I May not Agree With What You Say, Oh and BTW, I Have No Interest Whatsoever In Defending Your Right To Say It … SO THERE!

As I sat down to compose this, I was waging a (minor) internal battle with myself.  Facebook/Twitter or blog?  Given the subject I want to tackle that either can be described as: 1 or A, ironic or possibly: B or 2, “well of course dummy.”  I felt the need to commence this piece with a dash of humor (granted, my default mode) because what I feel the need to say here isn’t funny, and hasn’t been for quite some time.  I look at the world at large, and my native land in particular and I find myself drifting out of my preferred mode of speech and asking myself; “WTF!”  In my humble opinion we have truly lost it my fellow Americans.

“I have come to the conclusion;” as John Adams states in the opening moments of 1776, that politics, in fact in many ways life itself is no longer about Republicans, Democrats, Plutocrats, Autocrats, Right, Left, or Center.  It is not about Conservatism, or Liberalism.  What it has evolved into (or devolved to) is this, the practice of CONTRARINISM.  We have somehow found ourselves at a point in time in which it is not about finding a middle ground.  It is about criticizing any and every gesture, sound bite, photo opportunity of what used to be referred to as “the Loyal Opposition.”  Even (perhaps especially) our reactions to tragedy is fueled by this overriding rule.  I cite two recent examples.  First, the flooding in Texas.  I would argue that even the hardest hearts, even the one’s who felt the need to view the disaster in Biblical terms, didn’t view it without compassion.  Yet, a huge part of the debate (debate; really; people were dying, livestock killed, homes and businesses destroyed; that is not a subject for a debate, it is a subject for rescue, for mobilization of disaster relief, at the very least for prayer or, if you prefer, as Pope Francis recently said “Good Vibrations”).  Instead the news outlets, and certainly the internet, felt that the really important thing to discuss was that a handful of Texan politicians, who had denied relief to the victims of Sandy Hook and were now at the front of the line of the “hat in hand” crowd needed to be castigated: well, “shoe’s on the other foot now,” or “what goes around comes around,” or even “payback’s a (fill in the blank) ain’t it?”  Yessss! this is what all of that suffering was about.  An opportunity to rub someone’s nose in the mud of their own shortsightedness.  The second is the recent church massacre (which in strictly non political terms is precisely what it was) in Charleston.  A recent sampling of my Facebook friends (not just Facebook in general, but my friends, and for what it’s worth I have never felt the need to make “agrees with everything I say and do” part of the criteria for being my friend.  For one thing, not only would it narrow the field considerably, but I would have to “un-friend” my own self, and then who would listen to me prattle on?  Sorry, default mode as I say).  But, once again I am seeing so many postings specifically dealing with the reactions of politicians, especially the one’s jockeying for position for the Presidential primaries and even about the current POTUS, who, while certainly still in a position to have his voice heard and to attempt to shape national policy, is certainly no longer (despite what many may want to believe) running for anything.  Once again, CONTRARINISM  is the philosophy that has become our overriding way of dealing with all and sundry.  An argument for stricter gun control laws?  An argument for more stringent security measures?  Second Amendment; right, wrong, repealed, beefed up?  Once again: really?  Here is what we need to be focused on right this instant: NINE PEOPLE ARE DEAD.  Their families, their friends, their coworkers, devastated.  I’m sorry folks, and arguably I am part of the debate myself just by publishing this, but a portion of the body politic has been ripped violently from the whole.  As my Jedi self would say: “I feel a disturbance in the Force.”  I am not expecting this little think piece to change many minds.  It most certainly will not change any feelings of “us versus them.”  And, once again, for what it’s worth, the whole “versus” should always be a tip off that perhaps you are heading down the wrong path unless you are talking about a sporting event.  I would suggest however that at least we take a moment to mourn the victims instead of going directly to pointing fingers.


Always and Forever

Perhaps the hardest lesson to learn in life

Certainly the one that we fight against the most

Is that we truly cannot,

Do not,

Control anything

Wealth, health, power, love

Especially love

There is a power out there that holds dominion over it all

A blink of an eye is all that it takes

For all that we think we own

Even all that we think we know

To be gone

At best, we are visiting this life

And what comes after we can only guess at

For me, my guess,

No, my belief

Is that what comes after will be even more amazing

Than what came before.

It is a consolation I suppose.

Here’s another;

I’m not the first

I won’t be the last

What has made it easier for me is this though:

I’ve known this simple fact for a very long time

Even before I was blessed to have an angel in my life

The day she left this life

(Not; be assured my life),

I knew that it was not going to be forever

Eternity is where we shall meet again

And be together again

And eternity to me is forever

Plus Vera.

Happy Mother’s Day


M.others I. L.earned F.rom

I’ve known three mothers well in my lifetime

Each one unique

Yet each with very similar qualities

Obviously top of the list

Is Jennie Vernon Hill

Who perhaps should have let the dream of conceiving go

After nearly forty years of life

But the need, not the desire, the need, to nurture overwhelmed all else

So here I am, her only begotten child

I emphasize the begotten part

For without a doubt I was not her only child.

Something that makes this trinity of moms so similar to each other is this;

They each have felt an obligation, a fulfilling one to be sure,

To mother any child that needed it

Jennie molded me to respect everyone, especially women

And she did it in less than eleven years

Well, earth years anyway

Because through some maternal alchemy

She has never left my side,

I mean that in a physical and also metaphysical sense

Because as I grow older I believe more and more that the next great MILF in my life

Was somehow predestined and that she was chosen two decades prior for me

By the first woman to touch my life:

Enter stage left: Vera Mae Hill

Like my own mother, my sainted spouse,

My once and Forever Bride,

Felt a calling, a passionate (and compassionate) calling,

To nurture children

There are a legion of children, many now adults with children of their own

In no less than three states

Who can properly be called:

“Vera’s Kids”

Girl Scout Leader, day care teacher, mother, grandmother, great grandmother

There are some people who can never be complete without being part of children’s lives

The woman that I was proud and privileged to be husband to for 22 years was (and no doubt continues to be) one of those people.

