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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Across The Pond and Beyond - Sheena Easton

I have a question for you. Are you resistant to change?

Are you a person who is so set in your ways that you absolutely refuse to change anything about yourself, your surroundings, or your life for that matter?

Or, are you the type of person who embraces changes, and goes out of your way to get rid of everything old to bring in the new.

As far as my own life is concerned, I'll admit that there are some instances in which I'm reluctant to make changes. Not necessarily because I'm stubborn. Most certainly not because I'm one hundred per cent content in my life, because let's face it. None of us really are.

No, I think my biggest challenge to embracing change is the fact that I suffer from a bit of indecision in my life. I'm well-known around my friends and family for being a major flip-flopper when it comes to making decisions. I sometimes second guess, or even third and fourth guess every decision that I make. It can be a potentially annoying habit to overcome.

I see myself wanting to make some changes, but then I think things over, and I wonder, am I making the right decision? And then I think, I'm totally not making the right choice. Seconds later, I think that this choice could be the best thing for me.

And then before I know it, by the time I come to a real decision about what I know it right, the moment has passed, and time has expired, and I'm left not really making any changes at all.

Of course, I'm not painting myself as some indecisive twit who is incapable of making decisions and embracing change. I'm not totally like that. I did make some positive decisions in my life that have helped out. I got healthier, I started up this writing venture, and I'm on the right track. I'm not exactly where I want to be in my life, but I'm getting there.

Perhaps if I weren't so indecisive about certain matters, it wouldn't have taken me this long to make this realization about myself. But, now that I have, I can now begin the process to embrace change even more.

( that I've written that out, I guess all of you out there are gonna hold me to that promise now, aren't you?)

Anyway, that's what this blog post is all about. Embracing change, no matter how shocking or drastic it might be, and coming out of it a stronger person. A person who knows what he or she might want out of life.

Today's subject is a woman who seems to have left the demons of indecision behind in her wake, and who has embraced change completely. Granted, some of these decisions have been met with much criticism from parents groups, and even the people of her birth country, but in her eyes, she kept doing what she felt was best for herself and her career. And really, how could anyone get mad at her for that?

Today's Across The Pond and Beyond subject is singer Sheena Easton.

Born Sheena Shirley Orr in Scotland, on April 27, 1959, Sheena had always had a keen interest in music and singing. When she was only five years old, she sang a song called 'Early One Morning' at her aunt and uncle's 25th wedding anniversary party in front of a group of family and friends. Her early childhood was marked with sadness, as her father died when she was only ten years old. Although her mother worked hard to provide a living for Sheena and her five siblings, Sheena always seemed to speak very highly of her mother, as her mother made sure that she was always there for them whenever they needed her.

It wasn't until Sheena watched the film 'The Way We Were', starring Barbra Streisand that she made the decision to want to pursue a career in singing. Watching Barbra singing at the beginning of the movie while the opening credits were displayed on the screen really got to Sheena, and she wanted to have the same impact with people the same way that Barbra did.

(Ironically enough, Sheena would get her own opening credit moment when she sang the theme to the 1981 James Bond film 'For Your Eyes Only'.)

Sheena's hard work in school earned her high grades, which lead to her attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama on a scholarship. She graduated from the program in 1979, choosing to study teaching instead of performing, as Sheena felt the program would help her perfect her singing skills. That same year, she married a man named Sandi Easton. Although the marriage barely lasted a year, Sheena did end up taking his last name and using it as her own professional name. Thus Sheena Orr became Sheena Easton.

As it turned out, 1979 would also be a big year for Sheena in another way. One of the instructors of the school that Sheena attended convinced her to audition for Esther Rantzen, who was the producer of a BBC show called 'The Big Time'.  Way before the days of American Idol and The Voice, 'The Big Time' was a sort of reality show in the form of a documentary film, which detailed the life of an unknown singer hoping to make it big in the world of pop music.

Sheena Easton was chosen to be that unknown.

The show debuted in 1980, and showed Sheena's struggles with making it big in the world of music, which included footage of another singer named Lulu telling Sheena that she would NEVER make it as a singer.

I bet somewhere out there, Lulu is eating her words right about now.

Within a year of the program airing on television, Sheena was signed to EMI Records on a recording contract, and by 1980, she was recording songs for her first album, 'Take My Time'.

Sheena's first single, 'Modern Girl' was a modest hit in the United Kingdom. Released on February 29, 1980, the song came out just before 'The Big Time' aired, and only managed to reach #56 on the charts. After the show aired though, the song was re-released and made the Top 10 in the UK during the summer of 1980 (Top 20 in the United States). In August of 1980, Sheena's second single managed to hit the Top 10 the same time that 'Modern Girl' was still on the charts, making Sheena the first female artist ever to have two Top 10 hits on the same charts.

Now, in the United States, they wouldn't hear Sheena's second single until 1981...but in this case it was worth the wait, as the song became Sheena's first, and as of 2011, only #1 hit on the Billboard Charts.

