Monday, June 29, 2009

Chuck the Writer's First Day on Facebook

Normally, when I received invitations to join Facebook, I dismissed them as unrequested spam - especially when it was tagged as "your friend wants you to join..." without mentioning who my "friend" was.

Be that as it may, today was a surprise. I received ten different facebook requests - and all of them came from people I knew from working with the Premier Basketball League.

Ten people from the PBL - that can't be a coincidence.

So I decided - what the hell - let's give Facebook a trial run. Worst thing that could happen - I shut it off in six months.

But suddenly I realized that there were a tonload of PBL people on the board - owners and coaches and players and fans. And some of them even had my photographs on their homepage (and I know you've got my photo on your profile, Sam Carey! :) )!

One of the reasons I didn't initially join Facebook was because of the horrible experiences I had with MySpace. I always felt like MySpace was designed for the X-generation and not for the baby boomers like me. So I'm going to keep an eye on things regarding facebook. And I'm going to leave it to just "friend" my professional and sports contacts.

But I swear on a stack of floppy discs ... I ain't going to join twitter. Forget that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chuck the Writer's thoughts on the passing of Michael Jackson

First off, thoughts and prayers go to the entire Jackson family.

During my years writing for Goldmine, I never did an interview with Michael Jackson or with the Jackson family, although I did meet Jackson's father Joe Jackson when the Jackson Five were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (not much of a meeting, more like a "hi, how are you" kind of thing).

But during the time I did write for the music collector's biweekly, I did interview several people who either worked with Jackson, were influenced by Jackson, or in some cases parodied Jackson's work.

Here's some quotes:

From my Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff article (Gamble and Huff were the top R&B producers of the 1970's, working with the O'Jay's, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Three Degrees and the Intruders)

In 1976, Detroit and Philadelphia met as one when the Jacksons entered 309 South Broad Street for the first of two Gamble-Huff produced albums. "Epic (Records) asked us if we wanted to produce the Jacksons," said Gamble. "In reality, we were trying to sign the Jacksons ourselves to our own label. No question we were trying to do that. But CBS had deeper pockets than ours. Those songs were released on a combined label, that's the first time they ever did that. The house band, MFSB, that played on that first album. The Jacksons didn't play, they just sang on the album."

"I think Tito played on one thing," replied Huff, "maracas or something like that. He did play on a couple of the things they did for themselves. They did cut a couple of songs on that album."

"It was a whole new world for all of them. They came into our world, Philly International was a different environment for them. They were welcome to participate in the production, they produced a couple of songs on their albums, so they had a lot more freedom here. It was trying times for them too, because Jermaine had just left the group, they were going through just a little bit of controversy there. Me and Huff, we had the songs for them, and that's the easy part. Getting in the studio and getting the right songs. I enjoyed working with Michael, because he had his own ideas about how he wanted himself to sound."

"Michael made our job a little eaiser. He was very clever. Plus, he could sing."
In 1996, I put together an interview with the members of Earth Wind and Fire. Here's Verdine White's comments about the state of music video broadcast channels:

In 1983, Earth Wind & Fire released the "Electric Universe" album. It was also their last release for four years. "The whole scene was changing," said Verdine. "There was an explosion of video artists. At that time, MTV wasn't playing black artists - the only black artists they played at that time were Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie and Prince. There was BET to play black videos, but they didn't have the same money behind MTV. It hurt a lot of those groups, because the audience didn't know who those groups were, and they only knew about groups that had the visibility. Rick James was the first black artist to really bitch about MTV, and he was right at the time. They were playing acts that hadn't had hit records, and he had hits at the time."
And finally, here's some comments taken from a Goldmine cover story I wrote on "Weird Al" Yankovic:

By 1984, Yankovic and his band were working on a new album, Weird Al Yankovic in 3-D [Scotti Bros./Rock n' Roll 39221]. The last song recorded for that album was a parody of Michael Jackson's rock hit "Beat It" as an ode to omnivorism, "Eat It." Getting permission from the King of Pop to make fun ofone of his biggest hits wouldn't be easy, but Yankovic gave it a try. [Yankovic's manager] Jay Levey contacted Jackson's representatives, and told them what he wanted. A few days later, Levey received a call back - the representatives said Michael Jackson gave his permission, thinking Yankovic's idea was good for a laugh.

