February 26, 2021

Get Ready to Be Lost in This Prehistoric World and Beyond

Ready to take an adventure Around the World in 80 Days or back to the prehistoric times when dinosaurs roamed the earth a la Countdown to Extinction at Disney's Animal Kingdom? These incredible pieces of concept art would make any Imagineer proud! Or ex-Imagineer in these cases.

What do you mean "Ex-Imagineer"? Well, this art and so much more was designed by Disney artists no longer under their employment. If you look closely, you'll recognize the styles of a few of these folks.

Legacy Entertainment commissioned these pieces showing how an incredible park can be made without the use of Intellectual Property tied to books, movies, or television shows.

Be prepared to be wowed! Pages upon pages of this terrific art can be found starting here. Set aside a couple of hours...

(Thanks to Randy Savage at the WDWMagic Boards for pointing the way!)

(Art copyright Legacy Entertainment.)

February 23, 2021

Black Author's Piece Challenges the Direction We are Headed

Black author and Emmy winner Ryan Bomberger has written an excellent piece on our culture's focus on racial reconciliation and righting wrongs. (The excerpt begins below.) But his perspective brings new questions worth considering. He is the co-founder of The Radiance Foundation and the writer of NOT EQUAL: CIVIL RIGHTS GONE WRONG.

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"We see it everywhere. Thanks to Corporate America, mainstream media, so-called civil rights groups, academia and a relevance-worshipping Church, we are a nation increasingly judging one another and separating ourselves by the color of our skin. We’re surrounded by marketing that elevates one group while excoriating another. It’s okay, we’re told. It’s all in a day’s work toward “diversity” and “inclusion.”

Funny thing how so many get excluded in those pursuits.

Racism is evil. Exploiting it, marketing it, and expanding it is too.

The racial messaging is loud and clear: if you’re not the right hue, there’s obviously something wrong with you. And those reminders are relentless. From Hollywood babble to pandering politicians to Big Tech Tyrants to Institutions of Higher Mislearning to euphemistic bridges to nowhere in woke churches, we’re barraged by an unending stream of color conscious craziness that demands society sees hue before they see you.

As with all things rooted in human frailty, today’s celebrated form of segregation is immensely profitable, especially for those peddling the victimhood. There’s no scarcity of New York Times bestselling authors reminding us to define ourselves by our “whiteness” or “blackness," and to assess every situation, every word, every interaction with others through the broken narratives of Critical Race Theory. It’s exhausting. That’s not living.

At every turn we’re being commanded to check our color, check our privilege, check our to-do-lists of guilt-oriented tasks. Corporate America has taken genuflection to a whole new low. Remember when Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy got on his knees and started shining hip-hop artist Lecrae’s shoes in a seriously cringey display of reconciliation-gone-wrong? He told other white people to do the same. If you ever try to shine my shoes, I will kick you. I repeat. I. Will. Kick. You. This doesn’t erase racism. This doesn’t change the past. This just makes someone feel really uncomfortable.

Guilt is a powerful thing. And when it’s coupled with racism, it’s a cash cow, especially for the groups that rely on victim evangelism. The Black Lives Matter movement raked in millions while cities and businesses burned last summer. The NAACP, in full denial of the massive violence and destruction wrought by many #BLM “peaceful protests,” was the recipient of millions more in pledges from Corporate America...

 Read the rest of this excellent piece here.

February 21, 2021

Silent Sunday


(photograph copyright Gilles DETOT).

February 15, 2021

Universal Here We Come!

At the invitation of our youngest son, we are off to Universal Orlando Resort! As I mentioned earlier in the blog, we sees the resort as "his" resort versus Walt Disney World- which is viewed as a much older person's domain or for those with little kids. Of course, being a big fan of Harry Potter, he would love the Studios and Islands of Adventure. Gotta say, it is much less expensive than Disney World! Park tickets are less and resort rooms much, much less expensive. Should be a great trip!

February 13, 2021

The Weather Outside is Frightful...

... and I can't help thinking of some of the world's most beautiful beaches! Definitely including Seaside, Florida!

