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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Self-Acceptance - The Motive2Change That I'm Trying To Find

Okay, so I'm going to be using this space for today to once again promote the online YouTube show that I am filming along with my buds JOSH and CARINE.  The show is called MOTIVE2CHANGE and in case you're just tuning in, it's a show made for youth by youth...well, at least TWO of us are still considered youthful.  Want to take a wild guess which two?

HINT:  They're the ones with the coloured names in Kabel style font.  Or, whatever font shows up on your screen.  Ah, let's just go with the coloured font.  That works.

At any rate, this is our fourth episode of the series, and the first one we've filmed in over two weeks.  We had a little bit of a setback in trying to get everybody together to get an episode filmed.  First, it was Easter celebrations that kept us all apart, and then a couple of us ended up getting sick, and plus our hectic work was just one thing after another!  I'm sure most of you who are reading this blog entry can relate to that, if only for just a moment.

However, we finally managed to come together and record Episode #4, which is all about the subject of self-esteem and self-worth.
Have a listen just by clicking it!  Hey, it's only a little more than thirty minutes in length.  In the average human lifespan, that's peanuts!

Okay, so now that the video is posted, I certainly hope that you enjoyed it...because I'm not quite done yet with discussing this subject.  When you only have a thirty minute window to talk about a particular subject, it's only natural that there are some things that are either left on the cutting room floor, or that you don't even get a chance to say everything that is going through your mind at that moment.

So, I suppose that this blog entry is a complete addendum to the
MOTIVE2CHANGE episode about self-worth.

And the reason why I want to go into more detail over this subject is because I want to share with all of you the very reasons why I believe that I have struggled with this concept my whole life.

Basically, I want to explain to all of you why I find it hard to see myself through the rose-coloured goggles of positivity and happiness.  Why some people in my life I compare to the Dementors in Harry Potter.  And, in trying to discover the truth, I end up discovering some home truths about myself that aren't quite so pleasant.

I suppose that I'll start with the home truths section of the blog.  The truth of the matter is that I haven't exactly had the greatest love for myself during the entire span of my life.  And because of the fact that I've had extreme self-esteem issues, it explains why I am still single, why I have had difficulty keeping friendships going, and why I have been stuck in a rut for some time when it comes to personal growth and development.  And I'll definitely own up to that.  I know that there are instances in which I am my own worst enemy at times, and it's been a real challenge to try and keep my eye on the prize when there are times in which you doubt yourself even deserving the prize in the first place.

And yes, there are moments in which I have felt THAT bad! 

The good news is that those moments are few and far between, but the bottom line is that I have had some bad experiences that have really made me doubt myself, and I have had instances in which people I thought that I could trust ended up betraying me, and I have had authority figures who were supposed to set a good example be anything but.  And, it's unfortunate that I have had such poor examples of people pass through my life, trying to suck all of the fun and happiness that I had as a child.

(Now you see where the Dementor reference comes from.)

Growing up, I think I kind of always knew that I wasn't like the other kids.  I had my own distinct personality, I liked doing activities that other kids didn't, and I studied things that other kids had literally no interest in. 

Case in point - I once checked out every single book about clocks in the library when I was four.  I still find clocks to be fascinating things today.  And, there's nothing wrong with that.

But you know something?  My likes, dislikes, hobbies, and interests were NEVER a problem before I entered school.  They may have seemed a little eccentric to people who came to visit, but they only visited.  They never got to see me for who I really was. 

That seemed to be a recurring theme for me.

By the time I entered school, I had all sorts of people who came into my life and who thought that they would interject by showing me the "right way" to be.  And, they came at me under the guise of being a caring person who really did have my best interests at heart.

But let's be realistic.  They only cared about moving themselves up the education ladder, or making an example out of me, or singling me out from the other kids because they deemed me "different".

As far as I was concerned, there was nothing wrong with the way I held my pencil, or the way I walked down the hall.  Unfortunately, I had a teacher who was somehow bothered by the fact that I was imperfect in both.  I honestly don't know whether she did it just to be nasty, or whether she was told to act that way by the school board, or whether she simply wanted to have the reputation that all of her students were "practically perfect in every way", but regardless of which, she inflicted a lot of emotional abuse on me.

Worse, she taught the other kids in my class - the ones she DIDN'T single out - that it was perfectly fine to pick on kids who were different from them because she singled me out for being different all the time.  She made sure I was the last one to get a writing notebook even though my handwriting was clearer than some of the other kids in the class (I think she was punishing me for not holding the pencil the "proper" way).  She denied me the right to sell fundraising materials even though she had extra copies of the booklets to hand out.  She even made fun of my walking style and made it a song and dance production to make the other kids know that I had a walking impediment. 

My only regret was that I didn't go to the school board myself and report her so that she couldn't abuse any other children the way she abused me.  Of course, I was only seven, and what school board trustee EVER listens to a seven year old?

But you know, once I had her as a teacher, I couldn't help but feel that ALL teachers were just like her.  Many of them weren't, of course.  And none of them EVER matched the level of cruelty that she exhibited day after day.  But because she betrayed my trust and hurt me in ways that many people don't understand, I saw all teachers as being untrustworthy.  And I think that's why the bullying that I endured in school grew to become out-of-control.  Because I didn't know who I could trust.