"Eat It" became Yankovic's first Top 40 hit, peaking at #12, and winning a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording. The song's accompanying music video featured Al making fun of Michael Jackson's own video, turning Jackson's original "West Side Story" music video rumble into an all-out food fight (and eventually won an American Music Award trophy for Best Male Performance). Rick Derringer even added his own wacky take on Eddie Van Halen's "guest-starring" guitar solo. "If we are parodying this whole thing," said Derringer, "then my contribution as a soloist at that point would certainly be a parody of Eddie's. And that's what I tried to do, and that's why we blew up the guitar at the end of the video. Our version culminated in the guitar player whipping himself in such a frenzy that he exploded. Jim West did the solo in the video, but that's my guitar solo on the soundtrack."

By 1988, Yankovic adapted another King of Pop hit, rewriting Jackson's "Bad" into "Fat."

"I met Michael Jackson twice in person, and both times they were very brief. Once I went to a TV shoot that he was doing, and I got to talk to him briefly after that. He mentioned that he really enjoyed my movie UHF, and the fact that he would play it at his theater at the Neverland Ranch, and guests got a kick out ofit. And another time I was backstage at a Michael Jackson concert, and I presented him with a gold album for Even Worse (the album containing "Fat") and had my picture taken with him - and whoever took the picture had their camera stolen, so I never got that photo. In retrospect, I'm not sure that's the kind of thing that Michael Jackson really appreciated, another gold album for the pile."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chuck the Writer - TWO MORE AWARDS WON!!

Well, your man is happy. Very happy. Way happy.

I submitted two articles for the 2008 International Automotive Media Awards, and this afternoon I found out the final total.

"Diecast Dreams," the article from RoadKing, won a bronze medal in the magazines-entertainment category.

"Redlines, Orange Tracks and Blue Streaks," the article from Toy Collector Magazine, picked up the GOLD MEDAL in the internet-entertainment category!

Two big awards to add to the collection!

As can be seen here, I am celebrating my awards with Elaine Haessner, the person in charge of the International Automotive Media Awards. My sincere thanks to the IAMA's and their parent company, the International Society for Vehicle Preservation. I had a fantastic time at the awards, and I look forward to writing new articles that, in the future, might also earn similar recognition.

Oh... and after the awards, I had to do a little celebrating.

Because right next to my Red Roof hotel - was a chain restaurant featuring chicken wings, beer, and various other bar delicacies.

In fact... I got two of their "delicacies" to pose with me and my winning awards!!

And talk about stepping into the wayback machine - this Hooter's was having a competitive trivia night, something along the lines of "Are You Smarter Than a Hooters Girl?"

Of course I won. Come on. It's competitive bar trivia. You might as well ask Jack Nicholson if he ever did any acting in his career.

But in any case... I'm celebrating, baby! Two more awards for the Chuck Miller Creative Writing Service!

Chuck the Writer's Award Day: 7am, LaGuardia Airport

The flight out from Albany to LaGuardia Airport was on a DeHavilland turboprop. Just what I need. Last time I flew on a turboprop, my wife and I were going to my daughter Cassaundra's high school graduation in Seattle, and the flight required a connecting flight from Albany International to Newark Liberty - hence the turboprop. Of course, we hit a ton of turbulence, and I'm going through every prayer I can remember, while my wife is going "Whee, what fun!" like she's doing her third run on the Comet at the Great Escape.


After I got in my seat on the plane, someone else asked if I could switch with them so that they could sit with a member of their party. I graciously agreed, and ended up sitting in one of the "exit" aisles. So now I had to pay attention to how to take the exit door off in case of an emergency - and this was LaGuardia Airport, where that plane crashed into the water a few months ago.

No matter - the flight was uneventful if a little turbulent, and after receiving a great overhead view of the '64 World's Fair globe, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Citi Field, the plane landed safely at LaGuardia International Airport.

But what they didn't tell me was that in order to get to my next connecting flight, I actually had to leave the terminal (US Airways) and walk 15 minutes to the main terminal for the next flight (American Eagle). Which meant I had to haul my gear 15 minutes in the muggy morning, and then go through another TSA security checkpoint. Everything in the basket. Back through the X-ray machine. And then down what looked like a subway corridor to the C terminals.

Interestingly, before you go through the terminals there are tons of high-end restaurants. In the C terminal, however, you get your dining choice of Auntie Anne's, Au Bon Pain or Hudson News. Not exactly Jack's Oyster House or Coulsons' News.

