Saturday, December 19, 2009

An early Christmas

I'm lucky enough to live relatively close to my family, but my holiday work schedule has made Christmas hectic for me this year. There's not a lot of time to spare. So I told my family last week that I'd visit them a little early so we could spend some quality time before the hectic holiday, when I probably wouldn't have a lot of time just to hang out with loved ones. Not long after I arrived, my family indicated that they wanted to have Christmas early - as in while I was right there - so that my holiday wouldn't be quite so hectic. I was resistant at first, but you know how it goes, you see those presents. . .well, no, that's not how it goes. It goes that my family went out of their way for me just to make things easier on me. This is a wonderful gift in itself. I am very blessed. Thank you wonderful people so much, I love you.


CHRISTMAS WITH DANIEL: This has become a favorite post of mine and I look forward to reading it again. I hope you enjoy it:

Christmas is where you find it. This Christmas story has nothing to do with the actual holiday – and everything. The story is from episode 1550 of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, the classic PBS series. Since Fred Rogers' death, I have collected several episodes of the show (anybody have any really early episodes? Contact me for a trade!). This episode aired earlier this year and hopefully will be rerun for many years to come. That's assuming MRN will stick around. Sadly, many stations have dropped it from their schedule.

Anyway, the story opens with Daniel S. Tiger attending a bass violin festival (long story, folks). During the festival, two of the characters decide to put on a puppet show using bass violin puppets. The play begins with the two bass violin puppets talking to each other – the tall one is the older brother, the short one the younger brother. The older brother decides he doesn't want his younger brother playing second fiddle to him anymore, so he tells him that he is going away to play with his older friends.

“But I want to play with you!” the younger brother cries. “Sorry,” the older replies as he walks (slides?) away from the younger brother. Alone on stage, the younger brother begins to cry. “Boo-hoo! Boo-hoo-hoo!” After a few moments, forgetting that it's only a play, the shy Daniel Tiger walks up to the crying bass violin. “I'll play with you,” he says.

If all we ever do this holiday season is make someone feel that they are not alone, and that we care for them, then we probably will have fulfilled more of the work of Christ than we could ever imagine. But heed a word of warning: it will only work if you meet THEIR needs, not just your own. Don't kid yourself: True love involves bravery. I wish we could always be guaranteed that we would be loved in return. That would certainly make the job easier.

If I were in charge of Heaven, the first rule I would make is, “All right, from now on, nobody will ever be without love again. Everybody will always have someone special to hold them and help them when they need it. Everybody will always be loved.”

This holiday season, I wish for you – and for me – the love of someone very special to fill your heart, whether that someone be a family member, a friend, the Lord, yourself, a fantasy, or even a certain striped tiger.

I'm thankful for each of you who takes time to peek in on this blog & I wish you a very happy holiday season!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Rare Sesame audio

Years before home video recording was possible, there was. . . home audio recording. And it was pretty low-tech (at least for me). It involved putting my tape recorder next to the TV set and recording the sound from the speaker. You had to be quiet so that your voice wouldn’t be recorded on the tape. This was not easy when you are a little kid with other people in the house who you have to tell to shut up. (And worse when those people wouldn’t.) But this was how I recorded many classic shows & clips from way back when. I have had a small collection of Sesame Street-related audio clips that I put onto my own CD. “Sesame Street Rarities” is its official title. Here’s the track list:

Selections from: SESAME STREET CAST ON EVENING AT POPS with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops orchestra, circa 1971

1. Sesame Street theme/ Toy Symphony with Cookie Monster/ I’ve got two
2. ABC-DEF-GHI - Big Bird & the cast
3. Rubber Duckie/ Big Bird conducts/ Song of five/ Sesame St. theme reprise

4. “Yes”- Judy Collins, Biff and Sully
5. Ernie and Bert imagine going their separate ways
6. Maria and Bert’s imaginary helicopter ride
7. “Snooky” (Beautiful Day monster) tries to go through a hoop (incomplete)
8. SESAME STREET FLIES: Audio clips from an episode circa 1982
Big Bird and Poco Loco the parrot talk; “Flying” by Joe Raposo; Music from film about building blocks (incomplete); Big Bird as an airplane; Cartoon- Counting planes on the runway; Grover’s airplane; Marlena, Kermit and Grover; Anything muppets - “Rocket”; Luis’ serenade /Pat the pilot cartoon (incomplete); Big Bird and Maria in a balloon - “I’m flying” song; Bald Eagle film (slightly different dialogue); “Danger” film music of man narrowly missing danger (incomplete); Dark clouds cartoon with scary cats (incomplete, unfortunately!); Pinball count- 12 (incomplete); Big Bird and Maria land.

With my slow connection, it has been impossible to share these tracks with others. Until now. The album is currently available to download on the Sesame Street Block Party site! As you can imagine, the audio quality is often not very good. But it is listenable, and it is a treasure for fans of these skits that are currently unavailable anywhere else.

This project has been a long-time coming due to my inability to share the files myself. But again, Bob at the “Sesame St. block party” Web site has been kind enough to post the files, and my friend Peter has been kind enough to upload the files. So very special thanks go out to Bob and Peter for making it all possible.

To learn more about Sesame Street‘s appearance with the Boston Pops, click here:

From Sesame Street Unpaved: "According to Danny Epstein, musical coordinator for Sesame Street, when the cast played ["Rubber Duckie"] with the Boston Pops (Big Bird conducted), the musicians were not allowed to squeeze rubber duckies in addition to playing their own instruments unless they were paid extra. Apparently, a rubber duckie was considered to be a second instrument, and each musician was supposed to receive additional pay if they played a second instrument. When it came time for the actual performance, only the percussion players squeezed the ducks. It was determined that the rubber duck was to be considered a percussion instrument."


UNCENSORED, BUT INCOMPLETE: In my Christmas shopping I came upon a book called “MTV Uncensored.” It is several years old now, but it seemed at first glance to be an excellent history of MTV’s early days. I thumbed through it, and it does seem like a great book, with many great historic photos. But there’s one important element missing. I thumbed through this thing looking for one person, but . . . Nope, I couldn’t find Carolyne Heldman in it anywhere! DANG! Not even her name seemed to be included in the book! This is particularly upsetting when you realize that several other Vjs, including others from the “Carolyne” era, are included in the book. That stinks, man. I hope I’m mistaken, but I really couldn’t find her mentioned in this book which is supposed to be “uncensored.” Phooey.

You know what this reminds me of? You know that person who you knew in high school but who somehow never got their picture taken for the yearbook? It’s like that. I know that person existed, but there’s no photographic proof. Despite the lack of evidence, I know that I am not mistaken in my memories. Yes Virginia, there is a Carolyne Heldman.

Just for revenge, I think we should go over to the Aspen Public Radio site and listen to Carolyne read from one of my favorite books of all time, “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Marjery Williams. There are plenty of other cool readings available at the site, too:


POPEYE ON GOOGLE: Hey, did you happen to catch Popeye’s appearance on the Google homepage? It’s been a pretty cool month for Google fans - first the Sesame Street muppets, now Popeye! His appearance was in celebration of the birthday of E.C. Segar, the cartoonist who created the legendary sailor. Read all about Popeye here:


ANOTHER YEAR: Sigh. I had a good streak going there, didn’t I? I was posting at least once a week for several weeks. Then it stopped. Life happens, and it pushes blog posting way back on the list of things to do. That's true even as the blog celebrates its anniversary this week. No offense folks, but I hope that the blog will always be pushed back. I enjoy it a lot. . .but it’s not all I enjoy. Among other things are spending time with family and friends and wishing them. . .a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Carolyne update

At last I can update you on the status of Carolyne Heldman. This being the best “unofficial” Carolyne Web page in the world, it is only my duty to do so. I’m glad to report that Carolyne is doing very well, as you can read in this clip from her bio page at Aspen Public Radio:

Carolyne was the Station Manager for the Aspen Skiing Company's television station, Channel 16, producing and directing the award-winning, live morning show, Aspen Today for 3 years. She then returned to radio, hosting the morning show on local radio station KSNO. She left the valley in 2005 and for the past three years, Carolyne has been concentrating on raising her two daughters and teaching yoga. Carolyne is thrilled to be back home in the Roaring Fork Valley.
So she’s not on MTV, but radio is still cool. Carolyne is hosting a radio show called “Crosscurrents” that you can listen to online at the site below:

I haven’t heard them all yet, but being a Carolyne fan I will try to find time to enjoy them. As a John Denver fan, I’d recommend the show from October 9 which features an interview with Barry Ehrmann, the producer of a new DVD box set of John Denver's concerts. Very interesting talk about how older footage of John was restored for the current release. Also, Carolyne shares a cool memory of John Denver.

