The Blue Mask (Lou Reed – Artist Of The Year Part 14)

The Blue Mask was released in 1982, and opens with “My House” a typical Lou Reed story song told in the first person. It is difficult to tell just how autobiographical this song is, but by name checking his then-wife Sylvia, one suspects the lyrics were indeed inspired by some real-life event. She is named in a couple of songs directly, such as “My House” and “Heavenly Arms” (the opening and closing songs it should be noted).

Robert Quine (from Richard Hell & The Voidoids) provides the second guitar on this album and there are a few songs that really stand out for this dynamic between the two – one great example is the second song on the album, “Women”. By separating the two guitarists to the left and right channels, a technique Lour Reed would continue to employ, there is a clear distinction and lets the listener focus on the song rather than the performance of it.

“Women”

“The Gun”, “Underneath The Bottle” “Average Guy” are great character snapshots that Lour Reed does so well. The fact that these songs are relatively short and don’t overstay their welcome makes them all the better.

“The Day John Kennedy Died” is another personal song. I find it interesting who this album shifts between personal/autobiographical songs and the more “story” or “character” centered ones. The production is fairly stripped down, the musical arrangements are simple, but not simplistic, and the lyrics can be poetic, insightful or both. While The Blue Mask is not Lou Reed’s best album, the consistency of the songs make this one of his better albums.

“The Heroine”

There is no stand out song, and that’s for the better. The Blue Mask is a much more solid offering from this masterful rock and roll poet.

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Phamily Foto Phriday 10-27-17

Before I get into the rest of the pictures I want to  first highlight one from yesterday and the story behind it.

Yesterday I took the boys and Grace to get flu shots while Laura and and Dela were at a (routine, regularly scheduled) school conference. Instead of going to the clinic we normally go to where our doctor is, it was decided to go to the pharmacy/drug store just a few blocks from our house. Our insurance provider recently opened up a “care clinic” at the local drugstore, and while we haven’t really familiarized ourselves with its services, we did know that flu shots were available there.

I check in and we are waiting, not too long, but if you have ever  had to wait in line with a three year old you know that even 5 minutes can seem like an hour. I’m not sure how long we waited, 15 minutes perhaps, and then we shuffled into the exam room. There’s four boys, ranging in ages 3 to 14, myself, and Grace in her stroller. the nurse practitioner is not quite sure what to make of us all.

Since I am the one who checked in I was first up. I hand over my medical card, answer the standard questions, and get my flu shot. The nurse practitioner then exits out of the system and asks which of these kids is “Bart” or some other name. I replied that I was the only one checked in, but was told we would all be able to get our shots. She looks at the information available to her on the screen a moment, then back at us, then back to the screen, then back at us saying “Then let’s do this in a orderly fashion.”

Tevye, for all of his… whatever the heck it is, did pretty good once we were in the room. The nurse practitioner enlisted his aid by having him hold the bandage to be placed on each person while she was administering each shot. Yes, he even held his own bandage. Unfortunately he squirmed when it was his turn so there was a bit of blood.

Just before the last person was to get the flu shot, the phone rang. She was a little annoyed saying “I have a room full here with a whole family,” but had to go out into the drug store to check on something. Coming back in the phone rang again and she picked it up “Oh, I hung up on you? I’m sorry. Hold on, I’ll be right back.” and she handed to phone to Tevye before leaving again “You can say ‘Hi’ if you want.”

So he did.

“Hello?  I have 3 kids in here.”

No, really,  that’s what he said into the phone. When the nurse practitioner came back in she told him to say goodbye, which he did then handed her the phone. She spoke into the phone for a moment, hung up, administered the final flu shot and we were on our way.

A couple of weeks ago the final cross country events took place. First up was the ribbon run for the younger grades. Here is Xavier pouring on some speed to pass a few kids at the approach to the finish line.

I would miss the championship race the following week, but I will get to that in a moment.

Kyle moved to Portland for the company he is working for but came over one last time before heading down.

