July 31, 2008

Ticked Off


Ever been so mad it feels as if your head is going to explode? I have been there way too many times, unfortunately. Getting much, much better over the years, but every once in awhile- boom!

The whole "Be angry but do not sin" scripture from the New Testament really gets to me. How can I do that? Get angry legimately and not let it take me places I don't want to go. A puzzle. We were discussing this issue with some good friends the other night. One of them said she thought God created anger as part of our palette of emotions. That got me thinking.

Anger is a good tool for telling us when our personal boundaries are crossed. It also functions like an alert system, pointing us to areas of our life that still need to be worked on. Actually, anger can even reveal deep pain in us from situations past and present that we still need healing from.

It is very unfortunate that there are so few models in the television and movie representations of it. Usually, a villain gets angry and does something evil. Or a hero gets angry and avenges the world. I guess I'd like to see someone get really ticked off- then stop and reflect what would be the best thing to so with it from there. Would certainly set a good model for behavior under hard circumstances- and maybe even reduce violence in our world. Maybe even cause me to stop and try to reflect on God's heart in a difficult situation- you know, in that instant when we have to decide how to handle ourselves. Just imagine the times I wouldn't have to apologize for the things I've said and done in anger.

July 30, 2008

Move Over, Elton John

Wanna hear the definitive version of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" Well, have a listen to the amazing version by Elliott Yamin. Yes, Elton gets props for writing a good song, but Elliott elevates this to a new level. Epic.

July 29, 2008

Bella: Unexpected and Powerful

My wife brought home this little movie the other night, and it sat on our dresser for a few days. Finally popped it in last night- and what a whollop this little flick makes! Great movie. Very moving performances by a cast I had never heard of, produced and directed by names that were new for me.

Tammy Blanchard plays a woman in despair who is befriended by a chef in the restaurant in which she works. The story revolves around these two characters and how their growing friendship impacts and heals the wounds of their pasts. Looking for a film that will touch your heart? Bella is it- and it is the kind of film Disney should be making for mature audiences.

July 28, 2008

The Original EPCOT

Just a great website find today. Follow this link to the Original Epcot site. Kudos to the webmaster for the most detailed documentation of Walt's intentions for EPCOT yet. Added bonus is the amount of concept art, many pieces I had not seen in the past. Go check it out. 

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 25, 2008

A Hoax and a Hope at Animal Kingdom

Let me state up front that the "concept art" above is (poorly) photoshopped by me. But let's pretend for a moment...

Rumors abound in what Disney will do in Florida in response to the emerging world of Harry Potter. These include a revamped and amazing Journey into Imagination at Epcot, Monsters Inc coaster for Disney's Hollywood Studios, and a Little Mermaid attraction for the Magic Kingdom. All bound for Florida by 2011 or 2012 depending on your web sources. Why nothing for Animal Kingdom? Disney loves to market with a "something new at every park approach".

If Beastly Kingdom is truly dead, what about importing the premier and centerpiece attraction from Tokyo Disney Sea- Journey to the Center of the Earth? A detailed attraction with a popular and thrillingly used ride system. Oh yeah, comes complete with a show building of instant recognition and it is inhabited by a fantasy-inspired Lava monster. Makes for a pretty enticing first impression walking into the park. (By the way, below is the original artwork that I used. It is for an alternative impression of the Tree of Life.)

So, check out the "art" in larger form and see what DAK's skyline could look like. Here's hoping! 

(And come back Monday for some real concept art- an Epcot you've probably never seen before. Original artwork copyright the Walt Disney Company.)

July 24, 2008

Hanna-Barbera Mystery Book

Would you help me out today? Friends of ours own this mystery book from Hanna-Barbera. Her father was in accounting with HB in the 60s, and this book was given to her as a gift a few years before he passed away. The cover is shown above, the introduction page is inside. No table of contents. It has no year or publishing information.


The text and gazillions of character images cover television productions into the early 1970's. Our guess is it was an employee only issue, a thank you celebrating a major anniversary of the studio. Anyone have any ideas? You can be a hero... Thanks!

July 23, 2008

Real Music

Tired of music with no guts and no soul? Want to listen to someone sing with a man's voice and not a whiny falsetto? Pick up any disc by Jeremy Camp and get ready to enjoy yourself. Real guitar, real drums, real music. Lots to choose from, but the album Carried Me and its amazing song Beautiful One would be a great place to start.