ARTIST: Sheena Easton
SONG: Morning Train (9 to 5)
ALBUM: Take My Time
DATE RELEASED: May 16, 1980

In the United Kingdom, the song was simply titled '9 to 5', and peaked at #3 there. In the United States, the song title was changed to 'Morning Train' with the 9 to 5 in brackets. The reason? Well, at the same time, Dolly Parton had just released her own song called '9 to 5', for the soundtrack of the movie of the same name which had come out in 1980, and the name was changed in order to differentiate between the two songs. Morning Train hit the pole position on May 2, 1981, and that song became the first of several top ten hits for Easton.

But if you took a look at the video, you'd see that Sheena Easton's earliest works were quite tame and serene in nature. Heck, the whole Morning Train video shows Sheena riding a bicycle through the Scottish countryside and hopping a train. It was a nice video for the early 1980s, but watching it thirty years later, it does seem kind of bland.

Still, the success did put Sheena Easton on the map, and in 1981, Easton won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. By 1982, however, her record sales started to decline, and Sheena was starting to lose her footing on the music charts.

Certainly, Sheena continued to make music, and had a couple of hits in 1983, and earned a second Grammy that same year for her work on a Spanish language duet she sang with Luis Miguel. But it wasn't until 1984 that Sheena made the decision to go a completely different direction. If Sheena was to have any staying power on a music chart that was always changing, she would have to get edgy.

Enter her 1984 album, 'A Private Heaven'.

The first release, 'Strut' was a catchy tune, and became Easton's fifth Top 10 single, and was nominated for another Grammy award for the single.

But then Sheena's second single from the album stirred up a lot of controversy for the singer, and made her the target of parents groups and Tipper Gore.

The song 'Sugar Walls', which came out around the end of 1984/beginning of 1985 was placed on the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Council) list of what they deemed one of the “Filthy Fifteen”, songs that were deemed indecent because of lyrical content. Many radio stations refused to play the song on air, and the music video was banned for a time on MTV, not because of visual content, but because of the lyrics.

I guess this is the time to inform everyone that the song 'Sugar Walls' refers to the walls of a woman's...ahem...private heaven, so to speak. Then again, the song was co-written by Prince (under the pseudonym of Alexander Nevermind), whose own song, 'Darling Nikki' was also on the Filthy Fifteen list, so it goes without saying that the song was dripping with controversy.

Of course, listening to some current songs that are out now, it does make 'Sugar Walls' seem like 'Amazing Grace' in comparison.

Of course, controversy sells, and 'Sugar Walls' ended up peaking at #9 on the Billboard Charts. And Sheena and Prince would work together once again, most notably for the 1987 single 'U Got The Look', prompting rumours of a romantic liaison between the two. Sheena has denied that anything romantic ever went on between her and Prince though.

By 1988, Sheena had changed her image and musical style once more. After a guest-starring role on the NBC drama 'Miami Vice', in which she played Caitlin Davies Crockett (who ended up being killed off five episodes later), Sheena released the album 'The Lover In Me'. This album was flavoured with R&B influences, and was produced by L.A. Reid, Babyface, and John “Jellybean” Benitez. Prince even contributed a song to her album.

In this case, this change proved to be a positive one for Easton. Just have a look at the video for the album's first single, which also happened to be the title track.

This song ended up being a huge hit for Easton. Some may even say that it was a comeback hit for her. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Charts in early 1989, the first time in eight years that Sheena ever had a song chart that high. The song also did very well in the United Kingdom, as well as several other countries. Sheena had a couple of other singles which did very well on the R&B charts, and as the 1980s ended, Sheena was definitely in a good place.

Although her success in the United States seemed to be at its peak as the 1990s began, her popularity in her native Scotland seemed to dwindle, with many people claiming that Sheena had turned her back on her Scottish heritage to become more Americanized. In 1990, Sheena was asked to participate at a music festival in Glasgow, Scotland, and for a while, it seemed as though Sheena was keen to go back to her home country to perform for her fans...

...that is until she greeted the crowd in an American accent, and all hell broke loose. Fans grew rowdy and booed, chucking bottles at her while she was on stage, some of which were filled with urine. I know if I were in her shoes, I definitely wouldn't have appreciated that, and Sheena didn't appreciate it either. She cut her set short, and presumably was the last time that she performed in Scotland for a long time.

By 1991, however, Sheena's success on the pop charts had dried up, and her last Top 40 hit charted that same year. She still recorded music, and her 1993 album 'No Strings' was critically praised, yet made little impact on the charts.

These days, Sheena is keeping busy raising her adopted children, and taking on another career as a voice artist. She was a featured voice in the sequel to All Dogs Go To Heaven, as well as the animated version of the Charles Dickens tale 'David Copperfield'. She's starred in revivals of Broadway musicals, she's done voice work in video games, and she even co-hosted a talk show based out of Las Vegas, the city that Sheena Easton now calls her home.

