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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Valentine's Day On A Shoestring Budget

Hey, guys! I thought that I would start this blog entry off by posting the temporary new logo for “The Pop Culture Addict's Guide To Life”. It'll run from now until Friday, February 15. I thought that I'd try to make the blog a bit more holiday friendly, so I've been at work making themed logos for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter, thus far. As we go ahead with the year, I'll be creating more logos for use. I hope you enjoy it.

The fact that I even decided to do a Valentine's Day logo for this blog in the first place surprises even me, as I've made no secret about disliking everything that the day stands for. So, in this edition of the Thursday Diary, I work out why that is. Trust me, it's not what you might think.

Oh, and the reason why I'm doing a Valentine's Day entry two weeks before the day actually happens? Well, I have a theme month planned out for February. You'll find out more about that tomorrow.

January 31, 2013

Is it just me, or did January just seem to drag on?

I think part of the reason why January seems to have lasted twice as long as other months I can remember is the fact that the weather has been crazier than ever before (I think that this January in particular seems as though we experienced all four seasons at once). And the fact that almost every single person that I know had to cope with cold symptoms or were sidelined by that really nasty flu virus that is going around certainly didn't make this month pass by any quicker.

But tomorrow we're entering the month of February...the shortest month of the entire year (even on leap years). And, this year, I say bring it on.

February's been a month that in recent years has had a lot of meaning for me. After all, I did get my gall bladder removed in the month of February two years ago. And because my surgery took place two days before Valentine's Day, I did end up getting something red for the holiday.

Mind you it was in the form of a blood transfusion, but hey, I'd rather have something that can save my life instead of roses, chocolates, and gold jewelry.

At least on that particular year, I ended up not hating Valentine's Day with nearly the passion that I had prior to that event. Though, in my defense, I was too sore and too weak to really care about what the day was on the calendar when the day did roll around.

And, you know, I'll be honest with the last couple of years, I've been more embracing of the day than I have been. I still don't like it as well as Christmas, Halloween, or even the civic holiday in August that was only created because every other month had a holiday...but I'm more accepting of it.

Hence the reason why I came up with a Valentine's Day logo for this blog for the first part of the month.

Prior to 2011, I hated Valentine's Day with the fire of a thousand suns. To me, staring at all of those red and pink teddy bears, heart shaped boxes of chocolates, and lavish bouquets of red roses made me want to take a flamethrower to them.

And, you know, to be honest with you, there was a time in which I believed that the reason behind my dislike for Valentine's Day was because of my single status. I mean, I'm not going to lie to you, sometimes being single on Valentine's Day isn't the easiest thing to deal with. But, at the end of the day, you get through it...even if you find yourself surrounded by the red and pink foil wrappers of the entire bag of Valentine's Hershey Miniatures that you ate while watching an anti-Valentine's Day movie like “Fatal Attraction”.

(And, don't judge. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who has done this, and I highly doubt that I'll be the last.)

But the reason why I didn't like Valentine's Day wasn't so much of the fact that I was single on Valentine's Day. It's because of the fact that many people don't seem to understand what the whole purpose of Valentine's Day is.

I did a little bit of research on the day, and here's what I found. Valentine's Day began as a liturgical celebration of a Christian saint named Valentinus. The story of Valentinus is that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. It's said that during his incarceration, he had healed the daughter of the very person who jailed him, Asterius. The legend states that before he was executed, he wrote a letter of farewell to her, signing the letter “From Your Valentine”.

Okay, so that legend was kind of morbid...but it also makes a lot of sense when you compare that legend to how Valentine's Day is traditionally celebrated. After all, who doesn't remember being a kid in class stuffing those Valentine's cards into your classmates' Valentine's Day boxes with messages saying things like “You send me over the moon, Valentine”, or “Let's Be Best Friends, Valentine”?

It really wasn't until the mid fifteenth century that Valentine's Day became associated with romantic love, and evolved into a day in which lovers expressed their feelings for each other by sending them confections, flowers, and handmade cards.

Now, can I tell you the honest truth? I honestly don't even think that you need the flowers and the chocolates to be able to have a happy Valentine's Day.

And, you'll notice that I never mentioned jewelry at all during either one of those legends. I tell you, I don't care if he went to Jared, or if every kiss begins with Kay, or if you're being told by Charm Diamond Centres to buy a sterling silver charm bracelet so that you can charm your lover off of her feet. The materialistic stance that jewelry stores take around the fourteenth of February is less than charming in my personal opinion.

I guess I just don't understand what makes Valentine's Day so special that it is the one and ONLY day that we have to show somebody that we love how much we care about them. We have three hundred and sixty-five days this year to show a spouse, lover, or life partner just how much they mean to us and how much we care for them.

So, you want to know what I think? I think that we should laugh in the face of the hearts, flowers, and likenesses of Cupid. Seriously, Cupid is nothing more than a dude in tighty-whities shooting arrows at random people. If anyone tried that in the real world, I'm pretty sure that they would end up institutionalized. Let people know that you're not going to become a slave to the materialistic madness that includes dinner reservations at overpriced restaurants, using charge cards to buy an entire truckload of roses, and making twenty easy payments of fifty dollars to afford the fancy earrings you bought just because the calendar says it's the fourteenth of February.

However, if you insist on celebrating the day the way that the people in the 1400s did, might I recommend a few ideas that are a little more cost-efficient, but still allows you to show your significant other just how much you care. I know that if I had someone special in my life to spend Valentine's Day with this year, I most certainly would be trying some of these ideas out myself. But, again, these are just suggestions that I've come up with. I encourage all of you to be creative and come up with your own inexpensive ways.


