Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The divisive Paul McCartney Christmas song


Note: This is from last December, which means the song is about to earn the former Beatle another $400,000.


A 1979 song Paul McCartney wrote in one afternoon will again earn him more than $400,000 this year for a cumulative total of more than $15 million.
Yes, for Sir Paul it’s always a “Wonderful Christmastime.”
By contrast, this will be the 1,542 blog post I’ve written since 2007, a steadfast tally that’s earned me exactly $102 in supportive donations.
“Wonderful Christmastime” is controversial around the Rodell family dinner table — and if that statement has you concluding dinner conversation at my table ain’t exactly a Bill Maher roundtable, you’re correct.
It’s usually just the four of us sitting around listening to Christmas music, discussing our days and trying to guess who it was that just farted.
I’m kidding.
I’m the only one who farts.
But conversation gets pointed when McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” comes on.
I find it pleasant enough, but Val hates it. And she says that nearly every time it comes on.
“I hate this song,” she says. “It’s just so annoying.”
I don’t love it, but I always admonish her for her viciousness toward something so innocuous as a little Christmas ditty.
I save my hatred for true evil. Things like ISIL, injustice and Roger Goodell.
It is surprising to me how some songs about our most joyful holiday can be so divisive.
The Wikipedia entry on the song says many consider it one of Paul’s poorest compositions and quotes Beatles author Robert Rodriguez as saying, “Love it or hate it, few songs within the McCartney oeuvre have provoked such strong reactions.”
C’mon! It’s a Christmas song!
If we as a people allow Christmas carols to divide us, how will we ever remain united when we decide as a nation on some distant day that maybe — maybe — it’s time to thoughtfully and with open minds discuss things like how to decrease gun violence?
Even if you don’t like the melody, there is much to admire about the tune.
It’s catchy. It’s simple. Its run time doesn’t exceed 4 minutes. The lyrics include “ding dong ding dong ding dong dong ding.” And “ooo ooo ooo toot toot toot toot toot.”
Here’s something you probably didn’t know: The track personnel is listed as follows … 
Vocals: Paul McCartney
Guitar: Paul McCartney
Bass: Paul McCartney
Keyboards: Paul McCartney
Drums: Paul McCartney
Percussion: Paul McCartney
I guess Paul McCartney worried just calling it “The Paul McCartney Band” would have come across as too pretentious.
I love Paul. He’s my second favorite Beatle behind George and while I wish no ill on anyone, I hope for the sake of our collective cool we never refer to Ringo as “the last surviving Beatle.”
“Hey Jude,” “Yesterday,” “Let It Be,” “Live and Let Die” — Paul’s songs are indelible.
He’s reportedly worth in excess of $660 million, which is just shy of the Gross National Product of the nation of Guam, pop. 165,124.
And, geez, a $15 million drop of that bucket comes from a song many tasteful listeners despise, a throwaway that probably took him less time to write than it takes me to sort the weekly recyclables.
In fact, I probably took more care in crafting this stupid little Monday morning blog than the great Sir Paul did in the entire composition of “Wonderful Christmastime.”
And for that he gets $15 million and I get squat.
No dough. No recognition.
My wife’s right.
That song is just so fucking annoying!


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Alien movies & the new Ray Kroc flick



I look forward to seeing 5-star movies the way kids look forward to Christmas. Seated there in the dark next to my wife — no phones, no Facebook, no Trump tweets — it feels like parental hookie. 

So I’m genuinely pissed when a well-reviewed movie wastes my time.

That’s what happened with “Arrival.” It scored 93 out of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Neither Val nor I knew what to expect other than it was a global alien invasion and that the for-now ubiquitous Amy Adams would star, thus rounding out a solid career that proves she has the chops to act opposite Clinton Eastwood, Miss Piggy and now aliens who resemble giant jellyfish raised in polluted waters.

I love movies about alien monsters. My favorites include “War of the Worlds,” “Alien” and “Independence Day.”

But we both hated “Arrival.” It was just — spoiler alert! — boring. The aliens had no lethal bent. They didn’t attempt to enslave us. They didn’t crave the taste of human flesh. They didn’t shoot Amy Adams with any ray guns that made her clothes disappear.

How the hell does a lame-o script like that get green lit?

I think the critics were fearful an honest review would lead to hurtful criticism from fellow snobs so they chose to gush in order to maintain their feelings of superiority over those of us who enjoy and understand movies like “Tremors” and “Tremors 2” through “Tremors 5.”

