While everyone debates the ObamaCare victory (Is it a tax? Is it a mandate?), I thought I would post this wonderful photo of my two youngest grandsons. Sometimes, regardless what side of the debate you are on, it's good to just stop and smile. These guys are both miracles in different ways, but the guy on the right was born perfectly healthy- when just three days earlier, doctors said ultrasounds, sonograms, and all other tests showed he had no cerebellum. Tell me that God Almighty is just a fairy tale! He is alive, active, and personal! Stepping in to perform a miracle.
June 30, 2012
June 29, 2012
By 1989, it had seemed like years since there had been a new Carpenters release. The many compilations aside, there had still been a good amount of previously unreleased material put out to the public. There was "Voice of the Heart", "An Old Fashioned Christmas", and Richard Carpenter's poorly received solo album, "Time". All this new Carpenters product - including video releases - was great, but Richard had unintentionally primed his fans for one album after another.
The television broadcast of "The Karen Carpenter Story" earlier in January had the fan world buzzing with brief clips of two new tunes, "You're The One" and "Where Do I Go From Here?", as well as the beautifully remixed "All of My Life". The show was an unexpected smash, and I am sure many people went to the local music store looking for the latest compilation or album to find these songs. Much to their dismay, the songs were no where to be found. Chalk it up to the Carpenters popularity once again being underestimated by the A&M Records executives and publicity machine.
On the home front, the year was one of great change for us. In an unexpected turn of events, AT&T transferred me from Northern California to Portland, Oregon, and six weeks later, my young, growing family was sent off to Denver, Colorado. It was quite the change from the warmth of the California sun with winters much cooler but still without snow. Colorado was gorgeous, but the first snowfall of the year on Labor Day weekend shocked my system, making me miss our life in Southern California.
The release of "Lovelines" in the Fall of that year brought a piece of normal life and old times back to me. I had received a promotional copy in the mail from A&M executive Jon Konjoyan, a true music lover, a devout Carpenters fan, and just a very generous man. We had struck up a conversation or two via a mutual friend. One of the delights of that year prior to leaving California was a personal tour of the A&M Records offices and studios with him- complete with a private look at a well hidden cardboard pressing of Karen's unreleased solo album jacket. The time with Jon there remains one of the great thrills in my life up until that point- and I thank him, again, for making that possible.
Pulling the disc out, I liked what I saw. Why is it that the art directors at A&M only seemed to get how to market the Carpenters mostly only after Karen's passing? Ironic and frustrating. The elegant photo made for a cover almost as good as that of "Horizon".
On to the music. As always, a package from Jon meant delights were to be found inside! Much to my surprise, it was a Carpenters album. I did not know it had been released. My schedule immediately changed, and as was my custom, I blocked out the world by putting on my very expensive headphones, settling into my favorite "stereo chair". I was unprepared for what I was about to hear.
The title track was sumptuous- sleek, sexy, and very contemporary. Karen's voice was as incredible as always, but the arrangement and instrumentation sounded like something from "Smooth Jazz Radio" and outtakes from my favorite Michael Jackson album "Off the Wall". It was only later that I would find there were reasons for this comparison, including the work of Rod Temperton and Phil Ramone, the "East Coast Quincy Jones". I was instantly smitten by Karen's voice and talent as if it were the first time I had ever heard her sing.
With an opening like that, I was prepared for the next song to be a let down. But it wasn't at all! "Where Do I Go From Here?", a Barry Manilow classic from the television broadcast, sounded even better than I had remembered. Barry's "Even Now" is his best album, in my opinion, and to this day, I can only imagine an engineered duet a la Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond's classic "You Don't Bring Me Flowers". Richard's arrangement and Karen's moving performance are every bit as spine tingling as the version I first heard. "Chill Factor", indeed! And quite in synch with how I felt about winter coming.
Being this album was made up of outtakes and rarities, I expected some change in flavor. "The Uninvited Guest" came next, and it is not a song I particularly enjoy. Neither when I first heard it or almost 25 years later. Granted, it is from the "Made in America" sessions, when Richard worked hard to bring them a comeback hit, and when Karen's voice was encouraged to be lightweight and pushed more in the background to create a different over all feel- something I did not appreciate. Additionally, I tend to really listen to lyrics, and "victim" songs generally do not appeal to me. I'll admit to a few exceptions, however. "The Uninvited Guest" is not a throwaway cut, as I can hear the work that went into it, but it is a song I tend to skip most of the time.
