Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Smoke Signals: Birthday Edition

Welcome to another fun filled edition of Smoke Signals, my micro blogging within a blog series. Today I will be doing some quick and random looks back at my previous birthdays. Since today June 20th is my birthday.

- At Hanover Uniform where I work it is always a fun filled birthday, filled with cake, singing, and cards. And today no Ridgeway!!

-I love my birthday because every 4 years it is the first day of summer (like today) and every once in a while it is father's day. I am also on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer which is pretty odd since Gemini' s are pretty outgoing and Cancer likes to be left alone. So now you know why I am screwed up.

-My Grandmother Parks passed away in I guess it was 1998, her funeral was the day before my birthday. It's not the only time she pulled something like that. On my 21st birthday she had to have a triple bypass operation. So thanks Grandma. (Kidding, she knows it to)

-When I was younger we used to pick what movie we wanted to see in the movie theater. One year I picked:


Yep I was an idiot when I was younger.

-I also watched Howard the Duck one year also as well. So nyahh!

-When I was younger I remember going to Orioles games around my birthday as well. One year I went when they were still at 33rd street and I remember trying to get Elrod Hendricks' autograph but he had to get to the bullpen but he invited me to come to the Orioles Club after the game and he would sign whatever I wanted. I never went.

-I always felt lucky that my birthday was in the Summer because in College we used to have a tradition where your friends would carry you to the campus pond and throw you in. My friends never had a chance. My friends whose birthday's were in the winter, we did it. One year we even iced someone when the pond was frozen over. Nice.

-One of the best birthday's I ever had was in 2010, it was actually the day before my birthday but it was still great. I took Noelle to see her first theatrical show. It was a live action version of 4 episodes of some of her favorite Nick Jr. Shows, Dora, Wonder Pets, The Backyardigans, and Ni-hao Ki Lan. We went to the Hippodrome just the 2 of us. While we were out, my wife set up a surprise party for me and I had lots of family up, including my sister and Brother in law and nephews.  Needless to say I was surprised. We had BBQ from Andy Nelson's. For dinner, my daughter and I went to Arby's to get food and that was great. That night the wife and I celebrated in our own way (nudge Nudge Wink Wink Say no more). The next day was Father's day and my actual birthday and we went down to my in laws and that was fun as well.

-I had my fair share of parties at my house. I don't recall ever going anywhere special for my birthday when I was younger. But I could be wrong. When I was older, Dawn took me to a Japanese steak house and surprised me with a little party there. That was cool as well.

-On my 30th Birthday, my mom and Dawn set up a party for me and some friends at the Stoneleigh Bowling alley. It was one of the only times I got to see my Rainforest Cafe Friends Ellyn, Jeanette, and I think Kim was in there as well who came to my party. That was fun.

-For Valentine's day my wife got me flowers, but I kind of recall that when I worked at Diamond, she used to get me flowers for my birthday and that was always a nice treat.

I'm sure I am forgetting some things but that is all I can recall at this time. Good Times.

Monday, June 18, 2012

You sure have gotten Fat Dylan

My Grandmother passed away on May 12th, a day before Mother's Day. She was 86 years old. She had not been doing that well and to be honest it was not a huge surprise. It appeared to most of us that she was waiting for all her children, (all 6 of them) to get together from the different parts of the US they lived in. Once they did they all said their goodbyes and she passed away the next day. A lovely funeral occured on May 16th and she was finally laid to rest to reunite with my grandfather, whom I never I met since he died when my dad, who is the oldest child turned 13. My Uncle Frank who is the youngest was only 1 year old when his father passed away. My grandmother never remarried though she had an interesting relationship with Father Smith a pastor friend of the family. Who passed away from Prostate cancer 3 years ago.

I've never been one to have real close relationships with my grandparents. We went to visit them often but most times I was busy with my cousins or sister or being by myself. So I never really got to know them I guess. I mean I knew alot about them but I never really sat down and just spent a lot of time with them. Do I regret it, maybe a little bit, but to me it did not seem that big of a deal. I loved my grandparents, but I never went out of my way to spend time with them, and I guess that could make me an ungrateful grandchild. But i did visit them when my parents went to see them, I just very rarely went off and spent time with them myself.

