Sunday, January 29, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Book Five: Clubland

Clubland by Frank Owen

My personal foray into the New York club world was thankfully brief and took place back in the disco era. All I will say is that Saturday Night Fever was real. So is Jersey Shore (they are the spawn).

Clubland took place in the late 80s and 90s, by which time I had become comfortably suburbanized. So it was very interesting to read about a subculture that existed in my hometown shortly after I left for a more sanitized lifestyle.

The book centers on The Limelight, a notorious nightclub located in a decommissioned church. It gives an up-close-and-personal view of four “characters” who were intimately involved in the club and its culture: Peter Gatien, the club owner, who believes he is above the law; Michael Alig, a “club kid” whose personal credo is “It’s hip to be a mess”; Lord Michael Caruso, who endears himself to the rich, the famous, and the f***d up; and Chris Paciello, who tries desperately to escape from his “wise guy” past only to have it continually catch up with him.

If you need another good reason to stay away from the world of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, read this book. Reading Clubland was like watching Titanic for the hundredth time: fascinating for the arrogance of the characters who felt the party would never end and disheartening because you pretty much knew how it was all going to turn out. Throw in a murder most foul and you have a fascinating journey through the gritty underbelly of the New York club scene at the end of the last century.

The suburbs have never looked so good.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January REVolutions: How Am I Doing?

As week 3 of January draws to a close, I thought I would review my Personal Growth goals for the month and see how well I’m doing. 

  • New blog: This is going pretty well. My goal was to blog twice a week, so I’m just about on track though I find it easier to do my book reviews than to come up with something new and interesting to say.
  •  52 Books in 52 Weeks: Right on target (see above).
  • FlyLady: Not doing so well with this. Somehow the house seems to continually take a back seat to everything else in my life, but I have managed to keep things in relative order, and my sink is shiny!
  • Discover-a-town: We decided on Kent, and I did my investigation. We’ve set a date for Jan. 28 to actually visit, weather permitting.
  •  Laughter: This seems to be coming from all sorts of unexpected areas, including my friends’ Facebook postings, Twitter, cartoons and – as always – the news. Being alert to the funny stuff in ordinary life has helped too.
  •  Music: Spotify and Pandora have enhanced my musical life this month, and I hope to be able to continue exploring even more options in the next few weeks. Interestingly, a few moments after writing this, I received an email from Amazon telling me about a new John Tesh CD called “Ultimate Praise” that features “uplifting praise songs to encourage the soul.” That fit so nicely with my February focus on spirituality, that I couldn’t resist ordering it.
  •  Prayer/Meditation: I’ve got a new prayer every morning: “Hey God, we’re gonna have a great day!” That seems to set things off on a much more positive note than “Dear God, please let me get through this day!” And it seems to be working. More on this subject in February, which will be dedicated to spirituality.

All in all, not a bad start to the year. Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Book Four: Falling Through the Earth

Falling Through the Earth by Danielle Trussoni

This was a memoir of a father and daughter’s often tumultuous relationship. The father, a Vietnam vet and former “tunnel rat” in the war, was a flawed, secretive, yet somehow sympathetic character. The daughter (the author) was locked in a struggle to find herself while unearthing her father’s past both at home and in the Vietnamese landscape. 

Throughout the time she spent in Vietnam, a shadowy figure of a man stalked her, and I kept trying to figure out – along with the author – who he might be. A long-lost sibling fathered during the war? A resentful native still nursing a grudge against the Americans who overran his country? Sadly, I never found out because the author never found out. What he ultimately represented, for me, were the secrets that remained buried in both the father’s past and in the untold stories of the Vietnam War.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book, though I found myself questioning the author’s audacity and naiveté in visiting the seamier sections of Vietnam unescorted and, to my mind, unprepared. I was happy that she and her father came to a place of reconciliation at the end, and that her efforts to understand him bore fruit, if only to realize that when it came to the war experience, as her father put it, “No matter how hard you try, it doesn’t really end.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Book Three: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is one of those writers who has the ability to make me laugh out loud. Fortunately, I did not read this book in a public place where such behavior is frowned upon.

This is a memoir of growing up as a member of the Baby Boomer generation in the 50s and early 60s. The author is several years older than I am, yet many of the images he evoked brought back memories of my own childhood, so along with the laughter were some unexpected pangs of nostalgia. Although I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY – about as polar opposite as you can get from the author’s hometown of Des Moines – the experiences he relates seem to cross all geographical boundaries.

Along with the lighthearted stuff – fun-filled family road trips, America’s love affair with television and the automobile, the strangely alluring smell of mimeograph paper, the innocent political incorrectness of the era, and Bill’s infatuation with being a superhero – there were also some serious considerations. How the uniqueness of downtowns across America was eventually wiped out by chain restaurants, suburban sprawl and “mall-ification.” How our feel-good culture believed that pretty much everything was good for us – including cigarettes, booze and (oddly enough) nuclear proliferation.  And how concerns about Communism, polio, segregation and – gasp – rock and roll eventually turned the population from giddily optimistic to wary and suspicious.

The memoir also brought home the sea change in attitudes and priorities that took place during this time. As Bill Bryson explained it: “People were beginning to discover that joyous consumerism is a world of diminishing returns.” As we needed more things, we needed more money to buy those things. And more time and money to fix those things. And more people in the work force to make the money to buy new things when the old things weren’t fixable anymore. Regrettably, instead of building on the fun of the 50s, we chose to build on the “stuff.” The author states, “Americans took none of the productivity gains in additional leisure. We decided to work and buy and have instead.” 