Picking up Tevye from preschool I got to the school a little early and since it wasn’t raining I found Xavier right where I expected him to be – playing kickball.

So why did I miss the cross country championships? I was in Portland. No, not with Kyle, but Déla had a dance competition. Here was are in Target across from our hotel picking up a few things we forgot after a long night’s drive about 5 minutes before the store closed.

Here she is lined up to compete. It wasn’t a great weekend for her, award-wise, but it was still worth going.

Of course we carved pumpkins as well. But that is going to go into another post.

And another game of Munchkin got played. This time it was Munchkin Booty. Note the bandage on Xavier’s shoulder from the flu shot.

And that’s what I have for this installment.

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Something I Never Thought I Would Say About Star Wars

Right now, well, not necessarily right now, but you know what I mean.

So, at this point in time I am watching “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, listening to the audiobook version of Phasma, and reading all of the Star Wars comics. There is a lot of canonical content out there aside from the movies.

In the last couple of years alone there has been more than 10 novels released – not counting the young adult books. These stories are official canon, telling stories of what took place between the films such as how the whole galaxy learned that Darth Vader was Leia’s father or how Tarkin rose to power and eventually command the Death Star or Captain Phasma’s backstory. And these are all good, highly enjoyable books. The Aftermath trilogy is a must-read for Star Wars fans.

And the comics? Some of those are even better than some of the books. The first run of Darth Vader was so good they not only started a second but also a spin-off. The regular Star Wars comic is good, but I’m getting more enjoyment out of the steady release of mini-series of four to six issues each. Of course these are also canon and fill in a heck of a lot story. Oh, and the Poe Dameron comic is not only good it fills that itch missing from the old Rogue Squadron novels.

Star Wars came out just as I was about to turn 10. To say it blew me away would be an understatement. I dove headfirst into Star Wars fandom and over the years it waned (Ewoks, prequels, etc.) and other times it rose to the forefront (“Droids”, many of the older Star Wars novels) but about 10 years ago it sort of petered our and I had stopped being interested for the most part.

When the animated Star Wars film came out I wasn’t interested. Then the series came out and I passingly caught a couple of episodes but was only mildly interested, but not enough to actually watch the series.

Then Disney bought Lucasfilm.

My attention and interest were reawakened. Disney simply wouldn’t buy Lucasfilm without some plan to capitalize on the brands and turn a profit. New films were announced, and everything from the “expanded universe” was going away to be replaced with new content that would be deliberate and canon.

That announcement really had me interested.

May of 2015 I picked up my first Star Wars purchase in many years. Sampling them got me hooked. These were not only official stories but captured the feel of the original trilogy as well.The trailers for the upcoming film looked good. I was, cautiously, getting excited to be a Star Wars fan again.

Of course Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out and really kicked things into high gear.

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” was cancelled and replaced with “Star Wars: Rebels” which felt like a mistake, but understandable because of the new ownership. Then the books started coming and I started picking them up either in physical form or audiobook. Reading and listening to these helped feed my affection for the Star Wars universe. Everything being released was not only official, it was pretty darn good. Alright, some of the books and comics have not been great but nothing has been on the level of the prequel trilogy. Even the mediocre offerings have been enjoyable.

Now, a couple of years later, as the third Star Wars movie is about to be released in as many years I am beginning to be a bit overwhelmed with everything being released.

Disney has done a good job of monetizing on their investment. Perhaps a bit too well.

When the original and prequel trilogies came out there was a three year gap between releases. One could argue there is a two year gap between “official” episodes, but really there are Star Wars movies coming out every year, starting in 2015 and on through at least 2019 and perhaps even beyond that. Each year there have been four or five novels released and of course every month approximately the same number of comic books.

There is a bit of Star Wars fatigue setting in.

No longer is there any anticipation of what the next release will be or when it will come out. Instead we have a near constant stream of content. And don’t get me wrong – for the most part this is all quality material that is being released. Yes, the galaxy is big and  there are a lot of  stories to be told, but it almost feels as if Disney is trying to tell all  the stories now before interest wanes again rather than pacing things out.