With my Grandmother Lange who just passed it was a little easy to not visit since she had 6 children who in turn 4 all had families. I have 10 cousins that range in age from 36 (I think) to about 20ish I would say. Whenever we all got together at my Grandma's house or any of my Uncle and Aunts houses the cousins all went off on their own and played various things. One of the big things we played when I was younger was Indiana Jones. Quite the experience, and can be it's own blog posting someday.

Fourth of July was our big holiday. We always got together on 4th of July (or as close as we could get it) and had a really nice picnic which included our annual games of Badminton, something that had been going on in the family since my dad was a young man. We also had some horseshoes and Bocce Ball at times as well. But badminton was our game, and I like to feel having that experience encouraged me to try out for my High School Badminton team which was a Varsity sport and in which I played for 4 years with one of the best teams in Baltimore County. Thanksgiving seemed to be big as well, but I always ended up going to my other grandparents house and then to my wife's family's house. Once in awhile we were there for Thanksgiving, and I heard after the dinner there was rough and tumble Poker going on, which I never played. We always also found ourselves at her house usually on Christmas Day as well. So each time I would end up playing with my cousins while my aunts and uncles all sat around chatting.

One year I went to the OBX with my Grandmother. The majority of her family was down there and the very first time I ever went to OBX was with them. A good amount of my cousins and my aunts and uncles were there and it was a blast. Before we left for OBX I spent the night at my grandmother's house and drove down with her and Father Smith. I think that was the only time that I remember being with her for any length of time and it wasnt even just the 2 of us since Father Smith was driving. At the beach I spent all my time with my cousins again.

The only other time I really remember visiting her when it was just her was when Dawn and I took Noelle over for a visit. At this time Noelle was a baby and my grandmother loved it. I always wanted to take her and Noah to see her but things just never came together for whatever reason, possibly from the fact that I never really spent much time with my grandmother.

Finally the reason for the title of the blog. Dawn and I got married in October 2003, that Christmas we went to my Uncle Phillip's and I remember distinctly after hugging my grandmother she looked at me and said Boy Dylan you sure have gotten fat. Now my grandmother was always one to never hold her tongue on anything and my shocked look on my face must've startled her because she then added it was a compliment, I meant it looks like married life has been good for you. Sure you were Grandma, but I still loved you. It is a memory I will have of you and I can laugh about it now because I do not think my grandmother was trying to be insulting, I think she really believed she was complimenting me. And yes I was a little chunky since my job at the time was to sit at a desk for 8 hrs a day on the phone with customers and I exercised very little but drank lots of soda and ate lots of snacks.

Are there regrets? Sure. I always wanted to learn more about the Scottish Castle that she inherited then gave away, I discovered she worked for the FBI when I was at her funeral, never knew that. I wouldve liked to hear more stories about my grandfather, my dad has some but he was 13 when grandad died so I would've liked to hear more from Grandma. I'd like to know how she was able to raise 6 kids practically on her own. I'd like to know how she was able to afford 6 kids when I don't even remember her working, and even if she was working who looked after the kids? I know my dad was a surrogate father for them, but still it would've been fascinating. I would like her to know that I did love her though I was not the greatest grandson in the world, but she always got me something for Christmas and my birthday and even got stuff for Dawn and the kids as well. One thing I do not regret is that she lived long enough to see my children, and meet my wife and spend some time with her. I was not as lucky with my other grandparents since they passed away before I was married or had kids. So at least she was able to have 5 great grand kids (my sister's, mine, and my cousin Jenny are the only one with kids) she could spend time with. I know you are in a better place grandma. I love you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Top 105 R.E.M. songs of all time Part 5 (21-1)

Here it is, finally. The last part of my all time best R.E.M. songs of all time. You can see the previous songs on my past blogs. This is the good stuff, their best stuff in my humble opinion. You may not agree with me but that is just fine. If you would like to comment please feel free. This one is going to have more videos in it so you can get a better grasp of the reasons why these are my top 21 favorite songs. There is some really good stuff here. Again I will be giving commentary on it, some long some very short. So here it is the long awaited final 21 Best songs of R.E.M. Enjoy.

