Motivation Monday: Jack Kerouac (In Honor of Banned Books Week)

Motivation Monday: Jack Kerouac (In Honor of Banned Books Week)
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars…”

This weeks installment of Motivation Monday is a salute to Banned Books Week. This is the week that we honor those books that have made reading infinitely cooler by pissing off just about every uptight librarian, conservative English teacher and Fundamentalist Christian for as long as there have been words that offend.

So many books have been banned, it’s so hard to pick a favorite. The dictionary itself was banned at one time. I guess if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be required reading for all things cool, Kerouac’s “On The Road”. The first time I read it, I was unprepared. The first time I heard it read aloud, I was still unprepared. It is a work that is endless as a Texas highway, as vast as a night’s sky in Colorado, and apparently, as naughty as a sailor on shore leave, according the morals of 1950’s America.

This was banned because of implied misogyny, “coarse” language and encouraging immoral behavoir. “Immoral” as in discovering your world and in doing so, discovering yourself? The nerve of some people, right?

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Whatever I Want Wendesday: Top Ten Covers That Are Arguably Better Than The Original!

As compiled by ME!

For the record (pun intended) I reference no study or metric other than my own opinion. This is not based on Billboard charts or how many downloads these songs have received, this list is comprised of my all time favorite cover tunes based on how much I like them. I figured my list is just as good as anyone else’s, why not offer my two cents?

It took me longer than I thought it would to compile this list. Mostly because I was debating whether I should put Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” on the list. It was written and preformed by Carole King, but the song is so closely tied with Mrs. Franklin that it’s practically hers anyway. Much to the chagrin of Ms. King. And that was the line that I didn’t want to cross. A lot of good cover tunes happened in the Sixties and early Seventies, but I didn’t want to make them worthy of this list because everyone at that time was covering everyone else, essentially. A lot of artists were doing everyone else’s material with reckless abandon, and I had a slight problem with that. “Light My Fire” was covered more than once. The Beatles started their career covering old rhythm and blues songs. All of them were good in that respect, but unfortunately, that’s not what I was looking for to make this list. My only criteria for this list was if the cover brought the original into another direction, if it sounded good, and did it do the original any justice. You may not have heard of a few of these, but give them a chance. I guarantee they’ll grow on you. Thanks to Luther M. Siler for providing me with Today’s WIWW topic!

Oh, and also, I have nothing against the originals, I love them too.


#10 For The Turnstiles (as covered by Bim Skala Bim)

Released by Neil Young in 1974, the song was true to the nature of Mr. Young. The recording was just him with a banjo along with one other accompaniment. Wonderfully melodic, sparse, quick and to the point.

In 1990, Boston’s favorite, Bim Skala Bim took it and ran with it giving it the full East Coast Ska treatment. I love the original, but the harmonies are better, and the addition of a trombone solo makes me want to get my mellow groove on while I contemplate my own existence, maaaaaan.
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/sb9ydTvi_Uk

#9 Gimmie Shelter (as covered by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

I said before that I wanted to make a mix tape called, “Break Stuff”. As you can probably tell by the title, it would be something I would play for those times when I want to wring someone’s neck, but instead choose to take out my rage on intimate objects. To this day, I have yet to find the right mix to fill an entire disk (or…tape…what your grandma and I used to record stuff on), but when I do, Gimmie Shelter by the Rolling Stones is going to be track 1/side 1.