If you’d prefer some shorter clips, Carolyne recently took part in “The Big Read” for Aspen Public Radio. Each week, a different reader would read excerpts from the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” on the radio. Carolyne joins a prestigious list of readers including John Oates and Robert Wagner. To listen to “The Big Read,” visit the pod cast section of Aspen Public Radio’s Web site:

In the chance that you haven’t read or seen or listened to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” you may want to do so before listening to Carolyne’s clips, as she gives a summary of the end of the book. And I recommend that book. It’s a classic story that is worth enjoying.
For more about Carolyne Heldman, enjoy my post here:

For more about John Denver, enjoy my other post here:


IS SOMETHING GOING ON? Hello? Yes, this is he. Yes, I have noticed the muppets on the Google home page. So what? You mean something is happening this week? Yes, of course, Veterans Day. What? Something else? I’m not sure. It’s not some other holiday, is it? Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away. . .An anniversary? Whose? Not my parents’. I’m not sure what you. . .YOW! 40 YEARS OF SESAME STREET and I haven’t got time to write about it! But luckily, a friend has pointed me to an article on the CNN Web page that sums up how many of us grown-up fans are feeling:

For better or worse, today's preschooler is very different from the 1969 version. And children's television programming simply has to reflect that.

But one thing hasn't changed on "Sesame Street": the unflinchingly genuine attitudes of its residents. For 40 years, they have taught us that sometimes we are going to get hurt, cry and be lonely. They've taught us that there'll also be times when we're downright jovial. All the while, those characters have remained sincere.

We may never see Cookie Monster eat a pipe again, but luckily the memories are preserved on DVD, and in our hearts.

Here’s the posting I left at MuppetCentral forum about the 40th anniversary:

Sesame Street has left a huge impact on my life. Even today, not actively watching the show, I still find myself remembering little skits now and then, and collecting some of the old songs and toys from back in the day. I think it, along with some other notable shows, helped me to grow into the person I am, and I'm very thankful for that. When I draw comics, there's almost always Ernie and Bert and some of the other characters hanging around. In my silly home movies, there they are- Ernie, Bert, Cookie and others. My memories and stories of Sesame St. bring me joy to this day, and probably always will. Here's to their first 40 years. . .and it looks like I'd better brace myself for mine. :)


AND SPEAKING OF ETHICS: I caused an unintentional controversy when I used some quotes from the Mouseplanet message board in my monorail post last week. It was not my intent to break the rules of the message board, and it was definitely not my intent to misrepresent or insult the posters on the board. I've apologized for my stupidity, but for folks in charge of things that's never enough. What upsets me is how everything worked exactly the opposite of what I wanted. In an effort to reach out to others, I get told that I shouldn’t do it that way - at least not on that board. What they don’t explain is exactly how I should reach out to others. That’s my problem, not theirs. And it is a problem I will be working on.

But I would like to welcome our five new readers. . .


Friday, November 06, 2009

One-track minds

This post features three ethical dilemmas that have become known to me within the last few days. I thought I’d share them each with you and then allow you to make your own judgments on what the best course of action should be in each case. One of them involves YouTube, but they all, to some degree, involve YOU.

A while back, I joked that the visitors of Disneyland were being treated like second-class citizens. But little did I know how accurate my joking would become. Case in point: there are plenty of rides at Disneyland that us old-timers wish would return. But what happens when you close a Disneyland ride to everyone but a select few? What happens when a particular ride becomes only available to those who are willing to pay more? I’m sorry to say that has just about become a reality.

It involves the monorail, one of the most unique rides in the park. Back in the day, any guest in Disneyland could board the monorail for a short trip through the park, then out of the park over the parking lot (sigh, remember the parking lot?) and to the Disneyland Hotel. Hotel guests could then exit or enter, and then the monorail would head back into the park where we could get off and resume a day at the park. That’s how it used to be, but I’m sorry to say things have changed. On my recent visits to Disneyland, I’ve been unable to get on the monorail, as it was being used for a “one-way” trip to the hotel, and therefore only meant for hotel guests. I live too close to the park to justify staying in the hotel just so I can ride the monorail. A ride has been effectively closed off for me.

Compare this situation to what is going on at the San Diego Zoo. The elephants have been moved to a different location (check out my flickr post to see a bit of it). So what happened to the old elephant enclosure? Well, part of it is now a VIP area. For more money, you can have a little lunch there and have one of the keepers bring out some animals for you to look at up close. As I was riding the tour bus around that area, the bus driver told us that she had to be quiet as we drove past so that she wouldn’t interrupt whatever was going on in that area. Even the bus drivers are having their rights taken away from them so that the zoo can make a little more money. I think that’s similar to what is going on with the monorail.

I’m hoping that none of this is intentional on the part of Disney- but can we really assume that they never thought people might feel a little inadequate because they couldn’t afford a night at the Disneyland Hotel along with their Disneyland tickets? Can we really assume that no little kid would want to ride the Monorail, only to hear their parent say, “I’m sorry, but we’re not allowed to ride the Monorail?” I understand the policy, but I am frankly disappointed with it. It goes right along with charging people to have their names printed on the mouse ears. Despite the benefits to hotel guests, this policy is creating the "second-class citizens" feeling that I joked about earlier.


YOUTREACHERY? The Internet was designed to bring information to others. As such, there’s a lot of information out there these days - “too much” as Duran Duran would say. And it’s not just written information, but audio information and video information. YouTube is probably the most popular spot for enjoying “video information.” And while the company seems willing to bend the rules for its viewers, it also seems willing to bend the rules to its own profit.

Here’s part of a great blog posting that sums up “The ethical dilemma that is YouTube“:

I received an interesting e-mail today from someone who had seen a video I posted to YouTube some time ago. It probably was embedded in one of my posts about Soupy Sales, who, sadly, passed away last week. This blog usually gets 200-300 hits per day. On Friday, the number of visitors increased tenfold. That's a tribute to Soupy, of course, that has nothing to do with me.

Anyway, here's the e-mail:
...I have a video that was recorded from television back in 1978......the guest was [someone] I used to work for. Upon [that person's] death, I created a memorial w/photos and such for his family, and also put the interview [into] this. I'd like to put it on YouTube, and have no idea... if I do this, will it be OK? Just a regular guy trying to share this w/the world.....your thoughts? Thanks.

And here's my reply:

YouTube requests that anyone who posts a video on their site be the person who created the video or owns the rights to the video. Everyone ignores this, most especially YouTube itself, which, once you subtract the funny home videos, is an empire built on copyright infringement. Don’t listen to anyone who says “it’s OK,” because it’s not. But YouTube usually looks the other way.

I think many people who post to YouTube, myself included, simply want to share something they have that others might like to see. Legally, it makes no difference whether you post something in order to make money or you’re just looking to share. But reasonable people can draw a distinction between something shared just for the pleasure of doing so… versus something posted in an attempt to capitalize on someone else’s creative work.

YouTube actually sent me an e-mail today about the Soupy video. Incredibly, here's what it said:

"Your video has become popular on YouTube, and you're eligible to apply for the YouTube Partnership Program, which allows you to make money from playbacks of your video.

"Once you're approved, making money from your video is easy. Here's how it works: First sign into your YouTube account. Then, complete the steps outlined [at a web address]. Once you're finished, we'll start placing ads next to your video and pay you a share of the revenue as long as you meet the program requirements. We look forward to adding your video to the YouTube Partnership Program. Thanks and good luck! "

Wow! If the video was mine, I might take them up on their offer. But I won’t do that in this case, because there’s no reason I should profit from something I didn’t create. I’m simply sharing something I like; I’m saying have a look, isn’t this great? Oh, I'll make a few comments, but really, this has nothing to do with me, and to turn it into a source of income would be wildly disrespectful to the memory of Soupy Sales – an entertainer I loved.

- Don

I may hold the record for procrastination when it comes to YouTube videos. I’ve been on the site for years, and have still not posted any of my own vids! That will (I hope) change someday, but issues like this have to give me pause. I obviously have some video clips that I’d love to share that I do not own the copyright to. I doubt if any of them will be popular enough for me to get an e-mail about advertising. But what if they are, and what if I do? Something I thankfully don’t have to worry about yet. Something to file in the back of my mind along with cleaning the place, writing the great American novel, visiting more national parks. . .


ATTACK OUR EMPLOYEE, GET PAID FOR IT: Back when I worked with the college newspaper, I had to endure a letter from a reader telling me what an idiot I was. That’s part of sharing your ideas sometimes - you have to put up with a lot of idiots who don’t get it. I think most of those who work at newspapers understand this. But what happens when somebody writes something that is critical of a reporter. . .and then that somebody gets paid by the newspaper for doing so? Check out this posting:

The Torrance Daily Breeze ran an unusual advertisement on Sunday. A local condo association bought five pages in the middle of the main news section to deliver a long screed about a bitter power struggle for control of its board.