"If We Try". Ah, what can I say? I love this song. Everything about it just grips me. Smooth, fresh, and invitingly warm. Of the four cuts from Karen's solo album, this one is my most favored. Give me a saxophone, and more likely than not, I will find it to be something I like. As with "Lovelines" before it, Karen sounds great. (Oh, those low notes!) There's an effortlessness to her vocals on this track that I find on some early Carpenters songs. It's entirely different in most every way from "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" from the "Close to You" album, but I am still reminded of it in some manner. (Can any of you reading musicians tell me why?) Had the solo album seen release when initially intended, in my mind, this would be the FM radio cut to off play the Top 40 single "If I Had You". Four songs into the album, and I was pleasantly surprised for a bunch of outtakes.
I knew what was coming next, and I was very excited. "When I Fall in Love" is one of the greatest songs of all time and Karen's version one of the best ever. The Carpenters' television specials mostly suffered from too much sugar and cuteness. "Music, Music, Music" stood out from the pack to good result. Listening to this selection off the television, I was certain there was a full length version. Remembering it was a song that was supposed to be on their aborted 1978 studio album, I couldn't wait to give it a listen. Not a shred of disappointment, just a sadness that Richard and Karen never cut a full disc of these timeless songs. Greatness in three minutes!
When Karen coos, singing a lyric like "Serenade me by the light of the moon", I'm instantly captivated. There's this romantic element that I have always loved in Carpenters' music, starting way back with the song that hooked me, "We've Only Just Begun". A hopeful innocence, an unexpected sensuality, that is much more appealing to me than the raunchy lyrics and posing by some of today's female superstars. "Kiss Me the Way You Did Last Night" is another "Made in America" outtake. Had it been included, it would have been a stronger, more successful single than "Touch Me When We're Dancing". With a great melody, tons of backing vocals, and a stunning guitar solo by Tony Peluso, this little song is one I never skip over- and it is easily in my top ten list of favorite recordings by the duo. Why has it not gained more exposure by being placed on the various compilations?
On the album version of the collection, this ended Side One. At half-time, I'd conclude this to be a very successful and cohesive collection. Side Two? Easily a disappointment with a few highlights.
In a jarringly stark contrast to "Kiss Me", I regularly skip over the one following it. The song that opens the second side is everything I hate about most of the current music scene. "Remember When Lovin' Took All Night" crosses too many lines in lyric and vocal arrangement. Olivia Newton-John's black leather persona meets Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby". Ugh- and I really like both Olivia and Donna. Karen deserves better than this John Farrar song, and the fact that she chose it to be included on her solo collection tells me she was too desperate to break out of her good two shoes image once and for all and obviously ready to compromise to get a hit. It's an inappropriate way to begin "Side Two" of the disc, as it is not nearly as enjoyable or cohesive as the first five songs.
The next song is somewhat of a rebound. "You're the One". Another "Karen Carpenter Story" cut. It was also recorded by Jane Oliver, a woman with a delicate and lovely voice. It's a beautiful song, but there's a part of me that checks out beyond the catching opening line. Maybe there's just too much drama in it. The bridge of the song is too over the top for the rest of it, and I find the simplicity I enjoyed at the start is lost by the end.
The Hawaiian inspired "Honolulu City Lights" is this album's musical equivalent of "Sandy" on "A Kind of Hush". Pretty sounding fluff that is entirely passable, entirely forgettable. The introduction to the song seems uninspired, with Richard phoning it in and Karen herself seeming very disinterested. This selection fit well when it first appeared on the Japanese "Anthology" collection as an outtake, but it seems out of place here.
Covering a song by Jimmy and Kristy McNichol seems like a bad idea to anyone familiar with 70's sitcoms and a heart for good music. They were annoyingly sweet, sugary, and presented to the public as All-American, white bread, bland, performers. Sound familiar? Certainly, following in their footsteps should be the kiss of death to a music career. Yet, somehow, in spite of all the reasons not to, Richard decided he and Karen needed to cover their song, "Slow Dance". I'll be the first to admit the lyrics are young for Karen, but if you can get past that piece, the recording is actually very much akin to "Touch Me When We're Dancing". Innocently sensual with an arrangement that draws you in and makes you listen to the flourishes along with Karen's vocals. It's not a masterpiece, but it isn't "Druscilla Penny" either- and much better than the album's previous selection.