A few years ago, the film “Children of Men” was released (absolutely brilliant film. I highly recommend). In the trailer, they teased a symphonic version of this song and I’ve searched for a long time to find the full edit. I finally found it, and it’s been on heavy rotation on my playlist ever since. The original always reminds me of watching a hurricane roll in from the horizon. This version feels like I’m shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean. Breathtaking. Ominous.
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/7FrFzvPxVoc

#8 War Pigs (as covered by Faith No More)

Sure, this cover is practically a note for note version of the original. There’s nothing about this that distinguishes this cover from the original. So why did it make the cut? I like it because Faith No More, knowing that they couldn’t improve on this classic, took this and gave it a strong cup of coffee; the tempo is quicker, almost barreling out of control in places. It actually feels like an army on the warpath. Also, I kind of like this song because it sounds like a band sending a love letter to one of their heroes (Slightly biased here. We used to do a cover of this tune when I was in a band)…
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/w4oZXfrf18Y

#7 Superstar (as covered by Sonic Youth)

First released on the “If I Were A Carpenter” Compilation in 1994 and featured in the film “The Frighteners” a couple of years later, Sonic Youth managed to take an already haunting melody, and turn it into something that’s downright terrifying. A great re-imagining and a proper cover.
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/Y21VecIIdBI

#6 Heartbeats (as covered by José Gonzáles)

Oh my, where to begin with this. In 2002, Swedish super group, The Knife released the original and it was received as a critical darling. It was quite popular and quite beloved. In 2003, Swedish singer-songwriter José González covered this song, Sony used it in an television commercial, Zac Braff used it in an episode of Scrubs, and the world fell in love. For a while, the world couldn’t get enough of this. Myself included. Battles between who’s version was better have been raging on YouTube in the years that followed. Honestly, I love them both, but the José González version brings me home, and that in and of itself is worthy of a spot on this list.
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/s4_4abCWw-w

#5 Handbags & Gladrags (as covered by Rod Stewart)

Now, I know I stated at the beginning that I wanted to exempt those songs that were practically owned by the artists who covered them. I myself thought Rod Stewart was the originator of this tune. Silly me, I keep forgetting that Rod has a habit of owning the songs he covers (I’ll never forgive him for the Downtown Train fiasco…bastard). But I like this cover. It’s pensive, soulful and bright and melancholy. I love the punch of the drums that coexists alongside the gentle caress of flute and oboe. Very nice.

Speaking of battles,  there has been another fight going on in YouTube over which version of this song is better; Rod Stewart vs. Stereophonics. Meanwhile, all the Chris Farlowe fans just hang back and shake their heads.
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/EcNOOkeFiIc

#4 In Your Eyes (as covered by Jeffery Gaines)

A powerful and soulful acoustic cover of a song that influenced a generation of awkward guys in overcoats to hold up their boom boxes and blast this ballad at full volume in the direction of their crush’s bedroom window while somehow not get hauled in for stalking. I remember the first time I heard this, I was working in a kitchen in southern Maine. It was the dinner rush, but I remember how the kitchen fell silent whenever the audience participation part kicked in at the end. Love this one. (the video sucks, but the song is great)
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/o7WtavVdBCk

#3 Hounds of Love (as covered by The Futureheads)

I remember falling in love with the Kate Bush album in college. Many years later, I fell in love with this song again, this time while doing the Pogo.
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/fcMAM9B7yAA

#2 Superstition (as covered by Stevie Ray Vaughn)

Moment of silence, please……..
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/JL9eO4-aDMs

#1 Love Reign O’er Me (as covered by Pearl Jam)

Substituting strings for the synthesizer, and adding the wailing of Eddie Vedder just crushes me. Every. Single. Time. For the one or two of you who haven’t heard this one yet, be prepared to have your heart ripped out of your chest. You have been warned…
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/d7yEqPMlQH0

Well, we reached the end of our countdown. Until next time, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for cigars the stars.

What covers to you think are better than the original? Please comment or link back with your own blog. I’d love to keep the conversation going.

Motivation Monday: Sing Along If You Know the Words…

Go ahead. Take another piece of me. Use me up until I am a withered husk. Take away my livelihood, make me question my choices, steer me in the wrong direction and blame it on me. Go ahead. Take everything.

