April 30, 2009

Messing with the Pack

Adam Lambert can sing. He can peform. He can also get a bit full of himself as evidenced by Tuesday and Wednesday night's American Idol. The voters had it wrong. He deserved to go home. Why?

Pure and simple, he disrespected the genre. Messed with the Rat Pack. Sang as if he was above the great masters like Sinatra and Martin. Or even the new leaders of the pack like Michael Buble. Between the ego and the performance, it was time to go.
Matt Giraud deserved to stay. His song choice was awful- "My Funny Valentine" is just a boring song- but he is a talented, soulful singer.

Kris Allen was good and convincing (as usual), but it was Danny Gokey who rocked the night with the best peformance of his Idol career.

Let's be honest, Adam will shine next week and should probably do a Queen song. He does have the right combination of showmanship, lounge singer and sleaze. (Kara DioGuardi totally nailed the "x" factor here- the thing I couldn't put my finger on!) The next few weeks will be very, very interesting!

Coming Attractions!

Starting Tomorrow- an entire week of posts celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park at Walt Disney World- plus a look at other projects that made its debut from 1988 to 1989! First hand trip reports and photos and concept art.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

April 29, 2009

Jolly Holiday

I am somewhat a day (or two!) late and many dollars short, but Tim over at Vintage Disneyland Tickets has a really interesting article from Holiday magazine. The reporter visits Disneyland in California circa 1963. Guys, this is a great site- worth an hour (or more) of exploration! Check it out.

April 28, 2009

Ghost Stories

Do you ever have one of those middle of the night dreams or wake up with a revelation about something that has been on your mind, something that has been bothering you that you cannot seem to resolve?

I found myself in that place a couple of weeks ago. A place where some important relationships seemed damaged and maybe without repair. Where I couldn't uncover what was really happening, what was causing me such distress and confusion. These things were heavy on my heart, really weighing me down. Thankfully in the midst of it all and when I really needed a break, God blessed me with some unexpected getaways to not one but two Disney resorts for a bit of fun- both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. When I returned home, all came back in full force, but then came some unexpected insight in an unexpected manner.

Tired and worried from from months of dealing with the situations at hand, after a bit of prayer, I collapsed into bed with my wonderful wife. Then it happened: I woke up in the middle of the night with the solution: I was fighting ghosts. And this is what they were:

Past mistakes- I was being haunted by things I had done wrong and not trusting God for the gracious forgiveness of my sins. Second doubting that I was seeing things clearly because I could not accept the love given me in the midst of my imperfections and struggles. Forgetting it was not all about me and instead remembering it was all about Jesus' successful accomplishment of His work on the cross: He and he alone is the perfect sacrifice for the shortcomings of all men, including me. The battle was no longer mine, but His- and Jesus was victorious.

Old Hard Relationships- Because of previous wounds from other folks, I was viewing my current situations and friendships in light of them. A filter that was dirtied by old hurts. This only made my situation worse. Just as I am new in Christ, I have to remember that people change and grow, they heal as they allow God to work in their lives. I remembered that I needed to give the grace I wanted as well.

Competition- Here's the biggest ghost of all: I was trying to compete in an area I am not qualified to compete in. I am not God, yet I thought it was my responsibility to fix things. Not saying I am not responsible to do what is right in God's eyes. But I am saying it is not my rsponsibility to put everything back in place. Neither am I able to compete with old and established friendships that are decades old. We will all face favoritism at times and sometimes are on the losing end. It's just human nature. My ultimate responsibility is to accept my situation at hand and trust God in the midst of it. He does know best. He has proven it over and over.

How did it all play out? Well, weeks later, I am at peace. Therefore, I am much happier and much more settled. I'm persevering. And you know what, the tension has disappeared and the situations at hand are being exposed for what they are. I am easier to live with, and my gentler demeanor is making others look at me- and the situations- in a new light. The ghosts of the past and present are finally gone.

All American Boy

Nice piece on USA Today about Kris Allen, American Idol, and how he stacks up compared to the previous front runners, Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert (very well, thank you). Shades of Chris Daughtry and Elliott Yamin from Season Five. Go here.

April 27, 2009

Take Flight!

Certainly not futuristic nor in the same style as the classic "If You Had Wings" but nonetheless charming. "Take Flight", one of many attractions preceeding the space current used by Buzz Lightyear, had a vintage appeal all its own. Who can resist flying over Paris at dusk? Not me- I'd love to take flight out to Walt Disney World this very moment!
(Photo copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 24, 2009

Disney's Marty Sklar Retires!

Go to Disney and More now for the breaking news and full story!

Ongoing Thanks

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Wish we could be there with you, but life isn't allowing it this year. There are many things I could say about your gentleness, kindness, and loving heart toward those around you. How you serve others and think of them before you think of yourself. But I think of all this, I remember most of all how you were always there to listen and to love while we were growing up. You modeled for me what a good wife should be just as Dad modeled what a good husband should be. Thanks for always being a friend- especially in the teen years when it felt like no one else was there. Love you, Mom!

All That Jazz

In the mood for some great 80's music? If so, check out the British band Breathe. You might remember some of the old hits "Hands to Heaven", "Don't Tell Me Lies" and my favorite, "How Can I Fall?"