Time for a Karen solo number- and just in time. "If I Had You" ranks among her best without Richard. There lyrics sound convincingly autobiographical. The music feels fresh with a challenging arrangement and lots of vocal play. Would it have been Top 10 if released when it was intended to be? Most likely but still a question mark. My bet is by 1979 or 1980, the Carpenters had gone too far into no man's land for Karen to score a solo hit with this. But it could have primed radio for another selection. Especially with a new sound and without Richard on it. Truth is, this very fact could have been what really scared A&M executives and Richard himself: a hit without Richard would have effectively been the end of the Carpenters. Too bad, we will never know for sure.
Closing out the album with the 1978 outtake "Little Girl Blue" leaves a very sour taste in my mouth, even after all these years. Beautifully arranged and sung, but it is ultimately just another downer cut that kills the freshness of the first half of the album. I routinely skip it.
Far worse, at first listen it reminded me of the bitter truth: Karen was dead, and her life was a long and lonely struggle against the demons of anorexia. The fight she didn't win. It's not the way I wanted to remember her, and by placing this at the end of a disc, Richard really only reinforces the sad story of her demise. That in itself is a contrast compared to "Voice of the Heart" where the closer is "Look to Your Dreams". This left me sweetly melancholy but hopeful. My guess it Richard was settling into his new reality when putting together "Lovelines", and good and bad, the disc was still a bittersweet reminder of a duo whose career was also cut short when Karen's life ended.
The end of the 80's brought a new decade of changes for me as well... and Karen and Richard's music would be just as impactful and present, just not in ways I ever expected. Where do I go from here?
This post is part of a continuing series on the Carpenters and their albums. All part history, music review, and lots of photos. You can search the blog and start with "Ticket to Ride", then "Close to You" etc. Of course, there are always Carpenters related posts sprinkled throughout the 1000 plus posts as well...
(Art copyright A&M Records.)
June 28, 2012
Leave the scoffers behind, and go see Disney / Pixar's "Brave".
The easy stuff first. As with many Pixar films, it is easy to forget you are watching animation when there are no characters on the screen. The landscapes are breathtaking, rendered with incredible care and detail. From the castle to the fields and forests to the sea, I can guarantee you have seen few films as gorgeously presented- animated or live action.
As for the story itself, there's something of a twist in it. Merida, the stong-headed, pride- filled, princess who wants to be more, makes an intentionally selfish decision. It's a very dangerous one that chooses to change someone else's life for her benefit. This propels the story that leads to Merida's self discovery and some maturity. But everyone pays a price for acting upon her rash, self-centered focus.
The concept is in direct contrast to other Disney princesses like Belle or Mulan who take action for others' benefit or those like Rapunzel who are the victim of someone else's choices. Quite the change.
The moral of this fable is something every parent should be talking to their children about. Each person's actions impact those around him. Both good and bad. Even if you are not a princess fan, go see this film. Enough said about this one.
"La Luna" the Pixar short shown before "Brave" is charming and delightful. No spoilers here. Go be surprised.
June 23, 2012
Maybe the proposed Avatar themed land at Walt Disney World's stagnant Animal Kingdom is getting some work accomplished after all! According to this report, Disney tested a creature that Imagineering designed. Doesn't look like a ride vehicle, but it does look like a large Audio-Animatronic, perhaps for a nighttime show. Should be thrilling to watch what comes together as they keep working on Pandora!
Thanks to WDW Magic for breaking the story even wider...
(Photo from the Bakersfield Californian.)
June 20, 2012
Monsters Inc. is towards the top of my list when it comes to favorite Pixar movies. And now, Disney / Pixar has released four previews for the next film, Monsters University. You'll find one in a theater near you when Brave debuts this Friday. Can't wait for Summer 2013!
(Art copyright Disney / Pixar.)
