Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Best Christmas Songs (With No Longwinded Explanations This Time) Song Three:

It's a Minibest!

I found this song in a circuitous way: I posted "All The Little Things" as Song Two Of this year's Best Christmas Songs roundup, and then wanted to download that song, and I found it on Voicedude's site (Voicedude being who made the mashup.)

That led me to the Christmas compilation of mashups, where I found a pretty good song called "Pumping Up Christmas." That song, in turn, featured a snippet of today's song, "Merry Christmas, Everyone," by Shakin Stevens:

And so last night, I got to listen to Merry Christmas Everyone while playing with Mr F and Mr Bunches.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Update To The Next Best Song By Alli Millstein: "Mend My Heart."

It's a MiniBest!

When I posted The Next Best Song By Alli Millstein two weeks ago, I hadn't heard back from Alli yet about the song. It turns out that Alli does things besides sit around and wait to get email from bloggers. Who knew?

But she has gotten back to me, now, and has this explanation for the song Mend My Heart:

I asked Alli:

1. Is it based on a real-life experience? Yours or someone else's?

Alli responded: It is based on a real life experience. Basically what I explain in the song, is what happened. I had a relationship with someone, but it didn't work like I hoped it would. As they say, time heals all wounds, and I ended up finding another individual who could put things in perspective. I know people say not to end a relationship then start a new one right away, but I think that sometimes having a "rebound" can help an individual move on.

2. Did you always have that same metronomic/back-and-forth melody in the background?

Alli: I came up with the lyrics to that song, and the melody at basically the same time. I sort of came up with that guitar riff after seeing Juno (figures), and then came up with a corresponding melody and lyrical line. I was listening to tons of Kimya Dawson at the time, and I think it shows.

3. The imagery of the lovers falling into the ocean in a dream: Did you come up with that on your own, or was that from another source (i.e., a book, or movie or something?)

Alli: The imagery of the lovers falling into the ocean came from me. I was on a bus ride with the person I was seeing at the time, and I fell asleep and was dreaming about the bus falling into the sea. When I woke up he said I had been gripping his hand tightly as I slept. During that time, it was a very beautiful part of our relationship, and those lyrics just sort of found their way into my head.

Here's the song, again, for you:

Like the album? Know someone who would like it as a gift? Buy it here!

"Spaceman From Pluto?" Ridiculous: Everyone knows Spacemen Are From Neptune.

I like reading up on all kinds of arts -- not just the movies and TV shows that get covered heavily in magazines and the 'net, but also on paintings, museums, plays, music, and more. And I like especially an offbeat or unusual article about something; whether the subject or the way it's written is a little un-ordinary, that kind of thing appeals to me more than just another movie review.

That's why I like to browse the Arts and Entertainment section at A1 Articles.

A1 Articles is a service that lets you write and add your own articles to their directory, and also to use their articles and repost them -- or get professionally written copy for your site. Those are all great things, but I enjoy most just getting the rundown on everything from Austin's music scene (where I find out about bands before they hit the national scene) to quirky articles like the one I read today about what movies COULD have been called (like calling "Pretty Woman" "3000" instead, or calling "Back To The Future" by the name "Spaceman From Pluto."

The articles cover every topic I can think of, and that's saying a lot, because Arts & Entertainment is pretty broad and I can think of a lot of stuff. Check it out yourself and see what you think -- I'm betting you'll agree with me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best Absolutely True (Well, Almost) Celebrity Stories That Should Be Christmas Movies

It's a SemiDaily List!

An annual tradition of mine is to complain about the pathetic state of Christmas movies and Christmas specials. Considering that Christmas, as an enterprise, does so much so well, it's amazing how little time, effort, thought, or creativity goes into Christmas movies and TV shows, all of which seem to fall into a couple of simple categories that just keep re-telling the same old tired Christmas stories and themes.

