Tuesday, November 4, 2008

History ... now and 146 years ago

One hundred and forty-six years ago, a son of Auburn, New York, sat in the White House as Abraham Lincoln shared for the first time his draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

William Seward, a former Senator and opponent of Lincoln’s for the presidency two years before, wasn’t entirely sure of the bold action Lincoln was about to take – even though Seward was a strong abolitionist and helped Harriet Tubman settle in Auburn near his home. Still, the minute it was done and Lincoln freed the slaves, Seward – who, with Tubman, is the most honored resident of Auburn to this day – heartily defended his president and the decision that would echo through the ages.

Some of my ancestors were in Auburn at the time, likely toiling in the factories that have since peeled away most of their jobs – recent immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Ireland. Lord knows how they felt then.

But I know today, when I turned this morning to my 2-year-old son and told him we were voting for Obama and he smiled and yelled, “O-VAHma!”

Tonight, not three generations later, there’s a darn good chance we’ll be electing our first black President of the United States.

What a difference three generations makes.

We’ve lived through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and both Iraqs. My grandparents did the Great Depression, my parents ushered in the Baby Boom. We’ve helped elect a Catholic but couldn’t quite get a Cuomo. We went from high school grads with blue collars to expecting grad school or beyond.

But today, today is one of those moments where the plates shift, the earth moves and something truly historic happens.

I am proud of my roots in Auburn and the act that William Seward helped write and usher in. I can’t imagine whether he would have imagined today coming – even these long, 146 years later. When I started voting just 20 years ago, I know I couldn’t have imagined it.

Admittedly, I was a Hillary guy in the primary and a McCain guy in 2000. I was slow to drink the Kool-Aid on this guy for reasons of experience, not heritage or race. But I saw McCain run like Bush Lite and Obama take the economic crisis and become a true leader. I had no misgivings casting my ballot and thought not a bit about race.

But now, in the quiet before the polls close and history may become real, it’s a good time to reflect on that 146 year journey from owned property to, very likely, leader of the free world. Far too long for most and far too painful a journey to be sure.

As has been quoted a lot lately, “Rosa sat so Martin could walk, Martin walked so Obama could run, Obama ran so our children can fly.”

I saw it in the eyes of Jake this morning – he didn’t care a bit that we were making history. But he was psyched to be a part of it.

And so am I.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Here's Why You Buy the Paper

I have more than a few co-workers, friends and relatives who have given up on the printed newspaper. How many times have we all heard it, "Why should I buy it when I can get it free online?" This is typically followed by the plea, "And your fingers don't get all inky when you read it online."

Well, the second argument hasn't been valid for the better part of a decade, since newsprint and printing presses improved.

The first one? Some days it is hard to argue with. I realize I'm old school and like to actually flip through the real thing. I like to see the story placement, the front page mix, the layout, the design. I know too that you miss the graphics quite often online and much more.

I do still read online sometimes. Even I admit, it's often easier for the lazyman in me. This morning, I was dog tired and the kids got up too early so while they lounged with a half hour of morning cartoons, it just seemed easier for me to pop open the computer than wander onto the porch to see if the papers had arrived.

Today I went Globe first and scanned the headlines for anything I had to care about, then went on to things I just cared about. Never in the mix was a story simply listed under local news under the header "A healing touch."

Why would it be? It just smelled to me like a sappy feature about a nurse or a doctor or a professional healer. Either way, I'd probably seen it before, I figured, and moved on to reading about John Edwards and paternity tests.

A half-day later, when I hit the mid-afternoon lull of quiet around here, Heidi tossed the Globe Metro section my way and said, "You have to read that." As soon as I saw the front page of the section, I knew I would have even if she hadn't drawn my attention to it. The picture with the story was killer - an elderly man curled up in a hospital bed next to an elderly woman. It drew me right in, along with the story's sub-headline, "Auburndale man uses hugs, kisses to cope, help bring his wife back from the grip of Alzheimer's."

Those two minor things separated a story I was happy to read from one I was happy to skip.

Sure, all of this met me just now when I clicked on the link on the Globe website. But I never got there from the simple header in the morning. The difference between figuring out you want to read "A healing touch" on the main page here and reading this story on its own page here is stunning.

Can this be fixed? Of course. The Globe and other papers have done a lot to try to replicate the in your hands experience online. The local news tab of the Globe offers another avenue for web layout to showcase good stories and good photos. Unfortunately, today's local news page features a photo from the Vineyard story from Metro front - not a bad story, but not the showcase feature as the true news editors who lay out the print edition intended.

The Globe is good at putting a PDF of the front page on its opening page so you can see how the paper looked. That's great. But why not do it for Metro front, Arts, Sports, etc.? I think the Herald completely dropped this feature from its page, which is a shame because some days the Herald page one is a work of art - to wit this week's "Vote for Change" splash about the nickle and dime stealing pol running for reelection.

There was a period when papers tried to reproduce every page online so you could digitally flip through the paper. I always thought that was a good idea, but I guess it didn't really catch on. A quick search tonight didn't find the links to that kind of feature at the major local dailies or the Times. Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

So if you didn't read the story about the Alzheimer's husband, take a minute, click the link above and read it. And, next time, go out and buy the damn thing, will ya?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Billy Joel’s New Heir

I always felt like Billy Joel epitomized that great crooner oddity – that all the ladies, and I mean all of them, love guys who sing. Walking down the street, Billy the Kid wouldn’t get a second glance from women, let alone good looking women … let alone Christie Brinkley.