Which brings me to LeKeisha Chante Antoinette Boyd

A young woman I am proud to call my daughter

I have watched her journey as mother, and now grandmother, literally from day one

The qualities that made her grandmother and mother incredible moms are right there

A passion and devotion to and for all children,

Now that her own children are grown, and without missing a beat,

She has taken on the responsibilities of raising, a godchild, a  niece, and a grandchild.

Having been a proud partner with her mother for all those (not nearly enough, truth to tell) years;

Suffice it to say that I am not only immensely proud  of her, but not even close to being surprised.

These three ladies each possessed and possess a “something extra” that attracted and attracts children to their mighty hearts

As I said they are the mothers I learned from

And perhaps the most important lesson I learned from each was the most basic of all:

That they each loved me with that same passion and devotion that has helped shape and sustain me over the years.

Thank you ladies, forever and always

Happy Mother’s Day

With love, from your son, husband, and father

Vernon Monroe Hill

We Will Always Need Heroes (and what we learn from them both good AND bad).

I imagine that very few people who know me would be surprised to learn that Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub” was and is a personal hero of mine.  I have mentioned elsewhere that he (along with my first hero: Monroe Hill—aka dad), are the reasons that I became a Cubs fan.  A little historical background would seem appropriate here. There were, and are to this day, millions of black Americans who will forever be Dodgers fans, at least the Brooklyn incarnation of the team.  It can easily be traced to a single number: 42.  Fans from all over the country instantly became Brooklyn Dodger fans that historic day in April, 1947 when John Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson took the field for the first time.  Time has not changed that.  My dad had just turned 32 that day and even after the team relocated to the west coast, he followed them and rooted for them.  Now dad grew up in Arkansas.  Back in the days before cable and satellite and internet, baseball fans got their fixes from radio.  If you grew up along the Mississippi River, then your choices for the most part were: the St. Louis Cardinals, or the Chicago Cubs (sorry Sox fans).  The reason was not so much about the teams themselves as it was about two entities: KMOX and WGN, both “clear channel” radio stations (ask your parents, or possibly grandparents, I’m old).  Most days their signals reached well south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  My dad was a Cubs fan even before he moved to Chicago in 1941.   He was away fighting a war (thank God stateside), the last time the Cubs were in a World Series in 1945.  He followed on Armed Forces Radio though.  Six years after Mr. Robinson’s historic debut, the local team  bought out the contracts of a couple of promising keystone players: 2nd baseman Gene Baker and SS Ernie Banks.  Back in those days this was common practice, in order to insure that the black players had “road-roommates” since accommodations were often only with sympathetic Negro families in road cities.  Spring training was often a true nightmare since the facilities were in the south.  The minor leagues were real horror stories, but that is not what this entry is about.   Dad was a huge baseball fan and pulled for both Chicago teams (a trait he instilled in his only child and for which I am grateful, if for no other reason than it has helped me to acquire patience as well as perseverance). Ernie of course went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cubs and became, as I said, one of my heroes.  For what it is worth, Mr. Banks was one of four that I had as a boy (and continue to have, truth be told).  They were, in order of appearance in my life: the aforementioned Monroe Hill, Ernie Banks, Martin Luther King, and William Henry Cosby Jr. Doctor of Education.  That is his full name and title of course; we all known him as Bill Cosby.  And thereby hangs a tale.  Mr. Cosby has been a world class comic, actor, writer, fighter for equal rights and advocate for education for 50 years now.  Of course recent events and accusations threaten to destroy all of this along with his legacy.  I am not here to judge Dr. Cosby’s guilt or innocence (to be honest, my heart is way to much in this one to be even close to impartial).  But I will say this, and thus the title of this piece.  One of the reasons we have heroes, at least for me, is that they teach and inspire us.  We emulate the qualities that we perceive in them and aspire to be more like them.  To use sports as a metaphor; without Oscar Robertson (once again, I’m old), there is no Earvin Magic Johnson.  Without Michael Jordan, there is no Kobe Bryant. No Ken Griffey, no Ken Griffey Jr. both literally and figuratively; and so on.  Whether or not these were each of the named athletes actual hero doesn’t matter (well I certainly hope that Senior was Junior’s hero, but his dad played with the 1970’s version of the “Field of Dreams” so who knows?).  The truth is that someone, at some point in time inspired each of them.  As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that the 4 individuals I chose were actually inevitable.  They reflected my personality and the person I became.  Dr. King is of course without doubt one of the most important people of the 20th century.  A man who literally gave his life to the cause of freedom.  But what inspired me and drew me to him was his abilities as a speaker.  My dad had already inspired my love of language.  Listening to Dr. King, even as a young boy was incredible.  I wasn’t raised to think black versus white, but I was encouraged to appreciate the unique gifts that our people had contributed to the world.  Ernie Banks.  A world class athlete yes.  The acknowledged Mr. Cub.  But, and this is what was more important: a gentleman as well as a gentle man and the possessor of the sunniest personality any one has ever seen in the world of sports.  A person of almost childlike enthusiasm for the game that he (and my dad, and I) loved.  No one in Chicago, and I would argue in all of baseball, disliked him, and certainly the words “let’s play two today” will be an unofficial epitaph for the man.  If the game has ever had a more gracious and beloved ambassador, I have not heard of him.  This brings me to Bill Cosby.  America’s favorite dad who started out as a stand up comedian who was just a little different; a fact that is forgotten these days.  He brought a hominess and yes, kindness to his routines.   He wasn’t blue like Redd Foxx or Lenny Bruce.  He wasn’t Jewish like Mort Sahl or Myron Cohen.  His whole persona was your uncle or older brother who was remembering stories from the old neighborhood or imagining “conversations” between Noah and the Lord.  It is no accident that he especially appealed to children.  He segued seamlessly into acting, winning three Emmy’s in three years in his debut role as Alexander Scott on I Spy.  Sold out concerts, a Peabody Award winning show in his Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.  A successful trio of movies opposite his friend “Mr. Porter” Sidney Poitier.  And then of course the program that helped define the 1980’s; created “Must See TV” and shot NBC into the stratosphere ratings wise: The Cosby Show.  Once again, my choosing him reflected the person that I was and that I aspired to be.  Witty, verbally adept, a teller of stories and a great dad.  For what it is worth, the recent negative stories are very disturbing and I certainly pray he will be vindicated in the end.  But even if it turns out that everything is true, he will continue to be one of my Four Horsemen of Heroes because of what has come before.  Which brings me to the Greatest American Hero of my own life: Monroe Hill.  Basically everything the other three are and more were represented by dad.  Do I tend to make him larger than life.  Probably; but he was the central figure in my life for close to 40 years, partly because he was a single parent from just before I turned 11 years old.  He never remarried by the way.  Oddly, for a child and later adult who is so much of a romantic, I never thought about his remarrying.  I honestly don’t think it was about not wanting to see mom replaced.  In my own life I became a second husband (and therefore father).  The man who helped insure that I would be successful in both those roles was a man who had never been a second anything.  He gave me the key to this early in my life.  They key to being a good husband is deceptively simple.  It begins and ends with equal doses of respect and love. There are many other pieces to be sure, but if you don’t get the love and respect down, well, game over. When you have a child, it is also simple, double it, or triple it or, you get the idea.  If it is not your biological child–and I personally have never had one, even though I have been raising children for over half of my 58 years–then, that is subtext, acknowledge it and then imitate Queen Elsa; “Let it go!” If you love the child’s mother (or father, for that matter; my grandfather on my father’s side had two daughters before he married my grandmother.  By the way, they eventually had 15 children together for a total of 17 in all–my mom was one of 14).

