Wednesday, November 30, 2011

holiday sing-along — top ten worst songs

All of the traditional carols and holiday-themed songs have been recorded in multiple versions, but pop music stars have also been compelled to create new Christmas music, resulting in some really terrible songs that find a new life each year on the radio. If they had just been a clunker song on an old album we would never have had to hear them again. But Paul McCartney did a Christmas single (!) so we are perpetually subjected to a truly grating mess, Wonderful Christmastime. I don't even want to link to the music here. Google it at your own risk. Elton John also must have decided he needed his own holiday song. The result was the dreckish and lazy Step Into Christmas (written with Bernie Taupin, no less). Seriously, Elton, why?

I'm sure some consider it a classic, but I've always found Elvis Presley's Blue Christmas annoying. The rest of his holiday album is pretty good — maybe I've just heard Blue Christmas too many times.

I'm not hard hearted. If I didn't enjoy the season I wouldn't even be flipping on the holiday tunes. But I think everyone would agree with me that the most maudlin, terrible holiday song ever recorded is The Christmas Shoes by NewSong. It's an obvious and ham-handed attempt to elicit tears, and it's just really bad. Indigestion is more of a certainty than any depth of feeling. Apparently it was even turned into a television movie starring Rob Lowe. Yikes.

An equally obnoxious story-song set around the holidays is Dan Fogelberg's, Same Old Lang Syne.
Met my old lover in a grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
Stole behind her in the frozen foods
and I touched her on the sleeve
She didn't recognize the face at first
but then her eyes flew open wide
Tried to hug me and she spilled her purse
and we laughed until we cried
I know whenever I spill my purse out on the floor while unexpectedly bumping into an old flame laughing and crying is my first reaction. Second? Drinking a six-pack with the dude in the grocery store parking lot. Ahhh, the spirit of Christmas.

I also am perplexed by the recent covers of Wham's Last Christmas. George Michael's breathy Marilyn Monroe-like delivery of the lyrics is the height of cheese. In fact, it just points out how much of his singing is just whispering. Why Ashley Tisdale and Taylor Swift felt compelled to record their own versions of this goofy song is anybody's guess.

I love Judy Garland's Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, so when I heard a dirge-like version I had to suffer through to the last note to find out who was murdering the classic — and was shocked to discover it was the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. Oh well. I'll stick with Garland's and Sinatra's versions.

As far as holiday songs in general, I'm also not fond of Silent Night, The Little Drummer Boy, and Do You See What I See? — no matter who sings them. That's probably connected to my days in the school chorus. Some choir master always thought these songs would be "cool" for kids to sing, as opposed to more traditional carols.

So these are my least favorite holiday songs. At least we only have to run across them once a year (on heavy rotation). I plan to write one more holiday sing-along post, focusing on Christmas novelty songs ...

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

holiday sing-along — best songs

It's so hard to avoid holiday music. Three local radio stations are currently playing tunes around the clock. Do we really need three? Or even one, considering that every retail establishment is also pumping out the nonstop tunes? Instead of driving myself mad when I hear the umpteenth version of Silver Bells, I decided to remind myself of some holiday music that I actually like and look forward to hearing — just once a year.

 Ray Charles — Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Dean Martin's version is also good ("Rudy the red-beaked reindeer"), but nothing can beat Ray Charles's delivery. His entire Christmas album is great, including a version of Baby, It's Cold Outside with Betty Carter.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl — Fairytale of New York

An amazing song from an amazing band.

"Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last."

Judy Garland — Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

The very best rendition of this song, from a great movie that is sentimental in the best way. A classic.

Thurl Ravenscroft — You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch

Ravenscroft had such a wonderful voice and his delivery of Dr. Seuss's lyrics have let people indulge in their inner Grinch for decades.

The three words that best describe you,
Are as follows, and I quote,
"Stink! Stank! Stunk!"

Bruce Springsteen — Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

You can't beat Bruce for pure exuberance, and his version of this "kiddie" song manages to rock out, be fun, and let people know why he and the E Street Band have been such a hot ticket all these years.

Barenaked Ladies (with Sarah McLachlan) — God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings 

This version is not afraid to play with a more traditional Christmas carol. Its casual vibe captures the mood of caroling and eggnog and Christmas cheer.

John Denver and the Muppets — We Wish You A Merry Christmas

This is just too much fun, from a television special Kermit and the gang did with John Denver in 1979.