July 22, 2008

Compelling "Tales" from the Laughing Place

Just received issue #12 of "Tales From the Laughing Place". From the stunningly told history of Disney's Animal Kingdom on, this issue seems to be the perfect example of what a few truly talented Disney fans can do. Lee McDonald and Lindsay Cave lovingly capture the artistry they report in both words and photographs. The design of the magazine shines. If you deeply appreciate concept art as I do, the DAK article and all its pieces will thrill you- including the above image on Beastly Kingdom. Great job to everyone involved.

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 21, 2008

Disturbed

Humanity has rarely looked so evil.

Thursday began as quite a long day in itself with an extremely early morning alarm after a night of little sleep and tough meetings ahead. Had tickets for the midnight showing of The Dark Knight, thinking it impossible for me to stay awake for it. I was riveted to the screen for the entire cold, dark, and very bleak story. And I couldn't truly grasp why I was so disturbed by it until today.

This movie belongs to Heath Ledger. Everyone else, including Christian Bale as Batman, remains secondary in your mind and attention- at least until the character of Harvey Dent runs out of luck. Ledger as Joker makes you forget you are watching an actor at work. His stunning performance becomes a gripping tranformation that will allow for no further representations of his character for this generation.

The heaviest element in the film reveals our human struggle at its core. Each of the Joker's foes sytematically falls prey to his schemes, which offer our heroes the temptation to drop their moral code so that evil doesn't win. Under great stress, each one gives in to varying degrees, relying upon their own strength, position, or wisdom to bring resolution to their problems, thereby allowing evil to triumph via their compromise while ultimately depleting their souls and purpose. Only the minor character of Alfred avoids the challenge, but he is removed from much interaction with the world, safe in Wayne Manor. There are no winners here. The line between good and evil is thin with insanity a breath away.

If it weren't for the fact any of us could fall into the same trap and dispair under the wrong circumstances, it would be easy to sneer at this film's dramatic display of mankind's deepest nature. That is the most disturbing aspect of all.

July 18, 2008

Hero of the Day

Indy remains an American hero of epic proportions in the U.S.A. The movie is not a big critical success but still a hit. $300 plus million and still going- and alot more fun than The Dark Knight.

July 17, 2008

Middle Aged and Still Amazing!

Today, the 53rd anniversary of the "Happiest Place on Earth", is a good time to say thanks- to everyone involved in the creation and staffing of this man-made wonder! Yes, Disneyland remains the greatest theme park ever built.

July 16, 2008

Easy Listening Defined: Carpenters' Tan Album




To be a Carpenters fan in the early seventies was a dream in many ways, a nightmare in others. It was tough going explaining to your friends that yes, that was a Carpenters single right next to All Right Now from Free or Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones. In fact, I eventually hid my Carpenters records until I knew my new friends wouldn't avoid me when they discovered my guilty pleasure! On the plus side of being a Carpenters fan, you also knew that a new single or album was always right around the corner as Karen and Richard were highly productive. In fact, it was a mere nine months between the release of the Close to You album and the self-titled one later known among fans as the Tan album.

Carpenters was a landmark, Grammy award winning collection because of some classic performances and impeccable production. Yet it was important for other reasons as well. The release of the disc set in place frustrations that would greatly bother the duo for the remainder of their career.


The soft and sweet first release from the album.


The powerful second single.

Another career defining single release.
No one would or could cover it like Karen.

While this album presents the first appearance of the elegant Carpenters logo- and so further defined them- it also begins a long season of bad marketing and syrupy publicity photos. Most importantly, the dividing line between the Rock and Roll world and Karen and Richard was set firmly in place and made even worse by an unfortunate original song. Battle lines were clearly drawn. Egos flared. Animosity between the camps would last for years with fans caught in the middle.



For the most part, the music was stunning. In reviewing the content of each album based only on its singles, Carpenters contains three powerful performances, each one better than its predecessor. Never again would Karen and Richard release such an artistically and commercially successful string of 45s: For All We Know, Rainy Days and Mondays, Superstar. The latter two are regarded by many in the music community and fans alike as the Carpenters' consummate performances, noting the blend of Karen's showstopping vocals and Richard's insightfully wise arrangements.