June 19, 2012
Sometimes, it's just good to slow down and enjoy the landscape- the lay of the land, looking at what is happening around you. I'm sure that the Imagineers are doing just that as Cars Land and Buena Vista Street are now complete. Disney California Adventure has completed Phase One of its transformation. I know Phase Two must be ahead, yet I'd encourage all of us to slow down and enjoy it.
Seems to me this is also what I am learning about in this stage of my life. In the last few months, I have walked away from one very decent job and a decent salary into two jobs- both with no salary. It's quite the transition. Yet, I believe with my whole heart that working in both areas is something God has offered me. In both, I am getting to play a part in the eternal, investing in the lives of people for both the benefit of life here and now, and for that of eternity with or without Jesus. Amazing, God would want to use me!
All said, I am learning new rhythms. I am a man who likes to be productive and stay busy. So, with two new opportunities to over do it, I am trying to find time and space to enjoy the lay of the land.
My pattern of a quiet morning gives me a respite from a busy day, and this selection of "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young was a blessing to me. I hope it is to you. She writes as if in the first tense, as if it were from God Himself to us, using Bible verses to "back up" the thoughts for the day. Enjoy!
"When you approach me in stillness and in trust, you are strengthened. You need a buffer zone of silence around you in order to focus on things that are unseen. Since I am invisible, you must not let your senses dominate your thinking. The curse of this age is over simulation of the senses, which blocks out awareness of the unseen world.
The tangible world still reflects My Glory, to those who have eyes that see and ears that hear. Spending time alone with Me is the best way to develop seeing eyes and hearing ears. The goal is to be aware of unseen things even as you live out your life in this visible world. (2 Corinthians 4:18; Isaiah 6:3; Psalm 130:5)"
June 15, 2012
Watching all the news outlets with a mix of joy and sadness. Joy because Disneyland finally has a Disney name worthy sister park in the new revamped, reImagineered, expanded, enhanced, California Adventure. Sad? Well I cannot be there to ride Cars Land's premier attraction Radiator Springs Racers or stop and have a Starbucks' Frappaccino on Buena Vista Street. But come October...
(Photograph by Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times.)
June 12, 2012
To those of you thinking, wondering if Disney California Adventure will have all the advertising gusto it needs, look no further than the official Disneyland Resort website. Just a click on California Adventure, and the screen delights you as you wander about exploring each land on line. Don't trust me, go see it yourself!
(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company.)
June 10, 2012
My heart has been overwhelmed with gratefulness this weekend. My Mom and Dad and eldest Son and Daughter-in-law are in town, and we have been celebrating so many things. God did a miracle and brought our grandson into this world fully healthy when three days earlier, the doctors told the parents little Parker had no cerebellum.
Our little church was blessed by the great generosity of another one. We've seen soon many good things through our partnerships with some service agencies, that my heart has been overwhelmed with thankfulness to the point of unexpected tears. The Lord Jesus is so good to give me eternal life, but the blessing of being his overflows in the midst of hardship and daily living as well!
June 8, 2012
You might wonder why I have chosen to begin this continuation of my Disneyland Attraction Posters series with a newer specimen versus one of the original classics like the poster for Peter Pan Flight. Well, it seems the eternal Mr. Toad and his Wild Ride may once again be making an appearance in a new Disney movie. My decision also goes to underscore the evolution of the concept and execution of Fantasyland, most recently at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom but also at Shanghai Disneyland. And what a story it is.
Click on all these posters to get the largest size.To make a very long story much shorter and stick to the point of the Attraction Posters series, Walt Disney and his Imagineers ran out of the cash needed to build Fantasyland in the way Walt first envisioned it. In place of the elaborate European village Walt desired, one that eventually came to fruition under Tony Baxter's leadership in 1983, a smaller tournament tent setting was created. Using colorful banners covering flat sided buildings, Fantasyland was still something park guests could not find elsewhere in 1955.
One of the original Fantasyland dark rides, Snow White's Adventures was probably the scariest of the bunch, (although Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through Hell probably gave it a run for its money for the ending alone). As far as I can tell, the original attraction never had a poster of its own. There one above is just a new poster circa 1983, when the attraction name now included the word "Scary" to give parents and small children reason to think twice before boarding.
