St. Louis Renaissance Faire 2015

st-louis-renaissance-fair-2

                I have been to the St. Louis Renaissance Faire when it was cold and rainy. I have been there on gorgeously sunny days with no humidity. There were also times when the heat and humidity were so high people walking past left vapor trails. Traditionally we go on Memorial Day weekend and this year was no exception.

But regardless of the weather we always have a great time!

The day started off cool but got hotter and more humid by the mid-afternoon. Since that is also the time the crowds get bigger it makes for a stuffy and claustrophobic time. But by then we are ready to go home and the heat and crowds only confirm our decision!

The Faire’s website is here: http://www.stlrenfest.com/info.html. It runs weekends this year through June 16th and is described on their website as:

The St. Louis Renaissance Faire is a long-standing event that brings you the adventure, excitement, and spirit of the Renaissance!

Travel back in time as you step into the beautifully wooded, 16th century French village we call Petit Lyon! Thrill to the exploits of Jousting Knights on thundering steeds. Roam the village shoppes for unique crafts as our artisans demonstrate period skills like blacksmithing and woodworking. Delight in comedy, music, magic, and more on our nine stages of non-stop entertainment! Feast on delicious food and drink from the far reaches of the globe, and interact with the colorful villagers, nobles, peasants and characters of ages past!

Children will love the petting zoo, games, and daily free activities. Adults will enjoy beer, wine, and mead at our three thematic pubs! There is truly something for everyone at the St. Louis Renaissance Faire! Huzzah!

(they might want to update this as they have not had the petting zoo for a handful of years now…)

Traditionally my wife and I attend the Faire to listen to and watch 3 Pints Gone perform. They are a trio of musicians who play Celtic traditional folk songs: Bill Masino, Kathleen Masino and Jesse Linder. Their latest CD is called “It’s About Bloody Time!”

3 pints

             Jesse, just so you know, is my wife’s brother. In past years we spent most of our time watching them perform and wandering the Faire between sets. This year and last my sister and her family went with us and we wandered more of the Faire grounds with our daughter and their four children. Our daughter Abby beamed with happiness playing with her cousins as well as cheering on her Uncle Jess!

Another set of friends joined us at the Faire for the first time this year – the same friends who joined us at Wizard Con two days before! We coincidentally arrived at the front gate at the same time, saw them several times during the day and coincidentally saw them at the gate when we left! They also had a wonderful time!

But back to the kids: there was a lot for them to do! Abby’s favorite was the pony rides. She spends the rest of the year looking forward to the pony rides! Oh god how she goes on about the pony rides. Always with the pony rides…

pony

               One booth we enjoyed allowed children to blow bubbles, dress up in renaissance outfits for pictures, and play tic tac toe and ring toss. They also had a large sandbox. Ooo, my daughter and her cousins loved the sandbox. It was a nice place for the parents to sit and rest while the kids played.

sand

               Once again the Faire had the Quest for the youngsters. The take their quest sheet to various vendors or performance areas where they are given a stamp. Fill in all the stamps (about twelve or so) and at 2:30 the king will knight the boys and the queen will make the girls a princess! They each receive an official scroll with their title!  Fun for the kids but also fun for us OCD adults looking for the special sign in front of the participating shops and areas!

quest

               It was a nice way to get shy boys and girls to go up and ask for a stamp and to learn to say “please” and “thank you”. Everyone was very friendly to the kids, although one booth tried to sell our two girls into buying something. “Only two dollars,” the lady said, not realizing our five-year-olds were still oblivious to the concepts of money and purchase of things … we thanked her and left. That’s not the nice fairy pictured, just so you know…

Throughout the Faire, performers dressed as various types of fey gave the children small colorful stones. They could trade the stones in for necklaces and bracelets at the fairy grove. My nephew enjoyed his spider ring and my niece traded for a pretty bracelet. My daughter got a shell necklace. It took some doing – at first she preferred to keep the shiny stones!

Photos of past Faires are available for public viewing on my Facebook page. Because of the children with us the more recent years are for Friends only. I’m sure you will understand. If you don’t, go get bent …

I kid …

While I’m thinking about it … no, no I don’t …

We like to go during Memorial Day weekend but this was the first time we attended on the day itself. They have a touching ceremony for fallen soldiers every year on the jousting tournament grounds that most of the performers try to attend. The royal cast was there (the king and queen and their entourage who roam the Faire grounds and greet visitors all while in character) and singers from various groups were asked to do the national anthem (ours, not renaissance-era France’s – if they even had one). On this day the singers were asked to meet at 1:50, but by then the ceremony had begun and they were unable to sing. So they met on the stage where 3 Pints Gone performed at 2:00 and sang it there instead!

national anthem

               Some performers and booths were unavailable this Monday of Memorial Day. But there were plenty of renaissance-themed items for sale – clothing, gear, jewelry, and more artwork than I remembered being sold in the past. Lots of fantasy-themed items, too: dragon puppets and the like. The food vendors were my favorite this time out. I was hungry! Bison burgers, brats and nachos for the kids. Hard cider took the edge off the heat, but later in the afternoon nothing tasted better than bottled water!

