Elephant In The Room

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out why I chose the road of becoming a liberal Democrat, especially when my entire family are die hard Republicans. I remember when I first registered to vote I remained cautiously neutral as an Independent for fear of disappointing my parents. In many ways I am my father and mother’s son. I share their strong work ethic, their morals and their love of God and family. My mother taught me at an early age to see things with the eyes of an artist and how translate those things to canvas be it physical or digital. From my father, I learned the importance of our family heritage and to always strive for the very best in everything I do, from work to relationships. Like so many others, my parents molded me in important ways in their image. I’m proud to be their son and love them beyond words.

And so when I spoke with my mother recently and she told me how John McCain’s acceptance speech at the RNC brought her to tears with pride, and how she was really looking forward to McCain and Palin being our next President and Vice President, I had to fight back the wave of sadness that swept over me. I’ve long given up trying to persuade my folks that Republican’s don’t always do what’s in the best interests of our country. Mom & Dad are set in their ways, just as I am in mine and arguing about it only brings strife between us. But at the same time there is a big part of me that wonders where the “compassionate” part of my conservative parents went.

Being raised a Catholic, I was taught that Jesus loves us unconditionally, but ask conservatives if gays deserve God’s love or even equal treatment under the law and you’re apt to get an earful of “one man to one woman”. Some conservative churches, like Sarah Palin’s, actively promote the conversion of gay people to heterosexuality. Jesus taught us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and yet conservatives see nothing wrong with waging endless war based on lies, while killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of innocents. And what ever happened to Jesus’ mission of helping the poor, and tending to those among us that are sick or affirmed? Raising people from the depths of poverty and providing healthcare for all Americans are Christ-like endeavors that have somehow become tenants of the evil “socialist left” considered by Republicans to be despised and opposed at all cost.

We are the sum of our experiences. Events in our life, and the people we surround ourselves with, shape us and hone our world view. My family was always the first to lend a helping hand to those in need. We never looked down on others less fortunate or different from ourselves. Without realizing it, my parents nudged me out the door and down the path to becoming the progressive, liberal individual I am today. I only wish they had decided to come along with me for the ride.

Favorite ‘Story Songs’

Based on an idea I threw out on Twitter, I present you with a short list of my favorite “story songs”. These are the songs that, for me at least, drew me in and told a compelling story. So often we take for granted the effect good lyrics can have on a song’s success. This post is dedicated to those artists who go beyond repeating the same chorus over and over and instead give us memorable classics. After you’ve read my list, don’t forget to swing by the sites of all the bloggers who agreed to join me. Hopefully you’ll discover some tunes that just might become new favorites.

• • •

Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)

Looking Glass

Released in 1972 by Looking Glass, Brandy tells the tale of a barmaid living in a port town. She serves “whiskey and wine” to the admiration of many sailors, one of whom she falls in love with. In tragic fashion, the sailor isn’t willing to give up his true love, the sea. Despite this, Brandy continues to love the man and wears a braided silver chain with a locket that bears his name. I’m not exactly sure what it is about this song that gets me, but it always conjures up images of Brandy on an ocean dock with the sun setting behind her. I can picture her in my head, clear as day, clinging to her necklace as she pines for her man somewhere on the sea. Brilliant stuff!

• • •

What Am I Doin’ Hanging Round?

The Monkees

Far from one of The Monkees‘ big hits, What Am I Doin’ Hanging ‘Round? is really a simple song about a man who travels to Mexico and falls in love with a local woman. Although he longs to be with her, the whistle of the train calls to him and he decides to return home. This turns out to be a decision which haunts him and he ends the song by telling us he “wants to go back again”. Who among us can’t identify with the prospects of lost love that this song sings? Music like What Am I Doin’ taps into experiences that almost all of us share as listeners and gives them a special place in our hearts. I also love how Nesmith changes the meaning of the chorus in the beginning of the song to that of the end, even though the words are the same. Definitely one of their sleeper hits.

• • •

Escape (The Piña Colada Song)

Rupert Holmes

“If you like Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” is the chorus from one of the most famous story songs of all time – Escape by Rupert Holmes. The catchy earworm tells the tale of a man who has grown tired of his relationship with his lover and spies an ad in the local paper from a woman seeking a man. He decides to meet the woman at “a bar named O’Malley’s” only to ironically find that the woman is his own lover. The song thankfully concludes with the two discovering new things about each other and falling in love all over again.

Besides for having one of the most infectious melodies I can recall, the song also does a great job of telling the story of the two bored lovers. The twist at the end is the cherry on top (sorry) of one of the most iconic songs of the 70′s and 80′s. Holmes was forced to append the song’s name because people didn’t know its real title, Escape, and just kept calling it the “Piña Colada Song”. The tune has caused him a bit of grief over the years, and Holmes once even joked, “No matter what else I do, my tombstone will be a giant pineapple.”