(Photographer unknown)

February 12, 2021

My Ride on Disneyland's Long Lost Rocket Rods

Growing up in Orange County, California meant Disneyland was a part of my life for as long as I can remember. For better and for worse. I grew up a geek, anticipating every addition to Walt Disney's magic playground. Few construction projects were as highly anticipated as the brand New Tomorrowland of 1998. 

Rocket Rods was the one most everyone looked forward to. The name now represents one of Disney's most high profile failures, right alongside Light Magic, California Adventure 1.0, and Superstar Limo. Bargain Basement Imagineered and poorly engineered because of a minuscule budget, Rocket Rods was long long for this earth..  

Visiting the family at the right time, I was at Disneyland within the first few weeks of the opening. My first stop was to be expected. I happily jumped into the lengthy queue. The beautifully re purposed America the Beautiful building showcased blueprint type art and vintage Tomorrowland graphics. Getting to the old Peoplemover platform involved a bit of Disney engineering magic bringing guests upstairs in a very clever way. Soon enough, I was high above Tomorrowland waiting for my one and only ride on the attraction's futuristic sleds.

As everyone knows, the ride itself was a constant stop and go experience. At full speed, it was great fun! Cruising above the land was just so classic Disney with a twist. A roller coaster of sorts fully outdoors but also in theme. When we had to slow down for those pesky unbanked curves, it was a step backwards in what should have been another must-do in the park.

Imagineer Tony Baxter lead the Tomorrowland project and took a fair share of the blame for its failure. Of course, I debate that view. The suits and Michael Eisner's cold feet were the real culprits. I make my case for the excellence of Tony Baxter's work here in part one and part two of this very popular series of articles. 


As things worked out, it was my one and only ride. I planned to get back into line but there was still the rest of Tomorrowland '98 waiting  to see. My next trip out would be in 2001 for California Adventure, and the once promising Rocket Rods were now a piece of Disneyland history.

(Top photo from Yesterland. Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 10, 2021

Love On Demand

Sex. 

I have your attention now, don’t I?

I must admit, I think about sex often. I bet you do, too. Sometimes, I wonder if that is godly. I love that private time with my wife. Then I realize God created and blesses marital sex, and He calls it good. In the New Testament, Paul exhorts believers to remember that in marriage, the body of the husband also belongs to his wife, and the wife’s body also belongs to her husband (I Corinthians 7:3-4). I like that. Sounds like an abundance of love on command.

As with most things, Scripture challenges us with another level of application- the commandment to love our wives. Reading I Corinthians 13 reminded me that Biblical love is an action, not just a feeling. One section hit me square between the eyes: “Love… is not self-seeking” (vs. 5).

Sex.

(I just wanted to say it again to make sure I didn’t lose you for this next part!)

How many times I am selfish and self-seeking all day long! It’s a matter of what I want when I want it. Especially when I get home from the demands of the day. Occasionally, glimpses of change shine through. Maybe it is the same for you.

Our attention seems to be naturally tuned in to our careers, our pleasure, and our recreation. The culture we live in also reinforces our sin nature. You know- be all that you can be; go for the gusto; win at all costs; be the master of your universe; ad nauseum. Everything from computers to sports, captivates our hearts and occupies our time. We willingly spend our lives pursuing recognition, more money, more toys, and better bodies.

So what about loving our wives and giving ourselves up for them? (Ephesians 5). That is part of this marriage thing. We are called to love and serve our wives- to lay our lives down for them. What speaks sacrificial love to your wife? It is a dinner out, kind words, a cup of coffee and conversation, letting her have a night out while you watch the kids, or taking her to that “chick flick” she’s dying to see? The answers are endless, but only you know what those things are that speak of your preference for her over yourself and what you want.

Want more and better sex? Learn to love on your wife. Use your body, your whole body, to love her. Use your ears to listen to her about her day; your mouth to praise and encourage her; your hands to help her; your heart to understand how she feels; your feet to take her places she enjoys. Use your mind to choose her, instead of doing what just pleases you.

Put her above all others. Then she will be free to be who she really is- the woman of your dreams, the love of your life, the one you married. And your heart will be free to enjoy her. Lastly, seek the Lord with all you’ve got. Nothing is more attractive to a godly wife than a man who loves his Lord. A bulging wallet or bulging biceps can’t even come close.

Sex.

It’s a wonderful thing that God desires to make even better by laying down our lives for our wives. Don’t just believe me about what I’ve written- ask your wife.