The band made two great A&M Records albums that were released in the United States. Breakout album "All That Jazz" came in 1988 and follow-up "Peace of Mind" arrived in 1990. Then the hits- and everything else- stopped. Relatively few folks know why, and it is a well kept secret.

Here are some videos, courtesy You Tube:
Hands to Heaven
How Can I Fall?
Don't Tell Me Lies
Does She Love that Man?
Say A Prayer

Lead singer and songwriter David Glasper promises a return to music, but so far, nothing had been set except a My Space page with a few demos. Too bad. His voice is amazing, and he is a skilled songwriter. Will we ever see it happen? Say a prayer.

April 23, 2009

Notable and Quotable: Andrew Marin

"With Jesus comes change. I don't know where that change starts. I don't know where that change ends. But I know I'm committed to finding out, no matter what happens."
Andrew Marin, The Marin Foundation

Grizzly River Run at Disneyland Paris?

Here is an interesting piece of news! A mysterious poster on these European discussion boards presented this piece of concept art for adding a version of California Adventure's Grizzly River Run to Frontierland at Disneyland Paris.

Certainly more appropriate to the theme than Splash Mountain, which is full of cartoon characters- and I'd hate to see the further cartooning of the lands there. However, a rapids ride is full of water, much more so than Splash, and Paris has very cold winters. I've been there in late October, and it is already cold and sometimes harsh. So, we shall see how this plays out.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 22, 2009

Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True Life Adventure (Part Three)

The Animal Kingdom team continued to grow as the models and paintings took more and more space in Imagineering’s offices. The group’s hard work and brilliant design paid off. After five years of effort, the plans and funding were approved. The park was announced to the public in June of 1995 with the expected Disney fanfare. The official opening day would be April 22, 1998- Earth Day, an intentional choice that strongly communicated this was a Walt Disney World park designed for a young and conservation-minded fan.

With the mention of live animals, activist groups were quick to jump on the news, denouncing Disney’s plans as evil, long before any of them had enough information to realize great care had been taken. Disney had chosen to work with the foremost experts of the animal care field in developing environments and programs before unseen in the zoological community. (In actuality, few protesters arrived on opening day, much to the relief of the company and its press agents. My personal hunch is that many of these same folks are now among the park’s biggest fans!)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is as vast and overwhelming a project as EPCOT Center. In some ways, this was EPCOT, only with animals replacing people as its inhabitants. The facilities were light years ahead of the norm, the concept just as much a departure from the expected Disney park, and the executed design equally surprising, forward thinking and delightful.

With a large crowd gathered in the parking lot, the Grand Opening ceremony was finally scheduled. Amidst African musicians and dancers and the obligatory speeches, Michael Eisner opened the park to its special guests:

“Welcome to the kingdom of animals, real, ancient, and imagined. A kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs, and dragons. A kingdom of balance, harmony, and survival. A kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.”

Although cheers and applause were to be expected from the relatively few invited guests, including the Imagineers and their families, it would be the reaction of the general public that the Disney suits were most closely awaiting. In their favor, the park had somewhat of a built in audience by those coming to Florida for a week long vacation, and the ease and relatively inexpensive option to add another day on their multipark ticket would encourage a visit. Working against them, Disney realized much skepticism had to be overcome. Most importantly, the question of whether or not this was just a zoological park with Disney characters thrown in for their drawing power was waiting to be answered. The park opened, and the public gladly entered through its gates.

Our Journey Continues...

Unpredictable, unscripted, ever changing. This was what the designers wanted to accomplish- and they did. Once crossing the turnstiles, we were surprised by what we encountered. Guests like my family expected a traditional zoo environment or yet another version of Main Street and were taken aback, finding a lush jungle instead. This was all that could be seen. There was no icon to be gazing upon, no ride vehicle or transportation system in sight, no vendor cart. We could hear the rustling of some animals but could not seen them aside from a few well placed tropical birds. We would have to do some exploring to uncover what was here. The air of mystery the Imagineers strove to create was present, subtly communicating this wasn't just another zoo or your parent's Disney park.

We wandered through the dense gardens until the beautiful Tree of Life came into view. Then like many visitors, we stopped and gawked, the unexpected panorama unfolded before us. The gardens and waterfalls surrounding the tree drew us in. Upon discovering the multitudes of animal carvings in its trunk and branches, we immediately began the game of uncovering its treasures. It is a gorgeous piece of art!

There is always time on a family vacation for some photos and fun!

The shops were beautifully designed, inside and out!

For the time being, we were satisfied by what we had found, and we were now to go on safari to see the animals of Africa. We strolled through the colorful village on Safari Island and found the bridge leading to the Dark Continent. Crossing over, we spied waterways leading to adventures unknown, but we pressed on into Harambe.

It was a far different feeling seeing a true-to-life Africa versus the fantasy version we were used to at Disneyland and Florida's Magic Kingdom! The sense of realism made Animal Kingdom much more like a living World Showcase pavilion from Epcot.

Above, Epcot's proposed Equitorial Africa pavilion

The attention to detail is what we expected here, but the end result was entirely different. The architecture included power lines, handbills, and traffic signs. The plant life was abundant and less manicured. However, it was the interactions with people actually from the continent that made the most impact. Between the folks working in the shops and restaurants and the abundant musicians, it was easy to suspend reality. Harambe was stunning in its scenery and authenticity.