There is a ton of holiday music out there. Some other favorites include:

Feliz Navidad  Jose Feliciano

Little Drummer Boy  Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Holiday Christmas: War is Over  John Lennon

The Christmas Song — Nat King Cole

I'll be Home for Christmas — the Carpenters

Santa Baby — Eartha Kitt

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Johnny Mathis

And of course,

White Christmas — Bing Crosby

But I'm not done. I'll soon be compiling my list of some of the worst holiday songs ever made ...
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Monday, November 28, 2011

over one hundred years of fashion images

Article first published as Book Review: Decades of Fashion 1900 to the Present by Harriet Worsley on Blogcritics.

Decades of Fashion 1900 to the Present, a packed coffee table book of over 600 pages, covers more than a century of fashion for the design enthusiast. Black and white and color photography from the Getty Images collection provide a visual timeline of fashion icons and trends.

The book is divided into 10 chapters, each concentrating on a particular fashion trend, with essays written by Harriet Worsely that give a brief overview of the styles in women's clothing and historical context for the period.

Most interesting are the detailed captions that accompany each image in the book. And there are so many fabulous images.

The Belle Époque — Women shed their tight corsets and restrictive multiple layers of clothing and donned softer garments, designed with influences from classical art and Greek statuary. One of the more interesting profiles was of Lady Ottoline Morelli, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, who dyed her hair purple and was described as "that fantastic, baroque flamingo." Top designers of the period included Paul Poiret and Mariano Fortuny.

Suited and Booted — in the World War I era, men's clothing, such as knotted ties and suits, infiltrated women's fashion. This chapter featured many images of women at work. One of the best was of a female Metropolitan Railway worker, with a very short (for the period) — knee-length — skirt.

Boom and Bust — In the post-war '20s, hemlines rose along with expectations. The little black dress entered the fashion lexicon thanks to top designers Coco Chanel and Edward Molyneux. One of the most striking images in this section was of tennis star Suzanne Lenglen at Wimbledon, on the court with rolled-down flapper stockings and tennis outfit designed by Jean Patou.

Glamour Years — Loose-fitting undergarments were replaced by girdles and brassieres, which helped streamline women into the ideal Hollywood silhouette of long, slim and slinky. Women also started wearing trousers, and movie stars like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich became fashion icons. In one of the most iconic images in the book, Dietrich looks amazing in a white man's style suit, complete with bow tie and hat, and still loks completely and alluringly feminine. Popular designers of the time included Elsa Schiaparelli and Cristobal Balenciaga.

Make Do and Mend — Styles became a bit more practical during the Second World War years. Especially interesting is a photo of a Utility design, featuring an original dress and its mass-produced copy.

New World, New Look — Post-war, more luxurious fabrics were once again available and designers like Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy took full advantage, with voluminous skirts and sweeping jackets. But jeans and more casual styles were also popular, epitomized in one of the photos by Marilyn Monroe, looking adorable in a casual shirt and Capri pants.

Minis and Mods — The Beatles and Camelot were just some of the pop culture icons that influenced '60s fashion. So many over-the-top, free-spirited fashions are depicted this chapter, but especially striking is an image of a leopard-print-clad Barbra Streisand, photographed at a Chanel fashion show.

The Daisy Age — It was anything goes in the '70s, with designers like Pierre Cardin and Mary Quant raising hemlines even further than ever before. Androgyny, bikinis, and punk rock were all part of the eclectic fashion scene. A photo of Mick and Bianca Jagger, both wearing skirts in St. Tropez, illustrates the era perfectly.

Dress to Impress — Shapes became exaggerated and sculptural in the '80s, embodied in the designs of Issey Miyake and Sonia Rykiel. Miyake used yards of fabric in his draped designs, a quite different, voluminous take on classical statuary.

Back to Basics — Designers like Vivienne Westwood and Jean-Paul Gautier injected their designs with color and imagination in the '90s. Alexander McQueen's designs were as much fine art as fashion, utilizing unusual materials like metal and glass in his unique and beautiful creations.

Decades of Fashion 1900 to the Present is a book fashion-lovers will want as a reference, and even people cursorily interested in fashion will find much to interest them. The book can be enjoyed again and again, one can flip through the years and changing hairstyles and watching hemlines rise and fall as fashion in the past century has reflected art, style, politics, and necessity.
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

turkey day fun

We had a lot of fun visting relatives on turkey day weekend. It was actually a little too cold for the pool.