There are movies in the "A Christmas Carol" theme, in which either someone retells the story A Christmas Carol, either directly or by "re-interpreting" it into a Miley Cyrus vehicle in which Miley is visited by the Jonas Brothers playing the Ghosts of Pop Stars Past, Present, and Future. I'm not sure why this story has survived for so long or become such a staple of modern Christmases, especially considering that the story itself has little to do with Christmas: While it's set on Christmas Eve, the story itself has very, very little to do with anything Christmas-y. It could have taken place on any day. Sure, Scrooge denies Bob Cratchit an extra lump of coal for heat and makes him come in to work the next day -- but Scrooge no doubt would have done that every day. And Scrooge-past sees himself abandoned at a boarding school, even at Christmas; but he would have been abandoned at school on every day, too. Scrooge then sees the present, where the Cratchits are very happy even though Scrooge is mean, and sees the future, when the Cratchits are sad because Tiny Tim isn't there on Christmas-- but they would be saddened by that little empty stool every day, not just on Christmas.

In any event, A Christmas Carol has survived for 166 years now, and will probably survive another 166 years, so that we'll eventually be treated to A Christmas Carol 2175: Cyborg Miley Cyrus & The Actual Ghosts Of The Jonas Brothers.

While that's the most popular tired Christmas theme, it's not the only one that's used today. The other very prevalent Christmas movie/special theme is the Family Sucks Except Really They Don't, movies which show us how it's possible to love our families if only we visit them at Christmas. This year's entry in that category is Robert De Niro's Everything's Fine or Everybody's Fine or something like that, with Robert De Niro finding out that his whole family hates him and lies to him... except on Christmas.

(I'm just guessing at the plot, based on watching 1/3 of the movie trailer, the most I could stand before I got bored, and a little saddened by the state of Christmas movies.)

Other movies like this include one of my favorites, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and last year's Four Christmases.

Then the other overused category is the "The True Meaning Of Christmas" movie or special, a theme that actually runs contrary to a foundation of Modern Christmas by claiming that Christmas isn't about stuff, when we all know it is.

Let me explain that: There are two pillars on which Modern Christmas is built. The first is A Christmas Carol, which created the "Victorian Christmas" that people associate with Christmas in modern societies in the 21st-Century; people somehow manage to combine into one coherent whole their images of carolers and frosted old-fashioned windows, and the fact that they bought their kids "Zhu Zhu Robotic Hamsters," never noting the cognitive dissonance there.

The second pillar of Modern Christmas is the poem that Clement Moore stole and claimed as his own, the poem everyone calls 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, but which was actually called A Visit From St. Nicholas. In that poem, the speaker regales us with tales of Christmas, and those tales of Christmas are about all the stuff that the people are dreaming of having, and all the stuff that St. Nicholas is bringing them. It's one of the most materialistic poems ever written, as anyone who reads it knows: while the actual author (not Moore, probably) spends a little time detailing the quiet, peaceful scene, he dwells a lot more on the commercial, give-me-stuffery of Christmas:

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

The kids are dreaming of candy and treats -- not of Christmas peace and love and joy. But it gets worse:

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

Note what's listed first: "...and St. Nicholas too." Oh, yeah -- the religious figure is also present.

About that religious figure: 1/3 of his description is the stuff he's bringing:

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back.

I could go on, but you get the point: that poem, the other pillar of Modern Christmas, sets up a purely commercial Christmas: It's a merry Christmas because a saint brought material things to them.

That, though, has been somehow entirely twisted around to the Modern Christmas theme of "The True Meaning Of Christmas," which is always set up as "It's not the stuff we get but the emotions we feel." And so Charlie Brown learns the true meaning of Christmas after buying a terrible tree (only to have the terrible tree become a great tree using the commercial stuff) and The Grinch learns the true meaning of Christmas after taking all the stuff away (but then gives the stuff back, anyway.)