Hmmm...maybe the crowd back in Scotland circa 1990 did have a point, even if they totally went about it the wrong way.

The point is that while some people may consider artists like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna to be chameleons in that they're always constantly changing, Sheena Easton is one of those artists that had to do just that in order to survive in an already tough industry. And, just look at some of the accomplishments that she got as a result of these changes.

She won two Grammy Awards, and received five other nominations on top of that.

She's the only artist to have a Top 5 hit on FIVE different charts. In case you're wondering what charts, here's the list below.

POP – Morning Train (9 to 5) – 1981
ADULT CONTEMPORARY – Morning Train (9 to 5) – 1981
DANCE – Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair) – 1983
COUNTRY – We've Got Tonight (duet with Kenny Rogers) – 1983
R & B – Sugar Walls – 1985

She was the only singer of a James Bond theme to appear on screen singing the song. No other artist has had that same treatment. Not Madonna. Not Garbage.  Not even Shirley Bassey!

All this because Sheena wasn't afraid of change. She embraced it, and in many ways, these changes helped her become a better singer and performer.

You see? Change IS good!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Talk Show Scandals

Last week, I talked about Regis Philbin, and how he had a brilliant career in the field of television, and how his tenure in front of the camera broke records in the history of television broadcasting.

I think that part of the reason why this was the case with Regis was because of his charm and personality, and how he seemed so universally loved by the people who watched him on television for all those years.

Certainly there are a lot of daytime talk shows out there that have had the same impact that Regis' show had. You know the kind of shows that I mean, right? The ones that make a person feel good, make a person laugh, teaches people new things.

Of course everyone knows just how much of an impact the Oprah Winfrey show had in the world of daytime talk shows. For 25 years, Oprah was very much the queen of daytime television. The variety of guests (both celebrity and non-celebrity) she's had over the years, her book club, her Angel Network, even her own magazine and television network, it's hard to deny the impact that she's had in the world of talk. And yet, even the queen of daytime has had moments where she showed lapses of judgment and even controversy. Remember the whole controversy surrounding her refusing to eat meat because of the mad cow disease outbreak, and how she got negative publicity as a result of it?

Or, how about the moment when Oprah pulled out a little red wagon filled with all the fat she had lost back in 1988? Even Oprah herself had said that she regretted even doing it.

But hey, nobody is perfect, and for the most part, the scandals are just blips on an otherwise good show, and the hosts and shows move past it.

But then there are talk shows that seem to be filled with one scandal filled story after another, and the incidents can be talked about for weeks. Names get dragged through the mud, and people's reputations are ruined, and as you'll read on, some people can sometimes even pay with their lives.

This blog posting is all about some of the biggest scandals to have ever happened on the stage of American talk shows. Some are somewhat exaggerated, and some have ended on a light note, but there are some instances where feelings have been hurt, and some people have had tragic fates happen to them.

So, to kick off this blog entry, I thought I'd start with the light-hearted and make my way towards the heavy-handed stuff. Oh, and I will be offering up my own commentary about these scandals as well. And keep in mind that I'm going under the assumption that these stories are real and not fabricated, because we all know that talk shows NEVER make up stories to attract ratings, right?


At any rate, let's begin.


It was November 2006 on the Live With Regis And Kelly show, and Regis was off for the day. Kelly's special co-host for the day was American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, and for a while there, the two seemed to get along well.

That is until during an interview with one of the Dancing With The Stars couples, Clay decided it would be great fun to cover Kelly's mouth with his hand.

A move that Kelly did not appreciate or like. She made it very clear that it was a no-no, saying that she didn't know where that hand had been.

To be perfectly honest, I think this was sort of blown out of proportion for a number of reasons. To be fair, I think Clay was only trying to be playful, and had no idea that he was offending Kelly when he did that. And, I can also see where Kelly was coming from, because I don't know if I necessarily would have wanted to have had my mouth covered up in that way.

But here's where the controversy comes in. Clay Aiken kind of poked fun at the whole situation, and made a bit of light out of it. Kelly, on the other hand was sort of thrown to the wolves with media outlets pointing out all the times that Kelly covered Regis' mouth on the show. And then somehow, Rosie O'Donnell, who was a co-host on The View at the time outright accused Kelly Ripa of being homophobic (even though Aiken hadn't officially come out as gay at the time of the show). It was then that Kelly fought back.

What a right mess that was, wasn't it? But, in the long run, I doubt this incident really hurt Kelly's reputation all that much. Rosie on the other hand...well...

ROSIE VS. MAGNUM P.I. (May 1999)

The date was May 19, 1999. Almost one month since the deadly school shooting at Columbine High School that left a teacher and several students dead. As a result of this tragedy, Rosie became a huge advocate of gun control, and was a major figure in the Million Mom March, a movement to keep guns out of the hands of the youth and criminals. This would have been fine if Rosie could have separated her beliefs from her job as host of The Rosie O'Donnell Show from 1996-2002.