But the guy sings how she’s got a way, belts out that she ought not go changing to try to please him or how the boys will all go down together and suddenly hot chicks get weak-kneed. This is all well-worn territory and Billy certainly has his company (I’m talking to you Mssrs. Springsteen, Jagger, Bowie and Bono). But Billy always stood out most to me as the best example.

But there is a new heir: Chris Martin of Coldplay.

This guy is all Brit, through and through. He’s got the accent, the lanky frame, the moody affect. But there he is, married to Gwyneth with a kid named Apple and all the ladies – all the ladies – loving him.

I saw Coldplay Monday night and there were honestly moments of screeching young ladies where I felt like I was in Shea Stadium with the lads from Liverpool 43 Augusts ago instead of the Garden with the newest British import. They were absolutely swooning. And one of my good friends, with no prompting whatsoever, leaned over to me about three songs into the show and said, “You know, I think I can see why everyone thinks he’s good looking.” She certainly wasn’t alone.

I thought, “Right, that white afro and five-day growth really does it for the ladies these days.”

But I watched, and I learned. Give the man his due, he is quite a performer, a great singer and very engaging. And I will give full credit that Chris Martin knows he’s ugly, he even went on a riff at the show when they played an acoustic number in the crowd, saying, in effect, we aren’t as pretty up close are we?

Do I have a man crush? No. Maybe on Bruce and Bono but I draw the line when the guys get downright homely, sorry.

I am just jealous? Well, other than the fact that I love my wife and wouldn’t trade her for Gwyneth, Christy or anyone else, you betcha.

But that’s not the point. The point is, well, wait, what was the point? The point is, I see through you Chris Martin, I know your game. I’m on to you. And I’m just glad Heidi couldn’t make it to the show Monday. You can have all the rest of them.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Soundtrack Blashphemy

Now, I'm not exactly a child of the 60s - though I suppose I was conceived then, but that's a story I don't even want to know. Still, there are some 80s-60s movies that are somewhat sacrosanct to me - "Platoon" being one, "The Big Chill" being another.

I think I liked The Big Chill for the college friendships, the great lines ("I'm going to wash my hair and puke." "Puke first").

But it was also the music. My dad got the soundtrack and it turned me on to Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Otis and even the great one-hitters of the day, Procol Harem. But there was one scene in the film and one song I loved that didn't make it on - I always figured the Stones felt they were too good for it - that was "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Great song, perfectly used in the movie.

"And now," the priest says at the funeral of Alex (bonus point, who played the dead Alex?) "Karen Bowan, an old college friend of Alex's will play one of Alex's favorite songs." She strides to the organ and blasts out the chorus - much to the amusement of friends in the audience. But the film moves it right into the acoustic opening and on into the song. Perfect for the scene. Etched into my memory to this day.

So you can imagine my horror last night when I saw the attempt to have it used, ridiculously, to the same effect in "21." All in all, an average movie, the book, "Bringing Down the House," was great. But just as the movie made-up storyline of Harvard Med comes to pass, in comes that same acoustic guitar.

Now I don't blame the Stones, they can use the money, I'm sure. I blame the director. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but this is Hollywood theft and, to me, soundtrack blasphemy. Sure, the Stones sold out to car ads years ago and the song even ended up in the show 'House' at one point. But a movie, with the same acoustic opening at a key part in the plot, shamefully non-inspired.

Hey, you might say, Procol Harem was used in "The Commitments" and "The Big Chill," same song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale." But in truth, I don't even remember what scene it was used in during "The Big Chill," but I do in "The Commitments" - so what's that tell you? And "The Commitments" used it in an inspired scene (can't beat a priest joking about vestal virgins leaving for the coast).

So there you have it, a good reason to blow off "21" - that and, well, it isn't nearly as good as the book.

As you were.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

4th of July, Asbury Park

Two days from now, DJs around the states will cue up a lot of trashy Independence Day songs. One you will be lucky to stumble upon is the one I always love to hear driving around in the summer - the 4th and beyond - with the window down ... "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)."

It's just got that feel, the boardwalk, the sights and sounds. And it's got the characters, led front and center by Madam Marie, the fortune teller I didn't know was real until I saw her myself my first trip down to Asbury. I figured, like most, I'm sure, that she was as made up as Sandy was, a device or a fake name for the real fortune teller who might dare to tell fortunes better than the cops do.

Anyway, it's a great song and a great image.

Thanks to my good buddy Tronz, I learned that Madam Marie died the other day, 94 years old. The Asbury Park Press had a great little obit. Even better, I found the last interview she did, also in the Press. In that interview a couple years ago, she talks about a punk kid named Springsteen who used to come by and, as the story goes, she predicted would become famous one day. It's a great read ... and a good reason we should invest in local newspapers (imagine a blogger trying to get an interview with a 90-year-old Jersey lady who'd been telling fortunes on the boardwalk since the 1930s?).

Anyway, Marie is gone. The boardwalk probably too, maybe even Asbury Park. But the song will live and the tales will probably get taller as time passes. But that's what's great about music and storytellers like Springsteen, the legends are sometimes better than the real thing.

Speaking of which, I wandered by Marie a couple times the two days I spent down the Asbury Park boardwalk. I never went in though. First, fortune tellers really creep me out. But more importantly, I think I knew the legend would be better than the real thing.

Here's to Marie, to Sandy, to Bruce and the song.

Happy 4th.

UPDATE: Bruce posted on his own blog, check it out here. Among other things, he says "She always told me (my future) looked pretty good - she was right." Indeed.