Monday, February 27, 2006

Sometimes You Kick, Sometimes You Get Kicked

INXS' music has served as the soundtrack of my life. Long before I was able to discern what was cool and what wasn't, they were a part of my collection because I liked the music for what it was. It didn't matter to me that a hottie sang their tunes. It didn't matter that critics and cheerleaders alike lauded their music, that they were a great equalizer of a band, much like the way U2 is today. It didn't matter that they oozed cool. I just liked the music.

"What You Need" was on my first mix tape, carefully crafted when I was 10. "Need You Tonight" was the only song that could get my painfully shy, 12-year-old self out on the floor. "Mediate" taught me who Bob Dylan was. "Never Tear Us Apart" was my first slow dance with a boy at age 13. Kick was the first album I copped from my older sister. "Live Baby Live" was the first concert album given to me at age 16, and was also the tape that I listened to when I drove to my first (brief) stint as an events intern at WBAL TV in Baltimore. In 1993, during the summer between high school and college, I caught the boys from Down Under at the HFStival at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. When their Greatest Hits CD came out in 1994, I picked it up and played it at college parties 'til I almost wore a hole through it.

Then, in 1997, the year I graduated college, INXS' frontman, Michael Hutchence, died. Since then, I've been spinning the albums with regularity and not a little nostalgia, but I haven't really dwelled on the loss. Chapters of my life were closing all over the place, and his death, and what I thought was the death of INXS, dovetailed with that.

Cut to two weeks ago: I went to an INXS concert at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. If you're looking for a local comparison, the venue was akin to the Uptown Theater, except retro-fitted to host live musical acts. Not a stadium, sure, but not just a club show either.

See, my older brother called me up and said that he had two tickets to spare, so he invited me and the Hubby to come along. Problem is, we'd have to outsource the Boy to friends or family for an overnighter if we were going to zip on up to the outskirts of Philly for a concert. And since the Hubby is lukewarm about late eighties/early nineties pop music...well, we decided that I'd go it alone. The last concert I'd caught was the Erasure show at the 9:30 Club in June, so I was itching to see some live music.

As much as I was looking forward to mixing with the general pop fan population, though, I was a little apprehensive. For me, Michael Hutchence was INXS. His mug enjoyed the most screen time in their videos, his hair inspired many a young lad to grow luscious wavy locks, his voice was the telltale sign that the music piping through your car radio was part of the INXS discography. I don't mean to play down the fact that the band, musically, really belongs to Kirk Pengilly, the Farris Brothers (Andrew, Tim, and Jon), and Garry Beers. But all of my teen and tween friends plunked down their babysitting earnings for INXS tapes 'cause of Michael Hutchence.

So why, then, did I nearly cry during the opening salvo of "Suicide Blonde," their first ditty of the evening? Why didn't I cheer at the rebirth of this band that had surreptitiously, inextricably entwined itself with my wonder years?

I can only offer an analogy to explain. For me, it was like seeing a widower whom I love dearly remarried to a very nice woman after a really respectable amount of time had passed since the death of his first wife, whom I also loved dearly. I'd be deliriously happy that he gets to partake of the sweetness of love and partnership once again, but I'd mourn the first wife all over again.

I looked around at the crowd to see if I could glimpse anyone else going through the same Tilt-A-Whirl of emotions. But in a darkened concert hall, you can't exactly read feelings easily, so I let it go and sat back to try to enjoy the concert without overthinking it.

INXS 2.0 is now fronted by Canadian singer J.D. Fortune. For what it's worth, he was adopted into the band via Rock Star: INXS, a reality TV show that aired last summer on CBS and VH1. It doesn't matter how he came to be a part of INXS, though. He's good, and clearly deserves to be there. I didn't watch the TV show, so I didn't know what to expect of him. Older Brother, who was addicted to the show, shared that J.D. has always been a superfan of the group. That's an interesting factoid 'cause alot of times it seems like J.D. channeled Michael Hutchence. I can't tell if J.D. performs like that because he thinks that's what the fans want, or if it's because he idolized Michael Hutchence so much that he can't help but sing and prance like him. Despite that niggling thought, I really enjoyed his performance. Dunno if that's 'cause I want to be aurally fooled or what, but I liked it.

