Monday, April 18, 2005

My mom

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A Prayer for my mom

Just got off the phone with my aunt who has been taking care of my mom in Northern California since October and the news regarding her current health does not sound too optimistic. Although a final diagnosis has yet to be determined the news I received sounded like there may not be too much they can do for her at this point. I still have to wait and see what happens but I was confronted for the first time that she may be entering the final stage of her life. Just the thought that she may be entering the final stage of this life has brought deep sorrow since my mom and I were very close. She raised me by herself since I was twelve and I became her primary caretaker for two and a half until I could no longer take care of her last October. I still live in her house and was hoping she could come back at least one more time to visit this summer if her health allowed. I’ll probably go visit her this week-end with my two sons. In the meantime my prayers are with my mom and I would like to close with a prayer and a few words of gratitude to the only person who has always been there for me in this world.

Mom, although I can’t be with you at this time my spirit is with you and may my spirit and the spirit of God comfort you and give you hope at this time when I know you are in a lot of pain. I am looking at your picture on my mirror as I write this prayer and I just want you to know that you will always be in my heart and my soul and I will never forget you as long as my spirit lives in this world and the world to come. I would like to close with a few words of gratitude for all that you have meant to me over the years.

Thanks for adopting me when apparently no one else wanted me. Thanks for all the sacrifices you made to allow me to go to college and become the first person and still the only person from our family to graduate from college. Thanks for allowing me to become an independent person. Thanks for taking me in while I was going through my divorce and thanks for not judging me for my failed marriage. Thanks for getting on a bus and coming all the way to Oregon to see me graduate when I know it was a real hardship for you. Thanks for the ten dollars here and the twenty dollars there you sent me during my college years at a time when I lived on the edge financially from one month to the next for four years. Thanks for helping me buy my first car. Thanks for always have something to eat when I came over to visit. Thanks for going up north to live when I could no longer take care of you this past October. Thanks for allowing me to continue to live in your house as I try to get back on my feet again after my divorce during the most difficult time in my adult life. Thanks for your love, thanks for all your sacrifices, and although you never finished high school and never had much money you gave me what money can’t buy and that is your love and for that I am forever grateful in this world and the next…..Your son…..

Sunday, April 17, 2005

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The Upside of Anger

I haven’t gone out to see too many movies over the past couple of months since the local price of a ticket has skyrocketed to nine bucks a pop. For nine bucks I can buy a DVD and see it as many times as I want and if I decide to take my girlfriend and two sons it will cost a whapping 36 bucks!...So, lets just say I have decided to be very selective in what I go see at the movies…..Yesterday I was getting cabin fever and wanted to do something and since I was in a kind of a funk after an intense week on the home front I decided to bite the bullet and go out to dinner and see a movie with my girlfriend Lynn. The choices came down to The Upside of Anger and Sin City. Personally I didn’t care which movie we saw but I was more uncertain about the Upside of Anger than I was about Sin City. Both movies have received very good reviews but Sin City has received raving reviews from many of the critics and the “people on the streets”…. I deferred to Lynn and she said she would rather see a comedy/drama than an action movie…O.K…second thoughts…18 bucks for a drama?...Hmmm?...I normally don’t go see too many drama/human interest stories at the movies these days because there are really no advantages to seeing a drama on a large screen. On the other hand, action flicks/special effect extravaganza’s do make a huge difference. Watching LOTR or Star Wars just doesn’t cut it on a 27 inch screen at home…More second thoughts…Eighteen bucks to see Kevin Costner???....Serious doubts begin to settle in…Why did I defer?...But I did….Can’t back down now…Can I?...Moving onward and upward I reluctantly slipped the lady behind the window my 18 bucks and off we strolled down the corridor to theatre number four into the dark night…This better be good is all I could think about, or else......

