Going through hoops: 9 alternatives to March Madness


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What drives Americans’ March Madness mania? Is it a love for the game of basketball — or merely a love of games? Team bragging rights or the individual’s need to always be right?

Humans are compelled and impelled to make choices. When presented with empty boxes to check or blanks to fill in, we cannot resist. Combined with social media madness, our penchant for picking and sharing is off the charts these days — the act alone is satisfying, as if pressing the button is what presses our buttons, not the treat that gets dispensed or the victor’s glory.

Facebook itself has its roots in a simple either/or flow chart: It sprung from Mark Zuckerberg’s simple face-off program to determine the “hotter” Harvard chick.

democracy---people-votingIf only such selection fever translated to 100% voter turnout come election time. If democracy went 100% digital, maybe voting, too, would prove irresistible.

In the meantime, to fill the check-box void before Round 3 of the NCAA basketball tournament begins Thursday, I’ve scoured the universe for interesting alternative brackets for non-hoops fans to play favorites.

 

ENTERTAINMENT SHOWDOWNS

 

  1. Only hours to go before the Philadelphia-area public media provider WHYY wraps up its NPR vs. PBS “Public Media Madness” contest. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey host Neil deGrasse Tyson seems on top of the edutainment world lately. Can he rule as brainy talking head? Your other three Final Four contenders: Mister Rogers, Terry Gross and Peter Sagal. I pick Tyson over Rogers because he’s a LIVING legend (or soon to be).new-trailer-for-cosmos-featuring-neil-degrasse-tyson
  2. Minnesota Public Radio steps up the pace with music match-ups every half-hour from 9 to 5 through Friday’s final round. “The Current March Madness” started with 64 recording artists, featuring close shaves between such bands as U2 and Hüsker Dü, The Roots and Public Enemy. Today, see who challenges Elvis. Keep in mind: Times listed are Central Time.
  3. Pearl JamBeckA catty rivalry pits female characters from a defunct TV drama. The “Dallas” Divas Derby will keep you occupied through April 14. Or not. Like life down under in Dallas, it moves pretty slowly.DallasDivas

ANIMAL MAGNETISM

It’s not quite natural selection. These two popularity contests are playing out on Facebook, where you simply “Like” the picture of the species you prefer. Trash-talking takes place in the comments sections.

4. You’d think there’d be more kittehs at odds in the cybersphere, but drooling dogs drool in NatGeo Wild’s “Doggie Breed Bracket,” licensed by Cesar Millan of “Cesar 911.” This inaugural struggle is pretty much an ad for his show.

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5. Anyone who knows or reads me knows I’ve plugged Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” before. But someone over there finally listened to my complaints: In previous years, organizers picked birds who don’t actually migrate. This year, there are nifty baseball cards detailing the birds’ feats. Visit today for a chance to vote in the “Airborne 8” round between this year’s vastly popular snowy owl and the spectacular painted bunting.

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6. OK, OK. I found a bracket featuring cats. But it’s something you need to register for, and we all learned our lesson with the Warren Buffett-Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket, did we not?  A glimpse of Apartment Therapy’s Pet Madness entrants, just to satisfy you rabid pet owners.

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FOOD FIGHTS

7. Sweet! This is just a sampler of what’s out there.  Foodsided.com’s “Starch Madness” will surely whet the appetite. In fact, this game can be played alongside the NCAA tourney. Spread out a spread of these and watch your points spread. Recent highlights from the blog:

  • In the Entree Region, an epic battle of cheese. 4-seed Grilled Cheese takes on upstart 5-seed Mac & Cheese, who is coming off a decisive, yet somewhat unexpected, Round One victory over Boneless Wings.

  • After years of being paired together in perfect harmony, Peanut Butter and Chocolate will face off as Peanut Butter Anything takes on Chocolate Cake in the 4/5 match-up in the Dessert Region.

Starch madness8. Somebody alert Chris Christie. The Trentonian is sponsoring an eat-off among New Jersey pizzerias. This one requires some insider knowledge. You wonder if it’s helping to boost the newspaper’s restaurant ad sales.

