REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy

I knew ‘em before they were famous.

The Guardians as I remember them from back in the '90s. SPOILER ALERT: you'll be seeing none of these characters in the movie.
The Guardians as I remember them from back in the ’90s. SPOILER ALERT: you’ll be seeing none of these characters in the movie.

For those that aren’t as deeply invested in comic-book lore as some of us (what do you expect – one of my first real jobs when I was 16 was in a comic book store, for cryin’ out loud… being knowledgeable about comics was literally my job), the newest cinematic offering from Marvel Comics, Guardians of the Galaxy, may seem a bit more “random” than you are prepared to handle: the film is only loosely connected to the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe that audiences have come to know and love, that of Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers fame (among others).  In fact, at this point, the only actual crossover that GotG has with the rest of the on-screen Marvel superhero crew is The Collector, an eccentric, intergalactic keeper of rare treasures and oddities; The Collector was seen in the mid-credits scene of Thor 2: The Dark World as he met with two of Thor’s compatriots and agreed to keep the powerful Aether – one of the six Infinity Stones – in his collection.  He appears in GotG in a slightly-expanded-but-still-fairly-ancillary role.

The Collector is an old-school comics character, making his first appearance all the way back in 1966, and has usually existed in the nebulous area of not quite a bad guy, per se, but not a hero, either.  Over the course of comic book history, he’s had run-ins with The Avengers, The X-Men, and – you guessed it – the Guardians of the Galaxy.  You see, much like the first two aforementioned teams, the Guardians have also been around in print for over 50 years.  From the ‘60s through the ‘90s, the team existed in the 31st Century, a band of intergalactic alien loners that come together to fight injustice (including one character, Major Victory, who possesses and uses Captain America’s very-old-but-very-functional indestructible shield).  These are the Guardians of the Galaxy I grew up with, and they spoke to me, since they combined two facets that I thought were totally tubular: superheroes and science fiction.

Still with me?  Good, although you don’t necessarily need to know all the above info about Guardians of the Galaxy to have a great time watching the film.  All you really need, quite frankly, are your eyes and your ears.

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy..L to R: Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Groot (Voiced by Vin Diesel), Rocket Racoon (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana).  (Marvel 2014)
Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy… L to R: Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Groot (Voiced by Vin Diesel), Rocket Racoon (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana). (Marvel 2014)

The characters and version of the team that are featured in the film are NOT the distant-future squad and its members that I spoke of above; the group you’ll see on screen is a modern version of the team (even a slightly-past-tense version, as the movie actually opens with a scene set in 1988 before rocketing forward to 2014), with the characters that have been featured in the Guardians of the Galaxy comics from 2008 on.  If you’ve been around a TV in the last three months, you’ve undoubtedly seen the previews and commercials designed specifically to familiarize you with the crew: the human Peter Quill, exotic alien assassin Gamora, fierce warrior Drax the Destroyer, genetically-altered Rocket Raccoon, and strong-but-mostly-silent half-man-half-tree Groot.  In the movie, they are five loners that are forced to work together in planning a high-tech prison escape; while they all have their own agendas, their goals overlap just enough to make them uneasily rely on each other to get where they need to go.  Along the way, they stumble upon the knowledge that there’s a very, very bad alien out there who is close to harnessing a power that will let him destroy the universe, and wouldn’t you know it, this rag-tag quintet are the only ones that might be able to stop it all.

The intricacies of the plot are not worth going into here; if you see the movie, you’ll pick up the minutiae surprisingly easily, as director James Gunn has done a fantastic job of pacing the movie to move along quickly while still providing the viewer with enough info to feel like he/she understands what’s going on in this cosmic landscape.  What really helps this film stand out, to me anyhow, are the three Cs: the characters, the charisma, and the comedy.

The acting talent displayed in GotG is likely the most overlooked aspect of the movie; the story easily could have spiraled into cheesy sci-fi B-movie schloppity schlop were it not for the casts’ keen understanding of how to strike the fine balance between working to make their characters (as random as they may be) relatable and simply knowing that the concept of the movie itself is, frankly, pretty far “out there,” so they don’t take themselves too seriously.  Whether it’s physical talent (like star-on-the-rise Zoe Saldana creating a green-skinned killer with a sizable soft spot), voice talent (the “dynamic duo” of Bradley Cooper as Rocket and Vin Diesel as the one-line-spouting Groot could not have been brought to life any more effectively), or legitimate star talent (Academy Award winners Benicio del Toro and Glenn freakin’ Close in crazy outer-space getups?  Yes please!), the actors and actresses in Guardians, quite simply, nail it.  (Even non-actor and WWE star Dave Bautista gets a pass, as he does a fairly serviceable job making Drax the Destroyer mostly cardboard, as he is meant to be, with a few great one-liners sprinkled throughout the film’s 2 hour and 1 minute run time.)

