Aspirations.

Business Insider recently published their list of the Top 11 Most Miserable Places to Live In America. The data is based on a recent Gallup poll. I’ll set aside the title of the article, which should say the “Top 11 Most Miserable Places to Live in The United States”, because Gallup didn’t poll anyone outside of the U.S. But that’s just me being nitpicky.

I’m kind of surprised at the placing of our area on this list as I thought it would be up in the Top 5 or so. I’m curious as to why they listed the “Top 11″ instead of the Top 10; was it just to get the Utica-Rome area onto the list to begin with? Were people going to be crankier if Utica-Rome wasn’t included on the list? Perhaps the author of the article wanted to make this area feel special.

And speaking of this area, I always feel bad for Rome. This area is constantly referred to as “Utica-Rome”. It’s not like “Minneapolis-St. Paul” or “Dallas-Ft. Worth”; there are four villages, a couple of townships and 15 miles or so between the downtowns (and I use that term loosely) of Utica and Rome. Rome always gets the short end of the stick, “You don’t need a Home Depot since there’s one in Utica.” That’s not nice. I think the populations differ considerably in ethnic make up.

I don’t like living here. I moved here over 20 years ago because the same job here paid almost double what I was making in the tiny city of Jamestown. It was also closer to my family (no offense, but people ask ‘how close’ and I say ‘close enough’.) I don’t find the weather particularly enjoyable nor are we really active with the scant amount of gay community here. That last point is by our own choosing. They built an impressive road for the new microchip plant that they’re suppose to be building nearby, but word on the street is that deal fell through and their going to build a Pringles factory instead. There are even signs pointing to the exit that hasn’t been built for the chip plant that doesn’t exist.

We have an international airport on the old Air Force base. The government is shutting down the tower and there hasn’t ever been a commercial flight in or out of this airport. The last commercial flight was to the old airport and that was a decade or so ago. But we still have a customs’ officer.

Some positives of the area include there’s no traffic and if you look outside the city limits of Utica, it’s quite beautiful in the autumn. Oh, on a warm summer night you can take old fluorescent bulbs out and stand under any one of the many high-voltage power lines that criss cross the area and watch the bulbs glow in your hand.

The latest endeavor to spruce this place up is the construction of a monstrous neon sign (125 ft high!) along the Thruway with the words “Utica” on top. Apparently it was too expensive to tack on “Rome”. Perhaps the “-” put them over the budget.

I will admit that the cool thing about living here is that you can easily go somewhere interesting for the weekend. There are a bunch of major cities within a five hour radius of this place. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto; all cities that are not that far from here if you don’t mind the drive. It’s a good thing that we love to travel.

What’s really a shame is that there are some quaint towns in the surrounding areas. They’re kind of small but they’re fun to walk around in once a season or so so there’s that.

But cranky people? Yeah, we have a lot of those. Most interactions with the retailing folks is a triad of experience: hostility, futility and stupidity.

So yes, here we are, living in one of the Top 11 most miserable places in the world and my two reactions are one of a lack of surprise and feeling bad for Rome having to be tacked onto Utica again.

I’m looking forward to my travels this weekend.

The Event.

So last night I was wandering around aimlessly in my web browser when I stumbled across a blog about a sci-fi series called “The Event.” After doing some reading, I quickly realized that I am way behind the curve when it comes to this series, because it has already come and gone and at least a year has passed since.

Where the hell was I when this series came out?

“The Event” was an NBC series in 2010 that featured some mildly known actors, including Jason Ritter, who is the son of John Ritter (and boy does he ever look the part!). I watched the pilot episode last night and then started watching the series while I was riding the exercise bike this morning.

The series is about a big government conspiracy about extraterrestrials that crashed in Alaska back in 1944. Outwardly they look human, but their DNA is just different enough (around 1%) from ours to make them alien. For example, they age much more slowly than we do. The government thought they rounded up all the aliens from the crash site back in ’44 and have since kept them in detention in a special base in Alaska, but as the series progresses we find that some of the aliens were able to integrate themselves into society.