But then Tom Selleck came on the show on that date to promote his new film, The Love Letter. It was supposed to have been a light-hearted interview about the movie. But Tom Selleck was also a huge supporter of the National Rifle Association (also known as the NRA), and well, that kind of conflicted with Rosie's gun control beliefs. This is a clip of that 1999 interview.

You know, I'm just gonna come out and say it. I thought Rosie was way out of line here. I know that at the time, the Columbine incident had just happened, and that the wounds and the anger was still fresh on people's minds, but when a guest goes on your show to promote a project that they starred in, and are attacked on a stance that differs from the way they think, it's a bit off-putting. In that moment, Rosie's reputation as being the “Queen Of Nice” may have been forever tarnished. And just eight years later, Rosie would get into another argument on another talk show.


I know it seems that I'm unfairly attacking Rosie O'Donnell in this blog, I really don't mean to. And besides, in this case, I have to say that the person that Rosie was feuding with this time around came off worse than she did. Not necessarily because I agree or disagree with what they said, but because I thought lines were crossed.

Rosie O'Donnell, after ending her own talk show, became one of the moderators of The View in 2006. It was made clear that Rosie was only going to be on the show for one season. During that one season, Rosie's outspoken nature certainly got her all kinds of attention (both positive and negative), but it also got ratings. But Rosie's liberal nature severely clashed with the conservative stance of Elisabeth Hasselbeck (who some may know as being the fourth place finisher in the second season of Survivor).

And on May 23, 2007, it all came to a boiling point.

That incident would mark the end of Rosie's tenure on The View, as Rosie ended up ending her contract earlier than expected (she was originally scheduled to air right through the summer), and the fight between Elisabeth and Rosie divided the media, with the left-wing thinkers siding with Rosie, and the right-wingers on Team Elisabeth. I just thought the whole brouhaha was just incredibly tacky to be honest with you, and yeah, Rosie said some things that I personally didn't agree with, but then so did Elisabeth. Knowing that Rosie and Donald Trump were feuding at the time, I thought it was kind of a low blow for Elisabeth to use that as a way to defend herself against Rosie's allegations. In fact, to tell you the truth, I kind of lost respect for both of these women in those six minutes. Absolutely shameful that it got to that point.


I can remember a time in which Maury Povich once had a decent show. He once dealt with real people with real human interest topics. I can remember one show he did way back in the early 1990s where he interviewed all the voice actors of classic cartoons. That was great television. Interesting television.

But now, I just hate his show completely. It's just so trashy, and ridiculous, and I'm guessing the show is now with 65% more fabrication. Or, at least, I HOPE it's fake, because I can't imagine anyone really being as STUPID as any of his guests over the last five years or so.

On any given week of shows, about 4 out of the five episodes will deal with people who are trying to find the birth fathers of their children. 

The other random show is usually spent on rehabilitating controlling husbands, sending teens to boot camp, or trying to guess whether people are born male or female.

I'm not kidding either.

But anyway, on some of these shows, you have a woman who is distraught because she can't find her baby's father. I'm talking yelling, screaming, crying, the whole nine yards.

Because she KNOWS! She is TWO HUNDRED per cent sure that the 13th man she's testing is her baby's daddy! TWO HUNDRED! Wow, she must be right.


I tell you, sometimes with the reactions of these paternity tests, the toddlers act more mature than their supposed parents. Again, this is absolute trash television. I mean, even if the show was scripted, I don't find this to be very entertaining whatsoever, and Maury should really be ashamed of himself.

JERRY, JERRY, JERRY!!! (1991-present)

Certainly when you think of fist fights at the drop of a hat, you think Jerry Springer. Of course, Jerry was hardly the first one to have such fights on his television show. Geraldo Rivera and Morton Downey Jr. were all in the talk show fisticuff business long before Jerry Springer came around. Jerry Springer himself was no stranger to controversy, infamously losing his seat on the Cincinnati city council after it was revealed that he once hired a prostitute. Although he did get his seat back, and became mayor of Cincinnati in the late 1970s, his quest to become governor of Ohio was a failure as a result of his past dalliances with a prostitute.

In 1991, Jerry Springer got his own talk show, and it was very similar to shows like Donahue and Sally Jesse Raphael, in that Jerry would talk about politically-oriented subjects. But by 1994, with a change in producers, Jerry's show would soon become the show in which guests attacked each other with chairs, women tore off their shirts to get 'Jerry Beads', and guests like members of the Ku Klux Klan were frequent guests. Of course, Jerry being of Jewish heritage, and having racist guests on his show, you're bound to see sparks fly.

Jerry Springer's show is still on the air after 20 years, and some are left wondering how the heck it managed to stick around so long. One thing I can honestly say about the show is that watching it does make me feel better about my own life and times though, and I think that a lot of other people feel that way.

