January 30, 2016

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

"A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity". The tagline says it all. But in a world of hype on all ends of the spectrum, this book by Nabeel Qureshi is worth far more than the paper and ink used. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells the very personal story of a man raised in a loving, gentle Muslim home and how he slowly began investigating the truth of what he believed, much moreso after 9-11. It's a compelling and compassionate narrative, describing truths about Islam straight from its earliest sources and where it differs from Christianity. Absolutely breathtaking, balanced, and heartfelt.  

January 29, 2016

Perhaps the Most Beautiful Animal Kingdom Art Ever

I am not going to comment and let this beautiful piece of concept art for Disney's Animal Kingdom speak for itself...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 28, 2016

A Rat's Life

A wonderful film, a beautiful soundtrack. Ratatouille continues to be a Pixar film I just love! It's almost ten years old now, but the adventure of rat chef Remy in the kitchens of Paris has all the makings of a classic. Michael Giacchino's score evokes evenings in the City of Light without coming across as too sweet a valentine or as a mockery. One listen to "Dinner Rush" sums up the entire soundtrack rather nicely. French recording artist Camille brings just the right flavor to "Le Festin", an original number you'd swear was a classic tune from years ago.

If there was ever an attraction to make me want to visit the miserable Walt Disney Studios in Paris again, this is it. I'd even take it in World Showcase at Epcot- as long as it did not replace the old but lovely Impressions de France. (Toons are already in the park. I'm just going with the flow...)

January 27, 2016

Killing Christianity

The Christian Church in America is Dying From the Disease of Terminal Niceness! Let that statement sink in for a bit before you keep reading. 

How did we get there and so far away from Historic Christianity?

Let me throw some thoughts your way. First, “The Soft Gospel”. It says, "Come to Jesus and your life will become better." It's the Pathway to Prosperity, etc. It's a teaching that has taken hold in the United States for a few decades now. We have come to believe it is our God-given right to health and wealth. This mindset keeps us focused on our own needs- and ineffective in God's Kingdom! We don’t think about God’s priorities but our own! It is still “all about us”!

Let me say, Jesus didn't end up wealthy and healthy on this earth; neither did the Twelve Disciples, neither did the early New Testament church. Many were killed for their faith! Even today, true believers are not welcomed in our world. The latest martyrs- believers in the Middle East who are executed- certainly didn't end up with a life on earth full of money and comfort.

This thought is no better than any other philosophy, reducing Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the Cross- and His Resurrection- to nothing. It reduces Jesus to just another philosopher instead of the Creator God who will return to Judge all Creation. Following this thought pattern reduces the Christian to another self help group, and we can fall into the trap about talking about Jesus and thinking about Him, intellectualizing Him, without actually following Him into a life of self-sacrifice and death. Ultimately, the church and the Christian faith looks like what the world offers but from a different slant!

I read the Bible where Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” (John 12:26). On the way to his crucifixion, he asks Peter “Will you really lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38) The same question holds true for us today!

The second reason the church has been infected by terminal niceness comes from another incomplete piece of theology. “It’s All By Grace” – Yes, that is true, and I am thankful for Amazing Grace- but it does not mean nothing is required of us! The Biblical book of James was written for a reason. Faith without works is dead!

Work is an expression of, and a response to, the grace given us, an outpouring of our gratefulness toward Him who gave all for us. Jesus himself set this example in motion! To be Christlike is to also engage in the work the Father gives us. For His purposes and for his glory. If we never work, we become spiritually fat, lazy, and dull! We remain self-focused and immature, useless in God's kingdom.

So, that begs the question- What Does Terminal Niceness Look Like? What are the symptoms?
1- We get Bored- and We look elsewhere for fulfillment! Be it entertainment, business, family, sports, money, leisure, outright sin, , etc. Why? "Soft Christianity" doesn’t fulfill because it has no depth, no challenge, so we look other places.

It used to be the Military appealed to patriotism to recruit. In the last few decades, when that no longer worked, they changed tactics and now appeal to a “Are You Man Enough?” approach. They realized we are designed by God to be about something bigger than ourselves! This is partially why we "come alive" on serving others- Missions Trips and Service Projects! We do what we are designed for!

2- We get Frustrated and Cynical!
As people in the church respond to lack of direction and clear purpose, frustration continues, and in response the church becomes focused on making people happy and being nice- reinforcing the cycle!

3- Other Symptoms

There are plenty! Here's a few.

• We rewrite the rules to justify our personal weaknesses.
• We are fearful to confront sin. Truth tellers become the problem.
• Iron no longer sharpens iron- We got stuck in our disfunction.
• We become insincere as everyone must start to look good and be content or risk not fitting in. • We segregate ourselves from the outside world or we begin accepting everything the world says as ok for Christians. We become useless salt.
• We begin to protect the status quo in the church. At the extreme, we defend it to the result where good is labeled evil, and evil is justified away.

The church's call to Holiness, living a life that pleases God, is not legalism or simple narrow-mindedness - it is asking the church to be the church, the believer to be a disciple, the challenge to live as we say we believe. If we carry the name of Jesus, we should live like him!

If we look at 2 Timothy, where the Apostle Paul addresses Timothy- who was young in the faith but set aside to pastor a church, we get our "job description" as a person who follows Jesus Christ. It's interesting to note that in this letter to Timothy, Paul is the one in prison, but he is encouraging the young pastor to stay the course!