Mind you, it wasn't just the teachers who I didn't trust.  So often I formed friendships with kids and they ended up turning on me for what appeared to be no reason.  I still remember one friendship that I had with a boy.  For three years, we were really close friends, and I remember that I even made it a point to invite him to my ninth birthday party at the movie theatre where we saw a screening of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles".  That's why I found it so bizarre when just a couple of years later, he became friends with three other boys who didn't like me very much, and he became my worst enemy.  And when I say worst enemy, I mean it.  He would call me all sorts of names, chase after me with balloons stuffed in his backpack (remember, I can't stand the sound of balloons popping), and he just caused me a whole lot of emotional stress.  Worse, he was the type of kid who would instigate things in class so that I would react on purpose (admittedly I didn't handle being bullied very well when I was younger), and soon afterwards, the rest of the class joined him in taunting me.

I suppose in some ways, I could expect something like that to happen.  After all, nobody wants to be the odd person out.  But, I'll tell of the reasons why I was doubting going to my eighth grade reunion is because of the fact that I might end up coming face to face with this jerk and he might stir up all sorts of trouble for me once again.  I know the odds of that happening are slim to nil, but still...there's always that chance.  And honestly, I don't know if I'm prepared to handle it.

But then again, I sort of just got used to the fact that whenever I made friends, they would somehow find a way to turn against me.  And, yes, this person who went from best friend to worst enemy in just a couple of years was a huge factor behind it.  Because that friendship ended on an ugly note, I went through life believing that all friendships would end up that way.  And, certainly this has been the case with some people who have come across my path - after all, the kid who torched my locker and the kid who sent me poison e-mails were also considered "friends" at one time.  But because I had such horrible examples of friendship shown to me, whenever any friendships that I had dissolved, I always took responsibility for it being my fault for not being good enough for them - not even entertaining the possibility that maybe they weren't good enough for me, because I always told myself that possibility was not possible.

You see how sometimes I can see myself as my own worst enemy?

Even at my workplace sometimes, I still have self-doubts, and I feel as though I am either not doing enough, or doing too much.  I volunteer for several things around the store, but yet some people still won't have anything to do with me (though, I'm starting to see that it's more THEIR loss, and not mine).  Whenever I get an irate customer, more often than not, they have the attitude to begin with.  But sometimes I find myself wondering if anything I did caused them to get angry even more. 

And, I shouldn't be like that.  But then again, I haven't always had the healthiest self-worth. 

Truth be told, there are times in which my self-worth has plummeted down to such dismal levels that I worry it'll flatline on the operating table. 

I know that I'm the only one who can change it.  I just sometimes feel that I lack the resources necessary to make those changes. 

Or, maybe it's because as good of a judge of character I am with people, I still make mistakes and put my trust in the wrong ones.

Or, maybe it's because I spent the better part of a decade locked away from the world because I couldn't bear being hurt again.

Most times, I can find a way to get out of bed, face the day, and put on a happy face showing that all is good.  I just wish that I didn't have to work so hard on putting on a happy face.  I just wish that I could just do it.

I'm tired of making excuses for who I am, and I am sick of having people come into my life to try and change me, or betray me, or treat me as if I'm invisible.  I may be eccentric, but I am still capable of showing real, raw, human emotion. 

I just think that I need to stop listening to negative people...and get myself away from negative situations.

Are there any islands out there that are worth ten bucks?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29, 1992

It's another exciting trip back through time as we take a look back on what happened throughout history on the second-last day of April.  And, I'll say this.  While I am sort of sad to see April fade away for another year, I'm really excited about the prospects that May has to offer for this blog.  It is the third anniversary, and I have got some really big announcements coming up over the next few weeks, so I hope you're excited to see some changes happening as we approach the three-year-mark.

Of course, before we get to May, we have to finish off April.  Have a look at some of the major happenings that took place on April 29...

1429 - Joan of Arc arrives to relieve the "Siege of Orleans"

1770 - Explorer James Cook arrives at and names the area known as Botany Bay, Australia

1781 - The Battle of Fort Royal takes place off the coast of Martinique during the American Revolutionary War

1861 - During the Civil War, Maryland's House of Delegates votes not to secede from the Union

1882 - The "Elektromote" is tested in Berlin, the precursor for the modern-day trolley

1917 - Actress Celeste Holm (d. 2012) is born in New York City

1931 - Scottish-British singer/guitarist Lonnie Donegan (d. 2002) is born in Glasgow, Scotland

1945 - The day before they commit suicide, Adolf Hitler marries his longtime partner Eva Braun in a German bunker at the tail end of World War II

1951 - Racing legend Dale Earnhardt (d. 2001) is born in Kannapolis, North Carolina

1953 - The very first experimental 3D television broadcast takes place in the United States, showing an episode of "Space Patrol" on Los Angeles television station KECA-TV

1967 - Muhammad Ali is stripped of his boxing title following his refusal to enroll in the United States Army due to religious reasons

1968 - The controversial musical "Hair" opens on Broadway

1974 - During the Watergate Scandal, President Nixon announces the release of edited transcripts of White House tape recordings related to the scandal

1980 - Director/producer Alfred Hitchcock passes away at the age of 80

1986 - A devastating fire at the Los Angeles Public Library destroys or damages 400,000 books

1999 - The Avala TV Tower outside of Belgrade is destroyed during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia

2004 - The final Oldsmobile rolls off the production line after 107 years in business

2005 - William J. Bell, the creator of soap operas "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful" dies at the age of 78

2011 - The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton takes place

And, here are the celebrity birthdays for April 29; April Ashley, Richard Kline, Tommy James, Joey Levine, Anita Dobson, Jerry Seinfeld, Kate Mulgrew, Daniel Day-Lewis, Mark Kendall, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eve Plumb, Curtis Joseph, Master P, Carnie Wilson, Jack Mackenroth, Andre Agassi, Uma Thurman, David Sullivan, Sam Jones III, Jo O'Meara, Renee Alway, and Jonathan Toews.