However disarming the views, it is here that the serious message of conservation comes into focus. The park’s signature attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris, takes up approximately 100 of its 500 acres. In this African town, which takes minor design elements from Epcot’s unrealized Equatorial Africa pavilion, its citizens make their living from eco-tourism and coexist in peace with their surroundings. The safari attraction itself contains a focus about the real evils of poaching, subtly weaving its important message among the views and the thrills.

We jumped in line and tried to be patient as we waited for our twenty minute journey in the wild. Televisions overhead taught us about the beautiful landscapes and animals we were about to see. We were encouraged to respect the earth and its inhabitants. The animal close-ups were thrilling, and we couldn't wait to have our own.

The first ride on a new Disney attraction is always exciting, and this was no different. We jumped aboard our truck, positioned ourselves, and pulled out our cameras. When our guide began to speak in a very beautifully African accented English, I knew this would be something special. It was.

Surprisingly, due to the bumpy road we traveled, it was very difficult to photograph the animals. I eventually decided to stop shooting and just enjoy the surroundings. Wise move! The vistas were astounding, and it wasn't until we were about half way through that I remembered we were in Central Florida! The Imagineers had done an amazing job of bringing to life another far off locale, and I was lost in what they had created. Since the animals were of the decidedly nonrobotic kind, just watching them was fascinating.

The trek continued and the landscapes and types of animals changed. From the plains to the dense jungles, animals were everywhere, and God's creation was in full glory! It was such a beautiful experience that I wanted this safari to truly continue into the "two weeks" that was originally promised at the depot.

Above, I left this photo very large so that the readers can get a sense of the openness and size of the great African savanna.

After a wild chase to thwart some poachers, thus protecting the animals and the people of the land, we were safely back in Harambe. The conservation message was firmly in my mind and in the mind of my children as well. We were thrilled with what we had experienced, yet the education process had begun.

I was surprised by this, but I should not have been. Michael Eisner said at the dedication Disney's Animal Kingdom was designed as " a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn." The Imagineers were holding up their promise in all respects, and there was much more of wonder, beauty, thrills, and learning to behold.
This is the end of Part Three in this ongoing series. Hope you've enjoyed it! The next segment will continue with more of the tour, guest reaction to the park, and Disney's plan.
Starting on May 1, watch for an entire week's worth of posts celebrating and the largest ever expansion in Walt Disney World's history!

Culminating with the opening of Disney-MGM Studios, the previous year was a season of tremendous growth. From the Studios, Pleasure Island and beyond, Insights and Sounds will bring you original vintage photos, trip reports and concept art.

(All artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photographs by Mark Taft.)

April 21, 2009

RFID at Walt Disney World

Al Lutz at MiceAge is reporting the Walt Disney Company is hot to use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology to provide personalized attraction experiences at the Magic Kingdom in Florida. It could possibly also be used to know where you are in the parks, what Fastpasses you qualify for or if you can enter attractions during Extra Magic Hours.

RFID personalization coming to Fantasyland attractions? Yuck! I don't want Disney or anyone other than my family knowing exactly where I am when I'm at the parks. At the extreme, it feels like 1984, or Vanilla Sky or even the biblical book of Revelation. Ugh. No thanks!

It's already approved for use for humans... The Feds approved it in 2004. More info here.

Pluto Appears at Paradise Pier

Knew I had this little gem somewhere in my files! Doesn't Mickey's Fun Wheel look terrific? The gondolas really help transform a fairly ordinary ferris wheel into something with appeal. When it is finished, Paradise Pier at California Adventure may well be one of the newest surprises at the Disneyland Resort.

PS- Say the post name three times for a bit of fun!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 20, 2009

The Studios 20th Anniversary Party!

Wanna celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Studios? Wanna do it with style? Then, you just have to register to join the celebration here. These folks know how to throw a party!

More "Hudson Miracle"

Before you read this great interview with our friend, I'm very excited to tell you that Part 3 of Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True-Life Adventure will be posted on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22. Don't miss it!
More on our friends and their US Airways Miracle- from Lockheed Martin's internal newspaper.

Miracle On The Hudson’ Touches Lockheed Martin Family

Having recently started his first fulltime job after college, IS&GS-Defense hardware engineer Chris Rooney was enjoying a break. He had taken a week off from his Battle Management and Communications job in Colorado Springs, Colo., to spend time in New York City with friends.
That relaxing week came to a jolting end on January 15.

Rooney and girlfriend Karin Hill were among the 155 passengers and crew aboard US Airways Flight 1549, which landed safely on the Hudson River after a bird strike severely damaged the aircraft’s engines shortly after takeoff.

"As the more experienced flyer, I remember explaining to Karin about what normally happens on takeoff in order to calm her anxiety of flying," Rooney recalled of their pre-flight activities. "I find that aspect a little ironic now because three minutes into the flight, I definitely ran out of explanations as to why the aircraft was obviously maneuvering off course and losing altitude. But I do remember telling her that we must be heading back to the airport."
What we all know now but Rooney didn’t know at that time was that the crippled airplane could not return to the airport—nor could it land at another airport. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger decided the only option was to land on the Hudson River.

"The jolt that violently shook the airplane, plus a quick look out the window, made me realize that we were headed toward the water," Rooney said. "I had heard of water landings before, and the airplane’s approach seemed in line with what I’d read. But my technical mind didn’t have much time to think any further when the captain told everyone to ‘brace for impact’."

