Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not really a review: Gypsy 2008 Broadway Cast Recording

After spending about a week and a half listening to Patti LuPone tell me her life story, her life struggles and stage failures and successes in Patti LuPone: A Memoir, I had to get the CD of the 2008 Broadway cast recording of Gypsy - and I'm so glad that I did!

I saw the road show version of this production at the Lied Center for Performing Arts here in Lincoln about a year ago. For as long as I can remember, I have loved the Broadway theater. Never been to Broadway, never been to New York, but from the time that I was about seven years old, I've been blessed by having a lot of Broadway cast albums and soundtracks from movie musicals. Perhaps not so blessed are my friends and family because I immediately learned all of the songs from every one of them and will sing my version of the entire album at the top of my lungs. The problem: I cannot carry a tune. As a friend once said to me, "Such a waste. You know all the words."

It was a while before I discovered that I couldn't sing. Before then, you couldn't stop me. I was in fifth grade and we had just moved back to the 'big city" after living in a small village for five years. In the small town, there weren't many kids, so I always got the leads in the grade school plays, did all of the singing - because I was the only kid in the school who could project - no microphone needed. I was always selected to be the narrator for the performances at school. Why? Because people could hear me in the back row of the auditorium.

So - I get to the big city school (well, big for Nebraska). It was time to decide if I belonged with the sopranos or the altos. The teacher tried me with both groups, and then there were three groups: sopranos, altos and Susan. "And don't sing too loud." Sheesh! My ambitions to star in Broadway musicals was squashed at the age of 9. So - I became extremely proficient at lip syncing! Even now, whenever the people around me are singing The Star Spangled Banner or singing along at a concert, I'm just moving my lips. What a waste! I know ALL the words!

But - to this day, I can still do the opening monologue of Ya Got Trouble from Meredith Willson's The Music ManThat's more talking than singing. I could get away with it if my friends didn't make such a protest! They've heard it many (too many, they will tell you) times.

You know what I miss about all of those vinyl LPs of Broadway cast recordings and movie soundtracks? The cover - the packaging - all of the stories about the performance, the cast, beautiful photographs from the show. Since I'd never seen any of these shows performed in person, I could shut my eyes and let the music help me visualize my version of what was going on in the story: Bye Bye Birdie, The Music Man, West Side Story.

Packaging of CDs has taken away a lot of the magic of vinyl LPs. There was always that feeling of anticipation as I gently removed the cellophane wrap from the album, delicately removing the 12 inch platter from the sleeve. Sometimes there was even something printed on the sleeve. Even if it was an ad for other albums from the record label, I read every word. I read every word on the label - what were the titles of the songs? Who wrote the songs? I devoured all of the liner notes. That's probably why I do so well with trivia games dealing with music. But if the LP was a gatefold and opened up to show me photographs, well, that was pure heaven!

So, a couple days ago, the cast recording of Gypsy arrived. I was looking forward to listening to this version of one the greatest musicals every produced. The jewel case included a 32-page booklet telling all about the story, the music, the costumes, the cast! Oh, my! It just doesn't get any better than this.

Until I put the CD in my player. The live performance I had attended came back to life in my mind as the songs played. Just from the vocals, I can tell why this 2008 revival won so many Tony awards, including one for Miss LuPone. My audio books may have to take a back seat for a few days while I listen to this CD in my car over and over again.

And, alone in my car, I can belt out Everything's Coming Up Roses along with Patti, just as I have done with Ethel Merman for so many years. And I'm not lip syncing, either! Hey - at least I'm not talking on a cell phone while driving.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Not filmed in Nebraska

Just finished watching Extraordinary Measures starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser - a story about a father who has two children suffering from a disease. Ford plays a doctor who does research in a lab on this particular disease.

In the film, Ford is a scientist working at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I think he even came here to shadow a research scientist in preparation for the role. But none of these scenes were filmed at the University of Nebraska - or anywhere else in Nebraska for that matter. A few Husker pennants and "N" signs do not turn a location in the northwest into Nebraska.

I just laughed at the portrayal of the research lab area that was supposed to be the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For one thing, it's not out in the country all by itself. Secondly, you are not going to find a parking lot anywhere near a University building. If you do find one remotely close, the lot is not going to be empty.

