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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Who Cares About Gender Roles?

If you’re just joining us on the blog after a bit of an absence, you may notice that the place looks a little bit different.

After a year of having the same design, logo, and colour scheme, I decided that this week was the week that we would switch things up a bit.  Don’t worry, though.  Unlike Facebook, which changes its design more often than some people change their jockey shorts, the new look will be sticking around for some time.

It was hard to say goodbye to the old logo that was crafted by hand by yours truly.  I made it with the utmost of care, joy, and blue and pink gel pens.  But, as we transition into the second year of the blog, I decided that I wanted to make it appear more professional looking.  So, gone went the pink and blue, and in came the yellow and purple.  I think it turned out decently.

I also experimented with computer paint shop programs, and designed an improved logo using the new colour scheme.  I’m not usually that skilled in computer graphic designs, but I think the new logo turned out better than I expected.  I also tweaked the font style of the main heading a smidgen to match the logo a bit.  But, the rest of the layout is exactly the same.  I didn’t want to change things too much.

I’m not going to let a silly little thing like being blocked by a social networking site stop me from sharing my thoughts and life lessons with the world.  If anything, I have a feeling that this next year will be the best yet.

So, now that we have that out of the way, we can begin with today’s Thursday Confessional. 

THURSDAY CONFESSION #22:  I don’t believe in the concept of gender roles, and believe that people who force children to adhere to certain gender-based stereotypes are doing more harm than good to them.

I don’t know if you noticed this, but I am a man.  Of course, I don’t really know too many women with the first name of Matthew, but I just wanted to clarify that.  And, of course, I do like a lot of things that were manufactured for boys.  I played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and He-Man action figures, Hot Wheels cars, and was addicted to the various video game consoles of my youth.

But if you were to look at my last week of topics, they aren’t exactly considered to be male-friendly.  With my blog covering Jem and the Holograms and my not-so-secret desire to own an Easy-Bake Oven, some people may accuse me of having given up my so-called “man card”.

Well, you know what?  I say let them keep thinking that way.  I don’t particularly care.

I mean, yes, back when I was a kid, I rarely watched Jem and the Holograms, because I was lead to believe that it was a cartoon for girls.  And, yes, certainly the dolls that Hasbro released as a companion piece to the cartoon were meant to be marketed for young girls.  But when I watched old episodes of the series to do research on the blog entry, I found that for all the glamour and glitz the show had, there was also a lot of action and suspense.  And, hey, the music from that show was infinitely better than some of the garbage that passes as Top 40 radio these days.

And, my desire for an Easy-Bake Oven was simply to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I didn’t care if it was completely pink and decorated in flowers.  I just wanted it to eat all the mini-cakes I wanted.

I know that I don’t have to justify why I choose the blog topics that I do (though admittedly I did just this once to help explain my confession for today).  When I began this blog a little over a year ago, my intention was to have a variety of topics from different eras, and for different groups of people, so that everyone in the world could find something to enjoy.  As long as I keep writing in this blog, I’ll continue to make it this way.

But if I admit to wanting a toy marketed for girls, or liking some aspects of a cartoon marketed for girls, I wouldn’t classify that as being a sissy, or weak. 

Yet, you see it all the time in school playgrounds and on the streets.  You see boys getting made fun of for wearing a pink shirt, or because they like to play with Barbie dolls.  On the flipside, you might see girls being made fun of for wanting to play football, or choosing to play with a tool box instead of a jewelry box.

My honest opinion is that I believe that boys and girls should be able to play with whatever they want to play, or wear whatever they want to wear, or watch whatever they want to watch without the fear of bullying or abuse by people who disagree with their interests.

I have a couple of examples of this that I wish to share with you on the subject.  One example is a fictional one from a Saturday Morning live-action series that aired.  The other one is a real life example that hit the media a couple of years ago.  In both cases, the subjects had a keen interest in something that was atypical for their gender, and in both cases, the subjects were subject to much scrutiny.  Yet, both of them prevailed, and ended up not only surviving the abuse, but persevering in the process.

We’ll start off with the fictional character first.

I don’t know how many of you remember a show called “Hang Time” on television.  My guess is not a lot of you do.  The show aired as part of the TNBC programming block on the NBC network.  It debuted in 1995 and ran for six seasons, concluding its run in December 2000.  The show itself was set at a high school in Deering, Indiana, and the main plot surrounded the school’s basketball team.  Basketball player Reggie Theus and football player Dick Butkus had regular roles in the series, and athletes such as Damon Stoudamire, Kobe Bryant, and the late Florence Griffith-Joyner made guest appearances on the show.  The show itself was sandwiched between two episodes of Saved By The Bell: The New Class, but if one were to watch the show closely, it had its own distinct identity...or at least it did the first couple of seasons anyway.

When we’re first introduced to the Deering Tornadoes, the basketball team is just being formed, and Coach Fuller was anxious to assemble a team of nothing but the best guys in Deering High School.

So when new student Julie Connor decides to try out for the team, Coach Fuller and the majority of the players think that she’s playing a joke.  The school had the attitude that boys played basketball, and girls stood on the sidelines waving pom poms and yelling “Go Deering!”, a stereotype that head cheerleader Mary Beth Pepperton was more than willing to keep going.  But Julie was determined to try out for the team.  As she told Samantha, who was then the equipment manager for the team, she had been playing basketball since she was a little girl, and it was all that she wanted to do.  Unfortunately, with no girls basketball team at Deering, all hope was lost.

That is until Samantha helped Julie by convincing Coach Fuller to let Julie try out for the boys team.  Most of the boys on the team scoffed at the idea, but eventually most came around.  Of course, at the time Samantha was dating one of the team members, so I imagine she had a hand in making him convince the others that Julie would be an asset.  The captain of the team, Chris Atwater still wasn’t convinced that she would fit in, and it took a one-on-one match between Chris and Julie to make Chris see that she had some major skills.

Long story short, Julie ended up making the team, eventually became a co-captain of the Deering Tornadoes, and ended up getting a special award for the dedication and natural athletic ability when she graduated.  The show itself proved that a girl could succeed in the world of male sports, and I imagine that a lot of girls who watched the show were inspired by Julie Connor.