But that's not what made this ad unusual. It's the fact that the ad singles out for criticism the Breeze reporter who covered the story. The ad's author, Cyd Balque, president of the Scottsdale Townhouses Association, makes repeated references to the reporter, Gene Maddaus. She characterizes his work as sensationalistic and biased.

It is not unusual for someone in the middle of a public controversy to be unhappy with the coverage. It is unusual for a publisher to sell that person an expensive platform ($10,000? $15,000?) to attack the reporter. After all, Balque could have written a letter to the editor. And if the stories were incorrect in some way the paper would have run a correction. On the contrary, the editors ran an editor's note in Sunday's paper saying they stood behind the coverage.

Should the other side in the condo dispute get five pages to vent their concerns? Should other reporters worry about retribution if they take on special interests with deep pockets? What about editorial independence?

The ethical dilemma here has to do with the work of the reporters and how that work is perceived by both the reporter and his bosses. I’m sorry to say that many in the newspaper industry consider reporters to be “moneymakers” rather than reporters. They see reporters as helping them make money, not as performing a valuable service. It’s easy to understand how they could “sell out” and allow such an advertisement to be published.

So did the paper do wrong? I think only the reporter himself knows the ultimate answer to that question. Hopefully, the reporter understands where the bosses are coming from, and has no real hard feelings about any of this. On the other hand, if the reporter is upset about it, then we have a big issue. For it doesn’t matter if the advertisement is justified or not - someone is upset. And nobody wants to work for a company that upsets its employees so it can make more money.

Are you listening, Disneyland? YouTube? Torrance Daily Breeze?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snow White and the seven dwarfs

The re-release of Walt Disney's “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on DVD (and first time on Blu-Ray) this month has served to reconfirm what many have said already - this is one of the best movies ever made. The film is every bit as moving and entertaining as it was when it debuted in the late 1930s. If you haven't seen it yet. . .it just means that you're very frugal. :) As far as I know the film has never been shown on television, so you won't find it on Disney channel or TCM or AMC or pay-per-view or anything like that. Your options are to see it in the theater or to buy the home video versions. I missed the first DVD release of Snow White, as did many other people, which quickly drove the price of the DVD up higher than most of us would like to pay for it. Thankfully, this re-release brings the film classic back down to fit our budgets. (It can be frustrating to not be able to buy a particular film just because they've decided to release it again five years from now.)

The quality of the DVD itself is excellent. It's hard to believe, but you really can't see too many flaws in the picture or hear too many flaws in the audio. It's as if the film were made this year. The only giveaway technically is that it remains in its standard “square” format that it was first shown in. Such was not always the case. When I first saw Snow White in the theater in 1987, they “cropped” the square so that we got a “widescreen” version of Snow White. This wasn't that bad to watch - everything important was in the picture. But time has brought out the “purist” in me that says, “we want to see it the way it was originally seen.” If that's the case for you too, please buy this DVD. (Look for the RKO logo at the end!)

I have to talk about the music. This is one of the best film soundtracks of them all. It not only matches the action and mood of the movie, it is beautiful. You could listen to the soundtrack by itself and enjoy it. If you're a casual fan, the official CD soundtrack will be fine. But if you're a nut like me (and who isn't?), you should also try to get the original LP or cassette of the soundtrack that was produced before CDs came out. Although there is less music, the recording contains slightly different music cues than can be found in the CD soundtrack. The violins before “Someday my prince will come” are heard without the dialogue, and the beautiful conclusion is presented with a different choral arrangement that is more faithful to the film version (but interestingly, still not the same!)

Prior to seeing the movie, we had seen “Snow White Live” broadcast on cable TV. It was a stage version of “Snow White” put on at Radio City Music Hall, and it was pretty terrific in its own right. It contained the best of the movie while adding a few new plot items here and there. Some of those plot points included the prince's search for Snow White and the Dwarfs ringing the bells at Snow White's wedding. And the cast was excellent. Even those who had to wear masks shone on stage. It's a real treat that has not been released on video in decades! The time has come, Disney! Don't make us wait another 20 years!

Sometime in late 1983 (I think), my dad, brother and I went to a drive-in theater to see “Return of the Jedi.” “Snow White” was playing at the same theater on a different screen. A couple of times during the movie, I would turn around and watch scenes from “Snow White.” It's kind of neat now to realize that two of my favorite films were playing at the same time in the same theater, and I sort of got to see a bit of both of them at the same time!

My brother and I were lucky enough to meet Snow White in person. It's one of my earliest memories. It was at Disneyland, and she said, “What a brave boy!” as I walked up to shake her hand. Dopey was with her, and we have photos. A very cool kid moment. It's actually pretty rare to see the dwarfs in the park these days. I got to shake hands with Grumpy once during the parade. That's the last time I recall seeing him in the park.

It's kind of difficult to believe today, but in its day, “Snow White” was likely the scariest film of its time. (I've heard it said that it would have been “PG” if there had been a ratings system at the time.) That scary aspect seems to run completely apart from the “cuteness” of the film, yet it is obviously an important element. The queen turns herself ugly so that she can become beautiful. Its lesson is that true ugliness is not physical, but spiritual. When the queen becomes a witch, it is frightening, but you later realize that this is who she truly was all along. When she cries out, “now I'll be the fairest in the land!” you can't help but realize how blind she is. Her obsession with beauty has only brought out ugliness. And as for that “cuteness”- it continues today in so many things that Disney is doing. Walt once said something like, “It may be corny, but I like corn.” And apparently many others do, too.

It's also frightening to realize that if “Snow White” had failed, as many people at the time said it would, we would not have the Disney company today – that's how much money had to be invested in it. But thankfully Walt knew his stuff, and the film basically became a cornerstone for all of the Disney movies and an inspiration for so many other films at the time, most notably “Wizard of Oz”, “Gulliver's Travels” and “The Blue Bird” with Shirley Temple. Both “Wizard” and “Gulliver's Travels” have some excellent songs, too.

I'd like to hope that people are beginning to realize what the first audience for “Snow White” realized back in 1937 or so. This film isn't just another cartoon. This film isn't just for kids, and in some cases can be too scary for kids. This film is a work of art. This film moves the heart. This film is more entertaining than most films with “real people.” This film breaks rules. This film creates rules. This film rules.


THE TERRIBLE FOE: You would think that losing some relatives to cancer would make me realize how devastatingly common it is. The news that Andrew Lloyd Webber has prostrate cancer is worrisome to say the least, knowing that many have not survived it. Thankfully it is in its early stages, and can hopefully be treated with success. Our prayers and good wishes go out to him.

THE STARS ALLIGN: When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with the Hollywood sign, we find that there is a date which stands out among sitcom fans everywhere. October 18 is the birthday of Erin Moran (Joanie of “Happy Days”), Pam Dawber (of “Mork & Mindy”) and Dawn Wells (Mary Ann of “Gilligan's Island”). I consider this too much to be a coincidence. I suggest we name October 18 as “cute sitcom girl day.” It may not become a national holiday, but it would give us a good excuse to watch “Mork & Mindy” again. For more on Gilligan's Island, enjoy my post here:

And in a post such as this, I would be amiss not to note that “Joanie” on Happy Days played “Snow White” in a Halloween-themed episode. And what a startling coincidence, but this week is Halloween as well! For us grown-ups without kids, the holiday can be more of a pain than anything else. But I still try to find the fun in it with the help of my friends – and a few pieces of extra candy here and there. You know, there's always a bit extra left over. . .especially if I happen to accidentally go out and forget about passing it out on the 31st. . .you never know. I'm a busy guy. Things happen. You know, I've often wondered. . .how many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? Perhaps this year, I will finally find out. (“The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind. . .”)

Friday, October 23, 2009

The muppets are real; Soupy Sales

The muppets are real. They said so on TV.

On Wednesday evening, the show “Dinner Impossible” on Food Network featured not only host chef Robert Irvine trying to cook dinner for over 200 people in eight hours, but Maria, Elmo and Cookie Monster from “Sesame Street.” At the beginning of the show, a disclaimer came up over a black screen. It read, “What you are about to see is real.” Well, among the things we saw were Elmo and Cookie Monster. If what we are about to see is real, then that means that Elmo and Cookie Monster are real. QED. For that matter, it also means that Sesame Street is real, and Maria is real (she didn’t go by Sonia Manzano, but by Maria! So Maria is real!) The alternative is that the disclaimer is lying to us, which would be pretty horrible, and would mean that the network could be sued. I suggest they come up with a new disclaimer. “Most of what you are about to see is real.” Or how about “The food is real, real good.” Or maybe the best of all, “You folks need a real life.”