What a great movie!..What a great choice…Can’t imagine Sin City would be any better than this movie…Great acting…Great cast all the way around…Joan Allen is magnificent….Best movie Kevin Costner has done since????...Gripped me emotionally….Down to earth….Full of emotion….Great script….Incredible ending….Cautionary Tale…Engaged me the entire two hours…Liked it even better than Sideways which was the last really good drama I watched…Will no doubt see it again…and the ultimate compliment…Intend to buy the DVD when it comes out...Lynn loved it as well and wants to take her parents to see it when they come to visit next week…When it comes to movie choices I have a lot of confidence. I read a lot of movie reviews and seldom get burned. I admit my confidence was a little shaky before going to see this movie but my confidence was restored to it’s lofty, sometimes arrogant position, therefore, I don’t mind recommending this film very highly without any reservations to anyone who reads this report from the frontiers of movie cyberspace….

Saturday, April 16, 2005

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Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

What band was the top concert draw in North America during the 1990’s and has sold more than 90 million albums since the early 1980’s?.....U-2, R.E.M., Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam?......The answer is Metallica. If this answer surprises you, you are not alone. I knew Metallica was a popular draw amongst heavy metal bands but I had no idea they had such a huge following or such drawing power until I watched the documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. I have to say I was quite impressed not only with the documentary but the candid look into the lives of the members of the biggest heavy metal band in history. Although I confess I don’t own any of their music my curiosity in the film was peaked after listening to Roger Ebert describe the documentary last year on his show. Metallica allowed a film crew to follow them around for a couple of years while they were working on their 2003 release of Saint Anger their first release in five years. The documentary covers both their individual and corporate struggles during the most difficult period of the bands history in a way that doesn’t come across as a slick self promoting marketing product of the band or the record company. Although I don’t connect with their music I did find myself at numerous times connecting with the individuals on several fronts which surprised me.

The documentary IMO does a wonderful job humanizing the lives of each band member which is a huge accomplishment considering the track record of Hollywood and the fact that they are one of the biggest bands in the world. Much of the documentary is focused on the interpersonal relationships between the various band members as they attempt to work together in producing their most recent album. It’s not about their music, accomplishments, fame, or fortune but rather the struggles and demons they all encounter along the way. Much of the film covers the conversations between the various members and their personal psychologist who was hired to help the band during this difficult time. The film is not particularly enlightening regarding the interactions but it is unique and quite novel as it records the candid opinions and thoughts of the entire band. I came away feeling like these guys are a lot like me which is quite an accomplishment considering the difference between their world and mine and most people’s perception of the world of heavy metal music. I’m not ready to go down and buy their music anytime soon but I have gained a new respect for the band and the lives of the people presented in this documentary. Two thumbs up…….

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

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What is Courage?

What is courage?...."In a world saturated with images of action figure bravado, we may mistakingly believe that courage is the absence of fear. Instead it is the capacity to think, speak, and act despite our fear and shame….Courage is not blasting or blaming people, cutting them off, or parachuting from afar for dramatic hit-run- confrontations. Just the opposite. Genuine courage is carefully planning how to invite the person who has harmed you back into the conversation, so that the two of you have the best chance of talking over time in a real way. This is the hard route…This is courage"…..Miriam Greenspan

Tonight I did something very courageous. I stood up to someone who has continually abused and manipulated me and told them of the great pain they were inflicting on me and asked them to treat me in a way that honors and respects the dignity of the person I am. This was very difficult for me to do because of the serious fear of rejection/abandonment issues that has haunted my soul for more moons than I can remember and the potential rejection and shame that I predicted would follow from speaking my truth. But I did it and I did it despite the great fear and trembling that forever shouts at me from my past. I also attempted to speak my truth in a way that invited the perpetrator back into an ongoing conversation that I hope will someday happen….. ”Don’t underestimate inching. For every courageous act we make in our lives, the forward direction, not the speed of travel, is what really matters.”..Greenspan….Tonight I inched a step further regarding the dark emotions that haunt my soul. Inches are real and inches are good for one’s soul. At the present moment I don’t feel particularly proud or happy but I do feel at peace and being peaceful is a good place to be……

Sunday, April 10, 2005

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Elton John Part II

On Nov.11th 1970 Elton John performed a live studio album in New York before 125 invited guests. The name of the album was appropriately called 11-17-70. Most, if not all the songs on this album were previously recorded on other albums but the improvisations and the raw energy of this future rock superstar are best represented on this album and for folks who prefer the passion of youth and the live sound over studio this is the album to give a spin. From the first song the “Bad Side of the Moon” to the final 18 minute version of Burn Down the Mission this album is Early Live Elton John at his best. Even folks who don’t like the slick sounding pop star of yesteryear or today I predict will be pleasantly surprised by the energy, talent, and piano power that is contained on this album.

