Saturday, December 27, 2008

What a Princess Wants...

Christmas has once again come and gone. Presents exchanged, gifts opened and love received. Santa didn’t bring me the Millennium Falcon this year, but was generous enough to fill my Doctor Who and Muppet Show requests. I know it’s all “PC” and stuff to be grateful for what you have but it’s in our nature to always want a little bit more. Wishes can sometimes be extravagant, like a gold bedspread or a Star Wars toy, or they can be simple, like requests for world peace, universal harmony and an unclogged toilet drain. For many of us, wishes are dreams that help get us through the day, filling our thoughts with flights of fantasy and hope. For others, wishes are just wants of something to have. A desire to simply possess what has yet to be acquired. Like a princess in her castle, looking for another prince that’s a little better than the current model or just desiring a extra diamond on her ring.

Caroline Kennedy grew up in the public eye as the Princess of Camelot. A slideshow posted on Huffington Post shows Caroline evolving from a little girl playing with her puppy to a bubblegum-blowing graduate to an urban socialite. In every image, Ms. Kennedy is very much a princess, echoing back to a time which was never as innocent as the country thought. Like ancient fairy tales, we believe in princesses because we always have. They exist in all mythologies and into the present day. Princesses exist because we want them to.

The interesting thing about princesses is they tend to be perceived better as an image. Beauty, perpetual style, grace and composure makes for a great magazine cover. Glossy photos, a perfect smile and elegance which could steal the desire of any man. However, pictures are just pictures and interviews are just calculated PR. There is only imagination, no reality. Thoughts are enough for many people, which is why those moronic magazines continue to fly off shelves week after week. If a copy of US Weekly or OK! is in your bathroom – THIS IS YOU.

Every man at some time in their life wants to marry a princess. If they say they don’t/didn't, they’re either full of it or gay. Come on, nobody fantasizes about marrying a dirtbag, despite continual occurrences of this relationship. As a confessed dater of both and the potential father of another, my “inner Linus” definitely prefers the princess. For those of you who are not familiar with real, live princesses, I’ll share what knowledge I have of this curious species and hope it provides insight into the intentions of Ms. Kennedy.

Princesses are smart, so smart in fact that many tend to hide their full intelligence, preferring to utilize it when it is most applicable. The can fix a broken toilet, they just don’t want to. Trust me, if they have a Master’s Degree, they understand the basics of household plumbing. Princesses are graceful, dancing not only with movement but also with words. Kind phrases go a long way with a great smile and flashing eyelashes. They understand the subtleness and warmth of a delicate kiss. Relishing being the center of attention with an attitude of a playful kitten, once they have your eye it’s on to the next prize. It is important to note even kittens have claws.

Princesses are an ambitious bunch. Whether the goal is love, a promotion or finding assistance with the plumbing, they always seem to be planning ahead. Princesses are rarely, if ever, hermits. To hang with a princess one has to endure social engagements with the fortitude of a marathon runner. There’s always more and there will be even more after that. A princess rarely retires to a place of contemplation other than their room, which tends to have a mystery to it like a locked jewelry box. If you’re looking to spend your later years in the Shire or in a cave like Obi-Wan, they will never come. There is always a new challenge, a new prize to place in the jewelry box. Once they have their prize, a princess always finds another to attain. They just can't quite get satisfaction.

By announcing her intention to seek the New York Senate appointment, Ms. Kennedy has forced to public to reexamine the idealized image it has had of her for four decades. Is she really the daughter of Camelot, wanting only to continue the legacy of her family? Or is she just an opportunist who desires the Senate appointment merely because it is something she does not have? Maybe, like many princesses, she’s become bored with being a socialite. Kennedy’s blundering PR tour across New York certainly suggests one of the latter reasons. Her interviews are evasive and vague at best, implying an inner surprise that a princess such as herself would be subjected to such menial vetting. The New York Times reported Kennedy cut off an interviewer on Saturday. Not quite the stuff of political savvy but perfect behavior for a princess who thinks she is entitled to what is hers by right and not merit.

I didn’t receive my Senate appointment for Christmas. I didn’t expect to but thought Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich might consider it if he woke up one day in a giggly mood. I guess I just wasn’t rich enough, influential enough, manipulative enough or cute enough for the job. I didn’t fit the Caroline Kennedy type, although my record collection is way cooler than hers. Other than the aforementioned qualities, I think our resumes with respect to a U.S. Senate seat are pretty much the same.

Caroline Kennedy’s ambition is taking its toll on her long-crafted image. She no longer looks graceful, but cautious. Her smile is weathered and composure cracked. If this is the fate of Camelot’s Princess, it is a sad one indeed. No one wants to watch a princess fall. Although I’ve been critical of princesses in this piece, I never stated I did not love them. To have the affections of a princess, even for a short time, is like watching a blooming flower rising from the morning sun or holding a Grecian urn and pondering its true meaning. The experience stays with you, becomes the stuff of dreams, cursing you with joy. It would be a shame to have those thoughts shattered like priceless porcelain on a concrete floor.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Adam's 2008 Serialized Christmas Special

Hey all,

The following is a transcript of the my serialized Christmas special posted on Facebook. It may not be the best Christmas special ever, but it sure beats the stuff crapped out on Lifetime, ABC Family and the Hallmark Channel. Use your imagination to fill in the gaps. Enjoy! Special thanks to Holly, Jason, Dan and Chris for commenting on this while it was being posted.

Adam is dammit! Uncle Billy lost the bank deposit money!

Adam fired Uncle Billy, committed him to the asylum, slammed a White Russian and is going to find a way to save Christmas!

Adam is contacting the Guardians of the Christmas Spirit to ask their help in saving his Christmas. Will Mr. Hankey, Andy Williams, KISS and Ted McGinley help out?

Adam is sad to learn Mr. Hankey is stuck in the sewers of Chicago politics and KISS is playing pinball with Rufer. It's up to Andy Williams and Ted McGinley!

Adam is shocked! Bernard Madoff stole Uncle Billy's bank deposit money, the lifetime savings of thousands of people but also the spirit of Christmas itself!

Adam has been assured Ted McGinley and Andy Williams are going to find a way to stop Bernie Madoff and save Christmas!

Adam saw Ted McGinley tap into the public Yule Log TV feed. He’s got to have a plan. Never count out Ted McGinley!

Adam is watching Ted McGinley synchronize the Yule Log station with Andy Williams rocking out on “Christmas Hero”. Will Andy's voice be enough to stop Madoff?

Adam is amazed to see KISS return from Rufer’s house and join the Andy Williams choir. The Gods of Thunder and the Saint of Christmas – together!

Adam is seeing the power of Andy Williams and KISS separating Bernard Madoff from his money! Wait! Mr Hankey's blocking the toilet-Madoff can’t flush the money down!

Adam is grateful the Guardians of Christmas returned the hope and magic of the holidays away from evil Bernie Madoff, exiling him to the sewers with Mr. Hankey.

Adam is happy to have such wonderful friends and family. God bless us, every one!

Monday, December 22, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is...(Part Four)

I’ve never sent a Christmas card. Not a single one. They always seemed too superficial to me. My “inner Linus” always just said no. I could never send out something generic nor did I have the time to personalize a card to every person I cared about. I’ve tried a handful of times, but there was never time enough to express how I felt. About six years ago, I was living in a town I didn’t like and in a relationship that was disintegrating into dust. I was out of work and with little to no prospects of finding any. During this time, I wrote a Christmas card. It wasn’t Hallmark material but it expressed more emotion than I saw in a sentimental shoebox greeting. The following is the unedited contents of this piece. If you never get a Christmas card from me, this is the best I can do to suffice:

So it is Christmas – the birth of catharsis.
I have nothing in my house that reeks of holiday cheer
Except a Wal-Mart ad, the cold Minnesota air
And isolated Christmas cards scattered upon the living room floor.

Everything I see on TV tells me Christmas is here
Yet there’s so little cheer
For the hungry, homeless and lonely
The oppressed, suppressed and depressed.
Everybody needs more candy.
I still want a hula-hoop.

A million and a half people live on the streets in America.
I want to meet all of them.
Tell them “Happy Christmas”
Let them laugh and play
Use their imagination
Feel the sensation of a world filled with love.
God knows I want to be there.

To those who are sad,
I wish you laughter.
To those who are drunk
Raise a toast to the ones you cherish.
Or if you don’t have any, raise your glass with me
For I will drink with you.

Those whom I’ve had a mere acquaintance
A handshake or a passing, pleasant stare
Forgotten thoughts or letters
Friendships forsaken or a shattered romance
Know that my dreams are often filled with you.