“1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (II Timothy 2:1-3)

Just some observations- We need to acknowledge God’s grace to live this life. Don’t rely on yourself. The Holy Spirit empowering us! Secondly, we as Jesus followers all have work to do, and Paul was encouraging young Timothy to endure hardship- knowing Timothy was working.

Some authors, like the popular Christian author John Eldridge, believe the church has been feminized. This may be why men are dropping out in record numbers, but I believe it is more than that. If it was just feminization, the drop out rate of college age students would be decreased by half!

I believe we have been rendered ineffective by being pacified. We have become pacifists- but God calls us to something different. He calls us to be active in our world, making it better becasue we are in it, contributing to it.

Paul compares being a Believer to being a soldier. But what are soldiers called to do? The job of a soldier is to: Defend, Protect, Free Prisoners, Advance Against and Break Down Enemy Strongholds

The book of I John tells us the whole world is under control of the Evil One, that is the devil. (I John 5:19-20). We know that he is like a roaring lion waiting to devour (I Peter 5:8). Yet, even without the Scriptures to remind us, we can see evil is winning battles in this world, although God has won the War. We are at war! Reality says “If you want to live in a nice world, go to Disneyland!”

Look at Jesus’ words about this battle: "12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force." (Matthew 11:12- New American Standard version of the Bible). What does this mean? The best explanation from the commentators is this: “The Kingdom of God Belongs to Those Who Contend for It!” Who will win? Not the nice guys! Hear me, I'm not advocating aggression or a victim mentality; I'm advocating perseverance and remembering our priorities.

Further in 2 Timothy 2: 3-4: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs- he wants to please his commanding officer.” There's only two comments from Paul here. First, a reminder. Don’t get involved in civilian affairs In other words, remember your first priorities! And second, please your commanding officer – the bottom line! For the soldier, this priority remains job Number 1.

Obedience is required- full understanding of all the facts or circumstances is not necessary even if it is preferred. This is training in integrity, commitment, and perseverance. There's no excuses- you are in the military or you are not. Own what you signed up for! Soldiers train for battle, refined by their commander. Every person is under someone’s authority. Each has special skills which work together for the common good, and all of us in the battlefield of life must be able to rely on the other.

Sometimes, the Commanding Officer is blunt, direct and honest- preparing the platoon for things to come; not always liked but respected. He's not your Mamma! We need Him to keep us from getting lazy and getting off on the wrong track. We need Him to remind us what Our Mission is!

Churches and People can forget their true Mission! It's the Great Commandment, to love God and one another. And it's the Great Commission, to go out into the world, be it near of far, and share the good news that Jesus died for the sins of men to save them from an eternity in Hell.

What challenges do soldiers face? Plenty- we must "Fight the Good Fight of Faith!" It should be a joy and a delight to work with God. At the least, it is exciting to be obedient and see where that leads! The Lord will judge us for our deeds; He will forgive our sin, not our excuses!

We are human and we like to run from truth to justify ourselves. We let ourselves and others stay in sin and old unhealthy patterns- this is not good for the church and not good for us as individuals! We like having just enough Jesus to save us from Hell but this kind of shallow satisfaction isn’t enough to give us deep freedom and healing. Only full submission will do it!

Not only is the way to eternal life narrow, the path for a true follower of Christ is narrow. It’s a path that leads us to the cross as well! Choosing to die to our own desires and embrace His calling.

We stand at a crossroads every day. What will it be, our purposes or His? Obedience or sin? It's time we fight the disease of Terminal Niceness in our churches. Isn't it?

This teaching is one of my personal favorites. I posted this years ago, and the message still holds true today.

January 26, 2016

Harry Potter Tales to Come

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter changed the face of theme parks forever. Universal's Islands of Adventure finally had a hit on its hands- and the lovely little park deserved to be noticed. With Harry Potter attractions also at the Studios park, Universal Orlando is giving Disney a run for its money.

My friend and great photographer Len Yokoyama stopped in for a lenghty visit over the Christmas holidays and returned with some wonderful photos and stories. More coming- stay tuned.

(Photograph copyright Len Yokoyama.)

January 25, 2016

The First Walt Disney World Map

Here it is for your viewing pleasure: the very first map I ever saw of Walt Disney World. Looking at this illustration of the soon to open Magic Kingdom was all it took for me to convince my folks to take a trip to Central Florida. It still has its charms with its very distinctive 1960's design aesthetic. 

Just look at 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea up at the top with its huge lagoon and mysterious caverns! Liberty Square and the Hall of Presidents. A brand new castle and the Country Bear Jamboree. So much to see, not counting the futuristic Contemporary Resort and the tropical Polynesian Village.f

Passport to Dreams Old and New is one heck of a site. One that provided this map. In fact, there's a whole article about the first ten year's of Magic Kingdom maps, and it can be found here.  But there's more on this site worth your time: in depth articles, rare photographs, and investigative reporting. One of the best out there is you love Walt Disney World history.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 22, 2016

Hong Kong Disneyland: The Little Park That Could

Woefully under built at opening, a Disney park fan could easily pass on visiting Hong Kong Disneyland. There were no landmark, unique to this park big budget attractions, a cheap knock-off castle from the original park in Anaheim, and in general, just not much to make this stand on its own. However...