I was glad to find Raymond Edge at his usual booth. I complimented him on his trilogy of books I bought last year. He has a new one out now – a memoir of Saint Nicholas! I may buy that next year (Wizard Con tapped me out for the next few months!). I asked him about his planned fourth book in his series and he said it might be out this time next year – he had to stop the fiction to write a textbook. That way he can make some real residuals. Funds before fun!

Perhaps because of the special day I missed some of my favorite local regulars who attend and perform. That is, they either did NOT make it to this third day of a three-day weekend or I simply couldn’t find them.

Aaron Rabe, who does a pitch-perfect Captain Jack Sparrow was likely too busy at that weekend’s St. Louis Wizard Con to perform and I also missed a few other cosplayers who likely attended the busier Saturday or Sunday.  Having said that, there were lots of people in costume to complement the hired performers.

My nephew especially enjoyed the magician. He performed at the stage usually saved for a children’s story hour. I did not see his act but per the website he was Korso the Magician. I walked past him a few times showing children and adults a few tricks.

We usually ignore the themed weekends – if only because we do not dress up and participate.  My sister’s family looked forward to this weekend’s Highland Fling, but that was set aside for the Memorial Day ceremonies. They have a pirate-themed weekend and an Irish weekend. Last year the performers and cosplaying guests created an impromptu “drow invasion day” where the dark elves attacked! As our daughter and her cousins get older we may pay more attention to these special events.

Watch the Faire’s website for these kinds of specials – and on some weekends if you bring canned goods to donate you can get a discount on tickets! Sweet!

I will see you there next year!

fire! joust performer1 performer2 performer3 plague singers storyteller

Copyright 2015 Michael Curry

 

 

 

 

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Christmas reading: Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien

Christmas Reading: Letters from Father Christmas

tolkien cover

Did you know JRR Tolkien wrote a Christmas book? Well, he did and he didn’t. Taken from Wikipedia:

The Father Christmas Letters, also known as Letters from Father Christmas, are a collection of letters written and illustrated by J. R. R. Tolkien between 1920 and 1942 for his children, from Father Christmas. They were released posthumously by the Tolkien estate on 2 September 1976, the 3rd anniversary of Tolkien’s death. They were edited by Baillie Tolkien, second wife of his youngest son, Christopher. The book was warmly received by critics, and it has been suggested that elements of the stories inspired parts of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

The stories are told in the format of a series of letters, told either from the point of view of Father Christmas or his elvish secretary. They documented the adventures and misadventures of Father Christmas and his helpers, including the North Polar Bear and his two sidekick cubs, Paksu and Valkotukka. The stories include descriptions of the massive fireworks that create the northern lightsand how Polar Bear manages to get into trouble on more than one occasion.

The 1939 letter has Father Christmas making reference to the Second World War, while some of the later letters featured Father Christmas’ battles against Goblins which were subsequently interpreted as being a reflection of Tolkien’s views on the German Menace.

The letters themselves were written over a period of over 20 years to entertain Tolkien’s children each Christmas. Starting in 1920 when Tolkien’s oldest son was aged three, each Christmas Tolkien would write a letter from Father Christmas about his travels and adventures.  Each letter was delivered in an envelope, including North Pole stamps and postage marks as designed by Tolkien.

Prior to publication, an exhibition of Tolkien’s drawings was held at the Ashmolean Museum. These included works from The HobbitLord of the Rings, and The Father Christmas Letters.  The first edition was by Allen and Unwin on 2 September 1976, three years after Tolkien’s death. The Houghton Mifflin edition was released later that year on 19 October. It was the third work by Tolkien to be released posthumously, after a collection of poems and the Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings. Edited by Baillie Tolkien, the second wife of Christopher Tolkien, it includes illustrations by Tolkien for nearly all the letters; however, it omitted several letters and drawings.

When the book was republished in 1999 it was retitled Letters from Father Christmas and several letters and drawings not contained in the original edition were added. One edition in the early 2000s featured the letters and drawings contained in individual envelopes to be read in the manner they were originally conceived to be.

The reception to the first two works published posthumously had been warm, which was subsequently thought to be due to Tolkien’s recent death. The response to The Father Christmas Letters was much more measured and balanced. Jessica Kemball-Cook suggested in her bookTwentieth Century Children’s Writers that it would become known as a classic of children’s literature, while Nancy Willard for The New York Times Book Review also received the book positively, saying “Father Christmas lives. And never more merrily than in these pages.” In 2002, an article in The Independent on Sunday described the work as rivalling “The Lord of the Rings for sheer imaginative joy”.