“The Event” does a lot with flashbacks in the couple of episodes I’ve watched, but it doesn’t feel as disjointed to me as when that series “Heroes” was jumping all over the timeline and no one knew what the hell was going on. I am finding myself hooked into the series quickly, which I think must be surprising because the series was canceled after one season. And I don’t remember ANYONE talking about it, though it looks like it’d be something that NBC would promote the hell out of.

There were some rumors about a year ago that the ridiculously named SyFy network was going to show a mini-series to finish off the canceled show, but this project has never come to light. So it’s kind of weird watching a series on Netflix knowing that it’s not going to come to its natural conclusion, but I’m too engrossed in it right now to care.

And for what it’s worth, I refuse to watch anything on a network that has perverted the term “SciFi” into “SyFy”. I’d buy the DVD before I admitted to losing a few IQ points to watch a show on a poorly named network.

If you know how “The Event” progresses, don’t tell me. I’m enjoying it too much.

Typos.

I make typos all the time. I substitute words that make no sense from time to time. I mess up a lot when I type. But I’m not a journalist. I’m not a professional blogger. I’m just your average geek with a flair for language.

When I read something from a “professional” source, I have a certain expectation of quality. A lack of attention to detail in presentation is going to significantly impact the level of credibility of the information being presented. How can a reader buy the facts when they’re sloppily presented?

This is why stuff like this bothers me. No one has any pride in their work these days. Hurry up, get ‘er done, get the revenue flowing.

I know, it’s just a typo. To me, it speaks volume of this person’s quality of work.

Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’m cranky. But I’ll champion the causes of quality and pride in one’s work until I leave this life.

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Wicked.

Earl and I are currently sitting on Amtrak’s Empire State service on our way home. We left Penn Station about 20 minutes ago and now we are at Croton-On-Hudson. I am using OmmWriter on the iPad to write this entry, as it has musical accompaniment to help block the ambient noise here in business class, including the young girl that has been saying “Chug A chug A Choo Choo” repeatedly since we left Penn Station. I hope her vocalisations lead to an “I think I can attitude” later in life.

Last night Earl and I made our way through the “Occupy Wall Street” protests on Times Square to see the popular musical “Wicked” at the Gershwin. The house was sold out; there were several tourist groups and the like around us in row W. Like movie theatres of modern times, the audience was populated by people that couldn’t stop talking or checking their mobile devices. A family of our four in front of us were more concerned with the scores of the Va. Tech game than what was going on on stage. The two young kids were flanked by why I consider to be the typical well-off Republican couple with the dad showing disinterest in his kids and mom very well manicured but a little harried because the nanny had the night off. They were both obviously there at the show because of the kids as the the young ones were very excited about the show and sang to eqch other before the show started. Both had surprisingly great singing voices and excellent pitch memory, because they were singing the score from the show in the proper key. The mom and dad did little to encourage their enthusiasm for music, I hope the nanny encourages them back at home.

The show was not as engaging as I thought it would be. So many people have exclaimed in squealing tones how much they love the production, but Earl and I just thought it was good. The performers were excellent in their performances but we didn’t feel enthralled. I couldn’t get beyond the fact that the actor playing Elsebah did really, really good at sounding like Idina Menzel. There was nothing in her performance that marked it as her own, kind of like when the new guy from Journey does a really good Steve Perry impersonation in “Seperate Ways”.

By the way, now we are at Croton-On-Hudson. The stop before this was Yonkers.

I did enjoy the way that the story of “Wicked” was woven around “The Wizard of Oz”. That was kind of clever, but aside from “Defying Gravity”, none of the songs really stuck with me 15 minutes after the performance. Perhaps I should listen to the soundtrack again. I guess I recommend the show for good family fare if you’re visiting New York. Just please leave your mobile device off and pay attention to the stage, quietly, during the performance.