Billboard magazine ad for Rainy Days and Mondays.


Billboard ad for the Tan album- already gold.

Single releases aside, the disc contains the intimate Let Me Be the One, the wistful Hideaway, and the simple reflective Sometimes. It is the rest of the material that highlights some potential problems in the Carpenters camp. A generally mellow sounding disc, the tan album steps even further away from any rock and roll nuances, avoiding the 60s and the Beatles and Beach Boys influences altogether. I liked it- loved it even- but the album did not have the variety of textures I so appreciated on Close to You.


Unimaginative ad for Superstar- one of their most powerful releases.

The Bacharach Medley, although a very fun listen, reuses material from the previous album, showing that Richard might have been rushed into getting this album to market. Saturday is a nice sounding tune containing a lead vocal by him and an arrangement sounding like a tribute to Herb Alpert. However, coming on the heels of Rainy Days, it seems a gimmick. Side Two's original Carpenter/Bettis song One Love tastes a bit too sweet and sentimental, but it is the selection before it which causes my teeth to grind a bit.



Obviously wanting to follow the content of Superstar from a different angle, Richard and John came up with Druscilla Penny. Bluntly, this is a terrible song all around- in my mind their worst ever. The lyric line smugly takes a swing at rock and roll bands and their groupies, just begging for a fight. A&M should have demanded this song be replaced with something else. Ironically, many of these same executives had a purported dislike of Karen and Richard and their music. (See below. Notice who is standing behind Karen and Richard's album? I'd prefer to think the shot was done in good humor.) Maybe allowing this song was a type of silent mutiny. Regardless, this fine album would have been much better without it.


A& M poking fun at their best selling artists.

Ultimately the tan album took its place at the top of the sales charts for many months and continued their string of hits. Superstar and Rainy Days and Mondays became instant classics. Karen began to be recognized for her marvelous voice. Fans wanted more- and the duo delivered with constant touring, single and album releases, and television appearances. 


Promoting the album in Australia in May 1972.

But with success came pressure, as A&M and the Carpenter's manager realized they had a cash cow on their hands. The yearly album release would no doubt happen again, and this time Richard and Karen would deliver one many fans consider their masterpiece.



July 15, 2008

Unsung Heroes of Tokyo Disney Sea

Ever wonder what happened to some of those great Imagineers that were let go after the completion of Tokyo Disney Sea? Well, check this out: Kirk Design.

The Kirks are masters of themed design. The top concept is a slightly changed version of what was built as Mysterious Island in Tokyo, and the concept directly above a slightly different take on Sunset Blvd. at Disney's Holloywood Studios. Their website shows various pieces of concept art for parks and attractions all over the world. From Disneyland to EPCOT Center, this team knows their stuff. 

(All artwork copyright Kirk Design and Disney.)

July 14, 2008

Acceptance Speech

(Please forgive a little self indulgence with today's post...)

Today I am fifty. The Big Five-O. Half a century. Five decades. There, I said it.

My life so far has been filled with the expected and unexpected ups and downs. You know, the stuff that happens to all of us and makes us either better or bitter, either grateful or angry.

Transplanted to California from the East Coast before I started grade school but now living in Colorado, I will always be a Californian at heart. My folks were young and hopeful like all newlyweds, and they choose to take off to the Golden State for a better life. I'm glad they did. I grew up loving the beach, the bountiful sun, the surf, all the great music, and Disneyland.

Most all my folks' relatives soon followed them out. In an age where so many families are living apart, it was a huge gift to grow up very close in distance and in heart to both my grandmothers. I cherish those memories of my time with them! There were also numerous aunts, uncles and cousins that joined us.

Our family was and is now, warm and loving. We had our issues like every family, especially in the teenage years when my sister and I knew everything. We knew how to fight, but we knew how to make up, too! There is so much about my parents and my sister that I didn't appreciate until I had kids of my own, but I knew I was loved deeply, and I loved them back. My Dad taught me how to be a great husband just by watching him. My Mom taught me what it meant to be a friend. Great role models to this day.


I will always be thankful for living in California for two other reasons. As a young adult, I got to experience the "Jesus Movement" of the seventies. It was an exciting time to discover there was more to life than what I knew.