February 8, 2021

20 Years of California Adventure- The Good, The Bad, and The Very Ugly!

With much anticipation, California Adventure opened twenty years ago- to an instant negative response for good reason. It was the park we Disney fans loved to hate. Having visited two days in a row during the opening year, it wasn't until the second day that I understood the truth: Disney was trying to go head to head with Six Flags Magic Mountain and was not interested in offering a classic Disney theme park experience.

To all who believe in the power of dreams... welcome. Disney's California Adventure opens its golden gates to you. Here we pay tribute to the dreamers of the past... The native people, explorers, immigrants, aviators, entrepreneurs and entertainers who built the Golden State. And we salute a new generation of dreamers who are creating the wonders of tomorrow ... From the silver screen to the computer screen ... From the fertile farmlands to the far reaches of space. Disney's California Adventure celebrates the richness and the diversity of California ... Its land, its people, its spirit and, above all, the dreams that it continues to inspire.
Disney California Adventure Dedication Speech 
-- February 8, 2001 , Michael Eisner

The well crafted words above cannot hide the truth. That's not to say there weren't glimpses of beautiful work to be found on opening day. Unfortunately, only the very small Grizzly Peak and Condor Flats areas of the park had charm and potential. The rest, including a warehouse looking entry area named Sunshine Plaza, screamed cheap, fast, and uninspired- an insult to Disney fans. 

Paradise Pier was an ugly carnival saved by one great roller coaster, and the Hollywood Pictures Backlot was so bad that the ironically epic Superstar Limo (below) became the poster child for theme park failure.


Ultimately, the second California park couldn't decide exactly what it was. When an ugly carnival made up the largest piece of real estate in the park, the studios hypes backlot resembles a junkyard with all the exposed steel, and most of the attractions are carnival rides, films, or retreads from Florida, there's a problem. Wait! There's a tractor display. Wow.

The blame lay with the suits, not the Imagineers. Michael Eisner, fighting an economic battle to constantly be earning more than every before and increasing stock value, seemed to have lost faith in the very artists that made the Disney name synonymous with quality. The truth is the ultimate betrayal would be known months after opening the park when the jaw dropping and much acclaimed Tokyo Disneysea opened in Japan. It became the instant gold standard of which all theme park are measured against. But then again, Oriental Land Company funded the project, not Disney.

It took trying to improve the park by adding quick fixes like the kid friendly Bug's Land and a cheaper version of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror for the suits to finally realize they had mandated a park that few would visit. Under Robert Iger's leadership, they announced a redesign in 2007, letting the Imagineers finally Get to work on something high quality. Admittedly to mixed results, but overall a great improvement.

With the transformation ongoing for almost five years, the newly rebuilt park hit its peak in 2012 with the opening of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land, featuring the must-do attraction Radiator Springs Racers. The crowds came in and seemed to stay. In the next five years, the park almost doubled attendance compared to the opening year numbers. 

Unfortunately, that same peak year would lead to a drastic downturn in quality Imagineering in the park once the crowds came in. The once steadily improving carnival area was given an even cheaper and unnecessary overlay into Pixar Pier, capping off a series of changes to the park that lessened the great experience that looked promising just a few years before. Where I once happily spent a full day there, my last visit in 2019 lasted just a couple of hours, and I had enough. Off to Walt's park next door for the high quality I'd come to expect.

The original California Adventure souvenir map.

Inside the park guide map.
Revealing a small park with a mix of some nicely designed elements
among a slate of off the shelf attractions and re-run films.

Will the very ugly continue? Will the park continue its downhill slide or will smarter minds prevail and begin adding high quality, epic Disney attractions to its roster? Hard to say. Current leader Bob Chapek seems hellbent in destroying what makes Disney parks great. While Universal parks are becoming more like Disney's greatest work, Disney California Adventure now aims to be more like Universal of old. A definite step backwards.
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There are a number of articles on this site that chronicle the transformation of the park through a look at Disney concept art. Take a peek at Bargain Basement Imagineering beginning here.