The funniest part was right in the beginning when Fraser follows Ford from the lab to a bar which would clearly have to be at least 35 miles from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Apparently some Hollywood filmmaker thinks that all Nebraskans live in the sticks and city folk drive for more than half an hour to a remote bar in the country to get a beer after work. They apparently didn't get that the University is actually located within a city, not a one-block street that houses a John Deere store. This is just too funny for us locals.

There's also a highway sign depicting the distances to Bennet and Lincoln - with the arrows pointing in the wrong direction. Nice one!

But - if that's what the big time Hollywood folks think Nebraska is like, they can just keep putting out that image. We like it here and as long as films keep portraying our state that way and keep out any new people, that's fine with us.

Intergenerational Living can be a blast

For the past six years, I've been the caregiver for my father, now 84 years old. He certainly has his own take on life, which can make life with father quite interesting at times.

Yesterday he sent me to the store to buy a $17.99 telescope. I told him if he wanted to snoop on the neighbors, we have a set of binoculars. At least he knew about the upcoming lunar eclipse, so he's going to try to get the telescope aimed at the right point in the sky. Now that he's in a wheelchair, I kind of feel like we're playing out a scene from Rear WindowOh, I guess Jimmy Stewart was snooping with a long lens on his camera.

For some reason, this week we received two issues of Time magazine with Mark Zuckerberg on the cover. Dad is fascinated with this story and wants to know why we can't make a million bucks since I know so much about computers. "I don't know that much," I replied. He's puzzled as to how Facebook makes money because since it's on the Internet, it's just "out there in the air." I said that I'm on Facebook and it has never cost me a penny. I've seen ads, but I never click on them. "How do they get paid for those ads?" Dad asked. "I don't know. Maybe they give them their credit card number or use PayPal." I have no idea!

He pointed out the photos of all of the buildings that house Facebook. Then he said that more of the Mark Zuckerberg story was available on Kindle. "You've got a Kindle, can you get that?" he asked me. Yes, I replied, but it costs $4.95 (I'd already checked). "Well, I don't want to read it that bad," Dad replied.

The last few years with my Dad have been a treasure. He's not been without health problems (more than his share) - but it's been fun having those dinner table conversations, listening to his stories about his childhood and being in the Navy during World War II. He still has a curiosity about how things work, and still hopes he's going to hit the Powerball lottery. He spends most of his day reading newspapers, books and magazines, so I'm glad he's keeping his mind working. He has his own take on current events and Nebraska football. He seems to know everything going on in the neighborhood from his perch in the kitchen.

He surprises me when he comes up with things like, "Guess how many Grammy awards the Black Eyed Peas are nominated for." He has no idea who the Black Eyed Peas are or what the Grammys are. It's something he's read in the paper and says these things to amuse me. He can always say the most outrageous statements with a totally straight face and I fall for them about half of the time. He has a lot of "Gotcha!" moments with me.

We are Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple. He color coordinates his sock drawer and I'm never caught up on laundry. For him, everything has a place and for me, the place is where it lands. He's the one who has had to make more of an adjustment in that regard than have I. I've often quipped, "If you'd wanted a housekeeper, you should have had a different daughter." I think he's happy with the one he got.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Patti LuPone: A Memoir

For the last couple weeks, my traveling companion has been actress Patti LuPone, star of stage, screen and television.

I love it when an author narrates her/his own audio book. That's what made Kristen Chenoweth's A Little Bit Wicked come alive for me. The same is true of this eight-hour ride with Patti LuPone. I loved having Patti at my side as she told me her life story. And what a life it has been. The star of the revival of Gypsy makes it clear that not everything is coming up roses in the life of a working actress.

My first memory of Patti LuPone is probably when she portrayed Lady Bird Johnson in a made for television movie in 1987 and later as Libby Thatcher on the series, Life Goes On. It wasn't until I listened to this audio book that I learned about some of the other films she has appeared in, as well as her vast experience on stage.

I've often thought that what sets apart the good performers from the great performers is theatrical experience. There's something about actors who are able to develop a character and play the same role night after night after night that helps them become great actors. And Patti puts everything she's got into this audio book. She does not read the book to you, she tells you her story, with all of the frustration, exhilaration, pain and suffering. She screams and yells (when appropriate) for emphasis. Like when talking about her Life Goes On costar Bill Smitrovich or Andrew Lloyd Weber or several others, for that matter.