A young pastor named Greg Laurie explained God's love and sacrifice through Jesus for me (and about 1,000 other people). I made a commitment that night to give things over to Him. I have never regretted that choice. God washed away my pain and sin and replaced it with joy and hope and new life. Although the struggles in life don't disappear, God is faithful. I've been trying to live a peaceful and love-filled life for Jesus ever since. Sometimes doing better in that than others, but still trying.

Fast-forward a couple of years. Reason number two for being glad I lived in California: it is where I met my wife- the biggest blessing from God I've ever received. She also came with a pretty terrific family of her own. I love them all as if I grew up with them myself.

As it should be, my wife is the person I would choose to spend all my time with given the choice. There is no one else I'd rather talk to. We laugh, we cry, we work, and we play together really well. In the midst of life's experiences, she continues to amaze me with her wisdom, her silly sense of humor, and her beauty. She navigates the working world with ease. Always the mechanic in the house, trying to fix anything at least once. There is more to say, most I'll never tell. It is wonderful to have your wife as your best friend. I've always said "One woman is more than enough for any man", and I plan on spending the rest of my life loving her.

Three of our four children were born in California, but the youngest decided to make his appearance in Colorado. (Our red-haired and blue-eyed "Bronco Baby" as the doctor described him.) We have been blessed to also have a great family life, playing, working, traveling, and just enjoying each other. Our kids are all adults now, with lives and families of their own. (But deep down inside, they will always be "Munchie", "Silly Honey", "Ted" and "Boy" to me!) Each very different from the other, but I am so proud of them as they have encountered their own struggles and joys and survived and thrived with their faith intact. As they say, time marches on. (And I love being a father-in-law and a Granddad as it does!)



Even though we live far away from our families, we are still close. After two decades in Colorado, God has blessed us with wonderfully fun and faithful friends. There have been more parties on our patio than I can count and all the support you'd ever want when things are tough. I enjoy work and the folks I work with. After five decades, I still love my wife and kids and my God. Guess life is pretty good, even at fifty!
Well, enough ranting! It is time to move on and enjoy the future. Thankfully, my favorite verse from the Bible has no expiration date, even for this next season of life: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him." 
(From the Book of I Corinthians 2:9)

July 11, 2008

Italian Serenity

A little over one year ago, my wife and I were strolling through the Italian countryside. Admiring the views and enjoying the serenity that only a vacation away from responsibility can enhance. Left this photo large so that you can catch a feeling for it. Lovely people here and mile after mile of equally lovely scenery to soak in. Tuscany is everything you'd heard it to be- and more.

July 10, 2008

Kodak Moment: A Dad and His Boy

One of my all time favorite family photos, me and son number one (of two). Taken at Sea World in San Diego. Just a perfect day and a wonderful time playing together in the California sun.

July 9, 2008

The Music Plays On

Twenty years ago, Amy Grant released her landmark album Lead Me On. This was her coming of age disc, and the sound and contemporary feel was light years ahead of her earlier, more sugary releases. Few albums if any saw Christian music artists tackling such heavy issues as the Holocaust in the midst of the expected songs of faith and love. Lead Me On was an album that also included material by writers that were decidedly not believers but still had something of substance to say. This unexpected twist made a bold statement: Amy was an artist and a woman who refused to be defined by what others expected of her.

This disc also marked a period of increased success in the secular market as well in the gospel music arena. Amy's profile further increased after her duet with Peter Cetera of Chicago fame, surprising listeners and viewers of the associated video when they discovered that the young Christian singer was actually more relaxed and candid than her leading man. It was a small taste of what was to come.

For A&M Records to sign a Christian artist was a big step of faith. However, it paid off. Hollywood and the pop music charts embraced and rewarded Amy even as she stuck to her beliefs. How could this be? In addition to being attractive and charming, Amy was sincere and humble. Her involvement with groups like Habitat for Humanity made her well loved- long before it was trendy for celebrities to be actively involved in making the world a better place. 

Amy never flaunted or downplayed her faith, and she was not preachy about what she believed or how she conveyed it. A former A&M Records promotions man told me that Amy was one of the nicest and most sincere people he had ever met, making his job a whole lot easier as his work on her single Baby Baby made it a number one pop smash. The concurrent album Heart in Motion brought Amy to her highest point of popularity as she became even more controversial.