After he heard those chilling words, Rooney said, the landing was extremely hard. "Karin and I said a prayer for a safe outcome. Then we were immediately thrown forward when we hit the water. But it was not nearly as bad as I had thought it would be for as fast as we were going."

The adrenaline was flowing as Rooney and Hill followed other passengers up the aisle to the emergency exits in the front of the plane. Seated in row 18, they didn’t recall hearing any directions from the flight staff or hearing anyone in the back of the plane, which they later learned was filling up with water. Describing the scene as surreal, he said that "everyone seemed to be calm and took time to help one another to get out of the plane.

Pictured: Rooney and Hill cling to the exit doorsill of Flight 1549 (pictured above in front of the first "S" of the US Airways logo. Hill is wearing a light colored shirt and Rooney a dark shirt).

"Many people were able to get into rafts or were standing on the wing. The right engine was still attached to the wing when we approached the exit," he said. "It was weighing down that side—so much so that we were in the water. We ended up balancing on the exit doorsill with water up to our waists at times. This raised the biggest question in our minds — how long will we have to be in the near-freezing water?"

Rooney recalled a family of four that he and Karin assisted into the safety rafts. They also passed an 18-month-old child along those waiting on the wing to help the mother as she got into a raft. The rescue teams were on the scene within minutes of the landing, beginning with the ferry boats that headed directly toward the downed plane. The sight of the boats brought comfort to most of the passengers who were stranded on the wings or were in the water. Within 15 to 20 minutes, each passenger had been plucked out of the icy waters and loaded onto the ferries that quickly headed to shore and the waiting ambulances.

"Our ferry went to the New Jersey side," Rooney said. "We decided to get checked out at the hospital since my hands and lower body were extremely cold and we wanted to ensure that once the adrenaline wore off, we wouldn’t have any lingering injuries. Once we were cleared to leave, the US Air team was amazing in getting us lodging, clothing, shoes, food — the necessities for our overnight stay."

Rooney’s father, a commercial airline pilot, had flown to New York from Hawaii when he learned the plane had gone down. After a quick call to Rooney’s mom, his dad was on his way to help his son.

"That evening, seeing him and our New York friends gave us an amazing, comforting feeling," Rooney recalled. "It was as if all the stress of the day dissolved when I saw him. It was just a relief to know that we survived and were here to tell the story. Karin and I joke now that the next time we get on an airplane, we should read the emergency card. We both wished we had grabbed the yellow life vests under our seats.

"We are truly grateful for being alive, for having supportive family and friends, and for having a strong faith in God. We’d like to express our sincerest gratitude to the flight captain, to whom we all owe so much, the US Air 1549 crew, US Air personnel, NYC ferry workers, and all the emergency responders on the scene."

For most, the picture of passengers standing on the wings of an airplane as it slowly sinks into the icy Hudson River is hard to forget. With the recent crashes of a single-engine plane in Butte, Mont., and Continental flight 3407 in Buffalo, N.Y., Rooney said he turns to his faith for grappling with questions about surviving the "The Miracle on the Hudson."

Rooney said when it comes to flying, especially the takeoff and landing, he and Hill still have anxiety. Plus, he said, sleeping doesn’t come easy. "I think I had some post-traumatic stress. But I know that I must be on Earth for a reason. "I find some comfort in knowing we have a purpose in life — I still don’t know what it is — but I’m grateful to God for giving us this opportunity to live out that purpose."

Lookin' Good!

Above, you can read this great interview with our friend, the US Airways survivor! Also, I'm very excited to tell you that Part 3 of Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True-Life Adventure will be posted on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22. Don't miss it!

With newly exposed gondolas, its easy to get a clear picture of how much difference a friendly little mouse can make on a theme park! Mickey's Fun Wheel symbolizes the beginning of a whole new California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort. Can't wait for what's next!
(Photo from Howard Johnson's Mattercam)

April 18, 2009

No Garden Party Today!

Here it is, April 17, 2009. The weatherman says two to three feet of snow by the end of the weekend. Not my favorite, but I am thankful to God for the water we are getting- and for the 70 degree sunny day due on Tuesday!
(Photograph by Mark Taft.)

April 17, 2009

Mickey's Fun in the Sun

From the D23 website:

You don't see something like this every day! Workers attach our beloved goodwill ambassador's face to Mickey's Fun Wheel. Opening early May, Mickey's Fun Wheel (previously known as the Sun Wheel) is the 150-foot-diameter Ferris wheel inspired by Coney Island's famous "Wonder Wheel." Located on the Paradise Pier boardwalk, Mickey's Fun Wheel sits high above the water's edge and is dominated by the smiling face of its namesake, Mickey Mouse. Though the attraction itself has not changed (Guests can still choose between boarding a standard or swinging gondola), the gondolas present colorful images of the Fab Five: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald and Pluto. At the entrance to the queue, Guests are now greeted by a smaller version of the image on the wheel.
(Photo and Text copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Design Detail: Port Orleans Riverside

During our recent Florida trip to Walt Disney World, we encountered many wonderful surprises both large and small. The first to be found was the inclusion of this beautiful piece of concept art right inside our room at Port Orleans Riverside. Herb Ryman, famous to Disney park fans as an Imagineer, created this lovely piece of concept art for the Blue Bayou restaurant. It was elegantly hung on the wall with a small brass plaque explaining its significance. Of course, as a major Disneyland concept art fan, I would have recognized Mr. Ryman's style anywhere. What a delight and a little "kiss" from God to start our vacation!
(Artwork Copyright the Walt Disney Company.)