I know it sounds very simple and common, but if the weather permits (and given how unpredictable February can be, that can be a bit dicey), it's probably one of the most intimate activities that two people can share...well, in public, that is. In all seriousness, sometimes taking a trip down memory lane in some of the places that mean a lot to both of you can be more sentimental and thoughtful than spending a lot of dough on disposable stuff. A heart shaped box of chocolates may last a day...but the place where you shared your first kiss, or went on your first date? Priceless.


I'm a huge believer in giving to others in need. I think that the feeling that one gets when they donate their time or their money to a worthy cause is like no other. That's why I recommend that on Valentine's Day, you and your loved one do something that benefits someone else. Years ago, I remember one episode of Beverly Hills 90210 in which Brenda and Dylan spent Valentine's Day donating blood. Back then, I thought it was a bit strange...but now I think it's a rather ingenious idea. As someone who ironically ended up getting a blood transfusion on Valentine's Day, I appreciated the fact that someone took the time to donate their blood so I could have another shot at life. Wouldn't it be the coolest thing to donate blood with the person you love? And, besides, you get food and drink after donating! What could be better?

Of course, if donating your blood doesn't sound like the best idea, there's other ways you can donate your time. Volunteer your time together to a charity, or take the money that you were going to spend on Valentine's Day celebrations and donate it to a worthy cause, and stay in for a quiet night in. Trust me, Valentine's Day may be a day to show each other that you care, but there's nothing stating that you can't share that love with other people.


This is probably one of the best ways to beat the materialism that seems to be forced down people's throats during the Valentine's Day season. I'm probably a guy who would appreciate the idea of someone going to a lot of trouble to make something special that they would know that I'd enjoy. And, I absolutely love being able to use my creative skills to come up with gifts that are personal, yet inexpensive. And, there's no shortage of ideas. You can make them a homemade Valentine's Day card. If there's a photo of the two of you that you both love, design and make the perfect picture frame to go around it. One idea I heard of from an acquaintance was that they grabbed a photo out of a wedding album, blew it up, had it made into a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, and spent the whole night putting it together. I'm not sure if anyone would have the time to put together a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle these days, but I must admit I love the idea. Even a simple activity like baking chocolate chip cookies together is an awesome idea...and you can eat your creations later on in the evening.

Just let your creative side flow. Remember, any gift that comes from the heart will be well appreciated.

Those are just a few ideas to consider. If you have any more ways you can take the cha-ching out of Valentine's Day, feel free to share!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How Spirograph Turned Me Into A Pen Hoarder

I’ve got a confession to make before kicking off Wednesday’s featured toy entry for this week.  It’s more of an admission that I want to get off my chest, and I worry that by making this admission, it may change the way you all look at me.  In fact, you might never look at me exactly the same way again.  But, as someone who has been more open than he ever thought he would be in this small nook in cyberspace, I suppose one more confession won’t hurt.

I am a hoarder of pens.

I’m not talking about pens that farmers use to house their pigs, goats, roosters, and hens.  I’m talking about ball-point, felt tip, fountain, gel, calligraphy, and tri-colour pens.

For as long back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by pens.  In fact, I think that I know the exact moment in which I developed my obsession with pens.  But, we’ll get to that a little bit later in the discussion.

As I type out this entry on my laptop, my attention is fixated on the container of pens that I currently have stored nearby.  I haven’t exactly counted every single one of them, but I would estimate that I have at least five hundred of them on hand.  I have pens made by PaperMate.  Pens made by Sharpie.  Pens made by Bic.  I think that I even have a few pens that have the Staples logo on them.

And, there’s also something interesting about the huge amount of pens that I have accumulated over the last few years.  If you examine them very closely, there are only a handful of royal blue pens, and only the occasional black pen.  The others are a variety of different colours.  I have red, green, purple, pink, gold, orange, silver, burgundy, aqua, cyan, magenta, fluorescent yellow, and even white! 

(Don’t laugh at the white came in handy one year when I sent out Christmas cards with dark green envelopes.)

A lot of people have asked me what I have against “normal” pens.  They want to know why I insist on using bright colours whenever I do sign something, or take notes, or any other activity where one uses a pen and a piece of paper.  To set the record straight, I have nothing against what is considered to be a “normal” pen.  I happen to use black pen in many circumstances.  Most financial institutions want you to validate a cheque using a black pen (because as much as I want to, I don’t think emerald green would fly).  It’s the same deal with filling out important paperwork for tax refunds, applying for a passport, or filling out a job application.  I’ll also use black pen (or at the very least, dark blue) when filling out a card of condolence for someone who recently lost someone close to them.

For everything else, I break out the colour, and make no apology doing so.  When someone is having a birthday and a card is going around, I sign in colour (in some cases, if I know that I’m signing something ahead of time, I will try to bring the person’s favourite colour and sign it in that).  Most people who have gotten Christmas cards from me will attest to the fact that I tend to sign them in various colours.  In fact, there was one instance in which I actually went to sixteen different stores (including two in the United States) before I found a pen that had the right shade of maroon to match the card design on the outside.

(Yeah, yeah...not only am I obsessed with pens, but I’ve probably given up my “man card” in the process.  But, hey, at least everyone who received a Christmas card from me in 2007 appreciated the effort.  J )

And, I also very rarely use the same colour two days in a row.  Yesterday, I used a light blue coloured pen.  Today, I’ll probably choose purple.  And, tomorrow, I’ll decide on pink...which will make my pink hating co-worker grimace in disgust.  It’s not like I have a shortage of colours to choose from.  I have hundreds of pens. 