To the leaders whose hands
Hold the weight of the world
Remember the children beneath the Christmas tree.
Hold your uneven hands from pressing the button
Embrace your enemy for they are your brother.

My hair grows gray – strays away
Floating into the haze of the past.
No-one was dead and I had yet to fall in love.
As a child – holiday’s baby
It is a special time.
Christmas is everything.
Grandpa sitting in his chair, smoking a pipe
Grandma in the kitchen, baking the turkey just right.
Dad’s dancing with history and Granddad’s theory.
Mom sits on the couch with a glowing smile and
Aspirations of basking beneath the light
Of a shiny Christmas star.

Santa came down the chimney
Fresh cookies lying on the dinner table
Presents surrounding the Christmas tree
Underneath an angel’s light.
Pea salad, oyster stew and green bean casserole
Clich├ęs now but then it was new.

After you tuck your children in their beds
Before you step inside the sheets
Hang your stockings and your heads high.
Make your fireplaces shine bright
Be in love with life
For it’s Christmas time!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is...(Part Three)

“We are spirits in the material world” – The Police
“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” – Janis Joplin
“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” – Spike Jones
“Gimme Gimme Gimme” – ABBA

Everybody wants something – it’s just human nature. Even Gandhi wanted a robe. With the economy at the mercy of the Incredible Hulk in an extra-poopy mood and Mr. Burns taking over the body of a real, live old guy (Bernard Madoff), it’s hard to ask for that one special present when so many may go without. However, most of us will be getting something and I don’t think it’s too out of line for those of us who are going to get gifts to have the gumption to request something we really want. Not any of that “world peace”, “universal harmony” or “stop polluting mother earth” jargon – I’m talking about stuff. Tangible, yummy, feel good about yourself stuff. As we get older, we tend to ask for less and get that indispensable gift which looks perfect next to the Chia-Pet at next summer’s garage sale. It isn’t the gift-giver’s fault that they gave you a George Foreman Grill, a Ginsu Knife set or a DVD of the worst movie of the year (“The Love Guru” – it’s what I always wanted!). The fault lies solely with our humility. If we do not ask, we are doomed to receive what our family and friends think we want. Geez, have we forgotten what it’s like to be a kid at Christmas?

It’s time to channel that “inner Linus” again and remember what Christmas was all about. Who doesn’t remember the arrival of the J.C. Penny Christmas Catalog and the Sears Wishbook in the mailbox? These sacred documents contained everything you could possibly desire, accompanied by full color pictures showcasing material enlightenment. I would peruse these catalogs endlessly, folding pages and marking toys that would make my Christmas day. Obviously, many expectations were unrealistic. Nobody really expects to get a Lionel train, a track-racing set, TOPPS baseball cards and a Nintendo. But it was a wonderful feeling to dream of the possibility. Santa would usually make some of our dreams come true – with a little help from Mom and Dad.

Somewhere in the process of growing up, many of us lost this fantasy, preferring to receive monetary gifts to spend as we please. For two decades, I subscribed to this philosophy. I liked money (who doesn’t) and enjoyed getting the opportunity to buy things myself. However, as time went by, I realized I had lost something. I no longer had the feeling that my family knew me well enough to give me anything besides the cash I’d been requesting since I was 12. I forgot how great the feeling was of someone knowing you well enough that they could get you a cool gift without incessant prodding. Instead, I began an annual holiday purchase known as “the Christmas gift to myself.” After all, at least I knew what I wanted. Last year, my gift was “the Von Erich Family Board Game”, which combined the excitement of pro-wrestling with a cribbage board. Sound fun? Hey, at least it looks good on display. Don’t get all “distorting the vision of Linus” on me, I know many of you do this too. I decided to suspend my “Christmas gift to myself” this year with hope someone will actually find it in their hearts to tell dear old Santa what good little Adam wants for Christmas. That said, I’ve made my list and checked it twice. I know I’m a little bit naughty, but I hope I’ve been a little bit nice. Family, the choice is yours.

Muppet memorabilia made before Jim Henson’s death. I’m a huge fan of the “Muppet Show.” One of my fondest childhood memories was being taken to an exhibit of the Muppets by my aunt. I must have been five or so at the time but I still remember being in awe of the world Jim Henson created. I’d like anything from glasses to actual muppets. I have a copy of the “Muppet Show” board game. Other than that, my collection is pretty empty. I had a colorform set once, but it’s long since gone. There was plenty of Muppet product in the 1970’s and any relic of this magic time would be a joy. Beware, the EBay listings are longer than this year’s housing foreclosures.

Literary plates/etchings. When I was going to college in St. Cloud, a bookstore in town had an 80-year old book of Dante’s Inferno with illustrated plates. I didn’t have the money to buy it then (20 bucks!) and regret it still. I also would like a nice, old copy of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” with full depictions of Blake’s plates that accompanied the poems. The older, the better.

A stuffed “Bill the Cat”. Made about twenty years ago with a disclaimer that Bill would fall apart if touched. I’ve always been a big “Bloom County” fan and a stuffed “Bill” would complete my collection. If I get it, I’ll put Bill on top of the Christmas tree instead of the star. Seriously, I promise.

A U.S. Senate Seat. I know this is reaching, but a guy’s gotta dream. An action figure of “The Stay-Puft Marshmellow Man” would be a good substitute.

The Millennium Falcon. This is the one item I would have bought for myself, but I refuse to purchase it. I’ve wanted a Millennium Falcon for 28 years now but Santa passes me by. Everyone has that one present they never received. Be it an Easy Bake Oven, a Malibu Barbie or an Exorcist Elmo, there is one gift for everyone that has yet to be received. Without doubt or exception, this is mine. My parents tried very hard to get me a Falcon when I was young. In 1980, it was all I asked for, but it was the hottest toy in the world. In a time before Amazon and EBay, parents had to find a toy at a store in order to buy it for their children. My parents assumed they didn’t need to order from a catalog, which was usually used for specialty items like the aforementioned baseball cards and train sets. As Christmas came closer, they couldn’t find a Millennium Falcon at any local store. The fastest ship in the galaxy was a hot item and the most desirable toy in the “Star Wars” universe. Money wasn’t an issue, but locating the Falcon was. My parents left one night in pursuit of it, only to come home from several suburban toy stores tired and discouraged. Being good parents, they broke the news to me that Han Solo’s ship was nowhere to be found. But they had every intention of making their little boy happy on Christmas. Under the tree, there was a gigantic, rectangular box. When it came time, I unwrapped it with anticipation. It had to be something from “Star Wars.” They were they only toys I wanted. What could it be? An AT-AT? An X-Wing Fighter? A Wompa? I tore apart the wrapping paper like a carnivore, my heart beating and mind flashing maybe – just maybe – there was a Millennium Falcon. As the paper was torn apart, I saw a gigantic “Star Wars” logo. As the wrapping was removed, I held in my hands the coveted “Rebel Transport” ship.

What? What is this? It’s big but it looks like a giant torpedo. The obviously expensive toy in my hands made me cold. This wasn’t what I wanted and I was pretty sure I didn’t ask for it. The “Rebel Transport?” The ship the rebel alliance used to flee Darth Vader on the planet Hoth, it didn’t exactly inspire imaginative play. Let’s create one of the saddest scenes in “Empire!” You, too can flee the evil empire with your rag-tag group of action figures that don’t figure into the plot. Luke and R2? They took off to Dagobah to find Yoda. Han, Leia, Chewie and C3PO? They were on the Millennium Falcon. Not much left to play with. Just an over-expensive case for action figures. I knew my parents had the best of loving intentions with their gift and I played with it the best I could. One day later, my sole enjoyment from the Rebel Transport was miraculously being able to put the front and back panels back together. Fly, white turd, fly! If only it was that enjoyable.

Decades later, Hasbro has released several commemorative “Star Wars” toys. Last year, I bought my son, Shane a TIE-Fighter with detachable wings. Similar to the classic 80’s toy down to the inability to open the cockpit without breaking it, Shane and I had hours of fun staging battles. Surprisingly, it’s still intact and ready for another fight. In 2008, Hasbro released their most ambitious “retro” toy: you guessed it – a Millennium Falcon! Not just a replica of the classic toy nor a copy of the Falcon released just three years ago, this Millennium Falcon has everything! It talks, it lights up and even includes Han and Chewie! What more could a boy ask for?