I just wish the show touched upon the discrepancy in that Julie ended up spending SIX YEARS in high school...but hey, the show wasn’t perfect.

For our second tale, I want everyone to take a look at the picture below.

On the surface, it looks like a lovely Halloween picture, and that’s really the way I see it.  Does it really matter that the person inside that Daphne costume was really a five-year-old boy?

It doesn’t to me.  But this picture certainly caused a lot of controversy due to the comments of some people...and it’s not the people who you might think either.

Back in 2010, the mother of this young boy asked him who he wanted to be for Halloween, and he wanted to dress up like his favourite character from Scooby-Doo.  At that time, his favourite character was Daphne.  So the mother dressed him up in a flame orange wig, a purple dress, and purple leggings, and within moments, he was Daphne.  It was a very convincing costume, and I thought that it looked a lot like the cartoon character.  Judging by the smile on his face, I think he definitely approved of it.

And when he wore the costume to his preschool, his classmates didn’t seem taken aback, nor did they treat him any differently. 

The other mothers at the school playground, not so much.

The mother of the boy in the Daphne costume was shocked to hear some of the other mothers talking about his costume in a negative way.  One mother even accused the boy’s mother of opening him up to ridicule and teasing for dressing him that way.

It broke her heart to hear those women (who in my opinion really should have known better) saying such closed-minded and cruel things about her son, and by extension, herself just because of the choice of Halloween costume.  Yes, the choice of a Daphne costume was an inspired one for the five-year-old boy, but it was what he wanted to be.

And you notice that the children weren’t the ones who found it to be a big issue.  Instead, it was their parents who felt it necessary to bully and demean someone that they didn’t know because they crossed a gender line.

You know what, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a boy dressing up as a female for Halloween.  And, there’s nothing wrong with a girl wanting to play on a boys sports team.  As long as it makes the child happy, and as long as they’re growing up with a sense of knowing what is right and what is wrong, does it make a difference whether they play with a Barbie doll or a Tonka truck?

It shouldn’t.  If I had a son, and he wanted to dress up like Ariel from the Little Mermaid, I’d personally buy the red wig myself for him.  Or if I had a daughter, and she wanted to attend a monster truck rally, I’d sit down in the audience right beside her with pride.  Oh, and those people who claim that letting a boy play with dolls will turn them gay, or letting a girl playing football will turn them into a lesbian...I personally would like to see proof that this is the case.  And, even if it was the case, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

So, I say, let your son bake cookies in an Easy-Bake Oven and let your daughter play football with the guys.  If it makes them happier, better people, then isn’t that all that matters?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Easy-Bake Oven Deprivation Syndrome

Over the last few months, I’ve done quite a few blog entries on toys of the past.  And why wouldn’t I?  Like most kids, I loved playing with all sorts of different toys and games.  In fact, I reckon that I played with some toys that some of my peers never played with, simply because a good portion of my toys growing up were hand-me-downs, secondhand, or bought at garage sales.  I don’t remember too many kids my age who can say that they ever played an Intellivision, a Merlin, or an authentic Fisher-Price record player. 

There were some toys that came out when I was a little boy that I really wanted to play with, but for whatever reason never did.  I remember growing up, I always wanted to have so many toys that my classmates had.  When I was in school, I remember wanting to have a sandbox just like the one that we played in during kindergarten.  I loved the sandbox in school.  I built sandcastles in it, I drew my name with a twig in it, and one time in kindergarten, I tried to bury a kid who was teasing me inside of it.  That last one didn’t work out very well, for obvious reasons. 

Whatever the case, I really wanted my own sandbox, but my parents couldn’t afford to buy me one.  So instead, I had to settle for spraying the garden hose in the backyard and making a mud pit, which REALLY made my parents happy.

I also remember wanting to have that toy which contained a whole bunch of miniature muscle men figurines inside a small bucket.  I really don’t know what they were called upon retrospect, but I imagine a lot of men my age know what I am talking about.  When I did a brief stint with Beavers, we had a Christmas party where we all got presents, and I remember a lot of the boys there had gotten those muscle men figurines.  I wanted them too because I thought they were the coolest toys ever.  Imagine my disappointment when I got a Ninja costume instead.  A rather lame looking Ninja costume at that.  I never did get those muscle men.  Of course now I can look at that moment and think that it was lovely for the organization to give every child there a gift.  Back when I was five, I wanted desperately to trade with someone else.

But here’s a little bit of a confession for you.  There was one toy that I never got as a child, but somehow still wanted.  And, here’s the weird part.  This toy was one that was marketed towards girls!

For whatever reason, I wanted one of these.  Yet, I never got one.  And, even though I would have likely been made fun of mercilessly (even more than I usually did) for owning one, there was a part of me that still wanted one.  And, there’s still a part of me that feels as though I missed out on childhood for not having one.

With that, here’s the toy that I always wanted, but never got.

No, I didn’t post the wrong picture.  You are looking at a photograph of an Easy-Bake Oven, a toy that was originally manufactured by toy company Kenner in 1963, and have helped children make tasty treats for themselves and their families for almost fifty years.

I don’t care who knows it.  When I was a kid, I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven.

I know it sounds peculiar.  It actually sounds strange to me, especially as my idea of cooking is reheating something that was already previously cooked. 

I’m being absolutely serious about this as well.  You really don’t want me anywhere near a kitchen because I’ll either A) chop off two of my own fingers, B) somehow get a tablespoon of lemon juice sprayed into my eyes, or C) burn down the entire apartment building. 

My reason for wanting an Easy-Bake Oven as a boy was solely to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I have a condition known as an insatiable sweet tooth, and with dozens of recipe packets for cakes, cookies, and other delicious sweets, having my own Easy-Bake Oven would net me all the sweets I could eat.  And the best part about it was that I could make the treats myself.

You know, come to think of it, having an Easy-Bake Oven would have likely given me more confidence in the kitchen today had I owned one in my childhood.  But, alas, we’ll never know if that would have made a difference.