There were photographs like this one above. (Photographer unknown.) A new twist on the classic Jungle Cruise. With the stunning mountains that surround the island, this Asian Adventureland has on air of authenticity not duplicated in Anaheim or in Tokyo Disneyland. And it was photos like this that made me take a second and third look.

New twists on old favorites.

Then, finally, the expansion began, and the park began to take on a unique personality. First Grizzly Gulch brought something fresh to the park as Imagineers satisfied guest's desire for something new. Granted, it is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad meets Expedition Everest and Grizzly River Rapids, but it looks pretty impressive nonetheless. 

Now that's a showstopping attraction!

Then, Mystic Manor opened, finally putting the little park on the international map.  This very original take on Disney's classic  Haunted Mansion totally redefined the place, creating the park attraction every Disney fan wanted in their home park.  In one swift move, Hong Kong Disneyland became a destination I'd want to see.

Can this little resort hold its own with Shanghai Disneyland opening soon? More surprises are coming with Marvel's Iron Man Experience and beyond. Rumors continue that this park will be receiving some significant investment in the next few years: new attractions, new hotels, and even a new theme park. Things are getting interesting!

(Art and bottom photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 21, 2016

The Elegant Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace Poster for Walt Disney World

Magic Kingdom's Crystal Palace is the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch if you're looking for an elegant setting and wanting a nice beginning to or break in your day. Just head to the left when you reach the hub. The building is large but charming. It's hard to miss!

Stunning, isn't it?

The beautiful glass dome and indoor plants are meant to evoke an old British greenhouse- a conservatory- making the building a perfect transition between Main Street U.S.A. and the wild jungles of Adventureland

Click to see the details in a much larger version of the photo.

Once inside, the more you look around, the lovelier the details. The hand of the artisan certainly was put to good use! 

Plaza Swan Boats and Crystal Palace concept art

It's very, very nice now, but it was even better at the beginning. In the early days of the Vacation Kingdom of the World, back when a trip to Walt Disney World meant the entire resort had two monorail line hotels but just one theme park, the classic Magic Kingdom. At the end of Main Street U.S.A., a quiet tranquility permeated the hub in front of the castle, framing expanses of land and water effectively separating out each land. Ah, the Plaza Sawn Boats!

Now they cease to exist.

I remember these charming boats gliding by as we approached the Palace and thinking just how beautiful this park was! (More on the Swan Boats here.) As a Disneyland native, the "blessing of size" was just so evident. The Imagineers took great care in providing top notch attractions in the midst of a serene garden like landscape. Everywhere a visitor looked flowers and trees were perfectly chosen to enhance the experience. The Crystal Palace is a great choice for dining, a wonderful place to eat where the food was  very good and also reasonably priced.

For quite awhile now, breakfast at the Crystal Palace means the overpriced Pooh character breakfast. Noisy, full of happy kids, and a very fun experience for families. Still with its very tempting buffet. But I would trade it in an instant for the early days when the dining experience inside matched the elegance outside.

(Art and photographs copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 20, 2016

Down for the Count

Look for a new post tomorrow, one written awhile ago. But I'm out sick and really feeling it. I hate it when illness slows me down.

January 19, 2016

Vintage Paris

The story begins in the year 1909. French banker Albert Kahn commissioned a handful of famous photographers of the day to travel around the world to document world famous cities.  Of course, Paris was at the top of the list! The world's most gorgeous city just had to be shot. Take a look here for the rest of this stunning collection.

January 18, 2016

Eagles' Glenn Frey: May He Rest in Peace.

Glenn Frey of the Eagles has passed away. What a gifted man, a talented artist. Hotel California remains one the best odes to life in the Golden State with it melodic guitar solo and biting lyrics. The Heat is On instantly brings me back decades, and James Dean rocks me to this day. It is the mournful, gorgeous Desperado, sung by Karen Carpenter, that showcases the array of his talent. It's an iconic take on an iconic tune. Rest in Peace.

Lies We Tell Ourselves: #1 Things Will Never Change

Politicians do it. Business CEOs do it. Even sweet dear old Mom does it. The truth is, you and I do it, too. We lie to others- and we lie to ourselves. Every lie has a series of unknown consequences far beyond its original intent, but the lies we tell ourselves may be the ones that truly keep us from being everything God has intended.

For those of us who diligently follow the Lord Jesus Christ, it is of the utmost importance that we take him at his word. The Old and New Testaments combined form the only true word of God. Other books, how ever well intended, are not the word of God. They may try to explain it, offer alternatives to it, or even deny the truth. However, if you are looking for eternal truths that never change, do not look elsewhere. 

Why is it important to understand the truth as God designed it? Simple. To do otherwise is to live within an alternative universe created in your mind. But it is one that does not exist. A very, very  wobbly place in which to make important life choices- one that always changes based on how you feel. 

The Apostle Paul wrote the following to the Colossian church to encourage them in understanding the truth as only God defines it.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”        Colossians 2:6-8

It is with this thought in mind that I'd like to share about the lies we tell ourselves, beginning with one of the biggest whoppers I hear most often.

LIE NUMBER 1: “Things Will Never Change”

How Do We Hear This?  What Does It Sound Like?

