sense. This also applies to the forwarding of pictures with cockamamie stories, like the one that pictured ISIS flags in a demonstration in Dearborn Michigan, with the text going something like, “Think we don’t have a Muslim problem in the US? Pay attention!” Under a minute of cursory research reveals that the ISIS flags were actually part of an anti-ISIS rally by American Muslims living in Dearborn. But let’s not allow facts to get in the way. Rule of thumb: Always, always check. Use sites like,,
  2. The inane assumption that professional athletes cannot party. Yes, Johnny Manziel was spotted in a Vegas casino after being declared PUP by the Browns because of a concussion. And worse — he was laughing after a loss. Honestly. So what? As Charles Barkley famously proclaimed back in ’93: they aren’t paid to be role models, even though many think they should be (and admittedly, some have a morals clause in their contract). But look: What’s different about Manziel’s bad-boy off-the-field behavior compared to that of Michael Jordan, Joe Namath, Babe Ruth, Brett Favre, Dwight Gooden, Mickey Mantle, Lawrence Taylor, and countless other relentless party boy pro athletes who came before him? Social media, that’s what. Instant coverage; getting caught in the act, on video. The older guys never had to deal with that, and I submit it was easier to be naughty because of it. Moreoever, I’m not so sure Johnny ever had a bona fide drinking problem; rather, his handlers suggested rehab as a way to mitigate the feelings of anger the fan base experienced after the first video came out. I can’t prove it, but I still believe it in my gut of guts. Bottom line: If a player shows up and does the work, it doesn’t matter what he does afterwards any more than what you do after you go home from work, providing he isn’t breaking the law or a contract stipulation. If Manziel is “immature” on the playing field, then deal with it in a football manner. If he’s immature off the field, so what? It is (unfortunately) not a crime to be a jerk. It may all be moot soon anyway, as the customary and predictable biennial shakedown in the Browns front office took place last night, and Johnny may very well be hitting the road. But let’s take the sainthood aspect out of sports, because they ain’t saints. Hey, here’s a wacky idea: Parents, what if you took up the sword of teaching your kids to not be idiots about worshiping these people?        Naaah.
  3. The sickening hate speech operating under the shield of anonymity. Scratch that. Shorten it to just “The sickening hate speech.” Many online news sites have gone to the Facebook plugin exclusively for comments, but it has done little to stop some from being openly, shamelessly awful via their responses. (In regards to the the ISIS issue in #1, read some of the comments on the original Facebook post. They’re disgusting, but not nearly as terrible as some of the less transparent Disqus comments I’ve read. Also, as a veteran of Usenet and DejaNews back in the 90s, I have seen some pretty nasty stuff, but it was rarely ever posted by someone using his/her real name.) People who would likely never be as “brave” in person let loose bigtime on the internet, spewing hatred so vile it makes me wonder how they sleep at night.

The ridiculous, the inane, and the sickening. Wasn’t this just fussy of me today? Who knows; maybe it’s due to my having to reactivate my 4:45 a.m. daily alarm. I have it so tough, you know. ;-)

It’s been a fantastic winter break. Now it’s back to the insanity: the nonstop race to get through May. Once I’m there, we’re good! Ready, steady…

Odyssey 2016

2 January, 2016
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On the banks of the peaceful Potomac…

Virginia remains the only state out of the lower 48 that the Thriller has not visited. Time to check it off the list. And I reminded him that since he co-owns all the government buildings in DC, we should make sure he visits them as well. Yay! Mr. Jackson Goes to Washington.

The last time I saw DC was 1980-something, so I’m looking forward to going back. We sat down on Thursday evening and mapped out/narrowed down the list of things we want to see in the time frame we have, and came up with what I think will be a lovely — albeit very busy — getaway, featuring visits to:

That’s a lot to cram into five days and four nights, but we’ll do what we can. And I’m sure security to get in anywhere will be nuts. It’s OK, though. We’re excited to see everything, and we plan to make full use of the nice transit system of trains and buses. After a dozen different subway trains in New York City, and the New Jersey Transit white-knucklers through the Lincoln Tunnel (Did you hear about the guy who did a triple gainer right out the windshield the other day? Holy cats.), the DC Metro will be a ride in the park.