Paul H. Kocher, whilst writing for the journal Mythprint, suggested that the creatures in The Father Christmas Letters may have been a precursor to those which appeared in Tolkien’s later works such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a view which was shared by Laurence and Martha Krieg in the journal Mythlore.  For example, the 1933 letter features an attack on Polar Bear by a band of goblins.  The Kriegs suggested that the wizard Gandalf may have been developed from Father Christmas

***

tolkien-xmas-letters

I agree. Tolkien’s love of the fantastical and his Middle Earth mythology cannot be avoided in the book. Father Christmas even mentions giving copies of The Hobbit to the children as gifts in the 1937 letter. Elves become more and more prominent as the years progress and the battle with the goblins is an obvious dress rehearsal for things to come.

But the book is filled with whimsy and delight. Remember – this was meant for his children, not for publication.  You can feel the love and humor in every letter. The last letter is even quite sad – Father Christmas admitting that this is likely his last letter to the youngest child.

I did not even know of the existence of this book until a few years ago. I found a copy on Ebay and have read it every year. I found two copies actually – the first printing and a later one with more letters and even photographs of the envelopes he created.

It gives me great ideas for letters from Santa to my daughter!

This work is certainly not as dark and epic as LOTR or even the Hobbit, and the critics are correct – this book can stand proudly on the shelf with those classics!

This book is NOT in the public domain but can be easily found on Amazon or Ebay. Examples of a letter and artwork can be found here: http://www.openculture.com/2013/12/read-j-r-r-tolkiens-letter-from-father-christmas-to-his-young-children.html

tolkien-letter

Cliff House

Top of the World

Near the North Pole

Xmas 1925

My dear boys,

I am dreadfully busy this year — it makes my hand more shaky than ever when I think of it — and not very rich. In fact, awful things have been happening, and some of the presents have got spoilt and I haven’t got the North Polar Bear to help me and I have had to move house just before Christmas, so you can imagine what a state everything is in, and you will see why I have a new address, and why I can only write one letter between you both. It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the N.P.Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down — and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the N.P.Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the N.P.Bear’s leg got broken. He is well again now, but I was so cross with him that he says he won’t try to help me again. I expect his temper is hurt, and will be mended by next Christmas. I send you a picture of the accident, and of my new house on the cliffs above the N.P. (with beautiful cellars in the cliffs). If John can’t read my old shaky writing (1925 years old) he must get his father to. When is Michael going to learn to read, and write his own letters to me? Lots of love to you both and Christopher, whose name is rather like mine.

That’s all. Goodbye.

Father Christmas

On Christmas Eve we are planning on seeing the final Hobbit movie. This will get you in the mood!

Original material copyright 2014 Michael Curry

One Last National Adoption Awareness Month Spotlight – an international icon!

santa

November is National Adoption Month! For this last Spotlight, we focus on a holiday icon!

 Kris and topper

Culled mostly from Wikipedia:

 

In the gloomy city of Sombertown, ruled by the ill-tempered Burgermeister Meisterburger (voiced by Paul Frees), a baby arrives on his doorstep, with a name tag reading “Claus” and note requesting that the Burgermeister raise the child as his own, despite the Burgermeister’s objections. He then orders his right-hand man and lawkeeper Grimsley (also voiced by Paul Frees) to take the baby to the “Orphan Asylum.” On the way there, a gust of wind blows both sled and baby far away, to the mountain of the Whispering Winds. There, the animals hide him from the Winter Warlock (voiced by Keenan Wynn), a powerful wizard who dislikes anyone trespassing his land. The animals then bring the baby to the other side of the mountain to an elf family by the name of Kringle. Led by Tanta Kringle (voiced by Joan Gardner), the elf queen, they adopt the baby and name him “Kris”.  The rest is a holiday classic!

elves

So put one foot in front of the other to get the DVD today!

 

In “serious” literature, L Frank Baum (does the name sound familiar – he wrote books about a certain land that lies somewhere over the rainbow) wrote in “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” that the foundling waif was instead adopted by the fairy/nymph Necile. It’s a great book and I read it every Christmas season (along with “A Christmas Carol”, too).

Necile 

Be sure to visit Abby’s Road on Facebook for more Spotlights including Lance Armstrong, Nancy Reagan, Steve Jobs and Gary Coleman (never thought you’d see those people in the same sentence, did you?)!

 

This is the last blog spotlighting famous adoptees for National Adoption Month! Next month I’ll have more news on Abby’s Road and my new books! Also lots of comic book reviews, a review of the last Hobbit movie and other nerdly goodness!