So, what date will we be going back in time to this time around?  Well, for most of us, it may seem like another typical day.  But for those of you who lived in the greater Los Angeles area, it was the beginning of 72 hours of pure hell.

Perhaps the actual date will jog your memory.  April 29, 1992.

That date was a very scary day for people in Los Angeles.  A state of utter and total confusion was in place over the following three days following the conclusion of a very controversial trial, and by the end of it all, several areas of the city were left in ruins, fifty-three people were killed, a further two thousand were injured, and at least eleven thousand people were charged with a criminal offence that day.

But what trial could have caused people to create so much chaos and destruction to their own city?  How could a major metropolis lose control so quickly?

Well, to answer that question, I think we have to start at the beginning.

It all began a little over a year earlier in March 1991.  On March 3 of that year, then 25-year-old Rodney King was driving west on I-210 with two passengers through the Lake View Terrace neighbourhood of Los Angeles when the California Highway Patrol tried to initiate a traffic stop.  At some point, the scene escalated into a high-speed police chase that spanned through Los Angeles freeways and residential neighbourhoods before coming to a stop.  King and the other two occupants were ordered under arrest on the spot - likely due to charges of reckless driving.  And if that's where it all ended, it would have been seen as nothing harmless.

But then here's where things get extremely dicey.

At some point after the car King was driving was pulled to a stop, the two passengers were taken out of the car and placed in nearby patrol cars as five LAPD officers (all of Caucasian origin) arrived on the scene to subdue King. 

The actual policy at that time for the LAPD (I'm not sure if it's been changed since 1991, so that's why I state 'at that time') was that if a suspected criminal was resisting arrest (as King was reportedly doing at that time), the procedure was to tackle a suspect and cuff them, only using force if the officer themselves felt that they were in physical danger.

For whatever reason, the five officers opted to go by a different procedure against the African-American Rodney King.  They tasered him, kicked him in the head, used their batons to beat King repeatedly for sixty seconds and then tackled and cuffed him.  The officers stated that they felt it was necessary since they claimed that King was under the influence of PCP at the time of his arrest and he was very aggressive and violent towards them.

At some point after the arrest was made, the video tape that detailed the whole incident was broadcast all over the media.  And, you can just imagine how frightened I was as a nine-year-old at the time, watching these people kicking and beating this man.  I was too young to understand the situation, and I remember having a LOT of questions over it and wondering what Rodney King did to deserve such horrific treatment.  Again, this was the nine-year-old me talking here, but even at nearly 33, I still question whether the decisions that were made that night (by both King and the police officers) were the right ones.  It was certainly a messy situation for sure.

To make the situation even more complicated, King was subjected to a drug test which showed that he had tested NEGATIVE for PCP.  And it later came out that the reason why King ignored the traffic stop was because he had been released on parole due to a prior robbery conviction, and he was concerned that had he been arrested for a DUI, it would violate his parole terms and he would go back to prison. 

The end result (after the media reported on the case for what seemed like forever) was that four of the officers - including one sergeant - were charged with assault and use of excessive force.  There was a growing group of activists who claimed that the attack on Rodney King was racially motivated, and tensions began to fester as the trial grew closer and closer to beginning. 

The trial began in early 1992, and just to give a little bit of background in the trial, here's the statistics.

Of the twelve jurors serving on the case, nine were white, one black, one Asian, and one Latino.  The prosecutor of the case was black.  And because of the media coverage that the case generated, the trial was moved outside of Los Angeles to Simi Valley. 

It wasn't until the seventh day of jury deliberations that the jury ushered in their verdict.  The date?  April 29, 1992.  And the verdict was heavily influenced by a small snippit of film that was shown in the courtroom (but not on media broadcasts) which showed King lunging towards one of the officers before being subjected to the beating that would leave him severely injured.  That was enough for the jury to acquit all four officers of assault.  Not only that, but three of the four officers were also acquitted of the charge of using excessive force while the jury couldn't agree on a verdict for the fourth. 

That decision set off the spark that ignited the dynamite inside of the city of Los Angeles.

Half an hour after the announcement of the acquittals was made at 3:15pm the afternoon of April 29, a group of 300 people appeared outside of the Los Angeles County Courthouse immediately protesting the verdict, and just a couple of hours later, the crowd had grown to such a high number that the LAPD dispatched two dozen officers to confront a growing protest in South Central Los Angeles near the intersection of Florence and Normandie Streets.  The crowd, however, outnumbered the officers, and the police were forced to flee.  Soon after, reports of looting, carjackings, and beatings were coming out of the area, hence setting the stage for the infamous Los Angeles Riots of 1992.

For those of you born after 1992, here's some video footage of the riots as they happened back in April and May 1992.  Some of the videos may be disturbing to watch, so definitely initiate parental guidance if needed.

The stories coming out of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 were barbaric.  A white truck driver, Reginald Denny, found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as he was physically dragged out of his truck at the intersection of Normandie and Florence and badly beaten by a mob of local black residents.  The whole incident was caught on tape by a television news helicopter.  Another beating occurred that same day by the same people who nearly killed Denny when Guatemalan-born Fidel Lopez was attacked and robbed and left for dead. 

Over the next two days, racial wars were taken to the streets, and most of the violence in the city was confined to South Central Los Angeles - the area of town with the most visible minorities at the time.  Businesses owned by Asian and Latino born Americans were looted and burned to the ground.  People began beating each other up on the streets.  A strict curfew was placed over the entire city for several days.  Even President George Bush went on the air to plead with people to stop the violence and the anarchy.  Schools and businesses were closed until the following Monday.  It wouldn't be until the ninth of May before federal troops left the Los Angeles area, and some soldiers were stationed in the city until the end of May - a full month after the riots took place!