At any rate, the history behind the creation of the Easy-Bake Oven is a fascinating one.  The inventor of the Easy-Bake Oven was a man by the name of Ronald Howes, who in 1963 worked for Kenner Toys as an inventor and developer.  After hearing some Kenner salesmen talking about street vendors in New York City roasting chestnuts, Howes believed that he could use the process to develop a new toy.  He went out to the streets of New York to do his own observations, and found that street vendors used heat lamps to keep their food hot.

So, Howes’ idea was to design a base for the toy that looked like a then-modernized 1960s convection oven.  Then, Howes would place two one hundred watt incandescent light bulbs (in either yellow or turquoise colour) inside the oven.  He theorized that the heat given off by the two light bulbs would produce enough heat to cook a small cake (these days though, the newest models of the Easy-Bake Oven come equipped with a heating element, making the light bulbs obsolete). 

The first Easy-Bake Oven went on sale in 1963, and over the years would undergo several design and packaging changes.  Many commercials were made to promote the Easy-Bake Oven. 

Here’s one from the 1970s for you to watch above.

And here’s some trivia for you.  The Easy-Bake Oven featured several young girls on the packaging demonstrating how the toy worked.  One of these girls was actress Amy Yasbeck, of “Wings” and “Problem Child” fame.  The things you learn from the Internet Movie Database.  J

Each Easy-Bake Oven came with the oven playset, a set of small round pans, and three cake mixes.  There were dozens of other cake mixes in various flavours that were sold separately as well.  All one would have to do was mix the cake mix with water, pour the mixture in a pan, stick it in the Easy-Bake Oven through the designated slot for a few minutes, and when it was finished cooking, it would come out the other side.

One thing I’ve always wondered was if the cakes ended up tasting bakery fresh.  I’m 31, and I’ve never sampled anything that was cooked in an Easy-Bake Oven, so I’m not even aware of how good the food was inside of them.  But given that over twenty million units of the Easy-Bake Oven have been sold since they were first introduced, I’m sure that they ended up tasting all right.

Over the years, the Easy-Bake Oven has expanded its product line to include more desserts.  And with the creation of the Easy-Bake Oven and Snack Center in 1993, children could make cookies and brownies in addition to cake mixes.  And in 1997, Easy-Bake Oven would incorporate other brand names into their cake mixes such as Oreo and M&M’s.  Have a look!

Okay, now I want a green M&M Easy-Bake Oven cake.

Of course, the history of the Easy-Bake Oven hasn’t been without its blunders.  One of the biggest blunders of the company occurred just five years ago when almost one million units were forced to be recalled due to a manufacturing defect.

Oh, wait...that was a clip of an Easy-Bake Oven commercial spoof from MAD-TV. 

No, in 2006, Hasbro (which bought the rights to produce the toy from Kenner) released a new version of the oven, which introduced front-loading technology.  It was meant to be designed like a modernized range, where the front door opened up, and children could just stick the pans in the way a parent would normally use an adult oven.  But after the company received reports and complaints from parents whose children sustained serious injuries from the oven, the company was forced to recall the new design in early 2007.  As many as 249 children were injured, some sustaining second and third degree burns, and in some rare cases, even partial finger amputation!

For the most part though, the Easy-Bake Oven has been a well-loved toy for generations of children, and I’m sure that a lot of you have your own memories of baking tasty goodies in your own Easy-Bake Ovens.  What are some of your memories of this toy?  And was it worth having?

Sincerely yours,
An Easy-Bake Oven Deprived 30-Something.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 29, 1997

I really had a difficult time choosing the subject for today’s Tuesday Timeline.  And this time, it wasn’t because of a lack of material.  It turned out to be quite the opposite, actually.  May 29th seems to be one of the busiest days that I’ve done yet as far as the history behind the date goes.  We have tons of celebrity births, celebrity passings, and a lot of world history happening on this date.  So, let’s not waste any more time.

On this date in history;

1790 – Rhode Island is the last of the thirteen colonies to be recognized as a U.S. State, becoming the 13th state

1848 – Wisconsin becomes the 30th U.S. state

1861 – Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce is founded

1868 – The assassination of Michael Obrenovich III, the Prince of Serbia, in Belgrade

1886 – The first advertisement for Coca-Cola is placed in the Atlanta Journal by inventor John Pemberton

1903 – The King of Serbia, Alexander Obrenovich, and Queen Draga are assassinated in Belgrade by Black Hand organization in a May coup d’etat; also on this date, legendary comedian Bob Hope is born in London, England

1913 – Igor Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ premieres in Paris, sparking a riot

1914 – RMS Empress sinks in Gulf of St. Lawrence, killing 1,024 people

1917 – John F. Kennedy is born in Massachusetts, would later become 35th President of the United States

1919 – Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is tested by Arthur Eddington and Andrew Crommelin

1942 – Bing Crosby records “White Christmas”, which eventually becomes the best-selling Christmas song of all time

1945 – First combat mission of Consolidated B-32 Dominator Heavy Bomber

1950 – The St. Roch, docks in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the first ship to circumnavigate North America

1953 – Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest

1973 – Tom Bradley becomes the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles

1985 – Amputee Steve Fonyo completes cross-Canada marathon at Victoria, British Columbia after fourteen months; that same day, the Heysel Stadium disaster occurs, where 39 football fans perish after a retaining wall collapses

1988 – President Ronald Reagan begins his first visit to the Soviet Union for a superpower summit with Mikhail Gorbachev

2004 – World War II Memorial is dedicated in Washington D.C.

So, all in all, May 29th was an interesting date in history...well, unless you were unlucky enough to have been a part of the Serbian royal family, that is.

There’s quite a few celebrities blowing out candles on their birthday cakes today, so a happy birthday to all of you celebrating today, because you were born the same day as the following people; Clifton James, Gary Brooker (Procol Harem), Anthony Geary, Nick Mancuso, Rebbie Jackson, Danny Elfman, David Kirschner, Ken Schrader, LaToya Jackson, Ted Levine, Annette Bening, Rupert Everett, Melissa Etheridge, Lisa Whelchel, Blaze Bayley (Iron Maiden), Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Simon Jones (The Verve), Anthony Azizi, Melanie Brown (Spice Girls), David Burtka, Daniel Tosh, Adam Rickitt, Richard Lee Jackson, Jaslene Gonzalez, Riley Keough, Brandon Mychal Smith, and Kristen Alderson.