But how did I develop such a fascination with pens?  In particular with pens that were unusual colours?

Well, I think it started right around May 1987.  That was the month that I turned six years old, and my family threw me a surprise birthday party that year.  That particular year my birthday fell on Victoria Day (which meant no school), and the living room was decorated with banners, party decals, and balloons (as long as they were hanging up out of reach of anyone accidentally popping them, I was fine with them being in the room).  

I honestly was too young to remember everything that I got for my birthday that year, as my sixth birthday was well over a quarter-century ago.  In fact, there were only two major details that I remember from that birthday.  The first was the happy face that was made completely out of balloons (which actually looked very cool).  And, the second detail was the fact that I had gotten this for a present.

Spirograph.  The toy that kickstarted my coloured pen habit.

And what a fun toy that Spirograph was too!  My Spirograph came with four different colours of, blue, red, and green.  And, if I remember correctly, the red and green ones were the first ones to lose all of their ink.  I was absolutely fascinated by the green one in particular, as I had never seen a pen write in that colour before in my life.  Shortly after that, my parents took all of us to the Woolco store on their famed $1.44 days, where they had a selection of coloured pens on sale (which included new colours like purple, pink, and orange), and of course, I used some of my birthday money to buy some of these pens so I could have more colours at my disposal.

(It’s really scary how I can remember miniscule events that took place 26 years ago, but can’t remember what I did 2.6 seconds ago.)

Oh, that’s right...we were talking about Spirograph, weren’t we?

Everyone who has ever played with a Spirograph knows how the toy works right?  In addition to the pens, a Spirograph comes with a set of plastic gears and various shapes that all have jagged edges.  When a pen is inserted in one of the holes cut into the gear and spun around, the force exerted will allow gears that are touching it to spin in a different direction.

To be able to use the Spirograph the way that it was meant to be used, you’ll have to get a piece of paper that is placed on a heavy cardboard backing (this prevents the paper from moving around with the spinning gears).  One of the gears (the stator) is pinned to the piece of paper, and another plastic piece (the rotor) is placed so that its gears line up alongside the stator.  When the pen is moved, the line that the pen makes becomes a curve.  The pen is actually used as a method of providing locomotive force, as well as drawing the intricate curves and patterns that appear on the paper.  Though, I will warn you, it takes a LOT of practice before you can get a design that you’re remotely happy with.

It took me about a year before I learned how to master my Spirograph...and honestly, I think I would likely need a refresher course.

But if you have a Spirograph, and have mastered the difficulty of keeping the momentum going, the payout can be amazing.  Just have a look at some designs that were created using a Spirograph below.

The Spirograph toy was developed by British engineer Denys Fisher, (taking inspiration from the mathematician who created the invention known as the “spirograph”, Bruno Abakanowicz).  Fisher demonstrated the toy at the 1965 Nuremburg International Toy Fair, and the design was so successful that manufacturing began almost immediately.  The distribution rights to Spirograph were bought by Kenner (which in turn was bought out by Hasbro), and by 1966, Spirograph was marketed as an educational toy for kids to play with.

Or, for those kids who were just a smidgen too young to have fully developed motor skills (a.k.a. anyone younger than three), there was also the toy known as the Spirotot, which Kenner released in 1968.

At any rate, Spirograph was a great toy to play with...even if I didn’t really understand how it worked.

The Wikipedia entry on Spirograph actually has a mathematical formula posted within the description, but I decided not to post it because of the fact that it might bore some of you, and I have absolutely no idea how to decipher the algebraic code.  Mathematics and I do not get along.  But, if you’re really curious, or enjoy math, you can click HERE to find out the mathematical properties. 

And, if there’s one thing that I took away from the Spirograph, it’s that green pens were always cool.  I should know...I likely have about a hundred of them by now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 29, 1960

It’s Tuesday, January 29, 2013, and the final Tuesday Timeline of the month.

And this week’s Tuesday Timeline focus is unique...because I’ll actually be discussing two topics in one date!  Think it seems daunting?  I thought so too...until I happened to find a common link between these two subjects.

As always, we’ll start off the Tuesday Timeline with a look back through other events that took place on this date beginning with...

1814 – France defeats Russia and Prussia in the Battle of Brienne

1819 – Stamford Raffles lands on the island of Singapore

1834 – Andrew Jackson orders the first use of federal soldiers to suppress a labour dispute

1845 – Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is published in “The New York Evening Mirror”

1850 – The Compromise of 1850 is introduced to the U.S. Congress by Henry Clay

1856 – Queen Victoria introduces the Victoria Cross

1861 – Kansas is officially recognized as the thirty-fourth American state

1863 – Great Bear Massacre occurs

1886 – Karl Benz patents the first successful gas-powered automobile

1900 – Eight baseball teams make up the newly founded American League

1907 – Charles Curtis becomes the first Native American U.S. Senator

1916 – Paris, France is bombed by Germany during World War I

1936 – The first inductees of the Baseball Hall of Fame are announced

1943 – U.S. cruiser “Chicago” is torpedoed by Japanese bombers on the first day of the Battle of Rennell Island

1944 – The Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginassio in Bologna, Italy is destroyed in an air-raid

1963 – The first inductees of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are announced