April 16, 2009

Nemo's Undersea Lab

Tokyo DisneySea continues to be an amazing place to look at- even if it has to be in books and on the internet- for the time being. One of the well known premier attractions is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, an old Disneyland standby given a fresh and outstanding update for this park. The photo above, from the exclusive book by Shinichiro Kobayashi, shows Nemo's undersea lab. It's just part of the queue. I know its just the queue, but I left it large, so you can see all the amazing detail. And wouldn't you just love to buy a copy of the map?

(Photo copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 15, 2009

Disneyland Resort Peek A Boo!

Courtesy the Howard Johnson's Mattercam, here is a nice shot of Mickey peeking out over the top of California Adventure. The Disneyland Resort is being positioned for much growth and increase in traffic, and the remodel of the Sun Wheel into Mickey's Fun Wheel is almost complete. Wish the Mouse would look directly to his left to the horribly ugly Maliboomer- and get rid of it quickly. Nothing screams California Adventure 1.0, cheap and "hip", like this Six Flags type attraction.

Unfinished Projects and Unrealized Dreams

Consider the following both part apology and part promise! I have so many articles in the works that my head is spinning. And this remains a season of much work that takes up my free after hours time. This should continue until September!

This year marks the anniversary of many things I have enjoyed over the years: Disney MGM Studios and Florida, the original Haunted Mansion in California, and the debut album by Karen and Richard Carpenter, Offering.

I should say, these are only the articles that have to do with the past. Still working on my continuing series on "Disney's Animal Kingdom, A True-Life Adventure", the ongoing transformation of California Adventure as told in concept art, an album by album view of music by the Carpenters (next up, my meeting them backstage in Las Vegas), and many other concept art postings on Epcot and all the Disney parks worldwide. Of course, I'll continue to add the expected movie, movie,television, and video reviews, articles on living out faith, encouragement, and stuff for friends and family.
Thankfully, I have planned ahead and have many, many posts ready to go and scheduled. So, stay tuned...

April 14, 2009

In the Eye of the Beholder: Disneyland's Tomorrowland

Disneyland's Tomorrowland takes a lot of justified criticism for the mess it is in. The area is made up of mismatched themes, cartoon based attractions, empty remains of old rides and retreads from Florida's Walt Disney World's Epcot. However bad it may be, at night, as this photo from "express monorail" shows, it looks terrific!

April 13, 2009

Oz in California

From an unknown Disney artist, here is a proposed entrance and look for the park's first version of Tomorrowland. Quite a difference from what was first seen in Disneyland. Of course, many versions of this area of the park have now been realized with another to come one day. Is it just me or does it seem as if the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz was the inspiration here?
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company)

April 12, 2009

Death Defeated!

Eternal victory for Jesus and all who choose to serve Him- the Eternal King! He is Risen Indeed!

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, "They took the Master from the tomb. We don't know where they've put him."

Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus' body had been laid. They said to her, "Woman, why do you weep?"

"They took my Master," she said, "and I don't know where they put him." After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn't recognize him.

Jesus spoke to her, "Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?"
She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, "Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him."

Jesus said, "Mary."

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" meaning "Teacher!"

Jesus said, "Don't cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.'"

Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: "I saw the Master!" And she told them everything he said to her.

Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, "Peace to you." Then he showed them his hands and side.

The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: "Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you."

Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said. "If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?"

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, "We saw the Master."

But he said, "Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won't believe it."

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, "Peace to you."

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. "Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don't be unbelieving. Believe."

Thomas said, "My Master! My God!"

Jesus said, "So, you believe because you've seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing."

Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

From Eugene Peterson's The Message - a contemporary translation of the Bible. This beautiful stained glass window is found in Houston, Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

April 10, 2009

A Sacrificial Man

Though many men and women have done excellent jobs retelling the Event that changed the world, sometimes there is nothing more profound than the simple reading of the Bible to give us the impact of the crucifixion and then the Resurrection. From Eugene Peterson's The Message- a contemporary translation.
The Crucifixion

They took Jesus away. Carrying his cross, Jesus went out to the place called Skull Hill (the name in Hebrew is Golgotha), where they crucified him, and with him two others, one on each side, Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote a sign and had it placed on the cross. It read: jesus the nazarene the king of the jews.

Many of the Jews read the sign because the place where Jesus was crucified was right next to the city. It was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish high priests objected. "Don't write," they said to Pilate, "'The King of the Jews.' Make it, 'This man said, "I am the King of the Jews."'"

Pilate said, "What I've written, I've written."

When they crucified him, the Roman soldiers took his clothes and divided them up four ways, to each soldier a fourth. But his robe was seamless, a single piece of weaving, so they said to each other, "Let's not tear it up. Let's throw dice to see who gets it." This confirmed the Scripture that said, "They divided up my clothes among them and threw dice for my coat." (The soldiers validated the Scriptures!)
While the soldiers were looking after themselves, Jesus' mother, his aunt, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her. He said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that moment the disciple accepted her as his own mother.