Godspell.

So last night Earl and I went to see “Godspell”. The popular show has found itself back on Broadway, this time at the Circle in the Square Theatre. It started previews on Thursday night, the show officially opens in November.

“Godspell” is my favorite musical, hands down. It is the first musical I was introduced to, way back in junior high. I have seen the show a number of times in various venues including high school auditoriums, the MUNY in St. Louis and on the stage of a few different national touring companies. I have several incarnations of the soundtrack on my iPod and I used “On The Willows” as an audition piece a couple of times in high school and during my first attempt at college. Like a lot of folks, this show is near and dear to my heart. Last night did not disappoint.

“Godspell” is a customizable show in that it can easily be placed in any time period (back in the 80s I saw one high school frame the show in Queen Victoria’s time!) and that’s one of the things I like about the show. One of the national touring companies that passed through Utica a decade or so ago made the show very techno; props included a cross made out of discarded televisions and the music was made very “American Idol”. It wasn’t my favorite take on the show and last night I was worried that this was going to continue the tradition of taking on modern times and lose some of the innocence and sweetness of the story.

They didn’t do that.

I’m not going to get into a lot of detail as far as the production goes because I’m encouraging people to see it when you’re in New York and enjoy the experience of this show, because it is a lot of fun and we found it to be worth every penny. The songs are so familiar to many folks, so I thought I would add my two cents because it’s my blog and I can do what I want here. I’ll try very hard to avoid spoilers.

As the show opens, there’s a lot of “technology” present (think cell phone usage). The folks on stage interact wonderfully during “Tower of Babble” except that I found the arrangement of the song hard to interpret. Granted, “Tower of Babble” is suppose to sound like “babble” and it did, but I think it was sounding like too much babble, because it was a little overwhelming with all the overlapping lyrics going on at the same time. At Circle in the Square, you sit REALLY close to the stage (we were in the front row on one side and the stage was at arm level and only 1/2 an arm’s length away). The actors’ voices were brilliant, this I could tell already during the first song, but the arrangement of the tune was a little distracting.

There was a surprising prop used during “Prepare Ye” that I did not expect to be used on stage. Don’t worry, you’ll make it through the performance unscathed, even in the front row.

Now everyone knows “Day By Day”, that’s probably the most well known song from the show because it spent several weeks on the Top 40 and spiritual folks sing this song all the time. The lyrics are just six lines sung over and over, leaving the emotion to build with the musical construction and arrangement of the song. The first part of the song is written in three-quarters time and this is where it was a little wonky for me. First of all Anna Maria Perez de Tagle sings this beautifully. Her voice has a sweetness to it that compliments the message brilliantly and she is very enjoyable with her performance, but the phrasing is slightly out of whack during the three-quarters time part of the piece. I’m pretty confident it’s part of the arrangement because the band (which is scattered all over the house, by the way) was doing the same thing. It felt like the lyrics were in four-four time when the music was in three-quarter time and as a person very familiar with the track, I found it disconcerting and it was running contrary to my music theory training I’ve had over the years. The vocalizations were brilliant, though and once we moved to the four-four time, everything felt familiar again. I have to admit that I didn’t expect the Electric Slide, though.

I LOVED the interpretation of “Learn Your Lessons Well”. It’s a lot of fun with a lot of oomph in the vocals without going over the top.

Way back in the 90s a London Company recorded a soundtrack CD without actually performing the show on stage, and in the process recorded one of the blandest renditions of “Bless The Lord” I have ever heard. Then that techno National tour came along and “Bless The Lord” went crazy with the techno and melisma (think Christina Aguilera and the National Anthem), so I was terrified that last night’s performance was going to be another yodeling, howling rendition of “Bless The Lord”.