1967 – The Mantra-Rock Dance takes place in San Francisco, California

1977 – Actor Freddie Prinze dies of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at just 22 years of age

1979 – Grover Cleveland Elementary School shooting takes place; Brenda Spencer kills two and injures eight

1980 – Actor/singer/comedian Jimmy Durante passes away in Santa Monica, California at the age of 86

1985 – U.S.A. for Africa puts the finishing touches on their single, “We Are The World”

1991 – The Battle of Khafji begins as the Persian Gulf War escalates

1996 – French president Jacques Chirac announces a “definitive end” to nuclear weapons testing in France

1998 – A bombing at a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic kills one, and wounds another

2002 – George W. Bush gives his State of the Union address, in which he describes Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an “Axis of Evil”

2009 – Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is convicted of several charges of corruption

And, celebrating a birthday this (and every) January 29 are...Franco Cerri, George Allen, Germaine Greer, Robin Morgan, Tony Blackburn, Katharine Ross, Tom Selleck, Pat Kenny, Marc Singer, Ann Jillian, Paulin Bordeleau, Caesar Cervin, Paul Fusco, Steve March-Torme, Lynne McGranger, Louie Perez (Los Lobos), Charlie Wilson (The Gap Band), Terry Kinney, Oprah Winfrey, Eddie Jordan, Irlene Mandrell, Glen Cochrane, Michael Sloane, Mike Foligno, Matthew Ashford, Steve Sax, Mike Aldrete, Nicholas Turturro, Bob Holly, Monica Horan, Andre Reed, Anna Ryder Richardson, Peter Lundgren, Stacey King, Edward Burns, Aeneas Williams, Heather Graham, Matt Brandstein, Brian Wood, Jason Schmidt, Sara Gilbert, Chris Castle, Charles Divins,  Justin Hartley, Rob Bironas, Andrew Keegan, April Scott, Jason James Richter, Jonny Lang, Adam Lambert, Heidi Mueller, Irina Shabayeva, Todd Herzog, Isabel Lucas, Athina Onassis, Drew Tyler Bell, and Alex Avila.

That may seem like an overwhelming group of celebrities celebrating a birthday.  Well, we have two more birthdays to add to that list...and as it so happens, both of these people share the same exact birthdate.

January 29, 1960.

At first glance, both of these people may seem like two completely different people.  One is male, the other female.  One was an Olympic gold medalist during the 1980s, the other was considered one of the first wave of supermodels.

But they had one thing in common.  Both of them ended up HIV positive.  And, in the case of one of our subjects, it ended up costing them their life.  As for the other one...well, they seem to be doing just fine.

These are the stories of two people forever linked together by one disease. 

Today we’re looking back on the lives of the late Gia Carangi and the still living Greg Louganis.

First, the story of Gia Carangi, a model who appeared to have it all, but ended up losing everything.

Gia Carangi was born on January 29, 1960 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest child of a restaurant owner and a homemaker.  Gia’s childhood was plagued by domestic squabbles between her parents, and when Gia was eleven, her mother walked out on the entire family.  As a result of these problems, many people came to the conclusion that Gia was “needy and manipulative”, and that she did not receive the motherly attention that she desperately needed.

It really wasn’t until high school that Gia began to develop her interest in fashion and modelling.  She hung around with a group who referred to themselves as the “Bowie kids”, who were so obsessed with David Bowie that they dressed exactly like him, right down to the Ziggy Stardust look that he popularized in the mid-1970s.  Gia was instantly drawn to the crowd, and idolized David Bowie based on his fashion sense, and admitted bisexuality...something that Gia herself could relate with.

Her modelling career began in Philadelphia as she would model for several print ads for newspapers.  At seventeen years old, Carangi relocated to New York City to make modelling a full-time career.  Almost immediately, Gia attracted the attention of famed photographers Francesco Scavullo, Richard Avedon, Joseph Petrellis, Chris von Wangenheim, and Marco Glaviano.  Gia ended up on several magazine covers including British Vogue in 1979, two Vogue Paris covers in 1979 and 1980, Vogue Italia in 1981, and various issues of Cosmopolitan.  Her profile grew so huge that many people considered her to be part of the first wave of “supermodels”, which included Janice Dickinson and Dorian Leigh.

But along with the fame that modelling brought was the temptation within the social spectrum of New York City’s nightlife.  Carangi was a fixture at Studio 54, and frequently used cocaine when she went to clubs.  But by the time the 1980s began, her addiction switched to the more dangerous heroin.  And her heroin addiction was the beginning of her fall from the top.

When Gia’s agent, Wilhelmina Cooper, passed away in 1980, she took the news hard, and soon she began to use drugs every day.  At photo shoots, she was often erratic, had temper tantrums, and sometimes even fell asleep at photo shoots.  After being dropped by a modelling agency after just three weeks because of her dependency on drugs, she attempted to kick the habit once and for all.  But with the death of her dear friend Chris von Wangenheim in 1981, this sent Gia into a deep depression that was fueled by more drug use.

She was sent to rehab, and upon completing treatment, she tried her hand at a career in modelling once more, but nobody would hire her.  Her last cover ended up being a Cosmopolitan cover in the winter of 1982, shot by her friend Francesco Scavullo, as a gift.

Four years later, Gia Carengi was diagnosed with AIDS, then a fairly new and misunderstood disease.  She died from complications from AIDS on November 18, 1986 at just 26 years of age.  Because of the unknowns of the disease at that time, her funeral was closed-casket, and nobody from the fashion world knew about her death until at least 1987. 