My fear is that we will get to the end of the current sequel trilogy of films in a couple of years, there will be a small gap, and then more content produced. With the rush to  put out as much as possible right now and then afterwards, the quality will begin to suffer and then interest will drop and Disney will stop producing Star Wars content altogether.

That would be a real shame, because there are a lot of stories to be told, but if Disney chases after the profit margin too much, there could be a loss of focus and when the income drops it is conceivable the company would move on to whatever lucrative flavor of the month it is championing.

Striking while the iron is hot, metaphorically, is a good thing. I am not faulting Disney for that. I am finding fault, however, for the company to not pace out the releases better giving even the more ardent of fans fatigue. The company needs to spread things out more to build in some anticipation. This will ensure that, if the quality is up to expectations, things will be received in the way they should.

When it comes to Star Wars, I think we are getting too much of a good thing. And it scares me because Disney might be running this franchise into the ground in a way that George Lucas couldn’t.

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Growing Up In Public (Lou Reed – Artist Of The Year Part 13)

Musically this album starts out… upbeat?

What is this?

Growing Up In Public was Lou Reed’s album written, recorded and released at the dawn of the Reagan era. 1980 saw a cultural shift, and Lou Reed was shifting as well. The opening number “How Do You Speak To An Angel?” is about the uncertainty of approaching the object of your affection from a first person perspective. It seems like it catches the middle school angst all too well. But that is Lou Reed, the storyteller, in fine form.

This song is followed up with “My Old Man” which is a semi-autobiographical song about his childhood and wanting to grow up to be like his father.  Or not.

Lou Reed was approaching 40 at the time of this record. Middle age was apparently weighing heavily on him, and he was examining his life. The album is rife with self-examinations and stories that feel less about what Lou Reed has observed on the streets of New York City but rather things that are much more personal.

The title track, “Growing Up In Public”, is pure Lou Reed, a poem about being caught in between polar opposites of societal expectations. Often it doesn’t rhyme and musically it seems rhythmically atonal. It is easy to see why this was used as the title of the album. It is probably the best song on the record.

“Love Is To Stay” is about the differences a couple can have but still overcome to remain together. Little differences that could be a “make or break” quality early in life are negligible later on and that is demonstrated here. Again, further evidence of this album being an examination of getting older.

“Smiles” is another autobiographical song, and it has this weird upbeat music which almost seems at complete odds with the subject matter of the song. The closing number is an interesting plea to the world at large (partly using Al Green’s “Take Me To The Water”) to make the world a better place. “Teach The Gifted Children” almost feels like he is wanting us to not make the same mistakes he suffered through.

While not his best album by any means Growing Up In Public is a much stronger effort than his previous album and feels much more like a Lou Reed album should.

 

 

 

 

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LEGO Ninjago: Masters Of Spinjitsu – Hands Of Time (Season 7) (DVD)

“Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.”

During the 2nd season of LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu” I was wondering if the creative team would be able to keep things up because it appeared the show was running out of steam early. Fortunately not only did the show get refreshed fut it found its footiing and continued to be a strong enough presence in the LEGO pantheon to have a movie (which is sort of loosely based on the early seasons, but not really) released. So not only has the series thrived and continued, it seems to be getting better. Season seven might be the best yet. Clearly the writers know their material and are really comfortable with messing with the formula enough to keep viewers guessing what is going to happen next.

As the “Hands Of Time” title might indicate, this season sees the Ninjago dealing with the threat of time, specifically time travel and the “Hands of Time” – Arcronix and Krux, old enemies of Master Wu. And while it has been a few seasons since we have had snakes as enemies, the ones used here are very different from the ones we saw in the first couple of seasons.

If you are new to “LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu” this might not be the best place to start. There is a fair amount of character development, which is probably the biggest saving grace for the series. This season is no different and we get some time (ha) to focus on Kai and Nya.

After giving over to the science fiction and fantasy genre blend that is “LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu” when the ridiculous happens it does not feel out of place. That is why this season works. The world and characters have been established sufficiently enough to build these stories upon.