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 TOURISTY

9. That last one was touristy, but no one can trump The Washington Post‘s“Monuments Madness” for places that “place.” This civil civics war features 15 statues and one obelisk. The Elite 8 begins today, and a champion will be crowned on April 1. Which begs the question … why?monumental

Sheer madness.

P.S. Go, Spartans.basketball_data

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar picks: Picking the lint outta my brain

Hurriedly writing here, minutes before Oscars … I realize I omitted several picks in my other posts. So, for the record, just so I can honestly record my score at the end, let me fill in those blanks.

Documentary Short: Loved them all, but my pick is “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.” Sad that the subject, Alice Herz-Sommer, then the oldest-living Holocaust survivor, died Feb. 23 at age 110 and didn’t live to watch the Oscars, but that makes the film all the more poignant. The only thing I didn’t like was the tone of the narration — it felt like a social studies film. “Facing Fear” — which dissects a brutal hate crime from the perspectives of both victim and perpetrator — has a fighting chance. Also sticking with me: “Prison Terminal.” It tracks the death of a war hero turned murderer — and aren’t all soldiers killers? — in a prison hospice whose caregivers are fellow prisoners. Crocodile tears.  Why sentence the guy to life for killing a drug dealer? His righteous son turned him in. Another fave: “Cavedigger,” about Ra, a 65-year-old artist whose canvas is New Mexican sandstone, from which he constructs fabulous caves — rather than capture space, he creates it. His quotes are almost as life-affirming as Herz-Sommer’s. “Karama Has No Walls,” a firsthand look at the uprising in Yemen, is also gripping and important.

Documentaries, the long and the short of ’em, are possibly my favorite part of Oscar marathoning. A documentary filmmaker is what I once wanted to be when I grew up (you know, rather than ballerina or firefighter). If you really want to get something out of your two hours at the movies, skip the over-budget action movies and become a superhero for change by watching and supporting this genre.

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Tom Hollander, as a prisoner who thinks he’s God, and Martin Freeman, as the psychiatrist assigned to evaluate him, engage in a fascinating tete-a-tete in “The Voorman Problem,” my pick for best live-action short.

Live-Action Short. “The Voorman Problem” will win. Awesomely creative and truly SHORT, also with star power (the guy from “Lord of the Rings”). Anyone know why Kevin Spacey was thanked in the credits, though? I am equally partial to the French offering “Just Before Losing Everything.” Important topic: domestic abuse. Its tension raised my BP. And “Helium” (Denmark) was uplifting. I didn’t care much for the Spanish “Aquel No Era Yo” (That Wasn’t Me). Finland’s “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything” is a delightful morsel, but it feels unfinished, pardon the pun.

Film Editing. “Dallas Buyers Club.” All the way!

Animated Feature. “Frozen.” I haven’t seen such a marvelous animated feature since “Beauty and the Beast.” And this is even better. It will make you melt and puddle up.

Original Song. “Happy” will win, obviously. But that’s only because the wrong song from “Frozen” was chosen. It should have been either “Fixer-Upper” or the one snowman Olaf sings. Is it called “Summer”? Don’t even know, I saw the flick only this morning. Even so, a song must truly work with the film to win, and “Let It Go” is a dramatic high point, even if it’s not overly catchy. The song I am most excited about hearing tonight is the U2 song from the Mandela movie, tho.

(If you’re wondering why there isn’t a fifth song nominee, one was disqualified about a week after nominations came out because of inappropriate campaigning. (IMHO “Happy” also engaged in sketchy, if not despicable, marketing.) For the full story on the disqualification of “Alone Yet Not Alone,” click here.)

Let’s review Josh Gad’s performance from “Frozen” — for once a sidekick character in a Disney movie that didn’t nauseate me.

Well, I guess it’s not worthy of best song. It’s not very anthem-like, which is what the Original Song Oscar is all about. Still, “In Summer” and “Fixer Upper” were the songs I left the theater humming. And “Fixer Upper” — in a “Hakuna Matata” vein — ultimately has a positive message as a blueprint for navigating relationships. Seriously, for a Disney movie, it’s a great departure from the Prince Charming brainwashing, telling kids: Hey, nobody’s perfect. It’s all in how you look at them and learn to overlook their faults. Kinda refreshing for Disney.