Cast Posters featuring all 5 Guardians (Marvel 2014)
Cast Posters featuring all 5 Guardians (Marvel 2014)

And who can forget our leading man, Chris Pratt, playing the grown-up version of a boy abducted from Earth and raised among the stars?  Pratt (whom I’ve been digging for years as the hapless Andy Dwyer on NBC’s faboo sitcom Parks & Rec) singlehandedly brings enough charisma to the table to satisfy even the most stone-hearted of movie-goers.  Not only is his character of “Star Lord” (the nickname Quill tries and largely fails to get people to call him) entertaining in spades, but Pratt himself seems to have genuinely embraced his opportunity to not only become an action hero, but to do something good in his personal life with his burgeoning fame – just go read any interview he’s done since this film has started its publicity run and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition to Pratt, the movie on the whole really does ooze charisma; its CGI is gorgeous, and it has ample opportunity to show off its unique blend of sci-fi and action-packed goodness.  Hand-in-hand with the film’s charm is the comedy that’s also on display; director Gunn is no stranger to effectively mixing comedic elements, having worked as the screenwriter for the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake in addition to directing 2006’s sci-fi/zombie film Slither and 2010’s dark superhero tale Super.  Each of these films, while primarily existing in a traditionally non-comedic genre, have a healthy dose of humor injected into them, and it’s not just jokes shoved in here or there; Gunn legitimately knows how to infuse a story with a lighthearted feel, no matter how heavy the subject matter seems to be.  Guardians of the Galaxy is no different in this regard, and this mix of action and wit is a key piece of why this movie may just be the best film that Marvel Studios has unleashed in its Cinematic Universe to date.

So, in a nutshell: go see this film.  It’s funny, it’s a spectacle, and it’s a surprisingly-effective character drama.  I went to see it with my wife, and afterwards she told me: “I can’t believe that I laughed at and then cried for the same character – and that character was a walking, talking tree-man!”

To which, of course, I could only reply: “I am Groot.”

groot-smile-gotg

Grab Your Good

I love mowing my lawn.

For those of you who think I might have a screw loose somewhere (read: most of you) and that I’m simply a masochist who enjoys manually pushing a 50 lb. mechanical object around my surprisingly sizable front and back yards on swelteringly-hot summer days, let me clarify things a bit for you. All that stuff I just mentioned in the previous sentence? Those aspects, I don’t particularly care for so much. What I do like about my personal lawn-mowing experience can be fairly succinctly summed up in one short sentence:

Mowing my lawn is one of the few things in my life that I can control.

I know where my yard starts; I know where my yard ends. I can set the height adjustment on my mower’s wheels so that the length of the cut grass is exactly what I want it to be. I can mow my grass in rows, and I know that when I double-back and mow the next row, the area I’ve already mowed will stay mowed. I can see how much of my lawn that I have left to mow, and when I get to the end and my entire yard has been mowed, I know that I am done with this particular chore for the day.

It’s a small victory, you see, but I feel that it’s a very important one. There is so much in our lives – and I’m confident, most of us have felt this way at least once in the last year alone – that we simply can’t control. From the relatively mundane of flights being delayed to the potentially life-altering impacts of political and legal change, so much that happens in the external world trickles down to happen to us in turn. Even the things that we try hard to regulate (our health, our finances, our relationships) are not guaranteed to be as firmly in our grasp as we’d like them to be; at any moment, these things can be unexpectedly influenced by outside factors and thrown into either minor or major disarray.

It bears repeating: things happen to us. That’s one of the hardest things to come to terms with, especially for people who like at least a modicum of control over their lives. Now, I’m not here to inundate anyone with the sob stories of the things that have been happening to me recently. There are people out there who are dealing with major illnesses (either of their own or of a loved one), death or other extreme loss, and any number of life-changing events that can cause extreme financial, emotional, and mental hardship. I’m not alone in being a person who is struggling with something, and I know that many people out there have been struggling longer and harder than me.

