Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Listen to the Rhythm of the Pounding Rain

This afternoon I was watching the local news during my chemotherapy treatment to track the progress of the third storm system invading southern California this week, which thankfully did not wreak massive damage today as predicted. My inner jukebox began playing a series of rainy day songs, mostly treasures from my childhood. With a big nudge from Mr. Jukebox, I created a list of my favorites whittled down to thirteen, which follow in chronological order.

Long before he was a convicted killer, Phil Spector was the most influential record producer of the rock and roll era. He single-handedly revolutionized studio craft, which had been the domain of record label executives, and emboldened other pioneering artists, most notably Brian Wilson, to take greater control of their own product.

Spector was not a performer, but he developed a stable of talent whose recordings were bound by his trademark "wall of sound." The Ronettes, perhaps the most famous of Spector's girl groups, were named after lead singer Ronnie Bennett, who became Mrs. Spector and whose ballsy vocals are echoed by Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Shirley Manson of Garbage.

Walking in the Rain by the Ronettes (1964)

The career of Scott Walker is the cautionary tale of one man defying the odds, industry expectations and conventional wisdom. The Walker Brothers were an American trio, neither related by blood nor born with the surname Walker. During the 1960s British rock invasion of the U.S., they migrated against the tide to England where their chart success and fan club rivaled the Beatles'. Scott Walker remained in the U.K. but left the band for a solo career, embracing progressively more experimental styles and genres over the next four decades.

Walker was an early interpreter of Belgian troubadour Jacques Brel, introducing selections from his often risqué repertoire to the British audience on his first solo albums. David Bowie, who admits to emulating Scott's distinctive baritone and avant-garde sensibility, produced 30 Century Man, the acclaimed 2006 documentary about the reclusive Walker that is available on DVD.

Among his many achievements, Scott and the Walker Brothers recorded one of the very first music videos for their breakthrough single, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore. At the age of ten, when my friends were still debating whether Paul or George was the cutest Beatle, I had my first serious crush on Scott Walker based on one album my sister left behind when she moved out.

The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore
by the Walker Brothers (1966)

I owe my love of rock and roll to my sister, Donna, who was a decade older and had an eclectic music collection, which she generously shared with me despite the many vinyl records that I scratched and warped. She did some go-go dancing and modeling of sorts in the mid-1960s on the periphery of the burgeoning Hollywood rock scene when the East Coast folkies arrived to become the next big thing. Of all the folk rock groups she met, the Lovin' Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield were her favorites.

Rain on the Roof by the Lovin' Spoonful (1966)

The Cowsills were a real family, unlike the Partridge TV prototype they inspired, who were perhaps the first pop practitioners of what was later dubbed the bubblegum genre. Sugar in large doses can rot your teeth and overstimulate your pancreas, but who can resist a tasty, homemade confection like this?

The Rain, the Park and Other Things by the Cowsills (1967)

My sister enjoyed an amazing variety of music, none more than soul and R&B for which she had an undeniable mojo. I remember dancing with her in our den as a preschooler to the Brook Benton duets with Dinah Washington. Back in the early 1960s, she was often one of the few white girls at an Ike and Tina Turner Revue, but she was always a rebel and never let color lines inhibit her.

Brook Benton was an underrated talent with a fluid voice as smooth as ice cream melting on your tongue and prolific songwriting chops. When I was in junior high school, I thought his comeback hit single Rainy Night in Georgia was the most bittersweet romantic song I'd ever heard. In retrospect, I realize that my pubescent hormones were responding to the wistful, world weary sensuality of his vocal, especially his baritone range which he used ingeniously to punctuate his lyrics. Like Lou Rawls, when I listen to a Brook Benton record, I have a hard time imagining a better singer.

Rainy Night in Georgia by Brook Benton (1970)

Elvis Presley was a seminal rock and roll artist blessed with more charisma and soulful magic than was good for him. Regrettably, he was cursed with a greedy manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who attached his client to a long string of tacky movies and albums that tarnished the franchise. By the late 1960s, the King defied the Colonel to assert control over his languishing career. This redemptive era began with the milestone TV special, The '68 Comeback, followed by a series of Memphis recordings marked by great writing and production values that catapulted Presley back to his throne on the music charts, including If I Can Dream, Suspicious Minds and Kentucky Rain.