I know I'll listen to their new tunes on the radio. I may even pick up a CD. But will I let this new incarnation into my life again? Eh, probably.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dental Damn

You know that your dental visit was not a good one when your dentist schedules your next four appointments before you leave. And those four appointments all take place within the next three months.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Looking for Lloyd in All the Wrong Places

This WaPo article sums up the feelings of virtually every chica I know. Cameron Crowe and John Cusack, with one simple little movie, forever altered women's perceptions of attainable love. We got all the gooey feelings of a bodice ripper without the gothic setting. Romance, not lust, for the teen generation. Some (like Chuck Klosterman) would insist that Say Anything actually ruined the romantic expectations of women born between 1968 and 1977. I disagree, 'cause I found my Lloyd. And you know what? It's everything it's cracked up to be.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Valentine's Gift Ideas

It's my experience that there's almost as much value in knowing what not to do as there is in knowing what one ought to do. So...I present to the world (and by world I mean the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., France, and Australia, where the holiday is celebrated) the top four gifts men should not to buy for their sweeties on Valentine's Day. These gifts have actually been given to friends of mine to celebrate the day...

There are two caveats to this list:

1) If the object of your affection has explicitly requested one of the items below, by all means, fulfill her wishes. But if she didn't...well, she can't be held responsible for her reaction.

2) This un-guide is for significant others only. If you're a parent, or a friend, or a sibling, some of the items below are just ducky.

Here we go...

1) Exercise equipment and/or a gym membership.
This is tantamount ot saying, "You're looking a little plump, so here's a tool that can help you out with that." She may have expressed her generic desire to join a gym, or go leaping like a Gazelle. However, that doesn't mean she wants you to passively agree with her on this topic during the highest of romantic holy days.

2) Domestic appliances/aprons/cookbooks.
She may love to cook, and to try out new new recipes. But anything with the KitchenAid logo stamped on it should not be given on Valentine's Day. "Here honey," says the man proffering an appliance, "let me help you feed me better." Nice.

3) Gift cards.
I know, I know, it seems like it's a good way to go. But it's so impersonal! Gift cards are an awesome thing for Christmas, or birthdays. Know why? 'Cause these are occasions when an individual is probably receiving multiple gifts, from multiple people, and the gift card allows her to pick up that one special something that she'd had her eye on, but didn't receive. And she gets to shop, which is always a bonus. But a Valentine's Day gift is supposed to reflect how you feel about her. And if you go the gift card route, you're saying, "I know you like this store, but it would've taken me a really long time to pick out something you liked, so I'll just let you go ahead and buy yourself somethin' nice instead." Think about it. Gift cards = money (sure, money you can only spend in one place, but money all the same). Would you give your girlfriend/fiancée/wife cold hard cash to show her that you appreciate her love? Probably not...

4) Nothing.
Listen, even if you both agreed that money is tight, and that you won't get each other anything, you should still give her a card. It doesn't matter if it's crafted out of construction paper and crayons. Tangibility is what counts here, folks.

The truth is, there is no silver bullet for this Valentine's Day gift-giving hoo-ha. (And no, that doesn't mean you should run out and buy a silver bullet.) You just need to know your partner, and the gift needs to show that you were thinking about her when you weren't actually sitting next to her. That you know stuff about her. Does she like theater? Get her tickets to a show. Does she like lazy Sunday mornings? Comfy pajamas and breakfast in bed. Has she been singing a song over and over and over again? Buy the CD. Has her car been acting up? Take it in to have it serviced. Does she despise laundry? Wash it for her. Does she want to go out to dinner? Book the babysitter yourself.

And I'm all about equal opportunity, ladies. Valentine's Day should not be a one-way street. You gotta show him the love, too. Don't visit the Snap-On truck unless he said that's what he wanted. Get the video game he wanted, even if you think it's silly. Go see the movie he wants, even if it's Jerry Bruckheimer explode-o-rama. You could even (and I'm just spitballin' here) watch a sporting event with him, without asking questions.

You don't need to be extravagant...just thoughtful. Think O. Henry, not Donald Trump.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Silver Linings

Since I can be a wee vain with regard to my scripted wit, I like to poke around in previous posts and fawn all over my handiwork. Thing is, though, I've noticed a pattern in the things I choose to write about. Mostly, my entries stink of negativity. I gripe and vent about neighbors, advice, name it, I've written about it with a decidedly snarkalicious slant.

Why? I don't consider myself a glass-half-empty kind of person. In fact, I consider myself a cup-runneth-over kind of person: great husband, happy son, solid friends, good job, supportive family (both in blood and in marriage). Trumpeting my joy in those facets of my life seems a bit bragadocious, though, so I don't do it. But why go the extreme other way and focus on quotidien irritations? It's cathartic, sure. But that's not the sum total of why I lean that way on this blog...