And Jerry Springer's show is sort of linked to the final topic I wish to discuss, as in 2002, the sons of a former guest filed a lawsuit against the show after the guest was murdered in 2000 by her ex-husband. The sons claimed that the show  created a mood that lead to murder.

And this final example is what can happen when a talk show appearance goes terribly wrong.


Remember the Jenny Jones show? It was hosted by Canadian born talk show host, Jenny Jones, and many of the shows I would classify as being a lot of mindless fluff. It certainly wasn't as punch-happy as Springer, but it wasn't fluffy tripe like you'd see on Live With Regis and Kelly either. Most of the shows Jenny did were about makeovers, and telling girls to stop dressing sexy, and confronting former bullies. You know, things like that.

On March 6, 1995, Jenny Jones taped a show entitled “Same Sex Secret Crushes”. The title basically described the show. People coming clean with their feelings towards a member of the same sex. Feelings that they kept to themselves.

A man named Scott Amedure appeared on the show, eager to confess the fact that he had a crush on his best friend, Jonathan Schmitz. At first, when the news came out, Schmitz appeared to be taking it all in stride, laughing about it with the audience, and joking around with Jenny Jones.

Three days later, Scott Amedure was dead. Murdered. The killer? Jonathan Schmitz. Turns out he wasn't quite as okay with the revelation that his best friend was in love with him, and he decided that his former friend had to go.

Schmitz was arrested for the murder, and in response to the shooting, the producers of the Jenny Jones show decided not to air the episode, with Jenny Jones appearing at the beginning of each episode following the shooting explaining the situation and how they were not planning to show the episode.

In 1996, Schmitz was convicted of second-degree murder, despite his defense team stating that he had a history of mental illness. An appeal was filed, and his conviction was briefly overturned, but when he was retried, he was found guilty of murder once again. He is now serving a 25-50 year sentence.

In 1999, Amedure's family sued The Jenny Jones Show, Telepictures, and Warner Brothers for Amedure's wrongful death at the hand of the show's negligence and ambush tactics used that they felt got the ball rolling. In May 1999, the Amedure family was awarded twenty-five million dollars as a settlement after a jury found that the show was both irresponsible and negligent, intentionally creating an explosive and volatile situation without any regard for any consequences.

It was a dark day for the show, and for the host herself. Just four years after the Amedure family won their lawsuit, the Jenny Jones show went off the air for good.

One could say that the tragedy could have been avoided. One could also say that the show made the tragedy happen. But either way, it is a sad instance in which one show ended up ruining several lives.

And for what? Ratings?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Matinee - Top Gun

Do you remember the first time that you ever used a VCR?

I imagine for a select few of you out there, you probably have never used a VCR.  Some of you are so used to DVD players and Blu-Ray players that you probably don't even know how a VCR even works.

But back in the 1980s, that was all that we had to use in order to watch movies and record television shows.

I actually have a funny story to tell you in regards to when my family got their first VCR.

The year was 1988, and as part of an anniversary gift for my parents 23rd wedding anniversary, they got a brand new television set (which weighed between 50-75 pounds thanks to the wooden frame around the television set, as was the style back in the late 1980s), and their first VCR to go with it.

And for the longest time, I was the only one who knew how to program it.

I was the first to figure out how to set the clock on the VCR. You could always tell whether a clock was set on a VCR, because if it wasn't, you'd see the time display constantly flashing at 12:00. Thanks to me, I was able to program the correct time on the VCR without any trouble.

Did I mention that I was only seven years old at the time?

Because I managed to set the clock without any trouble, I was also able to figure out how to record shows, and set the timer to record a program while I was out of the house. Thanks to my keen ability to figure out the VCR on my own, I managed to record my favourite cartoon shows, sitcoms, and music videos from Muchmusic.

Of course, as a result of my overusing my parents VCR, I was also the first one in the family to BREAK said VCR just four years later. Whoops. Guess I must have put one too many tapes inside of that thing, huh?

Ah...remember the good old days in which you had to purchase a head cleaner for the VCR to ensure that your tapes didn't become lunch for your VCR? I do.

Of course, now that we're in the DVD/Blu-Ray era, VHS tapes and VCR's are seemingly a thing of the past.

In a way, the VHS era was a much simpler time. A time when we could walk over to the video store to rent movies. A time in which action movies had lots of action and romance. A time in which Tom Cruise was once a respected actor and not just someone who treated Oprah Winfrey's sofa as a trampoline.

Don't you remember the days?

And yes, there's a reason why I brought up Mr. Cruise in this blog entry.

You see, when the TV/VCR combo was finally hooked up and everything was ready to go, we realized that we didn't really have any movies to watch on it. Knowing that there was a convenience/video rental store just around the corner from my childhood home at the time, my sisters decided to head over there to rent a movie for us all to watch.

That movie was the 1986 film, Top Gun, which starred Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, and Kelly McGillis, just to name a few.