So. What can we do? What options are left to us when it seems that (however valid the perception truly is) our world is coming crashing down around us and nothing will ever make it better ever again? How do we make ourselves able to, to put it in Python-esque terms, look on the bright side of life?

We’re often told – by motivational speakers, self-help books, empowering music, and even feline-dangling positive-thinking posters – hang in there; don’t sweat the small stuff; let it go; don’t stop believin’. These messages are all well and good, but to me, they keep you focused on the negative stuff, even if you are supposed to be mentally discarding it. So I’m suggesting a different, simpler approach. Instead of trying so hard to let go of the bad stuff, focus instead on getting a firm mental grasp on the awesome stuff in your life.

In other words: grab your Good.

Yes, I could spend my time staring at the copious amounts of bills to be paid. I could take the better part of my evening and gripe to whomever might listen about how I can’t afford the nicest things. I could post a piteous status update on the Facespace lamenting all the things that just don’t seem to go my way and how I’m sure I’m the only one on the planet that things like this happen to.   Instead, I choose to play a game or watch a movie with my lovely wife, chatting the whole time and reveling in the fact that I’ve got someone in my life who lets me be me and loves me for who I am. I choose to spend my time playing with my adorable 4-year-old daughter, who physically does not know how to worry about such things and is always content and happy doing whatever, whenever; the imagination and laughter exhibited during our playtime is alone worth the price of admission.

Some of my favorite Good :)
Some of my favorite Good :)

Don’t make excuses as to why you can’t grab your Good. My wife’s at work and I’m stressed out? My daughter is only with me on certain days because of a custody agreement? I’ll play with the dogs, whose unconditional love knows no bounds. I’ll call or text a friend or family member, and we can trade jokes and silly stories. I’ll look at pictures or watch videos of past good times and remember why my life isn’t even a fraction as terrible as I sometimes make it out to be in my head.

We can all do this. We all have Good in our lives that we can make a conscious effort to grab onto. If a little, green, wrinkly-skinned dude who lives in a swamp and suffers from chronic verbal dyslexia can figure out that focusing on the light side is better than focusing on the dark side, then we can too. Heck, start here if you like: post a comment below or back on my Facebook status with the #GrabYourGood tag and tell me what’s good in your life that you’re thankful for – something as simple as writing it down and reading back to yourself will go a long way towards making you feel better. I guarantee it.

The next time you mow your lawn, see it less as a chore and more of you controlling your own life. And when you’re all done, take a gander at that fine-lookin’ lawn and bask in the pride of it.

Grab your Good. You’ve earned it.

5 Songs with Deeper Meaning

With the ever-present and all-encompassing nature of tools like radio stations and online streaming services, listeners have unprecedented access to any and all types of music they could possibly desire.  When planning a wedding, private party, corporate gathering, or any other kind of social event, having a variety of music is key.  But, along with the sound of the songs, there is another important aspect that is often overlooked: the content of the music, specifically what the lyrics of the songs might be saying to the listeners.

Some songs are easy to understand, but lots of music features lyrics that are sung so quickly or take such a back-seat to the overall sound of the song that most folks miss the “real meaning” of the experience entirely.  For every obviously-apparent song like David Allen Coe’s “Take This Job and Shove It” (which I do not recommend playing at corporate functions, for the record), there are a slew of songs whose true meanings aren’t so readily apparent.  In addition to questions about lyrics, many popular songs have back-stories about the how/where/why the songs were written that may not be entirely accurate (but the stories sound good and help to sell copies).  Take, for example, Eric Clapton’s classic ballad “Layla;” while it seems readily apparent that the song was written about a lady in Clapton’s life, it was actually inspired by a classic Persian poem from the 12th Century that Clapton thought would make a good story in song.  I’m sure the mysterious-girl/heartbroken-singer angle sold many more records, though.