A comparison: the Millennium Falcon in action:

The Rebel Transport on its final voyage:

I realize the Millennium Falcon is expensive, selling for as much as $160 at Toys R’ Us and as low as $100 on Amazon. Unlike the 1980’s, however, this time it is readily available. A casualty of our shaky economy, many stores such as Wal-Mart and Target ordered many of these toys in anticipation of another blockbuster-shopping season. Sadly, many Falcons remain in stores, indicative of the lack of the “Generation X” market willing to spend on itself. It’s possible the toy will reach as low as $80 before year’s end, reminiscent of the endless SUV’s discounted at car dealerships. Maybe someone will find it in their heart to rescue the Falcon from its department store prison and deliver it safely to the rebel base at the Adam Koeppe household. I promise that it will be removed from its protective box and played with by loving, enthusiastic children young and old. Help me, Santa. You’re my only hope.


Santa, can you hear me?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is...(Part Two)

With the economy riding on a rollercoaster designed by Crazy Harry, it’s hard to celebrate Christmas if there is little to give besides peace on earth and goodwill to men. Santa’s riding his sleigh filled with eight tiny bailouts, but no concrete relief for those waiting by the chimney. But fear not, true believers! I’ve got the perfect gift – one that keeps on giving. It’s that time of year again! Time for the fourth annual Adam Koeppe Christmas music compilation! Known by many as the “Tick” CD’s, it’s a mix of all the songs that I’ve liked throughout the year. I’ve downsized to one disc this year as I just didn’t have the time to listen to as much as I’d like (see kids, life). I hope quality makes up for quantity. I guess that’s for the listener to judge. Available for pick-up this Saturday at “Friend Christmas” in Waverly, Minnesota, I hope everyone enjoys the tunes. I’ve decided to provide liner notes this year and links to the songs if they are available. Most of the links are videos, please give them a look. If you are not attending “Friend Christmas” and would like a copy, let me know. I’ll gladly send you one. I can’t accept any money or I will surely violate the ancient “fair use” laws, which are violated every second on You Tube. That said, I’ll gladly give you a piece of my 2008 musical muse.

“To the Taxmobile” by Lenlow. A phenomenal mash-up sent to me by Ucis. Combining the old “Batman” theme, “Taxman” by the Beatles and “Wipeout” by the Surfaris, “Taxmobile” succeeds in celebrating all three songs without diluting any of their punch. A true underground classic, the best song I’ve heard all year and a great intro track.

Hop a Plane” by Tegan and Sara. By far the best song off their CD “The Con”, “Hop a Plane” is one of those two-minute pop songs that just sticks in your brain and makes you push repeat over and over. Also proof uber-production is overrated. Simplistic, complex and melodic; the happiest and saddest song of the year. “All I want to hear is that you’re not mine.”

“Lie Down Here and Be My Girl” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. From the album “Dig! Lazarus! Dig!,” Cave delivers his best song in years and one of the few that is upbeat in tempo. Cave’s lyrics and voice still exude menace, showing he has no intent on slowing down after almost thirty years of making music. Is it really that long? Geez, I’m old!

“Reflections” – The Chambers Brothers. Considered a “one-hit wonder” with the song “Time Has Come Today”, this 1974 release from the album “Unbonded” is a cover of the Supremes classic. Amazing, soulful vocals make this cover an undiscovered classic. An album truly worth seeking out and an artist that needs more credit.

“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – Patti Smith. From the album “12.” A cover of the 80’s Tears For Fears classic, Smith removes the synthesizers and uses a traditional five-piece band. Emphasizing lyrics over style, Smith strips the song bare with her rendition yet still maintains the melody of the original. Atmospheric and prophetic, “Everybody” is a song waiting to be recognized as a 20th Century standard. “I can’t stand this indecision, buried with a lack of vision.” ‘Nuff said.

“Swinging on a Star” – The Four Freshmen. Combining the harmonies of the Freshmen with a cartoon voice I can’t place, the song takes me back to the soda fountain days of the forties and fifties. Who doesn’t want to “carry moonbeams home in a jar?” Grab your date and dance!

“Lullaby for the Taken” – Kimya Dawson. Dawson’s poetic lyrics are humorous and sad. Gaining interest from the use of her songs in the film, “Juno”, all of her albums are great and worth owning. Another great case against uber-production. Sometimes all you need is a four track and inspiration. “Always remember I love you.” Timeless, yet heartfelt.

“Give Him a Great Big Kiss” – The Shangri-Las. “When I say I’m in love you best believe I’m in love-LUV.” One of the best opening lines – period. On a par with the classic “Leader of the Pack” and produced by the late Shadow Morton, this upbeat ditty uses the similar “call and response” motif in “Leader of the Pack”. Sexy before sexy was common, this song was covered by the New York Dolls in the 1970’s. Please check out the video link - it rocks!

“Classic Cars” – Bright Eyes. Conor Oberst may have his critics (my wife included) but his cult following is vindicated in a song that could stand alongside anything in Bruce Springsteen’s or Tom Petty’s canon. A great ballad in an era with few, it reeks of a black and white film sequence filled with angst and lost love. “The best county singers die in the back of classic cars.”

“48 Crash” – Suzi Quatro. Why isn’t the queen of Glam mentioned in the company of Patti Smith, Joan Jett and Liz Phair? An undiscovered play on the bar jukebox and one of the first real jolts of “girl power.” Your record collection needs Suzi Quatro. However, if this song is covered by Pink, I will vomit instantaneously.

“Hazy Shade of Winter” – The Bangles. Speaking of “girl power”, how about topping Paul Simon? The Simon and Garfunkel original never sounded right. They just never were able to quite rock, not even with “Mrs. Robinson.” The Bangles captured the immediacy of Simon’s lyrics while giving the melody the punch it needed. Sadly, The Bangles never attempted anything as ambitious again. The song is from the out of print soundtrack for “Less Than Zero”, which starred Robert Downey Jr. as an out of control drug addict. Sometimes, things come full circle. Downey is one of the biggest stars on the planet and we are definitely in a “Hazy Shade of Winter.”

“Losing Streak” – The Eels. Ironically, a song I like for its production. I’m a sucker for a piano lick, especially a happy one juxtaposed with the title. I love songs discovered by accident. They put a bounce in your day, like a ten-dollar bill showing up in your jeans. It makes your day brighter.

“People Who Died” – Jim Carroll. The poet turned punk singer whose story was chronicled in “The Basketball Diaries,” only this song and “Catholic Boy” live up to his myth. As he lists of names of his dead friends, it’s hard not to rock along with his eulogy, an incredible feat in itself. “Eddie, I miss you more than all the others. This song is for you, my brother!”

"Angelitos Negros" – Cat Power. God, Chan Marshall is talented! Another song sure to be used in a soundtrack somewhere. Full disclosure: I have no idea what this song is about as it’s sung in Spanish and I never paid attention in class. But that’s the beauty of music. You are allowed to feel, to imagine your own setting. Her voice is evocative and alluding, the music seductive. Is it a dream, or a nightmare? Like all music, it depends on the time and place you hear it.

“Dueces Wild” – Link Wray. One of the original guitar legends, Wray is an underrated master. I’d like to see the kids “Guitar Hero” to this one! Talent, pure talent.

“Another Girl, Another Planet” – The Only Ones. Predating New Wave by a few years, it’s another triumph of minimal production with maximum melody. It could be stated the punk/new wave revolution brought England out of its decade-long recession. Kids purchased music in droves during this period. Despite its reputation for nihilism, punk/new wave inspired a generation to believe they could make it. “I think I’m on another world with you.” Warren Buffett, are you taking notes?

“All I Want is You” – Barry Louis Polisar. The song which opens the film “Juno.” Folk music never gets old, especially when it’s new. Raw and immediate, innocent love is best when laid bare. This song accomplishes this without any hint of pretension. Let’s get around the campfire and sing! If you were the winter, I’d know I’d be the snow.” If you were a kiss, I know I’d be a hug.” “Hold me in your arms and swing me like the sea.” Priceless beauty, folk analogies.

“Those Were the Days” – Mary Hopkin. Produced by Paul McCartney and one of the few fruits from the Beatles’ “Apple” label, the song is more relevant now than ever. Times may be tough, but let us sing, dance and remember the good times. The song is a call to come together again. Drink, laugh and enjoy. “We’d sing and dance forever and a day. We’d live the life we choose. We’d fight and never lose.” Words to grow on.

“Something In The Air” – Thunderclap Newman. Produced by Pete Townshend in 1969 and a forgotten “one hit wonder,” it’s another song about hope during an uncertain future. There’s something about this song that just makes me want to play it again. "The revolution's here - and you know it's right."

“Kansas City Stomps” - Jelly Roll Morton. From “R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country.” I like closing with an oldie. I just dig old jazz and ragtime. If we can’t afford to dance in the bar, let’s swing in the barn!