21. TURN YOU INSIDE-OUT: from Green: A peppy poppy song to get you started. Green was all about the peppy and this one is no exception. My favorite part is Michael Stipe's long drown out inside-out in the chorus. Classic.

20. LOW DESERT: from New Adventures in Hi-Fi: To me this is a great travel song. A song about what seems to me as travelling across country. It's got a low rhythmic blues type feel to it with some outstanding guitar work from Peter Buck and Mike Mills. And considering this was written and recorded while on the road for the Monster concert tour, it feels like a perfect song for a great travel album.

19. DAYSLEEPER: from Up: A fantastic song that seems a tad depressing but is still a great listen and does not make me sad, it has great lyrics and a great story behind it. It details the travails of a person who works overnights and their mindset which is not always sunny, but not to depressing, just kind of sad. But a great slow song and a good break from the rockers they churn out.

18. UBERLIN: from Collapse Into Now: When Collapse Into Now came out, I had just been in a car accident a few days before. My car was totalled and while I was figuring out what I was going to do, I was given a loaner car since the accident was not my fault. It had a nice CD player, and to cheer myself up I bought the album the day it came out and played it in the loaner car. And played it everyday I had that loaner car. it helped cheer me up, and this song is by far my favorite on the whole album. This one got repeated a ton of times. A classic in their last studio album. The video is a hoot also, pure REM. Check it out.

17. CARNIVAL OF SORTS: from Chronic Town  Can you believe that 1 song from their very first 5 or 6 track cd made it as high as Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars) as it is also sometimes called. But it's true, and again it is one of those that I never really thought much about til I started working on this list, and I heard this and was transfixed all over again. This is a great rocker that shows the band at it's best while still raw. It has train imagery that filled Fables of The Reconstruction and this song could very well have easily fit into this album. Instead this is from their very first album and it is awesome. The video I have linked to it is from an Old Nickelodeon show in either 82 or 83, not 85 as the title states. The song is awesome but check out the crazy dancing.

16. SO FAST SO NUMB: from New Adventures in Hi-Fi: The one two punch of Bittersweet Me (coming next) and this song is one of the best 1-2 punches REM has ever done on their albums. If you can get past the glaringly sexual themes of this song, you get a great rocker that complements the song before it.

15. BITTERSWEET ME: from New Adventures in Hi-Fi: While both songs are great, this one to me is the better of the two. It also is not sexual like So Fast So Numb. Instead you get another great rocker with some stellar Michael Stipe singing. Both Bittersweet Me and So Fast So Numb are a great pairing if you want some good Southern rocking.

14. LEAVING NEW YORK: from Around the Sun: The only other really good song from this mediocre album is a tale of leaving a loved one and is a nice reflective quiet song. That talks about loss but in a good way. A good song to listen to while you recover from a broken heart.

13. BAD DAY: from In Time: Best of REM: This song has an interesting backstory. It is one of REM's oldest songs, but it never got released until the late 90s. It also shares a similar framework to End of the World as we know it. Apparently when this song did not come together, they took aspects of it and created End of the World as we know it. But to add some new songs to their 2 disc greatest hits set they reworked it into one of their better songs. A great peppy upbeat song about having a bad day. Good to listen to when you are having a bad day. You may very well find yourself singing along with it, like I do.

12. IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (AND I FEEL FINE): from Document: Another of their songs that everyone knows. Used in various movies this peppy list song as Stipe calls it is basically Stipe singing a laundry list of unrelated things in between the chorus. I remember my Freshman year of college. My roomate had to decipher every lyric for the song. He asked me for help and I did my best but it goes by so fast and some of it you can't understand. That being said, a brillant fun song about the end of the world.

11. GET UP: from Green:  A fantastic, short, to the point song with a fun chorus that is great to sing to.

10. CUYAHOGA: from Lifes Rich Pagent: An environmental song about the Cuyahoga river, a river that due to so much pollution once caught fire, a river caught fire. But beside the message it conveys you get a real slower song with a fantastic chorus that is pure brillance from the lyrics to the music.