Complaints? Well, a couple of special features would be nice. Because this series has survived this long (remember “Legends of Chima” or “Hero Factory”?) the people behind the scenes obviously have something to say, so an audio commentary or two would have been nice.

If you are a fan of LEGO television series then “LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu” is already on your radar, and rightfully so. This is a solid series that blends action, humor and just enough drama to keep everything moving forward. Well done.

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Music Monday: Ladies Of The 80s

This morning’s spin class was a themed ride, and I was going to be going regardless, but this certainly seemed like a fun theme that I was looking forward to. The set list started out with The Pointer Sisters “I’m So Excited” and it was a solid selection to kick things off.

“It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls was up next and I can understand why it was included, but I could have lived without it. Pat Benatar would have been a much better selection in my opinion. Let’s just go with “We Belong” which is slower, but would have made for a good hill climb.

It really isn’t much of a Ladies Of The 80s theme without some Whitney Huston and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is a great selection.

My memory of this morning, which is just a few hours ago is already spotty. Madonna’s “Material Girl” or “Like A Prayer” was included somewhere. Either one was fine.

A remix of “Flashdance” by Irine Cara was included on the list which was good enough but I think “Tell It To My Heart” by Taylor Dayne would have been a good, if offbeat, choice.

A remix of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was included, an obvious choice, but I didn’t care for the remix, and I also think a different song would have been a better inclusion.

Tina Turner does a great rendition of “Proud Mary” but I never cared for the song regardless of who is singing it (Credence Clearwater Revival, Ike & Tina, Solomon Burke). The fact The Go-Gos did not get included in this morning playlist was a crime.

“Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson was a great choice. Actually, a whole class around the Rhythm Nation 1814 album would be fun.

“Conga” by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine was declared the favorite song on the playlist by the instructor. It was so fast I had difficulty keeping up.

“Cold Hearted” got the remix treatment, but I think the original version by Paula Abdul was good enough to be included as is.

The cool down song was The Bangles “Manic Monday” and was a decent selection for that spot on the playlist.

While my playlist doesn’t quite match up with what was offered up this morning in class it was a good set, a fun theme and I hope there are more of these in the future.

 

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Take A Good Look – The Definitive Collection (DVD)

Ernie Kovacs was a comic genius. His work in the early days of television helped stretch and define the medium by using a mixture of live and filmed segments along with special camera effects. Where technically his influence is undeniable, it was his humor that was so engaging and is still relevant today.

At times absurd visually, others wordplay, and sometimes the most obvious visual pun, Ernie Kovacs was a master of wringing humor out of any situation. It was this skill that enabled his game show “Take A Good Look” to work. You could see “Take A Good Look” as a send-up of the popular show at the time “What’s My Line?” in which a panel of celebrities attempt to guess what line of work a contestant does, or what it is that makes them stand out in some manner. “Take A Good Look” follows a similar format, but with Kovacs’ humor.

Clues are often only tangentially connected to the person the panelists are trying to guess the identity of. And that’s part of the fun.

Over the course of the series a number of notable panelists showed up regularly, including Cesar Romero, actors Ben Alexander and Hans Conried and of course Edie Adams (almost always making some sort of grand entrance). Others who showed up include Jane Wyatt, Mort Sahl, Jack Carson, and Carl Reiner. There is a surprising amount of regularity with the panelists, but they aren’t the focus of the show so it does not matter.

“Take A Good Look” focuses on two things – Kovacs’ humor and (mostly) ordinary people who did something newsworthy. There was a reporter who had recently won the Pulitzer, the woman who spent her honeymoon in a bomb shelter, the championship boxer, a baseball pitcher who pitched a perfect game (one of several baseball guests on the series), and many others. A number of these people come from the sports world, but some are just…. wacky.