Kentucky Rain by Elvis Presley (1970)

I would have liked the Carpenters even if I hadn't met them repeatedly due to their close, longtime friendship with my high school chorus teacher. They seemed too normal and middle class to keep me in awe for long. Richard was an innately smart songwriter and arranger with a gift for picking the right cover song. Karen, a standout female alto crooner in an industry long dominated by sopranos and a competent drummer besides, was simultaneously the non-threatening girl next door and a unique musical presence. Her forlorn voice turned every melody into an ode to unrequited love, which paralleled her heartbreaking personal life.

Rainy Days and Mondays by the Carpenters (1971)

I am not really a John Mellencamp fan except for the brilliant Rain on the Scarecrow. Music is more compelling to me than lyrics and Mellencamp is foremost an unapologetic message artist, but his guitar lines hooked me immediately. Even my then two-year-old son Chris rocked out to the record.

Rain on the Scarecrow by John Mellencamp (1985)

Matt Johnson wrote and performed many wonderful songs that you probably never heard of but you should. After he disbanded The The, which was essentially Johnson backed by his session musicians du jour, he collaborated with revered artists including Johnny Marr and Sinead O'Connor, with whom he shared lead vocals on Kingdom of Rain. Johnson's incessant gum chewing distracted me from the romantic subplot of the video, but it's still a great song.

Kingdom of Rain by The The (1989)

Adrian Belew has carved out an interesting career as the singer and guitarist for the progressive rock group King Crimson, who recorded one of my all-time favorite songs, Heartbeat. Belew was also in great demand as a musician for hire by cutting edge artists - like David Bowie, David Byrne and Laurie Anderson - and a producer of two tracks on the Jars of Clay's debut album, including their crossover breakthrough hit Flood. I saw JOC at the Disneyland House of Blues in October 2007 and it was a completely satisfying concert experience.

Flood by the Jars of Clay (1995)

Shirley Manson of Garbage is one of my all-time favorite chick singers, the others being Roni Spector and Chrissie Hynde. I don't think Shirley would mind that description or being in such legendary company.

Only Happy When It Rains by Garbage (1995)

Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head was written by the inestimable Burt Bacharach and originally recorded by B.J. Thomas for the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid soundtrack. For his TV special One Amazing Night, Bacharach asked the Ben Folds Five to perform the 1960s classic. Ben Folds never fails to entertain and I especially enjoyed Bacharach's smiles of unabashed delight when the trio tweaked the original arrangement.

Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head by Ben Folds Five (1998)

Day of Fire recorded an amazing debut, Fire, with well-crafted, hook-laden songs. Their successive albums are not as accessible nor, in my opinion, appealing. I don't understand why artists such as DOF and JOC who are so gifted and soar in Christian contemporary music would prefer to sound ordinary and uninspired like the world.

Rain Song by Day of Fire (2004)

Monday, January 18, 2010

It Never Rains in Southern California? Hah!

Here in sunny southern California, we have been in the throes of a dry El Niño until yesterday, when the first of four "epic" storms anticipated to last all week moved across our region. Thus far the sandbags are holding and the fire-damaged areas are free of mudslides.

We live in Costa Mesa, which is Spanish for "coastal table." It is a wonderful town, literally a flatland by the sea with a history of epic flooding. Our neighborhood was so waterlogged today that the Orange County Register dispatched a photographer who captured the daring boy below canoeing on an adjacent block.


These pictures show the damage on our street, but our home is fine.



Sunday, January 17, 2010

24 Debuts Tonight: The Beginning of the End?

The season 8 premiere of 24 debuts tonight on Fox at 9:00pm Pacific Time (check your local listings). Entertainment Weekly has a brief preview of the cast and characters, including an update about future seasons.

Asked about season 9, director Brad Turner told EW, “We can tell you one thing for sure: we’re not picked up yet. What I’ve been saying to everybody is that if the audience shows up, that’s a very good possibility. Because people – Kiefer and Howard [Gordon] – want to do it again. Which is good for our fans. But our fans have to realize that waiting for the DVD is not gonna help us. We gotta mobilize and watch the show.”

24 Season 8 Trailer

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Tale of Two Videos: Brown vs. Coakley

This week two videos illuminated the character of the major party candidates in the special Senate election on Tuesday, January 19, 2010, in Massachusetts. Which video will have the greater impact on voters?

Some are calling this Republican Scott Brown's "Reagan moment."