Phew...I’m exhausted.

Sadly, May 29th also happened to be the day in which a lot of celebrities breathed their last breath.  Dennis Hopper passed away on this date in 2010, and Harvey Korman passed away on this date in 2008.

And today’s blog subject died under mysterious circumstances on today’s featured date.  May 29, 1997.

May 29, 1997 was supposed to have been a great day for this singer-songwriter.  On this date in history, he was in Memphis, Tennessee, awaiting the arrival of his band at the recording studio.  He was in the midst of recording material for his second album, “My Sweetheart, The Drunk”.  While he waited for the band, our singer was getting a bit antsy, and he made the decision to go for a swim in the nearby Wolf River Harbor, which was near the Mississippi River.  It had been a favourite activity of his since he moved to Memphis just three months earlier.  With a roadie standing on shore as a witness, the man dove into the river still fully clothed, singing the chorus to a Led Zeppelin classic.  The roadie turned his back for just a few minutes to move a radio and guitar, and when his gaze fixed back on the river, the swimmer had vanished.

Almost one week later, on June 4, 1997, the body of 30-year-old Jeff Buckley was found by a couple of people near a riverboat.  With that discovery ended the promising career of a young man just starting out in the music business.

This blog is about the short life of Jeff Buckley.

Jeffrey Scott Buckley was born in Anaheim, California on November 17, 1966.  However, he didn’t go by his birth name right away.  You see, Buckley’s parents split up when Jeff was very young, and Jeff was raised by his mother Mary and stepfather Ron Moorhead.  As a result, Jeff went by the name of Scott Moorhead, which was his middle name paired with the surname of his stepfather.  His biological father, Tim Buckley, had made a living as a singer and songwriter himself, releasing a series of jazz and folk albums during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Jeff only met his father once, when he was eight years old.  In 1975, Tim Buckley overdosed on drugs and died.  Shortly thereafter, Jeff decided to go by the name Jeff Buckley, though his immediate family still called him Scott.

Of course, his biological father wasn’t the only influence that inspired Jeff to pursue a career of his own in music.  His mother was a classically trained pianist, and his stepfather introduced him to such bands as Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Pink Floyd when he was young.  He made the decision to pursue a career in music when he was barely a teenager, and received his first guitar as a present for his thirteenth birthday.  Throughout high school, he joined the school jazz band, and upon graduating from high school in 1984, he attended the Musicians Institute for a year.  Despite this though, Buckley would later tell Rolling Stone that his time spent as the school was a huge waste of time, but he would later explain that he enjoyed studying music theory there.

It took Jeff Buckley six years before his music career would kick off.  He worked at a hotel by day, and played guitar for several struggling bands by night.  In early 1990, Buckley moved to New York City hoping to find work there, but at that time, there weren’t a lot of opportunities in the music scene.  A few months later, he moved back to Los Angeles after his father’s former manager, Herb Cohen, offered to record a demo for him, made up of original songs.  He cut a four track demo tape in late 1990, and started sending it to various record labels.

Jeff Buckley returned to New York City in April 1991 to sing at a tribute concert for his father.  It ended up being Buckley’s debut on stage, and contrary to what some believed Buckley never intended to have the concert be the springboard to his career.  He simply cited personal reasons behind his agreement to sing at the event.  Whatever the reason was, Buckley made quite an impression at the concert.  Even when his guitar string snapped during his final song, he finished the performance a cappella.  He would later explain to Rolling Stone magazine that his reason for performing at the concert was as a final goodbye to his father.  He felt guilty over not having a relationship with him, and he used the concert as a way to set things right.

Throughout the rest of 1991 and 1992, Buckley played at various clubs, concert halls, and bars in Lower Manhattan in hopes of scoring his big break.  After attracting the attention of record executives, including scoring a meeting with Clive Davis, Buckley eventually signed with Columbia Records in late 1992.

His first album, “Grace” was released in the summer of 1994.  The album included seven original songs, plus three cover songs.  One of these cover songs was originally performed by Leonard Cohen, and although it wasn’t released as a single that year, it did make appearances on various charts in the late 2000s. 

ARTIST:  Jeff Buckley
SONG:  Hallelujah
ALBUM:  Grace
DATE RELEASED:  August 23, 1994

What was interesting about this particular song was that it was the number one digitally downloaded song on four separate occasions between 2005 and 2008.  For instance, after American Idol contestant Jason Castro performed the song, Jeff Buckley’s version soared up the charts for most downloaded song from iTunes.  And, you know, I have to admit, of all the different versions of the song “Hallelujah” that have come out, I like Buckley’s interpretation a lot.

That’s not to say that other singles from the album “Grace” didn’t do well.  Buckley’s entire album was critically acclaimed, and singles such as “Grace”, “So Real”, “Eternal Life”, and the song down below were well loved by fans of the alternative genre.

The only problem was that his album didn’t receive a lot of airplay on radio stations, so the album sales were slow going.  But while sales in his native United States were moderate, the album’s popularity exploded in both France and Australia, where “Grace” reached gold two years after its release.  In fact, in Australia alone, the album reached sales of six times platinum by 2006!

“Grace” was also well received by other famous musicians.  One of Buckley’s idols, the members of Led Zeppelin, could not praise the album enough.  Bob Dylan once named him one of the greatest songwriters of the 1990s, and David Bowie once stated in an interview that Jeff Buckley’s album would be the one he would take with him on a deserted island.

When you have artists like Bob Dylan and David Bowie singing your praises, you know that you’ve done well!

Throughout 1995 and 1996, Buckley promoted “Grace” by performing at venues all over the world.  He toured Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and the United States in various venues, and the more he toured, the more people fell in love with his work.  But it was a double edged sword for Buckley.  As much as he appreciated the support of his fans, and the excitement of performing for fans, he lamented the idea of losing the anonymity he had back in the days when he was a struggling up and coming artist in New York City in the early 1990s.