There’s also a new twist for us this year with regard to lodging. I have seen some expensive hotel rooms in my life, but criminetly, a decent room anywhere in the DC area is outrageously, frightfully out of our league. So we’re using Airbnb, and I must say we’re having fun looking at all the possibilities.

Of course, a visit to Virginia wouldn’t be complete without taking in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River Valley. We plan to make reservations at the mountaintop Skyland Resort for two days of leisurely hikes on the Appalachian Trail, shopping and eating along Skyline Drive, enjoying warm drinks under the stars on a cool night, and lots of amateur photography of the breathtaking views.

And hopefully no bears.

Does that sound like a fun Odyssey? We think it will be. We’ll get to enjoy the best of both vacation “worlds,” in that we’ll experience the craziness of the city, and also the serenity of being hidden away in the mountains.

But first, I have to get through the rest of the school year, which, amazingly, starts back up in 48 short hours. Allons! Onward to July. :-)

Happy weekend!

Year 20

31 December, 2015
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A few small changes between then and now.

Cuppla small changes between then and now.

That’s what we’re starting today, the Thriller and I. Nineteen years in the books. Crazy, man.

And he hasn’t run out of the house and into the street screaming yet. Imagine that. Life is not easy with the likes of me, what with shows taking me away from home regularly during the school year, my being the quintessential insecure artist train wreck, and generally functioning as his polar opposite in many ways:

  • I could leave the dishes in the sink overnight and not think about it for two more days. He has to have them taken care of.
  • I’d let the laundry pile up and do it once a week. He likes to keep at it so it’s always at a minimum.
  • I’m an avid reader; he’d rather watch TV for relaxation.
  • He likes to put up Christmas lights; I couldn’t care less about it.
  • Our politics are not quite aligned.
  • He likes ghostie and Bigfoot shows, while I think they’re ridiculous (and he likely thinks the same about all my crazy dramas on the DVR, but doesn’t feel the need to poke fun at them…hmmm…I need to work on that).
  • He’s a processor; a thinker. He’s good with numbers. I’m…well, everything that’s not that. :-D
  • Basically, he’s this and I’m this.

That said, we do share a lot of likes and dislikes:

  • We’re both picky eaters (he even more than I, if my family can imagine that)
  • We love to play video poker
  • Chocolate covered cherries are a food group, and so is anything drowning in hot fudge
  • Road trips are the best; the longer, the better
  • Camping is for the young, and for those who don’t mind mosquitoes, rock-hard sleeping surfaces, sweating and getting filthy — um, yeah
  • We adore our grandchildren
  • We aspire to the same retirement goals (new house, some more travel)
  • We both love dogs

Right now, we’re preparing for a stay-at-home celebration of ordering food in and watching a movie on PPV, maybe. Or perhaps we’ll have some fun chatting over dinner, then he’ll go watch the Blackhawks and I’ll do some reading or Dinner Theatre prep. It doesn’t have to be a crazy party to be a joyeaux célébration. Regardless, it’s been a real nice clambake over the last 19+ years. Hugs and love to the Thriller, and happy NYE to all of you!

No blue Monday here

28 December, 2015
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Hey, aren’t you proud of me? I’m on vacation and I actually know what day it is.

I am slashing through my to-do list (OK, I don’t actually have one written out, which should surprise no one, but there’s a kind of list going in my head), making some good progress. Three charts got done yesterday; about 10 hours of work. Glad it’s out of the way.

I like writing my own arrangements. Unlike some choral directors who feel dread when faced with providing their own music for their singers, I get quite a bit of enjoyment out of it. In fact, I wish I could make a living at it. However, I wonder if you’re aware of what an absolute pain it is — I’m talking serious hassle, here — to get arrangements published when the music is not your original composition. Holy cats. Check this out and look at the pictures:

Back in 2011, I wrote a chart on Michael McDonald/Beth Chapman’s gorgeous Christmas song, “Peace.” After submitting it to a respected mentor for advice and getting some good feedback, I thought I’d take a shot at throwing it at a publisher.

I started by tracking down the company that owns the rights to the song. ASCAP had the info I needed, so I contacted the first person I could find. Over the next several weeks, after a dozen phone calls, the obligatory faxes, and a half dozen emails and redirects, I did what was required (submitting my request to the company that holds the publishing rights of “Peace”) and found this


So I gave up. It’s OK, though. I have plenty keeping me busy; no intrinsic need to worry about rejection of my stuff at the moment. As long as the audiences and the kids think it’s decent, I’m fine with that.