So I've got a couple of hours to kill before my next flight. So far so good.

Chuck the Writer's Award Day: 445am, Albany International Airport

I've learned over the years how to fly light. Throw all my clothes into one carry-on bag (my commemorative Albany Patroons gym bag), pack my camera and a couple of lenses into the camera bag, and pack the laptop. The camera bag goes (hopefully) into the overhead compartment, while the laptop goes under my airplane seat.

As for going through the security gates, I've learned that everything needs to go into a scanning bucket. Everything means wristwatches, rings, keys, loose change, belts and glasses. Then I walk through the X-ray machine and hopefully don't hear any sort of BEEP that would require a more invasive search by the TSA.

In this case, the only thing the cute TSA security guard said to me was, "I like your necktie." I was actually wearing my ripple-rainbow tie, one of my personal favorites. I thanked her and asked her to wish me luck for today.

In a few minutes, I'll be boarding a DeHavilland turboprop with about 40 orange-shirted members of a church ministries group, all bound for Mexico. This way, I figure that if I do my usual pre-flight routine of reciting the 23rd Psalm as the plane takes off, I'll have a group of people who can help me out if I forget some of the words.

Next stop - LaGuardia International Airport in NYC.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Chuck the Writer's Award Day: 230am, Albany

I can't sleep.

I've tried everything - soothing music, a cold drink, the knowledge that I won't ever have sextuplets just for the benefit of exploiting them on national television - but I can't sleep.

I've got everything packed for my trip to Detroit for the International Automotive Media Awards. My flight has been confirmed, my rental car is at the parking lot, my free room at Red Roof is all set to go (this is why I use their loyalty plan, stay a few nights at a Red Roof and you get a free stay).

I don't know if it's the anticipation of hopefully winning something at the IAMA's, or if it's that pre-Christmas Day excitement of hoping that whatever you've hinted for with your parents has actually come through in the end, all wrapped up and stuffed underneath the pine needle-dripping tree.

I know the award is for one of two car-themed articles I wrote last year - either for "Diecast Dreams," a feature article in RoadKing magazine, or for "Redlines, Orange Track and Blue Streaks," a cover story for Toy Collector Magazine. I just don't know which article received the award, or if both of them did - and if so, what level of award did I earn. Was it bronze, silver or gold? And if it was gold, did it eventually win best of division - and if so, did it win best of 2008?

I'm still kinda sweating it out. Hopefully, however, this trip to Detroit will be beneficial. Wish me luck. I'll post updates throughout the day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chuck the Writer's enjoying "Man vs. Cartoon" on Tru TV

Okay... take one part Mythbusters, one part Monster Garage, mix in a bunch of college kids who actually go to college to STUDY (holy smokes), and give them a challenge to recreate a scene from a motion picture.

That's what I caught last night, on a show called "Man vs. Cartoon" on the TruTV network (what used to be Court TV).

Here's the premise. Engineering students at New Mexico Tech are given a challenge to recreate - and improve upon - a scene from a Road Runner cartoon, in which one of Wile E. Coyote's ACME mail order contraptions fails. Only the NMT engineering students have to make the contraption work.

Here's a clip from the show's intro:

Okay. So in one of the original Road Runner cartoons, the Road Runner is enticed by a tray of free bird seed. Wile E. Coyote fires a slingshot - which knocks over a watering can - which waters a flower - which grows, and upon whose stalk a match lights an explosive charge, sending an old shoe flying onto a see-saw - which releasee a mouse from a cage, which in turn takes some cheese off a balance scale, causing a weight to drop and trigger a shotgun, the bullet bounces off two targets, then ricochets off the barrel of a cannon. The cannon pivots into position, is lit by a nearby candle, and a cannon ball goes flying. Supposedly to hit the Road Runner - but as we all know, Wile E. Coyote's got as much of a chance of getting that Road Runner as I do of getting Megan Fox.

After watching the clip, the New Mexico Tech engineering students are challenged to put together the exact same Rube Goldberg-inspired contraption - only this time it has to hit the Road Runner. The six students are broken into three teams of two apiece, and are charged with working on each section of the contraption.

Personally, I would love to see these teams from New Mexico Tech go up against MIT or RPI to see which school's engineering or tech students could build a better roadrunner-killing contraption (they wouldn't stand a chance against either school), but it is a nice diversion to watch.