Jesus, seeing that everything had been completed so that the Scripture record might also be complete, then said, "I'm thirsty."

A jug of sour wine was standing by. Someone put a sponge soaked with the wine on a javelin and lifted it to his mouth. After he took the wine, Jesus said, "It's done . . . complete." Bowing his head, he offered up his spirit.

Then the Jews, since it was the day of Sabbath preparation, and so the bodies wouldn't stay on the crosses over the Sabbath (it was a high holy day that year), petitioned Pilate that their legs be broken to speed death, and the bodies taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man crucified with Jesus, and then the other. When they got to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn't break his legs. One of the soldiers stabbed him in the side with his spear. Blood and water gushed out.

The eyewitness to these things has presented an accurate report. He saw it himself and is telling the truth so that you, also, will believe.
These things that happened confirmed the Scripture, "Not a bone in his body was broken," and the other Scripture that reads, "They will stare at the one they pierced."
After all this, Joseph of Arimathea (he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, because he was intimidated by the Jews) petitioned Pilate to take the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission. So Joseph came and took the body.

Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus at night, came now in broad daylight carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. They took Jesus' body and, following the Jewish burial custom, wrapped it in linen with the spices. There was a garden near the place he was crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been placed. So, because it was Sabbath preparation for the Jews and the tomb was convenient, they placed Jesus in it.

From Eugene Peterson's The Message- a contemporary translation.
Painting by Mats Eriksson.

April 9, 2009

Garden Plea

So appropriate for the next few days- and always...

Jesus' Prayer for His Followers (before His arrest and Crucifixion)

Jesus said these things. Then, raising his eyes in prayer, he said:

Father, it's time. Display the bright splendor of your Son So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor. You put him in charge of everything human So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge. And this is the real and eternal life: That they know you, The one and only true God, And Jesus Christ, whom you sent. I glorified you on earth By completing down to the last detail What you assigned me to do. And now, Father, glorify me with your very own splendor, The very splendor I had in your presence Before there was a world.

I spelled out your character in detail To the men and women you gave me. They were yours in the first place; Then you gave them to me, And they have now done what you said. They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, That everything you gave me is firsthand from you, For the message you gave me, I gave them; And they took it, and were convinced That I came from you. They believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I'm not praying for the God-rejecting world But for those you gave me, For they are yours by right. Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, And my life is on display in them. For I'm no longer going to be visible in the world; They'll continue in the world While I return to you. Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life That you conferred as a gift through me, So they can be one heart and mind As we are one heart and mind. As long as I was with them, I guarded them In the pursuit of the life you gave through me; I even posted a night watch. And not one of them got away, Except for the rebel bent on destruction (the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).

Now I'm returning to you. I'm saying these things in the world's hearing So my people can experience My joy completed in them. I gave them your word; The godless world hated them because of it, Because they didn't join the world's ways, Just as I didn't join the world's ways. I'm not asking that you take them out of the world But that you guard them from the Evil One. They are no more defined by the world Than I am defined by the world. Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth; Your word is consecrating truth. In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. I'm consecrating myself for their sakes So they'll be truth-consecrated in their mission.

I'm praying not only for them But also for those who will believe in me Because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind— Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, So they'll be as unified and together as we are— I in them and you in me. Then they'll be mature in this oneness, And give the godless world evidence That you've sent me and loved them In the same way you've loved me.
Father, I want those you gave me To be with me, right where I am, So they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me, Having loved me Long before there ever was a world. Righteous Father, the world has never known you, But I have known you, and these disciples know That you sent me on this mission. I have made your very being known to them— Who you are and what you do— And continue to make it known, So that your love for me Might be in them Exactly as I am in them.

From The Message by Eugene Peterson - a contemporary translation of the Bible

April 8, 2009

Rising and Falling Stars

Recapping last night's American Idol:

Danny Gokey- Nice guy, great voice, warm smile. Totally authentic. I like him, but why don’t I think he’ll go the distance? Must be song choice. "PYT" was terrific, but it has been a mixed bag since. Very, very solid. I’m rooting for him to hit the top three. Yes, sometimes, nice guys do finish first.

Adam Lambert- Last night’s performance showed a delicate phrasing reminiscent of a young George Michael. Definite stage presence, but he is a bit difficult to watch since his Elvis look a couple of weeks ago. I keep thinking kd lang here. Is America ready for its first gay idol? Probably, we’ve had them before- just didn’t always know it up front!

Kris Allen- He keeps getting better. Terrific voice and growing confidence. Knows how to "play" with the songs, changing each one to make it his own. Maybe last night’s Don Henley cover wasn’t his best- it was original- but give the kid a break. It was his first average performance so far. He may not end up the top dog, but he’s got my vote for best and most versatile voice.

Matt Giraud- Too cool. To tackle Stevie Wonder and give his song a new swing and lift it never had- wow! I’ll buy this song. Growing in confidence as a performer. A family friendly young Justin Timberlake. Give the man a contract.

Allison Iraheta - Once I heard she was going to cover the classic Bonnie Raitt song, I said, "If she can show some restraint with this, it will be amazing." She did- and finally won me over by showing she is more than a one trick rocking horse.

The rest: Lil Rounds, it’s time to go. Powerful voice, nice gal, but predictable. Anoop, above average potential with the right producer and image maker. Scott, hate to say it, but he should have departed a long time ago. Nice, talented folks, but none are in the league of those above.