Patti tells of the auditions, the rehearsals, the disappointments (and were there plenty of disappointments) and the good times. You'd think that scoring the lead in Sunset Boulevard and Evita would be enough. But to hear of all of the conflicts involved in these productions (and others), I could feel Patti's emotional pain. I was ready to wring the neck of Andrew Lloyd Weber by the time I was through. I was glad that the book ended with her appearance in Gypsy, as that really seemed to be one of the many positive theatrical experiences she had.

Even though she doesn't hesitate to say exactly what she thinks, at the end of the book she reflects on all of the positive things that came out of each of the experiences, no matter how good or how bad they were. I like that she holds her own and keeps bouncing back. She is one gutsy lady.

As with most audio books, I hate seeing them come to an end. For anyone with a little bit of greasepaint in their blood, this a great book about the theater.

Five stars

Postscript: I just ordered the CD of the Gypsy revival cast recording.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Paul McCartney is making the rounds

I still don't know why no one in my Beatles network posted anywhere about Paul McCartney appearing on Jimmy Fallon's show last night. Fallon is on my "don't watch" late night list, so this wasn't on my radar until it showed up in my Google news feed this morning.

I do know, however, that Macca will be the musical guest on tonight's episode of Saturday Night Live, which is being hosted by Paul Rudd. It's not the first appearance by a former Beatle on SNL. In fact I wrote about the appearances of former Beatles on SNL in an article, Live From New York: It's the Beatles! My goodness - that was a shocking realization to find out I wrote that 13 years ago and it's still living on Steve Marinucci's AbbeyRd Beatles page.

McCartney was honored last weekend with the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., alongside someone who has admitted she wanted to grow up to marry Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey. The show will be broadcast on CBS on December 28. Check local listings.

Friday, December 10, 2010

As Seen on TV - Stuff I Fell For

It's the shopping season, so that means it is also the season for shopping faux pas. Here are some I'm willing to admit to. And - a couple that turned out okay.

Actually, I've never seen the Kangaroo Keeper advertised on TV. I happened to see this on display when I walked into Walgreen's a couple months ago. I like any type of storage system with drawers, cubbies or pockets so this seemed perfect for me.

About all this did was weigh down my handbag to make it even heavier than it was before. I'm still using it - mainly so I can pull out just about everything and leave the contents in my car while I do my shopping. That strips down my handbag so all it includes is my wallet.

At a price of $19.99, I never would have bought it. Walgreen's price was $9.99, so I didn't think I was out all that much.

Bottom line: I wouldn't buy another one.

Debbie Meyer Green Bags - to help keep your produce last and last and last.

Actually, these work on some products. They do add a couple days' life to ripe bananas. They also help add two or three days to lettuce. The package says you can re-use each bag up to 10 times. I rinse them out between uses, so since several are in the cycle at the same time, I'm never real sure how many times each has been used. I've bought this product three or four times now, but not from TV. These are also available at my neighborhood Walgreen's store.

I did purchase one box of the "plain label" brand and they did not work as well as the Debbie Meyer brand.

Space Bags

Three words: Save Your Money!

These do NOT work. Yep, I was taken in by their infomercial where they suck the air out of the bags so that all of the sweaters and blankets in your closet end up taking only one inch of closet space.

Ha! Within three days the "vacuum sealed" opening was leaking and everything had returned to its full size. It was not just one bag that was a faulty product. I tried everyone that came in the shipment and had the same result with each one.

Microwave Bacon Cooker

This microwave bacon cooker was also a waste of money. I had been using the paper towel method of cooking bacon in the microwave and got tired of having to wipe all of the bacon grease off the glass plate in the microwave oven. I saw this in one of those cheesy catalogs (like Walter Drake). It was about $7.99 plus shipping. I was ordering a few other items, so it probably cost me about $10. I later saw these available along side the bacon at the grocery store.

Four Words: Don't Waste Your Money!

I may have used this five or six times before I threw it away. First of all, it does a lousy job of cooking the bacon. It does not cook evenly. It sticks together while cooking, making it nearly impossible to get the bacon off the rack. This becomes especially dangerous because of all of the hot bacon grease that has accumulated in the drip pan. I'm back to the paper towel method.