So now I’m left to pine for January 20 and the next potentially great movie about a carnivorous monster with an insatiable appetite to conquer the planet.

The monster?

Ray Kroc!

Yes, the man who made McDonald’s one of the most dominant forces in the world is the subject of a major motion picture starring Pittsburgher Michael Keaton.

The movie is called “The Founder.”
I’m already nervous it might stink because the two-word title contains a glaring flaw: Ray Kroc did not found McDonalds.

Who did?

The McDonalds!

I’m talking about Mac and Dick McDonald. They came up with the formula — cheap and fast — that transformed America.

In 1940 the brothers in San Bernadino, California, opened what would become the first McDonald’s. It was incredibly successful and the brothers reveled in their good fortune.

Then in 1954 they made a pivotal mistake: They invited Kroc to visit.

His is a fascinating story. He’d been an ambitious striver all his life when at the age of 52 he made a sales call on McDonald’s. 

He was selling milkshake mixers.

The rest is history, albeit mostly untold history.

I became fascinated by the Kroc life story through an unusual source: Mark Knopfler.

He’s the founder of the colossal band, Dire Straits. I love them.

But Knopfler has more or less under-the-radar done even greater work as the solo artist he became when he truly disbanded The Straits in 1991.

So I snapped up his 2004 “Shangri-La” collection. The second track is the 5:50 song, “Boom, Like That.”

It’s all about Kroc. 

Sample lyrics

Or my name is not Kroc, that’s Kroc with a K
Like crocodile, but not spelled that way
It’s dog eat dog, rat eat rat
Kroc-style
Boom, like that

Sometimes you gotta be an SOB if you want to make a dream reality
Competition? Send ‘em south.
If they’re gonna drown shove a hose in their mouth
Do not pass go
Go straight to hell
I smell that meat hook smell!

Or my name’s not Kroc …

I remember playing it for a buddy who was dumbfounded that anyone would portray Ray Kroc as one of history’s greatest monsters.

Where, he wanted to know, did Knopfler come up with such a perfidious story?

Kroc’s autobiography!

So maybe come January 20, America will learn about the ruthless business tactics it took for one man to succeed on a preposterous level.

And won’t that be another valuable lesson for America’s future businessmen and women!

Coincidentally, this is all happening as western Pennsylvania mourns the death of 98-year-old Jim Delligatti, a Pittsburgh franchisee who in 1968 concocted the Big Mac sandwich. His creation became a landmark in company history and led to billions in sales over the years.

How was Delligatti rewarded?

Kroc gave him a plaque to hang in one of his stores.

When Kroc died in 1984, McDonald’s worth was estimated at $8 billion.

Boom, like that.

What’s it all mean?

I cannot say, but for some reason I’m all of a sudden craving a Big Mac.



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Monday, December 5, 2016

Friends sayin' I'm lazy. Am I?


We were enjoying a splendid little evening idle of office cigars, beers and the new Stones album when one of my friends dive bombed my buzz.

“You know,” he said, “some of our friends think you’re just lazy.”

Huh?

It was incredibly rude, almost as if I’d blurted out I think some of our friends are just stupid.

They’re not, of course. They’re all super smart. You have to be highly intelligent to be friends with me. 

How else could you convince a suspicious spouse you were going to spend the night out drinking with a guy whose deadbeat blog brags he hasn’t had a real job since 1992?

On second thought, maybe ALL my friends are stupid.

Am I lazy?

No.

I’m unproductive.

I’ve spent the last 22 years whimsically chasing activities I’ve mistakenly believed would lead to tangible profit.

We live in a world where it’s easy to mistake a man digging a hole is working much harder than any man or woman who's simply staring out a window while engaged in soulful thought.

We confuse motion with productivity.

I contend I’m doing exactly what I should be doing and that, yes, it’ll one day lead to an obvious kind of success.

A lazy person doesn’t write and sell books. Heck, a lazy person doesn’t read books.

I’ve written two books that have earned exactly the kinds of reactions far more successful authors than I would cherish.

I’m particularly proud of the book I wrote that urges all who struggle to cheerfully persevere in spite of life’s relentless ass kicking.

Even better, I took that message and from a dead stop became a credible public speaking. I in two years went from speaking for free to church groups to being offered several thousand dollars to keynote state-wide conventions.

Sure, those lucrative gigs are for now rare, but I just last month agreed to be represented by a prestigious talent agent who’s convinced he can make them a staple of my schedule.

This blog is rebuttal testimony to anyone who contends I’m lazy.

What’s it earn? Absolutely nothing.

Or does it?