 

The cover of Abby's Road

The cover of Abby’s Road

“Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped” leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

 

Winner, Honorable Mention, 2014, Great Midwest Book Festival


Abby’s Road is available at Amazon here: 
http://www.amazon.com/Abbys-Road-Long-Winding-Adoption/product-reviews/0692221530/ref=cm_cr_pr_top_recent?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending


at Barnes and Noble here: 
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/abbys-road-the-long-and-winding-road-to-adoption-and-how-facebook-aquaman-and-theodore-roosevelt-helped-michael-curry/1119971924?ean=9780692221532


and at Smashwords here:
 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/457270

 

Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

 

 

 

 

 

My new book is out!

It’s official! My new ebook is out!

One of the problems of becoming a father in his late forties that he DIDN’T expect was watching television with his pre-schooler: “Daddy, can we watch Barney?” “Sure! The Andy Griffith Show is on in a few minutes!” “No Daddy, the purple dinosaur.” “Dino? I LOVE The Flinstones…”
In this sequel – kind of – to his memoir Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped, Michael Curry reviews the television shows his now-preschool daughter has available. It has been forty years since Michael watched children’s television and much has changed … and much has stayed the same.
Told with gentle (and sometimes not so gentle, humor) Michael reviews and comments on over 100 children’s shows aimed at ages 0-5 from the 1960s to the present!
Meet some familiar friends – from Oscar the Grouch to Thomas the Tank Engine – and meet some new ones whose adventures you might be missing!
Whether you are in your 20s or in your 50s or anywhere in between, you may find yourself saying, “I remember that show when I was that age!” or “If I was a toddler I would love this!”
Let’s see what the kids are watching!

It's official! My new ebook is out!</p>
<p>One of the problems of becoming a father in his late forties that he DIDN’T expect was watching television with his pre-schooler: “Daddy, can we watch Barney?” “Sure! The Andy Griffith Show is on in a few minutes!” “No Daddy, the purple dinosaur.” “Dino? I LOVE The Flinstones...”<br />
In this sequel – kind of – to his memoir Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped, Michael Curry reviews the television shows his now-preschool daughter has available. It has been forty years since Michael watched children’s television and much has changed … and much has stayed the same.<br />
Told with gentle (and sometimes not so gentle, humor) Michael reviews and comments on over 100 children’s shows aimed at ages 0-5 from the 1960s to the present!<br />
Meet some familiar friends – from Oscar the Grouch to Thomas the Tank Engine – and meet some new ones whose adventures you might be missing!<br />
Whether you are in your 20s or in your 50s or anywhere in between, you may find yourself saying, “I remember that show when I was that age!” or “If I was a toddler I would love this!”<br />
Let’s see what the kids are watching!</p>
<p>http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/toddler-tv-mich…/1120696982…

Robin Williams, 1951 – 2014

oh captain

O Captain, my Captain! Our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

 ***

Robin Williams’ death affected me more than I can say. He was a comedic genius whose comedy style really struck a chord with me in the 1970s and since. He and I shared a love of Jonathan Winters – I used to emulate Winters’ routine of putting on various hats and improving a bit based on the hat. Robin Williams would do that in his routines, too,

I did not react with this much emotion even with John Lennon – it was just as shocking but I was only a kid of 16 and did not have the maturity yet to realize the tremendous loss we all suffered. George Harrison’s death was sad, but he suffered and his passing was an end to his pain. Bob Hope’s death – well, he lived SUCH a full life his passing, although sad, was not surprising. Anticipated but still not expected.  These were the words my dad used to describe the death of my mother.

I hope Robin Williams’ death brings depression and other mental diseases to the fore. It looks like it already has. Suicide Prevention hotlines are already littering Facebook walls with his photo. If any good can come of his death … let’s hope this will.

 Deepest condolences to his family and friends. And to all of us.

 ***

From USA Today 8/2/14:

Advocates for people with mental illness say they hope Williams’ death will motivate more people to get help for depression, and spur the USA to treat suicide as a public health crisis. Suicide claims more than 38,000 American lives each year — more than the number killed by car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and the rate hasn’t budged in decades, says Jeffrey Lieberman, professor and chairman of psychiatry at New York’s Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

“We know what to do to prevent suicide,” Liebeman says. “We just don’t do it.”

Williams could put a human face on a problem that often gets little attention, Lieberman says.

“He was such a charismatic and beloved figure, that if his death can galvanize our society to act instead of just grieve, it will be a fitting memorial to him.”

Contributing: Liz Szabo

Some numbers on suicide:

– 39,518 people died by suicide in the U.S. (2011)

– 108.3 per day

– 1 person every 13.3 minutes

– 3.6 male deaths for each female death by suicide

Comparison to other highly publicized causes of death per year:

  • Homicide 16,238
  • Prostate Cancer 32,050
  • Motor Vehicle Accidents 35,303
  • Suicide 39,518
  • Breast Cancer 39,520

By age:

Middle age (45-64 years): 18.6 per 100,000,

Elderly: 15.3 per 100,000

Teens (15-24) is 11 per 100,000.