I wonder if they'll figure out how to make that special black paint that can be applied onto rocks and create instant tunnels.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chuck the Writer has been Shooting in the Woods

No bullets or wounded people, mind you... this weekend I've been traipsing over to the Pine Bush Preserve and testing out some of my lenses on nature photography. Some of the shots I took were processed into HDR shots; others were left as is.

Here's the link. Hope everyone enjoys it. I will be adding more photos later in the week, so keep an eye on this slideshow for more images.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chuck the Writer visits some more old children's shows

God sakes, I swear some of these shows are going to haunt me for the rest of my life.

I forgot about such New York City-based children's show that appeared on my local cable system, including this gem called The Magic Garden on WPIX 11:

Meanwhile, over on WNEW 5, you could catch an episode of Wonderama:

Surprisingly, Wonderama used to get some popular guests to the show, including this early performance by ABBA:

And if that weren't enough, how about a children's show in New York City getting Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier on the show - to compete in a game of marbles?? Wow!

Any more fans out there?

Okay, Chuck forgot about ZOOM

Okay, so I forgot about those rugby-shirt-wearing kids from Boston who were part of PBS's classic show ZOOM.

Here's a clip from the very first episode of ZOOM, complete with the WGBH intro:

Here's a clip from the second year of ZOOM, featuring Bernadette Yao doing that weird butterfly thing with her arms (at around 0:37 on the clip):

This is a clip from Season 5's intro:

And for those of you who complain about a PBS show not being 100% educational, let me remind you that ZOOM was one of the few PBS shows to feature bilingualism. So if you ever want to say you can speak Ubbi-Dubbi, here's your chance for a refresher course...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chuck the Writer recalls rare TV kids' shows from the past

Trolling around YouTube this afternoon and came across video clips of some shows from back in ancient times:

This was Jabberwocky, a children's TV show that I used to watch when I visited my grandmother in Boston. Apparently the show only aired in the Boston area, and it had a catchy theme song that I still can't get out of my head today.

I suppose every major city had their own regional children's broadcast programs, so if you weren't a fan of Jabberwocky, you could always switch over to WBZ and see Rex Trailer and the gang on the children's western show Boomtown. Not much on the show on YouTube, but there is this tribute clip that has some classic footage:

Among the children's programs from the 1970's that aired on my local PBS station was this offering, "Vegetable Soup," whose entire show focused on racial tolerance and the stamping out of prejudice. Plus it had a cool psychedelic funky opening theme song, as seen here:

Another cool show from the 1970's was Big Blue Marble, which focused on international relations, featuring stories about children of all nations and nationalities. I wonder if the same people who composed the theme song for this show also put together that "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" commercial for Coca-Cola.

And last but certainly not least, a real gem of a television show, Vision On, featured 30 minutes of activities and funnies and great stuff - all designed to be seen by both hearing-impaired and able-bodied children!

Feel free to post your own memories of obscure children's programs from the 1970's. Really fun stuff.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chuck the Writer uploads more Vocal Group Hall of Fame photos

More photos recovered from my archives - this set of photos was taken at the 2001 inductions for the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, Pa.

For those not familiar, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame is an organization devoted to honoring the famous vocal duos, trios, quartets, quintets and the like - from doo-wop to big band music.

The 2001 inductions, which were originally scheduled for September 11 (and were hastily rescheduled) included a reunion of past and present members of the Lettermen, as well as vocal performances from the Chordettes, the Lennon Sisters, the Miracles, and - for the first time in nearly 25 years - a reunion of the four original members of the Vogues. Way cool.

Although this was the third VGHF induction and concert that I ever attended, it was the first in which I was able to photograph and document the event, which I did so on what was then a state-of-the-art camera, my Nikon Coolpix 800.

Stop laughing.

I said stop laughing.

I worked that Coolpix 800 for at least a few more years, until it could go no further (I think around 2004) and then I went to my current Nikon D70 DSLR.

Anyways, I just recently received a DVD copy of the 2001 induction concert, and it was a fun show to watch. You can order your own copy by going to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame's website.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chuck the Writer's 10 Favorite Shows of the 2008-09 TV Season

It's summertime, and I'm thinking back to the TV shows I started to watch with great anticipation, only to give up on them halfway through their broadcast runs. And other shows that I still continue to watch, whether they be intellectually stimulating or just electronic comfort food from the glass teat, as Harlan Ellison would say.