At any rate, after his touring commitments wrapped up in 1996, he went to work on his second album, and by early 1997, he was well on his way to putting the finishing touches on it all.

But then came the evening of May 29, 1997, and in an instant, Jeff Buckley’s voice was silenced forever.

An autopsy ruled out suicide, and there were no drugs or alcohol found in his system.  His death was ruled an accidental drowning.  But that was of little comfort to his family and the millions of fans that he had all over the world.  Jeff Buckley was gone.

However, Jeff’s death didn’t necessarily mean that his music career was over.  His second album was released posthumously in 1998, with the title “Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk”, which was composed of both finished tracks and demos.  Almost immediately, the album reached gold status that same year.  He was also the subject of several documentaries that aired in France and England, and many artists recorded songs in tribute to their fallen friend, including PJ Harvey, Duncan Sheik, Steve Aday, and Rufus Wainwright.

Buckley’s legacy was remembered on the ten year anniversary of his death.  In May and June 2007, Australia, Canada, England, France, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Macedonia, Portugal, and the United States launched a series of global tributes for the singer.

It’s now been exactly fifteen years since Jeff Buckley lost his life.  It’s not very often that an artist releases a breakthrough album that is well loved by so many people.  It almost seems unfair that Buckley died at a time in which he was just starting to find his way in the music industry because he really did have the talent to go far. 

Jeff Buckley would be 45 years old today if he lived.  It’s easy to imagine him at that age having half a dozen albums, several hit singles, and maybe even a Grammy Award or two.  Sadly, we’ll never know if he could have made those accomplishments.  But, if there is any comfort that fans of Jeff Buckley can take with them, it’s that at least when he was alive, he made a huge impact on the music scene and was well loved by a lot of people. 

And that’s our look back on May 29, 1997.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Turner & Hooch

I’ve got a Monday Matinee all planned out and ready to share with all of you today, but before I do that, I have to make a bit of an announcement.

If you look under the section marked “Additional Links”, you may notice that one of them is missing.  The contest link (which is still open), and my interview is still there, but I had to remove my Facebook link page.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, I have been blocked from promoting my blog on Facebook itself.  Whenever I try to post a link onto Facebook from this blog, a message pops up stating that the links I am trying to post have been reported as being too spammy or unsafe...whatever that means.  And apparently, I’m not the only one who this has affected.  Reportedly other Canadian Blogspot bloggers are having the same issue as I. 

So, since Facebook has put a block on my blog, I’ve made the decision to transfer the fan page to my Google+ account, and freeze Facebook completely out of the equation.  You’re more than welcome to check out my Google+ profile to read them.  And, of course, this blog will remain open as long as Blogspot lets me keep it open, so no worries about this space shutting down.  I’ll just have to be creative when it comes to getting my work out there to the public.  For the record, I have my own opinions about this latest setback...but I’ll save those for this week’s Thursday Confession.  Right now, I’m still a slight bitter about how this all happened, so I need a couple of days to really compose my true thoughts. 

In the meantime, there is life after Facebook, and this blog must go on.  So, let’s go ahead with our Monday Matinee.

The year 1989 ranks up there as one of my favourite years in motion picture history.  A lot of my favourite movies seem to be from 1989.  I’ve even done a few blog entries on movies from 1989, such as “All Dogs Go To Heaven”, and “The Little Mermaid”, but there are other great movies that came out of that year from “Batman” and “Field Of Dreams” to “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Steel Magnolias”.  There was something about 1989 that just made going to the movies so much fun.

As it so happens, today’s feature presentation happens to have been released in 1989.  On July 28, 1989, our film was released, and was a huge box office success, taking in almost double its film budget.  And this was despite the fact that a movie with a similar plot was released just four months prior.

That movie was “K-9”, and it had the star power of James Belushi, and that movie did okay as far as ticket sales went, but when our feature presentation was released, it blew the other film out of the water.

Today’s Monday Matinee is the 1989 film “Turner & Hooch”, starring Tom Hanks as Detective Scott Turner, and a Dogue de Bordeaux named Beasley as the character of Hooch.  Initially, the film was to be directed by Henry Winkler, but due to creative differences, Winkler was let go from the production, to be replaced by Roger Spottiswoode.

The movie’s plot was a simple one.  We’re introduced to Scott Turner and his lifestyle, which could basically be considered a neat freak’s man cave.  Everything has its place, his clothes are neatly pressed, his living area kept immaculately clean at all times...if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Turner was a little bit on the OCD side.  Then again, I’m not a doctor, so I really have no business making any assumptions.

At any rate, our movie is set in the small California community of Cypress Beach.  It’s a nice, quiet community with friendly people, nice scenery, and very little crime.  It’s a perfect community for raising a family or retiring, but for someone on the police force, Cypress Beach was sort of a least it was for Turner.  In just three days, Cypress Beach would be a distant memory for Turner.  He was set to take on a new job in the larger city of Sacramento, California, where he felt his job would be more fulfilling.  After Turner moved, his former position would be taken over by David Sutton (played by Reginald VelJohnson).

But just before Turner could start packing, a murder occurs in the sleepy town of Cypress Beach.  Local junkyard owner Amos Reed is murdered, and Turner tells police chief Howard Hyde (Craig T. Nelson) that he wants to take on the case as the lead detective.  Turner believes that there might be a witness around the area that could identify who the killer was.

As it turned out, Turner was absolutely correct in his insinuation.  What he didn’t expect was that his “witness” would be in the form of a large, slobbery mutt named Hooch.

Hooch was the pet dog of Amos, and unfortunately for Turner, he was the only witness to the murder.  Mind you, Hooch was incapable of actually speaking the name of the murderer, but Turner believed that the dog could be useful in his investigation.

So, Turner makes the decision to bring Hooch home to his place to take care of him.  Now, I don’t know whether Turner was suffering from a severe lapse of judgment, or whether he felt sorry for the dog losing his master, but whatever reason, Turner would later come to regret the decision he made.