“The situation will never change”
“He will always be this way”
“I’ve Resigned Myself to it”
“I Was Born this Way”
“God Could Never Forgive Me”
“I Can’t Forgive Myself”

Anything that communicates  “God doesn't care enough about me to do anything" qualifies as a lie we must fight. What lies such as this do you currently believe? Do you want to get past it? If so, read on.
This is a battle in our minds, but we must fight for the truth by the power of God's word and in the strength of His Spirit. Sometimes, we like to believe the lie that things will never change.  Problems abound when this lie has taken root in our lives. It's a not so subtle progression that goes from bad to worse, and it's very easy to move down the sliding scale into hopelessness after you begin buying into it.

First and most importantly, believing this lie denies the character, the power, and the plan of God. Let's look at each one individually.

Even a light reading of the Old and New Testaments reveal God’s Wonderful heart toward us! His character is without fault. Pure, righteous, forgiving. He is worthy of our faith in Him because not only is He the creator of the world, he is the definition of Love Itself. He treats us not as we deserve but in compassion and mercy, desiring to draw all people to himself through His Son Jesus Christ. They very Son He sacrificed on the cross for our sin.

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
 Numbers 23:19

Those who love and follow the God of the Bible know well that we serve a god who goes before us, one who has our best interests in mind even if circumstances do not make sense to us, one who is dependable, one who is loving, and one who follows through on what He says we will do. Unlike the leaders of man in any field - even the church itself- God can be trusted and depended upon.

The Power of God is without limit. He can do absolutely whatever He determines must be done. He created our world and its holds it in His Hand. All creation displays His Glory, and yet He is near when we call on Him.

God could be distant and aloof, demanding of us, ruling over us, making us fear for our lives and for our eternity. Instead He alone conquered sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of His great love for mankind, he clearly tells us that is the only way to eternal life with Him. Period.

He performs miracles so we can see not only His personal love for us and His power but for his desire to reveal Himself for who he is - altering the very rules of the universe He created!

God's plan is perfect. God's plan for you is perfect. It doesn't mean your mistakes, your choices, your sin cannot cause you to take a different and much more difficult route than what God intends. The ultimate "first step: in God's plan is that you would come to know Him as both the One who died to pay the price for your sin, the Father who loves you deeply, and as the very One whose lead you follow.

Choosing to follow Him and turn away from your current life in this way means we become children of God. (See Galatians 3:26 in the New Testament). At this point, God begins a wonderfully great transformation in your life. Slowly, and maybe without ever knowing it, you become more like Jesus and begin to desire to please God. (See Romans 8:29). 

Imagine a life that begins to make sense, a life with peace and purpose and hope! It goes far beyond the freedom forgiveness brings. This world promises us riches and power and pleasure but delivers disappointments one right after another. It's God who blesses us with the good things we have... and only because He is loving and desires we would come to know Him. 

God gives us His personal promise that He will complete that substantial work of changing us. Then, He will use us for the truly important things in life, blessing people and sharing His Sacrificial Love. This love is so powerful, so transforming, that we may end up going all over the world as well as across the street to share the news. So much better than the world's wealth.

The best news for those who believe comes when its time to say goodbye to life on this earth. Just listen to what God promises:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
 I Thessalonians 4:16-18

YOU can have all this! Or you can choose to believe the lie that things will never change. The choice is yours, but let me warn you, if you continue to believe the lie, you'll lose out on so much. You'll also go down the path to destruction. But more about that next time...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 17, 2016

Sunday with Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones Adventure. After two decades of Imagineering's best thrills for Disneyland guests, the iconic attraction continues to pull in the numbers. Here's a nice piece of seldom seen concept art for an alternative entrance to the Adventureland excursion, including a nice section of the Disneyland Railroad worked into the design. 

If you can't make it to California, there's always a newer version to be found at Tokyo DisneySea. Unfortunately, it's saddled with the Crystal Skull theme, now forever ruined by the 4th film and George Lucas' insistence on making aliens a centerpiece plot line.

Will an Indy transport attraction ever make it to Florida at Disney's Hollywood Studios? Rumors swirl, fans ask, and maybe even Imagineers plan. As Star Wars Land keeps guests anticipating the future, more news tends to suggest the location for it is changing, perhaps even keeping the famous Indy stunt show open... as perhaps a precursor to an entire Indy themed land. Let's hope so!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 16, 2016

California Dreaming in Laguna Beach

Just a short drive away from Disneyland is lovely Laguna Beach, California! Always one of our stops on a trip to see family. I took this shot a few years ago, and it sits as my desktop photo. It was one of those perfect beach days when the world seems to stop and everything just seems right.  I have it in a very, very, large size, so one day, I'll blow it up and frame it. But for now, I'll just enjoy the view on this cold wintry day in Denver.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 15, 2016

Eating at Tangled's Snuggly Duckling in Shanghai Disneyland

If I were the kind of guy that could be there for opening day at Shanghai Disneyland, you'd find me eating at the Tangled Tree Tavern in Fantasyland

Why? When I go to Disney parks, a charming or unique  atmosphere means as much to me as the food. Anyone can eat at a chain restaurant. Secondly, I love Tangled- it's one of my favorite Disney movies ever- and the thought of diving into the animated classic is something I couldn't resist. 