Over seven discs we get a lot of bizarre and wonderful examples of Ernie Kovacs humor. You will laugh. A lot. If you order through Shout Factory (quickly) you can get a copy of “Private Eye, Private Eye” Kovacs’ take on the spy genre. I wish I had gotten a copy of this to review because the thought of Kovacs taking on the spy genre is certainly intriguing.

I have talked about Ernie Kovacs a few times and each time I have the opportunity to watch something of his I will take it. I am not old enough to have watched his stuff when it was first broadcast but certainly old enough to know his influence.

This DVD set is a must-own for fans of classic television humor.

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Turning Girls Into Boy Scouts?

It was recently announced that Boy Scouts of America would accept girls into the Cub Scout program starting with the 2018 program year (essentially the beginning of the school year). Additionally, for older girls, they will now have an opportunity to earn the highest achievement in Boy Scouts – attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

When the news broke, like many others involved in the scouting program, I wasn’t surprised. This has been a discussion for a while. You may not realize it, but young women have been part of Boy Scouts since 1971 when the decision was made to open up the Explorer program, a division of Boy Scouts that would eventually become Venture Scouts.

Did you even know that there is more to scouting than Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts?

The history and evolution of Explorers and Venturing is a little murky, and I don’t claim to know a lot of it, I know enough that girls or young women have been part of the Boy Scouts of America organization for quite a while.

So what’s the big deal?

Let me start off by saying that “girl” is the term I am going to go with for the rest of this post, rather than “young woman” because this is Boy Scouts and I am not meaning to degrade anybody, simply streamline my text.

If having girls in Boy Scouts is nothing new why is this an issue? Why hasn’t this happened already? Where does Girl Scouts fit in?

Rather than post some initial reaction, I wanted to let the news digest a little and offer up my thoughts in less “rushed” manner. I wanted to think things through a little.

Cub Scouts has been, operationally, a “family” organization for some time, at least as long as I have been involved. And maybe it is just the local council I am part of. While girls are not eligible to attend overnight camp or register for day camp, siblings have been welcome to various scouting events such as “day at camp” or pack outings.

Because many families have more constraints on their time making the organization more family friendly has been a priority for some time, and it has largely been a success. The move to include girls in Cub Scouts is a natural one, and frankly I am all for it.

My initial enthusiasm with regards to the news, however, was almost immediately tempered with trepidation as to how it will be implemented. If done poorly it could turn a lot of people away from scouting.

There is still the obstacle of integration with regards to  summer camp. The camps we have gone to have female facilities. During winter camp some of the boys have had their mothers attend for the weekend. Summer resident camp and winter camp have been staffed by female Venture Scouts. It is not unprecedented to have some mixed gender, but as a program there is going to need to be a bit of overhauling of the facilities and operations.

Incorporating girls into Cub Scouts is one thing. Another very crucial part of the announcement was there would be a way for girls to attain the rank of Eagle Scout.

I’m sure there are people who are not happy with this decision to include girls, and the Girl Scouts are mad, but I can certainly see why many girls want to join. There are benefits to the Girl Scouts, and my older daughter participated for a few years but ultimately felt that it was lacking the goals and purpose her brother was enjoying in Cub Scouts.

Opening up the rank advancement to Eagle Scout to girls is a big deal. It should be noted the announcement did not say that Boy Scouts would become Boy & Girl Scouts. Instead it says there will be a program for girls using the same curriculum the Boy Scouts use.

Heck, the announcement even says that Cub Scout dens would be segregated by gender. Don’t expect that to last too long.

There has been girls involved in the Boy Scout program for decades. This move is a natural extension of the program to fully include everybody who wishes to participate.

Are you against this move? Tell me  why you think this is a bad move on the part of Boy Scouts of America (and keep in mind they did try to work with Girl Scouts to incorporate the program but were snubbed). Are you worried about integration? Do you think Girl Scouts is good enough? Do you think this waters down the Boy Scout program and the rank of Eagle Scout?

I would really like to hear from you.

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Arrowheads (PC)

This is a title we have been looking forward to in our house for some time. Ciaran got to play this at the Penny Arcade Expo last year and has regularly asked about it since, which is unusual because he likes video games, but is very picky.