You can’t take the sky from me.

from Funnytoo.com

Firefly never stood a chance. The geniuses over at Fox tried to rekindle a relationship between those of us who were old enough to remember watching television on a Friday night, and content that would be worthy enough to keep us home on a Friday night. Long story short, the experiment failed. People still watched TV, just not enough to justify another season of this show. Any television show that gets cancelled mid-season probably has a pretty good reason for it; mainly because no one was watching it. Firefly had yet to complete its first full season of television, and yet has accumulated a rabid world-wide following.

Why is this?

Could it be that the time was right for a Sci-Fi Western with hints of Steampunk? Maybe it was the episode where Captain Mal showed his buttocks (amiryte, ladies)? Or, maybe it was the distinct writing style of Joss Whedon that hooked me in for those turbulent weeks, and turned me back into that kid in his pajamas waiting for Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard and of course, Knight Rider to start.

It could have been all those things. Still though, I’d like to think that this show, short lived as it was, hit the right chord with the right people at the right time. And I’m not talking about giving nerd-dom another universe to devour, although I’d be wrong if I didn’t say that it had just a little to do with it…

Why, yes! That is my Firefly board game, thank you for noticing!

I’m speaking in terms of the feel, the underlying message of the whole thing. I mean, I could be wrong and completely biased, but what I took away from this show was a never-say-die spirit that has been beaten up and yet survives; on to the next job, it might be dangerous, but we need to survive. The Captain of this ship is a veteran of a war that he didn’t win. He could have curled up and died, he could have wasted away in some back water, he chose instead to survive. He chose to survive by essentially being an independent contractor. Sure, most of the jobs were shady, but at the end of the day, the captain and his crew were still big damn heroes.

What I took away from this was to go ahead and take a chance. Make your own way. Carve your own path. If you can’t find it, make it! They’ve liquidated your job, sent it over seas. They told you that you were “overqualified”. They are hiring, but just not right now. They told you to fight in a war that you had no hope of winning, and if you survived, you’re on your own. Make your own way. What are they going to do, take another piece of you?

They can’t take the sky from you…

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The Kids of Saint Anthony I-03 (Flash Fiction Friday)

The Kids of Saint Anthony I-03 (Flash Fiction Friday)
Photo by Primowalker

The growing cacophony of hoots, hollers and laughter of children at play contain this magical ability to render the thickest concrete walls invisible. A phenomenon not lost on Emily as she blindly navigates the familiar hallways of Saint Anthony’s with Sister Mary striding along beside her. Without looking up from her folders, she could tell by the various shrieks where she was and where she was heading…

Screams. Laughter. Red Rover colliding with Red Light/Green Light. The sound of sneakers and basketballs hitting pavement: The play area. If we keep going this route, next should come…

A chorus of “Our Fathers”: Sister Agnes’ class. That means we’re heading towards the dorms.

The dorms always made her cringe. The area where the older children, mostly boys, were left to their own devices, and the pack mentality that drives their primal urges that haven’t been fully purged from them. Entering this area was to subject anyone to taunts, bullying, unwanted and unwelcomed advances, the language of the streets. This is The Jungle. This is the landing area where the good is carved out of the evil; The first level of The Divine Comedy. Although age and wisdom has prepared her, although her eyes and ears have bore witness to some of the worst that mankind has to offer, even these many years later, she would still steel her soul, take a deep breath, and prepare herself to cross the threshold into The Jungle. “Courage, dear.” said Sister Mary as she consoled Emily with a boney touch. She could feel her fear. She always could. She would always remind her. Any minute now, the calls of horny, prepubescent boys would start staining the atmosphere. Any second now, the walking, talking, drooling by-products of Lust and Rage would come with their dirty hands and dirty mouths. Any moment now…

Silence. Not a breath. Not even the whoosh of a door opening or the creak of its hinges as it finds its resting position. Only the echoing sound of their feet marching down polished tile. It’s one thing when The Jungle was alive with noise, at least you could tell where the danger was. The hallway was lit, but it seemed like the air was sucked out of it. There was a stillness, even the years of obscene graffiti carved for posterity in indelible marker was pale. This wasn’t The Jungle that Emily remembered.