It’s the fertile grassroots base for everything I do. Blog readership — and I’ve had more than 25,000 hits in the last three months — has led to speaking engagements, free vacations and more book sales than I can count.

Plus, the “Crayons!” book couldn’t have been written had the blog never existed. 

And think for a moment about that: During a time of both personal and national hardship, I didn’t succumb to addiction, tawdry infidelity or the temptations of Pokemon Go. I instead wrote a cheerleader book saying, c’mon, times are tough, but we’re going to be fine.

I’m doing all this in the midst of publishing industry tumult when the very best minds in the business are daily failing at figuring how they can make an on-line dime. 

Then there’s this: Lots and lots of people really love this blog. Reading it makes them happy.

That’s exactly what one emcee told the audience when he introduced me last fall. “If I’m having a bad day, I know I can go to Chris’s blog and I’ll feel better,” he said. “It makes me happy.”

It doesn’t pay, but no one can tell me there’s no value in creating something that earns that kind of reaction from strangers.

I guess I’m audacious to think like that.

I’ve had some advise me I should take a job waiting tables, tending bar or brewing coffee.

I decline this well-intended advice because I’m altruistic. I know me taking a job like that or some low-paying news reporting jobs would rob someone who may need it more.

Plus, I’m realistic. I’m far too much of a smart ass to ever work in customer service ever again. Too many people are armed these days for sass like mine to proliferate in public.

I used to be what I considered unconventional, but now have to admit I’m eccentric.

Next stop: Nut job!

But I’m not lazy.

I guess one of my problems is I’ve always wrestled with earning a living is because  I’ve always believed being born entitled me to living. And, by God, I intend to live my ass off.

I intend to laugh, love, think and revel in this world and one day puzzle out a way to make it somehow pay.

So go ahead and call me a cheerfully unproductive, optimistic, persevering, audacious, altruistic, realistic, unconventionally eccentric nut job.

And because I’ve got a darling wife who for the time being still puts up with it all, call me blessed.

Just don’t call me lazy.

I’m just a guy standing on the shore believing his ship is about to come in and hoping when it does it’s not some leaky one-seat rowboat with a busted oar.

If it does happen like that then please just call me a cab.



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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Seeing "Wonderul Life" a national obligation (from '15)


It is my patriotic conviction no one in America should be allowed to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” until everyone can prove they’ve seen “It’s A Wonderful Life.
It’s that important to our national well-being.
I’m dumbfounded over how many people haven’t seen our most essential Christmas classic.
It is, I guess, understandable for younger generations. They’re subjected to too many techie distractions, are reluctant to engage programs older than “SpongeBob,” and many are unfairly burdened by moronic parents.
But, c’mon, everyone over 40 should have by now seen it and should make time each Christmas to see it again and again.
Why?
Because watching it makes everyone feel better about themselves. The message — that every life has enormous worth — is one that needs constant reinforcing.
And it’s just perfectly entertaining. It’s funny. It’s sentimental. And it gives us heterosexual men our annual opportunity to fall in love with Donna Reed all over again.
I practice what I preach.
I was appalled when I learned a 45-year-old friend of mine had never seen it.
“Okay, that’s it,” I said. “You’re calling in sick this afternoon. You and I are going so spend the afternoon getting drunk and watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”
Oh, he demurred, I can’t. I’m too busy.
“You have to! You can’t go another minute without seeing this movie!”
He said people were counting on him. His job was too important. And getting drunk in the middle of the weekday was irresponsible … 
Blah, blah, blah.
When did they stop putting auto pilots in commercial jet liners?
It’s that important to me. 
So, by all means, be sure you watch the movie. It's on NBC tonight at 8 p.m..
Or how about this?
Wait until next year and join us on our annual holiday pilgrimage to The Jimmy Stewart Museum in the actor’s native Indiana, Pennsylvania.
We were there Saturday. We go every year.
The museum is wonderful. Stewart is indelibly linked to George Bailey and vice versa. As Stewart was a Boy Scout, a war hero, a father and consummate gentleman, it was the best typecasting since “Wizard of Oz” producers cast a dog named Toto to play a dog named Toto.
Best part? The museum includes a cozy theater that throughout the year matinees “Harvey,” “Rear Window,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and other famous Stewart films. At Christmas, of course, the feature is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
We don’t stay for the whole thing (that’s for Christmas Eve at home), usually just to the honeymoon scene.
This is the year we’ll remember because the audience included a woman who we think must have escaped from the local lunatic asylum.
We deduce that because she laughed hysterically at even the most mild laugh lines.
She roared when George was shopping for luggage, she cackled when Harry Bailey was carrying plates on his head, and when the floor to the pool opened up she laughed so hard we thought the building would collapse.
It was excessive and we figured the woman, about 40, was probably nuts.
Or maybe she was just one of those perfectly nice and joyful people, the kind of person you’d imagine Jimmy Stewart was all the time.
Either way, it’s pretty clear she’s the kind of person who won’t cut in line, ruin your day with road ragery or cause a nasty Facebook fight over pointless political differences.
For those reasons alone, I hope she carries the movie’s message with her throughout her every day for as long as she lives. 
I hope she wakes up realizing her joyful exuberance is making a difference throughout the world, that she is an inspiration to those who struggle and that by finding happiness in even little things, she is making everything better.
Because she matters. A lot.
We all do.
Because it’s a wonderful life.
It’s a pretty darn good movie, too