George Foreman grill

Now, we're on to a product I absolutely love! I'm actually on my fourth version. The individual size is absolutely perfect for singles. The larger version with removable plates (shown here) is great for couples. It's good for grilling pork chops, burgers, hot dogs and steaks. The removable plates make clean up much easier than on the smaller model. I use this several times a week.

I made the mistake of trying to grill fish on this once and that just did not work out. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but the fish fell apart and stuck to the grill. So - fish goes in the oven now.

Other than that one experience, I've been very pleased with this product.

Bose Wave Radio System with CD changer

Don't tell me that you haven't been tempted to get one of these dynamic sound systems that takes so much less shelf space than your old stereo system and speakers. Since I'm gradually working on downsizing, this appealed to me, but the price always held me back. I finally decided to give it a try because of Bose's "try it free for 30 days" offer.

It arrived. I plugged it in. The sound was muddy and had too much bass. Instruments overpowered the vocal, which always drives me crazy. It was awful. There are no adjustments so you can adjust the treble or bass balance - you're stuck with what Bose thinks it should sound like. I tried it for about 10 days - I really tried to enjoy it because I like the size and how it looked. But the sound sucked.

I followed the instructions for returning the product. I think I had to contact Bose to get a return authorization number or something. The instructions were that I had to return it via UPS and insured for $600. The postage cost me nearly $30 to ship it back. So much for trying it free for 30 days.

As I'm going through all of these crazy products that I've tried over the years, I see this is going to take several posts. These are enough for today. Have I ranted enough yet? Comes Through with Local Book

I certainly believe in supporting local businesses. Sometimes, that is not as easy at is seems. A couple weeks ago, the Lincoln Journal-Star featured an article and photographs from the book A Day at the Lake: A look at Holmes Lake wildlife and Landscapes throughout the year. This city park and lake are just down the street and I take my Dad on a drive-through at least once a week. I grew up spending nearly every weekend at Holmes Lake.

The photographs that I saw from this book included amazing wildlife photos, especially considering this park is located inside the city - there are photographs of red foxes, owls, ducks, geese and other animals you might not expect to see in an urban area.

I have now made four attempts to buy the book locally. On two occasions, I've been to the camera store where copies were supposed to be available. The first time I was told they only accepted checks or cash - no credit cards. So I tried to order directly from the author's web page, but the "Buy With Paypal" hyperlink was non-functional. I went back to the camera store, cash in hand, and was relieved to see a stack of the books behind the counter. Again, I was denied the opportunity to purchase the book because my name "wasn't on the list." I got on the author's web site again, and the PayPal hyperlink is still non-functional.

Enter Google. One of the first hits on the book title took me directly to There was the book for the same price that it would cost locally, if, indeed, your name was on a list. I ordered it from Amazon. Free two-day shipping. No sales tax. My apologies to local government - I was more than willing to purchase this book locally and pay the sales tax to go into local and state coffers. Sometimes, it's a challenge to try to support local vendors when the major retailers make it much easier (and less expensive) for you.

I have no doubt that I will enjoy the photographs of our beautiful city park once it arrives next week. But I do wish I could have made the purchase locally.

My Must Watch Movies of the Season

December seems to be the time of year when I have to pull out some of my favorite movies. You have to realize that once I discover a movie that I really, really, like it achieves cult status in my life. That means I've seen that particular movie no less than 20 times and continue to enjoy it. That means that quotes from the film are sprinkled throughout my daily conversation, quotes such as:

  • I carried a watermelon (yes, this quote has much more significance for me than "nobody puts Baby in the corner.") - from Dirty Dancing
  • Fosse! Fosse! Fosse! Madonna! Madonna! Michael Kidd! Michael Kidd! - from The Birdcage. You probably wouldn't want to be around with a friend and me when this movie is on - we can do the entire script.
  • Who ARE those guys? - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Everything that happens in the world does not happen to you personally - The Way We Were
So, here are the must see films in my personal December Film Festival every year:

Wonder Boys - This features a wonderful ensemble cast including Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Richard Thomas and Rip Torn. How does one even describe this film? Michael Douglas is a former brilliant novelist who is down on his luck and teaching a college in course in writing. He recognizes the amazing talent of student Tobey Maguire. His agent, Robert Downey Jr, flies into town accompanied by his transvestite friend for Wordfest, a confab for writers. The story involves the killing of the blind dog belonging to Douglas' department head, who is married to the head of the college, who Douglas happens to be having an affair with. One of my favorite scenes is where Douglas, Maguire and Downey improv potential character development and plot lines about a man they see sitting in a bar who they name Vernon Hardapple. Another favorite scene is when Maguire rattles off a laundry list of Hollywood suicides - in alphabetical order. Truly, this movie is just about impossible to explain because it is so bizarre. That's why I love it. Bizarre story, great characters and a quite twisted story line. Why is this film on the December viewing list? There's snow on the ground during quite a bit of the film.