Gotta say, the food selection looks to be excellent, and the choices of dining locations and environment seem to match!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 14, 2016

Beautiful Discovery Bay Art

Work moves ahead on the new Disneyland project, and like many of us, Shelly Valladolid aka Fab over at the MiceAge/Chat fondly recalls what could have been built in the Big Thunder Ranch area- the exquisite Discovery Bay.

The designs of Imagineer Tony Baxter have resulted in some of the most beloved and iconic attractions found in Disney theme parks. Truth is, his masterpiece, the unbuilt Discovery Bay for Disneyland deserves to be built somewhere. Anywhere. 

This beautiful piece of concept art shows what could have been. An original idea executed with brilliance and heart. A perfect thematic fit between Frontierland and Fantasyland. This blog contains other renderings that will make you wonder "What were they thinking when they cancelled this project?"

His work is everywhere. If you love the park in Paris', odds are you found Discoveryland a great blend of science fiction and whimsical fantasy a la Jules Verne. Thank Tony and his team. (Or the entire park as he led the project!) Do you find Big Thunder Mountain Railroad a must do every trip? I do. Thank Tony. Perhaps you still mourn the loss of the original Journey Into Imagination at EPCOT Center. Don't thank Toy for the loss, but do thank him for the creation of Dreamfinder and Figment, characters burned into the hearts of theme park fans worldwide. Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain, the original New Fantasyland at Disneyland- projects big and small. Tony.

So, Star Wars Land it is- and we will be wowed. Disney will not botch this one up. They cannot afford to. 

Even in retirement, Tony and his creations are hotly debated inside and outside the Walt Disney Company. One mark of genius. Think jealousy, envy, and old fashioned politics all within the company we love to talk about. I've taken a look at this debate in greater detail. Part One can be found here. And Part Two

The original piece thought to be Discovery Bay.

UPDATE: Although this was given to me as Discovery Bay, my friend Alain Littaye at Disney and More believes it to be Tokyo DisneySea. He may be right! I'll have to do some checking.

UPDATE #2: Alain's hunches are correct- Tokyo DisneySea, it is, so I have replaced the concept art.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 12, 2016

Can't Say

This post is deliberately being written and positioned well after the fact, after the events for a reason. I just can't say much other then this: I ran into a man who had caused my family tremendous harm over several years. I've been working on forgiveness- which means choosing to forgive and asking God to complete the work in me. I guess God has made progress. I was able to greet him, talk for a moment, and move on.

One of my favorite restaurants closed this week. It was a place I was able to go to in relative quiet and work, study, write, and pray. The last time I lost my place like this, it was expected, but this was not at all. No notice. Absolutely nothing. Zero. Just an empty shell of a restaurant building- now all it holds is great memories of friends and family gathered together to enjoy wonderful food.

I wonder what God is doing...

A Night Out on the Town

It's an all too rare occasion when this works, but boy, was it fun! Just a post for my memories...

January 11, 2016

Rivers of America After Star Wars Land

The work has begun, and the Walt Disney Company has just now released what looks to be a beautiful way to make those changes to the Disneyland Railroad and the Rivers of America visually appealing- even if the routes and the river are being shortened forever. (Click on it for close up look in a much larger size. ) Ton Sawyer Island Rafts can still be seen and all. Wouldn't you like to see the right and north side of that piece of art? I'm sure we will in time.

This concept art sparkles, as does most art for new Disneyland projects. The Imagineers are true artists. Let's see how this all plays out. Either way, Star Wars Land here we come...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Change at Disneyland Both Good and Bad

The year is 1965, and this map represents an era when the lovely and iconic New Orleans Square did not exist as part of Walt's park. Few people alive today can imagine a day at Disneyland without it- without an elegant home for the groundbreaking Pirates of the Caribbean, the equally impressive Haunted Mansion, and even the original Disney Gallery. Most visitors to the park would not even think of missing these two "E Ticket" attractions on a visit. Yet, the park and the surrounding area had to sacrifice some land in order to make this happen. Things change. 

There would be no Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 
without Nature's Wonderland going away.

The face of Disneyland substantially changes today. In a way that will be historic, sad, and yet, offering exciting new Star Wars Land adventures as construction completes a few years from now. Is it worth these huge changes? We shall see. The suits are pushing a single but very popular intellectual property as an entire land among lands that encompass many different individual stories. It's a first for this park, but it seems to be the wise short term business decision- if all you are looking for is money in the coffers of investors and CEOs. After the wild success of Universal's Harry Potter expansions and the very popular Cars Land- the land that saved the much despised 1.0 version of California Adventure, we will see more of this come our way. Pandora / World of Avatar will soon change the face of Animal Kingdom. What will be next? 

Is that what Disneyland is about? That's the question many are asking. Would I prefer Star Wars anchors a third park in Anaheim? Yes, without reservation. It should be different, but it is not. Things change that we have no control over. This is one of them.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 9, 2016

Saturday in Venice

Historic. Crumbling. Crowded. Absolutely showy and spectacular! Venice, Italy is rightfully a must see on a traveler's vacation to do list! We alternatively felt overwhelmed by the crowds, wowed by the historic city's vistas and intricate pathways that wove in and out of this city, and ultimately like most visitors, fell in love with its charms. Look closely- the city of the islands is almost all stone and marble with very few trees and even smaller amounts of grass.