In my years of DJ work and music management, I’ve discovered lots of interesting tidbits about many songs that might just surprise you (or at least give you some nuggets of trivia for the next time you’re out at the bar with your friends).  I’ve listed five well-known examples below, and as you’re planning your big event, I recommend that you take the time with songs you might not be familiar with and explore their lyrics and/or back-story in a little greater detail.  By utilizing sites like Lyrics.com and other online resources (as well as consulting directly with your friendly neighborhood DJ), you’ll be able to avoid potential blunders: since approximately 94% of Taylor Swift songs are about break-ups, maybe her songs are not the best picks for your Must-Play list at your wedding, am I right?

Click on the album covers to hear the songs and buy them from Amazon.com

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” IZ

aa-izWe’ll start with a widely-believed “deeper meaning” that actually isn’t accurate.  Hawaiian-born Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole, better known simply as “IZ” to the world outside of the island state, became famous worldwide when his 1993 album, Facing Future, was released and featured the now-iconic medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.” The acoustic-ukulele song sung and performed by IZ has since been featured in several films, TV shows, commercials, and more; IZ holds the distinction of being the first Hawaiian-born musician to have a platinum album, although the honor sadly came years after his death due to obesity in 1997.  It’s often talked about and believed by many casual listeners that the medley was created by IZ while he was dying as something for his daughter to remember him by; sadly, this appears to be one of those tales that “sounds nice” but isn’t accurate.  The song was released four years before he passed away, and the producer of the album has actually stated that the song was a last-minute addition to the record in order to (hopefully) boost recognition and sales.  The “daughter/tribute” story sounds lots better, though, doesn’t it?  Let’s just pretend that’s the real reason.

“Gangnam Style” Psy

PsyThis one may not necessarily be a “deeper,” but since the lyrics are predominantly sung in Korean, most of the English-speaking world is left to wonder what exactly Psy is singing about in his very catchy song – and the singer’s crazy horse-dancing antics in the song’s video don’t exactly shed a lot of light on the subject.  The explanation is actually a simple one: Gangnam is the name of a very wealthy and trendy district in the city of Seoul, South Korea, so “Gangnam Style” is meant to convey an aura of hip-ness and a lavish lifestyle.  The American equivalent would essentially be a song called “Beverly Hills Style.”  The refrain of the song, “Oppan Gangnam Style,” roughly translates from Korean as simply “I am Gangnam Style,” with Psy self-referentially poking fun at himself by saying that he is being trendy while doing such idiotic things in the song’s video.  As he himself said in a recent interview with CNN, “People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are – it’s only the posers and wannabes that put on these airs and say that they are ‘Gangnam Style’ – so this song is actually poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying very hard to be something that they’re not.”

“Semi-Charmed Life” Third Eye Blind

aa-3ebIf you spent any of your teen or twentysomething years in the late 1990s or early 2000s, you are undoubtedly familiar with 3EB’s insanely catchy rock-pop anthem, and let’s be honest, you’re probably already repeating the doo-doo-doo, doo-duh-doo-doo chorus in your head (if you weren’t before, you are now – you’re welcome).  But once you get past the upbeat melody and have a chance to slow down those quick-fire lyrics, you’ll start to see that the actual content of the song is not all sunshine and roses.  With versed content like “Chop another line like a coda with a curse,” “I was taking sips of it through my nose,” and the just-in-case-you-were-confused “Doing crystal myth, will lift you up until you break // And then I bumped up, I took the hit that I was given Then I bumped again, then I bumped again I said…,” very little is left to the imagination here.  Lead singer Stephan Jenkins has said that “Semi-Charmed Life” was written as a response to Lou Reed’s classic 1970s song “Walk on the Wild Side,” whose lyrics spoke in detail about drugs, prostitution, and sex, among other taboo topics.  It’s important to note that Jenkins was not necessarily talking about his personal experiences with drug use; regardless of the inspiration, the song is a great example of deeper meanings in lyrics that are just waiting for the “average listener” to glaze over them.

“Hotel California” The Eagles

aa-eaglesOn the surface, this classic ‘70s rock song describes the title establishment as a high-class resort where “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”  The lyrics of the song seem to illustrate either the mental state of travelers who enjoy luxury accommodations on their vacation and will never forget how great the experience was, or a tall tale about a fatigued traveler who becomes trapped in a nightmarishly-extravagant hotel.  According to multiple interviews and retrospectives from the band members, however, the song is an allegory about hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry of the late 1970s. In an interview with Rolling Stone, lead singer Don Henley called the song “our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles” (none of the members of the band were originally from California) and later reiterated “it’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.”