As for Greg Louganis, he was also born on January 29, 1960 in El Cajon, California.  He was born to a set of teenage parents who gave him up for adoption when he was a baby.  He was adopted by a Greek-American couple, and by the time he was two, was already enrolled in dance, acrobatics, and gymnastics!  When he was nine, his family put in a swimming pool, which allowed Louganis to practice diving.

In 1976, Louganis entered his first Olympics, the Summer Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he won a silver medal in the tower event.  A couple of years later, he won a gold medal in the 1978 World Championships.  His diving accomplishments helped him earn a diving scholarship to the University of Miami, but transferred to the University of California, Irvine three years later, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Louganis was set to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics, with many people believing that he was a shoo-in for at least two gold medals.  Unfortunately, the United States boycotted the 1980 games, which prevented him from competing that year.  But he more than made up for it at the 1984 Olympics, where he won gold in the springboard and tower diving events.  He also won gold medals in the following championships.

1979 Pan American Games – 2 Gold
1982 World Championship – 2 Gold
1983 Summer Universiade – 2 Gold
1983 Pan American Games – 2 Gold
1986 World Championship – 2 Gold
1987 Pan American Games – 2 Gold

By 1988, Louganis was competing in his third Summer Olympics.  This time, they were held in Seoul, South Korea.  The expectations were once again high, as everyone expected Louganis to strike gold once more.  What ended up happening was that Louganis struck something else on one of his dives...and the aftermath once again brought the disease known as AIDS to the forefront.

When Greg Louganis performed his dive at the springboard event, he ended up hitting his head during his dive, inevitably sustaining a concussion.  Despite his injury, Louganis insisted on completing the event.  He ended up winning the gold medal in that event, plus one more, earning him two more medals to his growing collection, as well as the honour of being named ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” Athlete of the Year for 1988.

However, what people did not know at the time of Greg’s accident was that he had been keeping a secret about himself.  Six months prior to the Olympic Games, he was diagnosed as being HIV positive.  He decided to keep it a secret from the public during the games, which was questioned by several people in and out of the diving community once it was made public in the mid-1990s.  To keep his HIV status under control, Louganis was prescribed AZT, which he took every four hours on the clock. 

It wasn’t until 1994 that Louganis admitted to the world that he was gay.  And in 1995, Louganis came clean about his HIV diagnosis when he wrote about it in his autobiography, “Breaking the Surface”.

As a result of his HIV positive announcement, almost all of his sponsors dropped him (the lone exception being Speedo), and he was raked over the coals over the idea that the concussion that he sustained at the 1988 Olympic Games could have put other divers at risk of contracting the disease.  However, it has since been proven that the chlorine in the pool would have killed any traces of HIV, and that only divers with open wounds would have been remotely affected.

As of 2013, Greg Louganis is still relatively healthy and although his HIV status is still present, it has not yet developed into AIDS.  He took small acting roles, and has been a key player in defending the civil liberties of those diagnosed with AIDS. 

And, he still has connections to the world of Olympic diving.  Although he no longer competes, he served as a mentor to the United States diving team in the 2012 Olympics in London.

So, there you have it.  Two different people born on the same day, both diagnosed as being HIV positive (and in the case of Carangi, AIDS).  In one case, the disease ended up taking one person’s life...but in the other case, he was not going to let his HIV positive status prevent him from living life to the fullest. 

Those were the stories of two people born on January 29, 1960.

Both Gia Carangi and Greg Louganis’ stories are available to watch in film.  Gia’s story can be found in the 1998 HBO film “Gia”, starring Angelina Jolie.  As for Greg Louganis, his story was made into the 1996 film “Breaking the Surface:  The Greg Louganis Story”, starring Mario Lopez.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Peter Pan - The Tale of Bobby Driscoll

I’m going to start off this week’s edition of the Monday Matinee a little bit differently this time around.  While I do have a movie picked out for discussion today, I actually want to do a little background story on one of the movie’s biggest stars.

Have you ever heard of a child actor named Bobby Driscoll?  If not, I completely understand...his time in the spotlight did happen at least six decades ago.  He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 3, 1937 to Cletus and Isabelle Driscoll.  The family lived in Iowa for the first six years of Bobby’s life.  In 1943, Cletus Driscoll had an appointment with his doctor complaining of feeling sick, and the doctor figured that he was suffering from pulmonary ailments from handling asbestos (his job was an insulation salesman, and asbestos was one of the leading materials used in insulation at that time).  The doctor believed that by having the family move to a warmer climate, it would help alleviate the symptoms that Cletus was experiencing, so the family relocated to Los Angeles, California.

Almost immediately after settling down in Los Angeles, a barber gave Cletus and Isabelle the suggestion that they should consider getting Bobby into the film industry, and soon after that Bobby ended up at an audition for the MGM film “Lost Angel”.  He ended up getting the part after the director was charmed by the curiosity and intelligence he displayed while on a studio tour (he noticed a mock-up ship on the lot and questioned where the water was).

That role ended up being the first of many roles for young Bobby Driscoll.  Although he was only six years old at the time, many people in the industry were very impressed by his natural acting ability and the fact that he could memorize his scripts quickly, and this lead to him being cast in several other roles.  By Bobby’s ninth birthday, he had roles in “The Fighting Sullivans” (1944), “Sunday Dinner for a Soldier” (1944), “The Big Bonanza” (1944), “Song of the South” (1946), and “So Goes My Love” (1946). 