If you can’t afford to give much this year, give the gift of music. It’s what I grew up on, riding a rocking horse listening to my Mom’s 45’s. Part of me is still there, dropping the big turntable arm and enjoying the ride. Music captures your imagination and emotions like no other medium. A CD-R costs ten cents. Feelings are priceless. Maybe dear old Santa will find room in his sleigh for just a little musical good cheer and the 2008 “Tick” CD will find its way under your tree on Christmas morning. Music is a window to the soul. It's been a privilege over the last four years to share songs that move me. I hope you enjoy it.

Santa, can you hear me?

Can you feel me near you?

Santa, can you feel me?

Can I help to cheer you?



Thursday, December 4, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is...(Part One)

With our economy struggling to find its feet in a manner resembling Keith Richards after a three-day bender, it’s hard to make a Christmas Wish List this year when so many can afford so little. However, being a kid at heart, I’ve decided to dream big and write about some of the cool stuff out there in hopes that Santa may find it in his jolly old heart to bring me a present on Christmas Eve. There’s been one thing on my mind more than anything else. It’s the hottest holiday item. It’s inspiring, durable and fun for the whole family. It’s not the Wii, a DVD or Osama Bin Elmo (it’s real, I tell you. I’ve seen it!). Change has come this Christmas and the product is Barack Obama.

When I voted for Barack Obama, I guess I thought he was pretty cool – at least cooler than John McCain. Any political expert will tell you only cool people can become president (see Kerry, Gore). Obama may be cool, but I never envisioned buying a color ceramic plate with his picture on it to place next to my Killer Klown action figure. Commemorative coins, I expected. After all, they’re a dime a dozen. T-shirts, comics, napkins and undergarments weren’t a big surprise. But a plate? One I’m not supposed to eat off? I’ve been subjected to this inane Barack Obama plate ad for a few weeks now and I’m starting to think buying the doll that wets herself is a better gift. The ad features a clean-cut, generic white guy composing a one-page letter while glancing periodically at the Obama plate for inspiration. I was amazed. I didn’t know people still wrote letters! And preplanned their content to exactly one page!

Sure, Obama is cool, inspiring and other positive adjectives, but I can’t imagine placing his image next to my “London Calling” poster, my 1/8 scale model of “The Homer” or my autographed picture of “Potsie” from “Happy Days.” Plates and coins just don’t inspire me. Being a continual consumer of pop culture memorabilia, I started to search for the right Obama product for my collection. One that could hold its own against Doctor Who, Flaming Carrot and James Dean. An item cool enough to stand next to Cerebus, William Burroughs and Frank the Bunny. I couldn’t find a single thing. Sorry, CafePress, the Obama undies just didn’t jive. Disappointed but still determined, I made a list of Barack Obama merchandise “cool” enough to reside in my house. Hopefully those hard working elves in Santa’s Toy Shop are reading this and make one of the following items before they run out of funding.

Barack Obama – The Video Game. A surefire bestseller, players would assume the role of Harvard Law School Grad Obama, who begins his political career in an impoverished Chicago community. Similar to the XBOX franchise “Fable”, every choice you make as Obama affects the game’s story and outcome. What alliances will you form? What church will you choose to attend? Players face several major confrontations using a unique word interface. Obama has a set amount of time to make one of his historic speeches. Choose the right words quickly and political prominence is yours. Struggling in your task results in too many “uhhhs”, “ummms” and “you knows”, leaving followers unconvinced. Will you inspire the audience at the 2004 Democratic National Convention? Will you tell citizens of Pennsylvania to cling to their guns and religion? Can you fend off rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain? Can you withstand interviews with Bill O’Reilly and Ellen DeGeneres? Choose your words wisely. The fate of “change" is in your hands.

Barack Obama – The Breakfast Cereal. “Barry-O’s!” Fortified with vitamins and minerals, “Barry-O’s” will get you ready for the change every new day brings. “Barry-O’s” brings all the flavors together. Imagine honey, marshmallows, strawberries, chocolate, blueberries, peanut butter, frosted shredded wheat, bananas, yogurt, oatmeal and tofu all in a wholesome whole-wheat cereal. After one bowl, you, too, can say, “Yes, we can!”

Barack Obama – The Lego Playset. “Lego Obama” will be a hit with kids of all ages. You can build and recreate exciting moments from the Democratic National Convention, the 2008 debates and election night in Chicago’s Grant Park. With additional sets, you can expand the world of “Lego Obama.” Look for the “press conference set,” the “Joe the Plumber” street scene, and even the White House! Be on the lookout for the ultra-rare “Pundit Playset” featuring Lego versions of John Stewart, Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow. Jim Pinkerton and Arianna Huffington available in random sets.

Barack Obama – The Alcoholic Beverage. “Bama Beer” will change your perception of libation. A beer with nine percent alcoholic content and made with whole-wheat hops, “Bama Beer” will get you closer to your dreams with every sip. Possessing the smoothness of its namesake and the flavor of his words, “Bama Beer” will truly let you feel that change is coming. Just a few pints will inspire faith and hope. Worried about the economy? Drink “Bama Beer!”

Barack Obama – The Vacuum Cleaner. Clean your house while Obama cleans up Washington!

Barack Obama – The Wrench Set. Need to get your hands on change? Available for pre-order at Sears.

Barack Obama – The Laundry Detergent. “Bride!” Tired of dirty politics and dirty clothes? Change comes with just one scoop!

Barack Obama – The Air Freshener. Smell the change!

Barack Obama – The Soup. Change in a can! 100 percent recyclable.

Barack Obama – The Bleu Cheese Dressing.

Barack Obama – The Ketchup/Mustard/Relish spread.

If we can afford change, then we can deal with change. That’s the Obama I want for Christmas. One that is more than just an image, but an actual President who will work day and night to get the American people out of these dismal times and pull us out of “Lego Land” and back into the real world. The choice is his. His fate is ours.

Santa? Santa?

Santa, can you hear me?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The 2008 Christmas Video Game Buying Guide!

The First Annual Christmas Video Game Buying Guide
(Why we have to suck it up and buy “Mario”)

It’s no super secret video games are expensive. At an average of fifty dollars a game, there is little wonder most parents are reluctant to part with their Santa savings on something they may know little about. Even those of us (myself included) who grew up staring into the arcade abyss cannot claim to have thorough knowledge of the genre (I grew up and had kids – it happens). I still find time to waste a few hours a week on a handful of top titles. I’ll race anyone on MarioKart Wii and completed Burnout Revenge a few months ago. Other than playing games which appeal to my kids, I’ve little knowledge of the outside gaming world of stripper-shooting-pimp-gangstas, futuristic war chiefs or chainsaw-wielding anti-heroes. Although I’ve bought a few of these games, I rarely find time to play them (kids, writing, life, the universe, etc). Like most parents, I don’t think my 11-year-old; my 3-year-old or my 21-month old is quite ready for "Grand Theft Auto" or "Gears of War." Why is it if so many parents do not want these games in their homes, kids as young as 7 demand them from St. Nick? It can’t be rebellion (little young). A desire to conform and belong? Maybe, but kids are independent these days. The best answer, I’m afraid, is as plain as the plastic machine gun sticking out of Santa’s bag of toys: the games are good.

Kid-focused games (rated E for Everyone for those keeping score) have been getting a bad wrap for quite some time – and with good reason. With the notable exception of Nintendo’s “Mario” franchise, they stink. Go ahead, parents, ask your kids. They’ll even spell it out for you: S-T-I-N-K. They’re lame, they blow chunks, and they’re just not that fun. This shoddiness has been known for some time (like 20 years) but most parents, even those who are still gamers, try to ignore it. We’d like to think our kids would enjoy jumping around as Curious George as much as we enjoy decapitating zombies in "Resident Evil" but they don’t. In fact, the “Curious George” video game epitomizes the majority of flaws in children’s titles.

In designing a kid’s video game, the software company has two principal goals in mind: recognizability/marketing ability and affordability/profitability. Software companies want to license characters that are recognizable to kids, making the titles easy sells for stores like Wal-Mart and Target. Kids (and parents) are more likely to buy something they know than something they don’t. This is why there are eight million products featuring Elmo and about three with Eloise, Olivia or Babar. Currently, there are games starring characters from the movies “Cars, “Madagascar” and “Wall-E” on the shelves. The basic reasoning for these tie-ins is that if the movies are fun, then the games must be fun also. I bought “Cars” for my son and me because the film was his favorite for the last year. We played it for approximately two hours. I would have played it longer but driving aimlessly around the virtual Radiator Springs left me needing a mental tune-up. I purchased “Curious George” for similar reasons and quit playing it after I couldn’t guide poor George out of a construction site I had no idea why he was in to begin with.