But that didn't stop everyone from giving it a try.

Solution? A pool within a pool.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

put away the glass ornaments ...

This is not the year to hang up the most fragile items, as Christmas tree climbing is definitely an indoor sport here ...


Friday, November 25, 2011

black and white friday

There's no way I'm going near a retail establishment today. I don't get the hype. Organized mania like Black Friday always makes me think of the old joke about St. Patrick's Day being amateur night for drinkers.

 But instead of thinking about shopping, here are some great black and white images to enjoy. Can you guess what films they are from? Answers below.

From top: Simone Simon in Cat People, Bogie and Bacall in To Have and Have Not, Johnny Depp and Martin Landau in Ed Wood, Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, The kids from Village of the Damned, Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in Ball of Fire

Thursday, November 24, 2011

guess what I'm making for Thanksgiving dinner ...

... Reservations! (yes, it's an old joke, but it makes me smile.)

Last year I tried to go all out and make a special turkey dinner. I followed a turkey in brine recipe and it came out perfectly, but my family really didn't like it. This year I'm spending the holiday with the like-minded cousin who also doesn't like to spend the whole day in the kitchen. We're all going out. To an Italian restaurant. And I'm really looking forward to it. This Thanksgiving we are making reservations.

"That will be a table for six, please."
Now don't get me wrong. I love all the traditional Thanksgiving meal stuff like turkey and/or ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie ... especially when someone else has been doing the bulk of the cooking. My childhood was pretty bereft of traditional American fare. No mac and cheese or pot roasts or casserole anythings. My mom joked that when she first got married she didn't even know how to boil water and had to ask her mother-in-law how. That may not have been that far from the truth. Luckily, my grandma was a phenomenal cook and my mom a fast learner in those days. But Grandma was also a Sicilian who had married a Northern Italian, so most of the dishes that were passed down were Italian. I still cook that way. I can't complain. Italian is one of the world's top cuisines. But that's my skill set.

One more word about traditional Thanksgiving fare. I loathe stuffing. I don't understand it. Maybe I've just never had any good stuffing. I've read recipes which mention sage and chestnuts and just about anything that you can imagine, but it still leaves me cold. I like turkey, but not the stuffing.

Over the past seven years or so my mom used to come up and visit my daughter and me while we were still living in Washington, D.C. I didn't want to cook a really big dinner for three or four people, so most of the time we made reservations. I guess that is my true Thanksgiving tradition, which now I'm finally coming to embrace and accept.

 So whatever your plans for the holiday are, I hope that you enjoy your own traditions, cuisine, family and friends. And don't forget to give thanks to whoever cooked your meal or whoever made the restaurant reservations.

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

kill shakespeare, volume 2

Article first published as Graphic Novel Review: Kill Shakespeare, Volume Two: The Blast of War by McCreery, Del Col and Belanger on Blogcritics.

Authors Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, and Andy Belanger have taken William Shakespeare and his greatest heroes and villains and put them together in a world where they either worship or detest their creator. Shakepeare is viewed as a godlike figure to some. Hamlet is the main character in both collections, and his trademark indecision is alive and well in this interpretation.

Kill Shakespeare, Volume Two: The Blast of War, nominated for a 2011 Harvey Award for best new comic series, collects the last six issues in the series, 7-12, and brings the exciting story to a conclusion.

In the first book, Kill Shakespeare Volume One: A Sea of Troubles, super-villain Richard III promised the guilt-ridden Hamlet that he would resurrect his father if Hamlet would steal Shakespeare's magical quill. Richard III, teamed up with the murderous Lady Macbeth and others, aim to steal their creator's quill, which can alter reality. Hamlet rejects Richard III and ends up joining the Prodigals, a band of rebels led by a very spunky Juliet and a remorseful Othello.

Readers don't have to be well-versed in the Shakespeare plays to enjoy the comic, but knowledge of key speeches and characters does enhance the experience. Not only do main characters like Hamlet, Falstaff, and Iago populate the pages, but peripheral characters like Demetrius and Lysander from A Midsummer Night's Dream also make an appearance.

