Friday, January 30, 2009

A *BONUS* One-Liner for the Road

People change but memories don't.

-R.H. Levitin-

Friday, January 23, 2009

Change Has Come: A Tribute To Coco And Steven Levitin

Inauguration Day 2009 was a day of change for America -- at least that's what President Barack Obama told us.

When I saw the front page of the Chicago Tribune at my home in Chicago Thursday morning, I couldn't believe my eyes. The truth lay before me -- a Cubs and White Sox fan were hard at work in the Oval Office.

But my grandparents saw something different.

They saw the first black man executing business in that black leather chair and a Jew providing the President with guidance along the way.

The only person who didn't get to see it was my father.

My dad passed away due to a weak heart on Jan. 17, days before President Obama took office and my mother's birthday. But don't let his death overshadow the truth. His heart wasn't weak by any means, its time beating came to an end.

The man was lucky enough to have two hearts in his life -- one of his own and one he received from a then 15-year-old boy named Mark, giving my dad nine extra years on this earth to continue to live every minute as if it were the most important one he lived.

It's times like these that you wish an entire campaign run on "change" never did. My dad knew I hated change. More than anything. I did and I do. Change scares me. And -- as much as it's needed -- I just never liked it much. It seemed trivial and unproductive.

Before each start of the semester during college, he'd write and tell me "I know you hate change BUT....," that kind of thing.

Guess I can't hate it anymore. He wouldn't like it if I did.

To make this nightmare more heart wrenching, my dog -- the beloved Coco -- passed away 12 hours before my dad.

Now, I don't really believe much in an afterlife but I must admit that I do believe Coco had to go that morning so when my dad got to where he was going, she would be there.

Because, as much as she was my baby (I picked her out of the liter, named her, all that jazz), a dog really is a man's best friend.

I can see it now. He shows up wherever people go when they die and he's all bummed, hanging his head low because now ... it's real ... he's not living anymore and he has to deal with that ... and then -- all of a sudden -- that rough, deep, husky bark just starts. He looks up. There she is. Golden, perfectly groomed coat, maybe even with a little halo (who knows, right?) galloping full speed toward the man she hadn't seen for the past two to three months. It must've made him so happy. Lord knows, she was.

And that's that. Change has come. Not only to America, but to me. And this time -- I'm just going to have to accept that.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Burnin' Up" The American Heart: The Jonas Brothers and Why They Are This Year's "Best New Artist"

When I was 12-years-old, I remember sitting on the family room couch with my parents and my younger sister waiting for the announcers of the 42st annual Grammy awards to declare the best new artist of 2000.

I was anxious but eager with anticipation. I called the winner weeks before. My gut told me that my idol of the moment, the 20-year-old pop diva Christina Aguilera, would take home the golden statue.

Despite the judgment of family and classmates, I held onto my prediction for dear life, often being subjected to ridicule for my poor choice in a pop princess. Because -- at the time -- Britney Spears (who was also up for the miniature gramophone) was numero uno in the hearts of every other pre-teen soul at my small Jewish day school in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood.

No one agreed with me, but on the night of awards I crossed my fingers and toes tighter than a mummy from ancient Egypt. My heart throbbed with anticipation. "What if I'm wrong," I thought to myself. "I don't think I could stomach not being right."

Lucky for me, I wasn't.

Christina Aguilera took home the statue that night, beating out her pop princess competitor and Kid Rock of all people. Nothing can beat a booming voice projected from a small woman who has the soul of Aretha Franklin and vocal range of a young Mariah Carey.

Since I've had luck in the past and a decade has flown by, I've decided to take another stab at calling this year's best new artist at the 51st Grammy Awards.

But first -- what does it take to be the best new artist in a year inundated with pop music talents?

Success is essential. The winner needs more than raw musicianship running through their vanes. There has to be more to the artist than what meets the eye. They can't just be a pretty face that sings songs written by a 50-year-old group of men in an office somewhere in Times Square. An "it" factor is necessary.

The reason Christina won best new artist wasn't because she was cute or sang "Genie in a Bottle" better than the average girl in the pop world in 2000. Her talent and charisma outweighed her compition, making her the best candidate for the award.

That's why this year's best new artist will be The Jonas Brothers.

When this family band hit the music scene a year ago, I was skeptical. "Another Hanson?," I thought. "No way, no how." But then, I listened to their records. And, when I say listen, I mean I sat down with an open mind and tried to put myself back into my 12-year-old shoes. I wanted to figure out their appeal beyond the standard "they're cute and sing real pretty therefore any pre-teen/teenage girl will buy anything and everything produced by their promotions team."

After hearing what the had to say, I have to admit those boys have talent. They've got what Christina Aguilera had nine years ago and still has today. They have "it".

And what is "it" exactly?

"It" is what makes an artist everlasting. "It" ensures that a career lasts longer than any one-hit-wonder or survives the sophomore slump when releasing records. "It" is raw talent mixed with an image anyone of any age can relate to, singable song hooks, and a strong yet unique personality.

Kevin, Joe, and Nick Jonas know how to write and are damn good at generating a catchy track with a tune your brain can't erase. The melodies linger long after you've heard them, leaving your head dancing and your foot tapping for hours until you can't stand but listen just one more time in the hope of getting the song out of your recent memory.