And I remember being extremely disappointed at the choice of movie at the time. I didn't even watch the movie with the rest of my family, because at the age of seven, Top Gun bored me to tears. I mean, yes, the airplane flying was sort of cool, but other than that, I wasn't interested. I just retreated to my little corner of the living room with my stack of Archie Digests and read happily away while the adults of the room watched the movie.

It really wasn't until years later that I started to really appreciate the movie for what it was. When my parents finally got themselves a DVD player almost twenty years since they got their VCR, I ended up buying them the DVD of Top Gun for a Christmas present, and they watched it a second time. This time though, I watched the film from start to end, and found that I really did end up liking it after all.

Maybe I can strike that to maturity on my part. Who can say?

Anyway, can you believe that Top Gun was released twenty-five years ago? That is absolutely shocking to me. What's even more shocking are the plans to re-release the movie in 3D sometime in 2012. I personally have mixed feelings about this one. Yeah, a re-release would be great for people who may have missed out on seeing it on the big screen (like myself as I was only five at the time it was released), but I think the whole 3D craze is just a wee bit overused.

The movie was directed by Tony Scott, and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. It quickly became the most popular film of 1986, and this quote was ranked #94 out of AFI's listing of the Top 100 Movie Quotations of All Time.

The soundtrack was also something to celebrate as well, with the album being one of the biggest selling soundtracks of the 1980s. With songs like this one...

...and this one...

...the music of the film certainly added depth and poignancy to the film's storyline.

That storyline being all about two men and their experiences as students at the Top Gun school in NAS Miramar.

United States Naval Aviator LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is reckless, defiant, disobedient, and marches to the beat of his own drum. Radar Intercept Officer LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Edwards) is a sensible, cautious family man with a wife and young child. Despite their differences, the two manage to form a really close bond with each other, and they end up working very well together as partners. Part of the reason why both of them were selected to go into the Top Gun program was because of the fact that they worked together well (and partially because of the fact that their colleague, “Cougar” gave up his Wings Of Gold after a mission where Maverick managed to hold off enemy MiG-28s after Cougar became too shaken to respond).

During the film, the reason behind why Maverick flies recklessly and dangerously, and why he has little to no regard for rules is made clear. Back in 1965, his father's plane was shot down during the Vietnam War, and although all signs of the incident pointed the finger of blame at Maverick's father, he refuses to believe that it was his fault.

The day before Maverick and Goose enroll in the Top Gun program, the two of them decide to go to a bar to celebrate their enrollment when they notice a woman sitting nearby. Goaded on by Goose, Maverick decides to hit on the woman (McGillis) in a rather...unusual way.

Now, on the surface, this might have been a sweet moment. And it probably was. What Maverick didn't know was that this woman would come into his life in a rather unusual way. And when Maverick and Goose reported for their first day of training at the Top Gun program, Maverick is absolutely shocked to learn that the woman he tried to pick up at the bar is Charlotte “Charlie” of the instructors at the academy.

Cue the “Hot For Teacher” guitar riff!

During the flight training, Maverick's reckless flying seems to make him friends and foes. LCDR Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Michael Ironside) is simultaneously annoyed and fascinated by Maverick's style, and he is actually bested by Maverick in a combat training exercise (even if Maverick DID break a couple of rules while doing it). 

He also serves as a rival to LT Tom “Iceman” Kasansky (Val Kilmer), who brands Maverick as being dangerous with his outright disregard of the rules. Perhaps the most surprising reaction comes from Charlie. Charlie seemed to take great pleasure in chastising Maverick in class, and basically paints Maverick as the poster child of “what not to do” in combat.  Secretly though, Charlie admires Maverick's tactics, and when she and Maverick were alone together, she admits that she hides her real feelings for him from the other students. Soon after that, Charlie and Maverick enter into a relationship with each other.

During his training, Maverick happens to cross paths with chief instructor CDR Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerritt). Maverick effectively challenges Viper during flight exercises, but on one such mission, Viper maneuvers Maverick into a position in which Jester could shoot Maverick from behind, which he had hoped would teach Maverick that teamwork was much more important than individual abilities.

It seemed as though things were going well at the Top Gun program. Maverick and Goose were well on their way to completing the program and graduating. With Goose looking forward to spending time with his family and Maverick in a new relationship, it seemed nothing was going to stop them.

It started off as any normal day. Maverick and Iceman both chased Jester through the skies on another mission, both attempting to get a lock on their target. But Iceman broke off from Maverick, and Maverick found himself flying through the jet wash of Iceman's aircraft, and this caused the engines in Maverick's F-14 to flameout. The jet goes into a flat spin, and unable to recover from it, Maverick and Goose are forced to eject. Sadly, in the ejection, Goose ends up getting knocked out cold, and when his chute lands in the ocean, he drowns before Maverick can get to him.