But no worries for today, Jim! The Thriller and I are going to see Star Wars this afternoon, followed by dinner out. We’ll likely call this our anniversary celebration, as we won’t be going anywhere on the 31st. Too much crazy prowling about on that night.

Hope you’re not having a blue Monday.

If they asked me, I could write a book*

26 December, 2015
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Maybe not a book, but I could definitely write a paper, or an article, or a pop music history lesson plan about it. Ready? Here it is:

Ringo Starr did not play on the recording of the song “Please Please Me,” from the album of the same name, released by Parlophone in 1963. Apparently, upon hearing it while previewing material to include on Anthology I in the early 1990s, George and Paul immediately remarked, “That’s not Ringo.” Much controversy surrounded (and still surrounds) this issue, and I’ve read conflicting-yet-convincing arguments on both sides.

Still with me? :-) Read on.

The late Andy White filled in as one of the many drummers the Beatles used in revolving-door succession before finally settling on Richard Starkey. I’ve often wondered how people like White, Colin Hanton, Norman Chapman, Cliff Roberts and other drummers felt about *almost* reaching fame of positively cosmic proportions, but for one reason or another, fell along the wayside. (In the very early days, some drummers chose not to continue on with the ragtag band of obnoxious, demanding and sometimes unkind partyboys; in other cases, jazz-oriented players simply dismissed their music as silly, took the few quid for playing the gig, and went on their way.) A couple of years later, to some, I’m sure it felt like they gave away the winning lottery ticket. I think no one felt this enormous sense of missed opportunity — and, according to his own account, betrayal — as vividly and painfully as Pete Best. Alas, a story for another day; so many layers. If they asked me, I could write a book, but, you know…that’s been covered.

Anyway, there are several theories about why Andy White was credited on the single release of “Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You” (it should be noted that Ringo, as the band’s newcomer, played auxiliary percussion on those two songs), but was not listed as drummer on the LP Please Please Me’s title track. One popular position is that producer George Martin didn’t like Ringo’s interpretation or groove in rehearsal, or didn’t trust him fully yet, and made an executive decision to use White’s version instead. Moreover, listing Ringo’s name on the back cover of the album as the only drummer would have been important to the band’s united identity in the marketplace: Four Lads From Liverpool is much easier to package and hawk than Four Lads From Liverpool Plus One Scottish Guy Filling In On Three Tracks While Ringo Plays Maracas And Tambourine Because God Knows Why.

Thing is…the White version contained some not-so-perfect vocals, which might explain:

1) John’s screwing up of the lyrics on the last verse (starting at :08) and singing the next “Come on” in a half laugh, and

2) the extraneous, spacey sounds and slightly behind-the-beat harmonica riff (starting at :26), presumably in an attempt to incorporate other takes, piecemeal. The result: “shadow” sounds and marginal misalignment caused by layering mono mixes over top of stereo. I’ve made a clip to highlight it (you’ll need to have Flash enabled to listen to it):

Last 42 seconds of “Please Please Me”

I tend to side with this particular story, as White himself recognized his own drum sound and style on the final product — and seriously, what drummer couldn’t recognize his own playing? Or singer his own singing? I can also find no documented interview wherein Ringo confirms or denies White’s involvement on the final issued LP. My guess is the people who were there can’t really remember clearly, combined with the fact that there has always been considerable confusion surrounding session time sheets for that week in ’62. Bottom line: Stuff gets misplaced or destroyed, and when you’re depending on folks’ individual recollections of repeated, nearly identical sessions, memories can be sketchy at best some 40+ years on.

“Please Please Me” began its life at Paul’s house on Forthlin Road as a bit of an ode to Roy Orbison: slow, jangly and a bit on the schmaltzy side, almost channeling Orbison’s “Only the Lonely.” (Any recordings of that version have been lost to history, but this guy does a pretty decent cover of what it might have sounded like.) George Martin thought it completely boring, and sped up the tempo to give it some energy. Sometimes, it pays to listen to your producer — even one who had never produced a single rock group in his entire career before taking on the Beatles.

Have we had enough of reading about “Please Please Me” yet? Yeah, I thought so. ;-) But hey — it’s the weekend for all you private sector types, so have a groovy Saturday. I’m off to write arrangements & such.


*One of my all-time favorite standards, by the way.