The Holiday - This is another ensemble piece starring Jude Law (number one reason I watch this over and over), Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Eli Wallach. It's definitely a chick flick. It's about two women who are distraught in their love lives and careers who decide to exchange their homes for two weeks. Cameron packs up her life in L.A. to stay in the cold wintry and damp English countryside, while Kate leaves her English cottage for a mansion in L.A. They end up meeting their love interests during the switch. And the very special bond that develops between Kate and Eli Wallach, (who plays an Oscar winning screenwriter from the golden age of Hollywood) provides a significant contribution to the story. This is one of those feel good movies of the season - even when I already know how the story ends.

Last Holiday - Another chick flick? This one stars Queen Latifah as a hardworking sales clerk in a department store owned by Timothy Hutton, who becomes the villain in the story. She has a crush on coworker L. L. Cool J (before he hit the little screen in NCIS: Los Angeles). After hitting her head, a cat scan  reveals that she has an incurable, rare disease and only has a month to live. She cashes out all of her financial resources and decides to do all of the wild and crazy things on her bucket list (no, wait, that was a different movie). Latifah's character is lovable and delightful and it's wonderful to watch her develop into the secure and confident woman she becomes. Can't reveal the ending, but if you like sappy chick flicks, this one is for you.

White Christmas - No December Film Festival is complete without White Christmas - another ensemble film (do I sense a theme emerging here?). The cast includes Bing Crosby (of course), Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and a supporting cast of Mary Wickes and Dean Jagger. Released in 1954, it's the story of two old army buddies who become the toast of New York as song and dance men, Wallace and Davis. The Haynes sisters (Rosie and Vera) are night club performers who meet up with the guys, and through a twist of fate wind up at an inn in Vermont, which is run by the guys' former Army general, played by Jagger. The film is a showcase for several songs by Irving Berlin, set to the theme of preparing for a theatrical show to help bring the inn back to life. I've watched this movie so many times that a couple years ago, I just watched the DVD version with the alternate commentary track by Rosemary Clooney. That was enjoyable, except, she would get so engrossed in watching the film, she would go several minutes without offering any commentary!

Christmas in Connecticut - This 1945 film stars Barbara Stanwyck as a magazine writer who has created an entirely fictitious persona that she is a perfect housewife living in the country with her husband and baby. In today's culture, she would have been known as the Martha Stewart of her day. Not at all true - she's actually a New York social gadfly who couldn't even boil water if she had to. To carry out the ruse for her boss, she decides to marry her sometimes companion - that is until serviceman Dennis Morgan shows up on the scene. Hilarity ensues as she tries to keep the farce going. It's a lighthearted and fun film.

That is my December Film Festival - and having seen only Last Holiday so far this year, I'd better get busy watching these movies that are as comfortable as an old pair of flannel pajamas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: Patrick Swayze's The Time of My Life

It's been a few weeks since I listened to The Time of My Life, an audio book narrated  by its author, Patrick Swayze, with audio contributions from his wife and co-author Lisa Niemi.

With Jennifer Grey's recent appearance on Dancing With the Stars, Patrick has been in my thoughts again lately, so it seemed timely to offer my review of the audio version of the book.

Since Patrick had died a few months before I listened to the book, I wasn't sure how I might respond to listening to him tell his story. It is not a sad book - far from it. It's a celebration of Patrick's life - in his own words.

Patrick Swayze actually showed up on my radar screen before Dirty Dancing - he caught my eye in the film Red Dawn, coincidentally, also with Jennifer Grey.

Patrick's story presents the two sides of his personality - the tough athlete and cowboy - and the kid who took ballet lessons. He shares stories of the bullies who picked on him and beat him up for being a dancer. Then his father taught him how to box, then went to school, had the bullies pulled out of class so they could fight with Patrick fair and square. And Patrick proceeded to beat up each one - with the boxing gloves. After that, he was still targeted by guys who wanted to pick a fight with the tough guy.