I also bought “Cars” and “Curious George” because they were cheap. There’s quite a few $19.99 “budget” kids titles on the Target shelves. They all start at $49.99 (the Mario price) but within two months, they’ve been discounted. Software companies take this pricing into account when they develop their games, spending significantly less on game design and testing, choosing to focus their energies on long-range titles like Grand Theft Auto and Halo. If you’ve ever asked yourself why many of these games make little sense and are hard to play, this is your chance to level up. Usually the first two levels of the kids’ games are fun and then the misery begins. The first levels are known in the industry as “demo” levels, designed to appeal to electronics buyers at Wal-Mart and Target. Usually the buyer will only get those stages and will be asked to make a bulk purchasing decision based upon them.

The first level for “Cars” is a race and a fun one. Lightning McQueen is easy to control and driving in the race would appeal to kids and adults who like racing games like the NASCAR series. It is after this race, that the player wants to drive McQueen off the cliff and hopes Mater is too busy harassing combines to find him. Similarly, “Curious George” begins with an appealing level in the jungle designed to highlight George’s abilities. The player jumps, climbs and swings his way in pursuit of the Man with the Yellow Hat. After this, however, George is inexplicably placed in locations such as a marketplace rooftop and the previously mentioned construction site and cannot perform half of the abilities showcased in the first level. Can you spell “lame”, George?

Software companies bank on the idea that economically conscious parents might not care how fun a game is if it’s cheap. It is twice as affordable as “Mario” and five times cheaper than the popular rhythm game, “Guitar Hero.” After all, if kids tell Mom and Dad they want “Wall-E” for Christmas, why not get it for them if it’s cheap? Incidentally, “Wall-E” is supposed to be worse than “Cars” or “George.” Most of us can remember a time when us or our children wanted a toy so bad, got it for Christmas and put it down soon after, never to be played with again, exiled to the infamous Island of Misfit Toys. The big problem with video games is the companies know this is going to happen. Kids games (with the exception of “Mario”) are rarely tested by companies for playability and overall “fun factor” in the same fashion as titles like “Grand Theft Auto.”

Testing is conducted by all software companies to ensure games play as their designers intended (no “glitches”) and to guarantee players do not become too frustrated for the wrong reasons such as wondering around aimlessly for hours looking for something they can’t see (like a gray door on a gray wall). Testing is performed extensively on titles like “Grand Theft Auto” because the company expects the game to sell millions of copies. Every aspect of the game has to work perfectly or the game (and possibly the franchise) will tank, costing the company millions of dollars. Sales of the “Grand Theft Auto”, “Halo” and “Gears of War” franchises eclipse 20 million whereas sales of “Curious George” might not even clear 50 thousand. Sadly, most software companies just don’t care about releasing quality kids’ games and do not allocate the same time to test the games in the same fashion as the best sellers. Their desire is to merely move product into a specific demographic without attempting to appeal to a broader audience. This lack of vision for the “everyone” market has resulted in a negative perception regarding most of these titles (kinda like Big Auto).

Parents do have viable alternatives, but they are not bargains. Nintendo’s “Mario” franchise, mentioned earlier, can always be counted on for hours of family fun. For the past 25 years, Nintendo has kept close watch on the quality of its games. The racing game, “Mario Kart Wii”, may look “cartooney”, but its physics and playability make it the best racing title available on any system. Players can even go online and challenge someone anywhere in the world. “Super Smash Brothers” appeals to button-mashers everywhere. A fighting game with no violence or gore, even the youngest players (such as my son, Shane), can pick it up immediately and have hours of fun. This game is also perfect for parents who hate playing games but are egged on to play with their kids. Little learning, lots of enjoyment. Nintendo’s current “flagship” title, “Super Mario Galaxy”, succeeds where games like “Cars” and “Curious George” fail. The controls are easy to learn, the storyline plausible and is challenging but not headache inducing. It is by far the best game available this year. However, these games are not cheap, sitting at that fifty-dollar price level with little hope of downward movement. That’s ok. With these games, you will get what you pay for: happy children around the T.V. while parents relax in an easy chair, sipping Christmas Eggnog.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bailout III - Revenge of the Myth

“I don’t care about losing all the money. It’s losing all the stuff”
-Bernadette Peters (as Marie) in “The Jerk.”

Once upon a time, I went for a happy hour with a co-worker, Mike, and a friend of his whose name escapes me. His friend was from Finland (probably why I can’t remember the name) and made his living as a flower sales rep, pimping his wares to greenhouses and garden stores throughout Minnesota. He seemed to enjoy his job and definitely loved living in America. Mike had to leave early, leaving the two of us to engage in further libatious conversation. I was amazed by the Finlander’s frankness regarding American consumerism, listening to him count off all the expensive items he wanted to own. I politely asked him why he needed all these things. Giving me a confused and slightly offended look, he stated, “There are all these things out there and I just have to buy them.” Sometimes those who learned English as a second language are the ones who best utilize it.

Our government’s latest bailout, credit bank giant Citigroup, should come as no shock to those who have credit cards and enjoy the second Great American Pastime, shopping. Most of us have one credit card, perhaps several, maybe even a dozen. Full disclosure: I have three: Target, Sears and a Citicard. Check your wallets and purses, kiddies. Bet you have at least one of these, too. With the holiday spending frenzy quickly approaching, the cards will be processed more often and faster than an Alaskan turkey.

The never-ending quest for more stuff has ballooned into a true main street crisis. Many consumers possess more credit card debt than they could ever hope to pay back. Quick Adam Koeppe Simple Math: If your credit card balance is over $10,000 with an interest rate of 20 percent or more – THIS IS YOU. Some bank, such as Citigroup, is responsible for this lending and also for absorbing the outstanding balance. Even with their finances in disarray, Citi will still lend us more money so we can purchase Holiday necessities like ginormous Plasma TV’s, fake plastic rock n’ roll games and the all-new Antichrist Elmo (Elmo turns into the son of Satan with just one button – it’s so cute!). How can Citi, or any other credit bank, manage to do this even with the knowledge that some cardholders cannot pay them back? I talked to one of my trusted economic advisors, Mr. Wizard the Lizard, who transported me to the place with all the answers.

Imaginationland! Where everything is possible but nothing is real! A magical place where you can go to the mall and have it all! Lions, tigers and even man-bear-pigs, perch on the shelves, ready to fly – oh my! Your biggest wishes can come true, if you have a plastic, golden ticket ready to use. There’s no limit to what you can get: a purse, a socket set, a diamond – even your own personal jet. Trinkets, chocolates, booze or a cruise; if you sign that receipt, it’s yours to use. Don’t worry, it’s all covered under the plastic sun. Decorate your room anyway you please. Stock your refrigerator with imported Blue Cheese. The only limit is your personal desire. Roast marshmallows on a digital fire. It’s easy to keep up with the Joneses. Get a new car, a boat or even a goat. Fall asleep and dream in a bed filled with roses.

Drizzle drazzle, druzzle drome,
Time for reality to come home.

Imaginary money runs out. There is a limit to the amount of cash the banker can lend you in Monopoly. If you mortgage all your properties, you are done if you don’t make it past “Go!” Citigroup and potentially other credit lenders were unlikely to survive if they landed on “Boardwalk” or “Park Place.” Like many Americans, they became overextended. If the wizard behind the curtain has no money, he can grant no wishes. So we (taxpayers), are giving money to a credit bank so we (taxpayers), can buy more stuff we can’t afford. Welcome to Ironyland.

It’s time for us to channel our “inner Linus” and realize what life is all about. It isn’t about big trucks (even though they rock), videogames (I own hundreds), or the hottest trinket of the day (I pre-ordered it on Amazon). Life is about the things we cannot buy. Love, friendship and happiness cannot be rented. Either you have it or you don’t. Whether you have all the money in the world or not a dime to your name, if you have these things, they can never be taken away. It is a myth that we need all this extra stuff to survive. Sure, a personal plane would be awesome but nobody really needs it. If you can afford it – great. If you can’t – don’t pretend. If you can pay for sushi – eat up. If you can’t – chow at McDonalds. If that’s out of reach, there’s always cooking. People used to do it back in the Stone Age. Look around your home. What do you see that you really need? Personally, I can count four things: my kids, my wife, my friends and my memories. For a little while, let’s discard the myth of more stuff and focus on what’s real. Let’s be thankful. Let’s be brilliant. Let us all be loved.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Retro-Review: Sesame Street - The Death of Mr. Hooper

Last night, I watched something that made me cry. Easily one of the most powerful pieces of television I’ve ever seen, it reached into my childhood and brought forth my latent four-year old self. This show deserved a “Best Drama” Emmy far more than any of the now-dated shows which were considered. Is anyone really watching “Hill Street Blues” box sets? “St. Elsewhere?” “Cagney and Lacey?” However, I’m pretty sure somebody somewhere is watching “Sesame Street” right now. Either on DVD, You Tube or in another country, “Sesame Street” has been a constant presence in our lives since its debut in 1969. “Sesame Street” has never been associated with gut-wrenching, heart-stopping moments like those regularly seen on cop, law and medical shows – except for one time. In 1982, Will Lee, the actor who played storeowner, Mr. Hooper, died of a heart attack.