Part Two is here

Part Three (with the beginning of the park transformation can be found here.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft. Maps copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


February 7, 2021

Vintage Disneyland Paris Photos

The year was 1998, and it was our first (and I thought only ever) visit to Disneyland Paris. My wife and I had saved quite a bit of money to take our growing family to go see our relatives in California. Then, in a surprise move by British Airways, they opened up the Denver to London market by announcing $99 one way to London. Of course, we quickly called them, explained the opportunity, and waved "Farewell" to California but "Hello" to London and Paris. 


A newly opened and freshly planted Parisian Storybookland.

It was the adventure of a lifetime for our 8, 12, 13, and 14 year old kids. It was for us as well as we love to travel but had always seen a trip to Europe as something that financially would never happen. Of course, God had different plans. It was going to be very tight financially to do this, but due to a windfall business situation, my Mom and Dad sent us a few thousand dollars as a gift! We were on our way to Europe on Delta, who had matched the fares of the competition.

The classic Discoveryland attraction.

Amazing tales were the order of the trip! I won't go into any details here that matter to folks outside our family, but suffice it to say, for Americans in London and Paris, our ten days flew by with one discovery after another. 

Given we had our kids with us, we kept things very family friendly with a few rules as we planned: One museum a day and/or one church a day when we visited either, as many famous kid-friendly sights (Tower of London, etc.) as possible, and for dear old Dad in particular, a trip to Disneyland. Not that the family minded!

It all went off without too much of a hitch- that is until a huge storm made it very difficult to get across the English Channel to France. Eventually, we did about 3 am in the morning but at the cost of losing our lunch reservation at the cheapest restaurant at the Eiffel Tower by an hour. (Still a splurge, though! We did get to the top of the Tower later in the week, standing in line next to a family from Cuba. What a treat to meet so many people from different parts of the world.)


The three oldest kids got to ride Space Mountain with Dad. 
The youngest was two inches too short, 
so he settled for Autopia with Mom.

As a Disney park freak, I loved absolutely everything about Disneyland Paris! The incredible and unique Le Visionarium was a favorite as well as the dragon in the castle's dungeon, the stunning new Space Mountain, the Nautilus, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and my favorite version of Pirates of the Caribbean. It's an old family joke now that the castle was "boxed up" for repairs, but at the time I was a bit disappointed.

We all returned home happily exhausted. Mom and Dad determined to return to Europe without the kids one day, and we would do so in 2007 to celebrate our 25th anniversary. (Trip report here.) Nor did we realize we would do it again in 2013 and 2014 due to a business trip I needed to take.  Together, that's meant three trips to Disneyland Paris in three different seasons and in three different decades. God never ceases to amaze me... 

The kids are much older now with families of their own, but they still talk about this trip! As do we with very fond memories and a few laughs.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

February 6, 2021

Higher, Faster, Most Valuable

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."(Acts 20:24)

February 4, 2021

Carpenters Revisited: A Fresh Look at Live in Japan

Note: Today marks the 38th anniversary of the passing of Karen Carpenter. As part of Carpenters, she and brother Richard created some of the most beloved recordings of the 1970s and 1980s. Below is a continuation of my series reviewing each album as it was released. I'm up to the 1974 album, Live in Japan. Enjoy!
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It is ironic that the very first live Carpenters album was recorded and released in a country other than their homeland where Karen and Richard first became well known. The in concert collection Live in Japan also occupies a very interesting space in their career as well as in the story of how the duo's music impacted my life. It is a snapshot in time not easily forgotten. As exciting as it was to find this two disc collection, truth be told, it is one of their albums I listen to the least. Maybe the very least.

Recorded in Osaka in 1974 during their Japanese tour, it was finally released on March 7 the following year. In contrast to most of their U.S. releases to that point in time, this is one stunning album cover! Against a crisp black background, the famed Carpenters logo in red and the title of the album in blue made for an eye catching presentation. Both Karen and Richard seem absorbed in the music each in their own unique way. He is intense and focused on the keyboard, while Karen seems in another world, conveying a story in the words sung.  

The longest wait ever from purchase to first listen.