Reporter John McCormack was pushed down and around by Obama appointee Michael Meehan as he accompanied Democrat Martha Coakley, who witnessed the incident on a public sidewalk in Washington, D.C. and later misrepresented it to the press. You can see Meehan coming up quickly behind McCormack and his arms thrusting forward just before McCormack fell. After helping McCormack back up, Meehan tried to block him from following Coakley to join other reporters asking the candidate innocuous campaign questions.

Jason Castro Debut EP Now Available

Jason Castro's debut, The Love Uncompromised EP, is finally available for purchase. If you use this Amazon link to download the MP3, you will help Jason and his loyal friends at Castrocopia, which is a site devoted to the daydreaming boy who captured and enraptured us on American Idol, along with Jeff Buckley and great music in general.

Here is the official video of Jason performing Let's Fall in Love Again. How can you resist buying the EP? At the bargain price of $4.95 for 5 charmingly sincere folkie songs, Jason will only steal your heart, not your hard-earned cash.

Haiti Earthquake Caught on Video

CBS News acquired a video of the earthquake from a camera stationed next to some homes, which you can watch collapse (h/t Hot Air). I guess the ersthwhile Tiffany network isn't completely worthless as they also posted this list of charities to aid Haitian victims. I am praying and donating to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa's relief fund.

None of us knows how much time we are allotted on earth. Death is an inevitable transition into eternity and the cutoff point for you to be assured of God's grace by salvation. I beg you to stop squandering precious time to begin a beautiful ending with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Beautiful Ending by Barlow Girl

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Talking Turkey, Trader Joe's Style

Even in southern California, where grocery stores are plentiful and diverse, it is difficult to find really good turkey breast. Deli cases are stocked with multiple choices of sliced turkey meat, which usually fall into two basic categories. The turkey comes from a real or rolled roast plumped up with broth, imbuing it with an unnatural flavor, or else the turkey is so processed that it looks like white ham and tastes like generic lunch meat.

The best sliced turkey breast I have found is available at the Katella Deli-Restaurant-Bakery in Los Alamitos. My mother, born in the Bronx and raised by German chefs, was thrilled to discover the Katella Deli when we moved to the area in 1964 and shopped there twice a month as long as she lived in Orange County. Their turkey breast tastes just like Thanksgiving leftovers if you had a professional meat slicer at home, but you can eat it year-round. You will pay for the quality - plus all the goodies from the adjacent bakery that you won't be able to resist.

Packages of sliced turkey breast from Trader Joe's are much more budget friendly and darn close to the homemade goodness of Katella's. You can buy regular or smoked turkey breast (pictured below) in slices that perfectly fit Katella Bakery's amazing long loaves of Jewish corn rye bread with carraway seeds. Just add Best Foods mayonnaise and your favorite fixin's - and you have a match made in sandwich heaven.


Friday, January 01, 2010

My New Year's Resolutions for 2010

New Year's Day 2009 found me back in chemotherapy for my third battle with breast cancer, which had invaded most of my liver and my thoracic region. Before I committed my life to Christ earlier in my cancer odyssey, I was guided by a moral compass inherited from my parents that was based on deferred gratification as a reward for good works. I would devise and then revise resolutions habitually until cancer and, more significantly, faith liberated me from the illusion that I am in control.

One year ago today, I looked into the future, saw a huge question mark and was perfectly content. I trusted God to provide everything I need and I trusted my husband, who was studying for the ministry, to stand beside me as His plan unfolds. Halfway through the year, my husband began to fail God and fail me. But my Savior fulfilled all His promises to love me in sickness and in health.

My life is a series of surprises and 2009 was no exception. In January I was closer to death than ever and wondered if I would see another birthday. By December my cancer - although not considered by medical science to be curable - was beaten back to almost undetectable levels. For the first six months of the year, my husband remained the steadfast soulmate who made my life worth fighting for. For the last six months, he was a sadistic stranger who demanded that I stop chemotherapy and die for his convenience.

I have seen the Lord's handiwork in countless blessings showered upon me during the darkest days of 2009. I survived to see my son becoming the man I prayed he would be. I have been living with cancer for seven years and am as content as ever. I have no idea what God has planned for me next, but I can't wait to find out.

The only resolutions I made for 2010 are contained in the lyrics of a song from my youth. To paraphrase Day by Day from the movie musical Godspell, I will strive:

1. To see God more clearly.
2. To love Him more dearly.
3. To follow Him more nearly.

I wish you and your loved ones faith, good health and contentment throughout the new year.