• • •

Hotel California

The Eagles

The mammoth 1978 hit from the Eagles from the record of the same name is my second favorite story song of all time. The song quickly reached critical and popular success thanks in part to the quirky tale told by the narrator as well as the dark under-themes from Don Henley and Glenn Frey. On the surface, Hotel California tells the tale of a weary traveler who decides to break from his long drive and check into a mysterious hotel deep in the desert. The hotel is marked by all manner of dark characters, strange acts and a mysterious woman who seems to seal the narrator’s fate. When the narrator attempts to leave, the night man informs him that “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

When it was first released, many people theorized that Hotel California was really an allegory for a mental hospital, with the guests playing the parts of inmates. The Eagles have said that the story is a metaphor for the self-destruction of the Southern California music industry of the late 1970s. Whatever the subtext, the song stands on its own as one of the best story songs ever written.

• • •

Ode To Billy Joe

Bobby Gentry

My favorite story song has to be Ode to Billy Joe by Bobby Gentry. I’ve been fascinated by this song as long as I can remember and it seems that I’m not the only one. When it was released in late July of 1967, it touched off a cultural sensation with its gothic tale of mystery and southern culture. The song begins with the narrator and her brother returning, after morning chores, to the family house for dinner. Over dinner she learns that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge,” apparently to his death. The family doesn’t take notice of the narrator’s grave reaction and continues with dinner as if nothing is really wrong. Mama goes on to say Brother Taylor (the local preacher) visited earlier and he mentioned that he had seen Billie Joe and a girl who looked very much like the narrator herself, “throwin’ somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

From the moment it was released, fans everywhere tried to piece together the puzzle the song told. What did the boy and the girl throw off the bridge? Why did Billy Joe jump to his death? Many popular theories have been flown including a forbidden affair between the narrator (a white girl) and Billy Joe (a possibly black boy) throwing their still-born baby into the muddy waters. Gentry has never revealed the true reason for Billy Joe’s suicide, which only served to heighten the song’s mythos. Ode was reportedly one of Frank Sinatra’s all-time favorites, who even had jazz great Ella Fitzgerald sing a few verses for his TV special. So next time this song comes on the radio, listen closely and see if you can decipher the clues and solve the mystery of Ode to Billy Joe. And if you figure it out, be sure to let me know!

• • •

Check out these other “Story Song” bloggers:

David Miller (@davegobe)
Living in the Now

David Schultz (@dvsjr)
The (mis)adventures of a macintosh administrator

Mike Schramm (@mikeschramm)
MikeSchramm.com

Dave Caolo (@panache)
Hardcore Geek

Von Glitschka (@vonster)
Glitschka Studios

Andy Rudkin (@mizaru)
mizaru.me.uk

Christina Warren (@film_girl)
ChristinaWarren.com

Austin Heller (@austinheller)
AustinHeller.com

Mason Sklar (@zargap)
masonsklar.com

Allen Emory
A. Emory

Alain Edouard (@alainedouard)
alainedouard.co.cc

Mark Goody (@marramgrass)
marramgrass

Jamie Parkins
The Sound of Silence

‘Race’ Returns Sans HD. Again.

CBS has updated the official website for season 13 of their Emmy winning reality series, The Amazing Race. My favorite reality show’s 13th season features 11 new teams as they race around the globe to try and be the first to cross the finish line for 1 million dollars. I was really hoping that the show’s producers would make the move to gorgeous high-def by now but the AP is reporting this isn’t the case.

Although CBS’s mega-hit Survivor has finally switched to HD this year, The Amazing Race seems to be stuck at a roadblock. Executive producer Betram van Munster told the AP that his show won’t switch to high definition anytime soon. “I don’t think it’s a priority. We’re just happy to continue making the show as it is.” That’s too bad because if there ever was a TV show made for HD, Race is it. Jet-setting to exotic locations, exploring unknown streets and experiencing challenges in 1080p is just what The Amazing Race needs to give it a kick in the pants.

Aside from the HD disappointment, I’m really looking forward to the debut. Season 13 includes the usual assortment of teams like the blonde belles, the long-distance daters and even a pair of aging hippies. Being the huge geek that I am, my money is on Mark and Bill, two long-time friends and comic book fans who met at a science fiction club. CBS also promises several firsts this year including race legs in Cambodia and Kazakhstan. The network has also revealed one team will make an “unprecedented mistake” on the road, which will keep them from crossing the finishing line. Thanks to my friend Cabel Sasser of Panic fame, we already know which city that finish line will be featured in. He also told me about one of the final race challenges which he was lucky enough to (kind of) witness, and it sounds positively WILD. I think you’ll really love it.

The new season of The Amazing Race begins Sunday, September 28th at 8pm est. Despite the lack of HD, Race really is the best reality show on television, bar none. Just once however, I’d love to see someone get Philimated in glorious wide-screen format. Oh well, there’s always next year. Travel safe!