MESSY SITUATION: When I heard the news this morning that Soupy Sales had sailed to a better place, I immediately thought of Fred Hembeck, the biggest Soupy fan I know. He’s already shared some of his thoughts on his “Fred Sez” posting for this morning. Check it out:

It wasn't necessarily Soupy's material that sparkled but the absolutely joyful--and infectious--manner in which he delivered it. THAT was his particular brand of genius. After all, if Soupy himself was having so much fun, how could we viewers help but not join in?

You'll be sorely missed, funny guy.

Check out more in Fred’s blog in my links section.

Soupy was before my time, so I have more memories of folks like Fred Rogers. And here’s where things get a bit messy- messy as in pies in the face and slapstick.

In several interviews, Fred Rogers stated that one of the reasons he got into children’s television was that he hated the children’s television shows that were on the air. He (as far as I know) never named any of those shows, but he described them as having “pies in the face and slapstick.” Now from what clips I have seen from the Soupy Sales show, if I had to describe it in a few words. . .yep, pies in the face and slapstick. Fred Rogers believed that children’s shows could be - and should be - much more than that. So he created one of the greatest children’s shows of all time.

I think the problem is that Soupy’s show was more geared toward “entertainment” than children. It was passed off as "kids’ TV" not so much because it was for kids, but because it was silly and seen as "harmless". It’s understandable that someone seeing this would see a big void in kids’ TV and try to fill it with stuff that actually helped kids. Soupy Sales' goals were different from Fred Rogers' goals. Likewise, his show was different. I’m sure Soupy and company (and his viewers) had a lot of fun. But if we’ve learned anything from children’s TV in the past 40 years (hint hint), it is that children learn things from television, and any programming for kids needs to take that into consideration. Soupy was likely a great talent, but I fear that if he were around today, they’d have to put him at late night on “Cartoon Network,” as he would be performing material that we would recognize as being unfit for young kids. It would likely still be a fun show. But it wouldn't be the same.

COMING SOON: Someday her prince will come.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Carrie and the captain

If you’ve been keeping up with the Neighborhood Archive blog (and please do if you’re a Mister Rogers fan), you’ve seen some pictures from when Fred Rogers visited Captain Kangaroo (The Captain also visited Mr. Rogers on his show). Not to be outdone, I wanted to put up an image from when Carrie Fisher visited the Captain, taken I believe from the same book (“Good Morning Captain”) that the Fred Rogers pictures were taken from. Speaking of Captain Kangaroo, I’ve been disappointed to realize that virtually NO episodes from the classic show are available to buy, rent or trade. Nobody seems to have any extra episodes of Captain Kangaroo. There are probably more episodes of “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” currently available than “Captain Kangaroo.” It’s sad because it is such a historic show- almost everyone who knows anything about TV history has heard the name “Captain Kangaroo.” But if you’re looking for examples of his work, they haven’t been seen in years. This is one classic show I definitely wish we could see more of. Blu-ray release! Blu-ray release! If by any chance you have rare episodes of Captain Kangaroo, please let me know! We might be able to work out a video trade. You can contact me on my YouTube channel (in the links) or through my face book page. Search for “Steve Sesameguy.”


THE RETURN OF MUSIC STORES: A new music store has opened in the Ontario Mills Mall. Called “,” it is obviously linked in with the Web site and owned by the company that owned Warehouse music, which has now since gone away. If you remember what it was like shopping for used music and DVDs at Warehouse, then you know what it’s like shopping for used music and DVDs at Secondspin. Even the price tags still look the same! Anyway, I see this store opening as a good thing. Even if most of the music is used, the fact that there’s a store there at all points to a desire to keep physical music stores around for a while. The store seems to be relatively successful as well, with several people almost always browsing the racks of Cds. It’s a nice change of pace that I hope will continue. You can see what the new store looks like here:

BAD VIBRATIONS?: And speaking of music, you may have heard that Brian Wilson will be completing a few unfinished compositions by George Gershwin. I heard “Smile” for the first time this year and enjoyed it a lot (classic Beach Boys fans, get it!). But despite Wilson’s talent, not everyone is pleased at the idea of him going Gershwin. Lee Hartsfeld from MY(P)WHAE blog has voiced concerns over this situation, pointing out that it seems to be more money-driven than artistically inspired. Plus, of course, there’s the fear that “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Good Vibrations” just aren’t going to mix. I definitely understand the money-driven angle as well. You have to wonder which is more important these days. . .product or publicity. So there’s definitely mixed feelings about all this. My attitude, though, is inspired by Fred Rogers - wait and see. It might work, it might not. Admittedly, Brian has big shoes to fill - but that doesn’t mean he can’t do it. He’s got talent, and perhaps this is a chance for him to shine. Again, we’ll see. But be sure to read Lee’s take on the situation at his blog post here:
“Is Wilson's talent comparable to Gershwin's? No, not remotely. Wilson made some fabulous Top 40 singles that I love (and will always love) but every time he's tried to move "beyond" the pop song format, the results have been mediocre to unfortunate.”


ON YOUTUBE: TILL I HEAR YOU SING (ONCE MORE): And speaking of “Wait and see,” we won’t have too much more of a wait to see the sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.” It’s a production which is unfortunately upsetting many fans who think that Webber should leave well enough alone. Admittedly, I don’t see much of a need for the sequel either. . .unless it’s really good, which it might be! I think “wait and see” should definitely set the tone for this one as well. Incidentally, I’ve been good and put off listening to the reading of “Phantom of Manhattan” so far, but that may change next year, when “Love Never Dies” debuts in England, then later that year on Broadway! I did, however, listen to the first song released from the soundtrack. Titled “Till I hear you sing (once more),” it’s a great tune which hopefully is just one of many from the show. It’s in my favorites folder on myYouTube page. Check out my links section to find it.


COMING SOON: One song, I have but one song, one song, only for you. . .

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is currently starring in a one-woman show on Broadway. Titled “Wishful Drinking,” Carrie basically gives a summary of her life story, which is not too difficult when you consider that her life story is already pretty much open for the world to see. She has literally grown up in the spotlight, and has found success both as an actress and author. In honor of Carrie’s show, and in celebration of her birthday this month, this would be a good time to talk about my undying love for. . .I mean, my deep feelings for. . .I mean, my former relationship with. . .I mean, my deep respect for. . .Folks, it’s not easy to describe the importance of Carrie Fisher to me. But I’ll try.

Like almost everyone else in the galaxy, I first learned of Carrie as Princess Leia from “Star Wars.” I was very young at the time, and she was one of many grown-up ladies that I liked. Especially in the trash compactor scene, when she raised her leg up against the wall. . .arrgh. Ahem. Anyway, I only got to see Carrie in the Star Wars movies, so while I admired her, I seldom got to see her on screen, and our “relationship” waned.

In 1983, just before “Return of the Jedi” debuted, our local newspaper ran some photos from the movie. One of them featured Leia wearing. . .practically nothing. It was my first encounter with Leia in the metal bikini. Then another magazine printed another metal bikini shot. Then another, and another, and slowly my collection was growing. . .heeheeheehee. . . Then there was that Rolling Stone cover. . .damn it, Dad, why don’t you buy THAT one? And then there was the Marvel comics adaptation of the film, which featured a scene of Leia trying to escape from her captor, straining her gorgeous. . .I’m going to stop here in the hopes that you know where this is heading. Incidentally, did you ever consider that the little boys who were six and seven when “Star Wars” came out were entering their teens when “Jedi” debuted. . .and subjected to the metal bikini? Coincidence? A master plan by George Lucas to keep “Star Wars” imprinted in the minds of its young audience? An interesting point that should be pondered at some other time.

Then People magazine had a cover story on Carrie, and included some photos of her hanging around her Hollywood home. Now here’s the most important part of this post. As I read the interviews with Carrie, I felt that she seemed like a fun person. Then I realized that I liked Carrie herself, and I liked the idea of just being her friend. This is important. Prior to this, many of the female movie and TV stars that I liked were liked for the wrong (but natural) reasons. But with Carrie, I didn’t dream of a “one-night stand.” I dreamt of a friendship. I realized that I liked her not only for her beauty, but for who she seemed to be. It was, in a sense, the first “mature” relationship with an adult woman that I ever had (or wanted to have, I know, bear with me). That was an important step. I was slowly growing up and understanding that natural attraction is only part of the picture.

In late 1984, Carrie starred in Faire Tale Theatre as "Thumbelina." And dang, she was cute. I liked that show a lot, although it was embarrassing to try to record it. Remember, there’s only one VCR in the house, and I have to beg to get permission to use it. But I remember watching it in the wee hours of the morning, and enjoying seeing Carrie as a “Disney Princess.” This was one of those times when you wished you could enter the TV picture.