The riots had made such an impact on the world that they were referred to in the world of pop culture.  "Beverly Hills 90210" featured a storyline in which the kids of West Beverly considered canceling a planned integrated dance with an inner-city Los Angeles school around the time of the L.A. riots.  "L.A. Law" actually featured a storyline that was set during the riots in which one of the main characters became a victim of the violence and his struggles to overcome the injuries, both physical and mental.  And even Bill Cosby took to the airwaves to persuade people to stop the violence to watch the series finale of "The Cosby Show", which aired smack dab in the middle of the Los Angeles riots.

So, what was the aftermath of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992?  Well, there was a lot of pressure from the public for a retrial of the officers who were involved in the King beating, and new federal charges of civil rights were brought against the officers.  In April 1993 - almost one year to the day that the riots began, two of the officers were found guilty.  Those two officers - Sgt. Stacey Koon and Officer Laurence Powell - were sentenced to thirty months behind bars.  All four officers were either terminated from the LAPD or left the force of their own accord.  Another officer who was at the scene, Susan Clemmer, later took her own life in 2009.

Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in damages from the attack, and he used the money to found his own record label, "Straight Alta-Pazz Records".  But the record company soon folded, and King ended up getting arrested a grand total of eleven times for charges ranging from hit-and-run to domestic violence.  In his later years, King attempted to rebuild his life by leaving Los Angeles and settling in Rialto, California, even seeking treatment in rehab (most famously appearing as a patient on Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab), but sadly, King was found dead in a swimming pool on June 17, 2012 at the age of 47.

As for victim Reginald Denny, the truck driver who was brutally attacked the day the Los Angeles riots started?  He sustained a massive seizure as a result of the injuries he sustained, and he had to endure years of rehabilitative treatment to learn how to walk again.  His speech remains permanently damaged.  The men who were responsible for his attack were all charged - the worst of the bunch, Damian "Football" Williams - served four years of a ten year sentence issued to him in 1993.  He is currently serving a 46-year-sentence in a state prison for an unrelated charge.

Yes, April 29, 1992 was an extremely dark day in the city of Los Angeles.  The buildings destroyed were rebuilt, the physical injuries healed as best they could, and people soon went back to living their lives as best they could. 

The question is...did anybody learn anything from it all?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Everybody Cut Footloose!

I'm going to just come right out with a huge confession.

I can't dance to save my life.

Seriously.  I have two left feet when it comes to mastering dance moves.  Trust me when I tell you that when I am coerced on a dance floor that I am no Michael Jackson.  Hell, I'm not even Michael Bolton.  But then again, he's more of a singer than a dancer, and I can't even do that.

Maybe it's a good thing that all my musical training involved a rusty baritone.

Anyway, I suppose that if I were to have a couple of beers or a cocktail that is spiked with liberal amounts of vodka, I suppose it would give me enough liquid courage to get out on the floor and pretend that I'm at the hottest discotheque in the world.

Which in itself is a bad thing since discotheques went out with roller disco nights. 

Anyway, back to my little opening statement before we move ahead with this week's Monday Matinee.

Because my dancing abilities were not that great, I tended to avoid all things that had to do with dancing.  I never enrolled in any dance classes because I didn't think I had the rhythm to keep up with the rest of the pupils.  At the rare wedding ceremony I attended, I avoided the dance floor the way that someone with peanut allergies avoided a Peanut Buster Parfait from Dairy Queen.  And, don't even get me started on school dances.  After being laughed off the floor by some of the kids at a ninth grade dance, I never attended another one.  But, I look back on it as being my fault for lacking the strength to stand up to all of them.

And even so, it still wouldn't have made me a better dancer.

I mean, let's face it.  There are just some things out there in the world that people will never excel at.  My Achilles heel happens to be dancing.  It's not that I didn't try to learn how to dance when I was younger...I just couldn't seem to grasp it.  And that's okay, because I make a much better writer than I do a choreographer any day of the week.

But one thing that I will say is that while I admit to being a terrible dancer, at least I had several resources available to attempt to improve my dancing skills - or lack thereof - available to me.  Could you imaging living in a place in which there were no such outlets to learn how to dance?

Even worse...could you imagine a place in which dancing is absolutely forbidden?  No school dances.  No ballet recitals.  No cheerleading routines.  Not even rock music blaring out of CD players, iPods, and mp3 players!  Wouldn't you consider a place like that to be one of the most depressing places in all the world?

Why, you'd just have to ask any teenager who lived in the Midwestern town of Bomont circa 1984 what that would be like.  They'd probably tell you that it was absolute torture.  And, yet, that's exactly what it was like in the fictional community...

...well, that is until a fleet-footed hellraiser from Chicago dropped in and decided to bring the funk back to Bomont. 

This is the story of how that one teen flipped things upside down in Bomont, and made sure that the entire population would get a chance to get up on the dance floor to cut loose, footloose.

So, kick off your Sunday shoes because everybody's losing their blues to cut "Footloose"!

Don't worry.  We're going to be reviewing the original version released in February 1984 - not the lame remake some two and a half decades later.  After all, this is the film that made Kevin Bacon a star.

Come to think of it, a lot of people got their big breaks in this movie.  It was Sarah Jessica Parker's first major role in a motion picture, and was one of several huge films that the late Christopher Penn starred in.  The film also starred Lori Singer, John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, and Francis Lee McCain. 