9. FIND THE RIVER: from Automatic For The People:  My second favorite song from Automatic for the People is a nice chill kind of song with a great southern quality to it. Makes me think about Tom Sawyer (the story not the song) whenever I hear it. Or a nice leisurely cruise down the river. Nice, sweet, zen song.

8. DRIVER 8: from Reconstruction of The Fables: Early REM always seemed to have an obsession with trains. And that's fine. Because without it we would never get this brillant train song from early in their career. Just a great story song with a kicking beat.

7. DON'T GO BACK TO ROCKVILLE: from Reckoning: I'm from Baltimore, which is not that far away from Washington DC. I had family that lived outside of DC. So going down to the see them on 95 I always think of this song, since we pass the exit for Rockville. This song is about Rockville, Maryland. It's documented. This is one of the few songs where Mike Mills the great backup singer gets to be on the forefront because this song is about an old girlfriend of his who lived in Rockville, MD. Whenever REM played in the Baltimore/Washington area they always played this song. And Mills does a great job of singing. The below video was filmed at Merriwheater Post Pavilion in 2008, the last time REM came to Baltimore.

6. TEXARKANA:  from Out of Time: Another Mike Mills special. Mike is also one of the reasons I love this band. Stipe was given a very able back up singer in Mills, and Stipe knew how well he had it with Mills that let him be the main singer of a few songs. A coda to the previous list. Mills did not originally sing Rockville when it first came out, but he did do the majority of the writing for it. And it's based on a real event in his life. Over the last few years Stipe has allowed him to sing it because it is his song. However back to Texarkana, this is all Mills. Perfect, fun, travel song, and Mills is great in it.

5. PERFECT CIRCLE: from Murmur: A wonderful, wonderful slow song, that is just incredible. Heartbreaking but hopeful at the same time. Everything clicks on this song. When I first started getting into REM, this was my favorite REM song. It was so great that I wrote my first screenplay and titled it Perfect Circle has an homage to this song. Beautiful song. LOVE IT!!

4. I'LL TAKE THE RAIN: from Reveal: Another heartbreaking song that is just so good. SO sweet. So wonderful. It may be slightly depressing, but it's a song about a breakup and breakups are hard. But just like all their depressing songs, it has a very hopeful feeling to it as well.

3. PILGRIMAGE: from Murmur: I know this probably surprises a lot of people because most people even fans have never heard the song before. One of the things I love about it is how layered it is. Multiple layers of vocals, music, etc., all combine to make a perfectly great song that has a bit of quiet in it, but at the same time gets you popping as well, and that is the multiple layers. It is almost dreamlike in some aspects.
This song would probably be very hard to do live since there are so many layers to it.

2. THE GREAT BEYOND: from In Time: The Best Of REM: Originally written for the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey, it always surprises me how this song could not have been nominated for an Oscar, IT IS THAT GOOD. It is so good that it just misses being the # 1 REM song of all time by a hair. This is a great Andy Kaufman esqe song with great performances from all involved, the Chorus is phenomenal, and the lyrics are pitch perfect. The music is cool and makes for a song I could listen to on REPEAT for a very long time. Absolutley perfect.

1. MAN ON THE MOON: from Automatic for the People: This wins because it is the epitome of what REM is, a Southern Rock Band, with a Southern Rock song that epitomized who REM was. This song has everything, the twangy guitars, the great singing, great backup singing, a strange song with interesting yet head scratching lyrics, an ode to Andy kaufman. That was so cool that a movie about Andy Kaufman not only titled it after the song but had REM do the score for it. This is REM, and it is a great song.