(The rate for middle aged has been increasing and surpassed the rate for elderly a few years ago.)

Source: American Association of Suicidology

The national suicide prevention lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 *** 

Here is an excellent blog describing his thoughts on suicide. I enjoyed it and hope you do to.  I had some trouble getting this hyperlink to load; I hope you do not have such problems. I did NOT receive permission from the blogger to link their post – I hope they don’t mind.

http://m.blogher.com/what-suicide-isn-t-rip-robin-williams

 Williams superman

Michael Curry

The Cockroaches reunite! Plus some thoughts connecting little-known bands, the Wiggles and Fleetwood Mac

The Cockroaches reunite!
Plus some thoughts connecting little-known bands, the Wiggles and Fleetwood Mac
            I was very excited when my wife posted this on my Facebook wall in early April:
This coming June, for the first time in over 25 years, The Cockroaches are reforming their original album line up to celebrate the release of their album catalogue on iTunes. Join Anthony, John and Paul Field, Jeff Fatt, Phil Robinson, Tony Henry and Peter Mackie for one of two shows! All tickets $30 and on sale Monday (April 14) at Midday!Dee Why RSL – Saturday June 14. For tickets, call (02) 9454 4000 www.deewhyrsl.com.au

Rooty Hill RSL – Friday June 27. For tickets, call (02) 9625 5500 www.rootyhillrsl.com.au

Tickets on sale Monday, Midday…Hey let’s go, let’s go!