The show’s creator, Jim Henson, never believed in talking down to children and chose to address Mr. Hooper’s death through the show’s eternal three year old, Big Bird. In a rare scene featuring all of “Sesame Street’s” human characters, they support Big Bird through the three stages of grief: denial, anger and acceptance. All of the actors gave strong performances in this segment with Sonia Marzano as “Maria” and Bob McGrath as “Bob” being particularly moving. Both actors were able to combine skill and actual emotions, unable to hold back tears as they delivered their lines. The result is a moving mediation on what death means without identifying with any specific culture or dogma.

My son, Shane, is 3 ½ years old, approximately the same age as Big Bird. He is discovering the concept of dying, picking up on its never-ending presence in the media and daily conversation. I guess that was inevitable. Like many boys, he makes little robots with his Legos and engages them in imaginary battle. As one of them is destroyed, he shouts, “They died!” My wife and I asked him not to say the phrase and Shane asked “Why? Why not die?” This was a much tougher question to answer than why the sun rises or why it gets cold in winter. It was clear Shane did not understand the meaning of his words or at least what the words mean to adults.

I was stumped. Maybe it’s the video games. They’re easy enough to blame for children’s problems. Shane had started to play a platform game based on the cartoon “Ben 10”, which resembled the classic Castlevania games on the old Nintendo. He’s so proud of himself when he completes a level: “Da-Da! Da-Da! I win! I got the bad guys!” When he loses, he sadly states, “I died.” It’s definitely a “Cat’s In the Cradle” situation. Shane has seen his Daddy play tons of video games in the basement. Too small to master the controls of an Xbox or Wii, he wanted to play a game he could be good at, too. I have been playing video games since I was his age, spending every quarter I had on “Pac-Man, “Space Invaders” and “Asteroids.”

As I struggled on how to explain death to Shane, I was watching my You Tube playlist of educational videos with my 23-month old, Romana. I named it “Romana’s Playlist” after my little girl who loves music and words. The playlist mostly consists of classic “Sesame Street” clips, ones my 34-year old brain still remembers. While Romana and I were watching the comedic exploits of Ernie, Grover and Cookie Monster, I noticed a “related video” link to the “Sesame Street” episode addressing the death of Mr. Hooper. I had never seen this clip. When it aired, I was nine years old and in the third grade. My PBS viewing habits had switched to afternoon viewings of “Doctor Who.” As I watched it, I felt like the TARDIS had taken me back in time to a place long forgotten in my subconscious. Unable to interfere, I watched the drama unfold and wept.

My mother probably remembers Mr. Hooper’s death better than I do. When we were unboxing my old toys for Shane and Romana to play with, we found the “Little People” figure of Mr. Hooper. While looking at it, Mom said, “There’s Mr. Hooper. He died.” Her voice was sad, yet reassuring. She knew Mr. Hooper better than I did. My mom stayed home and raised me until I started school. We watched countless episodes of “Sesame Street” together. She identified with the human characters as well as I did, if not better. Mr. Hooper, Bob, Maria, Luis, Olivia, Susan, Gordon, David and Linda shared an hour with us five days a week. They were not just your neighbors. They were your friends. They exemplified the good in us all. Possessing unending optimism, humor and compassion, these were people you wanted to live in your neighborhood. Losing Mr. Hooper felt like losing a close friend. My mom never watched soap operas. If she escaped into another world, it was the utopia created by Jim Henson: a place without prejudice or conflict.

Shane came home today from swimming lessons in one of his cute, goofy moods. My wife, Andrea, was trying to get his coat and shoes off while Shane made jokes. Making his fingers into play guns, he shouted “Psheww! Psheww! You died!” at Andrea. I chose this time to show what I learned from “Sesame Street”:

Yeah, Dad?
Do you want Mommy to go away?
Then you don’t want Mommy to die.

Shane didn’t mention dying for a while after that.

It was not just the sensitive empathy for Big Bird that made this episode of “Sesame Street” exceptional, but its reaffirming hope, trust and belief in the circle of life at the episode’s end. The juxtaposition of Big Bird hanging Mr. Hooper’s portrait in his room as he is introduced to a newborn child is as profound and affecting as any piece of literature ever created. With death, there is also life and when there’s life, there is hope. This hope is inherent in the human race and defies the specter of death. It is in the hearts of children everywhere: in their imaginations, on a street filled with friendship and in the memories of all us Big Birds.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blame Me For the Minnesota Senate Recount!

The 2008 Minnesota Senate Recount – Blame Me!

It’s embarrassing to be a Minnesotan these days. The past two months has been a pr nightmare for our state tourism department. Instead of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you can travel to Lakeville, the infamous city where a crazy old lady called Barack Obama “an Arab.” Better yet, travel cross-country though Minnesota’s 6th District, the only congressional district in the entire county to vote a neo-McCarthyist back into office. A prospective visitor could also purchase the Vandalism Package and visit the residences of politicians that were tagged by anarchists during the election. A splendid time guaranteed for all. Seems we Minnesotans can’t catch a break. We can’t even elect a U.S. Senator without major complications. Accusations and lawsuits are flying back and forth between candidates Norm Coleman and Al Franken, making it obvious that whoever captures the senate seat, neither candidate deserved to get it. Journalists are looking everywhere for someone to blame for this mess. Look no further, true believers, for I have an exclusive scoop not found on Drudge, Huffington or in newsprint. Put those pens to paper, people, for I have a confession – it’s my fault.

I happen to be one of the estimated 437,377 Minnesotans who cast their vote for independent candidate Dean Barkley. Barkley, a former U.S. Senator (albeit for 2 months, replacing the late Paul Wellstone), had little money and no advertising budget but still managed to garner 15 percent of the vote. Like most voters, my decision was based on the issues. Barkley’s stance on the...umm…bailout…uhh…taxes…mmm…economy…uhh health care – actually, I have no idea what Senator Barkley’s positions on these issues are. However, despite being subjected to countless ads by candidates Coleman and Franken, I had no idea what their stances on these issues were either. I knew only one certain fact these two men stood for: attacking each other.

Coleman and Franken spent the last several months accusing each other of anything reprehensible except being a domestic terrorist, which was already being utilized by another campaign. Coleman’s ads accused Franken of being a pornographer, a tax-evader and committing unlawful use of electronic talking fish. Franken’s ads accused Coleman of being a lobbyist lapdog, a CEO comrade and hanging out with President George Bush on the White House swingset. Like I stated earlier, I voted on the issues. These two men ran disgraceful campaigns reminiscent of old-school AWA trash talking. The rants of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Mad Dog Vachon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura resembled honest rhetoric in comparison. By Election Day, my view of Coleman and Franken resembled the public’s perception of professional wrestling: a complete and total joke. So why did I vote for Senator Barkley? Why did I send the great state of Minnesota into political infamy? I had no choice. It was my duty as an American citizen to not vote for two major party douche bags.

Senator Norm Coleman used to be a Democrat until he thought he could achieve higher office easier as a Republican. The former mayor of St. Paul was instrumental in the construction of the Excel Energy Center, home to the Minnesota Wild and site of the 2008 Republican National Convention. But Coleman was a Democrat then…or was he? Coleman enjoyed palling around with Bush but also championed his ability to reach across the aisle to his former party. He was able to secure federal money to rebuild the collapsed 35W bridge because of his unique ability to raise his hand in the classroom first. It is highly unlikely any Minnesota politician would have been denied this request. Coleman has also taken documented trips overseas payed for by lobbyists. He is also being sued by a Texas businessman who claims he was forced to funnel money to Coleman’s campaign. The only facts I know for certain about Norm are ones I have seen personally. I lived in St. Paul when he was mayor and bumped into him twice. Norm Coleman is guilty of renting movies at Blockbuster Video and likes to browse vinyl records. Although the search for that one cool record you don’t have is an honorable and justifiable cause, it is not enough qualification for the United States Senate.