In Volume Two, Hamlet and the Prodigals race to find Shakespeare before Richard III and Lady Macbeth and their troops. There are battle scenes galore, but Hamlet also manages to find time to fall for the lovely Juliet — what will he do now that he's discovered that her first love Romeo is still alive? Will Hamlet be able to save Shakespeare, or will he be manipulated by the villains to kill their author and creator, possibly destroying them all in the process?

The book was entertaining, with lots of action, clever references to the Bard's works, and bold graphic drawings. The story moved along well, keeping the suspense and excitement at an equal pitch.

The only quibble would be some of the writing. Classic Shakespearean characters have been mashed together creatively, but the writers then felt the need to have them speak with clunky "thees" and thous." It made some of the speeches hard-going. I'm not sure iambic pentameter would have worked, either, but dialogue like ...

"I will not do thy dirty work for thee. If thou wishes to die so badly, then come with me and do so on the battlefield."

... hardly runs trippingly on the tongue.

Kill Shakespeare, Volume Two: The Blast of War includes a bonus story, "Here Never Shines the Sun," written by Tom Waltz and drawn by Will Sliney, as well as multiple covers and additional artwork.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

time to trim the tree ...

... with Rita Hayworth

I'm not sure I'm ready to do our actual tree yet. Maybe after the holiday weekend.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

happy birthday dad

Joseph Francis Periale

Joseph Francis Periale, c. 1931

Joseph Francis, toy plane & friend, c. 1935

Joseph at the beach, c. 1935

JFP & Bunny, 8th Street, Belmar

Sunday, November 20, 2011

weekend fun

trying on hats


playing a game

the kid made a picture on the iPhone


Saturday, November 19, 2011

tiny dancer

Friday, November 18, 2011

riffing on the feminine mystique and mad men

Fueled by a review of  the book The Feminine Mystique on the blog I Will Dare, and my own thoughts on who I am and what I'm doing with my life these days, I grabbed Betty Friedan's seminal feminist call-to-arms, The Feminine Mystique from the library.

In 1938 they were asking what women think

It's a tad dated, but no matter whether you completely buy into Friedan's theory, which is supported by some narrow, yet damning, research of content in American women's magazines, it is undeniable that her finger was on the pulse with what was happening with American women in the late '50s, early '60s. She described how magazines' depiction of women was the opposite of progressive. Women seemed to have far more choices and independence in the '30s and '40s — unabashedly career-oriented, full of ideas and adventure (think classic screwball comedy heroines like Katherine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell) vs. the '50s domestic goddess, who lives only for her man and home (scores of TV moms like Mrs. Cleaver, Brady, etc.) The "new" image of woman as housewife-mother had been largely created by male writers and editors ...
"As young men returned from the war [WW2] ... The new writers were all men, back from the war, who had been dreaming about home, and a cozy domestic life. ... There was a new kind of woman's editor or publisher, less interested in ideas to reach women's minds and hearts, than in selling them the things that interest advertisers—appliances, detergents, lipstick. ... The formulas themselves, which have dictated the new housewife image, are the product of men's minds."
Here in a nutshell is why I could never get into Mad Men and don't get the love. It, and The Feminine Mystique, describe my mom's generation. Mad Men glorifies exactly what is pissing off Friedan. And no matter the characters of main character Don Draper's ex-wife Betty, who may be an illustration of the '60s American woman in Friedan's book, or the contrasting, forward-thinking Peggy, Mad Men continually glamorizes Don Draper. Even if it tries to touch on some of the issues of sexism, at its heart it's a man's story, perpetuating those same post-war misogynist attitudes, under a haze of "so bad they're cool again" clothes and styling and politically incorrect omnipresent cigarette smoke.

After reading Friedan it seems to me that we haven't come a long way, baby. Not nearly far enough. Mad Men is telling the wrong story. But do today's career-women, who don't even have the choice their mothers did of whether to work outside the home - in the present economy everyone works, maybe even multiple jobs - even get beyond the sleekly styled cool, the fact that Don Draper is hot? Do they even want to? Are today's women even as liberated as flappers?
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

occupy palm beach

There are a few intrepid souls still camping out by the waterfront in West Palm Beach.


Except the statistics down here are reversed ...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Why are ponytails on little girls and young women cute, but on women of a certain age (when worn  in public somewhere besides the gym or while doing laundry) just a sign of giving up?

Who knew the ponytail could be such a controversial hairstyle?

Of course some women could pull off a ponytail or any hairstyle.

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