Goose's death was a moment that deeply affected Maverick. In many ways, Goose was his best friend, and the idea that he watched him die without being able to do anything about it. I couldn't even imagine knowing how he felt. The board of inquiry cleared Maverick of any wrongdoing in Goose's death, but it did nothing to change how Maverick felt. He had lost his friend, and in that, he lost his edge. He even considers leaving the Navy over it because his self-confidence was shattered. It wasn't until a pep talk from Viper that changes his well as learning a secret about his father's death that would change his own perspective forever.

But I'm not gonna reveal it. You're gonna have to watch the movie yourself.

But I can totally get where Maverick was coming from. Sometimes it takes just one event for someone to lose complete confidence in themselves, and feel completely lost. In Maverick's case, it was the death of his friend that sent him in a downward spiral. In my case, it was prematurely leaving college without a degree that did it for me. Granted, in my case, my situation was one where regardless of whether I stayed or not, my end result wasn't what I had hoped. But somehow I'm still doing okay. I could be doing better, but I try not to focus on that. Instead, I try to look at who I am now, and what I can be doing to accept that, and gain more confidence in myself.

It's a never ending struggle. But knowing that Maverick had to undergo the same struggles and came out of it a better person...well, it gives me hope. And if anything, I can now look at Top Gun with a better appreciation at age 30 than I ever could as a kid.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - Better Now by Collective Soul (Plus A BONUS Song!)

Some of my favourite songs ever are ones that I seem to hear in the most unusual places.

I'm sure that quite a few of you will agree with this statement as it pertains to your own lives and musical tastes. If a person has a favourite song, they can usually remember where they were when they heard it, and how old they were, and what they were doing at the time.

I've heard songs that I really liked for the first time during school talent shows. I've heard songs that I really liked playing over the music player at Walmart. I've even heard songs that I really liked blaring out of radios at church fundraisers! I'm sure some of you have favourite songs that you have heard first under the most peculiar circumstances yourselves. And if you're interested, I'd love to hear some of these stories either in the comments section here or the Facebook page for this blog.

Today's story about one of my favourite songs goes back about, oh, six, maybe seven years ago. It all started off mundanely. I think if I remember correctly, I was watching television and a commercial break that aired in between shows came on. Nothing too spectacular. Food commercials, advertisements for feminine hygeine products, the annoying car salesmen who keep pushing expensive cars on us because the savings are HUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE!

(And, anyone who resides in Upstate New York or Southeastern Ontario who has seen a commercial for cars on WWNY-TV will get that last reference.)

And then this commercial came on.

A straightforward commercial for Kellogg's Special K cereals and snacks.

Now, granted, if this were any ordinary ad for Special K cereal, I probably wouldn't have taken much notice otherwise. Heck, I'll be perfectly honest. I don't even like Special K cereal. To me, it tastes like a shredded cardboard box.

But listen closely to the background music in the commercial. This commercial happens to be my own personal experience in regards to hearing a song that I really liked in a very unusual place.

For about two years after that commercial aired, I kept wondering what the name of that song was, and who sang it. I liked the 30 second clip that I heard in that Special K commercial, and wanted to hear the full song, but any effort that I sought out in trying to find out who the mystery artist was came up nil. I guess part of that could be that at the time the commercial aired, which was late 2004, early 2005, I was without the Internet (I didn't get hooked up to the net until Christmas 2005).

And, since YouTube didn't come around until a short time after that, it took me about two years to learn what I wanted to know about that awesome song.

And, here's the stats about the song, as well as the video.

ARTIST: Collective Soul
SONG: Better Now
ALBUM: Youth
DATE RELEASED: November 16, 2004

All right. My first reaction is...#117? REALLY?!? It deserved to go much higher on the charts than that! Though, I should also note that on the Adult Charts, it made the Top 10, peaking at #9 on that chart.

The reason why I ended up choosing this song is because this song happens to be one of my favourites. I actually could have kicked myself back then for not knowing that it was Collective Soul that sang it. Especially since I was a huge fan of that band during high school. Maybe it just sounded different. I don't know.

There's a deeper reason behind my choice for today's Sunday Jukebox entry. But, I'll get to that a little bit later.

For now, let's talk a bit about the band that made this song possible.

Collective Soul was formed in 1992 in the city of Stockbridge, Georgia. Its current members as of 2011 include;

Ed Roland (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards)
Dean Roland (rhythm guitar)
Will Turpin (bass guitar, backing vocals)
Joel Kosche (lead guitar, replacing Ross Childress in 2001)
Cheney Brannon (drums/percussion, replacing Ryan Hoyle in 2008, who replaced Shane Evans in 2003)

The way the band Collective Soul came to be started years before the band was officially founded and named. Back in the 1980s, Ed Roland had studied guitar playing and music composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Ed really wanted a career in the music industry and had high hopes in becoming a success. During the mid to late 1980s, he mostly recorded underground demos and singles, and in 1991, put out an independently produced solo album, 'Ed-E Roland'. To finance his ventures, he took on a job at a recording studio called Real 2 Reel Studios, which was owned by the father of who would become Collective Soul's bass guitarist, Will Turpin.