That's it. The top 105 REM songs of all time as chosen by me. By all means I would love to hear comments and questions about it. I also have a YouTube Playlist that is public that has all 105 songs on it. So if you want to hear some of the other songs that I did not post Videos for, please check it out. it has been posted on Facebook and soon Twitter. Thanks for hanging with me!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Saturday Night is all right for SYFY-ing

One of my favorite shows of all time was Mystery Science Theater 3000. It started off on Comedy Central then they moved it to the then Sci-Fi channel where they produced some new episodes. The premise was a human and two robots (who were puppets) were forced to watch really bad movies from the 50s-80s, mostly horror and science fiction with names like Santa Claus vs. the Martians, or Robot Holocaust, or the Wandering Eye, but they were able to riff jokes about what they were seeing on the screen and it was hilarious.  One of the things I loved was on Thanksgiving they would play a marathon of episodes (Turkey day, Turkey movies) So many years ago Sci-Fi (who is now SyFy) cancelled the show, and then started to make their own turkey movies. Now the first one I remember them making was back in 2004, but now they do a number of them per year and they are so bad, either intentionally or unintentionally that you cannot look away. It was as if they were making movies so that someday they could revive MST3K (as it is known by the fans) and use these movies to have the characters riff on them. But we on Twitter have beaten them to the punch.

There is a group of people who sit through these terrible movies with titles like Sharktopus, or Dinocroc, or Space Twister and on the social networking site Twitter riff on the movie making some funny jokes or just stating how terrible the movie is. My wife and I are proud members of this group. It is fun to feel superior, but honestly gang these movies are really bad from the monster mash ups, to the terrible acting and FX. It's a fun way to spend a Saturday night, especially if you have young children in bed and you cannot go anywhere.  But you would never catch me just watching the movie and not commenting because no one in their right minds would watch the movie to just watch it. They are very high grade B-movies. But the fun is the riffing on the movies. And I realized there are some really funny people out there, and occassionally I may get off a good zinger, or my wife will get a good one. But it's fun, and it's away to spend time together, though we are on Twitter together we still make our own jokes in the privacy of our own home. Not every movie is worthy of the Twitter Riffing, but some are just dying for it. Like this Saturday's wonderful production JERSEY SHORE SHARK ATTACK, which has epicness that has not been seen in a while. You take the horrendous characters from one of the worst shows of this Century Jersey Shore and have them take on Sharks. It's all kinds of horrible, but totally hilarious! Upcoming we have PiranahaConda, and ArachnoQuake to name a few. CANT WAIT... Watch the Syfy channel this Saturday June 9th and prepare to have your mind blown. You will want to join in on the conversation because this film has all kinds of epic badness on its way. CANT WAIT!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

GREEN Lantern is not gay. Green LANTERN IS

The world of comic books is one of the oddest ones I have ever been associated with. You have the big 2 Marvel and DC, then the next level IMAGE, Dark Horse, IDW, and then a lot of smaller vendors as well. Working in the Comic Book Distribution field as well as being a brand manager for many of the vendors has given me a keen perspective on the industry. The one thing that always gets me is how the big 2 act toward each other. I know your whole reason for being is to make money and be the big dog, but when you work with freelancers who freely jump from vendor to vendor you begin to get a little overlap, and much like the film industry where a film is announced by one film company and a similar one is announced shortly after you have to scratch your head and wonder is there enough room for two Snow White movies, or two Comets bent on destroying the Earth movies, or two Mars movies, etc. And in most cases there isn't. You usually have one clear winner and one clear loser. With comics it's a little sketchy who wins or loses when competing ideas with similar ideas are introduced.

One of the worst offenders was way back when I was still working at Diamond with my friend Corey. We were on the same Customer Service team, (West Coast baby!) and our cubes shared a wall. We could talk to each other fairly easily. Anyway. DC decided to make a limited series called Identity Crisis where a villain starts killing the loved ones of super heroes. This villain somehow found out the secret identity of these heroes and was stalking their loved ones. A good idea that unfortunatley had a terrible ending. But I digress. Soon afterwards Marvel came up with an idea called Identity Disk. A limited series where a group of villains were tasked with finding a mythical Computer Disk with every heroes secret identity on it (huh?) and the villains could use it to hunt down the loved ones of heroes. So slightly different story ideas, but similar titles and ideas. Now when Corey and I read the first issue of Identity Disk we had to laugh. You could tell that after DC announced the project someone at Marvel said we need to get on this and hired a writer and told him what he needed to write and to get it done ASAP so they could compete directly with Identity Crisis. Because Identity Disk was basically the story of The movie The Usual Suspects but with 5 super-villains being hired by a mythical crime lord. Corey and I started to call it Identity Usual Suspects, and every issue just fostered that belief. DC won that round.