Peter Pan's Flight. Just the name conjures up magical journeys over Neverland- and an extremely long wait for any guest who chooses to queue half an hour after the park opens. The poster below effectively captures the viewer, driving attendance to the ride, and making it one of the most sought after experiences to be found bar none. The simple tournament tent facade didn't do much to set the flavor for the delights inside, but no matter. The poster stands as one of the best pieces of art to be found in this genre. (If you want to read a bit more on the history and creation of this particular attraction, my "Disney Dark Ride Series" begins with Peter Pan's Flight and can be found here.) Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom fans up in arms about the closure of Snow White's Scary Adventures or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride would have a heyday should Pan ever close, and the media attention would be enormous. It's as much as classic as Pirates of the Caribbean, 20K Leagues Under the Sea, or Journey into Imagination.
We'll come back to a few other dark ride posters, but now it's time for a promotional poster for the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
Where is this attraction located? At different times throughout the history of Disneyland, it was conceptually moved back and forth between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. No matter. Racing down the icy slopes of the peak is as much a Disneyland tradition as any other. This alpine inspired poster captures all the thrills, providing everything but snowflakes and chills for the full effect. I love this poster! Everytime I look at it, I am tempted to jump aboard the fastest plane to Anaheim or put on my CD collection celebrating 50 Years of the park (A Musical History of Disneyland) just to hear the yodelers . In fact, this poster is one of the few that I own. (The other is Adventure Isle from Disneyland Paris.)
A charming little spinner with the kid-friendliest face long before Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo Flying Elephants continues to be a source of frustration for parents as the queue remains as intense as those for a flight with Peter Pan. Who can resist this rite of passage for their pre-school children? We couldn't. In fact, my last trip on the little elephant was probably 25 years ago. Yet, what a delightful piece of eye candy in the old school Disneyland vein. I'd hate to see the attraction go. And I'm glad to see Florida is getting its double spinner to move the crowds to the farthest corner of the Magic Kingdom.
"Canal Boast of the World", yes, when the park first opened, that was the name of the now beloved Fantasyland classic, Storybookland Canal Boats. Thankfully, Disney designers waited until the new name arrived (and the foliage grew in!), before creating a poster for the attraction. But where is an attraction poster for the equally terrific Casey Jr. Circus Train? Maybe it will come in another decade as more changes sweep through the land. As I said at the beginning, Fantasyland is the land with more evolution in execution than any other one in the park. You'd think that award would go to the once futuristic Tomorrowland, but Disney has clearly given up on the concept...for now.
From my friend Alain Littaye over at the Disney and More face book page.
Ever wonder why there's no poster for Disneyland's iconic castle? So did I. Seems there actually was one. First found in 1966, this little gem was sold at Disneyland's Emporium on Main Street U.S.A. for exactly one summer before it disappeared forever. I love how the creviced hillside was to be seen here- decades before it would appear in person at Disneyland Paris. And look at the colors!
The candy colors of these old attraction posters were quite in vogue back when they were first designed, in direct contrast to the newer "Old Europe" look of the dark ride poster for Snow White that debuted with the construction of the new Fantasyland. I much prefer the old styling. The simple graphics and colors create a mood of escapism that doesn't seem to exist in the newer more in-your-face sensibilities. The Mr. Toad's Wild Ride poster being the prime example of a design mismatch for a classic dark ride.
And speaking again of dark rides, with the debut of the new Fantasyland in 1983 came a new dark ride- Pinocchio's Daring Journey. Although it had its debut in Tokyo Disneyland, this new dark ride brought some interesting changes to the land of fantasy. Gone was the Welch's Grape Juice Bar and the wonderfully empty and cool respite in the summer, the Fantasyland Theater. (I know I have a poster for the theater attraction somewhere.) Also gone was Skull Rock and its nearby Chicken of the Sea pirate ship restaurant. Effectively, these changes updated the land and set its course for the future. The crowd flow was easier due to a move of all the spinner attractions, but it was the end of the Walt Disney era in a way that almost felt physical when you walked into the castle courtyard. Fair trade off, I'd say, for the beautifully rich environment and magical far away feel of the place.