This was much worse.

“Well,” blurted Emily desperately trying to add some life to this ghost town of a hallway. “This isn’t the place I remember; it’s a lot less…lively. Where are the boys? Where is anybody, for that matter?”

For a brief, very brief moment, Sister Mary’s smile withered but was miraculously revived as she told of the bitter reality of running a day to day business. “Oh. Well dear, the funding from the Church wasn’t as much as it has been. It was around the time where…you know what…happened.” To this day, the shock that some in the Dioceses let their secret, carnal inhibitions loose on innocent children is just as fresh as the day she heard it screaming from random televisions and splattered across tabloid headlines. It is the Event That Shall Not Be Named. “Soon after the lawsuits, there just wasn’t enough to pay for the settlements and keep every orphanage operational at the same time.”

“Oh no,” said Emily stricken with genuine concern. “Are you closing your doors? Is the church liquidating Saint Anthony’s?”

“No, not yet, thank God,” said Sister Mary as she cast her eyes briefly skyward. “The budget constraints were just enough to cripple us, not kill us. We had to relocate a few of the Sisters a couple of months ago, and I suppose a few more of us might be heading the same way soon. But the real tragedy, dear?” She paused, took a breath, leaned in and lowered her voice to a confidential, confessional whisper, “The real tragedy is that the state has taken possession of the at-risk children. Don’t get me started on that. Some Godless bureaucrat thought it would be more cost effective if the children were “processed” rather than “cared for”. They had a better chance here than in some jail for toddlers…”

“I guess that would explain the lack of all the children,” said Emily, attempting to stop the freight train of a Nun’s rant from speeding out of control.

“Yes, it would appear at the moment we have more room than we need. Still though…” she flicked a switch at the other end of the hall which illuminated the rest of the way. “I suppose it might be to our favor in regards to the children you have there,” she said as she motioned to the folders in Emily’s hand.

“What do you mean?” asked Emily half expecting the children to be the spawn of Hannibal Lecter or something.

“Normally, we would separate the special needs children from the rest. But, since we brought these children in…this case was something that had us all… a bit puzzled.” Sister Mary paused before opening the door. “You mentioned something before about finding the children’s birth parents?”

“Yes.”

“They have no parents. None that we could find. That’s the first thing. The second thing is their condition. I hesitate to call it autism, because I’m not entirely sure that’s what they have.”

“Yes,” said Emily leafing through her paperwork. “Their medical records are spotless, their cat scans show high brain activity, and yet…”

“And yet,” Sister Mary continued, “They don’t respond to stimulation. It’s almost as if they’re lost in their own world. Usually, there would be curiosity among the rest of the children, but not so much this time. They don’t venture out of this room, save to go to the bathroom or eat. Which isn’t unusual, but they seem to prefer each other’s company over other people.”

“Which isn’t too unusual either,” said Emily. “So what you’re saying is that they are autistic, but…not?”

“Like I said dear…puzzled,” and with that, Sister Mary opened the door to the children’s room.

Whether she has planned on it or not, Emily’s life has always revolved around children. From her time here in these halls, to her training in her occupation as a social worker, to her continued interaction with children that still need help, to the brief moment in time where she was a mother herself, she is always about the children, and keeping them safe. She was born with an intuition and empathy, it was psychology that she had to learn. With autistic children, nothing can be forced. You cannot yell, scold or become impatient. With autistic children, you must observe. Silently. Any disruption to their routine could literally destroy their whole week. Be silent. Be patient. Observe. This is what Emily has learned. None of that seemed to matter as she walked through the door.

A young boy sits at the edge of his bed opposite the door having a serious, one-sided conversation with no one in particular. At the window on the far side of the room, a young girl transfixes on a finch perched on a tree branch. Completing the triangle in the opposite corner, a girl, noticeably older than the other two, sits among pages and pages of notebook paper with a variation of a circular design on each one. “We have done all we could to reach these beautiful children,” whispered Sister Mary. “I called upon you to see if you knew what we’re dealing with. We need your expert advice.”