Patrick's father was called Buddy, and growing up, Patrick was known as Little Buddy. I enjoyed hearing him tell the stories about growing up in Texas, dancing, meeting and falling in love with Lisa. But what I enjoyed the most was his chronological recollections of his film roles, and many of the back stories about making those films.

Not many actors are willing to talk about the roles they never got, but one of the best stories in the book is when Patrick talks about a role that was custom made for him, that had his name written all over it. And it was going to be filming in his neck of the woods - Houston. It couldn't get any better than that. He shares his disappointment in learning that John Travolta got the lead role in Urban Cowboy. Travolta was just coming off the success of Saturday Night Fever, so Patrick was passed over for the role. However, Patrick's mother, Patsy Swayze, a noted dance teacher and choreographer, worked on the film, as did Patrick's wife Lisa. Patrick was working in L.A., but flew home to Houston each weekend. He, Lisa and John became lifelong friends during the filming of that movie.

Patrick addresses the false stories that came about following an airplane accident in which it was reported that he was ditching a bunch of booze on the plane and was piloting the plane while drunk. Tabloid reporting, plain and simple. The truth that never seemed to come out is that Swayze had carbon monoxide poisoning and hypoxia which caused his disorientation upon landing. One of the investigators of the accident told Swayze that he was the only person to have ever suffered hypoxia and lived to tell about it. Very interesting story.

Patrick addresses his fight against pancreatic cancer, the illness that eventually took his life. He fought the illness with everything he had in him.

This is not a sad story - but one of perseverance, hard work and determination. And it's also a love story. Anyone who loved Patrick's work on film will love this book - especially the audio version told in his own voice.

Dick Cavett has more to say in book from blogs

Dick Cavett has more to say in book from blogs

I'm not sure how I managed not to know that former Lincolnite Dick Cavett was writing a blog for the New York Times web site. Of course, I signed on to follow it today.

Cavett's latest book, Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets, has been in my audio book queue for the past month or so, and it's up next in my audio listening, right after I finish listening to Patti LuPone's autobiography (which is wonderful, by the way).

Cavett is one of those former Nebraskans who actually comes back to the state from time to time. This fall, he was honored with induction into the Lincoln High School Athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the 1953-54 gymnastics team. My Dad was inducted into the same Hall of Fame five years ago as a member of the 1943 state championship football team.

Cavett was also here about five years ago for a fundraiser for the Foundation for Lincoln City Libraries. Following a nice banquet, Cavett hosted a Lincoln-based version of the Dick Cavett Show for those in attendance. He interviewed several Lincoln and University of Nebraska dignitaries and even showcased some animals from the Lincoln Children's Zoo. It was a fun evening.

My review of his new book, Talk Show, will be forthcoming.

Bob Kerrey pays tribute to Ted Sorensen

In other "Nebraskans in New York" news, former Governor and Senator (and fellow Northeast High School grad!) Bob Kerrey spoke at a private memorial service for speechwriter Ted Sorensen in New York this afternoon. Among his comments: "I felt guilty that his loyalty to Nebraska had caused him to endorse my poorly organized 1992 presidential campaign rather than Bill Clinton's," Kerrey said. "He did love his home state." (source: Don Walton in the Lincoln Journal-Star).

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of President Kennedy, also spoke at the memorial service for her father's gifted speechwriter.

Sorensen died in New York on October 31. I was fortunate to hear Sorensen speak at the Lied Center for the Performing Arts a couple years ago as part of the E.N. Thompson Forum lecture series. I was glad to have the opportunity to meet him after the speech. This Lincoln High grad was right in the middle of the action during the Kennedy campaign and administration.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Open Letter to the Bearded Fat Guy

Okay, big guy, I was pretty apprehensive of you the first time we met, ya see. I didn't care much for strangers, let alone strangers with white beards who wanted me to sit on their laps. Nuthin' doin'! I didn't want nuthin' to do with you.

But, people told me if I was good, you'd sneak into our house at night at leave me presents. I didn't understand that because, you see, we started locking our doors after a mass murderer started killing off people when I was a little kid.

I didn't want no stranger sneakin' in to our house in the middle of the night, even if he was gonna leave me some presents. But they said I had to leave you some cookies and milk if I ever expected to get anything. So I sat some cookies and milk on my little red stool for you to find.