All of the heroic traits that I ascribe to Messrs. King, Banks and Cosby (I suppose to be proper I should refer to King and Cosby as “Doctor”), I found to some degree in dad.  I am a very introspective person who has always been fascinated by human nature.  Or to put it another way, by the nature of humans, starting with my own life.  Still it took a very long time for me to realize that my heroes reflect who I am.  And that my father, who I always realized was my first hero, was an amalgam of the other three.  No one is perfect.  The recent contretemps with Bill Cosby proves if nothing else that being a celebrity is a double edged sword. But it also shows that even fallen heroes can teach us something.  What we learn will always be as much about what we pay attention to as about what material we are actually presented.  In other words, we will only learn what we truly want to learn.

Daddies Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to be Video “Hoes”

Over the last several years we have all witnessed a seemingly endless number of young ladies who were teen television stars go from the proverbial “girl next door,” to something else entirely.  For a while it was being blamed on Disney Channel because the twin poster children of the moment were Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.  Recently some stars from Nickelodeon have joined the parade.  Regardless of who they once worked for, it is a somewhat disturbing situation.  I refuse to label it a “trend” because, like almost everything else these days, it isn’t new.  It is all over the internet for sure, and that is the only real difference.  To borrow once again from the received wisdom of my dad, Monroe Hill: there is nothing new under the sun, we just all seem to know about it these days.  Once upon a time Hollywood studios had publicity departments that spent almost as much time protecting their stars, young and old, as they did promoting them.  There is a certain irony in the fact that Demi Lovato, who has had her share of negative press, once released a video called “La La Land” about the craziness that is Hollywood.  Part of the problem I think, is that as a society we are way too voyeuristic.  More than ever before we desire to know what “goes on behind closed doors.”  Entertainment reports used to be short segments on  radio and television news programs that basically told us what movie was opening (box office was mainly an obsession within the industry itself until “Jaws” rewrote the rules).  If there was a celebrity in town, we might hear about it.  Somewhere along the line all of that changed.  The old saw “there is no such thing as bad publicity” exploded, thanks in part to the increasing availability of portable recording devices.  For me the turning point was June of 1992.  The internet was still in its infancy as a distributor of information and westill depended on television (I almost have to laugh as I type that sentence, because I am old enough to remember when radio was still a big part of that equation.  My parents of course remember when television was something that your richer neighbors had, or that did not even exist, sort of like the internet for my genertion), to bring us the news.  If the words: White Bronco Chase, don’t mean anything to you, then you were either a very young person, or not yet born when O.J. Simpson led the LAPD on a very slow speed chase down the Los Angeles freeway system one night.  The fact is that a few years earlier, even that image would have been impossible.  The mini cam opened up many possibilities to television news crews that static cameras could not offer.  But to get back to how this has affected celebrities and their public personas, the ability to transmit images (and not coincidently to falsify those images; Photoshop anyone?) has altered the playing field.  As a society we have always loved scandal and dirty laundry.  Walter Winchell in New York (Gotham to use one his favorite monikers) and Hedda Hopper in Hollywood wielded outlandish power through their syndicated columns over stage and screen actors fearful of bad publicity.  The power has shifted to TMZ and ET and others like them.  Somehow, even with so many watchdogs though, celebrities willingly put themselves in harm’s way.  It seems like a day does not go by when we hear about racy photos of some celebrity that have been hacked, uploaded, stolen, what have you.  All too often the pictures were taken willingly.  What should be a private matter becomes an internet sensation.  Should most of them have known better?  The question is pretty much a waste of time.  But those are the cases of indiscretions.  Of youthful hormones clouding one’s judgment.  Then there are the planned situations.  It goes way back folks.  Very often, for young ladies especially, it is fueled by a desire to be taken seriously as an actress.  It happens with guys also, but society tends to forgive males faster than it does female;, not trying to say that such is fair (for the record, absolutely not fair), just stating a demonstrable fact.  Patty Duke, an Oscar winner for The Miracle Worker, and at the time the youngest winner ever in a competitive category, chose to appear in Valley of the Dolls just a few years later in order to prove that she was a “grown up.”  I presume it wasn’t to prove that she could act; she already had that Academy Award after all.  It was not the best decision she ever made.  At least she only stripped down to a relatively modest slip for the part.   The transition from child star to adult has sunk hundreds, if not thousands of careers.  