“California Girls” The Beach Boys

aa-bbAt the risk of hitting you with too much to do with The Golden State, a song as well-known as this one simply has to make the list.  After all, it is not only one of the Boys’ most famous songs, but both The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone has listed “California Girls” on their (separate) lists as One of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  The tune was primarily written by lead singer Brian Wilson during his first LSD trip, but that in itself isn’t the most intriguing part of the song; we’ve all probably heard it played countless times, but I’m not sure that most of us realize what the song is actually saying. The song’s hook, “I wish they all could be California girls,” is most easily interpreted as the band professing how much they love their home-state gals and how much they would like all the girls of the world to be just like their West-Coast versions.  But maybe – just maybe – the true meaning of the song is the exact opposite; what if the Boys are really indicating that they don’t like the ladies in their area, that every other part of the globe has far more awesome girls and the band wishes that all those gals lived closer to them?  The lyrics in the rest of the song certainly are confusing, as some verses sing the praises of females in other geographical regions but other lines profess the band’s love to get back home to “the cutest girls in the world.”  So, which is it?  Well, according to separate interviews with Wilson and Mike Love, it’s a little of both; says Love in a 1992 interview for Goldmine, “We’d been to Hawaii, we’d been to Australia. We’d been all around the [world] and I just thought the neat thing about the United States was that all these girls from all over the world were living here. And that was the premise of the song. Some people confuse it with thinking that we were extolling the virtues of simply California girls but if you listen to the lyrics it’s about girls from all over the [country].”  So, there you go – USA!  USA!

77 Facts that Sound Like Lies but Are Actually True!

So, today is April 1st, a.k.a. April Fool’s Day, a.k.a. The Day the Internet Explodes with Purposely-Fabricated Lies.  I feel like today is the perfect opportunity, then, to instead bombard you with facts that are 100% positively true, but they sound so ridiculous that some people might not believe ‘em anyways.  But I DO promise, all of this stuff below factually checks out and is the honest-to-goodness truth!  Culled from the ever-popular BuzzFeed, here are some tidbits that might just blow your mind:

1. If you put your finger in your ear and scratch, it sounds just like Pac-Man.

 

2. The YKK on your zipper stands for “Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha.”

3. Maine is the closest U.S. state to Africa.

4. Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barbara Walters were born in the same year, 1929.

5. The name Jessica was created by Shakespeare in the play Merchant of Venice.

6. Cashews grow like this:

7. And pineapples grow like this:

hiyori13 / Via Flickr: hiyori13

8. Cleopatra lived closer to the invention of the iPhone than she did to the building of the Great Pyramid.

9. Russia has a larger surface area than Pluto.

10. Saudi Arabia imports camels from Australia.

11. Hippo milk is pink.

12. The toy Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.

13. Woody from Toy Story has a full name too — it’s Woody Pride.

14. And while we’re at it, Mr. Clean’s full name is Veritably Clean.

15. Oh, and Cookie Monster’s real name is Sid.

16. Carrots were originally purple.

17. The heart of a blue whale is so big, a human can swim through the arteries.

18. Vending machines are twice as likely to kill you than a shark is.

19. Home Alone was released closer to the moon landing than it was to today.

20th Century Fox

20. Oxford University is older than the Aztec Empire.

21. Not once in the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme does it mention that he’s an egg.

22. France was still executing people with a guillotine when the first Star Warsfilm came out.

23. Armadillos nearly always give birth to identical quadruplets.

24. Betty White is actually older than sliced bread.

Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for TV Land

25. The unicorn is the national animal of Scotland.

26. A strawberry isn’t a berry but a banana is.

27. So are avocados and watermelon.

28. New York City is further south than Rome, Italy.

29. North Korea and Finland are separated by one country.

Via rsf.org

30. Mammoths went extinct 1,000 years after the Egyptians finished building the Great Pyramid.

31. There are more fake flamingos in the world than real flamingos.

32. Nintendo was founded as a trading card company back in 1889.

33. The man who voiced Fry on Futurama, Billy West, also voiced Doug onDoug.

34. The last time the Chicago Cubs won the baseball World Series, the Ottoman Empire still existed.

35. And lollipops had not yet been invented.

36. And women did not have the right to vote in the United States.

37. If you shrunk the sun down to the size of a white blood cell and shrunk the Milky Way Galaxy down using the same scale, it would be the size of the continental United States.