Although I’ve never met him, I’ve known about Al Franken for years, remembering his portrayal of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live. Smalley was known for looking into the mirror and stating “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." Franken must have hated this role with a passion, as he has done everything possible to smash this image. In 2003, Franken stated he was planning on moving back to his home state to run against Coleman. A complete carpetbagger who had not resided in Minnesota for decades, he must certainly have thought Senator Coleman would be vulnerable five years into the future. Who knew Stuart’s mirror was also a crystal ball? When Franken stared into the crystal ball in 2003, he believed his friend Hillary Clinton would become the Democratic Presidential nominee. If Clinton campaigned for him, there would be little chance of defeat. Truth be told, Hillary Clinton did stump for Franken, even going so far as to do a TV ad for him – but she was not the candidate for president. It must be noted the Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama, never campaigned for Franken.

Unlike Senator Coleman and Mr. Franken, I take full and total responsibilty for the Minnesota Senate race. If you’re looking for someone to blame, look no further. I did it. It was my choice and I’m proud of my decision. I stand by my actions and am willing to suffer the consequences. Go ahead, America, lay the burden upon me. I can take it. Blame me! Blame my wife, Andrea! She voted for Barkley too! Blame my Dad who wanted to vote for Barkley but chose Franken because he hated Coleman! Blame the 15 percent of Minnesotans who were completely repulsed by this campaign! The recount is our fault. If the hundreds of attorneys representing both candidates are reading, I’m ready for you. Bring it on. I’d rather be free than a partisan tool any day.

P.S. If you would like to share the blame and take the world off my shoulders, send an email to:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bailout II - The Wrath of Big Auto

Big Auto. The Big Three, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, are bona-fide American icons. Icons that inspired such devotion that it if you bought one brand, it was assumed you hated the other two. An unlicensed decal of Bill Watterson’s “Calvin” urinating on the desired automaker is a common sight on the road. Pride in the American auto industry could best be summarized in a Ford commercial starring country star Toby Keith, who sings in the usual country-rock bravado, “I’m a Ford Truck Man! That’s all I drive!” Try contrasting this with heavy-metal icons Metallica rocking to their favorite HD TV manufacturer. The difference, obviously, is one is real and the other I just made up. Despite their continual assertion that the Big Three is an icon that cannot be allowed to fail, the future is burning a different trail in the road.

Several major commercial icons failed in the latter part of the 20th century. MaBell, Joe Camel, the Hamm’s Beer Bear, the Merrill Lynch Bull and Michael Jackson. We survived, moved on and accepted change. Jobs were lost but it is understood that any good worker picks themselves up and finds another line of work. Persistence, determination and the desire to better one’s self are qualities admired in any worker - or individual. These attributes are sorely lacking in the boardrooms of the Big Three. There is an argument out there, which states, in summary, that nobody forced Americans to buy these SUVs, ramblers and other mini monster trucks. The monopoly of Big Auto gave car buyers little choice; kinda like choosing between Marlboro and Camel cigarettes or Budweiser and Miller beer. They’re basically the same but different in their logo wear and what the consumer chooses to identify with.

Big Auto wants big money and it’s a big joke. My dreaded “Adam Koeppe Simple Math” proves this. The first 25 billion dollars dolled out to Big Auto is designated for transitional purposes only. This money is to be used for research and development, plant conversion and general preparation for the public’s desire for fuel-efficient vehicles. The second bailout request, however, is for general operating expenses; the day-to-day business activities that Big Auto says they no longer can afford which could range from CEO compensation all the way down to keeping car dealerships afloat. It will take 1-3 years for most of the manufacturing plants to convert to production of different models. Until that time, Big Auto wants to use government money (our money) to produce the same vehicles Americans no longer want to buy. This money would be spent in a vicious circle, with the corporate hand landing right back on the government bank.

This second bailout request could be utilized much more efficiently. Wouldn’t it be better for the bailout money to pay autoworkers to stay home until the retooling is done? I’m proposing a fully-paid layoff for up to two years with the incentive of a tax credit for individuals who find another job. This certainly has to be more viable that operating a pet rock factory. This could help the middle class whom this affects the most and also hold Big Auto accountable for redesigning their products.

Thus far, Big Auto has said big little about how exactly they will use any of the bailout money they already have. They have offered no comprehensive plan, no timetable and generally no direction. Sound familiar? These companies have given no reason why they should be trusted with this money. Further proof of this can be found in the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” I could spoil the story but I’ll leave that up to Ed Begley Jr.

The downfall of the Big Three has been anticipated for some time. Consider the dealership ads claiming “No money? No credit? No problem!” Actually, no money and no credit is a big problem, which has directly contributed to our current credit crisis. The dealerships policy for defaulted car loans is to call up Emilio Estevez, have the vehicle repossessed and put it back on the car lot for sale. The “Repo Man” concept only works if anybody wants to buy these vehicles. Otherwise, they’re just stocking their stores with videotapes.

Big Auto has failed to realize Americans’ purchasing preferences have changed. People are far more interested in buying a gigantic flat screen TV than a truck with a kick-ass HEMI. The tradition of a family going to a dealership to pick out a new car has eroded; a 20th century relic. More people are turning to internet sites such as Carsoup and Vehix to make their decisions. This could be the end of corporate dealerships but – so what? Small dealers will easily replace these over time. Sometimes we have to accept change, whether we like it or not.

Big Auto’s big begging represents a comprehensive failure on the administrative level and they should be held accountable. Putting tens of thousands of American workers out of work is not acceptable but neither is funding a video store. Unless the Big Three state a comprehensive restructuring plan, our tax dollars will be spent on an aging giant that refuses to modernize, preferring to watch old videos of the 1970’s car crash classic “Gone in 60 Seconds.” Maybe they’ll learn before it’s too late.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Question The World Wants Answered

Our society is looking at the dawn of a new era. A time of imminent change and more than a little uncertainty. The universe is in chaos, with no clear direction in sight. Our enemies are making chess plays in anticipation of an unknown response. Families are huddled behind the sofa watching a black and white TV. Citizens of the world are paying attention, anticipating the information vital to the future of us all. What will happen next? We’re glued to the You Tube waiting for an answer. Just who will be the next “Doctor Who?”

Over its 45 year history, “Doctor Who: has been played by ten actors. The current lame-duck Doctor, David Tennant, has made an inspired decision to abdicate his position while the getting is good. His portrayal of the Doctor is widely viewed as successful; stimulating the “Who” economy into the stratosphere. However, Tennant’s departure leaves a void. Can Doctor Who be sustained or will it fall into science fiction recession like its counterpart “Star Trek?” Certainly a stimulus is needed, but of what kind and of what magnitude? The entire universe is at stake!

After an intense meeting with my Doctor Who transitional team, we have decided on several viable options. They may not be what you’re looking for. The road will not be easy, but we will get there. We need your support and a desire to reach across the Atlantic aisle. There is a need to provide immediate relief for the Whovian middle class. Those that like “Doctor Who” but can’t afford expanded cable coverage. Those who want a centrist Doctor; not too young, not too old, not a dandy nor a clown. We need to get someone from the middle, yet provide the bravado needed to propel the home state of Galifrey into a new prospective on its place in the universe. After close consultation, deliberation and standing around on the generic rock quarry, my transitional team has made the following recommendations.

Richard E Grant, Rowan Atkinson. Both actors have tasted the part in the parody film “The Curse of Fatal Death” and succeeded admirably. Grant, having also played the Doctor in an animated internet story, is positioned to have his foot stuck in the TARDIS door. Charming, suave and spindly, a Grant “Doctor” could succeed where many have failed. Given that the 8th Doctor, Paul McCann, was his costar in the cult film “Withnail and I”, a celebrated multi-doctor story would be fascinating. Grant and McGann defeat the Daleks by convincing their creator Davros to engage in an extended battle of wits through binge-drinking, causing him accidentally destroy the Daleks himself. Atkinson, on the other hand, brings his sarcastic “Blackadder” persona along with the antics of “Mr. Bean.” He could be the most schizophrenic of Doctors, relying on his earnest companion for the plan that cannot fail. His demise would be spectacular, considering the practice Atkinson has had already. The Doctor could regenerate through multiple time streams!

Sarah Jessica Parker. Since long-time favorite Doctor, Tom Baker, suggested in his departure that the new Doctor could be a woman, there has been speculation on what actress could assume the role. Parker would be absolutely fabulous, a sweetie-darling Joanna Lumley could be envious of. No longer will there be talks of a show run on a shoe-string budget. Parker’s wardrobe would rival that of Sarah Palin’s. The Doctor won’t have just one costume, but several in the same story. A chameleon of sorts, Parker would increase the love-story element injected in the new series and take it to a new level. “Mr. Big” is the new “Bad Wolf”: scattered throughout time for the Doctor to find clues which lead to her true love. This series would hearken back to 5th Doctor Peter Davison’s era of multiple companions. Bickering in the TARDIS would know no bounds. The fate of galaxies depends on just who is – or is not – “saveworthy.”