Jodie Foster is easily the most successful at it, certainly if you use the Academy Award as a benchmark. Natalie Wood transitioned nicely also.  Some drop out after a handful of adult roles or don’t even get the chance.  Shirley Temple was easily the most successful actress in Hollywood as a child.  Her output past the age of eighteen was severely limited.Judy Garland did well in the movies (though her personal life was pretty much a shambles).  On the other hand, Judy was 16 when she flew over the rainbow so was well into adolescence by the time most of us became aware of her.  I think one of the problems that many child actors run into, the girls especially, is quite simply becoming attractive adults.  I know you thought I was going to say that they are no longer quite so cute.  And that is certainly true of a large number.  But, and I think Shirley Temple was a very good example; sometimes they become even more beautiful and alluring.  And there is the problem: we don’t quite know how to deal with that, especially in the United States.  Look at some of Shirley’s movies once she became a teenager, especially The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer.  To be sexist for a moment: she was a hottie.  She was no longer the little girl that every man wanted to adopt.  She was suddenly this super attractive, confident young woman who you hoped your son would bring home one day (I’ll let it go at that).  How do you reconcile that with the image you have always had of her?  For millions, I don’t think they ever really did.  What has happened these days though, with the entire world ever more sexualized, is that it has increased exponentially and started to come off the rails.  I chose the title for this piece because; I see a lot of the young actresses getting into the music business.  Miley Cyrus of course was Hannah Montana and the entire point was the whole “best of both worlds” thing.  She really didn’t transition to music; it was already part of her repertoire. If you watch the show, however, and I have an eleven year old granddaughter so I have seen pretty much every episode (not a bad thing to be honest), some of what happened later should not have been quite so much of a shock.  I would argue that the entire last season was Miley’s coming out party as much as it was Hannah’s.  You began to see a subtle change in the music; less bubble gum and more hard edged, there is even an episode with the rapper Iyaz, and reference to whether or not Hannah’s fan base would accept this newer version of her.  Hannah Montana the Movie featured her most mature song, possibly even to this writing: The Climb. Party in the USA is a catchy (make that super catchy) piece of pop singing that has a video that should have put everyone on notice that Miley had come of age and felt comfortable in her own skin.  The choreography is just this side of provocative and she certainly shakes her own tail feather unashamedly.  Then there is Ariana Grande.  She played the sweet, lovable scatterbrained Cat on Victorious and later on Sam and Cat.  Victoria Justice of course was the star of Victorious and is a fine singer in her own right.  In fact, I personally think she is one of the best of the young stars (she also has so far stayed off of TMZ’s radar which is a very good thing indeed).  Many episodes of the program showcased the singing chops of several of the costars.  Ariana managed to quickly move into the mainstream.  She already has shared a number one with superstars Nicki Minaj and Jessie J. (writer of, among others, Party in the USA).  However, somewhere along the way Ariana has also decided not to just appear with Nicki, she seems to want to BE Nicki.  One Nicki may well be more than enough.  The other singer on Bang Bang is Jessie J.   Jessie is a bit older than Ariana but certainly not an older statesperson (she was born March 27, 1988, which I only mention because it also happens to be my dad’s birthday), which makes her 26 as of this writing.  Thanks to her song Price Tag, my granddaughter discovered the phrase “video hoe.”  That is actually not a bad thing.  It gave me an opportunity to explain where the phrase came from and also why I feel that it is important for young ladies especially to be careful about how they present themselves.  What I find ironic, or amusing, depending, is that in Price Tag Jessie appears to take exception to the whole “video hoe” deal.  Now, with the videos for Bang Bang and especially Burning Up, she seems to be heading in that direction herself.  To be honest, there is nothing wrong with that.  Is it the image I want my granddaughter to emulate?  Of course not.  Still, I think sometimes we get so uptight that we forget that impurity is as much about perception as it is about action.  When I was about 11 or 12 years old there was a wonderful short lived sitcom called The Governor and JJ which starred Dan Dailey as the governor of some unnamed state (we never did know which state’s governor Benson worked for and eventually ran against did we?) with Julie Somers as his daughter JJ. There was an episode in which a committee was formed to screen books for inclusion in the public school library systems.  The wrong set of books was given to the committee for review.  One was a manual on tank warfare, detailing how one soldier would stand above the driver and signal right or left by tapping the driver’s shoulders with his booted foot.  The book was deemed unfit, the reason: Foot Fetish.  Among other things I learned a new word that night.  But I also learned something more important: almost everything in life is a matter of opinion; it lies in the eye of the beholder.