However DC is also known to do similar things as well. Case in point, Marvel has always had a gay character. A mutant by the name of Northstar. He came out a long time ago and there was a huge media blitz when it happened. But it never really turned into anything, until recently when Marvel announced that Northstar would be getting married. So you have the first Gay Marriage in comic history. So Marvel is doing a huge media blitz. So DC sees all the attention Marvel is getting and DC is trying to diversify their heroes, the big brains decide we need a gay character to. But we need to make an established character gay. To their credit they did introduce a new character who is gay a few months ago, and a few years ago introduced the first Lesbian superhero, but the fact that they needed to change an established characters sexuality raises eyebrows. Now I have no problem with making this character gay, but to me it seemed like they were reacting to the Marvel Gay marriage, since DC has a stable of some Lesbian, Gay, and Bi characters out there, but they are not really established characters. So once this news hit, they got a piece of the spotlight to. So much so that 98 Rock down here in Maryland mentioned it on their morning show. There are a few people who listen to the show and when they heard this they came right to me and told me what they heard. "Dylan, did you know that Green Lantern is gay?" Now being a comic geek I have paraded around work in my Green Lantern t-shirts so they knew I was fan. The only problem was they were thinking it was a different Green Lantern. So I had to put them right...

Back in the 1940s DC comics had a series of comics featuring Super Heroes. Green Lantern was one of those characters. However this Green Lantern was named Alan Scott, he was a rich radio man who one day found a green rock that he fashioned into a ring and soon learned he could control the energy that was emanating from it. It's only weakness was wood. He had a girlfriend who was always in trouble, and he was a part of a team called the Justice Society.  Fast forward to the 1960s, Marvel has asserted itself as an upstart young company but releasing very popular comics featuring characters by the name of Spider Man and the Hulk, and The Fantastic Four and the Avengers. DC seeing a surge in the superhero comics decide to dust off some of their old super heroes from the 40s and update them to the present day (which was the 1960s) so they dug into their vaults and created new iterations of Green Lantern and The Flash to name a few. This Green Lantern was Hal Jordan, a womanizing pilot who received a magical ring from a dying alien and became a member of an intergalactic police force. But Alan Scott and the Justice Society had not been forgotten. They started making reapperances in the 1960s comics as well, but from an alternate dimension called Earth 2. So the Green Lanterns teamed up, the Justice League teamed up with the Justice Society and all was good.

The 1980s was a banner year for comics and Marvel was still kicking DC's ass. So DC felt they needed to do something to compete, so they created the 12 issue mini series Crisis on Infinite Earths which basically wiped out 40 years of continuity so that the 1980s comic fans who may not have been buying the older DC comics since their continuity was so old could start fresh. This saw the combining of Earth 1 and Earth 2, so that the Justice Society and Alan Scott fought in WWII, but retired soon afterwards, then the present heroes started appearing and paying homage to them. But their were still fans of the old heroes so they created a Justice Society comic, where we followed the adventures of these older super heroes. Alan Scott was now married with two kids, both of whom had powers. His daughter Jade, and Son Obsidian, who happened to be gay. But then the 2000s rolled in and again Marvel was still beating DC, so last September DC revamped their entire line. The New 52. Which I have written about in previous blogs. When the new 52 was announced the Justice Society and Alan Scott were gone. Hal Jordan Green Lantern had taken the next step and became a live action movie with Ryan Reynolds. However some of the new 52 books floundered after the launch and 5 were cancelled after their 8th issue. So you needed some new blood. A book entitled Earth 2 was introduced and was going to follow the Justice Society back on their Earth 2, but instead of having them be WWII vets, they were going to be young, contemporary heroes on a different Earth. So to spice it up, DC, in response to what I think was the Northstar marriage made Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern gay.

Now with the movie version of Green Lanten, my co-workers believed that was who DC had turned Gay. That was not the case. And I had to give them this history lesson I gave you. To re-iterate I have no problem making him Gay, just as long as it is not a stunt to boost sales or compete with Marvel. I look forward to reading Earth 2 to see what they end up doing with the character.