Related . . .

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book signings: Mine & Springsteen's


The midnight text message was perfectly enigmatic: Could I be in Cincinnati in 12 hours?

It was from my buddy Quinn. He lives in Columbus, owns a bar, knew Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys, has a kick-ass band and remains single (one divorce) at the age of 50.

If there was a Quinn poster it’d be hanging in my office and I’d right now be staring dreamily at it.

Why Cinci? I texted back.

“Book signing.”
I told him I was flattered, but I didn’t think driving five hours would be worth it. I doubted I’d sell 10 books.

I didn’t learn ’til much later it was not my book signing.

It was Bruce Springsteen’s.

Quinn’d snagged some tickets to meet Springsteen while he’s promoting his new “Born to Run” book, currently ranked No. 21 on amazon or 139,920 slots higher than my new book.

So I snoozed through a chance to meet the Boss.

I tried in hindsight to think of what could have happened had I been more spontaneous.

Bad things could have happened: My vehicle could have bombed. My wife would have been furious at my perpetual whimsy. I could have gotten really drunk with Quinn.

Good things could have happened: I could have met Springsteen. He could have taken a shine to me and written a song about “The Last Baby Boomer.” I could have gotten really drunk with Quinn.

Good and bad things could have happened: I could have been enslaved by a roving band of gypsy hookers who were fond of Quinn and were driving me to his bar where we’d all get drunk together.

Instead of any of that I stayed home and composed this tweet: “I have to imagine any nation named Togo has really great take-out food.”

It’s no “Jungleland,” but it only took me a sec.

Would I drive to Cinci to sign books?

I would not. It wouldn’t be worth it.

I will drive to Altoona tonight. I’ll be at the area Barnes & Noble from 6 to 9.

How many books will I sell? Maybe 10. Maybe 3.

When many people say they want to be writers, what they really mean is they want to be John Grisham or J.K. Rowling.

No one says they want to be me.

By coincidence, my favorite cinematic depiction of an actual book signing was just on and — surprise! — it’s part of a horror movie.

It’s “1408” starring John Cusack as spirit-debunking writer Mike Enslin. It’s a very good scary flick about how a skeptical Enslin stays in the purportedly haunted room 1408 in New York’s Dolphin Hotel.

It’s a Stephen King story, scary as hell.

But I find one part of it very funny and relatable.

It’s an early scene where Enslin walks into a big chain book store for a heavily promoted book signing.

The scene shows an engaged Enslin explaining how hauntings often have reasonable explanations. The next shot is from Enslin’s POV. His audience is four people scattered among about 30 empty seats.

Boy, does that ring a bell.

I remember one other time the store manager took me clear to the back of the building where they kept unsold volumes devoted to things like Mayan architecture.

Not one person stopped at my table for three hours.

If I hadn’t become an expert on Mayan architecture it would have been a complete waste of time.

So why keep doing these signings?

Because sometimes you sell 20 books or sometimes you sell just one, but it’s to the right person.

That’s what happened in Greensburg two years ago. A woman heard me speak at the local library. She was one of about a dozen people on a miserable February day.

She liked what she heard so much she bought 250 books to distribute to WVU students the day she hired me to come speak to her students. Got a hefty speaking fee, too.

Maybe something like that’ll happen tonight in Altoona. Maybe not.

But I can pretty much guarantee I’ll sell a bunch of books Friday at the Tin Lizzy (5 to 9 in Flappers; party upstairs afterwards). And it’ll be a lot of fun.

Some writers are born to run.

Some of us are content to slump in our bar stools.

Tramps like us hope we’ll see you Friday at the Tin.


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