From there, Driscoll appeared in two more pictures, “So Dear to My Heart” (1948), and “The Window” (1949), both of which were critically acclaimed.  With the latter film in particular, the critics singled out Driscoll’s performance, stating that it was brilliant, and that he ended up being the real star of the picture.  According to the Academy Awards, they agreed...they honoured Driscoll with a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1950.  Driscoll was just thirteen when bestowed the honour.

With an Academy Award in his hands, the roles for Driscoll continued to pour in.  His role as Jim Hawkins in 1950’s “Treasure Island” earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (despite the fact that he lacked a work permit for filming in the United Kingdom and was forced to leave the production prematurely), and he voiced the role of a junior Goofy in a couple of Disney cartoon shorts.

And, in 1953, Driscoll landed the role in which many people claim was his most famous...and on a bittersweet note, one of his last.  But, we’ll get to that in a moment.

For now, we’re going to be talking about the 1953 Disney animated film “Peter Pan”, which starred Driscoll as the title role.

The film also starred Kathryn Beaumont as Wendy Darling (she previously voiced the character of Alice in the 1951 adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland”).  Funnily enough, two other “Alice in Wonderland” actors were cast in roles in “Peter Pan” as well...Heather Angel and Bill Thompson. 

Rounding out the cast were Paul Collins as John, Tommy Luske as Michael, and Hans Conreid as Captain Hook.  As for Tinker Bell, she was modelled after Margaret Kerry (since in the original Disney film, Tinker Bell never spoke).

It seems hard to believe that the film will be celebrating its sixtieth anniversary next week.  It’s a film that many people (including myself) regard as a timeless classic.  I remember watching the film for the first time when I was kindergarten aged, thinking that it was a brand new movie (not knowing that it was released when my own parents were children).  Although, I suppose that most films that were produced by Walt Disney seem to have that effect on people.

I’m also under the impression that this Disney film (the fourteenth animated feature produced by the company) had special meaning for Walt Disney.  It had always been one of Disney’s favourite stories growing up, and he had the idea to create a film version of the story dating back to the 1930s, around the time he was working on his animated version of Snow White.  The problem was that Disney needed to get the rights to the story in order to get the project going, and that process ended up taking four years.  By 1939, Disney got the green light to go ahead with the project, and work began in 1940.

But when World War II intensified in 1941, Disney was forced to put their movie projects on hold after the United States military seized control of the studios to make war propaganda films.  When the war ended in 1945, the studios became free to use again, but by then the studios were so far in debt that they were forced to produce package films to get back above water.  The entire process took two years, and it wasn’t until 1947 that the company found itself back on financial stability.

So, let’s do the math.  The idea was coined way back in 1935.  The film was released February 3, 1953.  It took EIGHTEEN years for the film to be produced from start to finish.  Although I’m sure most of you who have watched Peter Pan and loved it agree that it was worth the wait.

Now, I don’t think that you need me to go over the storyline of Peter Pan.  You all know about Peter Pan taking Wendy, Michael, and John to Never Land.  You all know that Peter Pan was responsible for Captain Hook’s nickname, as a hook replaced the hand that Peter Pan lopped off during a fight.  You know all about the crocodile that swallowed Captain Hook’s hand and has stalked him searching for more tasty morsels.  You know about Tinker Bell getting jealous and attempting to get Wendy out of the picture.  You know about Tiger Lily and The Lost Boys. 

And, if you don’t know about them...well, watch the movie.  It comes highly recommended by this blogger.

This film was a huge success at the box office.  On a budget of four million dollars, the film made $87,404,651.  The film was entered in the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, and was first released on home video in 1990.  It was reportedly the late Michael Jackson’s favourite film of all time, and was the inspiration behind the name of his “Neverland” ranch.  A sequel was released nearly fifty years later, “Return to Never Land”, and several films starring Tinker Bell as a main character have been released sporadically since 2008.

The film was definitely one of the biggest movies that Bobby Driscoll starred in.  As the lead character, Peter Pan’s design was even made to look like Driscoll!  But as I said before, the movie was also bittersweet for him, as after that film was made, his life began to fall apart.

By the time Peter Pan was released, Driscoll was a month shy of turning sixteen, an age in which life begins to open up new possibilities.  But for someone like Driscoll, who spent nearly his entire childhood making movies, it ended up being a bad thing.  Disney no longer saw Driscoll as being a likeable young protagonist...instead, they felt that they could only cast him in roles that called for him being a bratty, young bully.  His contract extension with Disney was dropped, and within a couple of years, his affiliation with Disney soon ended.

Once he left Disney, his parents pulled him out of the Hollywood Professional School (which had several child actors as students), and placed him in the public Westwood University High School, where he was targeted by bullies for his previous film career.  It was also during this time that he began experimenting with drugs in an effort to fit in with the other students.  After a few months of struggling at the school, he begged his parents to re-enroll him in Hollywood Professional, and he ended up graduating from there in 1955.

Though his drug use intensified.  In 1956, he was arrested for marijuana possession, but the charges were dropped.  That same year, he and his girlfriend, Marilyn Jean Rush, traveled down to Mexico to elope after their parents opposed the marriage.  The couple had three children together and stuck it out for nearly four years before divorcing in 1960.

Driscoll’s problem intensified by the early 1960s.  He was arrested for disturbing the peace and assault with a deadly weapon after he hit someone with a pistol after they insulted him.  In 1961, he was sentenced and placed in the Narcotic Rehabilitation Center at the Chino Institution for Men, and upon leaving Chino in 1962, was unable to get any acting jobs.