Almost immediately after Turner brings Hooch home, Hooch becomes a nightmare of a houseguest for Turner.  Hooch slobbers all over the floor, pees inside Turner’s shoes, and at some point ends up destroying almost everything the Turner owned.

Even something as simple as giving Hooch a bath proved problematic for Scott Turner.  Just have a look at this attempt.

I honestly don’t know who ended up more soaked...Turner or Hooch.

As time passed though, Turner and Hooch eventually began to bond with each other.  Turner would learn to overlook Hooch’s slobbiness and began to develop a soft spot for the mutt.  And, as it so happened, Hooch was a key player in helping Turner find a love interest in veterinarian Emily Carson (Mare Winningham), although at first Carson and Turner did not get along at all.

Now, that’s really all that I am going to share with you about the plot of this movie.  All I will say is that there is a surprise twist in regards to the murder investigation, as well as the identity of the mastermind of the whole shebang.  And by the end of the movie, someone will end up losing their life.  And, I warn you ahead of time, it’s a real heartbreaker.

But you know, if there’s one thing that this movie really displayed, it is that of a dog truly becoming man’s best friend.  Certainly, Turner was a little bit apprehensive about the idea of Hooch staying with him, but the more that he got to know Hooch, the more he realized that he liked having him around.  And I’m sure that Hooch really enjoyed staying with Turner as well.  I mean, let’s face it, his new home ended up being a huge upgrade from his old one.  But, all Hooch really needed was an owner who loved and respected him for who he was...something that Turner eventually did, although it took a little bit of time for him to come around.

That’s our mini look back on “Turner & Hooch”, and I hope that you enjoyed it.  And, just matter what happens on other places on the web, you can count on this site sticking around no matter what.  In fact, why not go ahead, bookmark this blog, and share the link with your friends?

(Just don’t share it on unfortunately won’t work. 
L )

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bette Davis Eyes

Here’s a question for everyone reading this blog.  What was the #1 the day that you were born?

If you don’t know what it is, that’s okay.  Wikipedia has every single listing of songs that hit the top of the music charts from as early as 1940.  Just visit the following website.  Then, all you have to do is click on the link corresponding to your birth year, and away we go.

I have to admit that sometimes I find that some of the songs that hit #1 on the days that my family members were born are quite amusing.  Take my mom for instance.  Do you know what the #1 song was the day she was born?  It was a Perry Como song entitled “Till the End of Time”...a #1 hit for TEN weeks!  The number one song when my father was born also did quite well on the charts.  That song, the Ink Spots hit “The Gypsy” stayed at the peak position for ten weeks as well!

My older sisters #1 songs could not be more different.   When one was born, the top song was “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers, and with the other one, it was SSgt Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets”!  Weirdly enough, Sadler’s hit stayed on top for five weeks, while Withers only managed a three week stay.

My niece and three nephews also ended up having quite eclectic number one hits when they were born.  In order from youngest to oldest, their number one songs were “Music” by Madonna, “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica, “Too Close” by Next, and “The Macarena” by Los Del Rio.

For the record, the niece who was born during the Macarena craze loathes the song.

Now, since this is my blog, I have decided that for this week’s look at the Sunday Jukebox, we would take a closer look at the song that hit the top of the charts when I was born.

Thirty-one years ago, this song hit the top of the charts beginning the week of May 16, 1981.  That was two days before I was born.  The song itself did quite well on the charts, and it managed to stay on the top for nine weeks.  Interestingly enough, the nine weeks on top were NOT consecutive.  It was interrupted for a week by the “Stars on 45 Medley” in June 1981.  One week later, the song charted once more at the top, finally dropping off the peak position for good on July 19, 1981.

Of course, some might think that this song is a one-hit wonder.  Not so.  Although this hit became a signature song for this singer, she had a Top 10 hit one year prior with her cover of a Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song, “More Love”, as well as several other minor song releases.

So, without further adieu, let’s take a look back at the #1 song the day I was born!

ARTIST:  Kim Carnes
SONG:  Bette Davis Eyes
ALBUM:  Mistaken Identity
DATE RELEASED:  March 27, 1981

Here’s some interesting trivia about this song in particular.  Did you know that Kim Carnes was not the first artist to sing this song, and that it had been written seven years prior to becoming the most successful song of 1981 and second biggest hit of the entire 1980s?

The year was 1974, and Bette Davis Eyes was meant to be included on a song by singer Jackie DeShannon, written by DeShannon and Donna Weiss.  Jackie DeShannon, of course, was responsible for such classics as “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”, and “What The World Needs Now Is Love”.  DeShannon recorded the song in 1974 and it appeared on her album “New Arrangement”.  But that version was never released as a single.

Seven years later, in 1981, 35-year-old Kim Carnes recorded the song, which took over the charts during the late spring and early summer.  With the raspy voice of Kim Carnes, and the sublime music video with featured a Bette Davis silhouette and an awful lot of slapping, it was easy to see how the song became so popular.

Although this song became Kim Carnes’ first (and only #1) hit as a singer, she had spent the previous fifteen years perfecting her craft.  Joining “The New Christy Minstrels” in 1966, Carnes found herself singing alongside other future stars such as country singer Kenny Rogers and actress Karen Black.  From there, she ended up signing her first publishing deal with producer Jimmy Bowen, and shared demo-recording time with Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and J.D. Souther.  She and her husband, Dave Ellingson also wrote several songs for teen idol David Cassidy during 1970.  Two years later, Carnes would release her debut album, “Rest On Me”, and over the next decade, Carnes would have several hits on the adult contemporary charts, and released quite a few albums.

But nobody expected “Bette Davis Eyes” to do so well, least of all Kim Carnes herself.  Not only did the song become a #1 hit for nine weeks, its success helped the Mistaken Identity album reach the top spot on the Billboard 200 for four months.  As mentioned before, the song became the biggest hit of 1981, and the second biggest hit of the 1980s.

TRIVIA:  The biggest hit of the 1980s was Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”, which appropriately enough also came out in 1981, and peaked at #1 between November 1981 and January 1982, staying on top for ten weeks.

