Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Get Ready to Feel Old

Nominees for the 2011 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced today. A look over the list is sure to make someone in the penthouse of his/her 30's feel incredibly old.

The List:
Alice Cooper
Beastie Boys
Bon Jovi
Neil Diamond
Dr. John
J. Geils Band
LL Cool J
Darlene Love
Laura Nyro
Donna Summer
Joe Tex
Tom Waits
Chuck Willis

Yup, the Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi could potentially be in the Hall of Fame. That means that both bands have careers that are 25 years old (or more). Didn't License to Ill just come out, like, yesterday? Was it really that long ago that I was sitting in the staff room of my high school newspaper mocking the lyrical genius (or lack thereof) of "Livin' on a Prayer"? Of course, let's ignore the fact that I have to take off my glasses to read liner notes (because I'm too damn stubborn to break down and admit I need bifocals) and just shake our heads in disbelief that so much time has passed.

Not making the final ballot this year was The Smiths. That's just not right. Put "Girlfriend in a Coma" or "How Soon Is Now?" up against anything Bon Jovi has ever recorded and then tell me which one is Hall of Fame material.

"Bad Medicine" indeed.

PS -- How is Neil Diamond not already in the Hall of Fame? How do KISS and Joan Jett not make the final ballot? Add that to the list of things that make me shake my head in grave disappointment.

Rock Out With Your Idol Out

Saturday was a big day for me, friends. It found me traveling to Chicago, shopping (one of my favorite pastimes!), eating Indian food, and going to the theatre.

"Big deal," you may be thinking to yourselves. "Outside of the locale and the food, those are all things you do pretty regularly, Mel!"

Ah, but there's a difference here. Saturday night, not only did I go to the theatre, not only did I go see a professional touring production of a Tony-nominated musical starring a Tony nominee himself, BUT said Tony nominee just so happened to be the one, the only Constantine Maroulis and the show was Rock of Ages.

Yes, friends, Saturday night, I found myself in the same room as an American Idol . . . for the first time.

As obsessive as I am about American Idol, until Saturday, I had yet to have the opportunity to experience an Idol live and in person. The Idol tours never come too close to wear I live, and the thrifty Yankee in me has a hard time shelling out $50 to go see a karaoke concert. For every opportunity to see Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or Adam Lambert, after all, you're also stuck seeing Nikki McKibben, Scott Savol, or Katie Stevens. So not worth the pain!

Now, I would have been excited to see the show regardless of Constantine's appearance in it. I love professional theatre, and Rock of Ages is a show that has intrigued me since I first read reviews of it when it opened on Broadway. In a nutshell, the show is kind of standard boy-meets-girl/misunderstandings-lead-girl-to-another/boy-gets-girl. It's a rather featherweight plot. What makes Rock of Ages stand out is that it tells its story using classic hair metal music of the 1980's. Yeah, we're talking Whitesnake, Night Ranger, Survivor, REO, Poison . . . the music that pretty much provided the soundtrack for my adolescence. Every song played came attached with a memory for me, even when the song in question wasn't one I remember liking all that much back in the day.

It's a show with a featherweight plot and cheesy music, filled with cliches and meta moments that break the fourth wall -- things I often cringe at when I encounter them in theatre. So why did I leave the theatre Saturday night with a huge grin on my face?

It wasn't just Constantine, although I will say the guy was awesome. I was a big Constantine fan back when he was a contestant on Idol back during season four. He was cute, talented, and eliminated much too soon. (The fact that Scott Savol outlasted him still sticks in my craw!) Constantine has a real charm onstage, an odd combination of confidence and "aw, shucks" humility that serves him well. He has spent his post-Idol years establishing a pretty nice reputation for himself on Broadway, having appeared in Rent and The Wedding Singer before tackling Rock of Ages (and earning himself a Tony nomination in the process). It would be interesting to see him in something a little more serious, but the fact is the guy works well in this sort of lighter fare and the show rests pretty mightily on his shoulders.

What I loved about the show outside of Constantine, though, was the absolute joy that seemed to fill the stage and, by association, the audience. The cast seemed to be having a blast every single second that they were onstage, and they put everything out there. As the show went on, you could feel the audience relaxing into the show, so much so that by the second act, the audience was singing along . . . loudly. Once you get over your snobbery and release the notion of theatre having to be serious art (it can't all be Shakespeare and Chekhov, friends!) and let the nostalgia and joy wash over you, Rock of Ages becomes a tremendous experience. There was this sense of community that spread through the audience as we all reveled in hearing these songs from our youth (I would guess that the audience largely fell in the 25-45 demographic).