Back to the beginning of it all. Honolulu, Christmas Day in 1975. Where my parents once struggled to make ends meet, they now were flush with cash due to a change in career a few years earlier. This resulted in something I'd never have dreamt: a trip to Hawaii as a Christmas present. Not just any quick trip, however. My parents, my sister, and me for three weeks on three islands in fairly deluxe accommodations. More than enough time to fall in love with the islands, easy living, and the tiki culture. I'd been to Kona Hawaii restaurant in Garden Grove many times prior and enjoyed the food and atmosphere. Of course, Disneyland's tropical Adventureland held the Enchanted Tiki Room whose music captivated me. So, I was well primed for the vacation of a lifetime. 

Landing in Honolulu on Christmas Day was only the beginning. Several days later, while visiting the Ala Moana Mall in Honolulu to do some souvenir shopping, my eye caught the local record store. I never could resist a stop at one. Straight to the Pop section, I found the divider labeled "Carpenters", unexpectedly yielding treasure. I had not seen or heard of "Live In Japan".  

I quickly grabbed the one copy in the bin. Flipping over the album to the back, the song lineup was fairly expected aside from the different song list for the Oldies Medley and the fact there were no songs from Horizon which had been released earlier in the year. It took me awhile to figure out that the album was older than I thought and not a recent release. Anyway, being this album was discovered during week one of our trip, it would be two whole weeks more before I would listen to it. Pure torture, but I had Hawaii to explore, so I think I was happily distracted.

An album poster inside. 
Both Karen and Richard looked relaxed and rather comfortable
in their traditional Japanese kimonos.

I was in love with the island life and didn't want to go home and back to school even if it was my senior year, but I did have a consolation prize waiting for me. The first of two discs was finally on the family stereo. At first I thought something was wrong with the vinyl. There were electrical sounds, a bit of a sound check, and finally the audience stirring. Then, at last- "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Carpenters". The opening notes of "Superstar" burst forth. As I said earlier, this was the real moment of truth: Would the one and only Karen Carpenter sound as wonderful live as she did on record or was their sound just Richard's genius and pure studio wizardry? 

I was not disappointed. 

An almost full song trio of Superstar, Rainy Days and Mondays, and Goodbye to Love came to life, revealing I had not been wrong. It all seemed so easy for her, so effortless. The band's expertise was, honestly, solid but secondary to The Voice. Karen in control of her gift, fully  confident and relaxed, and it showed. A sweet sounding Top of the World was followed by an ambitious take on Help, closing Side One of four. With barely 15 minutes or so on one side, I was rather surprised  by its brevity. Intended as solely a release for the Japanese market, I'm sure the time limitations of the highest quality vinyl to ensure the best sound possible came into play.

Mr. Guder opened the flip side of the first disc. In later years, I'd come to appreciate the artistry of the song, but at 17 years old, I was expecting something very different. After five well received if not chart topping albums, playing songs from their early days seemed a bit odd. Maybe even - gasp- self-important. This songs rather blunt and unflattering lyrics unveil youthful arrogance, but performing it did give the Carpenters band a chance to show off their gifts, particularly Bob Messenger and his brilliant flute solo. I'll contrast my earlier thoughts to say I have always appreciated the time Richard and Karen took to publicly acknowledge the men behind them. Like most things of value, it is usually a team effort. Pride and humility coexist in the best of us, yours truly included.

Cover of the 4 track Jambalaya EP.

The question lingered. Where was A Song for YouThis Masquerade, or Baby It's You? The possibility of songs I wanted to hear seemed endless, and it was a surprisingly strong but not tender sounding version of Close to You that came next. It's the same song but not nearly as effective as what was accomplished in the studio. There's a lightness and angelic sound that must have been difficult to capture live. Still, Karen and Richard sound great, and the band does a more than credible job at the impossible to duplicate background vocals.

Jambalaya was also enthusiastically received by those in attendance, this time with instant hand clapping to the beat. (I now know the single was a big hit in Japan and the U.K., but it isn't a favorite of mine- even after all this time. See my Now & Then review.) To make things even worse, Karen's "C'mon!" encouraging the audience to greater response is awkward at best. I find audience participation songs rather strange, but it is what it is. Tony Peluso's guitar is strong as usual and a bit different than the single. So is Doug Strawn's saxophone work, making the live version worth the listen. Letting the band stretch and play some different notes and variances was a wise move by Richard for the sake of the listeners. I already had the definitive studio recordings, and I wasn't expecting sonic duplicates of what I'd already come to know and love. Regardless, this popular country tune was followed by a very nicely done Yesterday Once More and a faithful but mesmerizing Hurting Each Other. The second side of the first album was complete. Again, short in the number of minutes, but at least, it was good.