***
            Before I tell you about the Cockroaches, let me tell you about the Wiggles.  My daughter, then three, watched the Wiggles at her babysitter. About a year ago, I do not remember the exact momentous date, we found some Wiggles on our TV through Youtube.
            I walked in to the living room and my wife and child were watching a show with grown men wearing long-sleeved yellow, blue and red shirts, black boots and black trousers with pant legs only going to their upper ankles.
            “You’re watching the original Star Trek?”
            Then a fellow in a purple shirt walked on the screen. Purple? No one on Star Trekwore purple. At least until The Next Generation – when Troi wore purple. He’s a Betazoid? Oh great. “Captain, I sense hostility!” “Yes, Counselor. That explains why they opened fire on us…”
            No, no, explained my wife. This is the Wiggles.
            I had heard of the Wiggles – I knew they were a children’s show that did songs and danced and such. They were mentioned in a radio DJ’s rant: “Flav-a-flav and the Wiggles will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before Rush and Foreigner will”. (I know, I know, Rush was inducted in 2013. Too little too late, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…)
            I watched and enjoyed the shows. We Tivoed more shows and enjoyed them too. By the time we got into the Wiggles, they had over twenty years of children’s entertainment under their belts.
            By summer of 2013 the Wiggles were #1 on my daughter’s Hit Parade, trumping even Barney in the “What would you like to watch” category.
            We looked up all we could on the Wiggles. We want to know what our kid is watching – we did the same with Barney and with newer shows she’s watched. Who stars in them? What else did they do? We don’t want her to watch a bunch of weirdoes or a show just out to sell toys. 
            I made a wonderful discovery in my research. The Wiggles grew out of a rock group called the Cockroaches. That sounded familiar, I said. I googled it and found the video to their biggest hit “She’s the One” and another for “Permanently Single”.
            “I remember those songs!” But how? It was a hit in Australia in 1987 and 1989 respectively, which meant it hit the US in 87 or 90. Could I have seen their videos on MTV? No, I had stopped watching it by that time.
            During the late 80s/early 90s I was in law school but also working at a college town radio station in southern Illinois as a DJ.  I’ll bet we had the albums at the station (well, CDs by that point), but we didn’t play them. We were beginning the format now known as “Classic Rock”. This meant our playlist stopped at 1982 or so. It’s all the rage now – we were ten years ahead of our time at being twenty years behind the times.  We wouldn’t even play new songs by established artists.
            So there was no way we’d play new songs by new artists. We received a lot of big hair metal bands’ CDs  – all in the hopes that some station might play a song or too. One CD we received was the first album of LA Guns – they eventually got to be a pretty big group!
            We must have received Cockroaches CDs, too. I liked their style of power pop better than the barrage of metal sent to the station.
            By now other contemporary Australian groups had some hits in the US – Crowded House and Midnight Oil, for example.  I know, I know. Midnight Oil had been around for many years before the mid-to-late 1980s. I’m being Americentric here, haha.
            As is usually the case, once one band opens the door, others jump on the bandwagon. Especially in US markets. In the early 1990s you couldn’t swing a pair of ripped jeans without hitting yet another grunge band from Seattle.
            Australia is the same. “Like Crowded House? Listen to THIS” a sample  CD would boast. When Henry Lee Summers’ album debuted, he was billed as “not just another tall, lanky kid from Indiana” in a clunky attempt to attract John (then Cougar) Mellencamp fans.  The irony here is that Mellencamp is anything but tall and lanky.
            I cannot confirm ANYWHERE on the internet whether the Cockroaches’ CDs were released in the states, or even if their CDs were pushed by marketers to radio stations. But how else would I have known about them?
            The Wikipedia entry for the Cockroaches – telling us their entire history – is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cockroaches
            A brief synopsis: the Cockroaches numbered among them three brothers with the last name of Field.  One of the Field’s daughters died of SIDS. The band broke up shortly after that tragedy. The fun had gone out of it. I don’t blame them.
            One Field brother, Anthony, went to college and got his degree in Pre-School education. My sister has that degree too. Of the 500 or so students, there were five men. Three of those five men decided to try an experiment. Since they were all of a musical bent, why not try to make music for children that would excite and interest them and not talk down to them?
            And in the past year our house has dozens of their DVDs (some rented from the library), CDs, and ticket stubs to their live show. You can read about my review of their St. Louis concert here:    http://michaelgcurry.blogspot.com/2013/09/were-off-to-see-wiggles-review-of.html
***
            However I came to love their music; I am not surprised I am a fan. A big fan. Beatles aside, I have always been a fan of lesser-known artists. There is so much music out there – to limit yourself to a few musicians or groups is ridiculous. It is, however, the basis for most radio station programming now (I have blogged about the desolate state of radio: http://michaelgcurry.blogspot.com/2013/08/i-finally-bury-long-dead-friend-begin.html). It’s sad to think of all the music people are missing while listening to “Taking Care of Business” for the thousandth time. 