38. John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States, has a grandson who’s alive today.

39. Will Smith is now older than Uncle Phil was at the beginning of The Fresh Prince.

40. The show the The Wonder Years aired from 1988–1993 and covered the years 1968–1973. Today, in 2014, if one were to make a similar show, it would cover the years 1994–1999.

41. Humans share 50% of their DNA with bananas.

42. Duck Hunt is a two-player game. Player two controls the ducks.

Nintendo

43. The difference in time between when Tyrannosaurus Rex and Stegosaurus lived is greater than the difference in time between Tyrannosaurus Rex and now.

44. One more fact about the Cubs: The last time they won the world series, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, and New Mexico were not yet states.

45. Speaking of Alaska — it’s simultaneously the most northern, the most western, and the most eastern state in the U.S.

46. Pluto never made a full orbit around the sun from the time it was discovered to when it was declassified as a planet.

47. A thousand seconds is about 16 minutes.

48. A million seconds is about 11 days.

49. A billion seconds is about 32 years.

50. And one trillion seconds is about 32,000 years. A trillion is a lot.

51. But the good news is: Honey never spoils. You can eat 32,000-year-old honey.

52. There are more stars in space than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth.

53. And there’s enough water in Lake Superior to cover all of North and South America in one foot of water.

54. There are more public libraries than McDonald’s in the U.S.

55. For every human on Earth there are approximately 1.6 million ants. The total weight of all those ants is approximately the same as the total weight of all the humans on Earth.

56. An octopus has three hearts.

57. Mario hits blocks with his hand, not his head.

58. The CEO of Food For The Poor is named Robin Mahfood.

59. One in every 5,000 babies is born with a condition known as “imperforate anus.”. This means the baby is born without an anus and has to have one created manually in the hospital.

60. You can’t hum while holding your nose.

61. It rains diamonds on Saturn and Jupiter.

62. Also, this is what Jupiter would look like if it were as close to us as the Moon is:

63. And this is what sand looks like under a microscope:

Courtesy of Dr. Gary Greenberg / sandgrains.com / Via sandgrains.com

64. If a piece of paper were folded 42 times, it would reach to the moon.
65. The pyramids were as old to the Romans as the Romans are to us.

66. If you dug a hole to the center of the Earth and dropped a book down, it would take 42 minutes to reach the bottom.

67. There is 10 times more bacteria in your body than actual body cells.

68. And 90% of the cells that make us up of aren’t human but mostly fungi and bacteria.

69. Every two minutes, we take more pictures than all of humanity in the 19th century.

70. Peanuts are not nuts. They grow in the ground, so they are legumes.

71. Turtles can breathe out of their butts.

72. The dot over an “i” is called a “tittle.”

73. There are more atoms in a glass of water than glasses of water in all the oceans on Earth.
74. The probability of you drinking a glass of water that contains a molecule of water that also passed through a dinosaur is almost 100%.
75. At the time the current oldest person on Earth was born, there was a completely different set of human beings on the planet.
76. And at the time you were born, you were briefly the youngest person in the entire world.
77. And, finally, “dog food lid” backwards is “dildo of God.”

The Phenomenon of Show Choir

Long before there were any “Gleeks,” there existed a special breed of teenager I call the Show Choir Nerd.

glee2The TV show Glee, for those unfamiliar, is a fictional series all about show choir, or at least something that represents the Hollywood-embellished version of show choir.  Glee has been nominated for numerous awards and received high praise from both critics and fans (who prefer to be called the aforementioned “Gleeks”), and is still going strong in its fifth season on the Fox network.  Five years is nice and all, but hey TV executives – try keeping the show choir passion going for 40 years, and then we’ll talk about what it really takes to embody the show choir experience.

Why 40 years?  Even though it may seem like a random number, 40 years ago, at a little catholic high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the first show choir competition in the nation (most likely the world) was held.  How do I know this little bit of trivia?  Well, I wasn’t there…but my Dad was.  As a founding member of the Bishop Luers H.S. Minstrels, he was there when the choir’s director, Father Fred Link, had the revelation: why not get choirs together to perform in front of judges and fans?  The feedback the judges give would help the groups get better and enhance the experience for all involved.  So, on a chilly Saturday in February of the 1973-1974 school year, seven swing choirs (as they were known at the time), invited to the competition by Father Link, performed on a tarp-covered gymnasium floor at Bishop Luers, in front of a grandstand full of raucous fans.  The show choir Invitational was officially born.