In 1965, Driscoll attempted a career in the arts, actively immersing himself in Andy Warhol’s art community known as “The Factory”.  He was encouraged by Wallace Berman to create art, and some of his pieces were considered extraordinary enough to be exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.  But, by 1967, he had left the Factory and reportedly spent the next few months staying in Manhattan’s underground, without a penny to his name.

On March 30, 1968, three weeks after turning thirty-one, his body was found by two young boys.  The cause of death was heart disease which was linked to his excessive drug use.  His body was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave on Hart Island in New York.  His mother did not know he had died until late 1969, and the public did not even find out he had died until “Song of the South” was re-released in 1971.

Not exactly the way that a once-loved child star expects to die.

In that sense, the fact that Driscoll played Peter Pan is tragically ironic.  In the movie, Peter Pan didn’t want to grow up.  In real life, once Bobby Driscoll grew up, he had a lot of problems that he could not overcome.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tevin Campbell - Can We Talk?

Can you believe that “American Idol” has been on the air for nearly eleven years now?  It’s absolutely mind-boggling to me that it has been that long!  But despite the turnover on the judging staff, including the supposed drama between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey, one thing that I can give the show a little credit for is discovering some talent that we wouldn’t normally have seen.  It did bring us Clay Aiken, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Kellie Pickler, Jordin Sparks, and Carrie Underwood. 

Now, all these people auditioned in front of the panel of judges and had natural talent that helped them proceed further in the competition.  In the case of Clarkson, Underwood, and Sparks, it helped them win the whole shebang.

Now, if I ended up auditioning for American Idol (something that I don’t think I can do anyway being Canadian), I know exactly what the judges would say.  Some of the adjectives that will come flying out of their mouths when it comes to my singing ability might include “tone-deaf”, “flat”, “awful”, and “delusional”.  And, to be fair, I completely agree with them.  When it comes to singing chops, I’m liable to be voted out of my own shower, let alone the judging panel of a talent competition!

It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy singing...I just prefer to do it when there isn’t anybody else around.  No need to subject them to something that sounds like a smoke detector with an almost dead battery.  In fact, here’s a true story for you.  When I was in the third grade, our music teacher had us all line up in the classroom and instructed us to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a continuous loop, and as we sang, he would walk down the line and listen closely to our voices.  Imagine my shock when I was one of the first kids he told to leave the line and stand on the sidelines...though to be fair, I was one of five.

The teacher then announced that it was a little exercise he planned to see who had the singing chops necessary to join the school choir...and as for myself and the five other people who were escorted out of the line, we weren’t good enough to join.  L

But, don’t feel too bad for me.  In all honesty, the teacher knew what he was talking about, and I didn’t blame him a bit for his decision (though the other four who had been rejected kind of gave him a dirty look).  No sense leading a person on when they don’t have what it takes to succeed as a choir singer.  I appreciated his honesty.  Besides, I more than made up for it when I joined the concert band as a baritone player in the sixth grade and performed a solo in the seventh grade when the eighth grade baritone player flaked out of the concert just minutes before it was set to begin. 

So, singing just wasn’t in the cards for me.  I can deal with that.  I mean, if I were to get a career in the music industry, I would likely make a better lyricist anyway.

Still, some people just seem to have that natural ability to blow people away with their singing voices in any situation, and in the case of today’s subject, this young man broke into the music scene when he was just in his teens, and ended up becoming a huge presence on the R & B charts during the mid-1990s.  Though his star ended up fading over time (likely compounded by an arrest in the late 1990s), as of 2013, it seems as though he’s looking to make a comeback in the music industry.  And, you know something?  I think that he still has the vocal chops to get back into the music industry once more.  At least I hope so anyway...I’m getting somewhat disenchanted with the state of the Top 40 charts these days.

Today, we’re going to be taking a look at the career of Waxahachie, Texas native Tevin Jermod Campbell, a singer/songwriter who has also dabbled in the world of acting.

He was born on November 12, 1976, making him thirty-six years old today.  From an early age, Tevin knew that he wanted to sing, and he satisfied his passion for singing by joining his church’s choir group singing gospel music.  As he grew older, he began to sing solos at a small town church located near Dallas, Texas. 

Certainly, Tevin’s talent was praised by his family, as well as friends of the family.  In 1988, a friend of Tevin’s mother had arranged for Tevin to audition for Bobbi Humphrey, an accomplished jazz flutist.  In a rather unique twist, Tevin performed his audition via a phone call to Humphrey’s home in New York City!  It seemed to work though, as Humphrey was impressed by the young Tevin’s talent.  She arranged to have a video and audio tape commissioned and sent to Warner Brothers, leading to am meeting with Benny Medina, which in turn brought Campbell to the attention of Quincy Jones in the summer of 1989.  Quincy was very impressed by Campbell’s huge voice, and shortly after they met signed Campbell to his own record label, Qwest Records.  Tevin Campbell was just twelve years old when the contract was signed!

Within a few months, Campbell had recorded his debut single “Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)” to be included in Quincy Jones’ 1989 album, “Back on the Block”.  The song itself just barely cracked the Top 75 on the Billboard Charts, but it ended up reaching #1 on the American Rhythm & Blues Charts in June 1990!  Forget having your first single become a number one hit...imagine having it happen at the age of thirteen!