The answer, I think, lies in the craft of writing. At the heart of every story, comedic or dramatic, is conflict. Without conflict, there's no story. Let's face it: without conflict you've basically got a greeting card. And those are designed to be interesting for about the thirty seconds it takes to read one. Me, I'd like a little more staying power than that.

That doesn't mean that each story, though, needs to be punctuated with a "Wah-wah-wah, doesn't that stink?" sentiment. That's my challenge to myself: to attempt to document things that are interesting, are rife with conflict, but are not simply outlines of my personal annoyances.

Oof. This could be rough.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Who ARE You?

A coupla days ago, a friend and I were lamenting the recent dissolution of Z104. Not that I listened to the pop music mecca all that often, but I like the idea of a little variety in the airwaves. And blech, not variety stations. There's just something wrong about following up Gorillaz with Phil Collins. If I want to hear what the tweens are groovin' on these days, dadgumit, I don't want to have to log onto the internet or subscribe to satellite radio to find it.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, we were lamenting. Because of phenomenally bad reception within the District, my friend pointed out that she only gets about three stations clearly, and only two of them play music during the morning commute. No stranger to the travails of the morning drive in the Metro area, I empathized in a big way. We were feeding off of the commiseration, so I decided to one-up my friend, and complain that of the two stations that actually spin some tunes, one of 'em is Mix 107.3, home of The Jack Diamond Morning Show. I think I may have punctuated that sentence with "Yuck" or a gagging noise of some ilk.

My friend blinks at me, slowly, and says, "I like Jack Diamond. He and his crew seem like they are pretty warm, caring people."

It's like I'd been hit with a stun gun. I guess you could say I was stunned. She likes Jack Diamond? JACK DIAMOND? I'm a big believer in chacun à son goût and everything, but only if I have a glimmer of an insight as to why an entertainer might be to your goût. Jack Diamond uses the goopy, ululating radio voice. Jack Diamond is fakey sweet to the show's guests. He discusses topics that I don't think anyone really cares about ("Do you say hello to your boss out of the office when you've got some out-of-control kids in tow?"). Nothing about the guy's style has ever appealed to me (I'm sure he's really worried about it, too).

But I'm not here to exclaim just how deeply unimpressed I'm colored by Mix 107.3's morning crew. The fact that someone with whom I think I share all kinds of taste actively likes the, um, entertainment he's broadcasting into the ether has knocked me for a loop. How can our interests be so divergent? Yes, yes, variety's the spice of life, but I believe my distaste for the guy is a measurable part of my hipster quotient.

Will more differences of opinion surface, cicada-style, to surprise me decades into a friendship? Will I suddenly find out that another friend thinks that Barbie is a good role model for girls? Or that the Monkees rock harder than the Beatles? Or that Gus van Sant's Psycho improved upon the original?

Don't get me wrong; it's not like I'm going to start divesting myself of relationships based on these trivialities. I'm not that shallow (wink).

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Toy Chest Is Closed

I hadn't outted Palisades Toys specifically as the company that laid me off in December because I didn't want to impact the future sale, merger, rebranding, or sundry other directions the company might have taken. For those kids out there who are bitter that they weren't kept in the loop during the troubles, please know that informing you of every step would've potentially messed up any deals in the works. So everything had to be played close to the vest, and that meant keeping ya'll in the dark. To quote Michael Corleone, "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."

But now that the owners have sent out this statement and it's all over the Palisades Toys message board, there's no harm in naming names now.

Not that I have anything bad to say, actually. The folks that I worked with there were the best, and I miss the goofiness that was part and parcel of the workday. Honestly, I was only there about four months, so I'm not a part of the core group that will be sorely missed by the rabid (in a good way) fans. Should any of them happen upon this missive of mine, you should know that while Palisades didn't openly communicate everything that was going on to the fan base, the Horns handled the dissolution of their life's work with grace, and honesty, and integrity. Did it stink looking for a new job in January? Yep. But it's nothing compared to having to close the doors on your own company. So if you want to dissect the way everything went down, and play Monday morning quarterback, feel free. I have my doubts that you could have done any better with the hand they were dealt.

As I sit in a cube at my new job site, one that's equally interesting but not nearly as glamourous (I mean, I'm not walkin' around with swords or anything), I have nothing but good thoughts about the Palisades Experience, and I wish those that I met during that time the best.