Guest appearances on other artist's work and movie soundtracks balanced songs both secular and sacred. Amy covered everything from old hymns to songs made popular by Elvis Presley, Carole King, and Robert Palmer. Her seasonal Christmas releases and solo albums contained a combination of both types of music, as well as songs penned by her. This was the pattern that continued for a few years, pleasing both secular and Christian audiences.

Unfortunately, some in the Christian community were frustrated and angered by their poster girl's refusal to play by their rules, forgetting the Biblical admonition to be ambassadors of Jesus to the world around them. This is a tough balancing act for anyone wanting to represent Christ well, but especially for those in the public eye.


Christmas projects and special releases aside, Heart in Motion was followed by House of Love, a likable but uneven collection that did include the perfect match of song, artist and duet partner with Vince Gill on the title cut. A video highlighting the making of the disc revealed the pair's chemistry. Her next release revealed all was not perfect in Amy's own home, however.

Behind the Eyes was a solid and powerful release, but it revealed a very unhappy woman in addition to examining topics of social commentary and faith. Critics justifiably applauded her honesty as well as her artistry. However long time fans read between the lines and many remained worried for her marriage and her personal life. Rumors gleefully spread in Hollywood and Nashville. Sadly, gossip sometimes disguised as concern made the rounds in neighborhoods of faith. Amy eventually divorced her husband, ending some speculation about her life, and many seasons later married her House of Love partner.

Although it would be years before their friendship culminated in marriage, neither Amy or Vince could escape speculation about their past. Whether or not the allegations of unfaithfulness were true, Amy's origins made it impossible for many folks to remember she was held to the same standard they were- and like them, she was also forgiven by God if she sought Him.

Retreating for a period of rest and refocus, Amy returned with the great Simple Things album, happier in tone and not quite as far removed from the pop feel of her earlier hits. Focus on homespun pleasures and the freedom that comes from forgiveness from the past highlighted the tone of this collection.


 
As life settled down, Amy journeyed back to her roots with a couple of Hymn projects- Legacy and Rock of Ages- as well as guesting on other artist's work. All very solid efforts from an artist who knows who she is and who she is in Christ. Besides being powerful testaments to her enduring faith, these discs returned her once again to the good graces of her original supporters.


Greatest hits albums told her journey in song, but a book about her life was not far behind. Fans expecting her Mosaic to be a tell all autobiography may have been disappointed. Instead, it is a charming collection of stories about her life. It reveals much about her and the ups and downs of life as a woman, wife, mother, Christian, singer, humanitarian, and celebrity. Just like Amy, it is a warm and honest account.

As her career moves into the later stages, Amy proves herself to be an artist that has endured many trends and personal changes. She succeeds due to the same thing that made her controversial to begin with: she'll play by no one's rules but her own as she strives to love and serve Jesus in the unique way He designed her. May the music play on.

July 8, 2008

Listen to the Land

Prior to the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, the Walt Disney Company published a wonderful promotional piece highlighting the new park and the sponsors involved. Mixed into this rare and wonderful souvenir is this small but seldom seen piece of art for the Land's signature attraction.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 7, 2008

Tokyo Disney's 25th- MouseTimes Report

Just found this wonderful photo album report of Tokyo Disney Resort's 25th anniversary. Hop on over to MouseTimes to see great photos- and to drool over the beautiful theme parks which are always in tip top shape!

Pleasure Island's Day in the Sun


Much has already been written about the closing of Pleasure Island, so I offer a photo tribute instead to this once fun and vibrant adult playground. All photos were taken by me in 1989, a couple of weeks after the grand opening.

First some pictures of the area by day:



Pleasure Island's unofficial "mascot" (below).


And now by night:

The Neon Armadillo, Cowboy bar sign.


The Adventurer's Club, above. Two shots left large. Look at all the wonderful detail Imagineer Joe Rohde put into this British Colonial themed take on a tiki bar.


Mannequins dance club.


Lastly, the Comedy Warehouse. Photos also left large to reveal the park icons around the room. A very fun and family friendly show that takes serious pokes at the Disney company, its parks, and its fans.


(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)