The Perfect Pitch Slap

In the motion picture industry, like in the rest of life, timing is everything.  Never make the mistake of presuming that movies are the trend setters.  Movies, at least those set in more or less present time, generally follow rather than lead.  Yes, there is an occasional trend setting moment.  Usually this trend is in the area of fashion.  Clark Gable supposedly temporarily devastated the tee shirt industry as long ago as 1934 (is it really 81 years?) by mentioning in “It Happened One Night” that he did not wear one.  The line itself was more about the wonderful and witty battle of the sexes between Gable and Claudette Colbert.  But Clark was already the “King of Hollywood” and every man wanted to be him.  Over 40 years later, two completely different motion pictures would lend their voices to the fashion debate.  “Saturday Night Fever,” and John Travolta would make white suits worn over skin tight black silk shirts a must have for “playas” (a term that had not even been coined 38—38, really?—years ago).  That trend was about men (yes, men, who supposedly are less vain than women—think about that for a moment) wanting to be thought of as cool or with it or, and this is the crux of it, sexy.  The other fashion trend from a movie that year was “the Annie Hall” look.  It is interesting that a small film (I know it won multiple Oscars and made Diane Keaton a star, but, be honest, 1977 was the year of Saturday Night Fever, and Smokey and the Bandit and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a little movie called Star Wars—back before hope, new or otherwise, was part of the title).  Suddenly this cute, funny, and yes, sexy lady was a minor fashion icon. And all she was doing in the movie—brilliantly– was playing (and dressing the part of) a hyper realized version of: Diane Keaton.

I mentioned Saturday Night Fever. Despite what it gets credit for, or blamed for, depending on your point of view; the movie did not invent, nor even introduce, Disco to America.  The Bee Gees, despite Beatle-esque sales figures and chart domination over the next 7 months, did not invent nor introduce that music trend either.  Disco as a music/dance form had its roots in underground gay clubs and black dance clubs.  I love the Gibb brothers (and K.C. and a few other white performers), but they were not the original article.  They took it uptown into the mainstream, and yes, put their own unique imprint on it.  As far as Billboard’s Hot 100 is concerned, probably The Hustle by Van McCoy is as good a song as any to consider the first “disco”, at least so far as topping the chart.  It is forgotten all these years later (and often overlooked at the time because from December of 1977 through around May of 1978 the radio was all Bee Gees and their RSO label stable mates, all the time), but the Bee Gees mainly sang ballads.  Very popular ballads as a matter of fact.  Their 1971 chart topper is one of the great weepers of all time: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?  The record that launched a few million album sales was a ballad: How Deep is Your Love?  For what it is worth, the song that catapulted John Travolta to superstardom (I give a nod to Stayin’ Alive) was an older number one by the band: You Should be Dancing. The SNF soundtrack album also contains Boogie Shoes by K.C. and the Sunshine Band which had been number one prior to December of 1977.

All of this brings me back to another, related, idea.  Good things sometimes need a popular person, movie, event, to bring them to the forefront.  The, “overnight success” story, while popular and endearing, usually is less than accurate.  Like in music, a good “hook” can often be helpful.  A Capella singing has been around most likely from the beginning—it is probably a good bet that early humans began singing without the accompaniment of instruments, well, maybe a stick or bone beaten on a rock or the ground; it’s all about that beat, about that beat—sorry Meaghan Trainor. Barber Shop Quartets often perform sans instruments.  Groups like The Temptations and The Four Seasons started out as Doo-Wop singers, you did all your own instrument sounds, which is why subways and lavatories became makeshift venues.  It was all about  the echo and the acoustics.  A group that has been around since the 1990’s with some success obviously, is Straight No Chaser.  The have memorably teamed up with the very popular actress/singer Kristen Bell and are now, ahem, breaking the internet.  Two and a half years ago a funny, girl power (yep, missed that about it,  didn’t you?) movie called Pitch Perfect debuted.  Led by Anna Kendrick and a bunch of ladies who are not just funny but have some serious singing chops: Kendrick–Becca– has appeared on Broadway in the musical “High Society,” and was awarded a Theater World award as well as a Tony nomination (one of the youngest ever).  She had sung on screen before and is currently Cinderella in the movie version of Into the Woods.  Britanny Snow –Chloe– was one of the leads in the movie musical Hairspray. Ester Dean–Cynthia-Rose–is better known as a rapper and songwriter than as an actress, in fact she performs one of her own compositions in the “Riff-Off” scene (S&M). The young ladies went about winning our hearts and ears and in the process put A Cappella firmly back in the mainstream.  My granddaughter and I, and judging by my Facebook friends we are not the only ones, are looking forward with ears pricked to May of 2015 when part 2 opens.  While we all  are waiting for the new movie, here is a co-ed group that are, IMHO, incredible; Pitch Slapped:

Who are you? I’m the Doctor

After 51 years and counting (the program debuted on November 23, 1963, in the wake of the JFK assassination: The first episode of the “modern” series gives a nod to this by having a character show the Doctor in Dallas on November 22, 1963), there have been, as Carl Sagan would have said, “billions and billions” of words written about Doctor Who.  I have been everything from a casual observer of the phenomenon known as Doctor Who to non watcher (owing to vagaries of its availability here in the colonies) to a slightly obsessed fan who is trying almost desperately to catch up with the “modern” version.