Original Score. I am envious of my oldest brother, a musical genius who goes to the movies and pretty much memorizes the score. I often forget to pay attention, even though I love music and am known to set images to music as a hobby. I think “Her” may and should win (ugh, that sounds like such bad grammar!), because I definitely noticed its near-futuristic score. But because this category is the only nomination for “Saving Mr. Banks,” I would love to see it win. Its score moved from celestine piano to lush soundscapes of the Australian outback to morose, marauding music for whisky drinking to whimsical Disneyland ditties. A show of versatile virtuosity.

cateUPDATE AFTER OSCARS BROADCAST: All told, I missed 10 predictions — got 14 right, for 58% — mostly because I underestimated Gravity‘s hold on folks’ imaginations. Missed two because I failed to see The Great Gatsby and missed one for not caring enough to see The Great Beauty. Great mistakes. My big miss, of course was over Miss Amy Adams. I wanted to see an upset in the leading lady category to add a little drama to the proceedings. As phenomenal as she is as an actress and as a person, Cate Blanchett was starting to act a little smug this awards season, and none of us likes going completely with the crowd favorite. Besides, being on the verge of a nervous breakdown is not a huge stretch for any woman, right, gals? Especially those of us inclined to binge on Oscar-nominated movies.

Look for my sequel in 2015.

American Idol’s Lazzzzzzzaro Zzzzzzzzzzzz

What needs to happen next on “American Idol” Season 12: Someone needs to discover that Lazaro Arbos, currently a Top 7 finalist, is faking his stutter.

Gee, guess who Lazaro's idol is? Ugh.

Gee, guess who Lazaro’s idol is? Ugh.

Please, I mean no disrespect to people with legitimate stammers. I love and have great empathy for you. Some of my best friends are stutterers. I have been known to be at a loss for words.

I’m just so bored with this kid that I hope someone finds some real dirt on him — maybe sneakily recorded uploaded iPhone footage showing no trace of a stammer.

He’s cute, reminds people a smidge of Ricky Martin, or “Ricky Ricardo,” as Nicki Minaj calls him (racist!). But I’m just sick of his vibe. There’s a point where any “gripping back story” starts feeling freakish. I celebrate that he has overcome obstacles in his life and made it this far, shedding light on what most of us take for granted: glibness. But he has had more than his 15 minutes. Time to pull the plug.

I can speak, sorta, as I am also Hispanic. Seguro, Lazaro’s story was moving at first. His mom’s tears; that part always gets me. But … GET THIS BOY SOME HELP.

I’m simply no longer “in awe” that he can sing fluidly in spite of his challenges speaking. So over that. Everyone knows the benefits of singing, and how people with heavily accented English or speech impediments can lose any trace of their accents or issues when singing. My problem with this contestant is he has lost all integrity, ever since the dust-up with mentor Jimmy Iovine.

Lazaro lied. He lied during Beatles week when he butchered “In My Life,” saying he had switched his song “last night,” and then cried about it. Jimmy later confirmed that Lazaro had had the same amount of time to learn his song as everyone else, and that he had been working on “In My Life” five days earlier. And if there’s one Lennon-McCartney song any self-respecting Latino knows it’s “In My Life,” because it sounds like every other Spanish ballad ever written.

The kid is making excuses, and he never apologized to Jimmy for lying.

This past week, he ruined the Motown trio with Devin Velez and Burnell Taylor by forgetting his part again. And these weren’t difficult words: “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.” C’mon! Or, as Entertainment Weekly put it:  ” ‘Sugar Pie Honey Bunch’ … you know that I don’t know you…” — Lazaro

During the results show on March 28, it bugged me the way he was fixing his outfit as Aretha Franklin’s audio message to Kree Harrison played. He always seems to be checking himself on the monitor. Even in his Telemundo interview, he constantly adjusted himself — is this part of an act to display ongoing stress? They talk about him as if he’s not even there, with his audition playing on a painful loop in the background. And he barely attempts to speak in his native language, which I find odd. Shouldn’t Spanish prove less stressful?