Tom Baker. Through the miracle of modern technology, Baker becomes the Doctor one more time, fulfilling desires of sci-fi geeks everywhere and absolutely no-one else. Baker distanced himself from the part for the past 25 years until David Tennant eclipsed him in popularity. Suddenly Baker began giving extensive DVD commentaries for stories he previously claimed he remembered nothing. Baker would love to regain the prominence he enjoyed for so long. Too bad he’s been voted out for someone younger, more dynamic and in touch with today’s audience.

Nicole Sullivan. An incredibly talented performer who gained a wide following after her years on “Mad TV”, Sullivan’s immense comedic talent has been wasted in drivel such as “The King of Queens” and “Rita Rocks.” Her agent must be one of the worst in Hollywood. She needs to find Ari Emmanuel right now. Sullivan would thrive as “Doctor Who.” Longtime fans of the series worship the 2nd Doctor, Patrick Troughton and a return to dark whimsy might be the change new head writer Steven Moffat is looking for.

Charles Barkley. Barkley, a Hall of Fame athlete, potential politician and part-time comedian could be just the right fit for the most challenging part on TV. It is rumored actor Patterson Joseph is on the short list but Barkley could be a dark horse in the running. If the series truly seeks change, what better time to have an African American star in a show previously ran by white guys? Seems to work pretty good these days. Barkley could also mark a return to the comedy era of Troughton.

Michael Chiklis/Keifer Sutherland. Chiklis’ current series, “The Shield” is ending its run shortly and would be available for the part. Similarly, Sutherland’s series, “24”, will be cancelled in the next few months after audiences tire of improbable plotlines that make “Doctor Who” look realistic in comparison. If Moffat wants a Doctor in the mold of 3rd Doctor Jon Pertwee, these actors surely must be at the top of the list. A true man of action, Chiklis would defeat the Daleks and Cybermen by kicking the living crap out of them. If you think choking the companion like 6th Doctor, Colin Baker, was extreme, wait till Vic Mackie gauges out the Master’s eye with the sonic screwdriver. Sutherland would be similar in the role, except for adding the word “Dammit” whenever the Doctor is angry.

Ted McGinley. The series killer! For all of those who hate “Doctor Who” and pray nightly for its cancellation, look no further. Your prayers will be answered if long-shot McGinley gets the part. Actually, if McGinley is offered the part of “3rd Cyberman from the left”, the same result would occur.

Senator John McCain. An inspired choice for fans of the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell, McCain’s similarities with the first incarnation are astounding. At times crotchety, absent-minded and confused, McCain could channel the spirit of the original series. His companion would resemble the first Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan Foreman. Despite being a Time Lord like the Doctor, Susan constantly tripped over her ankle and found herself in many compromising situations. McCain has extensive experience with this type of companion and could even be able to recommend a highly qualified candidate for the part.

I urge all readers to vet these candidates carefully and give one of them your support. Many of you are looking for something new to do these days, so get those phones a-goin’ and blogs a-typin’. Change is coming to “Doctor Who” and you can make it happen.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ewok Celebration!

Ewok Celebration!

The Return of the Jedi!

The rebels blew up the Death Star!

The day “the man” lost!

Ewoks danced. Old friends embraced a new peace. On the expanded, “special edition”, creator George Lucas added footage of civilizations all over the galaxy celebrating the destruction of the empire. These images parallel those shown from countries around the world after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Complete strangers cried in each others arms with joy. These moments captured the hearts and imaginations of the world. What’s so wrong with that?

The comparison between “Return of the Jedi” and Obama’s victory is far from superficial. “Jedi” was well-received on its release but is now considered the weakest of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, called by Dante in the Kevin Smith film “Clerks” as “a bunch of muppets”. Similarly, the euphoria surrounding Senator Obama could lessen after the initial honeymoon period. Should the Obama administration stumble in a way similar to the first Clinton administration, it would be easy to draw a comparison with Lucas’ prequel trilogy: an ill-fated attempt to create a future while stumbling into the past.

For a moment, let’s look at what Barack Obama and his millions of supporters have created. Instead of electing a president based on caricature (Reagan, Clinton, Bush II), the United States has elected a real person; a man who is almost excessively accessible to the media. A president we might not immediately identify with, but aspire to be in the vein of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy.

George Lucas has recently launched his latest “Star Wars” project, “The Clone Wars.” Universally panned by critics, “The Clone Wars” film was uninspiring and at times, quantifiably boring. My son, Shane (3 years old), reviewed it better than Roger Ebert ever could: “Robots and robots and robots!” The ensuing series on Cartoon Network, is a distinct improvement despite online rants by haters like Harry Knowles. More telling is the effect of the new series on kids. Just a few days ago, I watched two boys pretend to be “Commander Rex” and “Commander Cody” in a space fight against the droids. They’re excited. They’re involved. They believe. Who am I to take their butterfly?

Maybe us old guys have gotten too cynical. Like it or not, we have bias for a past which was never as shining as the one idealized in our minds. An overwhelming fear of being disappointed yet again. Every attempt to do so is doomed to fall short. However, there is a new generation who believes without skepticism. We all remember a time when “Star Wars” reeked of cool. The core message of Lucas’ films was of hope, redemption and unending faith in your friends. It is the same message sent by millions of American citizens on November 4th, 2008.

Some things are bigger than pessimism and doubt. Maybe, just once, all of us, should enjoy the moment for what it is: a vindication of belief; a legacy of unending faith. Let’s all be kids again and enjoy the experience that is life. Let the fantasy become reality – even if it’s only for a second; rekindle our hearts and imaginations. Citizens of the world, Ewoks, Wookies and Hutts – it’s your right. Celebrate tonight!

President Obama, may the force be with you.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why is Halloween So Damn Lame?

I humbly request the reader play the accomanying videos while they are reading the text.

A long time ago, All Hallows Eve was a scary night. It was the time of impending darkness, a time when your deepest fears were closer to reality. Children, out at night in costumes, unrecognizable could fall victim to an unknown terror. The Boogeyman. The Darkness. The doubt inside of what’s real and unreal. That was before Wal-Mart and Target. Before the bad time. Stripped of its inherent creepiness, Halloween now stands as a deranged version of Christmas. Just as saccharine and simplified to the lowest of humanoids.

In Charlie Brown terms, Halloween has gone too commercial. Horror films are being shown on the Family Channel, dammit! Cut-up, sliced and diced and robbed of their creators’ vision. It’s a product sold as good, clean, family fun. Nothing evil about that. Just a fun time to be had at your local church. People who could only be described as imbeciles are buying Beanie Baby versions of vampires, zombies and ghosts. If you think Jesus would be upset about our interpretation of Christmas, imagine what the Great Pumpkin is thinking! No wonder he never shows up. I’m going to channel my inner Linus and explain to those lame idiots who put up inflatable, cute vampires in their lawn what Halloween is all about.

Vampires are not cute. They are blood-sucking, pale, undead creatures of the night who feast on the weary and kidnap helpless virgins. Real vampires tend to be sexy, diabolical and difficult to kill. Possessing super-human strength and the curse of immortality, they have simultaneous desire to kill and love.

Zombies are not cuddly. They are rotting corpses come to life to eat the living, preferably their brains. Smarter than you think, funnier than Dane Cook. They should eat Dane Cook.

To me, Halloween has always been the darkest of nights. A time where you would visit old cemeteries with a group of friends, put an Ouija Board on a grave and try to contact the dead. Playing tricks and not just eating treats. Visiting abandoned houses in the middle of a cornfield and wonder if you hear just the wind…or something else? Samhain. The feast of the dead. The end of summer and the beginning of the wilting. A coldness inside, one you can’t shake off.

As a child, I watched “The Shining”, “Carrie” and “Halloween.” The stuff nightmares are made of. Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Stephen King, Clive Barker, David Cronenberg and Sam Raimi could find their way into your psyche. Find the fear passed through generations. Fear you had before you were born. Fear that exists when you’re still in the womb. Fear which exists because it’s always been there. Fear, like love is unexplainable. These emotions embrace much closer than that of hate. One can be full of love and possessed with fear. One can be full of hate and controlled by fear. This is in contrast to coloring books sold by Wal-Mart. Or is it…Could cute Halloween books be used to control our children?

Halloween III – The Night No-One Comes Home:

That’s what Halloween is all about, Charlie Brown.
Why So Serious?
Happy Halloween!