At the 1982 Grammy Awards, “Bette Davis Eyes” did very well, winning both the awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.  On top of that, Carnes herself was nominated for Best Pop Female (losing to Lena Horne), and the album Mistaken Identity was also nominated (losing to John Lennon’s Double Fantasy).  But the song itself was a huge smash for Carnes, and I’m sure she was pleased as punch over the success.

Here’s one final bit of trivia for you all.  Obviously, the song was named after the legendary star of motion pictures, Bette Davis.  Bette Davis passed away in 1989, so she was still alive when Bette Davis Eyes was rocketing up the charts.  I bet some of you must be wondering what Bette Davis thought of the song being named after her.

Well, as it turned out, the reaction from Davis was positive.  Shortly after the song was released, Bette Davis wrote a letter to Kim Carnes, stating just how much she loved the song.  In Davis’ own memoir “This ‘N That”, Davis wrote that she was thrilled to become a part of the rock generation, and Davis’ own grandson even joked that having a number one song on the Billboard charts named after her meant that she had finally made it!

It’s quite interesting to discover that the song inspired a real-life friendship between Davis and Carnes that lasted until Bette Davis passed away.  Carnes even performed the song live at a tribute for Davis just before her death, in what would end up being one of the last gifts of friendship that Carnes could give to Davis.

Now, isn’t that a lovely tale?

That’s the story behind the #1 song when I was born.  What’s yours?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Makin' Mischief with the Misfits

I think at some point in our lives, we’ve all known a group of self-confessed “bad girls”.  I know that at my high school, there were several girls who could be considered “bad girls”.  A 2004 film starring Lindsay Lohan capitalized on the phenomena known as “Mean Girls”.  Even the late Donna Summer had a huge hit in the late 1970s with a song called “Bad Girls”.

There are a lot of stereotypes that are associated with bad girls.  Bad girls are mean.  Bad girls are easy.  Bad girls swear like George Carlin.  Bad girls smoke three packs a day and down an entire bottle of Jagermeister in one sitting.

In a lot of cases though, the so-called (and sometimes self-dubbed) bad girls are merely misunderstood.  If one were to really get to know these bad girls, they might find that they’re not quite as bad as they claim to be.  In fact, a lot of these bad girls may really be some of the nicest girls you could ever meet.  It’s hard to pinpoint one specific reason as to why good girls turn bad, but it appears to me that these girls have one thing in common.

They all seem to have had something happen to them that completely changed the course of their lives, and are determined not to let it happen again.  They may build up emotional walls, or they may compensate their loneliness and frustration with a damaging hobby, or maybe they simply lack the self-esteem to stand up for themselves.

We’re actually going to study a fictional girl group who by all accounts were made up of bad girls.  They were stuck-up, they had inflated egos, and when pushed too far, they could even be dangerous.  And yet, each member of this band can’t be considered absolutely evil, or a complete write-off.  All of these girls had serious emotional scars that for whatever reason never healed, and as a result affected them negatively.

Way back in September 2011, we had a discussion on the cartoon “Jem and the Holograms”, which aired from 1985 to 1988.  That entry focused mostly on the title group, and how their bonds together and generally positive attitude helped make miracles happen.

But Jem and the Holograms had serious competition from other groups, as most musical artists do.  It wasn’t uncommon for Jem and the Holograms to go toe-to-toe with several popular artists of the day.

And their biggest rival band happens to be the subject of this blog entry.  Why don’t we listen to one of their songs, shall we?

Yes, we’re going to take a look at The Misfits, the rival group of Jem and the Holograms. 

Initially, when the show began, the group was made up of three members.  There was lead singer, Phyllis “Pizzazz” Gabor, bass player Roxanne “Roxy” Pellegrini, and keytar player Mary “Stormer” Phillips.  Midway through the series, a fourth member was added, the English saxophone player, Sheila “Jetta” Burns.

And these Misfits were the antithesis of Jem and the Holograms right from the very beginning.

Whereas Jem and the Holograms sang light and fluffy songs about dreams, love, positivity, and being truly, truly, truly outrageous, the Misfits style was more...edgy.

A typical Misfits setlist would include songs about making mischief, scandalous behaviour, selfishness, and other raucous behaviour.  A lot of their songs followed this theme, which made sense given that their manager was the sleazy, egotistical, and unscrupulous Eric Raymond.

And then there were songs that surprisingly had a positive message behind it.  Take this one below.

Okay, okay, so the Misfits abused and threw shoes at Jem and the poor shoe salesmen in the shoe store (no wonder Al Bundy hated working at a shoe store).  If you listen closely to the lyrics of “Designing Woman”, the song actually encourages women to take the steps and change their lives to make them stand out and be noticed.  The song was one of the few that contained a positive message from a group that was formed on the basis of a con, courtesy of Eric Raymond.

(Oh, yeah, in case you wondered, Eric formed the Misfits to rig a Battle of the Bands contest, which Jem and the Holograms ended up winning.)

But that was true to each of the members of the Misfits as well.  Sure, they appeared to be bad-ass and looked as if nothing could tear them down.  But all four of these women had serious battle wounds which definitely explained why they ended up the way they did.  Some of them took steps to change who they were, while others remained stuck.  Nevertheless, why don’t we take a look at each of the Misfits in detail to see what made them turn bad, beginning with the newest one.

Jetta joined the band in the episode “The Talent Search”.  Right around the time that Jem and the Holograms recruited Raya to their band, The Misfits discovered Jetta in a seedy rock club.  Jetta was thrilled to join the band, and Pizzazz and Stormer welcomed her with open arms.  Roxy and Jetta, on the other hand, clashed like water and electricity.  Nevertheless, Jetta fit in well with the Misfits, and she wowed Pizzazz and Stormer with her tales about growing up in the British aristocracy and her privileged life.

It’s just too bad that Jetta made it all up.