Rock of Ages is also incredibly self-aware. It is a show that knows it is not "serious theatre." It's almost as if you can see the show shrug and say, "You know what? Who cares? Let's just rock out!" More than once, characters engage in these meta moments that wink at the audience and invite us in on the joke that a show featuring the music of Poison, Quiet Riot, and Twisted Sister could find a place on Broadway along with Sondheim and Weber. The fact of the matter is that the show DOES find its place and is filled with a lot of heart and soul. Sometimes, you're in the mood for Sondheim, and sometimes, you're in the mood for Survivor. Thank goodness for Rock of Ages for letting us have our theatre and our Journey all in one sitting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Prep Like Me

I reacted to last week's appearance of Lisa Birnbach on The Colbert Report the way some people might react to hearing that Michael Jordan was going to be playing a little pick-up ball at the court down the street.

I can hear you already -- who the heck is Lisa Birnbach?

Lisa Birnbach is the author of The Official Preppy Handbook. Released in 1980, the book was a satire of the preppy, WASP culture of New England. It was filled with pictures and advice on how to live the preppy life. It was an utterly hilarious piece of wry satire.

In 1980, I was nine. (Go ahead, kids. Do the math.) My definition of humor began and ended with Garfield. I would spend hours roaring with laughter over the antics of the lasagna-loving cat. I did not understand satire and would not understand satire for several more years.

Nine-year-old Mel did not understand that The Official Preppy Handbook was supposed to be funny. When a copy of the book somehow found its way into my hands (and I'm not entirely sure how it happened), I saw it not as a parody but rather as a Bible. For the next several years, my dog-eared copy of the book was my constant companion. I would read it with religious zeal. My wardrobe became dominated by polo shirts, khakis, and boat shoes. (How I loved my boat shoes!) My ultimate wish list book became the LL Bean catalog. I became a rabid tennis fan (although my complete inability to play the game would always frustrate me -- coordination and athleticism are not my friends!) I can remember getting into a huge fight with my dad when he informed me that I would NOT be sent away to boarding school when I hit ninth grade. (Please remember that I grew up in Illinois . . . there aren't a ton of boarding schools here in the Midwest, especially not the kind I dreamed of -- namely Eastland Academy from The Facts of Life. My sister accuses me of wanting to be Blair Warner, but in truth, I really wanted to be Natalie Green -- chubby, funny, creative . . . I had Natalie Green written all over me!)

As I grew older and entered high school and college, I took tentative steps away from the preppy life. My polo shirts and penny loafers were replaced by tie-dyed t-shirts and Birkenstocks. I no longer dreamed of BMW's and country club life. And yet I still got the LL Bean catalog. I still ascribed to so many of the beliefs and attitudes that I first encountered in the book -- the snobbery of which my sister so often accuses me most likely began the day I picked that book up.

As Lisa Birnbach releases a new book (True Prep) this month about the preppy life, I find myself falling back into some of those habits, too. I sit here typing this wearing an LL Bean polo shirt and khakis. There's an LL Bean boat and tote sitting next to me that could probably be featured on the "what's in the preppy bag" pages of her new book. But I also sit here wearing Birkenstock clogs and listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In my old age, perhaps I've finally found a way to bridge the gap between the preppydom of my youth and the Boho sensibilities of my, um, not so youth. I've discovered a comfort in the timelessness of preppydom even if I don't ascribe to all of the beliefs I once did. And maybe a little of it is just the realization that a nearly 40-year-old woman in punk rock t-shirts and ripped jeans (yup, I wore those, too) isn't as cute as it used to be.

And isn't it funny how so much in life comes full circle? Who among us hasn't found ourselves digging out an old CD we haven't listened to in ages or easing into a beat up old t-shirt from our youth? I've even found myself thinking that driving a station wagon might not be such a bad idea. I heard the other day on the radio that the bulk of our personality is determined by the time we enter first grade, so maybe it's just a case of our adult lives being devoted to unpacking all that stuff that was established decades ago and rediscovering parts of ourselves we thought we'd lost. And for me, maybe that's what rediscovering my prep is all about.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Style Idol

Yes, I know it's the off season for my Idol ramblings, so those of you who dread reading my comments on the juggernaut that is/was Idol, just click away and ignore this post. I could not, however, let today's announcement of the new judging panel happen without some sort of comment.

For those of you who missed the news, Fox today announced that the judges for the ninth season of American Idol would be Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler.


This news only compounds my worries about the future of the show I have loved so dearly. Last May, you remember I voiced my concerns that the show seems intent on rewarding mediocrity over talent. After watching a plethora of talent be shown the door while middle of the road "real" people, I talked about how the blame for this can be equally shared between the judges who select pretty over interesting and then pimp the better "stories" and the voting public that floods the phone lines in favor of their favorite favor of vanilla.