I admit to not being as familiar with the so called “Classic Doctor Who” episodes. I first discovered the Doctor shortly after he had regenerated and morphed into Tom Baker.  That would have been sometime around 1974.  The local PBS station in Chicago WTTW-Ch 11 carried this somewhat odd British import on Sunday nights at 10:30.  In those pre-Star Wars days the special effects did not seem quite so pedestrian.  But it was the stories, and especially Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor, with that ridiculously long but somehow very, very cool scarf (which of course became iconic), that made the show enjoyable.  Part “The Outer Limits,” part “Maverick.” The Doctor was always a step ahead of everyone else and always seemed to show up in some fantastical location battling bad guys and monsters of every description.  The constant theme of humanity (from a creature who freely admitted that he was not human), and of the importance of camaraderie (even unspoken, the fact that the Doctor almost always had a “companion” or two spoke volumes).  I would venture to say that most of us on this side of the pond back then were unaware of the back story or even that the Doctor could (and did, frequently, as it turned out), regenerate.  A combination of the fact that the program only aired sporadically in the USA coupled with Mr. Baker continuing in the role almost as long as the length of his scarf. many of us never saw a regeneration.  I certainly didn’t.  I enjoyed the show back then.  I lost track of it and chalked up to the fact that 1. it was on PBS which often had programs, especially the ones that were not produced “in-house” that would come and go, and 2. it was British, I had already learned that, unlike American television networks, that often times British television series only produced a Baker’s–pun intended–dozen of programs per season.  Seldom more than 20, or when they did more they were 30 minutes long.  For what it is worth, I don’t think that is a bad idea.  It helps keep the shows fresh.  There are many revered scripted television programs on American television that became a little stale because the writers just flat ran out of ideas.  Anyway, all this conspired together to cause me to lose track of the Time Lord from Gallifrey.  Over three decades would elapse (one moment in time in the TARDIS I would imagine), before I would encounter the Doctor again.  By coincidence I caught the first full appearance of the 11th Doctor; Matt Smith.  I was not aware that this was a “new” i.e. “regenerated” Doctor. Before I go any farther, please be aware that there are many spoilers in this commentary, so, as WatchMojo.com would say: SPOILER ALERT.  As I said, I was unaware of his back story at the time. All I knew was that this new actor playing the Doctor was brash, and cheeky and young and a little bonkers.  I would not have realized that it was Doctor Who at all except of course for the opening credits and the fact that the TARDIS had crashed landed in front of young Amelia Pond’s home and, even laying on its side, is pretty hard to mistake. I was excited.  I immediately shot off an email to an old friend who had been one of the first people to introduce me to the Doctor way back when.  Toward the end of this episode (entitled “The Eleventh Hour”) we see the “new” doctor emerge from a montage of all the previous incarnations of the Doctor.  It is a wonderful and visually impressive moment.