Lyrics from the Friends album

I hope the day will be a lighter highway
For friends are found on every road
Can you ever think of any better way
For the lost and weary travellers to go
Making friends for the world to see
Let the people know you got what you need
With a friend at hand you will see the light
If your friends are there then everything's all right

In 1971 Elton John provided the songs for the movie Friends. Never saw the movie but did buy the album. By this time my infatuation with Karen, my first love, was over because she was now dating a senior football player but during this time I met a girl named Carloyn in my English class who was a fellow Elton John groupie which was rare to find during my high school years. We really hit it off but our relationship never went beyond friends because we both were too introverted and relationships based strictly on common musical tastes usually don’t last too long. But it was nice and wonderful to be able to share, albeit a short time, my love for Elton John’s music with someone else. The Friends album is no longer available but all of the songs are available on the Elton John Rare Masters C.D. which was released in 1992. The Friends album is a beautifully “romantic” album which contains three of my all time favorite Elton John romantic/love songs, Michelle’s Song, Friends, and Seasons. I still love to listen to this album on a cold winter morning when I just feel like cuddling with a loved one. It’s soooooo romantic!!!!!

Michelle’s Song

Cast a pebble on the water
Watch the ripples gently spreading
We were meant to be together
We were made for one another
In a time it takes to grow up
If only we were old enough
Then they might leave us both alone
So take my hand in your hand
Say it's great to be alive
No one's going to find us
No matter how they try
No one's going to find us
It's wonderful so wild beneath the sky
Sleeping in the open
See the shadows softly moving
Take a train towards the southlands
Our time was never better
We shall pass the sights of splendor
On the door of a new life
It had to happen soon I guess
Whether it is wrong or it is right
We learned to be so graceful
Watching wild horses running
And from those agile angels
We knew the tide was turning
For we watched as on the skyway
The herons circled slowly
While we mere mortals watched them fly
Our sleepless eyes grew heavy…..


For our world, the circle turns again

Throughout the year we've seen the seasons change
It's meant a lot to me to start anew
Oh the winter's cold but I'm so warm with you
Out there there's not a sound to be heard
And the seasons seem to sleep upon their words
As the waters freeze up with the summer's end
Oh it's funny how young lovers start as friends
Yes it's funny how young lovers start as friends

Second thoughts:

Earlier I said if I was forced to pick a favorite Elton John album at gun point I would probably pick Tumbleweed Connection but on second thought I would probably pick the 1971 release of Madman Across the Water. I love this album. I love this album. I love this album. No mega hits on this album, unless you want to count Tiny Dancer, just a lot of really good songs with great orchestra accompaniment. My favorite Elton John ballad is on this album, Indian Sunrise. This album has a lot of range and variety and IMO marks the greatness of Elton John’s musical talent. Levon, Madman Across the Water, Holiday Inn, and Razor Face all reflect the emerging talent of a future master musician.

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Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man
And I think it's gonna be a long long time...

Rocket Man has probably become my current favorite Elton John concert song. I just love it when you continues playing at the keyboard long after the studio version is over while he softly plays the keyboard as he continues to repeat and echo, I am a Rocket Man, I am a Rocket Man, I am a Rocket Man. You just never want the song to end. Rocket Man was the smash hit off his 1972 release called Honky Chateau. Honky Chateau IMO represents the last album free of the pop rock sound that will gradually make it’s way into Elton John’s repertoire in the years to come. Songs like Salvation, Amy, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters harken back to the Tumbleweed Connection days when Elton John was experimenting with ballads and the dominant sound of Elton pounding away at the piano. For the pure of heart when it comes to classic Elton John this is the last album of the early classic era but IMO Elton still has three great albums left in him but those will have to wait for another day.