For a kid who didn’t have any friends, my imaginary friendship with Carrie was something quite wonderful. It gives a guy a lot of courage when he’s always surrounded by a sexy slave girl. Well, she wasn’t always a slave girl. She usually just dressed that way for my rock band. I was lead vocal and occasionally guitar, Leia was backup vocal and occasionally guitar, and Ernie was on the drums. Bert would sometimes play backup guitar as well. Courteney Cox or Justine Bateman would occasionally take Leia’s place when she was busy. Oh, it was heaven, man. You should have heard us. I’ll have to make that compilation CD one of these days.

Prior to this, I had written a comic book story featuring Leia. It was quite a feat for me to draw a story with Leia in the bikini. It was a big leap for my cartoon stories, as this was the first “sexy” element I had ever drawn in them. It was (and is) embarrassing, and not very sexy as far as the art is concerned! But my “imaginary world” of comics now included an element of sexuality that wasn’t there before.

At the Del Mar Fair, somebody included an autographed photo of Carrie in their “Star Wars” collection. I was jealous! I wrote a fan letter to Carrie asking for an autograph- one of the first fan letters I ever wrote. A few weeks later, I received an autographed photo of Carrie myself. I immediately put it in a frame. It is one of my treasures to this day.

After “Jedi,” Carrie continued to act, appearing in many more films, most of which sucked. There’s no nice way to say it! There are notable exceptions (including a TV movie called "Liberty" that I‘d love to see again), but for the most part, Carrie’s films left a lot to be desired. It was hard being a Carrie fan, because you had to sit through so much garbage in order to see her.

In the summer of 1988, an auction fundraiser was scheduled to be held at Sea World in San Diego. Among the stars doing the auctioning would be Carrie Fisher. On the day it was to be held, I made an incredible announcement. I was going to try to attend! Then my brother said he was going to go with me! I called to reserve our places, and we drove down to Sea World. It was our first trip to Sea World without our parents. It was fun, but crowded. We saw Shamu and some other shows, waited in line for an hour to eat, etc. I had assumed that the auction would be held in a large stadium-like area at the Southeast corner of the park. But we later figured out that it would be held in a much smaller building near the center of the park.

After a few opening performances, the auction began. We saw Terri Garr and Dana Delaney and. . .there she was in person, Carrie Fisher! Be still my heart! I took several photos, most of which came out too shaky! Then the auction ended, and my brother and I did something amazing. We got up and walked up to the stage just as Carrie Fisher was walking off. There she was, right in front of me. I tried to say, “It’s an honor,” but it came out more like, “ahhhhhhhh. . .” I shook her hand. Her hand was small, and her skin was soft. She gave me her autograph, and handed the paper to my brother. We walked away from the stage and drove home. I was happy, but tired. My parents told us that evening that they had been worried sick about us. This, you see, was our first “big trip” somewhere without them. Carrie did not smile at me, nor run off with me at the sight of my handsome face. But I understood that this was too much to hope for, and I was not disappointed with our brief encounter. Once again, Carrie Fisher was helping me grow up.

Years later, Carrie would conquer the literary world with her first novel, “Postcards from the edge”, which featured an attractive photo of Carrie in the paperback edition, which is somewhere around here. . .anyway. It was loosely based on her life, which again has been covered by the media literally since the day she was born. The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie has endured the trials of being famous as well as the triumphs. She has abused drugs, and in some ways they have sadly abused her. She is bipolar, and goes through strenuous therapy to control it.

Carrie knows everybody in Hollywood. Seriously. You could probably meet just about every star you ever wanted to meet if you knew Carrie Fisher. One of my goals is to get invited to one of Carrie Fisher’s parties. It would be a star-studded event. I would probably be kicked out for asking for too many autographs.

Who do I like more- Carrie or Leia? Actually, I don’t like either of them “more”, because I don’t literally know either of them. The “Carrie” I have in my mind’s eye is different from either Leia or the literal Carrie. It is an ideal of the person who looks like Carrie that I would like to have as a friend. It is a dream.

I care very much for Carrie, and although any “romantic dreams” are pretty much history, the affection and happiness that she radiates still shines. I still would be happy just being a friend. That can’t happen, of course, but as far as imaginary friendships go, I’m thankful she is one of mine. I’m also thankful I had a very, very, very small moment with her in person. She likely doesn’t remember (especially after all that shock therapy). But she has had a role in my life that is almost as important as any of the real friends I have. At a time when nobody in the real world gave a damn about me, she did, if only in my dreams. Someday, I think we’re all going to understand that imaginary love is far better than no love at all. And Leia and Carrie makes a great imaginary lover.

I can see me now, sitting near the stage in the audience of her Broadway show. She looks down and sees me there. “Hi, Steve!” she says. “Hi, Carrie!” I reply. She turns to the crowd and introduces me as an old friend. Polite applause echoes through the theater. She urges me to stand. I do, and the light applause lasts a bit longer. I bow to the crowd and take my seat. The show continues. Later, after the show is over, I meet her backstage and we talk a bit. Then we hug and I go home. And I feel in my heart that I’m a lucky man for having a famous friend who cares about me. In real life, I won’t be able to attend the show, and Carrie doesn’t care about me this way. But it’s interesting. In my heart, I still feel that I’m a lucky man for having a famous friend who cares about me.


YAY VAL: Speaking of special girls, my friend Val became a mom this past week. She is a co-worker who appeared in my music video for “There is a light that never goes out.” Congratulations Val and family, and enjoy your complementary time off!


ON YOUTUBE: THE IMAGINARY HELICOPTER RIDE (AUDIO ONLY): Among my rare treasures is an audio recording of the famous “imaginary helicopter ride” with Maria and Bert from Sesame Street. You remember it, don’t you. DON’T YOU? Hmm. Well, even if you don’t, if you’re a fan of classic Sesame Street, you’ll enjoy listening to this. It captures some of the fun that the actors had together in the “good old days” on the show. It’s been posted by Johnnytbird and can be found in my favorites folder on my YouTube page.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Loch Ness Monster

Since I was but a wee laddie who liked dinosaurs, I’ve been a fan of the Loch Ness Monster. I’ve sometimes found myself jealous of a gentleman who parked his RV at the edge of the loch and has devoted his life to trying to spot the monster. What a cool life. I don’t think he’s had much success yet, but talk about relaxing. Living at the edge of the water, watching the waves all day. I’ve been watching those waves via documentary for years. The child in me loves the idea that there might actually be something there. And why not? Any monster hunter can give you a list of reasons why it might be possible, despite all the supposed evidence that it isn’t possible. This is a good point. If you REALLY want to believe in something, you can almost always find proof for it. You can believe in Santa Claus if you REALLY want to. In fact, I’ve never been able to have anyone prove that Santa doesn’t exist! Unlikely, perhaps. But that doesn’t mean he’s not there! It’s the same with Nessie, Bigfoot and so many other things.

There was a recent documentary on Discovery channel (that I missed most of, darn it) about the monster which kind of demonstrates the problem. They were trying to figure out exactly what Nessie might be, and they came up with a theory: Nessie is a large sea turtle that has evolved a long neck. Okay. . .but sea turtles lay their eggs on land. So, they theorized that Nessie had also evolved the ability to lay its eggs in the water. Okay. . .but that would mean a breeding population of monsters in the loch. So, they theorized that Nessie also had the ability to lay pre-fertilized eggs, the way that Komodo dragon recently did. Hmmm. Even for evolution, this is a hell of a lot to ask. It’s stuff like this that makes you realize that evolution involves faith as well. This is one of many theories about Nessie that just doesn’t seem to hold water.

Here’s a theory you may not have heard before: Nessie is actually an orm. Of course, how obvious! Eh. . .what’s an orm? An orm is “simply a giant version of the common garden slug, an ancestor of the squid and octopus. A type of ‘Tullimonstrum gregarium, a creature with a shape of a submarine, with a broad tail.’ ” This was the theory of Ted Holiday, who studied the Loch for a time in the 1960s. Pictures of what the prehistoric orm may have looked like do indeed resemble Plesiosaurs. Why haven’t you heard of this theory before? Probably because later in life, Holiday began to believe that Nessie was actually a kind of paranormal vision rather than a real creature. So in a sense, he destroyed his own theory with another one that was probably a lot more crazy.

It’s important to note that Nessie was really made popular by newspapers in Britain. They’re the ones who published the earliest photos of Nessie, including the famous “Surgeon’s Photo,” seen above, which has now been pretty much proven as a fake. That fake photo was used as “proof positive” for many years. I recall one Nessie book going into great detail about how the waves seemed to indicate a large body underneath, and perhaps even another creature underneath. But the guy who helped prove that photo as a fake claims to have actually seen the monster himself. The mystery isn’t over.