Tevin’s debut album “T.E.V.I .N.” was released in the fall of 1991, and it ended up having a unique distinction.  A total of eight singles were released from the album (at least five cracked the Top 10 on the R & B charts), within a four year period!  It sounds bizarre, but just have a look at the list of singles from T.E.V.I.N., and do the math!

1.       Round and Round (released 1990, #2 R&B, #12 Billboard)

2.       Just Ask Me To (released 1991, #9 R&B, #88 Billboard)

3.       Tell Me What You Want To Do (released 1991, #1 R&B, #6 Billboard)

4.       Goodbye (released 1992, #2 R&B, #85 Billboard)

5.       Strawberry Letter 23 (released 1992, #40 R&B, #53 Billboard)

6.       Alone With You (released 1992, #1 R&B, #72 Billboard)

7.       Confused (released 1993, #33 R&B)

8.       One Song (released 1993, DID NOT CHART)

That is quite a list of accomplishments.  Two #1 smashes on the R & B charts, at least one Top 10 Billboard hit, and eight singles in four years.  All before he turned eighteen years of age at that!  And, he wasn’t finished yet!

By 1993, Tevin Campbell’s musical tastes were beginning to mature (though keep in mind that he was still a teenager at that time), and he explained in an interview with J.R. Reynolds in Billboard Magazine that he wanted to make a more mature-sounding album that matched his new frame of mind.  After all, four years had passed since he recorded his debut single, and he had changed quite a bit in those four years.  I know that my perspective on life at the age of twelve far differed from the one that I had at age sixteen, so I completely see where Tevin was coming from. 

The name of Tevin’s sophomore album was “I’m Ready”, which was released in the fall of 1993.  The album took around eight months to record (from December 1992 until August 1993), and was produced once again by Quincy Jones and Benny Medina.  This album also had a number of high-profile collaborators and songwriters lending their talents to the effort.  Prince contributed several songs to the album (though it was under the pseudonym of Paisley Park), and Johnny Gill performed a duet with Campbell on the unreleased track “What Do I Say”. 

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds also contributed a great deal to the album as well.  In fact, of the five singles that were released from “I’m Ready”, Babyface helped write three of them...the title track, “Always In My Heart”, and this one below.

ARTIST:  Tevin Campbell
SONG:  Can We Talk
ALBUM:  I’m Ready
DATE RELEASED:  September 30, 1993

This song could easily be considered Tevin Campbell’s biggest hit.  I might even consider it his signature song.  The song reached the top of the R&B charts the week of December 25, 1993, and stayed there until early January, and even on the Billboard charts, it peaked at a modest ninth position.  The song was also a hit in Australia, peaking within the Top 20.

And, when you compare “Can We Talk” to Campbell’s other material, it’s almost as if we’re listening to songs by two different artists.  Aside from the fact that Campbell’s voice is noticeably deeper in “Can We Talk”, the lyrics and the melody sound more adult than anything else he released.  So, if the aim was for him to broaden his sound to an older audience, I think he succeeded.

(Of course, this likely didn’t stop the preteen girls who idolized him in his early days from loving Campbell any less...)

This single was rewarded with a Soul Train Music Award for “Best R & B Vocal – Male” in 1994.  It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best R & B Vocal Performance, Male”, but lost to Ray Charles’ “A Song for You”.

At any rate, “Can We Talk” helped people take Campbell seriously, and it was right around this time that Campbell developed a love for acting as well.  He had a bit part in the 1990 feature film “Graffiti Bridge”, and played a love interest for Tatyana M. Ali’s character in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, but in 1995, he signed on for two more roles.  One role had him appearing on an episode of “NY Undercover” alongside Brandy (the two would work together once more when Campbell made a guest appearance on Brandy’s sitcom “Moesha”).  The second role had him assuming the role of a singer named Powerline, in the 1995 animated feature film “A Goofy Movie”.  Just have a look at “Powerline” in action below.

So, what happened to Tevin Campbell?

Well, by 1996, people weren’t responding as well to his music as they had done previously.  His third album, “Back to the World” was released in 1996, and the title track had some moderate success...but the rest of his singles didn’t seem to do as well.  Three years later, when Tevin released his self-titled fourth disc, it barely made as much as a dent in the charts. 

And then in September 1999, Campbell was arrested in perhaps one of the most bizarre ways possible when he was taken into custody by an undercover police officer after Campbell solicited a lewd act from the cop.  It also probably didn’t help Campbell’s cause when he was also caught with marijuana on his person (which was – and is in some areas of the world – an illegal substance).

By 2000, Campbell had paid a fine, and attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and participated in a court-appointed AIDS awareness class...but as far as his music career went, it was more or less a memory, barring the release of a greatest hits collection in 2001.

But, that’s not to say that Tevin Campbell is giving up music.  In 2005, he landed a role in the Broadway musical “Hairspray”, assuming the role of Seaweed J. Stubbs.  He reprised the role in the Australian production of the same musical in 2010 and 2011.

And, on an appearance that he did on “The Mo’nique Show” in May 2010, Campbell admitted that he was considering making a comeback to the music scene, and was heard on the remake of Quincy Jones’ “Secret Garden”, which also featured Usher, Robin Thicke, Tyrese Gibson, and LL Cool J.

Personally speaking, I think that he could do it.  I happened to find a clip of Campbell singing “Can We Talk” in what appears to be filmed in his home recorded on June 27, 2012, (which you can hear if you click HERE), and I’ll admit, he still sounds great.

And, well...if I can make a confession here...I’d rather listen to his songs from 20 years ago than some of the stuff that passes as music these days.