            Instead of the Rolling Stones I listened to Badfinger. Instead of Eric Clapton I listened to JJ Cale (so did Clapton for that matter). Instead of listening to Springsteen I listened to John Prine (so did Springsteen …). I loved the Stones and Clapton and Springsteen; but I loved Badfinger, Cale and Prine more. They needed it more.
            That may be why I liked the Cockroaches so much. While the other DJs were oohing and aahing over the latest metal CD, here was a group making party-rock music. Here are two links to two of the You Tub hits: She’s the One (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1wzFeCJ2dc) and Permanently Single (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKBUl_wzi8o).
            Permanently Single is especially baffling. It barely charted in Australia (#87 in the charts); I doubt it would have been pushed in the US.
            How on earth do I know about this music?
***
            But wouldn’t it be fun to watch them reunite for a couple of shows? It’s not like they’ve been out of practice. Anthony seems to have stepped up his musicianship with the Wiggles – with the new members HE is the one playing guitar instead of Murray. He also continues on the drums and, according to his autobiography, is proficient on many instruments.
            His brothers Paul & John are also involved in various Wiggly escapades – John writes many of their songs and Paul produces songs and videos and acts more or less as their spokesman and manager. They recently formed The Field Brothers and released an album of country music 1964. http://www.thefieldbrothers.com.au/
            Check out some Youtube videos of their live performances – including a countrified version of “Permanently Single”. The Field Brothers have a Facebook page, too.
            This is the last entry on their Facebook page: “Don’t forget! For the first time in over 25 years, The Cockroaches are reforming their original album line up and more to celebrate the release of their album catalogue on iTunes in June. “
            Unlike the original news release quoted earlier, this kind of statement riles me. It’s not the original line-up; it is the most popular line-up.       Notice the press release says “album line-up” which is more correct.
            This may just be my hang-up but usually when a band has its “original line-up”, it doesn’t.
            Fleetwood Mac is reuniting and touring for the first time in many years and I see that phrase bandied about: original line-up. How is that possible, I ask, when Peter Green is dead? Huh, some people ask? Sigh. The ORIGINAL line-up for Fleetwood Mac was Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. The band’s original name was Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. They were all part of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and splintered off into their own group and had a few hits (including “Black Magic Woman” – they wrote it but it became the signature tune for Santana).
            This Fleetwood Mac that is reuniting and touring is certainly the most successful line-up (Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood) – their songs are the ones constantly repeated on the radio. But theirs weren’t the first line-up to be successful!
            My favorite line-up for Fleetwood Mac was the one before Buckingham and Nicks joined. This included Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch (who were replaced by Buckingham and Nicks – never that simple, Kirwan left and was replaced by Bob Weston for one album, the group with Welch made one more album after that then he left, etc. …). Their hits included “Hypnotized”, “Heroes are So Hard to Find”, “Bare Trees” and “Sentimental Lady” – a later solo hit for Welch.  You NEVER hear these tunes on broadcast radio. I like this line-up better than the reunited one.
            But that’s just the way I am. Instead of Fleetwood Mac, I listened to Fleetwood Mac.
            If you think about it – there are some groups that did better with a second line-up then their “originals”. The Moody Blues pop to mind. They had a few hits (“Go Now” and “Do Wah Diddy”, but when Justin Heywood and John Lodge joined, their work went into the stratosphere! They’re still touring!
            The Eagles were very successful with their original line-up; their later line-up was HUGELY successful, but their earlier incarnation had plenty of hits, too.  The Eagles are another group that people tout as the “original line-up” going on tour or recording. Umm, no. If Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt are there, it’s not the original line-up.  It’s a GREAT line-up, but not the original …
***
            Back to the Cockroaches…
            So here’s my plan – we can fly to Sydney on Thursday, get there Saturday (damn that international date line), go see the show on the 14th (I am unavailable the other date), fly back Sunday morning and land home Sunday night (bless that international date line) and back to work Monday – only two days off!
            Airline tickets for two adults and one child is just over $6,000.00. Add in the cost of the show, food at the airports and elsewhere, a quick overnight stay in a hotel and we’re talking about $7,500.00. To see a band that had no hits in the US and only one top ten song in their native Australia. I should start saving now.
            Maybe Lachy and Emma can babysit during the show. I’ll have to post my request on their Facebook page. I wonder how much their charge? They’ll have to email me their references, of course …
 