Those examples show that we're really only paying lip service to all this True Meaning Of Christmas idea anyway - -because in the end, after we learn our lesson, we get stuff anyway. Even the Cratchits got the biggest, fattest Christmas goose available, and they didn't need to learn a lesson to get some booty.

I'm tired of those old tropes at Christmas, as you might have guessed, but I don't just sit around and complain about things; no, I take positive steps to remedy the situation, pointing out what Christmas movies are truly worth your while, and coming up with better Christmas movies that should be made, which I'm going to do again this year, with a twist. I'm not only going to give you ideas for better Christmas movies so that maybe next year we could have some good ones to watch while eating fruitcake and drinking egg nog, but I'm also going to add in a "True Life Stories" twist by making each of my movies, this year, based on Actual Celebrity Lives that are Absolutely True, Almost, which is how I came up with the title for this list:
The Best Absolutely True (Well, Almost) Celebrity Stories That Should Be Christmas Movies

These are all absolutely true stories about celebrities... almost, as the Magic of Christmas lets me tweak their stories just a little bit to take the true story, make it a little better, and then make an all-new point about Christmas!

Let's begin!

The Quarterback From Santa Claus:

The True Story: Real-life celebrity Jay Cutler is a pro football quarterback born in Santa Claus, Indiana. Growing up, Jay always dreamed of the day he'd play football in the NFL, leading his team to victory. But it's been a rough couple of years for The Quarterback From Santa Claus, as his disappointing career gets him traded from Denver to the Chicago Bears. Jay arrives in Chicago full of hope, but by December, the Bears' season is almost over, the coach is on the verge of firing, and things are looking grim for our hero...

The Twist of Christmas Magic: Just before Christmas, Bears' coach Lovie Smith is fired by the team, which announces it's moving in a different direction. Lovie is jobless... just before Christmas eve!. When he hears this, Jay realizes that this is his true Christmas destiny: Saving Lovie's job and Lovie's family's Christmas. Jay goes to the practice facility to try to convince the team to rehire Lovie, but the place is locked up for the night. Thinking quickly, Jay organizes a pickup game of football, to be played on Christmas Eve, featuring NFL stars from all over the country. As the stars fly in, they realize they've got no field to play on -- until Jay suggests playing right on Chicago's Magnificent Mile at the height of last minute shopping. As word of the game spreads, the media arrives to cover the events unfolding on the brilliantly decorated shopping district, and shoppers pause in their errands to watch when Jay takes the field with an all-star NFL lineup. Just as he does, Lovie walks out of the store where he's been despondently window shopping. Jay turns to him and says, "Hey, Lovie -- you can coach this team!" Lovie guides Jay and the team through a thrilling montage of football action, at the end of which offers to coach other teams pour in through the media-- and Jay's love of football is revitalized for next year!

The Timeless Christmas Message This Movie Emphasizes: On Christmas, anything can happen if we just believe!

The Updated Christmas Message For Our Modern Society: The 24 hour news cycle and barrage of new media makes it possible to game the system to promote any cause if you come up with the right hook -- and Christmas is always the right hook!

I'll Be Gone For Christmas

The True Story: Real-life celebrity Randy Quaid goes on the run after absconding on a $10,000 hotel bill. As that story unfolds, Randy and his wife face mounting trouble from other government officials who claim that the Quaids stole government papers, falsely accused officials of being corrupt; meanwhile, other actors and show-biz types say Randy is missing rehearsals unexpectedly and that the actor and his wife have been acting in a threatening manner towards business acquaintances...