Now, most of you already know what the major plot of "Footloose" is.  Kevin Bacon plays the role of Ren, a big city teen who moves to Bomont with his family, and is stunned to discover that the town he now calls home has absolutely no fun whatsoever.  It appears as though every social event revolves around the town's only church, which is headed up by the extremely conservative Reverend Shaw Moore (Lithgow).  And just how conservative is Reverend Moore?  Well, he's the one you can thank for eliminating dancing from the town of Bomont!  A few years prior to Ren's family arriving in Bomont, there was a terrible tragedy which saw the lives of several teenagers come to an abrupt end after a dance was held, and the Reverend decided that in order to protect the rest of the children from experiencing a similar fate that he would remove the temptation completely.

Sounds like something that could only happen in a movie, could it?

Well, allow me to blow your minds.  Because the events of "Footloose" were based off of a real life community that had banned dancing for almost an entire CENTURY!  No kidding!

That community was Elmore City, Oklahoma, a village with a population of less than a thousand people and whose residents were extremely religious. 

And it is estimated that when the community was first established in the late 1800s, the ban on dancing was first placed.  I was unable to come up with a reason as to why the community would implement such a ban to begin with, but I can only wager a guess that it had to do with the religious morals that the townspeople grew up with.  Maybe they saw dancing as a gateway activity to more scandalous activities, and the community felt the need to nip any sinning in the bud before it even happened.

It wasn't until 1980 before the ban was finally lifted, after students of that year's graduating class asked for permission to hold a dance at their school.  If you rent the DVD version of "Footloose" (or buy a copy of the film for five bucks at many retail outlets), you can hear stories from the people of Elmore City themselves talking about how the ban was lifted, and how the 1980 graduating class of Elmore City High School held their very first prom.  It's a very interesting feature for sure.

So, right off the bat, you can pretty much guess the ending (one of the very few Monday Matinees in which I had really no choice but to).  But I'm purposely leaving out a few details about how we get there, because the story behind how we get to the end is probably more interesting anyway.

For instance, Ren's friend, Willard (Penn) is apprehensive about having a dance in the first place...not because he sides with the Reverend...but because he has a secret shame that he doesn't want anyone to know.  With help from Ren, will Willard gain the strength necessary to fight ahead?

There's the pretty young woman named Ariel (Singer), who immediately warms the cockles of young Ren's heart - but Ariel's family background is extremely complicated.  What happens when Ren discovers that his antagonist is closely linked to the woman he loves?  And, for that matter, why is the main antagonist of the film so anti-dancing?  It wouldn't have to do with a personal tragedy, would it?

And, what about Rusty (Parker)?  What sort of role does she have to play?  Well, I don't want to go into too much detail, but she finds herself at the center of a conflict which quickly erupts into a bar fight.

And, hey, with a successful soundtrack that included hits such as this one...

...and this one...

...and who could forget this one?

Why, the movie quickly became a smorgasbord of everything that was cool about the 1980s!  Sure, it wasn't a critical darling, but when you consider it was released the same year as "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", "Ghostbusters", "Beverly Hills Cop", "Gremlins", and "The Karate Kid", I'd say it held its own.

So, that's all I have to say about "Footloose" the movie.  But I'm sure you want to know some secrets behind the filming of "Footloose".  Believe me, there are quite a few to share!

For instance...

1 - Tom Cruise was an early favourite to play the role of Ren in "Footloose" after producers noted that he really could dance during his tighty-whitey jivin' on "Risky Business".  Alas, it was not meant to be, as he had already committed himself to "All The Right Moves".

2 - Rob Lowe was also considered an early favourite for Ren, and had he not gotten injured, he probably would have had the part handed to him.

3 - The list of actresses who were considered for Ariel is extensive.  Heather Locklear, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Elizabeth McGovern, Daryl Hannah, Lori Loughlin, Tatum O'Neal, Bridget Fonda, Jamie Lee Curtis, Rosanna Arquette, and Brooke Shields were all contenders at one point!  Of that list, I could see Lori Loughlin and Brooke Shields doing just as well as Lori Singer did playing Ariel, but that's just my opinion, of course.

4 - Madonna actually auditioned for the role of Ariel.  That would have been...interesting.  Especially given that her future brother-in-law was in the film as well!

5 - The majority of the film was shot in Utah.

6 - Kevin Bacon remarked that he had four stunt doubles in the film - one for dancing, one for stunts, and two for the gymnastic scenes.

7 - Prior to joining the cast of "Footloose", Christopher Penn really didn't know how to dance at all.  I wonder if that influenced a particular scene with Deniece Williams playing in the background...hmmmm...

8 - Believe it or not, to get the authenticity of playing a high school student, Kevin Bacon (with the principal's knowledge) managed to slip into the high school classes as a transfer student named "Ren McCormack".  At the time of filming, Kevin Bacon was 24!

9 - Look closely at the opening sequence.  All the different pairs of shoes featured belonged to the cast and crew of the film.  And speaking of which...

10 - ...look at the pair of feet wearing gold shoes.  Those belong to Mr. "Footloose" himself, Kenny Loggins!

11 - In an interview that he did with Howard Stern, Kevin Bacon admitted to paying off DJ's at parties NOT to play "Footloose"!

12 - Dianne Wiest plays the role of Ariel's mother.  In reality, there is only a nine year age difference between Wiest and Lori Singer!

13 - Kevin Bacon was so nervous about filming the scene at the City Council that he actually broke out in hives!

14 - John Lithgow did double duty while filming "Footloose".  He was simultaneously working on "Terms of Endearment" at the time.

15 - Kevin Bacon's hairstyle in the film was styled after Sting's.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Like a Prayer

I'm going to do something very different for this Sunday Jukebox entry.  I know I say this phrase quite often in this blog, but I do believe that this time around, this will be something very different.

After all, how many times have I opened up a blog with a discussion about a television commercial?  Not very often, if ever.  But trust me.  The discussion about the commercial will lead to the discussion of the background music playing in the commercial, which flows into a chat about the song itself, and so on and so forth.