If there’s a single spokesman for Loch Ness, it’s probably Adrian Shine. A John Muir look-alike, Shine came to the Loch to find Nessie, and instead found something just as beautiful- the Loch itself. He is an expert on the lake and is often interviewed by people looking for Nessie. Shine is the guy in the old Toyota commercial where a computer-animated Nessie attacks a Toyota truck, and the truck lives to tell the tale. Shine doesn’t believe in Nessie, but during “Operation Deep Scan,” a project he helped create, some unusual sonar readings were taken of moving objects deep within the Loch. But as he said they likely weren’t Plesiosaurs.

Some documentaries don’t go far enough. One Nessie documentary points out that the Plesiosaur needs to come up for air to breathe, and since we don’t see it happening more often, this proves that the Loch Ness monster does not exist. Wrong. It proves that the monster may not be a Plesiosaur. You need to be careful about the conclusions that some of these documentaries make. It may not be the final word.

One of my favorite documentary moments features an unusual reaction to seeing the “monster.” One woman, upon seeing the monster in the loch, took out a gun and shot at it! “In a panic, she reached for her gun,” the documentary states. Now unless the monster was heading directly toward you and licking its chops, I don’t see much of a reason to shoot at it! But the next day, she says that they did find a large sturgeon fish washed up on shore that had been shot. This adds to the theory that the “monster” may be nothing but a natural creature, like a large fish or an eel.

One seldom-seen documentary actually featured some folks documenting a Nessie practical joke. They took part of an overturned boat, and swam with it underwater until they got to the center of the Loch, then pushed the boat above the water for a time, making it move through the waters before submerging. Viewers on the shore did indeed consider it a Loch Ness Monster sighting. The documentary pointed out how easy it can be to create a Nessie hoax.

Let’s do our own mini-Nessie investigation. A photo above Loch Ness recently taken from Google Earth revealed an image of something unusual in the Loch. Is it Nessie? Let’s look at the photo:

The first item that we should notice is that this thing is white. I don’t think most monster hunters would describe Nessie as bright white. Most of what I’ve heard indicates that the monster has a dark skin. (Or does it? According to the article on, some people have said that the monster is white. Of course, these are the same folks who began to think that Nessie was a paranormal vision. So let the buyer beware.)

The second item we should notice is that there’s another weird white shape in the water below and to the left of the supposed monster! What is that? Another one? It doesn’t appear to have the shape of the first one. The fact that there are two weird white shapes in the water means that both likely have the same qualities - whether monsters or just reflections. Yet I haven’t heard anyone talk about the other weird shape. That’s probably because it doesn’t look like Nessie. They only want to look at the evidence they want to see.

The third item we should notice is the unusual way of “swimming” that this object has. Assuming it is heading to the Northwest of the photo, and taking into account the Plesiosaur theory, it means that the monster either has his head and neck down underneath the water, or he is swimming butt-first. I vote for butt-first. I think it’s Nessie’s way of saying, “Take that, you stupid people trying to take my picture!”

My beliefs on Nessie? It’s incredibly unlikely that something like a large unknown animal could live in the Loch without having been proven to exist by now. My logic says “no.” But the Loch is a mysterious place. I think there will always be a monster in the Loch, as long as people keep looking for it. If I ever get lucky enough to visit the Loch, I’ll look out over it and enjoy the beauty. I hopefully will have several hours of fun doing that. I likely will not see the monster. But that will not prove to me that he isn’t there.
ABE AU NATUREL: I wasn’t able (and barely willing) to attend the first D23 Expo in Anaheim. As someone put it, it was Disney’s version of the Comic Con. But everything I’ve seen makes it seem like it was a great event for all involved, with cameos by the muppets, Johnny Depp and others. One notable cameo was none other than Abraham Lincoln. Actually, it was the audio-animatronic robot of Lincoln that was used at Disneyland for many years. (And I understand Abe is scheduled to return to the Disneyland opera house very soon. I eagerly await his return.) Unfortunately, Mr. Lincoln did not give his stirring speech. He didn’t even bother to get dressed! Visitors could see the Lincoln figure with all its gears and wires fully exposed to the world. This must have been rather embarrassing for Abe. How would you like to have a bunch of people looking at your gears and wires all day? It also makes me realize that with its Hall of Presidents in Orlando, the Disney company has one of these figures for EVERY U.S. president. Which creates a rather scary picture. Whose gears and wires will we get to see next time? Reagan’s? Taft’s? Both Roosevelts? Both Bushes? We’ve already had “Let it be. . .Naked” by the Beatles. Is it time for “The Hall of Presidents. . .Naked?” “The Pirates of the Caribbean. . .Naked?” Let’s hope not. But you can enjoy some great photos and commentary on the D23 expo by checking out Todd’s fun post here:


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now you can call me Ray. . .

And now we present a story that could only have happened in the world of music collecting. A while back I came upon an album by Ray Hildebrand that featured a song I had heard years ago called “If I live well praise the Lord.” It was a blessing to find the song and I enjoyed many of the other great songs on the album. I kept Ray’s name in mind. Several months later, I came upon another album by Ray. . .or did I? The album indicated that Ray was an artist at the Oak Room at the Disneyland Hotel. Interestingly, it was not a “Disneyland” album, but seemed aimed at a more grown-up audience. The songs on the album were not religious at all. (“Mack the knife”, “Bim Bam Bum”, “Besame Mucho”) Remember, both guys had the same name and looked somewhat similar. Wasn’t this the same person?

The answer: Nope! That would be way too easy.

First let’s look at Ray Hildebrand number 1, or “Guitar Ray.” Here’s Ray’s biography as written on the back of the “He’s everything to me” album:

In 1964 Ray wrote and sang a tune that sold three million copies called “Hey, Hey, Paula.” This flash of success took him to distant lands as a teenage idol. But let’s back up just a bit. Life was music and sports for Ray in high school and, when he got to college, he organized a group called THE PRISONERS. He was also captain and most valuable player on the conference championship basketball team. Today, along with his singing, Ray is the Southwest Regional Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. This work fits him perfectly. It’s marvelous to see how athletes respond to this musician-athlete who knows and speaks their language.

Yes that’s right, Ray was “Paul” of “Hey Paula!” Never would have guessed that. And Ray’s career is not over. His Web page points out that he has had three successful music careers: as the “teen idol” of “Hey Paula”, as the Christian singer of “He’s everything to me” and as part of the duo of Land & Hildebrand. You can find out more about Ray #1 on this site:
Ray Hildebrand #2, or “Piano Ray”, is a greater mystery. Here’s his biography from the back of the “A night at the Oak Room” album:

Ray Hildebrand has had a widely varied musical career, beginning with a combo at the University of Connecticut. Following college, Ray played with such name bands as Shep Fields and Blue Barron. During service in World War 2, Ray broadcast nightly at the New Albany Hotel in Albany, Georgia, over station WPGY and later over the Armed Forces network in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During civilian service in Tokyo, Japan, after the war, Ray was musical director at General MacArthur’s Officers’ Club, conducting a 12-piece orchestra composed entirely of Japanese musicians. Ray has played piano at the Disneyland Hotel since its opening in 1956. When the exclusive OAK ROOM, a private club in the hotel opened, Ray was chosen to provide the music for dancing.

The so-called Information superhighway did not seem to have any kind of information on this Ray Hildebrand. I contacted Don Ballard, an expert on the Disneyland Hotel, to see if he could provide me with some insight. He had heard of Ray, but didn’t have any new information about him. He did tell me that the Oak Room is sadly not a part of the hotel anymore. After the Disneyland Hotel went through a major renovation, the Oak Room was chopped out. Don has some excellent information and historic photos of the hotel itself, though.

Here’s a peek at his book about the Disneyland Hotel and its history:

And check out his blog for more historic images from the hotel:

A question remained. With two musicians named Ray Hildebrand, and one looking a bit older than the other, was it possible that Piano Ray was a relative of Guitar Ray? Again, apparently not (well, not a close relative, anyway). Guitar Ray did not recognize Piano Ray. So Ray’s life post-Disneyland hotel remains a mystery. So “Piano Ray”, if you happen to be reading, please contact me via my YouTube channel or better yet Don and share your memories of the hotel days & what other stuff you’ve been doing since.

For Oak Room fans, here’s a peek at how it used to look, courtesy of the Kittle family:


WHAT WOULD YOU DO?: Congratulations are due to Benjamin Wagner and his crew for raising enough funding to complete the “Mister Rogers and Me” documentary he has been working on for years. Benjamin recently gave an interview over the radio that began with a rather unusual question. He writes about it here:

It took a minute to get my bearings: 'You're in Vermont,' I thought. 'Time for your "Saturday Light Brigade" interview.' I tiptoed around the bedroom, quietly putting on a few layers of clothes; with a dozen friends sleeping in bedrooms on every floor, I'd have to do the interview outside where the current temperature is 46°. I pulled on a cap and gloves, slipped my headphones into my ears, dialed the radio station's number, and stepped out into the crisp, morning air."Hello," I said, half asking. "This is Benjamin Wagner calling for my 'Mister Rogers & Me' interview."