And, in case you were curious, that night the Marion, IN, 26th Street Singers became the first show choir Grand Champions ever, and they would return to successfully defend that title the following year before the Carmel, IN Ambassadors went on a four-year Grand Champion run from 1977-1980.

ShowChoir3I currently serve as half of the Masters of Ceremonies duo for the Bishop Luers Midwest Show Choir Invitational, alongside the amazing Mr. Larry Bowers, who is marking his incredibly-impressive 38th consecutive year as Invitational MC this year.  The competition takes place this coming weekend, and every year at the Invitational I am reminded first-hand how much hard work, time, and effort goes into every facet of show choir, most prominently from the immensely talented and dedicated students that participate in the choir, band, and technical crews.  As a four-year member of the Bishop Luers Minstrels myself from 1992-1996, I know first-hand the long hours of rehearsal, fund-raising, travel, performance, and anxiety that comes standard with being a show choir member.  I also know it’s an enormously rewarding experience, one that I will truly treasure and remember for the rest of my life.

So to all you show choir members out there that are reading this, whether you’re a singer/dancer, handle an instrument or the equipment, and are a current or alumni member: THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS.  Thank you for your hard work and dedication to keep this amazing culture alive and well, and congratulations on all of your successes, whether they come in the form of trophies or simply the satisfaction of knowing that you stood tall and performed to the best of your abilities.  NO ONE can take any of this away from you, and NO ONE except other show choir members will truly understand the feelings of pride and accomplishment you can carry with you.  No matter how much of a “Gleek” they are.

ShowChoir2So stand tall and be proud, Show Choir Nerds.  Wear the title as openly as so many wear the title of being a “Gleek.”  Like I said above, the difference between a “Gleek” and a Show Choir Nerd is an important one: “Gleeks” watch the amazing-ness that is the show choir experience onscreen.  Show Choir Nerds get to live it.

It’s good to be a Nerd.

 

 

Photo Credits (from top)

The Sedalia News-Journal (sedalianewsjournal.com)

The Fox Network (Fox.com)

The Findlay First Edition (findlayfirstedition.org)

The Homewood Star (thehomewoodstar.com)

 

Theater Review: “Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical”

Dare to be different, I always say.

I love to actively seek out and experience the unique, the quirky, the off-the-beaten-path type of stuff, especially in the world of fine arts and entertainment.  While radio is attempting to shove what they want to be the “next big thing” down the public’s throat, I scour music sites like eMusic, CDBaby, and (to a lesser extent) iTunes, trying to find artists and bands that I actually want to listen to based on my own personal preferences, not what someone else is telling me to do.  I can use wonderful independent or wider-ranging film services like Vimeo or Netflix Instant to find lesser-known movies and hidden gems that aren’t afforded the luxury of national marketing campaigns.  Amazing authors working with a smaller press or self-publishing their work are just a few clicks away from discovery on sites like Smashwords, Goodreads, and of course Amazon.  Finding that singular, largely-unknown and under-rated slice of goodness really makes me feel like I’m privy to something special, something that I can confidently tell others about and proudly say “’I found this first…I found this on my own.”

That’s my feeling in a nutshell about “Debbie Does Dallas,” the stage-musical version of the kitsch-tastic 1970s pseudo-porn movie of the same name.  The iteration I had the pleasure to witness is currently running on stage here in Indianapolis, at Theater on the Square on Mass Ave.  The fine folks at TOTS are no strangers to pushing the envelopes with their shows, as I having at one time performed in a TOTS production while being on stage in nothing but a dance belt, a well-placed marijuana leaf, and a smile, can directly attest to.  “Debbie” tells a familiar tale: a young, bright-eyed and innocent youth goes on a voyage of self-discovery and personal change while trying to follow a dream.