The Twist Of Christmas Magic: ... but Randy and Evi soldier on, facing more and more attacks, until, on Christmas Eve they are arrested and seen being taken into jail in Los Angeles while reporters and paparazzi crowd around them, taunting them. Randy finally stops and addresses the crowd, claiming that he finally is authorized to reveal the truth: He is Santa Claus, and has been undercover for some time now trying to decide if it's worth it to continue his practice of bringing presents to good kids and excluding the naughty kids; in this materialistic world, Randy asks, does anyone even care any more if you're naughty or nice? The hotel bill was a misunderstanding on his part, and the attacks from government officials are part of a campaign to discredit him because those people are on the Naughty list. The world laughs, of course, and Randy is put in jail, where he decides to stay to teach everyone a lesson. But watching the small TV on the jailer's desk, he sees a story about some underprivileged kids who won't have anything under their trees that year. Randy/Santa realizes that even if most of the world no longer believes in or cares about him, there are still people who depend on him, and so just before midnight he summons the reindeer, walks out of the jailhouse, and begins delivering presents all over again. The paparazzi are there, and cover the story with a newfound respect for Quaid and Santa.

The Timeless Christmas Message this movie emphasizes: It doesn't matter if you believe in Christmas, because Christmas believes in you!

The Updated Christmas Message For Our Modern Society: It doesn't matter how crazy, dangerous or illegal your activities are: You're always just around the corner from respectability and a book deal.

You Say It's Your Birthday

The True Life Story: Real-life celeb Jesus is born in humble circumstances in Bethlehem; his surroundings don't give a real indication of his status as the Son of God and Savior of the World, but a few people recognize the importance of the day and celebrate it with visits and gifts, which get built up and expanded upon over the centuries, until eventually what began as a small ceremony becomes a months-long celebration of lights, parades, television specials, gift-giving, drunken parties, and garish sweaters, with scarcely a mention of the man whose birth is being celebrated.

The Twist of Christmas Magic:... watching all of this from Heaven, Jesus becomes not irate, or jealous, or upset, but overwhelmed by the commercial aspects of Christmas. He ventures down to the "real world" to do some Christmas shopping, picking up Snuggies for the Angels ("They look just like the robes they wear... but warmer!" he tells the clerk) and trying fruitcake for the first time, goes ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza, and otherwise partaking of the worldly pleasures -- all the while attracting more and more attention as people realize that this really is Jesus. As he attracts more and more attention and goes more and more commercial, people become upset that even Jesus has gone commercial, and start turning away from Christmas --- and religion-- themselves. Jesus decides that he doesn't need everyone in the world at all, that he just needs himself and his stuff, and falls asleep in Christmas Eve looking at his own expensive, dramatically decorated Christmas tree... then wakes up to find Santa sitting across from him and looking at him. The tree is surrounded by tons and tons of presents. Jesus begins opening them while Santa watches, and the gifts pile up.

But suddenly, Jesus looks around and realizes it's all useless: He's got Guitar Hero, but nobody to play it against! He's got a bunch of the latest CDs, but nobody to play them for. He's even got a new laptop and digital camera... but no friends on Facebook!

"I can't enjoy all this stuff alone! What am I supposed to do, Santa?" he says, and Santa smiles and says:

"Well, Jesus, I haven't unloaded all your presents yet..." and opening his bag, we see the entire world gathered together, smiling up from Earth. "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" Jesus realizes that he needs people as well as stuff, and, having learned a lesson, we fade out with Jesus challenging John the Baptist to a rousing game of Guitar Hero -- and they're playing The Beatles' "Birthday!"

The Timeless Christmas Message this movie emphasizes: Christmas is a time to say I love you, and mean it.

The Updated Christmas Message For Our Modern Society: Your stuff is only good if you can show it off to other people.

Outsmarting The Boy is one of my hobbies.

This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of Yamaha. All opinions are 100% mine.

Every year, The Boy thinks that he knows exactly what he's getting for Christmas. That's usually because every year The Boy knows exactly what he's getting for Christmas, which happens as a result of The Boy asking for very few items, and Sweetie being unable to keep a secret for even a few microseconds.

This year, The Boy THINKS he's getting a few small things -- some movies on DVD and games and a couple of shirts -- and is feeling smug because he's got the idea that he's figured us out.

But I've got a surprise in store for him: The Yamaha PDX-60.