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Music Primer: Elton John: The Classic Years

Over the past five years I have experienced a sort of music renaissance and have purchased ten times the music in the last five years than the previous twenty. Music has always meant a lot to me and while I have listened to and purchased a wide variety of music over the years there are three groups/musicians in particular who have stood the test of time for me and I thought it might be fun to go down memory lane and revisit some of the songs and albums that helped shape my own version of memory lane. So find a comfortable seat, grab something to drink and listen up as I spin a tale or two about the music and the musicians who have brought me great joy, comfort, passion, and provided an escape from the painful human condition on more occasions than I can remember.

My story begins in the summer of 1969. It was a memorable summer. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and I fell in love for the first time with a beautiful, vibrant, young fellow sixth grader named Karen. It was the summer of love and I can still vividly see and hear many of the sights and sounds of that magical summer as if it happened just yesterday. Of course when you fall in love you have to have some love music to reinforce and accompany the wonderful feelings associated with the early stages of infatuation and love…I bought my first album that summer and my choice was entirely based on the strong feelings of love that I was experiencing at the time. The album was Elton John’s self titled album simply called Elton John. It was his second release but it is the one that brought him international attention from the music industry. I bought the album because I was in love and each day of the summer of 1969 I can remember pretending singing “Your Song” to Karen in my imagination over and over and over. Karen was my first love and Elton John’s music represents my first love in music. I did eventually get around to listening to some of the other tracks on the album and my life long affair with Elton John’s music began in that summer of 1969.... the summer of love.

Over the years I have mentioned my musical tastes both publicly and privately on numerous occasions but seldom have I ever mentioned my great love for Elton John’s music so I guess it’s time to “come out of the closet”, like Sir Elton, and proclaim my own personal preference when it comes to music. I suppose I have stayed in the closet for all these years because in the circles I run Elton John is not the chic choice of the academic herd. Also, I don’t own any Elton John albums past Captain Fantastic which was released some thirty years ago!....but….despite my lack of interest in his music for the past thirty years I do consider his first nine albums better than the careers of the vast majority of musicians who have come and gone over the years and these albums are enough IMO to place him in the palace of the music gods of our generation.

Elton John began playing music at age 4 and when he was eleven years old he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where he studied music for six years before he joined his first band in 1961. Over the years Elton John has fallen out of favor with a lot of critics but his popularity remains steady world wide and I think it has a lot to do with fact that, what one may think of his music and shallow lyrics at times, he is and has always been an extremely talented musician and one hell of a performer to boot which has gathered him legions of fans world wide. I suspect a lot of folks can’t get past the wild glasses and costumes of the 70’s and 80’s but if you check out his recent DVD release entitled “Elton John Dream Ticket Four Destinations” you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by the performance of a master musician. His outdoor concert at the Ephesus Great Amphitheatre and the London Royal Opera House are as good as they get and his performance of Rocket Man at Ephesus reminds his lifelong fans that he is still Captain Fantastic!

My favorite albums and songs…..I don’t have a favorite Elton John album and I am not going to say much about many of his popular songs since most people are already familiar with his numerous hits which include Rocket Man, Your Song, Tiny Dancer, Honkey Cat, Crocodile Rock, Daniel, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Bennie and the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting. While I enjoy listening to most of these songs from time to time Your Song is the only one that I would include on my top ten Elton John songs…..Here’s my list of favorite Elton John songs, albums, and a few brief comments…..If you are looking for a baroque sound with lots of strings, harpsichords, and airy syntheseisers than check out Elton John’s self titled album Elton John. I love the beautiful melodies of “I Need to turn to you”, “First Episode at the Hienton”, “Sixty Years On”, and “The Greatest Discovery”….and….if you want hard drying piano riffs with strong vocals check out Take Me to the Pilot, “The King Must Die”, and “The Cage”……If someone held a gun to my head and demanded I pick a favorite Elton John album I suspect I might choose Tumble Weed Connection. It’s such a departure from his previous album and if you like a bit of a country twang and ballads than this might be the album for you. The ballads include “Ballad of a Well Know Gun”, “Son of your father”, and “Talking Old Soldiers”. My favorites songs on this album include the classic cult favorite “Burn Down the Mission”, psychedelic “Where to Now St. Peter, and the beautiful “Come Down in Time”. If you like the sound of Burn Down the Mission on this album you might want to check out his eighteen minute heart pounding live version of this song on his 11-17-70 album.