"Oh, Benjamin!" the woman at the other end of the line said. "I was just about to call you. Good morning! May I put you on hold? We're just finishing a puzzle segment, then Larry will take a call, then he'll speak with you. Ok?"

"Ok!" I said, endeavoring to make sense through my gravelly, three hours of sleep voice.She put me on hold where I was able to listen to the show. The host, Larry Berger, was reading a brain teaser over acoustic bluegrass music in a cadence and tone not unlike Mister Rogers himself.

"Imagine that you're in a room with only two exits. One is blocked by a thousand magnifying glasses that focus the sunlight to a super-hot ray of sunshine that will burn you alive. The other is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon that will also burn you alive. What do you do?"

He paused a second, then said, "We have Benjamin on the line. Benjamin, what would you do?"

"Oh my," I said, startled, confused and scrambling to make sense of the riddle. "G'morning, Larry! Well, I suppose I would try to make friends with the fire-breathing dragon and ask him to make an exception and let me pass."

Larry too was startled."I'm sorry, this is Benjamin Wagner on the phone, kids. I thought you were a listener calling in with the answer. Hello, Benjamin."

"Hello, Larry!"

"Well, Benjamin, the answer is, leave at night."

I still think the dragon would have helped me out. . .

I agree, Benjamin. At least it would have been worth a try.

This fun story was taken from Benjamin’s post on his “Making Mister Rogers and Me” blog. You can read the original post here:

Here’s the main page where you can keep track of the production:


QUICK REVIEW: PETE SEEGER CONCERT: Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert aired last month on PBS. I tuned in mostly just to catch a glimpse of Oscar the grouch (see my post), but found a true treasure - the concert itself. This is one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. I knew many of the songs, and the songs I didn’t know were just as great! And the performances were, for the most part, excellent, There’s very little “filler” in this concert. I suppose it’s possible that any “mediocre” songs have been edited out. But what aired on PBS is a real classic. Oscar was only a minor highlight. I loved Richie Havens and Ani Defranco. I loved “Gather round the stone.” I basically loved the whole thing. PBS is making a DVD of the concert available. It’s worth contributing just to get a copy of it all. Or at least keep your eye on PBS for when it reruns. And it should!



This particular Ernie and Bert sketch has become important to me because of something I noticed years after I first saw it. There is a tiny moment in this skit that I’m pretty sure is intentional. Once I point this out to you, you’ll never look at this skit the same way again.

The skit involves the gang rehearsing a pageant about feelings. Bert’s role is to get into his pajamas and play cupid. Bert reluctantly sings his lines about love, then decides he’d rather sing about what love means to him, personally. He does so, and sings about the things that he loves. At the end of the song, he sings that he’ll always have a special place “for Ernie in my heart.” As he sings those words, Ernie looks down a bit. We see a bright dot of some kind on Ernie’s nose. He wipes it away. Is this a stray piece of paper that somehow accidentally landed on Ernie’s nose, or is this what I believe it must be. . . A tear? An intentional moment of Ernie showing his emotions at Bert’s words? That’s what I’m voting for. No accident could have worked out as good as that. I vote for the tear. I hope you will too. You can find the clip in my favorites folder on my YouTube page. The link is in the links section to the right.

Here’s a page that lists the great pageant skits from Sesame Street. See if you can remember some of these:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Peter, Paul and Mary

This photo is from the official Peter, Paul and Mary Web page, which at the moment includes photos of Mary & the band and statements from Peter and Paul and others about the recent news.

We lost a piece of music history last night when Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary died. She was a part of one of the most important bands in the history of American folk music, and seemed to be a treasure of a person as well. It’s no use to ask if Peter, Paul and Mary will ever perform together again - the answer is painfully clear. It’s like asking “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?”

When compact disks first began to appear on the scene in the late 1980s, my family and I were not immediately drawn to them. We were die-hard record collectors, for goodness sake. But I also knew that the times, they were a-changing, and we should keep our eyes on this new technology. When the classic “10 Years Together” album by Peter, Paul and Mary was released on CD a bit later, I realized that this was the sign I had been waiting for. CDs were here. I had to put that one on my wish list.

The band has an important hold in the history of my family. Before my father met my mother, they both collected albums by Peter, Paul and Mary. When they met, they found that the albums my Mom had were the ones Dad was missing, and the ones Dad had were the ones Mom was missing. It was meant to be, I tell you.

After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the news media focused their attention on the tragedy for the next several days. After the coverage was over, and the radio began to return to regular programming, the first song that was played on “the sound of inspiration,” a radio station Dad listened to, was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul and Mary. Here it is again, written by Bob Dylan and in tribute to Dad and my teacher Mr. Kaye and everyone else in the 5th grade who sang along with him.

But first by way of introduction: Once upon a time, there was a man who wanted to know the secrets of life. He climbed a high mountain and asked a wise guru who lived there what the answer to life was. The guru wrote down the answer on a piece of paper, and the man carried it down the mountain to read it later. It was a windy day, and as the man walked down the streets to his home, the paper flew out of his hands. He raced furiously to try to catch it, but to no avail. Eventually, he was stopped by another man who held his shoulders and said, “Be careful! What is it you’re trying to find?” The first man replied by singing this song.


How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
How many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many times can a man look up before he can see the sky?
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
How many deaths will it take ‘till he knows that too many people have died?
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

HE LIVES, PRESENT TENSE: The songs of Peter, Paul and Mary exemplify the kind of entertainment that I’ve found I enjoy quite a bit. They are simple songs, but not so simple. There is a depth of meaning in them that makes them truly timeless. As an example, it would be careless of me to post about PP&M without talking about Puff. Like “Blowin’ in the wind,” I don’t recall the first time I heard “Puff the Magic Dragon.” I do recall one of the first times, though. Back in 2nd grade or so a young lady came to our classroom in the round building to perform some songs on her guitar. “Puff” was the one I remember and enjoyed. I also remember my Grandma and I serenading my Dad with the first two lines of the song. Lots of fun. I’m glad we didn’t do the whole thing, though.

There was a “Puff” animated TV special in the late 1970s that I still enjoy to this day. It’s a kind of tearjerker for me due to obvious reasons. It’s about a boy who must learn to come out of his shell and grow up. Puff helps him along the way at the start, but at the end he must leave the boy and let him do the rest of the growing by himself. The special also features “Weave me the sunshine” at the end, another great song. And the legendary Burgess Meredith was the voice of Puff.

Leave it to the stupid grown-ups to come up with a theory that the song “Puff” is actually about illegal drugs. Desperate, man. As Peter Yarrow said during a comic intro to the song, “There was never any meaning intended other than the obvious one!” Here’s the obvious meaning for you, written by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton.


Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff

Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sails.
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail.
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’r they came.
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name.

Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.
Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more,
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain.
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave.
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Okay folks, as I was typing in those lines that begin with “a dragon lives forever,” I found something unusual appearing out of my eyes. It appears to be water of some kind. I’ve wiped them away now. I share that with you to make the point of how incredibly wonderful the song is, and how deeply I love it. That stuff in my eyes has been coming out a lot lately. . .

SO CLOSE: I very rarely go to concerts, but Peter, Paul and Mary were one of the few bands that I had a strong desire to go see live. It wasn’t meant to be, but I came very, very close. A few years ago, they planned to perform at the California Center of the Performing Arts in Escondido, not too far away. I excitedly bought two tickets for the show, only to receive a letter from ticket services manager Erin Peck dated September 26, 2007 that the show was being postponed:

You may have already heard from us by phone, but just in case we wanted to notify you by mail as well. Due to Mary’s recovery from a back surgery, the CCAE performance of PETER, PAUL & MARY on Friday November 16, 2007 has been postponed to Friday April 18, 2008 at 8pm.

This was not a big deal for me. I was willing to wait, and it gave me more time to try and find a date. But sadly, I received another letter from Ms. Peck dated February 29, 2008:

Due to circumstances beyond our control, the upcoming performance of PETER, PAUL & MARY on April 18, 2008 has been cancelled. We have been informed that Mary Travers has undergone two back surgeries and, while her doctors anticipate a full recovery, the healing process is taking longer than hoped. On her doctor’s advice, regrettably, the Trio has had to cancel all of their upcoming concerts.