I will say this about the above sunny and bright photo: It surely had to be an incredible day to get the water this blue- or its a totally photoshopped image!

(Photographer unknown.)

January 8, 2016

A New Magic Kingdom

For generations, Disneyland and its sister Magic Kingdom parks have inspired countless artists and those who want to be Imagineers. (Yours truly included as a young teen.)

Here is one of the most elaborate and beautifully rendered new Magic Kingdoms. A brilliant artist, Mr. Zahta has combined elements of Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea into one incredible, but unfortunately imaginary, park. So far, from what I can see, there's even Shanghai Disneyland influences and who knows- maybe a bit of Dubai Disneyland mixed in. (Yes, you really can find art for Dubai Disneyland if you Google for it!).

Click on this for an incredibly large image and enjoy!
(Art copyright Mr. Zahta.)

January 7, 2016

Rare Disney Images from the New York Public Library

A very large series of photographs have been made public domain from the New York Public Library. Thousands up on thousands, including these related to Walt Disney.

First up, above, looks to be a cigarette ad for Mitchell's Cigarettes. Certainly fully of irony 50 years after his passing, but definitely of historic value.

Disneyland's iconic Golden Horseshoe. A most appropriate image to have on file if any of Walt'd beloved park and an opening day fan favorite attraction.

Walt Disney World has not been left behind either. Here's the Hall of Presidents, an opening day attraction in Walt Disney World. It was one of the must-see presentations in the park when attractions such as the Mickey Mouse (Musical) Revue were also still around.

EPCOT Center's Spaceship Earth. Futuristic elegance defined.

Two great vintage postcards from guests. The second one is worth reading. Click on all these for the largest size, by the way.

The man as I prefer to remember him. Thank you, Walt, and thank you New York Public Library for sharing these!

Carpenters Revisited: A Fresh Look at Offering / Ticket to Ride

During my teen years, the music of Karen and Richard Carpenter was easily found on Top 40 Radio or spinning on my turntable (or later in the 8-Track player in my car). Many times their long playing albums and 45 RPM singles would be played on the entertainment center in my parent's living room. As a young adult, their last album, Made in America came out while I was dating my wife. Karen's untimely death occurred right before our very first wedding anniversary, with Voice of the Heart debuting just before our first child was born. As you can tell, Carpenters music was woven into my life. 

When the blog first began many years ago, eventually I decided I'd review each album, beginning with Ticket to Ride. As the reviews continued one album after another, one day I realized as I was also telling the story of life in sunny Southern California in the 70's, more specifically Orange County. The articles also told the story of my life. This includes finally meeting my musical heroes. 

When I discovered the A&M Corner, it was an eye opener: seemingly there was hundreds of hard core fans on this site. Fans of Karen and Richard, from many varied backgrounds and experiences, each with differing tastes, each with stories about how the duo and the music had impacted their lives. 

Over the course of my interaction with these wonderful folks and the equally great moderators on the discussion board, I found I truly enjoyed wide range of perspectives regarding each album, song, and single and why this collection or that one was a success or failure. Reading the memories of concerts seen and television specials watched was delightful. Like so many folks on those boards, I particularly enjoyed sharing the opinions and facts surrounding Karen's ill-fated solo album and Richard's own solo career after her passing.

As with most fans of the duo, I was passionate about their music and had my favorite discs and songs... but from the people on the boards, I discovered a brand new appreciation for those selections I'd previously overlooked, changing my perspective and "Top Ten" lists over time. All this leads me to the point of reassessing my look at each album as we approach the 50th Anniversary of the duo's recording career. Now for a fresh look at the incredible music of Carpenters!

Repackaged as Ticket to Ride, the way I first saw and heard it.

"The Carpenters had an album out before Close to You?"

That question went round in my head the first time I discovered the Ticket to Ride LP in Wallich's Music City.  It was 1971, and several months earlier, I had purchased the duo's smash album mainly on the enduring strength of its second single, We've Only Just Begun.

Growing up in Orange County, California, I was living in Garden Grove when I first became aware of Karen and Richard Carpenter. The beach was close enough to me that I'd spend quite a bit of time there, and Disneyland was actually the first destination I learned to reach once I was behind the wheel of a car. 

My folks were young and young at heart, less then two decades older than me, and music was a part of our home as long as I can remember. Dick Clark and American Bandstand were clearly my Mom's favorites. "I'll give it a 75 because I can dance to it" was as common of phrase as me discussing Disneyland's next "E Ticket" at the dining room table. (For you Disney fans, The Haunted Mansion had just opened in August 1969, only a few years after a New Tomorrowland and the iconic Pirates of the Caribbean.)

I loved everything about Southern California and totally embraced the lifestyle, although we moved constantly from one apartment to the next as my Dad got his career going and didn't always have money to pay the rent. Overall, we lived in 21 places before I was 18, with just 3 different homes from 7th to 12th grade. Eventually, we settled into a pretty nice home, backyard pool included. Why even bother making friends when you knew you were going to move to another school anyway? Besides, I had the music to keep me company.