Photographer unknown.

On to the second record. A ten song Oldies medley with Tony again playing the disc jockey comprises the entire side here. Beginning with Little Honda, the band rocks it- and Richard's vocals are energetic and spot on. It's a good if not perfect match of song, arrangement, and vocalist. Interestingly, during this particular live medley, Karen is one of several vocalists and almost equal to everyone else in representation. This doesn't mean I was left wanting, though. 

 Karen's deep, warm, rich tones and vocal perfection are in the spotlight on End of the World and on the charming, (Could there be a better word for this song? I think not.), Johnny Angel. This particular song loses a bit when compared to the studio as she logistically can't duplicate her own light as air layered backing vocals. In contrast, Da Doo Ron Ron lets Karen play and rock at a whole new level. The band certainly had fun with this tune, and you can tell the audience did as well. Leader of the Pack is very awkward with its spoken word approach. This should have been replaced with something better, but at least it was a fresh listen.

Comedian Pete Henderson was also on the tour and on the medley, providing a different set of vocals to more fondly remembered songs. Runaway is his standout performance and features a searing guitar solo by Tony "the Bone" Peluso, his best of several found on the album. That said, it should have been Richard singing lead here instead of Pete. Why? One of the best numbers on this side of vinyl features his singing front and center. Daddy's Home is just great any way you dissect it.

By his own admission, Richard is merely a passable vocalist, yet given the right song and arrangement, he's pretty darned good and can create a solid, enjoyable record. Post Now & Then, Richard's never again the lead singer on Carpenters records (Christmas albums aside) and rarely prominent in the background vocals. Was this decision a mistake? Perhaps. On the other hand, it seems Richard used later albums to showcase Karen as the incredible once-in-a-lifetime talent that she was as well as focus on his production skills. It's certainly a tradeoff, leaving fans of the first several albums disappointed but perhaps those of Horizon and the Music, Music, Music selections pleased.  

Shuboom and Book of Love with their vocal stylings by the band keep the mood upbeat and light-hearted, showcasing the variety of styles found in early rock and roll. The final cut, Johnny B. Good features neither Karen or Richard but another lead by Pete with guitar by Tony. For a few minutes, it's easy to forget this was the concert of a band labeled "Easy Listening" by their critics. Still, I find the song an odd choice as I think Karen and Richard should have been the focus of the last song. Upon first listen, I was honestly shocked by how the medley was all put together. A mix of good and bad. Pete's a fine vocalist but he's not Richard, and this is a Carpenters album after all.

Looking good!

The last side of Live in Japan begins with Sing. I'd grown to love the simplicity of it and didn't expect anything special, so hearing Karen perform it partially in Japanese was delightful.  It was also an honoring and savvy gesture toward their huge fan base in the Land of the Rising Sun. The power of that kind of personal touch and the loyalty it inspires can't be underestimated.

This promo shot formed the basis for the new
Carpenters silhouette first seen on the
Only Yesterday single.

Three fan favorites comprise the end of the show. Sometimes is simple and lovely. Certainly even more so poignant since Karen's passing and the end of the duo. Richard's playing is elegant and understated. Karen matches the style with the maturity of those singers twice her age. It may have only been her interpretation of the lyrics, but part of the skill she possessed in executing her craft was conveying she fully believed if not lived the content. This seemingly effortless ability endeared her to me and to generations of listeners all over the world.

We've Only Just Begun was next and the one to make me a fan. I love the version here, but it seems to me that Karen may even have shown a slight side of being self-impressed as she plays with the phrasing of the lyrics. Certainly, by this point in her career she was used to hoards of adoring fans, records selling by the millions, and industry accolades.  Maybe she was becoming aware of just how good she was. I could be playing arm chair psychiatrist here. Perhaps she just tried something new. 

The encore choice of For All We Know ends it all. Another lovely and sensitive performance. After a little over an hour, it was over. The culturally reserved crowd was as appreciative as I was. The album came off the record player and back into the sleeve, leaving me deep in thought.