Arrow Heads is a combat arena game where the players take on the role of birds and attempt to take each other out with arrows. Well, that’s the basic premise. Players pick their archer which can be customized and enter into one of several arenas to battle three other opponents (computer controlled or human). The first to get 10 kills wins the match.

Maybe it is my computers, but I couldn’t get any of the various controllers, wired or wireless, regardless of manufacture, to work properly. For this version of the game I wound up sticking with the keyboard and mouse, a combination that Ciaran found frustrating so he told me he would wait for the console version to come out (scheduled for the first half of 2018).

Operating the bow is a bit of a combination of skill and luck. There is some deliberateness to the method of aiming and pulling back the bow – the longer it is held back the better the shot. Of course you need to be constantly on the move in order to not get shot yourself, so aiming is certainly not a static affair.

Adding to the mayhem are the special items that fall from the sky or pop up on the battle arena. Things such as bear traps, or barrels of explosives. Yes, shooting a barrel of explosives next to an enemy will kill it. Oh, and the Tesla coils. And rocket grenade arrows.

Complete matches and get some bird seed. That bird seed is currency to unlock customization options. Mostly aesthetic in nature they do provide a good incentive to keep going (in addition to the addictive nature of the game itself).

What I like about Arrow Heads was not just that it was a different take on arena combat, but it feels like a spiritual successor to Power Stone. Or maybe a cousin. Maybe the crazy uncle that took too long to get off the couch to show Power Stone how it should be done if dealing with ranged weapons. Or maybe I’m just crazy. Whatever the case is, this is a ridiculously fun … I wanted to say “brawler” but it isn’t, it is more shooter than anything but that really doesn’t describe it.

Arrow Heads also has an mode where players need to fend of wave after wave of bear. Because, why not.

Designed to be multiplayer, this is not an online only affair. Again, because I was having issues with my controllers (I know I need to get a newer PC) we did not get much of the local multiplayer in. Still it’s a game that scratches a certain itch. It’s “arcadey” and light-hearted, easy to pick up and play with a “just one more round” feel to it.

My son is going to wait for the console version to come out before playing again. I am not.

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Justice League: Action – Superpowers Unite (DVD)

 

“Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.”

Kevin Conroy provides the voice of Batman but “Justice League: Action” is not a continuation of the previous DC animated series. What we are resented with is a new series that takes the bigger stars of the DC comics universe and pairs them up with a rotating cast of supporting heroes. The Justice League is already established at the onset of this series, and a number of heroes are simply introduced, join the action and the plot moves along.

The various “episodes” are 11 minutes long, which means two of these segments are broadcast per actual half hour episode. The first four segments (or episodes if you want) are connected in one overarching story and horribly provides the command that provides the series with its title.

A number of notable guest stars show up in various guest roles. There’s Patton Oswald, Gary Cole, Sean Astin, Mark Hamill, John Cryer, Tara Strong, and more. The presentation is much more lighthearted than older viewers might be expecting. And rather than having a specific universe to deal with, “Justice League: Action” simply allows for various stories to be told and whichever heroes are right for the task are featured.

Some of the heroes get a very abbreviated origin introductions, but for the most part we are thrust right into the action. And that action comes quickly. With the shortened episode length there isn’t a lot of time to mess around with sub-plots or character development. It is almost as if DC is trying to completely reintroduce the Justice League to a new generation that already knows a lot of the characters but only peripherally.

While this isn’t the whole of the first season, it is a decent chunk – 26 segments, or episodes, depending how you want to look at it, spread over two discs. The whole of the series is pretty light-hearted, with minimal losses if any. Humor is present in “Justice League: Action” but it isn’t jokey (like “Teen Titans Go”).

This is an enjoyable series but it doesn’t scratch the same itch that previous DC comics animated series does (such as “Batman: The Animated Series or “Justice League”). “Justice League: Action” seems to be more of a “family” series, not one primarily aimed at older viewers. And in that Warner Brothers animation has succeeded.

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