"The Happiest Cruise that ever Sailed 'Round the World" needs no introduction. It is probably the most beloved, tolerated, or ridiculed attraction in Disney park history. Love it or hate it, It's a Small World was an instant classic, and I count three different versions of the attraction poster used to promote it. Just like the attraction it promotes, there have been sutler and no so subtle changes. The last one shows the original, with the ride's sponsor of Bank of America shown above the Fantasyland designation. The middle, once the sponsorship ended, and the top the newest of all.
I've saved Alice in Wonderland for last. In many ways, it is the most original of all the dark rides in the park. The combination of indoor and outdoor sections of track and its ride length made it a crowd pleaser. Plus it provided great views of Fantasyland and the right next door Matterhorn Bobsleds! The psychedelic theme and characters make for a delightful, magical trip. I never could understand why this attraction was not duplicated elsewhere, but I am glad it remains a Disneyland exclusive. Certainly in the beautifully themed Alice section of Disneyland Paris I would have expected a dark ride for the namesake star, but it was not to be.
Whichever color scheme is the right one for the original attraction poster, I do not know. Either one captures the imagination, and the attraction itself is a much better experience than the movie from which it was taken!
Like Fantasyland itself and Disneyland at large, Wonderland is the perfect ending to this segment of the Disneyland Attraction Poster Series. The whimsical environment of Alice's story is much like the land in which it is contained: charming and constantly changing. I am positive there will be additional attraction posters designed as new rides are built. Walt Disney World's New Fantasyland Forest and Shanghai Disneyland's entirely new concept for the area will provide inspiration for new designs and styles of these posters. But that is an article for another time.
I guess that leaves the posters of Tomorrowland for the conclusion of the Disneyland poster series. Keep an eye out for it!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)
June 7, 2012
June 6, 2012
June 4, 2012
Incredible! Absolutely gorgeous! If they plaster this on some very cool items, well...Throw in a DCA Fun Map, and this is gonna cost me big time when I buy souvenirs next trip! Epcot quality stuff! California Adventure is shaping up to finally be a class act.
(Art copyright Walt Disney Company.)
Isn't it a drag? Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of being with a group of people I really like. A graduation party for the daughter of some friends. Great time was had by most.
But there's always one. One person who perpetually sucks the life and passion out of everyone they meet. Worse than the "Debbie Downer" you can walk away from easily and laugh off. This person drains the life out of you by neutralizing anything that isn't ordinary or expected.
Imagine. Just imagine if Walt Disney has settled for that dissatisfying afternoon at the merry go round with his daughter. Think what it would be like if Steven Jobs passed by some opportunities to change the way a computer was looked at or used. But the naysayers and the status quo believers have been around as long as time!
What about you? Are you the next Jules Verne but afraid to actually write that novel? Could you be another Abe Thiessen (look him up!)? And of course, no one is the next Jesus the Christ, but even the Son of God had his closest friends tell him he couldn't go to the cross the give up his life for a people he loved. But He pressed on- and changed the course of eternity for millions.
So, what about you? Let me challenge you as I challenge myself- don't avoid those who pull you down but do not let them determine your future, your path. Don't let them kill the passion inside of you! Don't let them suck it out until you shrivel up and die. And don't do it to yourself by believing you have no purpose, no power, no course. Or by letting media absorb you into being a spectator in life instead of a participant. God created you. And He knows how you were designed, and in releasing yourself fully to that and embracing it, you'll find life to be all that it should: rich, hard, and rewarding.
June 2, 2012
Giving Disneyland a run for it's money? Well, maybe not for the actual attractions, but the new California Adventure 2.0 seems to be making quite an effort at surpassing its older sister when it comes to atmosphere.
Buena Vista Street's stunning Carthay Circle Theater is spectacular - showstoppingly gorgeous all lit up! These photos from Dateline Disneyland are terrific, but just imagine seeing it all in person! Then again, I am always a sucker for nighttime photography. And California Adventure, even the original, messy, rather ugly incarnation, did look good at night.
Perhaps with Radiator Springs Racers zooming around Cars Land, I'll end up spending more of my day here. the Disney Imagineers have finally given us all the detail that makes a Disney park. From all the new touches to Paradise Pier on, seems the suits really were serious about making the ugly duckling a swan. Great work!
(Photograph copyright Dateline Disneyland.)