I found myself realizing I now had to see them live for myself. Little did I know, that was coming sooner than I expected... along with a chance to meet Richard and Karen backstage.

Front and center where she belonged.

For a season, I played these discs quite a bit and even purchased them on other formats. Eventually, I grew rather tired of performances that seemed lesser copycats of what could be found on the studio versions. Even the innovative Oldies Medley wore out its welcome, leaving me to select Now & Then when I wanted to hear it. It wasn't live albums in general. It was this particular live album.

In chronological order, the Live in Japan disc caps off the end of an incredible era. Unbeknownst to all, behind them would be the golden years of success never to be seen again. The events of 1975 and 1976 would uncover how stressful their career had been and the toll it took on their personal lives. One inopportune choice by the duo further exacerbated the downhill slide of their sales and popularity in the States. 

This isn't to say the quality of their art would decline, but the change in their success levels would alter Karen and Richard's confidence. The next album would be one considered a fan favorite and artistic triumph for decades to come- even if the months after its release brought some controversy: Horizon
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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:



February 2, 2021

Three Signs of Excellence at Universal's Islands of Adventure

This may be a controversial statement, but I find Universal Orlando's second theme park Islands of Adventure every bit as well done as the third park at Walt Disney World- Disney's Hollywood Studios- perhaps even better! The line up of attractions is just as strong, and the park is more fully fleshed out with a stronger sense of design.

You could even take away Harry Potter's representation, and you'd still have a terrific piece of Imagineering... I mean design and engineering by the artists that form  Universal Creative. Here are three signs of excellence at Islands of Adventure. Literally.


Beyond The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, I didn't really know if I would love this park. I was wowed by the entrance, and then I started to notice the details, making me more impressed. 

Signage is something I have always enjoyed, and these theme park has an abundance of nicely done work! I would love to have any of these three signs for Islands of Adventure Trading Company in my possession. Too bad duplicates are not for sale. 


Let me encourage you to take a look at these and several others next time you're in one of Orlando's best theme parks. Even for a die hard Disney fan, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.


(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

February 1, 2021

Top Ten Episodes of Friends

Any Friends fans out there? Or course there are! Joey, Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, and Phoebe almost seem like real friends in our very disconnected world. In a world that needs a good laugh, this is the place to go. These are the favorites in our house:

1- The One With The Embryos- (Season 4, episode 12)- Monica's "That's not even a word!" shows how Courteney Cox can channel Lucille Ball effortlessly, but Phoebe's brother Frank, played by Giovanni Ribisi, closes the episode with a killer line that you'd never expect to hear!

2- The One Where Ross And Rachel... You Know- (Season 2, episode 15)- Yes, we do, and wow. All three pairings in the storyline show off incredible chemistry. Goofy Phoebe has some street cred processing it all, making Lisa Kudrow's character deeper than thought possible.

3- The One With The Routine- (Season 6, episode 10)- Doing Dick Clark proud? Nerdy Ross and Monica at their best. How does David Schwimmer do it without cracking up?

4- The One That Could Have Been, Part 1- (Season 6, episode 15)- Fat Monica is the worth the whole episode! The sweetness and innocence of the fantasy story is an insightful look at each characters depth and background.

5- The One Where No One's Ready- (Season 3, episode 2)- Drinking the fat and going commando was never so funny! This may be the episode that made Jennifer Aniston the "it" girl.

6- The One With The Morning After- (Season 3, episode 16)- Serious, compelling, and heartbreaking. This was the one that really showed what the cast and writers could do. A morality lesson with real bite.

7- The One With The Baby On The Bus- (Season 2, episode 6)- Slapstick and schtick. Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry steal the show in this mini-buddy flick.

8- The One Where Joey Moves Out- (Season 2, episode 16)- The balance of tensions between Joey and Chandler with the new love affair between Monica and Richard (her one real true love). What an episode!

9- The One With The Boobies- (Season 1, episode 15)- Brenda Vaccaro is brilliant and charming; Fisher Stephens maybe the most obnoxious character ever to appear on the series with the exception of Bruce Willis' Paul Stevens. 

10- The One With The Reunion- Will we ever see it? It's been teased and teased, promised, and pulled back. This may be the year. Can you say "FINALLY!" while crossing your fingers?

Which episodes are your favorites?