You see, Jetta was embarrassed of her background.  She grew up in a working-class family in London, where her parents made a living as con artists.  It makes sense, given that Jetta was known to pickpocket and lie to get what she wanted.  In some aspect, Jetta was a victim of how she grew up.  Because her parents showed the example of lying and stealing to get through life, Jetta did the same thing.  She also ended up developing her stuck-up and antagonistic personality as a result of this upbringing.  Interestingly enough, once Jetta joined the Misfits, she blended right in with the group, and even though the Misfits eventually deduced that Jetta lied about her whole background, they still stayed her friend.  So, I guess in that sense, the Misfits helped Jetta become a better person.  Weird how that worked out, wasn’t it?

Jetta was particularly close with Pizzazz, who will be the next subject to look over.  All Pizzazz really wanted was to be noticed.  Pizzazz probably had the biggest desire to become a star, even more than the other Misfits combined.  She was determined to have her name front and center no matter what.  It didn’t matter to her that she grew up privileged with everything that money could buy.  She wanted to be famous and she wanted attention.

And the reason why this was the case was simple.  She felt that she was abandoned by her father.

Certainly, her father provided for her monetarily, even buying her a movie studio in one episode.  But emotionally, he seemed to be incredibly distant.  I’m sure that in Pizzazz’s father’s mind, he was providing for her as best he could.  But with him spending more time in business deals than spending time with her, it becomes painfully clear as to how Pizzazz ended up so screwed up.  She throws herself at any man that catches her eye, she throws a fit when she doesn’t get what she wants, and she often gets her feelings hurt whenever people turn away from her.  Pizzazz may very well exhibit an aura of confidence whenever she is on stage, but it was all smoke and mirrors.  When the lights dim, and the music stops, we see that the real Pizzazz is still very much an angry, self-loathing girl who just wanted attention from anybody.

Roxy could easily be the Misfit member that could be described as the most dangerous Misfit.  She’s got a rather cool personality, and she never seems to crack a genuine smile.  She treats everyone as if they are the enemy, and she is the one Misfit who actually could be charged with attempted murder with the number of tricks she has played on Jem and the Holograms.  But beneath that tough as nails exterior that Roxy built up over a lifetime lay a devastating secret.

Roxy dropped out of high school, and took off to the West Coast when she was barely eighteen.  As a result of this move, Roxy never learned how to read.  She managed to fake it for a while, but at a television appearance, Roxy failed to read a cue card, earning the wrath of Pizzazz and Jetta.  This prompted Roxy to quit the band.  Coming into a convenient large sum of money, Roxy hosted a huge party in her hometown to upstage a Jem and the Hologram benefit concert for, ironically enough, literacy awareness.  But Roxy’s plan failed due to her inability to read the contracts, and she ended up losing all her money to pay the fines.  But, there was a glimmer of hope.  When one of the Starlight Girls (the orphaned girls who lived in the Starlight Mansion that Jem and the Holograms owned) discovered Roxy’s secret, she handed Roxy a children’s book for her to learn how to read, which seemed to cheer Roxy up.  And at the end of the episode, Roxy studied the book, determined to right the wrong that she created all those years ago.

Finally, we have Stormer.  And Stormer is one of the most complex Misfits of the whole band.  You see, Stormer’s personality directly clashes with the other Misfits.  Whereas the other Misfits were brash, loud, and occasionally cruel, Stormer was none of those things.  She’d often take part in Misfits mischief making, such as spraying seltzer bottles on party guests, or flipping over tables.  But the real Stormer was sensitive, kind, and loving.  Stormer was very reluctant to cause Jem and the Holograms any serious harm, and even foiled a couple of plans by the Misfits to protect others.  Stormer also happens to be the main songwriter in the band, and while she was forced to write the hard, edgy lyrics that the Misfits were known for, she longed to write more meaningful, heartfelt songs that were emotionally charged and had a more upbeat message.

As a result of this, the other Misfits sometimes took advantage of Stormer, and often bullied her into submission.  Stormer tried her best to please the other Misfits, but for whatever reason, the others never appreciated her, or took her seriously.

So after the Misfits made fun of her songs and music one time too many, Stormer made the decision to leave the band to go it alone.  As fate would have it, Kimber from Jem and the Holograms was also feeling a little disenchanted with her band as well, and ended up crossing paths with Stormer at a club.  At first, Stormer and Kimber traded barbs with each other, and refused to get along.  But after the owner of the club encouraged Kimber and Stormer to perform on stage together, they found that they made a great team.

Kimber and Stormer made a vow to record an entire album together, and as they spent time in the recording studio, they found that they had a lot in common, and soon became best friends.  Of course, both the Misfits and Jem and the Holograms tried their best to get Kimber and Stormer to return, but neither one seemed interested. 

Eventually, the Misfits realized that they were nothing without Stormer, and they eventually came to the decision that they wanted her back.  Sure, the way they went about changing Stormer’s mind was to buy her off, which was very Misfit like behaviour.  And for poor Stormer, she ALMOST bought into it.  But Stormer also had the noble quality of loyalty, and her friendship with Kimber was strong enough for Stormer to come back to Kimber to finish the record.  As a result, Stormer also grew closer to Jem and the Holograms (since Eric Raymond refused to promote the record, Jem agreed to help Kimber and Stormer out). 

The record was a huge hit, and Jem actually encouraged Stormer to leave the Misfits to join the Holograms.  But, as I said before, Stormer’s biggest quality is that of loyalty, and when the Misfits made one final heartfelt plea to Stormer to return to the Misfits, Stormer couldn’t refuse. 

However, Stormer made it very clear that she was not going to let things go back to the way they were.  Stormer insisted on being treated as an equal, and she found the backbone to stand up to her bandmates.  In the end, Stormer ended up with the best of both worlds.  Not only did she earn a little more respect from the Misfits, but she kept her friendship with Kimber and the rest of the Holograms as well.

So, you see?  All of the Misfits had qualities that made them bad girls.  Jetta grew up with a con artist upbringing.  Pizzazz was spoiled rotten.  Roxy hid her illiteracy behind a wall of fury and bitterness.  And Stormer was a victim of bullying by those who were supposedly closest to her. 

But as Stormer proved (and to a lesser extent, Roxy and Jetta), there is a way to step away from the ‘bad girl’ label and become a better person.

Maybe if the show had continued, Pizzazz could have found her way too.