The only difference between “Debbie” and Shakespeare, really, is that Debbie’s dream is to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, the “’personal change”’ she and her fellow high-school cheerleaders go through is more related to hormones than anything else, and their voyage of self-discovery is just that, in the most literal and physical sense.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, both the show and the cast are clearly having a great time letting loose in front of the audience.  The content itself is intrinsically cheesy and entertaining – the story is firmly entrenched in the free-wheelin’ 1970s and there’s no getting around it – but it’s the surprisingly nuanced performances by the cast that really bring the show’s irresistible charm to life.  Performing live comedy, especially the goofy, out-of-your-natural-element kind, is incredibly hard to do, and the actors and actresses in “Debbie” all shine in their own ways, playing to their characters’ singular quirks.

In the title role of Debbie, Emily Bohannon exudes the perfect balance of innocence and a growing understanding of sexuality and how the world revolves around it.  She’s cute as a button, unequivocally likable, and effortlessly carries the weight of most of the show’s musical numbers (it seems the show’s creators focused what little musical numbers there were primarily on the lead character, although the second act does feature some fun tunes for the entire cast to perform).  Maria Meschi plays Lisa, Debbie’s “frenemy” co-cheerleader; she does a fantastic job of playing a subtly evil high school girl, and she also gets the chance to show her vocal prowess in a second-act solo.  As Roberta, Linda Heiden absolutely nails the classic ditzy-cheerleader persona from top to bottom, and Andrea Heiden and Betsy Norton round out the cheerleading squad with excellent play off of each other as blissfully-unaware almost-lesbians.

My, what a large…loofah you have.

There are guys in the show, too.  Zachary Joyce portrays Rick, Debbie’s boyfriend and star high school quarterback; Joyce plays the role to spot-on perfection, presenting (physically and mentally) as the typical ‘70s porn-star leading man, replete with awesome moustache and an odd indifference to getting into sexytime situations with both guys and girls.  Ryan Dunn and Rich Tunnell both play double-duty as H.S. football players and a variety of other male-adult characters, with Dunn earning a special mention for playing a host of random but always-entertaining personas.  Rounding out the cast is Carl Cooper, who seems right at home in the finest of retro clothing as he also plays multiple roles of the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, a seemingly-innocent candle-store owner, and a not-so-innocent older man who first turns the girls on to the fact that “Teen Services” can mean a lot more than a simple innuendo.

The true mastery of the cast’s performance lies not in the “main” moments of dialogue and music, but in the small moments of comedy and “subtle” acting in between their words and when the primary attention of the audience is supposed to be directed to a different part of the stage.  Bohannon, Dunn, Joyce, and Linda Heiden particularly excel in this area, and it is this attention to detail and dedication to “acting through the end of the scene” that helps create a totally enjoyable experience for this show.

Choreographed with chintzy aplomb by Erin Cohenour (special mention to the tap-dancing glory of the song “The Dildo Rag”) and directed with a zealous embrace of all things tacky by Andrew Ranck, “Debbie Does Dallas” is a show that should certainly make you laugh and – pardon the innuendo – make you want to come again and again.  If porn mustaches were a rating system, this would be a 5-’stacher for sure.  Yes, it’s an adult-themed show, but with this knowledge beforehand, you can obviously make your own choice to either relax and have fun with it, or simply pass on seeing it if you’re that concerned about what the ladies at the Bridge Club might think.  Personally, I highly recommend the first option, and then tell the card-playing ladies to lighten up and enjoy life a little bit.

Tickets, performance information, and more can be found on the Theater on the Square website.

The End of Ma(y)berry

Hello everyone! I’m out of town at a friend’s wedding this weekend, so I’m going to “phone it in” a little bit in regards to my blog posting this week (ironic, since I’m actually writing this ON my phone!).

So, here is an excerpt from the beginning of the guest review on The GORE Score from NY Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry. To read the full review, skate on over to http://www.thegorescore.com Enjoy!

Guest Review by Jonathan Maberry

Hello all!

I’m delighted to be a guest reviewer here on the G.O.R.E. Score.  And thanks to Tony Schaab for the weirdness that is MAY-Berry Month here on the site.  There are some disturbed individuals associated with this site—staff and readers; but luckily various forms of treatment are available.
 
Instead of reviewing a single book (as I was invited and, dare I say, expected to do), I decided to provide my MUST HAVE list for best horror reading and viewing. These are the horror works I feel have great enduring merit and laid the groundwork for the best of today’s creepy storytelling.  It’s not a complete list by any stretch, but for me, all of these are 10/10.  There isn’t a weak one in the bunch.

Author by day, DJ by night, pop culture nerd in between

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