 
 
Original Material Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry
             


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The Ten Worst Christmas Songs of All Time

The Ten Worst Christmas Songs of All Time

                I finished my list of the best Christmas songs of all time (see prior blog). It is only natural to follow up with the worst Christmas songs of all time. My jaw is already clenching thinking about these overblown, overplayed and overdramatic pieces of tripe.
                Funny that, with a few exceptions, this list isn’t composed of individual performances but the songs in general – or at least in the way they are usually performed. So you won’t see individually bad tunes by New Kids on the Block (“Funky Christmas”), John Denver (“Daddy Please Don’t Get Drunk for Christmas”) or the Clay Aiken masterpiece of drivel “Merry Christmas with Love” on the list. And besides, those don’t get much airplay anyway.
                I’m sorry if you like any of the songs on this list. I am truly sorry. I am sorry for you and for the people sitting next to you as you play the tunes and sing along.
 
                These are in no particular order:
 
1.       Little Drummer Boy. What!? Two versions of this song made my Top Ten Best Christmas Songs. True. How then can the song also make my Top Ten Worst Christmas Songs list?  Excellent question. With two exceptions (the Crosby-Bowie duet and the Vince Guaraldi version) this song is performed in the most over-produced and pompous way possible: thick orchestration and operatic voices. Diana Ross’ version is particularly annoying. Even the iconic version by the Harry Simeone Choirale is overwrought at times – although the choir sings it softly and quietly, the “brum-brum” male singers in the background get a bit carried away. The story: a child plays his drum to the baby king. He didn’t bring gold or lavish him with other gifts. He played his drum for him. He played his best for him. It’s the widow’s mite story; it’s the sinful woman from the Book of Luke washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. A humble story should not have full orchestra and choir. Imagine watching a love scene in a movie and the theme from “Jaws” starts playing; or “Psycho” (I’ve been in situations where that is appropriate, though); or “Rocky” (ditto, I am proud to say…). But you get my point here. Pretention has no place in this song. That’s the point of the song.
2.       The Twelve Days of Christmas. The rock-concert-drum-solo of Christmas songs. When the song is on the radio or on a TV special it is a good time for a bathroom break or to go get a snack in the kitchen or vacuum the rugs or go visit a friend or head to the office or take a weekend vacation. It’ll be just wrapping up when you get back. Over long and the “five gold rings” part is usually over-dramatic. Not even the Muppets could salvage this one. Ray Conniff has a good version of the song – if only because his singers race through it and finish it in just under two hours, rather than the standard six. It’s the German opera of Christmas songs.
3.       Christmas Shoes. Things are looking up as to this tear-jerker and garment-render – some stations make a point of saying they will NOT play the song. If the boycott boosts their ratings enough we may never have to hear it broadcast again! The people who poo-poo the derision with arguments that it is a lovely story and shows the real meaning of the holiday are missing the point. Yes it is a wonderful story, but the rest of us think it is as melodramatic as a nineteenth-century vaudeville drama. The kid buying the shoes might as well cross a raging river on patches of ice. With hound dogs chasing him. And his mother’s cancer portrayed by a guy wearing a top hat twirling a long mustache. Videos of the song may as well come with placards telling us when to “Boo” and “Hiss”. Yet every year people talk about how bad the song is and yet every year it is played over and over. All I can say when it comes on the radio is “Curses! Foiled again!”
4.       Mary Did You Know. This isn’t played very often on commercial stations and not very often nowadays even on Christian stations, but it was played and played a lot a decade ago or so. Another song that is usually done with a high level of pomposity and over-production. It doesn’t even have the saving grace of “Christmas Shoes” by being a lovely story. “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou has found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and his kingdom there shall be no end.” Luke 1: 30-33; King James Version – the only real version of the Bible, or as I like to put it, the version Jesus wrote. “Mary Did You Know”? “Yes, yes, I did. But thanks for asking…”
5.       Any Christmas Spoof. This is more of a category of songs rather than one in particular. And I’m talking spoofs, not novelty songs. “The Chipmunk Song”, “…Two Front Teeth” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” – these are novelty songs (although most novelty songs belong on this list too). Spoofs are pre-existing songs with different lyrics – presumably knee-slappingly hilarious lyrics. The most famous of which is “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg …” Two reasons this makes the list – with rare exception spoofs are 1) too long and 2) not that funny. Usually after the first line we get it. The secret to humor is not only surprise but brevity. The aforesaid “Batman smells” is a good example: four lines and done. But most spoofs go on with verse, chorus, verse, chorus. The reactions are as follows: “Ha! Ha! That’s hilarious!” (second verse) “Heh, heh! That’s great!” (second chorus) “Hmm-hmm, that’s funny.” (third verse) “Do you have any big plans for New Year’s Eve?” (third chorus) “Is that song still playing?” There are lots of spoofs to the tune of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” and “The Christmas Song” but the most popular song spoofed is “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It’s the perfect example of why spoofs generally suck: a song that goes on too long being made into a spoof that goes on too long.
6.        Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. And speaking of novelty songs. This inbred ditty usually makes most Top Ten Worst Christmas Songs lists and yet it still constantly airs during the season. Yes, when it came out everyone hyucked it up, whistled between their missing teeth and tapped their web-toed feet. But after the first listen and the first (and last) laugh it is time to stop wallowing so gleefully in its ignorance.
7.       Baby it’s Cold Outside. Or as I like to call it, “The Date Rape Song”. The song has nothing to do with Christmas. Of course, neither does “Jingle Bells”. But then “Jingle Bells” isn’t a song about a misogynist who slips Zolpidem into a lady’s drink and traps her in his house during a winter storm. The song is performed as a dialog between the victim and the rapist, with the victim singing first. Some verses left out of the original version: “Uncuff me at once; Baby it’s cold outside. I’m not going down there; Baby it’s cold outside. Is that a pit?; Baby it’s cold outside. I’m dialing nine-one {whack}{thud}; Baby it’s cold outside…”
8.       Santa Baby is the flip side to “Baby it’s Cold Outside”. A gold digger seduces Santa into giving her diamonds and minks. Even Eartha Kitt’s version comes off as slutty. The male back-up singers sound like those old Warner Brothers’ cartoons where men turn into wolves and drool over pretty women. After the song airs I feel like I need a shot of penicillin. It reminds me of the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit – it’s not a bad song, it’s just written that way.
9.       Grown Up Christmas List is not as pompous as “Mary Did You Know” or as overproduced as “Little Drummer Boy” nor is it as laughably melodramatic as “Christmas Shoes”, but it combines the three into a canny and boring song. “But it’s a wonderful sentiment!” Ho-hum, let’s move onto the next song. It’s even bad at being a bad song.
10.   Wonderful Christmastime. Oh how it pains me to put any song by Paul McCartney on a “worst” list, but let’s face it, the lyrics are banal and the music is awful. McCartney was experimenting with synthesizers at the time (late 1970s) and this was his first attempt at a structured song. He would get MUCH better at it (the following album “McCartney II” with the hits “Coming Up” and “Waterfalls”). The telling factor here is listening to the remakes. They are not very good either. After 45 seconds the song is done and we have to listen to it repeated four or five more times – usually with lots of cheering in between by the back-up singers. “…a wonderful Christmastime.” {gleeful cheers) “Yea! The song it done! Oh, nope, here’s another reprise … the moon is right, the spirit’s up…”
11.   Oh what the heck, one more, after all, it’s Christmas. This Christmas. When it was only done by Wham, it could be duly ignored, but I’ve heard people remake this lame-o tune.  Listen to the lyrics, I mean listen to them. What the heck does this have to do with Christmas? Nothing! If the song included something about “why this time of year” or “being Christmas makes our break-up especially sad”, the song would … well, it would still suck, but it wouldn’t have made the list. There is one line about his love wrapped up and sent. But that connection to Christmas is pretty thin. Try this experiment: next time you hear this song, substitute the word “Christmas” with “Wednesday”. Has the song changed in any way? No.
 
                After listing these I now have to do something to lower my blood pressure. I know, I can go back and read my Top Ten Best Christmas Songs list. Ahhhh … that’s better.
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry


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