You can try all you want, but those boys aren't going anywhere any time soon and neither is there music.

Just catch the fever, 'cuz those Jonas Brothers are "burnin' up" the charts, the airwaves, and the American dancing shoe.

And -- if they don't win best new artist at this year's Grammys -- I will shake my head in disappointment. Don't let me down Academy, these boys deserve it just as much as Christina did when she won nine years ago.

Tracks to Get Your Foot Tappin':
"Burnin' Up"
"BB Good"

Sunday, January 4, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try-Try-Try Again: Rock of Love 3 Hits the Road with Bret Michaels

Last January, Bret Michaels dominated VH1's Sunday night lineup with Rock of Love 2. This January, he's on pace to do the same.

This season's debauchery hits the road and follows Bret on tour while he searches for love. Bret welcomes the girls to this whirlwind tour of life on the road with a rock star in Louisville, Ky. ready with a camera in hand. After taking sexy snapshots of his horde of women, Michaels plays the innocent bystander to the messy drunken brawls that this season's vivacious vixens get into every 5 minutes.

The pink and blue colored tour buses for the girls to ride on for the extent of their time on tour cater to every groupie wanna-be's every dream. Guitars, booze, and animal print couture are all amenities these classless broads will be fighting over for the next few months of Sunday night airplay.

From this episode alone, there is no foreseeable winner of the Poison frontman's undying devotion but the girl-on-girl verbal cat fights and attempts at physical abuse are enough for any reality television junkie to savor.

Scenes from the first episode prompt a wealth of trashy entertainment. These girls make Britney Spears' attempt at reality television look like child's play. The pop princess' self-shot "Chaotic" with husband of the moment, Kevin Federline, was the 2005 attempt showcasing the wild antics of the couple during their dating period until their marriage. But even the couple's footage ranging from talks about sex, drugs, and partying seem tame compared to the sheer depravity these girls cook up to win Bret's heart.

Classic moments include witticism from the self-proclaimed "Blonde-terage", DJ Lady Tribe reading a rap she wrote for Brett on sheets of paper labeled "genital herpes" (what makes this girl even funnier is her resemblance to Daisy and Angelique from season 2), and Brazilian firecracker Marcia's post-puke and rally make out with Michaels.

One of the girls said it best, "Rock star or not, these girls are nuts."

If there's anything we can learn from Bret Michaels signing on for a third season of Rock of Love it's that his inflated ego comes close to massive amount of silicon hanging from every girl's chest.

Even Heather and Amber -- winners from the previous seasons -- are clean-cut to the Rock of Love Bus crew. And that's saying a lot considering Heather's in-your-face intensity and Amber's attempt at being a bad girl gone good to impress a washed up 80s glam metal band icon.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the hot mess that is Rock of Love Bus. It should be quite the ride.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Field of Dreams Covered in Ice -- The NHL Winter Classic Comes to Chicago's Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field is the coliseum of National League baseball. The ivy in the outfield is still green this time of year, the lights installed in 1988 shine brighter than the sun on a summer day, and -- on New Years Day 2009 -- it became the first baseball stadium in America to host a hockey game.

Fans lucky enough to win tickets through a lottery system earlier this year witnessed this historic day at Wrigley Field during a sub-30 degree winter New Years Day in Chicago.

The Chicago Blackhawks faced the Detroit Redwings sported vintage jerseys for the NHL's annual Winter Classic in front of a sellout crowd. The Classic is the 701st meeting between the midwestern teams, both are members of the six original teams of professional hockey in the US.

But -- the Blackhawks fulfilled the inevitable prophecy of all Chicago sports teams entering the Wrigley Field spotlight -- they lost.

Detroit shutout the Blackhawks by four goals.

Some people wondered why the NHL would schedule such a unique game on the biggest college football game of the year. "If you’re drooling over Iowa-South Carolina or Clemson-Nebraska, then I think we have the foundation for a federally mandated sterilization program," Steve Rosenbloom, a Chicago Tribune sports blogger, said.

The game showed off Detroit's Ty Conklin's tremendous ability as a goalie, giving his team 36 saves -- making the Winter Classic his seventh career NHL shutout. Johan Franzen also scored twice against the Blackhawks lifting the Red Wings to their shutout victory that ended the Blackhawks nine-game winning streak.

Cubs greats Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams attended the game on their old stomping grounds as well. They were joined by current Cubs pitchers Ryan Dempster and Jeff Samardzija.

According to one reporter, "It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity, very cool out there, a great atmosphere," Sandberg said. "There was quite a buzz."

Jenkins, a three-time major league All-Star who played as a kid, dropped the first puck at center ice.

"It's another sport," Jenkins said, "but to play it here at Wrigley Field, where I played and coached for years, it's a great experience."

Fans unable to score seats to The Windy City's hottest Winter ticket still got a piece of the action. The NHL opened a Spectator Plaza on the corner of Waveland and Clark street, just west of the infamous ivy covered bleachers to entertain the faithful sports lovers. Benefits included ticket giveaways, live music, interactive games, and ice sculpting.

The Friendly Confines has now hosted four different sports on its field, including basketball, football, baseball, and hockey -- which is more than any other stadium in Major League Baseball history.

January's One-Liner for the Road

Reality is only justified by the restless when their heads hit the pillow.

- R.H. Levitin -