Now, I'm sure most of you have drank at least one Pepsi in your lifetimes.  I know I certainly have drank my fair share of them.  Well, over the years, Pepsi has been known for creative some rather creative and expensive advertisements over the last few years.  I seem to recall Pepsi spending a lot more money on ad campaigns than Coca-Cola did - at least I remember it being that way when I was a child.  After all, they had "The Pepsi Challenge" all throughout the 1980s! 

And, that's not even mentioning all of the celebrities who have pitched Pepsi products over the last few years.  Ray Charles was "the right one" to pitch Diet Pepsi.  Michael Jackson's commitment to Pepsi was so great that he actually had some of his hair singed in a pyrotechnics stunt gone wrong.  And, the Spice Girls certainly brought Pepsi over to "GeneratioNext". 

(It's really scary how much I remember Pepsi commercials.)

But, how many of you actually remember the one and only commercial that a self-proclaimed "Material Girl" filmed?  Not many of you probably do.

That's because the one and only commercial that featured Madonna as the newest spokesperson for Pepsi was pulled from the airwaves after just a few airings. 

But why was it pulled? get into the discussion over why, I think it's best if I show you the offending commercial.  I'll let you try and pick out what the kiss of death was.

Have you figured it out yet?  No?  Truth be told, neither could I at first.  To me, it seemed like a typical Pepsi ad, with a lot of dancing, a lot of warmth, and a lot of product placement (though given that Madonna's 8th birthday was in 1966, I highly doubt that Madonna would have even had a VHS tape of the party...just saying, is all).

And Pepsi really wanted to sign Madonna as a spokesperson.  The commercial was filmed in January 1989, and Madonna had signed on to do the commercial at a very pivotal time in her life.  She had just turned thirty the previous summer, she was set to release her fourth studio album in March of 1989, her acting career was fizzling out with the disastrous "Shanghai Surprise" and "Who's That Girl" (though the latter film spawned the #1 hit of the same name for Madonna back in '87), and she had just signed the divorce papers which ended her almost four-year marriage to Sean Penn. 

It was already decided that Madonna's first single for the new album would be the title track - "Like a Prayer", and while she was filming the video for the single, she had signed a five million dollar contract with Pepsi, which would have made Pepsi an official sponsor for Madonna's "Blond Ambition Tour".  The way things would work was simple.  Madonna's commercial would air in February 1989, featuring the brand new single in the Pepsi commercial.  Then just days later, the single would be released, providing a cross-promotional opportunity for both Madonna and Pepsi.

At least, that's how it was SUPPOSED to go.

True to Pepsi's word, the commercial aired in its entirety during the 31st Grammy Awards in February 1989.  Just a few days later, on March 2, the commercial debuted on network television during an airing of "The Cosby Show".

But by the very next day, a swarm of controversy erupted upon Madonna releasing the official video for "Like a Prayer", and that controversy caused Pepsi to withdraw their association with Madonna for good, and caused Madonna to become the target of extreme scrutiny, even getting banned from the country of Italy as a result!

Really!  So, I guess this leads to the question...was the "Like a Prayer" video really that controversial?

Well, you tell me.  Here's the video below, a #1 hit for Madonna this week twenty-five years ago!

ARTIST:  Madonna
SONG:  Like a Prayer
ALBUM:  Like a Prayer
DATE RELEASED:  March 3, 1989

Okay, you can pick your jaws up off the floor now.  This scandal is old news now.  But it's still an interesting story to tell.

The video was a masterpiece in itself.  It was directed by Mary Lambert, whose other major project that year was directing the film adaptation of Stephen King's "Pet Semetary". While the then seven-year-old me completely missed the storyline the first time I saw this video, the adult version of me totally gets it.  To be honest with you, I'm definitely not a very religious person, and I certainly can't even remember the last time I set foot inside of a church.  But while I never did find the video to be personally offensive, I certainly can see how some might have felt that way at the time.

Why, this video seemed to have practically every single taboo squished into a nearly six minute single!  It had murder, it had racial tensions, it had divine intervention, it had burning was a definite departure from the cutesy-pie 50's inspired Madonna we grew to love during the "True Blue" era of 1986-87.

Okay, so let's set up the story.  In this video, a newly brunette Madonna (brown IS Madonna's natural colour, in case you weren't aware), is running down a pathway towards a church, stumbling along the way.  Turns out that she had witnessed a brutal crime.  A young woman was stabbed by two Caucasian men and unfortunately Madonna was unable to intervene due to fear.  However, she did see a young black man running to the woman's aid as the perpetrators fled, and as a result, the man was arrested wrongfully by police.

Cue the burning crosses.  Well, okay, not quite yet.  We're coming to that part.

(Actually, if Madonna had her way, the video's original concept would have featured an interracial love affair between a black man and a white woman, with both of them being shot by members of the Ku Klux Klan!)

Deeply wracked with guilt and pain over the whole situation, Madonna walks inside of the church and spots a statue of a caged saint who bears a striking resemblance to the murder suspect arrested in the video.

TRIVIA:  The wrongly accused man/statue was played by actor Leon Robinson.

Madonna prays in front of the statue, and it is here where we see our first image of religion...the image of the statue shedding real tears.

From this point on, the middle of the video is one gigantic dream that Madonna has after passing out in the middle of a church pew.  We see her falling through the sky and clouds into the arms of a woman who reassures her and gives her a warm smile before pushing Madonna up into the air where she finds herself back in the church in the presence of the young black man who Madonna witnessed going to jail while she was conscious.  He kisses Madonna on the forehead, walks out of the church, and Madonna proceeds to stab herself with a convenient knife.