The great hits of Motown were songs I knew by heart, as I would happily spend long lazy summers at my grandmother's house with my two teenaged aunts. They loved everything released by the Supremes, the Temptations, and Stevie Wonder. I knew more Rhythm and Blues and Pop songs by black artists to such large a degree that I was only slightly aware of the multitudes of hits by that little English band named the Beatles. The Fall of 1970 would change everything.

Seventh grade, sitting on the bus by myself (of course) and being patient for it to take off for the ride home. I always sat as far to the front as I could. I wanted to hear the radio. No, I had to hear the radio. As an unathletic teen, music was my life, and this bus driver had turned me on to Los Angeles' 93 KHJ radio by having it on every afternoon. This meant hearing Ain't No Mountain High Enough next to Make It With You; American Woman then The Love You Save, and Cracklin' Rosie all in one hour. 

Suddenly this voice catches my ear. Someone whose voice I didn't know at all. A woman's voice so warm and tender and genuine, that it fully caught me off guard. I was instantly awestruck. The unabashedly romantic lyrics surprised me as well. Who was the woman and what was the song? Arriving home, I begged to take a bike ride to the nearby record store and purchase the 45. Off I went.

The next year, I would return to the store and search the bins only to find a totally different Carpenters album than the one I purchased right after the "Begun" single. By that point in time, I knew the Close to You album very, very well, and with the success of the first two singles, I expected a third, but it did not happen.

Photo outtakes from the original Offering sessions.

Eventually I took the plunge and purchased Ticket to RideThe sophisticated sound of the earlier disc with its intimate ballads and upbeat numbers made me think there was more of this style to be found on their earlier album. To say the least, was I very, very surprised! 

I was not a big fan of what I heard back then compared to the first album I purchased by Karen and Richard, but there were some songs of notice, and it certainly was ambitious. My first review of the disc on the blog reflected that general sense of disappointment (along with the fact I wasn't entirely sure of what I was doing). Hopefully, this revised piece will make up for the brevity of the earlier one.

For many decades, in spite of repeated listenings, my feelings about the disc remained much the same. It was the 1989 television bio The Karen Carpenter Story and it's use of All of My Life that made me begin to re-evalate it. The very slow process eventually gained momentum due to the constant stream of  on line enthusiasm for this album. More and more folks singing its praises with posts on the A&M Corner discussion boards finalized my desire to rethink the project. 

As I get older and rethink my own life with its variety of good and bad decisions, successes and failures, I am gaining in grace for others around me. And I'm rethinking perspectives and opinions I once held too dear. It's with this outlook that I've readdressed the music of Karen and Richard.

The opening song, Invocation is a lovely but all too short piece of high church music. There's a solemn hopefulness as she sings this Richard Carpenter / John Bettis tune.  The multi-layered vocals of she and Richard enhance the recording. It feels much like the pieces recorded by the California State University Long Beach choir when Karen sang with them, and that is a nice connection to their past. As with many songs of the time, there's a bit of a faith infusion found here. Some artists of the time brought this to the music scene  very well - Norman Greenbaum's hippie-ish Spirit in the Sky comes to mind - but many others were not quite as successful. The clean and simple vocal arrangement works to the Carpenters' advantage here.

Pretty rare Offering 8-track. Not mine, unfortunately!

Invocation is the first of ten songs on this collection that were penned by the Carpenter /Bettis songwriting team or by Richard on his own. Perhaps the oddest is the next selection, Your Wonderful Parade. It's a stark contrast to the elegance of the opening number. Bright, loud, and with a strong drum performance by Karen (who has been relegated to background vocals on this cut), Parade seems to reinforce the idea that Carpenters at heart were really a minstrel vocal group- even if only the brother and sister were photographed for the album. 

Karen in marching band- reprising a role in Your Wonderful Parade.

If the goal in placing this recording as the second selection was to get the listener to stand up and take notice, it brazenly succeeds. The cynical, biting, lyric line and the wildly unconventional arrangement create a raw and very fresh item that you'd expect to find on their later album, Passage. I've grown to appreciate it for what it is, a time capsule of sorts in a career cut short much too soon.

Overblown and beyond dramatic. I'm just not a fan of Someday anymore. It's the first true pop ballad featuring Karen's lead vocals, and to this day, I really cannot decide if it is the arrangement or the performance. The ending is just cringe worthy. Richard has said that Karen was not happy with her original performance and would have liked to rerecord it. I wish they had. A truncated recutting of the song was part of a medley for the Music, Music, Music television special in 1980 (and that version appears on two later boxed sets). That show's medley is among my favorite of their recordings, but I do wish that piece would have been replaced. It's still overblown and dramatic... everything the critics wrongly accused the Carpenters of being.

Much like the turbulent 60's and early 70's, Offering/Ticket to Ride is an album of stark contrasts in the content of its lyrics. In one cut, the establishment is being loudly mocked and criticized and just a few selections later, Richard is asking people to Get Together. The Chet Atkins written song was a very popular one and was recorded multiple times. The Youngbloods made a mid-chart hit of it in 1967, just two years prior to it finding its way to the Carpenters' album. It's another spiritual number but in some ways an odd choice. The song's filled with references to the Bible, especially the book of Revelation, where Jesus returns to gather his faithful believers from the world at the end of time. Richard handles the lead vocals on the stanzas, giving it a very breathy performance, while Karen is strongly up front on the chorus. It begins simply enough with the piano, but about the 48 second mark, the horns kick in with the rhythm section, making it a very compelling recording. It's probably one of few where the arrangement and orchestration is the strongest element of the song.