Despite all the LOL moments, this book left me strangely downhearted, knowing in my heart that the life we lived during my childhood was one that can never be repeated. As Bill Bryson concluded: “What a wonderful world it was. We won’t see its like again, I’m afraid.”

Side Note: The book relates that “according to the Gallup organization, 1957 was the happiest year ever recorded in the United States of America.” The author wonders why that was so; I like to think it was because I was born that year.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Music of My Life

There was a time when the very first thing I did upon entering a room was to switch on the stereo. If I started a new job, one of my main concerns – more important than salary and vacation – was whether I was allowed to have a radio at my desk. I was plugged in long before the invention of the iPod, thanks to my then-state-of-the-art Sony Walkman, which blasted rock-and-roll to pump me up before going to my dead-end job. And of course I sang along with everything, usually at the top of my lungs.

But over the years, there was gradually less and less music in my life. Once married, there was someone else to consider when choosing whether or not to pump up the tunes in the living room. When the kids came along, Raffi and Disney replaced the more raucous offerings I favored. My present job is such that I need a level of concentration that song lyrics unfortunately interfere with. And although I went through a brief period of belting show tunes, much to my family’s dismay, my singing has now been relegated to the car and the shower.

Frankly, I miss the music. 

So one of my New Year’s REVolutions is to bring more music back into my life. But there’s no revolution in listening to the same stuff I blasted in the 80s. No, I want to explore all sorts of music genres – from folk to hip hop, country to classical. 

I’ve approached this a couple of different ways so far. First there was the Car Radio Experiment.

I decided that every time I got into the car, I’d randomly tune my radio to a new station on the dial and listen to whatever it had to offer for the duration of my drive. I’ve done this three times so far, and all I can say is that I’m grateful I have a short drive. 

The first station I tuned into was WBAZ “Lite on the Bays” broadcasting from somewhere in the Hamptons. During my blessedly short journey, I had the opportunity to hear an interview with one of the popular, intellectually challenged female cast members of the Jersey Shore. I believe it was Snooki, but since I find them fairly interchangeable, it might have been J-Woww. The topic was her current boyfriend and why he was the perfect guy for her. One of the interview questions was whether she had ever hooked up with Paulie (one of the popular, intellectually challenged male cast members), to which she responded that she didn’t remember. Well, there it is then. By the time I reached my destination, she was attempting to explain this memory lapse while the DJ and his sidekick made snide innuendos and yukked it up. No music crossed the airwaves during my drive time.

Station #2 was WBAB, billed as “Long Island’s #1 Rock Station.” (Although I do not live in Long Island, most of the strongest radio signals seem to come from across the Sound.) It was my great fortune to tune in during their wildly popular “Hot Girls, Babe of the Day” segment. From what I could gather based on the hilarity in the studio, that morning’s “hot girl” (or was she the “babe of the day”?) was about to earn a significant sum of money for exposing her breasts. Now, there is nothing so lame as listening to someone get naked. And yet apparently this show has a huge following. When I got to my appointment and switched off the radio, I believe an actual piece of music had begun to play. Something I used to listen to on my Walkman.

The last station I listened to was WLNG, “America's Original Oldies Station Since 1963.” I do believe they are still working from their original playlist. Except now the songs are interspersed with local news. And I do mean local. As in “John Doe’s funeral will be held on Tuesday at 9:30 at Our Lady of the Oldies Church.” That local. I switched off the radio morosely, suddenly stricken with a somber mood.

There are many more radio stations I could listen to, but to talk a little baseball here, “Three strikes and you’re out.” So it was on to Plan B: Spotify.

According to its website, Spotify is a digital music service that gives you access to millions of songs. I had noticed my Facebook friends posting the tunes they were listening to a few months back, but hadn’t had an opportunity to explore it myself. Now I did, and I liked what I saw … and heard! I downloaded the appropriate software and soon was well on my way to exploring music of every genre. I even searched “angry music” one day when I was pissed off, and found a few playlists others had compiled and shared. The music on them was satisfyingly irate and allowed me to get out my rage in a non-felonious way. Now THIS is more like it!

The only thing I am dissatisfied with so far is that to listen on my iPhone requires a subscription. Since I don’t spend very much time in my car, I will have to decide whether it makes sense to pay $9.99 a month for mobile Spotify. But it may be worth it just so I never again have to listen to another interview with the Jersey Shore cast, hear someone exposing herself to a DJ, or receive an on-air invitation to the funeral of some anonymous Long Islander. Stay tuned!


Thursday, January 5, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Book Two: Women Out of Control

Women Out of Control by Linda G. Stunell

Continuing with the true crime genre, here was another book I picked up at a book sale this past summer. It recounts the sordid tales of five women convicted of sex crimes, including media darlings Lorena Bobbitt and Mary Kay Letourneau. 

Written by a “certified clinical hypnotherapist and sex counselor,” this book seemed to have a hard time deciding whether to be a true crime account, a guide to female sexuality or a commentary on the media and society. It was also unclear at times whether the author was defending the women or condemning them; frequently she seemed to do both.

My favorite take-away: When Lorena Bobbitt threw her husband’s severed penis out the window of her car, it landed in front of the Patty-Kake Day Care Center. 

I could run with this, but I will refrain.