The saving grace of all this nonsense was, to me, Simon Cowell. Simon provided a much needed voice of reason time and time again. Not that Simon was perfect (oh, God, no!), but he wasn't afraid to hurt feelings and bruise egos that needed to be reigned in. When more worthy contestants like Tamyra Grey, Chris Daughtry, Melinda Doolittle, and others were shown the door, you felt Simon's disappointment as acutely as you felt your own. Simon was the kindred spirit of the discerning viewer, and those of us who consider Idol a true talent contest and not a personality contest valued his presence as our voice.

But now who do we have?

Will Jennifer Lopez let her diva flag fly high enough to become the voice of wisdom and sanity? Will she be willing to crush egos and dash dreams with the wit and wisdom employed by Cowell? Or will her own self-image drive her to take the Ellen highway and dish out critiques about how cute people are rather than how tuneless their performances were?

Can Steven Tyler be trusted to be sober and coherent enough to give an honest, helpful critique? Yes, we lived through the loopy Paula years, but we had Simon there to temper the effects of whatever was lurking in Paula's Coke cup. Paula provided that cashmere glove before Cowell bitch slap brought tears to the eyes. Watching her lucidity get further and further away was entertaining, but there were also times when it was counterproductive to the show's mission.

And Jesus Christ, Randy is still there. Without a doubt, he has been the most useless member of the panel in recent years. Seriously, I think the dude is an automaton who is programmed with roughly five set critiques -- "You could sing the phone book, dawg, "For me for you, that wasn't your best performance, dawg," "It was a little pitchy, dawg," "You worked it out, dawg," and "It was just a'ight, dawg." When was the last time you heard Randy give a critique that didn't include one of those comments? He is a waste of space, and yet he lives on. At least Kara last year made a real effort to up her game and give pretty solid, thoughtful, useful critiques. Randy was too busy booing his co-worker to actually pay attention to the task at hand. Shameful.

So now here we are with an idiot, a diva, and a train wreck who sit in judgement of kids who just want a glimmer of success. Will any of them have the cojones to tell it like it is? Or will we be subjected to a season full of Haley Scarnatos and Mike Lynche's just "doing their thing, dawg"? And really, how much help can a washed-up diva, an aging rocker, and a bass player really be?

Well, look on the bright side . . . it'll probably make my blog more entertaining come January.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On the Right Track

Yes, I've been absent from these pages for several weeks. Sorry! The start of the school year has been a bit overwhelming as I juggle teaching, supervising a student teacher, getting Drama Club and Speech Team geared up for the year, and handle my personal life. The big change, of course, has been my ongoing mission to get myself in some semblance of a healthy shape. After a summer of concerted healthy eating, I've kicked it up a notch this fall with the addition of exercise.

Here's one of my dirty little secrets: I love working out. I do. I love the feeling of muscles stretching and building as I put them through their paces -- whether it's on the elliptical, a bike, or lifting weights. I love the feeling of a healthy sweat, an "earned" sweat. I love dropping into a "zone" where I can pop on my iPod, slough off the stress of the day, and just be one with me, myself, and I. Once upon a time, I was a religious worshipper at the altar of exercise. I had a Y membership and would spend nearly 2 hours every day working out. It was during this time that I lost over 100 pounds. And then I got lazy and skipping the gym became easier and easier until I found myself cancelling that Y membership and letting the flab return as I shoveled more and more unhealthy foods down my throat. Part of it was fueled by an increasingly packed work schedule, part of it by a brief bout of depression, and part of it by hideous laziness. I was frustrated as the clothes I had purchased during my weight loss became tighter and tighter and I found myself easing myself back into the pants that had once been shoved in the back of the closet for falling down whenever I wore them. But rather than letting that frustration fuel a return to better eating and exercise, it just helped me spiral into worse and worse habits.

I'd like to say that my return to a healthier lifestyle was spurred by some grand revelation, but more than anything, it was fueled by the fact that I was having a harder and harder time finding clothes in my closet that would fit. Yes, folks, it was the thrifty Yankee who kicked my ass into gear by refusing to go out and spend money on bigger pants. The thrifty Yankee convinced me to begin the process of carefully monitoring everything that went in my mouth and to take advantage of the free access I had to the community college fitness center after having taught a class there this summer. The thrifty Yankee is smart and knows how to bribe the not-so-thrifty side of me -- promising new clothes as a reward for good behavior. As the pounds slowly began drifting away this summer, I added new clothes to my wardrobe -- in a smaller size than I wore last spring. I bought new pants, new tops, new workout clothes.

Now, as September nears its end, I've lost just a little over 25 pounds. I've already reached a point where I can spend a little more time doing cardio without feeling like I'm going to pass out from exhaustion. I am flooded with a renewed confidence in myself -- a confidence it's honestly been awhile since I've felt. I know that I am still in the early stages of this journey to a healthier me, but I feel like I've maybe turned a corner and that those days of sitting on the couch shoving potato chips down my throat just may be a thing of the past.