“I’ll see what I can do, Sister,” whispered Emily. Somewhere along the line, “First, do no harm” crept into her daily life and applied itself into everything she does. When it comes to sensitive situations such as this, she has no choice but to do so. Don’t speak, just observe. Just observe their expressions, their attention spent on on object, how they handle a change in environment.

It is said that the greatest journey begins with one step. In the case of Emily, it was to ascertain first: what the children looked like, and second: what they do. One step. One foot hitting the ground, and all at once, the phantom conversation was put on abrupt hold, the finch flittered away, and concentric circles obsessively ground into notebook paper in crayon stop in its tracks. Not one word was spoken. Barely a move was made, and yet the fragile atmosphere was gently shattered by one footstep, as if she stepped on a frozen pond. Having made herself known in no uncertain terms, three sets of young, beautiful and haunted eyes lock on the stranger in the room, and study her.
©2014 The Writers Bloc/Anthony Payson

 

Whatever I Want Wednesday: Oh…So That’s How You Do It. (Warning-Contains Ice Cream)

If you can’t find it, make it.

For the passed 10 years, I have been slowly nurturing my need to make things from scratch. Okay, some guys fill their garage with a wall full of tools, and I hope to one day do so as well. Some guys save up for a fishing boat, or a motorcycle, or golf clubs. Me? I’m on a constant quest to have a fully stocked kitchen. Maybe I should have been watching more football instead of Good Eats. Maybe I should have paid attention to the normal things that boys usually pay attention to, rather than leaning the nuances of my mother’s Sunday Gravy as I watch her put her spice rack through its paces. Maybe I should be satisfied to have my dinner prepared in a microwave. Perhaps I shouldn’t care.

But I do. And it’s important to me.

Last year, I received an ice cream maker from Santa because I finally admitted to myself that if I didn’t have any in my freezer at any given time, I’d get really sad. Sure, there are times (like now) where there are at least two cartons in the back of the chill chest taking up valuable real estate and are getting more frost bit as the days wear on; impulse buys of flavors yet to be tried, only to be filed in the “Well, It Seemed To Be a Good Idea at the Time” Folder after a couple of scoops. I’m not knocking the Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Latte flavor.

…if there is one…

…I’m sure there is…

There’s pumpkin spice everything.

Sometimes though, chocolate and vanilla are all you need.
The model I received was the Hamilton Beach 68320 1-1/2-Quart Capacity Ice Cream Maker, White. I don’t know about you, but a quart and a half is just a tease. Still, it has a sturdy motor, it’s easy to clean, easy to assemble/disassemble and no rock salt is required. Also, the price point is right on. Not having to invest in rock salt helps out a lot and the machine itself slides in under the $30 mark.

Now, for the downside…

It’s a uni-tasker and it takes up about as much room as your average toaster. I know a bunch of people only have room for one toaster in their life, and while I’m on the subject, a toaster is a uni-tasker too. Despite what Alton Brown’s pet peeves are, these are general nuisances that come with the territory of appliance buying and might be considered petty. Let’s label these: “No Big Deal“.

The biggest downside of this machine, as I’m sure many people who owned this can attest to, isn’t in the room it takes up. It’s in the end product that it produces. Now…just bear with me…

Stop me when this sounds familiar…

My first attempt at making ice cream with this thing didn’t go so well. I followed the instructions the best I could, but the ice cream was more like a milk shake. No, I take that back. It was more like a protein drink. Granted, I didn’t leave the mixture in the fridge for as long as I should have, so that time was my fault. Live and learn, move on and do better next time, which (despite my best efforts) didn’t happen.

The second time, I left the tub in the freezer for a few weeks as opposed to the 24 hours they suggest in the instructions. I also left the mixture in the refrigerator a few days longer than recommended. The end result was a porridge. Still nowhere near ice cream…or custard for that matter.