Let the Games Begin

The adventure in Disney's California Adventure continues. This week the company opens up the refreshed and re-Imagineered Games of the Boardwalk. Paradise Pier is in the midst of a major reworking, and this is one of the most important steps for the park. The inital version of this area screamed "cheap carnival", so Disney is determined to transform it into something name worthy this time.

In order for the second gate at the Disneyland Resort to get the respect and attendance it needs, this Imagineering project has to be successful. There has never been a Disney park that has received this massive an overhaul. Will it work and bring in the crowds or will Disney's advertising executives kick once again into high gear explaining why it didn't?
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 6, 2009

Soft Sell: Carpenters A Kind of Hush

Fans of Richard and Karen Carpenter should not have been surprised by their 1976 release, A Kind of Hush. The years before them were very successful- wildly so- and also pretty exhausting. 

Between constant touring and putting out one album after another, Karen started melting away and was eventually hospitalized while Richard was experiencing creative burnout and health problems of his own. A cancelled tour, worried fans, and that earlier Sedaka incident only added to the stress.

Eventually, whether it was by sheer habit or business pressure, it was time to resume the career and recording. The first single, released in time for Valentine's Day, was a remake of the old Herman's Hermits tune, There's a Kind of Hush All Over the World. It was the first prominent presentation of Karen's softer voice- one that would be used from here on out, Passage aside. It is an almost breathy, early Olivia Newton-John style lead vocal. Their "trademarked" backing accompanied a pleasant arrangement and production. Richard now wishes they never recorded the song, but to this fan, it is still a very enjoyable listen. (The song sounds really great in a good set of earphones!) 

Landing on the Billboard charts in the Top Twenty would be quite the accomplishment for any artist, but the Carpenters were not just any musical act. Top Ten hits were the norm for a first single from a new album but not for this one.

The single preceding the album would be its emotional centerpiece and an eventual enduring classic: I Need to Be in Love. Hearing this new Carpenter/Bettis song on the local radio station one day, I sensed this to be a very personal one for Karen, and later interviews would confirm the suspicion. Considering the number of world famous hits and solid album tracks Richard and John have written, this one song remains their masterpiece, perfectly showcasing the team's songwriting skills. As a recording, Karen's rendering is no less than perfect. The beautifully tender arrangement is in direct contrast to the absolute desperation that seeps through Karen's vocals and the song lyrics. The only misstep was not using their own voices for backup, stripping the sound of more emotional power and impact.

A&M Records must have sensed this would one day be a classic, as this was one of the first releases on the label to have a promotional video. Or they understood the music business was changing and promotional tools had to change with it. Maybe the company management eventually understood the Carpenters were an act that would last beyond their lifetime and finally treated their most financially profitable act with some respect beyond Karen and Richard's earning power.

The Billboard ad for the first single.

Even with the unfortunately sappy and overdone choir in the background, something that should have been saved for only Christmas albums, I Need to Be in Love sounded like hit material. Certainly Top Ten, I thought, but it shockingly charted even lower then the previous single. Must have been frustrating and disappointing for everyone involved. Had this heart-wrenching ballad been released just a couple of years earlier, it certainly would have been Number One. It eventually was a chart topper, but in Japan and almost two decades later. Regardless of its sales and popularity, I Need to Be in Love is a standout cut and was still the new single promoting the album.

The full album finally hit stores in mid-June. In contrast to Horizon, there would be minimal in-store promotion. In fact, to my surprise, I discovered this album in a box under the display table in a Warehouse Records store. The times had certainly changed.

The wonderful presentation and my love of the first two singles convinced me this had to be a very special album even before my first listen. And it was- but not for reasons I expected! On one level, this album brings out many seeming contradictions in my views regarding it. I know it is one of the Carpenters' weaker efforts, yet in many ways it is one of my favorite albums and brings happy memories upon each listen.

As a follow up to "Horizon", the new album almost demanded to be taken seriously as the Carpenters had been at the top of their game. Seemingly in defiance and response to the serious topical nature of this near-perfect previous collection, Richard and Karen crafted a new one that seemed forced with a cheeriness not all sincere. Beneath the smiles on the cover photo, this was a disc of immense softness, one out of touch with the trends of the day. It was one in which any rock sensibilities - any credibility earned- were seemingly ignored. "Sacrificed" might be the better word choice considering the long term damage this disc did to their career on Pop radio.

A&M's ad for the album in Billboard.

Starting with "There's a Kind of Hush", Side One of this album is fairly weak. "You" had the potential to be its own chart topper, yet there is something very rote about both its performance and arrangement. It lacks the bite of the album cuts on earlier discs. In fact, most everything on this album sounds softer, rounded, more muted. The crispness and precision in the playing and in pronunciation of words on "Horizon" are not to be found here. I much prefer Karen's softer singing voice heard here over her earlier huskier one, yet it seems wasted on most of the songs. Overall, its a very feminine sounding collection, as Richard's vocal presence is also understated. Ultimately, "Hush" is the middle of the road album they were always accused of making!