No, that's not a new 'droid in the latest Star Wars cartoon; it's the best way to play movies on iPods and get high-quality sound from anywhere in the room.

The Yamaha PDX-60 Speaker Dock uses the "yAired" (tm) wireless technology to give no-delay high quality, deep bass sound from any iPod (or iPhone) located anywhere in the room. It's a speaker system like no other, making it feel like you're there, live, in concert with Pink Floyd or Nine Inch Nails or whoever it is The Boy is listening to these days.

The Boy uses his iPod incessantly: he buys digital movies and watches them on it, and he's got it loaded up with all the music I can't stand but which he loves -- like the aformentioned Pink Floyd, which I USED TO like before he played it nonstop. But that means that he'll get a kick out of the PDX-60, because he can enjoy sound quality that blows away the tinny computer speakers we have, or his headphones; it even comes with a remote, so he can skip through or replay songs and parts of movies without getting up and going to the iPod itself.

As for me, I get TWO thrills out of it: I get to surprise The Boy, who only THINKS he knows what he's getting, and also, I get to have him go back to listening to his music in his room rather than on my computer.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Best Christmas Songs (With No Longwinded Explanations This Time) Song Two:

It's A MiniBest!

It's Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. and I'm in my office, trying to keep my spirits up despite it being cold and wet and Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. and my being in my office instead of at home reading the Sports section.

I was keeping my spirits up by listening to a Trans Siberian Orchestra station on Pandora, and the song Remember came on. I thought: "I should put that on The Best of Everything as today's Christmas song." So I searched Youtube to find a video for it, but then I found this:

"It's The Little Things," the first-ever-that-I-knew-of Christmas Mash-up Song, combining "Remember" with "All The Small Things" by Blink-182. Like putting pineapple on a hamburger, it's better than it has any right to be:

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Best Christmas Songs (With No Longwinded Explanations This Time): Song One

It's a MiniBest! (Click here for more of those!)

In the past, I've written on numerous occasions about what makes a good, or great, or BEST Christmas song. (Here, and here, too, and here, here, here, here, and also here.)

Those posts were marked by two things: 1. Great Christmas music, and 2. Too much writing.

So this year, to keep the tradition going but save my typing fingers, you're getting The Best Christmas Songs (With No Longwinded Explanations This Time.)

I promise.

Here's Number one: The Best Christmas Song That Makes Me Like Eddie Money All Over Again:

It's no I Love A Rainy Night, but it's good:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Best Way To Eventually Run A Marathon And/Or Have Your Pants Fit The Way You Want Them To (Easy Good Things: Fitness)

What's this all about? Click here!

Tip: Start Small, Finish Big.

I know whereof I speak when I talk about getting in shape. Despite my present, somewhat blobular appearance, I am a pretty healthy guy. My current physique owes a lot to (a) being 40 and (b) having spent a lot of time with my Babies! the last few years and even (c) advances in candy bar technology.

But things were not always so: Once upon a time, I was a workout guru. I lost 100 pounds in six months when I was 25 -- going from 272 to 172 (and eventually down to 162), and while it wasn't, over time, easy -- because running isn't-- the program was easy to start and easy to move up.

I was always a heavy guy, and as time went on, I got heavier. And heavier. And heavier. One day, something clicked in me. It might have been that I could no longer buy my pants off the rack at a regular store. It might have been that girls kept saying I was "just a friend." It might have been that I wheezed when vacuuming.

Whatever it was, I woke up one day and decided to get into shape, and I began, that day. I started running, right that day.

That's like a bonus Easy Good Thing, right there -- before I get to the actual Easy Good Thing, that's a bonus one: Begin now! Don't wait until New Year's Day, or your birthday, or next Friday, to start or quit something. Today is as good as any other day and if you're serious, you'll start right now.

Right. Now!

Like I did, when I began to get in shape. That very day, I went running. At 272 pounds (and a smoker) I didn't run very far, but that wasn't the point: I ran.