Thankfully, the venue was very good about giving my money back. Also thankfully, I think Peter, Paul & Mary were able to give a few more concerts in these last few years - just not at the Escondido venue. And for you die-hard pack rats like me, here is the ticket to the Peter, Paul & Mary show that never was.


THINGS TO WATCH FOR: There is a Christmas special with Peter, Paul and Mary that stands out as one of the best concerts I’ve seen on TV. It’s PP&M singing along with a choir in the background for many of the songs. It’s a marvelous show that I hope PBS brings back one of these years. It was made available on home video for a time as well. A great demonstration of how their timeless music fits in so well with the timeless tunes of Christmas. You also might consider their “Flowers and stones” album. From the late 1980s, I think, it’s one of their lesser-known albums, but it has a few really good songs on it, including “No man’s land” and “Coming of the roads.”

CARRY IT ON: In an interview with PP&M not long after their albums were first released on CD, Peter Yarrow said that Warner Brothers had made a commitment to keep the music of PP&M, as well as other bands, a part of their music library for the long-range future. Assuming they’re still behind that, I breathe a sigh of relief that generations after our own will enjoy their beautiful music. In fact, even if somehow we lost all of the PP&M music, their music would still live on. No, that isn't a typo. You see, their music goes beyond what they played as a trio. It is the spirit of folk music itself, the beauty that comes from three people using their talents to create something that speaks to every generation and stays in the hearts of the listeners long after the music is over. Their music is very much a part of my life forever.

FAVORITE PP&M SONGS: Blowin’ in the wind; Puff the Magic Dragon; Day is Done; Too much of nothing’; Stewball; Light one candle; Coming of the roads; No man’s Land; Danny’s Downs; If I had a hammer; Kisses sweeter than wine; Wedding Song; Weave me the sunshine; 500 Miles; I dig rock & roll music; Leavin’ on a jet plane; The great Mandala; El Salvador;

COMING SOON: A musical mystery regarding the Disneyland Hotel and the man who made “Hey Paula” famous.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Marvel meets mouse

On August 31, the Walt Disney company announced that it was going to buy Marvel for about $4 billion. Is it a good thing? (The deal that is, not the $4 billion) I think the deal is a good thing - as long as Disney treats Marvel with at least as much “reverence” as it has its other major buyouts. The Disney buyout of the muppets did not really hurt the muppets - that’s a matter of debate, I know, but we’re speaking generally here. Aside from some issues, the relationship between the two companies is friendly. Likewise the relationship between Disney and Lucasfilm has not really hurt any of the Lucasfilm properties (Star Wars, Indy). I think that if Disney treats Marvel the same way, we can still enjoy Marvel without feeling like they’ve “sold their souls” to Disney. So I think things will work out as long as both Disney and Marvel can remember that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Or has someone already said that? Probably.

That Spidey image comes from an MTV news report on what the buyout may mean for fans:

It’s clear that Disney wants a “piece of the pie” of many already successful enterprises. It’s like a larger company buying up a smaller one to reap the benefits. The only real downfall that’s clear is that it’s not really a good idea for one company to control every form of entertainment, and sometimes that seems like what Disney is trying to do. But again, as long as Marvel remains “Marvel,” the fans should be content.


CODE BARF: A recent post on the “Mouseplanet” message boards along with my recent foray into the world of Facebook has given me the inspiration for a rather disgusting survey question. Before we get to the list, take a look at this posting from poster twindaddy involving a rather disgusting incident at Disneyland:

We were on main street, on the porch that I think used to be known as the "Bra Shop" letting my girls conk out in the stroller while we stake out good parade viewing spots. All of a sudden we see a mom with a toddler in her arms running past us to get to the bathroom next to Carnation Cafe. He is barfing all the way along.

So there is this huge pile of barf right in front of us, right in the middle of the sidewalk. I don’t want anyone to step in it, so I grab a trashcan that is about 5 feet from the pile and put it over it. No sooner is the can out of my hand, about 30 seconds after the barf hit the ground, then a nicely dressed guy who would EASILY blend into any crowd is behind me directing people. I wonder "who is this guy?" He asks me why I moved the trashcan, and then I explain and he says "good idea!" He then realizes I am looking at him funny until he flips his collar to show his CM (cast member) name tag and a see his radio ear piece (ala secret service).

He radios the code barf (they had a code for it) into control, about two minutes later two uniformed security guys show up, and about six minutes after the chunks hit the ground a janitorial CM is there going through an elaborate bio hazard process to clean it up. A short while later the mom shows back up apologizing, and we explain it has already been handled.

Code barf. I love it. Well, I love the idea of it. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. The story gave me a disgustingly fun survey question that I would like you to consider: Name the most memorable places you have thrown up. For me, the list is a great summary of my life in general. Embarrassing and messy and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

1. While coming in for landing on a friend’s airplane. I think they’re still my friends.
2. While walking home with a friend. Thankfully, I missed her. She never really hung out with me after that. . .
3. While driving home on New Year’s Eve. . .and it was the afternoon and I hadn’t drunk a thing!!

All these joyful memories almost prompt me to send out one of those Facebook things. “Name the three favorite times you vomited!” I only hesitate because I know my friends have put up with me for so many other ridiculous things. I don’t want to push my luck. But dear reader, I ask thou to consider well the times you have created a mess in this way, and be thankful, as I am, that you were there to make the mess.


WHERE TO SEND THE MONEY: Okay, now that the recession is over (yeah, right), we have a little bit more money to spend (yeah, right). So what worthy causes can we contribute to? Here’s one that interests me: Benjamin Wagner has been working on his documentary on Mister Rogers for the past few years. Based on his behind-the-scenes info documented on his blog, this looks like a very entertaining and professional production. Ben’s now almost done and he needs - yes, contributors to make the film a reality. For a $25 donation, you can get your name briefly in the credits of the movie. For bigger donations, there are bigger perks. Read all about it here:

I support this project, but I feel a bit small because I can’t contribute nearly as much as I’d like (I want that autographed DVD, darn it!). I feel like I’m watching a PBS special and I want the big present that they give you for donating a lot of money. But I don’t have the money, which makes me feel that my small contribution won’t amount to much. But every bit helps, and based on the numbers, it looks like they’re nearly there. I wish them luck and I look forward to seeing this production someday.


WHERE NOT TO SEND THE MONEY: There is apparently going to be a new compilation of Cds by Morrissey, and Morrissey doesn’t want you to buy them. Here’s a brief clip from an article that was also posted on “The Vinyl Villain”:

“Lyricist and sardonic crooner Morrissey has urged loyal fans to steer clear when the big music labels re-release his old tunes. Mozzer has asked fans not to buy either a planned boxed set of his solo work or a re-released set of CDs and vinyl from his days with the legendary Smiths. The EMI, HMV and Parlophone record labels in November plan a boxed set of Morrissey singles and B-sides from his post-Smiths years spanning 1985 to 1999. But Morrissey told the True to You site: "Morrissey does not approve such releases and would ask people not to bother buying them. Morrissey receives no royalty payments from EMI for any back catalogue, and has not received a royalty from EMI since 1992."

As the “Vinyl Villain” himself hinted, any die-hard fan who really wanted to get that material shouldn’t feel bad about buying it. I’m a fan and I wish no ill will toward Morrissey, but please don’t make us feel bad about buying your own stuff! It’s kind of a compliment when you think about it. His fame is greater than he’s able to write a check for. Incidentally, I had no idea his name was “Steven!” I knew we had a few things in common, but wow!


I’M LOUVIN IT: In my quest for old-fashioned Christian music, I have come upon an interesting duo which seem to create a problem. It’s actually kind of an image problem. The Louvin Brothers seem to personify everything that is unintentionally corny about old Christian music. You need only look at the cover of their “Satan is Real” album to see what I mean. It features the two brothers dressed in white suits smiling merrily as they dance around the flames in Hell in front of a cheap cutout of Satan. (The cover has made a few “worst album cover” lists.) Sadly, the corniness wasn’t their only fault- they weren’t always perfect Christians. Upon meeting Elvis Presley, one of them called him a name that is a curse word as far as I’m concerned. It’s the word in “Huckleberry Finn.” Yep, that one. But based on the sample track that I’ve heard, they seem to have a talent for harmony. And their song “The Christian Life” has a lyric that I think every Christian can take to heart:

“I won’t lose a friend by heeding God’s call,
For what is a friend who’d want you to fall?”

I’ve had a few “friends” who not only wanted me to fall, but tripped me. Literally. I think I’d rather sit around listening to the corny Louvin Brothers than spending time with those “friends.” Wouldn’t mind throwing up on them.

Special thanks to “Any Major Dude” for his summary of the Louvin Brothers:

For more old-fashioned Christian music, I’d recommend checking out “Old Fashioned Christian Radio” or “Music you (possibly) won’t hear anyplace else”. Both are in the links section to the right.