Well, okay, not really.  She just cuts her hands in what becomes the second religious symbol of the video.  Just before Madonna can rummage through the church's medicine chest for some gauze, she proclaims that the choir is ready to sing...and sing they shall!

TRIVIA:  The choir singing back-up vocals in the video is the Los Angeles Church of God choir, lead by Andrae Crouch.

Now, this is where the video begins to get really deeply mired in controversy.  As the video showcases Madonna dancing along with the choir (where one of the singers strangely resembles the woman who caught Madonna in the clouds), it cuts back and forth to Madonna also dancing in front of several burning crosses - which symbolizes the obvious frustration and anger that Madonna feels about the sheer injustice of a black man going to prison for a crime that he did not commit.  Of course, Madonna witnessed the whole thing and initially said nothing about it.  So, maybe this was one video in which Madonna experienced both the beauty and peace of Heaven, and the dark, dangerous place known as Hell.  It makes sense, when you think about it.  When Madonna first witnessed the attack, she said nothing about who really did the deed, and I suppose that could be considered a sin.  But the minute Madonna prayed for God to forgive her, she ascended up to heaven.  It's absolutely brilliant when you stop and think about it that way.  And, again, keep in mind that I am NOT a religious person either.

Oh, and we also see brief flashes of other religious symbols...including one image in which a portrait or statue actually sheds tears of blood.

At the end of the video, Madonna wakes up, realizes that in order to truly be forgiven for her sins, she must go to the police station to clear the man's name.  She does, the man is released from custody...and at the end of the video, it's all revealed that the whole video appeared to be just a high school production complete with a red curtain and a "THE END" graphic added onto the screen.

Now, on one hand, the song was absolutely praised.  Critics loved it, calling "Like a Prayer" one of Madonna's best songs, if not the best.  Fans seemed to love it too, as the song hit the #1 spot in April 1989, and spawned the eventual sale of fifteen million copies of the "Like a Prayer" album.

On the other hand, the controversial imagery found in the video angered a lot of people.  Never mind the fact that Madonna lost her endorsement deal with Pepsi.  Religious groups protested and boycotted Madonna over the fact that they claimed she was committing blasphemy by displaying such sensitive religious imagery in the video.  Pope John Paul II was so offended by the Madonna video that he actively took on the cause to have Madonna barred from both Italy and The Vatican!  Television stations were even ordered not to play "Like a Prayer" on Italian airwaves at all because of the controversy!

But here's the irony of it all.  Pepsi pulled the commercial in almost no time at all (even though the company still considered airing it before protests from consumers forced them to do an about face).  That same year, Madonna's "Like a Prayer" was nominated for two awards at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards - ironically enough sponsored by Pepsi!  And when Madonna won the Viewer's Choice award, she actually thanked Pepsi in her acceptance speech for causing so much controversy!

And here's another reason why Madonna ended up getting the last laugh.  You know that five million dollar contract that she signed with Pepsi?  Well, Pepsi was so desperate to distance themselves from her that they let her keep the money that they paid for her endorsement - even though the commercial only aired a few times!  And she used that money to fund her Blond Ambition Tour as well as filmed this video that was released after "Like a Prayer". 

ARTIST:  Madonna
SONG:  Express Yourself
ALBUM:  Like a Prayer
DATE RELEASED:  May 9, 1989

Yes.  It's a double shot of Madonna.  If you're a Madonna fan, you're welcome.  If not...well, I hope you enjoyed the story of "Like a Prayer" at least!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Sixth Grader and the Battered Baritone

You know, for all the horror stories that I have from my school days (and believe me, I've listed off several examples over the course of my blogging ventures), there have been some interesting and fun stories that have also stemmed from my school days. 

Allow me to use this space to tell you one of those stories.

If you attended grade school (and I'm assuming that 99.8% of you have at some point in your lives), did you have a concert band?  I would imagine that unless you went to a school that had extreme budget cuts, your school likely had one.

Sure enough, my grade school had one.  And, from watching the school band play a concert back in my kindergarten days, I had my heart set on being a part of the school's music program.  I just knew that it was something that I really wanted to take part in, and being one who eventually developed a love for all things art, I knew that it would be a fun opportunity.

Only problem is, I had to wait six years before I got the chance.

You see, even though we had regular music classes all throughout my elementary school stint, we actually were never allowed to play any of the instruments until we reached the sixth grade.  Apparently the school felt that children under the age of twelve weren't mature enough to play the instruments, and so between the ages of first and fifth grades, we had to settle for music theory and lots and lots of singing.

And, I'll be perfectly frank.  My singing is so bad, I would probably cause The Voice judges Adam Levine and Blake Shelton instant nausea even before I sang my first note!  I was one of four children who was actually kicked out of the junior choir before I even had the chance to join it!  Oh, the rejection!

And, thought I had problems with my regular teacher in first grade?  I absolutely despised my first grade music teacher too.  He was so mean and scary, and he even grabbed me out of the line to go back to class and yelled at me because I was trying to get the attention of one of my friends.  The jerk.

(Though, I do find it quite amusing that both he and my first grade teacher quit my elementary school after they had me.  You think I ended up being their final straw?  Whatever the case, I think I did the kids who attended that school after I did a favour by getting rid of them both!)

Anyway, from second grade onward, I liked most of my teachers, so all was good.

So, for five years, I struggled with vocal abilities, and when it came to dancing in class...well...I was no Michael Jackson.  I wasn't even Pee-Wee Herman.  Really, the only things that I ever did well at in music class prior to the sixth grade were the days in which we watched music related films such as "Annie", "Peter and the Wolf", and "The Wizard of Oz".  How could anybody fail the "watching a movie" portion of the class?

By the time sixth grade arrived, I was seriously having some doubts over continuing on with music education.  I couldn't sing, I couldn't dance.  What was the point of it all, I thought?  Of course, I couldn't just drop the class because I was forced to take it until graduation.  But really, what else was there for me to do?

Ah, but wait.  Didn't I just say that sixth grade was when we were finally allowed to play instruments and try out for the concert band?  As it turned out, that little clause in our music classes for elementary school was my saving grace.  That little silver lining in a sea of blackened clouds, if you will.

It's absolutely scary how much detail I actually remember from that crisp autumn day in September 1992, but I remember exactly how we ended up choosing the instruments that we would be learning throughout the whole sixth grade year.  And, I also remember that if we chose our instruments successfully (a.k.a. choosing an instrument that we could play somewhat half-decent), our teacher would recommend us for placement in the school concert band for seventh and eighth grades.

So, all of the instruments that we could select from were scattered all over our music room, and we had a chance to try each and every one to help up make our final choice.  And, I'll admit that for some kids, choosing the right instrument was a huge challenge.

Not for me though.  The choice for me was ridiculously simple.

I couldn't even blow into the flute hard enough to even make a note, so that was out of the question.  Truth is, I didn't really even want to play the flute anyway.  My original choice was going to be the alto saxophone because I remember watching "The Simpsons" and seeing how much fun Lisa Simpson had playing her saxophone.  Unfortunately, I also had (and still have) a super killer overbite which posed a dangerous threat to the reeds used for the saxophone.  So, alto sax was out of the question, as were clarinets, oboes, and any other instrument that required reeds.

(Which was just as well, since in elementary school, most of the "mean kids" played the woodwind instruments.  And who wanted to share the concert stage with the mean kids anyway?)

I didn't even attempt to try the trumpet.  While trumpets were an awesome instrument, I knew that it wasn't going to be MY awesome instrument.  Just as well.  I played the trumpet horribly because I didn't like the way the valves were configured on them.

I also avoided the trombone.  It was hard enough trying to learn the notes with valves...when you added the slide into the mix, that was downright confusing!  I give kudos to those kids who did manage to ace the trombone.

So, this left me with only three options.  Percussion, Tuba, Baritone.

I thought percussion would have been the best choice for me.  After all, how many people don't love banging on things with sticks?  Problem was that I lacked the rhythm to keep in time with the music.  Plus, you really had to master the right way to hold a drumstick, and unfortunately, I never did quite get the hang of it.

And, while I could play a tuba quite well, I loathed the idea of lugging that thing home with me every other week to practice.  Tubas are very heavy things, you know.

So, that caused me to pick the baritone - the tuba's younger, smaller brother.  It was almost as if it were made for me to play.  And, on top of all that, I was the only kid in my whole sixth grade class who wanted to play the baritone, so I guess I could say that it was fate.

Of course, choosing the baritone was one thing.  Actually getting to play the one I wanted to play was a different thing altogether.  You see, when I was in the sixth grade, I was the only one who played baritone.  And there were four different baritones available to play.  Unfortunately, there were three other baritone players in the seventh and eighth grades, and they had called dibs on the first three baritones.  So, I ended up with Baritone #4.

And Baritone #4 was something that almost looked like a baritone, only it had turned red with rust, had dents and indentations all around it, and had a permanently closed spit valve.

In short, it was the baritone that only a mother...or a music enthusiast could love.  And certainly, many members of the concert band made fun of me because I played such a pitiful looking instrument, even though it wasn't my fault that I got stuck with it.  It was an old instrument, likely around since the school opened up in the 1950s.  It had been battered and bruised from years of immature grade school students lacking the ability to take care of it properly.  Even worse, my baritone was slightly smaller than the others in the school, and the other baritone players would tease me by saying that it was perfect because it was "a baby baritone for a big baby".

(Yeah...that's one thing that my classmates should fear if they try anything at my grade school reunion.  I remember EVERYTHING...)

But you know, aesthetics aside, there was absolutely nothing wrong with my battered, broken baritone.  Sure, it looked like something the cat dragged in...but it still played beautiful music.  And, my dad actually did the school a favour in treating the spit valve with a chemical that allowed me to open it back up again.  Why, I reckon he saved the school from having to throw the baritone away. 

And, the smaller size of the baritone made it much easier to carry!  Why, I say there never was a finer baritone!

I guess you could say that the baritone that I played in sixth grade was very symbolic when it comes to my own life.  I myself have been battered and bruised by people who weren't mature enough to know how to treat others with respect, and I was made to feel inferior from the other kids because I didn't dress in the latest fashions, or because I didn't style my hair like the others (basically my hair styling back then involved wearing a toque for hours on end), or because I chose to wear track pants instead of jeans for a long period of time.  Believe it or not, I was actually told to act my age and not my shoe size.  Talk about stretching.

(Especially since my massive feet ensured me that my age WAS my shoe size until I turned twelve.)

The point is that I gave the battered baritone a chance, and it ended up being the best thing ever.  And, I'm sure if more people would give everyone that same respect, they might be surprised to learn that they click too.

As for the baritone?  I liked it so much, I kept playing it straight through until eighth grade graduation.  Everyone in the school learned not to take Baritone #4.  That was reserved strictly for me and me alone.  It got me through the trips to the Lions Music Festival, it serviced me well through several school concerts.  And it was the very baritone that I played when I saved the spring concert by playing the baritone solo in "Ash Lawn Echoes" when the other kid who made fun of me for playing the "baby baritone" flaked out on the concert just hours before it started.

As I said.  I remember EVERYTHING.  And yes, our elementary school colours really were royal blue and Sunkist orange.