I made it all of 1/4 mile that day -- 3 laps around the track, at the time. But, undaunted, I kept with it. The first day, I ran 1/4 mile and then walked for the rest of the alloted workout time of 30 minutes.

The next day, I tried to run just a little further. I went about 3 and 1/2 laps, and walked the rest. Then the next day, I made it to five laps.

I kept it up, increasing my running time a little each day and then a little more each day, until eventually I was running a whole mile. Then 1 1/2 miles (the first time I'd done that since 5th grade!), then more. And more and more.

Eventually, I was able to run for hours on end -- the farthest I ever did in one continuous run was 17 1/2 miles, a run I did with no real training to lead up to it. I just set out running one day, carrying my Walkman and 35 cents to call my brother from a payphone when I got too tired to go on, and have him come pick me up.

In the course of doing that, I dropped weight, and did it rapidly -- so rapidly that my extended family didn't recognize me at Christmas when I came into my uncle's house. I went from a 44-inch waist to a 34 inch waist, in six months. (I did that in conjunction with a strict diet, but that's for another day.)

I kept that weight off a long time, too -- I've never put it all back on, even after I slowed down and even after back surgery and twin boys and a sedentary job, and I still put that thinking into practice. When I decided to get back into shape again this year, I started running 20 minutes on a treadmill. Then, each month, I upped that five minutes, so now I'm at 35 minutes.

Each day, too, I do situps or light weight lifting. I started doing situps by doing 10, many months ago. Each month I increase it by one; this month, it's 26.

And my pants are fitting better again than they have, I have t-shirts that I haven't worn in two years that I can wear now, and I even think I'm looking less blobular.

That's your tip: If you want to get in shape, start now and start small. Wherever you are, fitness-wise, start there and push it further and further, a little at a time. It'll work, and it'll work because in getting in shape, and in everything, it doesn't matter how far you go at first -- it matters how far you go at last.

Still 3 days left in the contest: Comment on this post! You could win a book or magazine subscription (details here) and you'll be making me happy (details on that here.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Next Best Song By Alli Millstein: "Mend My Heart."

Update: Read what Alli has to say about this song here.

You didn't think that I forgot that November was Alli Millstein Month for Minibests, did you? I didn't, of course -- but I also didn't get around to posting all of the songs off of her phenomenal album Human Nature (buy it here!) in part because I was waiting to hear back on my latest set of questions for Alli, who's been busy.

But, because her album is great and because I didn't finish up in November, I'm declaring that December is ALSO ALLI MILLSTEIN MONTH, and providing you with The Next Best Song By Alli Millstein, the song "Mend My Heart." Here it is, with my amazingly detailed video:

I haven't gotten Alli's input on this song yet, but I chose it for the second one on the list because it's actually my favorite of her songs. I like best, I think, the simple back-and-forth of the music behind the song, and I like the lyrics:

Its that time of year again
The air smells of summer
Rub your eyes and rise from bed
To wake from winter's slumber.

At this point in time last year
Everything was changing.
He broke my heart into pieces,
It took some rearranging.

But now I have a needle and thread,
Sew it up and it will beat again.
Yeah now I have a needle and thread,
Sew it up and it will beat again.

I always hold your arms so tight
while we're sleeping
It's hard for me let go of you
While I'm dreaming.
We will fall into the sea
our hearts and eyes open
our hands are warm our feet are free
we float through the ocean.

and I reach my arm

for a needle and thread
you sew my heart and it beats again
yeah you held my heart
in your own two hands
and now its ready to beat again.

Especially the part about two people sleeping, arms held tight, dreaming of falling into a warm safe sea and floating away; that's an image of romance that's so perfect, it makes you wonder why nobody ever came up with it before.

Read about The First Best Alli Millstein Song here.

Here's a list of all the Minibests ever!

And here's an alphabetical list of everything I've ever discussed here.