Well, I have a way’s to go on this little project but I think I will take a break for now and come back and finish another day when I have more time. I said a lot more than I intended and have a ways to go but if I don’t stop it here I doubt whether there will be anyone left out there in cyberspace who has the stamina to finish my long winded tales from music memory lane…..

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Mean Lean Cooking Machine

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Isn't she beautiful?

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A Report from Barbecue Bill

After a very hectic, a bit intense, and rough and tumble week I finally got around to having a little bit of fun by kicking off the barbecue season as I cooked my first meal on my new Commercial Series Char-Broil grill. I decided to take the big plunge after listening to my teenage sons constantly complain about my cooking for the past couple of years. I actually started experimenting with barbecuing last year at the end of summer on my mom’s old cheapo briquette grill and when I noticed an improvement in my son’s attitude about my cooking after throwing down a few steaks and burgers on the grill last fall I decided it was time to move up the latter and spend some bucks on something a bit more reliable and quicker than the ancient of days briquette system of my youth…..Wow!….I never realized what a difference a well oiled, high tech, propane machine can make. Three cheers for “some” modern innovations. My cooking was a big hit last night. The chicken came out tender and evenly cooked and it only took a few minutes once I opened up the propane valve and hit the automatic ignition button. It was beautiful. It was easy. It was fun….and…..I look forward to rock and rolling on my new barbecue grill in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Beauty of Pain

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Thought for the Day

In the ancient world healing and miracles were limited to the domain of the Gods/God and a few exceptional individuals....if....they happened at all, of course.....In the modern world we have some pretty incredible miracle workers which include doctors, dentists, pastors, counselors, and other honorable mentions.....Over the years I have relied heavily on modern miracle workers in large part because I lacked either the tools, faith in myself, or the important social network to bring about the kind of healing I needed, particularly as it relates to the inner world of my emotions. Physical problems have never been a great concern of mine. I just go to the doctor and do what he or she tells me and generally in a matter of days or weeks at the most the problem generally gets better or goes away....but....the emotions seem to be a different matter.....fear, despair, and various insecurites don't ever seem to go away and often when least expected they just reappear.

C.G. Jung once wrote: "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious".......Now this is a novel suggestion...because.... We live in a society that goes to incredible lengths to suppress the dark emotions of the soul.....and.....the vast majority of us have created a whole series of coping strategies to suppress those uncomfortable emotions which we all carry around us and lie just beneathe our normal conscious. I am not implying that coping strategies are all bad. We all have to do what we have to do to survive, get through the day, and carry about our responsibities to others and ourselves....but..... I now wonder if in the process of constantly suppressing certain emotions that in the long run we lose touch of an important aspect of who we are as human beings....

Internationally known psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan writes, "Greif, despair, and fear are really neither positive or negative but simply human emotions; it is our attitude toward them that is negative. The dark emotions can be our best, albeit, most demanding, spiritual teachers, when we get beyond our compulsion to control them. By learning how to attend to, befriend, and surrender to the energies of grief, despair, and fear, we create the conditions, for something new to arise in ourselves and the world.".....Greenspan goes on to say....."we have to stop thinking emotional pain means were sick....Emotional not a sign of mental disorder or illness. It's a universal fact of life."....and finally.... "the essence of healing emotional pain lies in listening to what hurts....listening is hearing with thoughtful attention".....

As I learn to listen to my own emotional pain I hear the voices of the past quietly and sometimes not so quietly telling me things that most often are not true....and......I am gradually learning that the pain inflicted by the voices of others is generally a reflection of their own emotional pain that they carry from their own past...It seems that the compulsion to silence the pain of our souls is one of the great temptations of our times but perhaps we should strive to begin to listen to what our pain is telling us about our past, ourselves, and in the process of listening to our pain learn to soothe and placate the very emotions that if left ignored for too long will no doubt wreck havoc on ourselves and others. Jesus exhorted us to love our enemies. Perhaps it is time to learn to love the enemies that haunt our very souls and in the process learn to love ourselves because if we don't love ourselves how can we love others? Just a thought for the day....