I began to read the reviews of this model online, and the majority seem to experience the same problems I was having: the ice cream wasn’t setting, the tub wasn’t freezing and it was just a waste of machinery. At the time I was inclined to agree. “This thing is taking up way too much room in my freezer to not work. Did we save the receipt? Maybe someone will want it on Craigslist. Piece of junk...” and so forth.

That was at the beginning of the year, back at my old place. Well, now I’m in a new place, with a different refrigerator. Ladies and gentlemen and those unfortunate souls who purchased this machine and stuck it in your attic after 2 or 3 failed attempts, I’m here to testify, it isn’t the machine’s fault.

It’s your freezer’s.

Being of a scientific mindset, I was willing to give this thing one more go to make sure that it wasn’t the machine but in fact the place where I put it that was at fault. This attempt was proving to be just as disastrous as the first couple of times because this new (to me) refrigerator’s door doesn’t close properly unless you kick it shut. Ignoring the feeling that I might be wasting my time, I put the ice ream maker’s tub in the freezer and basically forgot about it for a week.

At that time, this is what I saw…

Ice crystals forming on the outside of the tub. This is something that never happened previously. My hypothesis was proven correct: it wasn’t the machine, it was the freezer. This thing was frozen solid. Perfect!
So, happy endings abound! I made a batch of old-fashioned vanilla and it was delicious and creamy and gone in a hurry (my kids devoured it before the adults could get a chance to enjoy some). Some day, I’ll probably document that, but this time…It’s all about the chocolate…

~Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Ice Cream~

(note: When I made vanilla ice cream, I let it churn for about 30 minutes to get the desired consistency, which is about the average time for this machine. For this one, I had to stop it in under 10 minutes because it was freezing too quickly and the paddle was sticking. The end result was perfect, but it took less time then I was expecting. Just a little head’s up that you may want to keep your eye on this if you make chocolate in this machine.)
(other note: For those of you keeping track at home, yes, this is one of the recipes that are provided with the machine.) 

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups (500 ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Cup (250 ml) whole milk
  • ½ Cup (125 ml) sugar
  • ¼ Cup (60 ml) cocoa powder (you don’t have to use dark cocoa powder, regular will work just fine. I use Special Dark because that’s how I roll!)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

► 1.  Combine sugar and cocoa in a small bowl.

►2.  In a saucepan, warm cream and milk over low heat.
 ►3. When cream and milk mixture is warm (when steam is visible on the side of the pan and a thin skin appears on the top), whisk in the sugar cocoa mix and the vanilla.

Whisk until sugar is dissolved and mixture is well combined.

►4. Allow mixture to come to room temperature, then chill in refrigerator overnight. Seriously. Stick it in the fridge and don’t touch it until the next day. I never said that this is a quick process.

►5.  When ready to make, assemble your machine, place your frozen tub directly from the freezer to the slot where it goes, place paddle in the motor, lid the machine and turn on. Slowly pour mixture through the hole in the lid.

►6.  Churn for 20-40 minutes (seriously, keep an eye on it) or until desired consistency.

Now, at this point, this chocolate ice cream is close to ready. Results may vary, but I had to chisel the product out of the tub.

Place your ice cream in clean containers and freeze for at least six hours.

Conclusion: It was hard as a rock, but totally worth it. Remember to never give up until all possibilities are counted. I was about to chuck this machine when I should have chucked my refrigerator. I shudder to think that all the food I stored for years wasn’t being stored at a proper tempurature.

Anyway, those days are gone. Home made chocolate ice cream, no fillers or by-products, all real ingredients, kid tested and approved…

There comes a time when you have to get off the sidelines and join in. Not satisfied with the sandwich you usually get? Make your own. Not finding the photo or the tutorial you want? Make your own. Don’t settle for just good enough. Don’t shrug your shoulders because you can’t find what you’re looking for. If you can’t find it…

…make it. Construct it. Build it. Write it. Bake it. Sing it. Sculpt it.

Join in…

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