I was terrified for no reason because last night “Bless The Lord” was AMAZING. Absolutely amazing. Lindsay Mendez has a great, strong yet controlled voice and thankfully does NOT engage in ridiculous vocal acrobatics/urban yodeling to share her love for this song. I think this may have been my favorite performance of the night, though the music theory training kicked in and the instrumental arrangement has some weird key change (or wonky chord progressions) going on towards the end of the song. I’d have to hear it again to see if I like it or not (I don’t think I do), but I found it slightly distracting from Lindsay’s wonderful performance. It’s not like Barry Manilow grabbed the song and added six progressive key changes to the score, but it does shift back and forth to a key (or through strange chord progressions that aren’t in the same key) that feels off a little bit. Lindsay is brilliant in it though, and I’m going to be finding more of her work to add to the iPod. Quick aside – coming out of Act 2, a couple members of the cast play around on the piano before Act 2 officially kicks off and Lindsay really camps up some melisma on some of the songs they’re singing, and I appreciated that. Some of her stylings in this bit of fun were identical to that techno touring version… I’m happy it was saved for that and not in the meat of her performances.

“All Good Gifts” is another one of my favorite tunes and Telly Leung does not disappoint at all. I loved the arrangement, I loved the sweetness of his voice and well, it’s Wes from the Warblers on “Glee”, so there were squeals from the young teenaged girls sitting behind us.

“Light of the World” stays pretty true to the familiar and is fun as well. In fact, all of songs in Act 1 felt familiar but still fresh, aside from those few distracting key changes.

During intermission the audience has the opportunity to go up on stage and have some “wine” and interact a little bit with the cast members that have hung around. They did this in DC years ago and I loved it. For some reason I can’t remember it happening at the Muny in St. Louis when we saw it a couple of years ago, but that could just be faulty memory. We had a nice, very brief chat with one of the cast. She seemed to be a genuine person.

Act 2 rolls in with “Turn Back, O Man”, where it was performed by understudy Julia Mattison. She did a Mae West take and was cute with her improvisations. Loved a reference to “Jesus Take The Wheel”. I heard that the original performer was weeping in the lobby after the show the night before so perhaps that’s why Julia was on stage. She was great.

Now lead Hunter Parrish came in with “Alas For You” and something weird just happened with his vocals. The thing is, I can’t decide if it was intentional or if he just lost his way completely, because in a way it sounded like he was intentionally trying to sound “overwrought” with his voice breaking, but on the other hand it came across like Peter Brady singing “When It’s Time To Change”. I’m inclined to blame this on the arrangement because Hunter’s vocals were spot on for all of his other performances, but this was just weird. If they were just a goof, I apologise for bringing them up because heck, I know I’ve lost my way in a song during my little performances back in the day but something tells me it was suppose to be that way. We’ll blame the arrangement. The one thing about Hunter’s “Alas For You” is that it’s not as powerful as previous incarnations I’ve heard. In fact, the performance of “By My Side” has more power in the vocal stylings (which it shouldn’t). “By My Side” is the one song I was somewhat disappointed with in the entire show. The performer seems way too angry for the song. The accompanying vocals from the other performers are beautiful (I loved the harmonisation in this rendition) but the lead’s voice was way too strong for the mood of the song and she looked very angry. She’s one of the cast members I had the opportunity to talk with and she seems very nice in person so I was kind of sad that this song disappointed me.

“We Beseech Thee” brought us back on track and there was more prop use that I didn’t expect but was a lot of fun! Singing while bouncing can be tough but everyone did just fine.

Wow, I’m long winded in this entry. Fast forward to the finale, which is powerful, emotional and well done. One of the best performances of “On The Willows” and the finale I have seen or heard. The arrangement of the finale is cool in that there is harmonisation where I haven’t heard it before and I want to thunk someone upside the head for not doing it before. Brilliant! It compliments the unity of the group during this emotional part of the show wonderfully. I hope high school productions take note.

Overall, the show is a lot of fun and had me laugh out loud a couple of times with the inclusion of modern one-liners and improvisations. The score sounds familiar enough to keep older generations and those familiar with the show happy but fresh enough to sound contemporary. I really hope that we get to see the show once it’s opened officially because this one I would definitely see again. I recommend anyone visiting New York to see this show as it has a wonderful message that is well told through the skills of the performers, both spoken and melodically.