Next up is All of My Life, the Offering song that Richard wrote sans John Bettis and the one he wisely chose to represent this album while making The Karen Carpenter Story. In my opinion, the brilliance of Karen Carpenter that set her apart from other vocalists came in the performances when she chose to simply sing the number, inflecting nuances instead of stridently pushing her voice up and down the charts. The music behind her reflects the longing in her heart, communicating a tenderness she so well expressed in song. Although it falters a bit toward the end, All of My Life gives listeners a hint of what was to come in the future, and it's my favorite selection on the album.

Side One ends with Turn Away, with lead vocal by Richard that is much better than I first realized. That said, it's only when Karen enters the picture that the song begins to find its center. Enjoyable and upbeat, it is a pretty solid but ordinary closing number for the first half of the album.

The A&M Records promotional team 
began their blundering with this poor idea of how to promote the duo.

As I wrote in the earlier article, covering a Beatles song is a very risky thing to do, and not many artists do it well. Karen and Richard were certainly not the first to try it. While the British megastars were still together, it was a very common practice for acts of all genres to jump in. Even Aretha Franklin got caught up in this trend, recording Eleanor Rigby. The title song was the first and only single from the debut album, and it has a strange chart history.

Ticket debuted on the Billboard charts at #92 for the week ending Valentine's Day 1970. The second week, it remained there. Five weeks later, it peaked at #73 then dropped off the charts by the first week in April. It re-entered two weeks later at #81, eventually reaching #54 on May 9, before dropping off once more, this time for good. (Interestingly, in less than a month Close to You would hit the charts...having a very different outcome than Ticket.) Was the public that fickle? Did A&M promotional executives push harder than before? What role did radio play? Whatever caused the change in fortunes for the single certainly added to A&M giving the duo another chance in the studio.

More marketing mistakes.
Out of curiosity, I darkened the photo to see Richard's face.
I can understand why he was angry.

The song itself is such a contrast to the Beatles' version. Ballad versus upbeat, female vocalist versus male lead, etc. As part of Offering, it comes across as a novelty piece, but when it appeared in revised form on The Singles 1969-1973, the song positively shimmered in its moodiness. It's almost as if two different artists were performing the same piece.

From the same photo sessions 
that brought about a new name and album cover.

After such a serious song, Don't Be Afraid refreshes the listener with its upbeat message and catchy tune; "groovy thing" cliches aside. Never thinking much of it beyond that, it wasn't until hearing the Carpenters use in it their act that I had a sweet appreciation for it. More for sentimental reasons than the actual quality of the song itself. It's followed by an equally lightweight number, What's the Use. Much like side one's closer, the song is nice, fluffy, and mostly unremarkable. 

The roots of The Richard Carpenter Trio come in with with All I Can Do. It's bright, jazzy, and quite a nice change of pace. Perhaps one of the most successful cuts on the album due to these factors, the song gives Karen a chance to vocally stretch out a bit... and to play bass in addition to playing drums throughout the album.  

A much happier presentation of the duo
after a few hits under their belt.

From hot to cold. Eve. Ugh. Saddled with simple rhymes and a melody that plods, this song is regularly skipped. As the last "full" song with Karen's lead vocal on the album, it's a disappointment. Much worse a selection than Someday, and towards the bottom of my Carpenters barrel. That's all I will say. 

Before the Benediction kicks in, Richard and Karen successfully take on a Neil Young classic. Richard's vocals are strong and clear here. At one point if I hear it correctly, the keyboard takes on the sound of an oboe for a few brief seconds. A taste of things to come. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing sounds great even if lyrically it is a very depressing song. With its extended instrumental piece, the ending reminds me of Another Song from the Close to You album.

Once the Offering album was repackaged as Ticket, sales were better. This was mostly due to the success of their second album but also due to use of new photographs and graphics. On the original cover, Karen and Richard look tired and angry. On the repackaged album, the sailboat photo, the water, and smiling faces of the duo bring a cheery, bright outlook for marketing purposes. This change is much more representative of the music found within. A great move on A&M's part- one of few when it came to visually representing the duo. 

Do smiling faces sell more records?

It wasn't too long after I purchased the Ticket album in 1971 that the next album came out. Carpenters (also known as the Tan album) was fresh and new, so I put their first disc aside. This maybe led to me not appreciating it as much as I do now. It's not their best work, but as Richard himself has said, it was a pretty good album for a brand new act. Yes, Richard, it is...and your second one would be among your best. 

My Original Review here, with the rest of the albums following in chronological order.   A very special thanks to those folks who constructed The Complete Carpenters Recording Resource, to "Rick- An Ordinary Fool" for so many rare scans, and all my friends on the A&M Corner boards. 

My Original Carpenters album reviews:

Offering/Ticket to Ride

Close to You
A Song for You
Now & Then
The Singles 1969-1973
Live In Japan
A Kind of Hush
Live at the Palladium
The Singles 1974-1978
Christmas Portrait
Made in America
Voice of the Heart
An Old Fashioned Christmas
Time (Richard Solo)
Karen Carpenter (Solo)
As Time Goes By

My Revisited / Fresh Look series:

Close to You
A Song for You