The character of Doctor Who has changed and expanded over the years.  The early Doctors, due perhaps as much to the conventions of the times as it did to the “show runners” (modern phrase (Time)Lord knows) very seldom were touched by their companions.  By the time the “new” Doctor (#9 Christopher Eccleston) comes along much has changed.  The web site WatchMojo.com recently dedicated a Top Ten countdown to the top ten Doctors.  Christopher is # 5 on the list, not that it matters.  His one series is probably the most important since the original incarnation from 1963.  He is the first of the “new” (re)generation of Doctors,after a sixteen year absence.  In general I think the newer stories make for very engrossing television.  I think that Russell T Davies and company have made excellent use of the new technology.  Having said that however, the heart (or since it is the Doctor; two hearts) of any good show is the writing, directing and especially the acting,  The new incarnation has hit the jackpot.  With absolutely no disrespect to the “classic” episodes the new episodes have introduced quite a few new dimensions to the character.  Starting with Eccleston we have seen the relationships with the companions grow and expand.  Once again, no disrespect to anyone, and especially none to Elisabeth Sladen but Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate and Karen Gillan are equally as brilliant, and their roles as fully fleshed out, as any of the three Doctors that they have been companions to.  We are seeing true relationships be allowed  to develop. And, especially with David Tennant’s interpretation, emotions that we rarely saw before.  The Ninth Doctor (Eccleston) makes it clear that he cares about and needs Rose Tyler.  Rose is given an opportunity, along with her sometime boyfriend Mickey Smith, to not only help save the world, but to show some obvious unresolved (and even for her, not quite understood) affection for the Doctor that goes beyond camaraderie.  Then there is Martha Jones.  While there is some comic (and some would say typically female bantering and one up(wo)manship) between Rose and Sarah Jane when they meet, Martha more than any companion up to that point is allowed to express, at least to the audience, her true feelings.  One of the  moments that I feel defines the nature of her character is in one of the middle episodes of season 3: “Human Nature.” In it, the Doctor transforms himself into a human in order to hide from the Family of Blood, another ancient enemy.  The Doctor becomes “John Smith” a professor at a boy’s school circa 1913 and Martha takes on the guise of a serving girl at the same school in order to watch over him (the transformation has wiped his memories of who he is).  Martha, is well aware of everything, and in fact is the Doctor’s only real link back to his own reality.  Martha, who has already shown some feelings for the Doctor (beginning with their first episode together when he kisses her.  For the Doctor, it was nothing more than a strategy to hold off the “Judoon.” Her reaction is obviously something else (the acting I felt was subtle yet made it clear that Martha felt something).  By the time we get to “Human Nature,” her feelings are quite obvious, at least to the audience, and, more importantly, to Martha Jones herself.  Whether human or Gallifrean, the Doctor is still oblivious to Martha’s growing affection for him.  And to add insult to injury, now she has to stand by and watch “John Smith” fall in love with a human, and as she so tellingly states, “and it wasn’t me.”  This is brilliant script writing and even more brilliant acting. After Martha departs, Donna Noble, who has met the Doctor before, briefly, becomes his companion. The companions all fall in love with the Doctor to some degree. Donna insists that there is nothing between them. This is underscored several times in their first few adventures together as they are often mistaken for husband and wife. They are both always at pains to set the person straight. Yet in the end, the idea is left open for the audience to decide. The Doctor even in fact describes her as “my best friend” when the “Master.” attempts to destroy her.
I have mentioned the writing. The entire arc of seasons 2-4, in which the 10th Doctor has several companions, with Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Donna Noble all getting one season each, may or may not have been planned. One presumes that the three actresses chose to go on to other things. Billie Piper had been a singing star as a teen and has gone on to other projects (most notably “Secret Diary of a Call Girl”) Catherine Tate was a well known comedic actress prior to becoming Donna Noble and you can certainly see her comic timing in her portrayal of Donna. Freema Agyamen had been in a handful of programs and had actually portrayed a Cybermen puppet on a series 2 episode of Doctor Who. One of the wonders of VOD is the ability to go back and review (or view for the first time) programs and specific episodes. Each of the four female companions of the modern era are strong actresses with a personality of their own (I have not seen the 12th Doctor or his companion as of this writing). They have each left an indelible impression. David Tennant had an opportunity to work with three of these ladies. I want to take a moment here to remark on the reactions of the fans to the new series (2005 till now). The website IMDB.com is, among other things, an open forum that allows fans of the many thousands of films and television programs that are listed on the site to weigh in with their views and reviews of pretty much anything. DW fans are of course quite vocal. I have found, as I have perused the comments and review sections of the modern DW a recurring theme among Whovians. While they appreciate and respect the fact that Russell T Davies has resurrected the series, he is not generally given a lot of respect as a writer for the show. That may be overstating it a bit, but when I have seen weak reviews for an episode, it is often one that Mr. Davies wrote, and he is very often singled out. Personally I have found Mr. Davies writing style to be very enjoyable, though this is probably due to the fact that Mr. Davies does not shy away from being sentimental. In the tenth Doctor’s final adventure, I think he uses the (finally no longer dormant) emotional side of the Doctor to shine through in a brilliantly written few moments that are a tour de force of acting, directing, use of montage and flashback and just plain old fashioned movie magic. In allowing the Doctor to “say goodbye” to each of his companions I think the character comes of age and connects brilliantly with the audience. It also allows the audience to glimpse at the “fates” of each of his companions. Something else Davies demonstrates–though it is subtle–is that he has not forgotten exactly how each of his stories (and parallel realities) is and where they are going. Examples of this are: Donna Noble not seeing the Doctor (we had been told that, because of her brief “melding” into a proto-Time Lord herself that if she remembered the incident it would cause her brain to “catch fire”), though her mother and grandfather do, in fact speak to him and bid him an emotional farewell. The Doctor saving the lives of Luke Smith (Sarah Jane’s son) and Martha Jones, who by now has married Mickey Smith, Rose Tyler’s old boyfriend. Martha, Mickey, Luke and Sarah each recognize the Doctor for who he is, as do Mrs. Noble and Wilfred Mott (Donna’s mother and grandfather). Rose has married the “Doctor” or more precisely, the Doctor’s clone on a parallel world. A Doctor with all of his memories, his face, everything in fact except for the second heart. Which means that he can grow old with Rose. The irony to me is that, this Doctor with one heart, is the one that can allow his emotions to show through. An interesting commentary on the perils of immortality I think. Meanwhile, back in “this” reality, the Doctor makes his final visit. Each of his other visits has been to a point in time that is either here and now or slightly into the future, or a parallel world. He visits Rose Tyler (I suppose Rose #1) at a point in time prior to their first meeting. It is New Years day, January 1, 2005 and Rose and Jackie (Rose’s mother) are walking home, presumably from a New Year’s Eve party at a pub. When Rose sees him he is just another bloke to her. When he asks her the date she tells him. He tells her that he bets she is going to have an awesome year. The events of the S1 E1 program which re-introduced the Doctor and introduced Rose Tyler take place on Christmas Day 2005. Among other things, I was happy to see Mr.Tennant given an opportunity to say goodbye to his companions, and also to his many fans.
The character apparently gets inside of the actors who have portrayed him. In his well researched and documented book on the series: Doctor Who: A History, Alan Kistler relates an interview with Elisabeth Sladen (easily the most well known of the “classic” series companions: Sarah Jane Smith). She mentioned that David Tennant found it quite difficult to be around for the “regeneration” scenes. He is certainly not the only “Doctor” to have this feeling of ambivalence when the time finally was at hand. A couple have refused to participate at all.
Much like with the actors, the series, at least for this observer, gets inside you. It is not simply science fiction. It is episodic television at a very close to its best. Like Star Trek and its many spin-offs, the episodes work as stand alone and also as part of (often impressive) story arcs. For a program that first appeared when I was 7 years old (I’m 58 as of this writing), the show still has “legs.”

Parenthood 101

Blog Post #3

I am a father.  A grandfather.  A great grandfather.  How great I am is a matter of opinion, but I digress.  The point is that these relationships exist and have now for quite some time.  The titles are not honorary.  I admit to being extremely proud of them and what they represent.  Technically speaking the prefix “step” should apply to the foregoing.  If you know anything about me at all you know I eschew that qualifier.  I have three grown children, I have nine grandchildren and three great-children (so far, I have not gotten any texts, emails, telephone calls, posts, telegrams – does anyone still send telegrams? – lately so I presume I am still at 9 and 3 respectively). They are not my “step” anything, steps are something you climb.  They are mine.  They may all have come to me by round about ways.  But rest assured; they are mine.