Well, mister, you did okay for a while, but how could I ever forget the year that the only thing I ever wanted and the only thing I ever asked for was a Tiny Tears doll. Lookin' back, I have no idea what I ever wanted with a baby that peed all the time! Ugh! But, mister, you let me down. What did I get instead? Some clothes and a bible with my name embossed on it. My name embossed on the darn thing, so I couldn't even take it back for an exchange! Where did ya get the idea that I wanted something besides TOYS!?!?!

I was a pretty smart cookie back then and it didn't take me long to figure out there was a bunch of other old coots masquerading as you. I think the grown-ups tried to explain them as your "helpers" because you couldn't possibly be in all of those stores around town at the same time. Well, hey! If you couldn't swing that, how'd you expect me to buy the idea that you were goin' to have enough time to drop off TOYS (remember the TOYS?) to all of the good little boys and girls all around the world. It just didn't add up.

One day at school, Bobby (who's last name shall not be used here, but I know who he is!) told me you weren't for real. By then, I didn't think you were anyway, so I went home and asked my mom straight up, "Is this old coot for real or not?" And she said you weren't for real. Then she told me the story about Kris Kringle and some other hocus pocus stuff to pacify me.

What I couldn't figure out was that grown-ups were always trying to teach us some basic rules of life, like 1) never talk to strangers, 2), don't let any strangers in your house, 3) don't take candy from strangers, 4) you have to work hard and earn money to get the things you want - nothin' in this life is free, and 5) always tell the truth. You remember all that stuff we learned in kindergarten, right?

So what's with the smelly old fat guy? The grown-ups lied to us - they lied to us all! And all these years later, grown-ups are still telling little kids these made-up stories about you. Do they think that little kids are going to forget that Big Lie all that quickly? That our parents lied to us about this old present-giving dude who sneaks into our homes in the middle of the night? There's something in there that just never made a lot of sense to me when I was a kid. Why would grown-ups - our moms and dads - tell us not to tell a lie and then deceive us with a big whopper like this one?

Well, old man, you haven't been a part of my life in a long time and I can't say that I've been any the worse for it. I've learned to say what's on my mind (probably too often), and if I want a present, I've learned to work and save my money so I can get it for myself. I don't need some old bearded sugar daddy to give me what I want.

The only thing left for me to figure out is why I'm writing to someone who I know doesn't exist? Whatever!

Now, can I please get Andy Rooney's job on 60 Minutes?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Recent audio books I've "read"

It seems that I have very limited time in my daily life for reading books, even with my Kindle. So I am a big fan of audio books. It's amazing how quickly I can finish a book with about 40 minutes (minimum) spent in my car each day, plus the time doing errands about town.

Composed - Rosanne Cash

Most recently I finished Composed: A Memoir, by singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash. I've seen Rosanne perform and met her in Nashville about 25 years ago, but I never really knew much about her besides her dad being Johnny Cash and her first marriage being to Rodney Crowell.

I'm not sure she would have even been on my radar screen except that Mom was in love with her song, Seven Year Ache, and we listened to the tape on road trips to the lake.

Even though Rosanne's reading style is just that - reading - she tells a tale of a rather interesting life. Although a world traveler who has lived abroad, she grew up a California girl, now a New York City woman. She speaks lovingly about both her parents and the significant roles they played in her life. Family is obviously very important to her - as a daughter, sister, mother and wife.

I'm pretty sure I will have to buy a couple of her lesser known CDs, including The List (based on songs her Dad told her she needed to know about), and Kings Record Shop.

Rosanne also speaks candidly about her brain surgery and subsequent recovery. I enjoyed this autobiography very much - it provided a lot of insight to her struggle to become a better songwriter and artist.

A Little Bit Wicked - Kristin Chenoweth

One of the best audio books I've ever listened to is A Little Bit Wicked by actress-singer Kristin Chenoweth. Unlike Rosanne Cash's reading style, Kristin is not only telling you the story of her life, she is animating it through impressions, acting, exuberance and enthusiasm. It's more like she's sitting across the table from you rather than reading to you. It's an amazing audio presentation. It even includes cameo appearances from some of the special people in her life.