The beauty of last night’s performance was that it felt like the show had opened as opposed to being in previews. There was a standing ovation from the audience and it was well deserved.

The National Anthem.

So Christina Aguilera sang the National Anthem for the Superbowl this year. You may have heard that she messed up the words. She did.

I’m offended by her performance.

I believe that if you are fortunate enough to have the honor of singing the National Anthem live before an audience, the first thing you need to remember is that this is not your moment. This moment belongs to the country that all Americans love and you have a duty to lead a tribute to that which we hold dear.

The melody should not be screwed with. The word ‘brave’ does not have a dozen syllables with a wild assortment of notes. One of the most dignified performances I have ever encountered was done by the Dixie Chicks, where they performed the song in three part harmony. The tempo was normal and the blending of their voices was awe inspiring. They lent their voice as the song held it’s own.

The National Anthem is not a ballad. It is derived from a relatively lively old English drinking song, if memory serves it has something to do with “Anacron” or “Ananacron”. It’s not a slow number. Don’t make it something it isn’t.

Quite frankly, every American should know the words to the National Anthem, just as we know the Pledge of Allegiance or the way Christians know the Lord’s Prayer*. It should be a given that you know the words. Michael Bolton shouldn’t need a crib sheet and Christina Aguilera shouldn’t do an abridged version.

Don’t hassle me about whether I can do better. I don’t know if it can be compared but I have sung the National Anthem at two hockey games; my performance at one of the games was punctuated by fireworks being blasted over my head in the indoor arena as I sang the last note. I didn’t make the song my own, I used my talent to pay tribute to my country.

I was offended by Christina saying “thank you” at the end of her performance. Not because she was terrible, but because the performance shouldn’t have been about her, it was about the United States.

For the love of all that is decent, please stop destroying the National Anthem with your own interpretations. Lead the crowd in a song that everyone can participate in. *That’s* why you’ve been chosen to sing at the event.

Be proud, be humble and show some love for your country.

* I admit that I still have to sing the Lord’s Prayer in my head when it’s time to sing it.

Update 07 Feb 11 08:13: Reading through comments on various sites, I see that others share my opinions. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or if I just have specific expectations of paying tribute through the National Anthem, but others share my feelings. Here are two comments from The Washington Post editorial section:

Note to Roger Goodell (and his colleagues):

The National Anthem is NOT as damned lounge act in a third rate Vegas hotel.

Next Super Bowl (or World Series, or Final Four, or whetever,) get a band from any of the service academies, play the song with dignity, and listen to it being sung by 100,000 people…who know the damned words!

If you don’t know what a rampart is, go back to the 4th grade.

Sid Prejean
LtCol, USAF, Retired

Posted by: sidprejean | February 6, 2011 10:29 PM | Report abuse

I dislike every rendition of the national anthem by singers focused on their own performance rather than respect for the nation, it’s people, and the anthem. There are many groups, military, collegiate, etc. Who will sing the anthem properly. We do not need to listen to mediocre singers, changing the rythmn or the melody (often because they are unable to reach the high notes or keep time), trying to be “cute.” I am offended by self-serving butchering of the anthem. Can we please stop choosing “pop” performers who can’t sing.

Posted by: Eagle-Ed | February 6, 2011 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Strobelight.

So yesterday I received notice that season two American Idol contestant Kimberely Locke (she came in third, I believe) started following my tweets on Twitter. I must admit that I found this a little bit strange but then realized she must have started following me when I mentioned that I was working in the studio the night before. I mean, why else would Kimberely Locke start following a man who describes himself as a “technology geek with the heart of a country boy that loves his partner, likes guys and enjoys Macs, photography, travel and interesting facial hair.”?