The following is a list of my ten favorite TV shows from the 2008-09 season. These were shows that I would make a concerted effort every week to watch, or DVR, or call my wife when I'm not home and ask her to set the DVR for me. I am listing them alphabetically, and if I'm missing your favorite shows on this list - well, that's what the comments page is for.

  1. The Big Bang Theory - Probably the only television show about geek culture that doesn't make geek culture seem less than appealable. The adventures of Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Wolowitz, along with their hot-but-clueless neighbor Penny, is just great television candy.
  2. Deadliest Catch - I don't eat crab legs that often, but I enjoy watching the camaraderie and danger of those who work on the fishing vessels Northwestern, Cornelia Marie, Wizard and Time Bandit. It's one of my favorite "candid" reality shows.
  3. Dollhouse - I never got into all that Josh Whedon fan-worship, but I really got into this series about programmable people who solve problems and then get their minds erased - sort of like "Rent-A-Person." The storylines keep you interested throughout the run. Plus, Eliza Dushku is Death Valley hot.
  4. Flashpoint - Yes, it's another procedural drama from CBS, where you can't swing a cat without hitting a CSI or an NCIS or one of their spinoffs or clones. But Flashpoint is different, in that the show itself doesn't always have the cut-and-dry happy ending. Characters die. Characters get hurt. And for the men and women of the Strategic Response Unit, each case has after-effects that continue throughout the series run. Plus, it's fun to play "Spot the Canadian" - even though the show downplays its Toronto location, every so often (at least once per episode) there will be a reference to a Toronto street, neighborhood, or nearby Ontario location or local doughnut/coffee shop.
  5. Friday Night Lights - How much do I love this family drama about a Texas town where high school football is all the rage? Let me count the ways. It's a great drama series, the acting and storylines are top-notch, and I deliberately avoided any spoiler alerts (as the series was first broadcast on Direct TV, which I don't have, so I had to wait patiently for the NBC broadcasts to air). Thankfully, the series will return for at least two more seasons.
  6. Little Mosque on the Prairie - I have to watch this series through imported Canadian DVD's and YouTube postings, but it's hilarious and sweet. Imagine a culture-clash sitcom featuring a Muslim neighborhood in a Canadian prairie town. It sounds offensive, but when you watch the first couple of episodes you realize it's about as offensive as an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. And about as funny, too!
  7. Pushing Daisies - One day in my life, I'll make a list of all the shows I used to love that were cut down too early in their prime - shows like Max Headroom and Dark Angel and the like. Pushing Daisies would be on that list. Whether it's the Tim Burton-influenced directing style or the delicate but definite wordplay, this show was fantastic. Screw the dumbasses at ABC for not giving it a decent sendoff.
  8. United States of Tara - The last time I ever saw Toni Colette in anything, she was playing the frumpy teen Muriel (or was it Mariel?) in the film Muriel's Wedding. You know, the one that was full of ABBA songs before anyone ever heard of a Mamma Mia musical. In this show, Colette runs the gamut as a person with multiple personalities, playing every personality as if they had a life of their own - and convincingly so. A really funny show with lots of nuances.
  9. The Venture Brothers - My favorite late-night cartoon skewers every action cartoon cliche, throws in about 50 pop culture references per episode, and is just a complete and unharnessed riot to watch.
  10. VH1 Dating "Of Love" Shows - You know it's the same damn show over and over again, whether it's Flavor Flav or Bret Michaels or one of Flavor Flav's rejects or one of Bret Michaels' castoffs, or whether the castoffs are competing in "I Love Money" or "Charm School," these human trainwreck dating shows are completely addictive and fun to watch. It's like going to see the freak tent at the circus - see the guys with multiple tattoos and piercings! See the girls with Goodyear-inspired foobs! Watch as people get completely emotional and break down one day, and then are as chipper as a squirrel with a cachet of nuts the next!

There were a lot of shows I could have included on this list, but I have to catch up on DVR episodes of Lost and Fringe, and Heroes just fell off my radar. Plus, I could have added The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Escape to Chimp Eden, but then it would have been a Top 12 and this ain't college football, where you can have eleven teams in the Big 10.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bumpy's Polar Freeze - Scream Until Mom Stops the Car

Sunday morning I captured this shot of an ice cream parlor off State Street in Schenectady. Gotta love the lettering under the main sign!