Ed had also formed a band as a side project to his job. The band was named Marching Two-Step, and the band had stayed together for several years. Unfortunately for them, the band didn't have much success outside of appearances at local night clubs, and the band parted ways in late 1991, early 1992.

That same year, after being turned down for a recording contract, Ed Roland decided to gather a group of local musicians together to record a demo in Roland's own basement. Roland had never intended to form another band out of the process. Instead, he had hoped to only sell the songs to a publishing company. Somehow, the tape of the demo found its way to a college radio station based out of Atlanta, and began to play the song that was recorded on the tape.

The song was one that was called “Shine”.

It quickly became the most requested song on the radio station throughout all of 1993, and the song became a surprise hit. This success prompted Roland to perform the song (as well as others that were written and recorded) live. So with Roland's brother, Dean, Turpin, Shane Evans, and Ross Childress, the band Collective Soul was founded. Shortly thereafter, the band would be signed to a recording contract with Atlantic Records, and in 1994, the band's first album was re-released, the first single “Shine” peaking at #11 on the Billboard Charts in the spring of 1994.

Over the next seven years, Collective Soul would enjoy much success with the label, and the band made several high profile appearances, including the successful Woodstock '94, and the train-wreck known as Woodstock '99. And the singles that the band released received much airplay, especially in mainstream radio. “December”, “The World I Know”, “Gel”, “Precious Declaration”. All songs by Collective Soul that made the mid-1990s a little bit more enjoyable.

By the time Collective Soul and Atlantic Records parted ways after the release of their Greatest Hits compilation in 2001, the band had enjoyed years of success and recognition. After a two year hiatus, the band found a new record label by the name of EI Music Group, and in late 2004, the band released the album 'Youth', which is the album that 'Better Now' appeared on.

'Better Now' was the second track released from the album. As I stated, I feel it should have ranked higher in the charts, because it was one of those feel-good songs that was badly needed in a decade filled with songs about violence, sex, and drugs.

And it really struck a chord with me because that song could very well be my theme song for the last couple of years.

As you may have gathered by reading past blog entries, self-esteem has really been a struggle for me. For several years, I have spent countless hours wondering what I would have to do in order to get people to like me or respect me. It's true that a lot of people have had those sorts of feelings at some given time in their lives, but in my case, I was a wee bit obsessive-compulsive about it. I remember trying so hard to fit into the various cliques that developed in school, and I tried to go out of my way to feel like I belonged. It wasn't really until a couple of years ago that I came to the conclusion that maybe I tried TOO hard to get people's attention, and that maybe I was pushing people away rather than drawing them in.

It's taken quite a long time for me to realize that the best way I can improve my self-esteem issues is to not let what others say dictate me in what I do or what I say. I think part of the problem in my youth was that I was too eager to compromise when it came to dealing with other people. In fact, I would probably say that I ended up letting people treat me as if I were a welcome mat, and letting them walk all over me in my vulnerability. I was already in a situation where my self-worth was slim to nil, so it was easy for them to get away with it.

And yes, I felt so bad about myself that I let people into my life who used me, abused me, and belittled me, just so I could get some sort of feeling like I was noticed. Believe me when I tell you that one of the worst things that a person can be at the receiving end of is the idea of being ostracized for reasons that you don't understand. Even worse is when you're ostracized for reasons that those doing the ostracizing don't understand, or don't want to understand.

And it didn't just happen with me. It's happening to people all over the world every day. People all over the world are having their self-worth sucked dry because the company they are keeping have used and abused them. And eventually if enough people do that to a person, the road back for those who are on the receiving end could be filled with so many speed bumps and potholes that it seems nearly impossible to come out the other side without dents and scratches.

The song “Better Now” really seemed to awaken something in me. It really showed the message that no matter what your past may have been like, or how traumatic it was, there are ways that one can re-invent themselves to become a better person.

Note that I said BETTER person, and not BRAND NEW person.

That was where I got into trouble when I was younger. I tried to become a whole new person complete with a new personality, new look, and new attitude all at once, and looking back on it, it may have turned a few people off. It was lesson learned the hard way, but I got it in the end.

And by being a better person, it could be anything that ultimately gives you a personal high, and helps you see the potential that you have to make the lives of yourself and those around you infinitely better now. Certainly, it could be something physical, such as eating healthier to become a healthier, happier person. It could also be something emotionally charged as well, such as donating time to a charity, or making something for a friend, or just simply thanking a person who goes out of their way to help.

Instead of being bitter and frustrated by what you feel are shortcomings, be proud of other things that make you uniquely you. Because in order to newly calibrate yourself and make yourself as happy as Christmas, it's up to you to make that happen. More importantly, you owe it to yourself to surround yourself with people who will build you up and help you make those good decisions that WILL make you better now.

And those that don't do that for you? You're better off without them.

There. Don't you feel better now? I know I do.  Because as far as I'm concerned, everyone should have a time to celebrate themselves.