I wasn’t as surprised by her this morning, however, when she sent me a Direct Message because the DM contained a mention that her new single “Strobe Light” (or is it “Strobelight”) was available on iTunes starting today. I took the bait and downloaded it and took a listen.

As a Top 40 radio program director (my actual title was “Director of Operations”) I used to listen and judge music for a living and whilst I’m not the best person in the world at this task, I do think that I have a pretty good ear. I always base my feelings on that first listen because there’s a good chance that a radio listener is going to be listening for the first time and if they don’t like what they hear they’re going to jump to another station.

At first I thought that iTunes had a bad copy of the record because the effect used on the first few bars of the song make it sound like it’s a warped 12-inch record. Okay. I guess we’re going for a retro song. I got past that weird thing and then into the track.

Kimberely’s voice soars along nicely in the track but honestly, it’s not that well written of a song. A few parts of the mix feel like she’s out of step with the rhythm track and the entire thing is not as DJ friendly as you would want a retro dance track to be. This is unfortunate.

My second impression of the song was that it was a rough copy, because there’s parts of the second verse where it just feels like they forgot to put some instrumentation in or something. Kimberely sings along just fine, but she outclasses the mix by a mile. She’s always been classy and frankly, I think she’s worthy of a better mix.

The hook is a little odd in that it focuses on a melody that moves in a downward motion instead of an upward motion. Yes, the contrariness of this will make it stick out, but when you’re singing lyrics about moving with the flow and soaring high and such, you don’t want the melody leading you down the basement stairs.

I enjoy Kimberely Locke very much and I wanted to love this record. It’s intentions are good. It’s a shame that the result is rather mediocre. If I were still spinning in the clubs, it’d be an early night record. If I were still on the radio, it’d be “lunar rotation”.

If you’d like to hear the track, a sample is available on YouTube. Click here!

TV Time.

In the interest of having family television viewing time on the couch, I have watched all four hours of “American Idol” that have been broadcast thus far this week.

These are four hours that I will never get back.

Now I am the world’s biggest armchair critic and lord knows that I definitely do not have the chops to sing up there on stage like the next Really Big Famous Person but I know good music when I hear it and I ain’t hearing it on this season of American Idol. The judges keep crowing on and on about how this season is the best season of talent thus far but I think they have to say that because they certainly don’t want the illusion of Idol slipping in any way and perhaps if they say it enough they’ll start to believe it.

There are a few things about this week’s performances that stuck out for me:

1. This Alex Lambert guy has the *exact* same hairstyle as Carol Brady. It’s not a mullet. People say it’s a mullet but I wore a mullet back when it was business-in-the-front-and-party-in-the-back time and that, my friends, is not a mullet. It’s Wessonality at it’s best.

2. The guy that butchered Kelly Clarkson’s song last night should be escorted out of the theatre immediately and given walking papers.

3. The girl with the harmonica has new teeth.

4. I really miss Paula’s “I’m not drunk or stoned, no really” shenanigans. She was entertaining. I love Ellen, but she looks terrified to be up there and she feels really out of her element.

5. Kara is no Paula either and if I was the halfway decent guy with the scruff and all that, I would be pissed if the judges tried to upstage me with their swoony antics. On the other hand, Kara’s fawning over Casey(?) is typical of record industry behavior so I shouldn’t be colored surprised.

6. The audio mix of the show is whacked out. Sometimes we can hear the vocals, sometimes we can hear the band but never all at the same time.

7. I don’t know if the acoustics are bad in the auditorium or what but barely anyone is singing on pitch. They flirt with the key they’re singing in but they dance around it quite a bit. If they were all sharp or all flat I could blame acoustics, but there’s not even consistency there (not even during a single performance) so I think that it’s just a lack of ability.

I know. I’m the world’s biggest critic and like thousands of other people I think I know it all. Earl enjoys the show so I sit and watch. The only thing I find mildly interesting is if Ryan Seacrest will look über or just mildly hot, so I guess I’ll concentrate on that.