I first knew of Kristin Chenoweth when she was in the cast of The West Wing. Once I saw her on a late night talk show when she burst into song and I learned she was a trained opera singer. Others may know her from the Broadway production of Wicked.

I love biographies, especially show biz and political biographies. And I really loved this one. Kristin talks about her music ambitions as a youngster, her training, college years, how the pageant circuit paid for her college education (oh, it really was a scholarship program). Her life has not been without its ups and downs, and she has been surrounded by a supporting family and wealth of friends. Tryouts, auditions, successes and failures. It's all here.

This is one audio book I hated to see come to a close. I had really enjoyed having Kristin in the car with me for about a week and a half.

Current listen is Patti LuPone: A Memoir. Like Kristin Chenoweth, LuPone provides a very dramatic narration to her story. More on it once I've completed it.

CNN welcomes Piers Morgan

I'm looking forward to the debut of Piers Morgan on CNN in January, in the time slot being vacated by Larry King. He's the outspoken former editor of the British tabloids, the News of the World and the Daily Mirror. I first became aware of him as a judge on America's Got Talent. Whether or not I agree with his assessment of talent on the show, I love his candor and saying what he thinks.

His next reality show stint was on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, which he won. I was rooting for him from the beginning, and I believe he handled this competition the way it should be played.

I quit watching Larry King Live years ago, when his attention span during an interview lasted about two minutes. He jumped from topic to topic, never asked follow-up questions and seemed to be more focused on what he was going to say next rather than the answer his interview subject was giving him.

So I am looking forward to what will undoubtedly include some spirited discussion and debate on Piers Morgan Tonight.

Morgan began posting on Twitter this week. Follow him here.

I thought the Journal-Star had a sports section

I've subscribed to the Lincoln Journal-Star forever. Well, actually, I subscribed to the Lincoln Star until the two newspapers merged. The newspaper is basically the only game in town.

Something that I have NEVER understood is why the Journal-Star seems to think anything having to do with college football (correction - University of Nebraska football) belongs on the front page of the newspaper. There is a section in the newspaper dedicated to news about sports. That is called the Sports section. Why can't this college football news remain where it belongs and leave me my news section to read about local, national and world events?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dancing with the . . . . stars?

Open Letter to ABC:

Politicians and their families are not stars.

People who appear on reality shows are not stars.

It's even questionable if long retired astronauts are stars.

I've been a faithful viewer of Dancing With The Stars since the beginning, but season 11's publicity stunt featuring the Palins to create buzz and viewers was so low that I may never be back to watch the show again. And what do I read this morning? That ABC is now courting Todd Palin to be on the show. Enough is enough! There are enough Stars (not merely celebrities or those who are famous just for being famous) who really would like to participate on the show.

What used to be an entertaining dance competition in spite of its incompetent and always annoying host, Tom Bergeron, has turned into a caricature of itself, resembling nothing short of a sketch on Saturday Night Live. The show was solid when it focused on competition regarding traditional ballroom dancing. ABC has messed with the formula each season, adding such superfluous fluff as the "instant dance."

The program's treatment of the more senior contestants has been downright disrespectful - for example, Cloris Leachman, a once brilliant actress who was forced to go for the laugh rather than go for the dance and poor Buzz Aldrin, whose performance became even more painful to watch each week he remained on the show. Can't you allow these people to have an ounce of dignity left at this stage in their lives?

I can't say that I blame Michael Bolton for lashing out as well as not returning for the finale of season 11. The man never should have gone along with that ridiculous "dog house" bit. It was demeaning and ridiculous.

Season 11 convinced me that the voting system is rigged, allowing people who are not even viewers of the program to cast votes for someone who, with a different mother and different last name, would never have made it beyond the third week of competition. You can't tell me that ABC wasn't thrilled over all of the controversy and online buzz surrounding this season. Ratings. It's all about ratings rather than producing an entertaining variety program.

I also get quite annoyed with a few of the professional dancers who prefer to show off their own skills rather than doing the best with what their celebrity partner has to offer (Maks, Karina, I'm talking about you). On the other hand, we have the always professional Derek Hough and Tony Dovolani who always choreograph dances that make their partners look good without being self indulgent. These two men get what the show is about.

ABC, you are dancing on a very thin tightrope in my book. One viewer isn't going to make you or break you, but it's becoming increasingly unlikely that I'll be around for season 12.