As this blog progresses you will run across many references to the man who gave me my middle name (briefly, my name is Vernon Monroe Hill, I realize it sometimes sounds pretentious, but I have used all three names for as long as I can remember.  Not to seem more important than I am, self-aggrandizement is not part of my nature, but rather to always remind me of, and pay tribute to the people who conceived me 59 years ago.  And who also chose not to terminate me: Jennie Vernon and Monroe Hill.  For what it’s worth they had been married fourteen years by that time.  When I do the math I may have actually been an anniversary bonus, at least I hope they considered me a bonus.  I am an only child.  And I do mean only child.  I was the single pregnancy.  Considering that they were right at forty by that time it would have been a simple decision to pass as I am sure they were well settled into their lives. But to get back to “step” and the lack thereof: at a very young age I was taught something by my father that never left me.  One of a thousand and one things I admit.  And I do mean taught, not that I was told.  Dad was a teacher in the most real and pro-active sense.  Yes, he was a wondrous teller of stories, but he tried to always use those stories to teach.  The nut, as they say, does not fall far from the tree.  At an age when dating, much less marriage, was at best a scary concept, dad taught me that when a person marries, if your spouse has children, then you also have children.  Now, I have on occasion contemplated why a man would pass on to his only child that singular piece of philosophy.  As I have grown older (matured is debatable) I have often marveled at his foresight.  I honestly believe that dad knew what life had in store for me.  This is my typically long winded way of stating that dad knew I was going to end up never being a biological father.  But I have been a father many times over none-the-less.  And I have taken great joy and pride in that fact. My parents marked me in many ways.  One was in this whole parenthood business.  My mother was possibly the most passionate (and compassionate) parent I have ever known.  Actually I have to take that back.  She was one of the two.  The other is Vera, and I truly believe that was no accident.  I’m sure I will revisit my thoughts on the alchemy that links those two incredible ladies another time.  My parenting style, if it can be called a style, is the direct result of having been Jennie and Monroe’s child.  I recall being in my early twenties, before I even started dating (for me that was a nebulous concept at best) saying to a friend that I thought I might be a decent father, mainly because I had an incredible example and template living under the same roof with me.  Dad was an infinitely patient person.  You have to be patient to be a Chicago sports fan, especially if your favorite team in town is the Cubs.  I inherited that from him also (both the patience and the Chicago sports fandom).  As a parent he was gentle, but firm.  I know that is something of a cliché.  But dad was not simply a gentleman.  He was a truly gentle man.  I have always tried to emulate that about him.  My mom was incredibly passionate as a mother.  Sometimes it was almost scary.  It was there throughout the slightly less than eleven years she was here with me (on earth anyway, I realize I talk a lot about my relationship with my father, but we did have 40 years together and my memories are by definition more vivid and recent).  I say “on earth” because in a very real sense, she never left me.  So much so that I also don’t doubt that over 21 years after her body gave up, her spirit came back to me to take control of a son whose compassion was being taken advantage of.   I mentioned the alchemy.  Jennie Vernon Hill sent the next Mrs. Hill to me: Vera Mae Hill.  Is that spooky, or possibly Freudian?  Maybe so, but in my life, I know it to be true.  I am a convert to the Roman Catholic Church.  One of the things you are asked to do during your conversion classes is to choose a Saint’s name to use as your baptismal name.  I have a handful of “heroes” among the saints: St. (Sir) Thomas More, St. John Baptist De La Salle, and St.  Vincent DePaul.  They represent what I consider to be the best that Roman Catholicism has to offer, a great politician and scholar who also happened to be willing to lay down his life for his beliefs.  An educator and a man who chose to help those less fortunate than himself.  Sound familiar?  The saint I chose though came to me as truly the only choice: St. Joseph, the greatest foster father in the history of mankind.  Yes, it was all preordained, but if Joseph does what most men would have and denied Mary, where would the world be?  I’m not that good.  But I realize that my own father programmed me for this a long, long time ago, not in a galaxy far away, but right here and now.  I could argue that some of these things fell in my lap.  I did after all go from being a single and solitary man to becoming in less than 20 years’ time, a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather (our first great grandchild was born on the twentieth anniversary of the day I proposed to his great grandmother, no coincidence I am sure).  To quote my good friend Mr. Cronin again: “the universe speaks to us.”  And to expand on that, we are not always paying attention.  I think perhaps we need to find a quiet moment now and again and listen.   Peace and May the Force be with you.*


*Without a doubt this is a teaser, a foreshadowing, a peek at later blogs.

Its good to be back back back Off (way Off) Broadway

Blog Post # 2

Let’s spin the spinner and choose a new topic.  Since I am listening to my Broadway League playlist, entertainment comes to mind.  I love live theater and often wish I were living somewhere that feels the same about it as I do.  Among its many charms, Chicago is a big; make that huge, theater town.  I respect the sheer size of New York’s theater district; but there is something about the concentrated brilliance that is Chicago’s theater community.  Second City alone would make it worth crowing about.  Add to that Steppenwolf, the Organic, and the Royal George, all within a few blocks of each other.  The talent over the last sixty years is staggering: Nichols and May, Ed Asner, the brothers Belushi, the Murray brothers.  Steve Carrell, William L. Peterson, Virginia Madsen, Gary Sinise, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf.  Playwrights like David Mamet.  Innovators like Del Close who quite literally wrote the book on improvisational theater (Truth in Comedy), and original co-founder Bernard Sahlins.  Theater, especially comedy theater over the last almost six decades would be much, much different in America without the contributions of the Chicago theater community.