One of few Carpenter/Bettis originals on the disc, "Sandy" is among the weakest of their songbook. Songs with proper names as titles had mostly been indicators of trouble in the past, (see "Eve", "Mr. Guder", and "Druscilla Penny") and this was no exception. Weak and vapid. I know it is a stinging assessment but not everything the Carpenters recorded could be the caliber of "Superstar", "Goodbye to Love" or "Ordinary Fool" (which actually was recorded for this disc but never made the cut). In fact, "Sandy" was so soft and lightweight, it made it onto Richard's solo album of elevator music twenty years later, (Richard Carpenter: Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor) with very little change if any.

Next up was a quirky remake that should have never been a single release let alone part of an album. By the time I finished listening to "Goofus", I had accessed that their time in the spotlight was over. Had their parents asked them to record this tune? I had to wonder. The first side finishes with the pleasant "Can't Smile Without You". It's only distinction being it was a hit by Barry Manilow a couple of years later.

As much as Side One was a disappointment upon first listen, Side Two almost fully compensates for it. Beginning with a new solo piano introduction to "I Need to Be in Love", this half of the collection feels like an entirely different album, one more serious and much better crafted. "One More Time" is the perfect follow-up song here. Karen's reading is warm, intimate, and wistful. Although the lyrics are entirely different, the comparison to "Sometimes" from the Tan album comes to mind. Much like Ray Price's country pop classic "For the Good Times", it is a song full of story and atmosphere. I loved it immediately. Why this song has not found itself on more compilations is something I still do not understand.

What can I say about "Boat to Sail"? I absolutely love this song, and thirty years later, never tire of hearing it. Living in Huntington Beach, California at the time, and spending some of it sailing with friends, this song brings back pleasant memories of sunny days on the water. Karen's light, sensual vocal and Richard's terrific jazz arrangement and piano playing make this a treat. If I ever play one song from the album, this is the one.

A honest to goodness lullaby is next in line. The vocal pieces and intentionally old school arrangement of "I Have You" take what could be a sentimental and ordinary song to new level of sweetness without corniness. Now bittersweetness, when I think of Karen's life. It's the emotional flip side to "I Need to Be in Love", and I'm drawn in again, believing her every word.

Just as I thought, "Wow, four great songs in a row", the last song played. When I saw the song selection in the record store, "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" was the one song I couldn't wait to get home to hear. Neil Sedaka's remake with a slow boil, tender  arrangement would made for a great listen! I couldn't wait for Karen to wrap her voice around an amazing arrangement by Richard. I patiently waited.

Richard's playful vocal intro leads right into the original upbeat version. To say I was disappointed is a profound understatement, and it took me awhile to give the song a fair shake. To redeem this album as a serious effort, "Breaking Up" should have been a torch song. It could have been a song like "This Masquerade"- and it could have reminded a listening audience aware of the "Sedaka incident" that no one compares to Karen. Instead, it is playful and quite fun, but it reinforces that "A Kind of Hush" was meant to be fluffy and light.

Although the songs inside were comparatively weak for a Carpenters disc, the album photography by Ed Caraeff is gorgeous, and artwork by Roland Young was quite distinct and innovative. The cover mixed a beautiful picture of the duo with some artistic enhancements. Well done- and before the days of Photoshop! The image below is actually of the inside of the cardboard jacket. It's a classy touch. Having the "Carpenters Wallpaper" inside the jacket wasn't necessary, but again, it is small touches like this that please die-hard fans.

To complete the overall presentation, the label of the record itself was special, something created just for this release. This may have been the first and only time A&M Records did this for an artist. The image below does not do this justice! It is only a reminder to this listener what a treat records and record jackets were to behold. Twelve inches by twelve inches of artistic beauty!

The backside of the album cover continued the theme. Another piece of artwork lost to the designs and limitations of compact disc. I always thought this album had the visual elegance that was captured sonically on "Horizon".

The photography sessions were particularly productive, and many of the shots have been used for various compilations and anthologies.

My favorite photo of Karen.

Karen and Richard Carpenter lost perspective and credibility by following up the amazing album "Horizon" with "A Kind of Hush". Don't get me wrong- the album is one of my favorites, but the MOR choir background on the beautiful "I Need to Be in Love" was the kiss of death to the Carpenters as a rock/pop act. "Goofus" as a single just cemented it. They would never again be taken seriously by Pop/Rock radio or programmers. I think in these two choices alone, Richard showed how out of step the "Carpenters team"- label, agent, and artist themselves- was with the record buying public. The public confirmed this fact by the underwhelming support of both the singles and the album.

For this fan, "Hush" was a bit of "breather", a lightweight piece with some strong points and contradictions- including one of my own. It's a weak album and yet, it is probably the one I play most. Why? Karen's voice is the primary reason I listen to the Carpenters' music, and I love how she sounds on this collection. Richard's genius adds to the pleasure.

Upon first listen to this collection, I was willing to give Karen and Richard a break after the masterful previous album. It seemed they had been through a lot since its release. On the plus side, the disc further confirmed what I knew: I just had to see them live in concert. Their next appearance at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas was coming up, and this time I would be there. Unknown to me, it would end up being my chance to meet them face to face and say "Thank You for the Music".
2021 Note: This is part of a continuing series of posts on the albums of Karen and Richard Carpenter. There are also numerous stand alone posts highlights different aspects of their career, recordings, and life. 

Below is the list of my initial reviews and then my "Revisited /Fresh Look" reviews a decade later. 

My Initial Reviews of the albums: