Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

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What I am is what I am…

Minutes after meeting legendary CBS newsman Bill Plante, I was throwing up in the opulent bathroom of the Michigan Avenue Hilton.

It likely had more to do with the several whiskey waters I had tossed back that evening (a little rugged for a 20-year-old Coors Light drinker) than the excitement of meeting Mr. Plante but still, I’d just shaken hands and exchanged pleasantries with a reporter I’d watched on the national news for years.

It was the 1980’s and I was in Chicago for the Society of Professional Journalists (then Sigma Delta Chi) convention. Three of us officers of our university’s chapter made the trip to learn about journalism ethics, meet leaders in the industry and find out if we had what it took to be journalists. We did and all went on to have careers in the field.

The Society of Professional Journalists is our country’s oldest journalism organization, promoting ethics and freedom in journalism for 108 years. It was an honor to belong to it because its members represented the reporters people trusted to tell them the truth.

I grew up during a time of great journalists. Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ed Bradley, David Brinkley, Helen Thomas, Ted Koppel, Peter Jennings, Charles Kuralt, Dan Rather, Anna Quindlen, Barbara Walters. We tuned into their broadcasts and read their articles to find out what was happening in our world. They had access to people and places we didn’t so they could go in and ask the questions we wanted to but couldn’t. That was their job – to be our eyes and ears and voices and we trusted them to do that.

I’m proud of the years I spent as a reporter and news director and hope during that time, people regarded me as an ethical journalist who reported the facts.  

Once trusted news outlets and reporters are taking a big hit in credibility these days and President Trump decries “fake news” on a daily basis. In the old days, you could back up your facts with film footage or audio clips or photographs. There was always the chance those materials could be tampered with but the technology wasn’t as readily available to do that as it is today. Now anyone with Photoshop or a video editing app can turn out altered imagery and post it online in minutes for the world to see.

So when it comes to news, if you can’t trust what you see, hear or read, what can you trust? 

Your common sense.

Fake news reels you in because it usually contains just enough truth to make you think it MIGHT be plausible and that little bit of doubt makes you overlook the misinformation and inaccuracies. We’re in such a rush to know, know, KNOW everything that we don’t take the time to step back and use our common sense. 

It’s your right to believe what you want to believe. But wouldn’t you rather believe something that was TRUE?

There are still good, ethical journalists out there who are doing their damnedest to tell us the truth. We just have to be open to hearing it.

Where do you get your news? What media outlets do YOU trust?

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Our mail gets delivered mid-morning, brought in and sorted at noon. Bills to the computer room, junk mail to the garbage and personal correspondence to the kitchen table where it waits, unopened, until after work. When I can relax and enjoy it like the special treat it is.  

I email and text, like everyone else. And I handwrite letters. Because cursive is a beautiful way to say what you want to say.

Whether it’s telling a secret…

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sharing big news…

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or just saying “You should be here!”

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The time we take to smooth down the paper, get the right pen, choose our words and physically form them on the page adds weight to our message and a personal touch to its delivery. In an age when a thought can be typed, sent, read and deleted in seconds, handwriting gives us the gift of a conversation that can be relived over and over again.

January 23, 2016 is National Handwriting Day.

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That should last me the week...

That should last me the week…

Fifty percent of my household didn’t read a single book last year.

That was my husband. Early in our relationship, he eyed the overflowing bookshelves in my apartment and said, “I don’t read.”

“You’re illiterate? I can teach you,” I offered.

“I know HOW to read. I just don’t read books.”

I don’t know how this marriage has survived so long.

I was raised by readers. My sister’s a reader as are all of my closest friends. I’ve carted favorite books thousands of miles, been late countless times because I couldn’t put a good book down, and if given the choice between buying a dinette set or a comfortable chair and a reading lamp, I will eat dinner over the kitchen sink…then go sit in my chair and read. People who don’t read puzzle me.

A recent Pew Center Research Poll shows that 23 percent of adults didn’t read a single book in 2013. That’s up from 16 percent in 1990 and 8 percent in 1978. And according to the National Endowment for the Arts, only 47% of Americans say they read a book for pleasure in 2012.

Books give us knowledge, insight, inspiration, ideas, truths, lies, instructions, humor, emotional release, a chance to dream, an opportunity to escape, a place to go even if it’s just in our heads. Why WOULDN’T you read one?

RIF (Reading is Fundamental) was still a fairly new literacy program in the early 1970’s when I was learning how to read but its message was already solid: knowing how to read was the key to unlocking a world of doors and it wasn’t just a useful skill, it could also be FUN. I believed that as a kid; now as a bigger kid, I still believe it.

Maria Keller does, too. Maria’s a 13-year-old from Minneapolis, MN who founded her own non-profit organization to promote literacy. When she was 8, she started collecting used books and since then, with the help of thousands of people around the country, her organization Read Indeed has given 1 million books to schools, hospitals and community centers in 30 states and more than a dozen foreign countries. What can you say? The kid likes to read.

Anyone can spread the joy of reading. I recently received some literary love from my 9-year-old nephew who said, “Hey, I got you something” and handed me this:

Kid-approved reading material

Kid-approved reading material

It came from his school book fair; I also got a complimentary Minions’ poster and pencil eraser. Did you know that “Bello” is a popular greeting among Minions and that “Poopaye” is how they say goodbye? True that. I read it in a book.

Read any good books lately? Find me on Goodreads and we can compare notes.

The more you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss

Today, It Takes All Kinds of Kinds

Why not every day, huh?

Dead Morty opened their only sold-out show with a cover of the Go-Go’s “We Got The Beat”. Interesting choice for a trio whose only female member was a drummer who could neither sing nor drum, although she enthusiastically did both for the entire set. The keyboard player was one-handed; he was stubborn, not disabled, and had to be coerced to perform. The guitar player was a veteran rocker who head banged with the neck-cracking precision of a Pez dispenser. The crowd roared as Dead Morty rocked the stage for nearly three minutes at the end of which the drummer thrust her sticks skyward and screamed, “We love you, Seattle!”

Experience Music Project (EMP) made me a rock god. It can make you one, too.

Swept up from the minute you walk in.

Swept up from the minute you walk in.

EMP is three floors of pure pop culture awesomeness with a two-story tornado of stringed instruments, the massive Sky Church with its 70-foot tall ceiling, and galleries featuring everything from Jimi Hendrix’s smashed guitar to Data’s uniform from Star Trek to special effects props from classic horror movies.

I like museums where you can touch things. This summer a museum guard chastised me for touching the glass over a painting. This fall a museum volunteer pointed me toward a room full of instruments and said “Play!”

EMP’s third floor is home to the Sound Lab and On Stage. The museum’s organizers understood that the best way to experience music is to actually make it. The Sound Lab introduces you to the physical creation of music through interactive displays with electric guitars, keyboards, and mixing consoles. On Stage takes it a step further and invites you to not only create music but to do it under hot spotlights in front of a cheering crowd. The only way it gets more real is if you join an actual band.

Sky Church, where you can worship everything music and movies.

Sky Church, where you can worship everything music and movies.

We wandered over to On Stage with curiosity, not intent. Neal, who has shoulder-length grey hair and started his own rock band after the age of 50, opened the door. “Come check it out,” he invited.

My husband, smiling, shook his head. “We could at least look,” I said.

The door shut behind us. The room was soundproofed and had a stage, spotlights, curtain, instruments, amps and simulated screaming fans. It was a concert waiting to happen, waiting for us to make it happen. Neal gave us the spiel: pick a band name, pick a song, pick an instrument, perform. Be as crazy as you want; nobody can see or hear you.

My husband was not ready to make an ass of himself. I was already sidling over to the drum set while Neal was still convincing Jay that it would be quick, painless and potentially fun. He even offered to sit in and play guitar with us. By then, I had dropped my coat on the floor in the corner and was sitting with my foot on the bass pedal and the drumsticks in my hands.

“What’s your band name?” Neal asked, as he fired up the equipment.

“Dead Morty.” Jay shook his head at me again. Morty is the custom mini-bike he built. It doesn’t run right now. Hence, Dead Morty.

“Right on, I like it,” said Neal. He ran down the short list of songs we could choose from. “We Got The Beat” was the newest addition and also the shortest. Jay acquiesced that two minutes forty seconds probably wouldn’t kill him. Then the lights came up, the music played, and we friggin’ rocked it.

Dead Morty: Live at EMP

Dead Morty: Live at EMP

Neal declined to mention that a video of your On Stage performance plays on two large flatscreens as you exit the room. A family of four was laughing at our footage before they stepped inside for their own three minutes of fame. I consider them groupies.

Our place in rock history was immortalized in a poster of Dead Morty live at EMP and two concert tickets from our one and only sold-out show. Those were crazy times, on stage, living the life. Yeah, I’m thinking reunion tour.

If you had the chance to play rock god, would you take it?

All right, all right, they're MINE!

All right, all right, they’re MINE!

I have an autographed picture of Steppenwolf, a guitar pick caught at a Tesla concert, a t-shirt from the Lilithfair music festival. These are not the trappings of a country music fan. Because country music is not my thing. Except that I get paid to play it.

For the past nine months, I’ve hosted a morning radio show on a hot country station. Some people still can’t believe I’m doing it. Some days I’m one of them. It’s not totally inconceivable; my first deejay job 25 years ago was at a country station. For three years, I clocked in and played Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Tanya Tucker. Then I clocked out and listened to INXS, Motley Crue and the Violent Femmes. Work music didn’t come home, home music didn’t go to work. It was all very nice and tidy that way.

The first seven months of my latest radio gig was just like that. Then I noticed several country songs mysteriously appeared on my iPod. WTH? I don’t listen to country music at home. A quick flip through my playlists revealed to my horror that apparently now I do. And if my Top 25 Most Played list is to be believed, I listen to it A LOT.

Before you run out and buy me a cowboy hat and a shiny silver belt buckle, let me clarify – I don’t like ALL country music. Some of the lyrics still make me cringe and my twang tolerance level varies but there are a growing number of country artists whose inspiration is decidedly un-country.

If you’re a music purist, get ready to call for my head on a turntable because I’ve got news for you: there’s no such thing as pure music. The first drummers got their inspiration from raindrops falling on hollow logs. Rap draws from rock, rock pulls from gospel, alternative channels jazz, and Justin Bieber? Well, I don’t know where the hell he’s getting his stuff from but the point is that musicians find inspiration everywhere, regardless of genre. And so do music lovers.

So today I might be tapping my cowboy boots to Brad Paisley (yes, I now own a pair. O.K., two pair. Don’t judge me, they’re comfortable). But tomorrow I could be crooning to Etta James. And the day after that, banging my head to Metallica. Because when you’re deejaying your life’s soundtrack, you need a big album collection.

If you want to dive into country music, here are my top 5 picks (in no particular order) with which to test the waters: Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart“; Brad Paisley, “Southern Comfort Zone“; Zac Brown Band, “The Wind“; Dierks Bentley, “Home“; and Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round“.

What are you listening to these days that you never thought you would be?

I live my life with an angel on my shoulder, guided by the light of loved ones lost.

I live my life with an angel on my shoulder, guided by the light of loved ones lost.

He’s a World War II veteran, in his 70’s,
and like many of that era, unfailingly polite.
“Please” for more ice chips,
“Thank you” for the bedpan,
“My apologies” for hitting the call button by mistake.
The lone occupant of a room with two beds,
he takes the one by the window
so he can watch the traffic.
He barely dents the mattress, is thin but not bony,
skin wrinkled but not pale and delicate.
He’s golden brown, a boy of many summers,
the same shade as my grandfather who’s a farmer
and I wonder if this man’s the same.
His hair, what’s left of it, is coarse and white
and his blue eyes are pale yet alert.
But it’s his arms that I study as I check his water pitcher.
They rest atop the sterile white coverlet like
fading portraits on a clean canvas.
Forearms covered in pictures, tattoos whose clear outlines
are muddied, the colors bled from age and the elements.
There are dates and a woman’s name,
a pin-up girl like the nose art of a bomber,
a dragon’s head that now spews a dim spark of its former flame.
While the old man sleeps, I try to picture him
as a strong young man whose eyes are clear,
whose heart pumps steadily, whose bare arms are unadorned.
Yet to travel to those places and see those things
that prompt him to wear his history forever on his skin.