SPOILER ALERT: His voice is just not that good. Close your eyes and listen. Too much vibrato and no sense of pitch. Devin was far superior in terms of representing Latino singers — he gave us bilingual anthems, at least. And young Devin had a modern, suavecito attitude, not some old-school smarmy style. Oh, how it irked me when Devin was “singing for his life” Thursday, trying to earn the judges’ once-a-season save, and Lazaro first adjusted his suspenders, then looked at his watch and THEN started singing along on the Spanish part. The nerve! He just doesn’t seem that likeable. It’s not his stutter that keeps him from having friends — I’m thinking it’s his personality, and his stutter only prevents people from getting to know him well enough to realize that.

American-Idol-Lazaro-Arbos_510x317Truth is, if you eliminate the sympathy vote, Lazaro’s got nothing. His tears on March 20, in hindsight, seemed a ploy to get more votes — or at the very least showed he doesn’t have what it takes for this kind of work.

Sin verguenza. Stop voting for him, mi gente. Put him out of our misery and let him go get the therapy he needs before attempting to launch any sort of international career in singing — or acting, as the case may be.

— Not a fan

Light reading: Why my new Kindle lights my fire

The first time I fell in love with technology was that last Christmas I pretended to believe in Santa Claus. I had confided in brother Andy, two years my wiser, that I knew it was our parents doling out the year-end bonuses. He persuaded me to keep quiet about it as they’d probably already sewn up that season’s shopping; we could always break it to them gently later.

I later calculated it wasn’t fair that we both “came out” as non-believers at the same time, as he had accumulated two extra years of goodies. But what I found gleaming under the tree that year made up for any petty score-keeping: a Japanese-made, sleek Craig tape recorder model No. 2603, with “Solid State Automatic Level Recording.” This was my version of the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, aka coveted BB gun, from the now-storied A Christmas Story.

craig2603My Craig tape recorder and I were inseparable. I taped everything in sight.* (*Awk. construction.) Dinner conversations, birds out back. I would position it by the radio with a mini-mic and fresh cassette, typically TDK brand, and trigger the play lever while holding down the red record button at the start of every song, preferably after the disc jockey had stopped jabbering. If I didn’t like that song, I’d navigate to “stop” and engage the rewind toggle to cue it up again. Eventually, I’d acquired an entire 30 minutes of my favorite 1972 chart-toppers. Included on that first mix tape, I recall, were such gems as Alone Again, Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan and I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash.

Ever since, mix tapes have been my calling card. They are audio journals, spanning every technological platform that followed, from the Sony reel-to-reel to the LightScribe CD burner, whose products I dub “Byrnished Memories.” These mini-soundtracks plot the high, low and medium points of my life. Still, I wasted a lot of dollar-a-dozen CDs getting the song order and transitions just right.

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RIP my engraved “TEB tunes” iPod 20GB Click Wheel, December 2004-January 2011.

That’s why my second love affair with technology came in 2004, with my late-to-the-party adoption of the Apple iPod 20GB Click Wheel. I could rearrange songs to my heart’s content and even stretch the playlists beyond the 1.2 hours that fit on a typical 700MB CD. That iPod, outdated as it quickly became, lasted me until last year, when it suffered the click of death. I have not had the courage to fall in love again.

Until now.

I had been bedeviled by technological flings. My reluctance to spend money on the next big thing had kept me sorely behind on cool gadgets. My husband tried to keep me in the game by gifting me an iPad 2. But something about the iPad only fed my discontent. The glare and eye strain irritated my dry-eye condition. There’s no curling up with an iPad, unless you count bicep curls, which is what it took to read in bed. As much as such Apple products resemble the universal device presaged in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I couldn’t feel the love, and just couldn’t fake it.

The problem with today’s Apple products — yeah, problem, you got a problem with that? — is they aim to be the end-all be-all solution. If technology is dominating your life, distracting and detracting from the act of living, then you’re doing it wrong. The best of technology comes in the form of the right tool for the job, like a corkscrew or an apple corer.

In terms of reading, I have found one good purpose for the iPad. It is the perfect paperweight to hold open your place in an actual book.

IMG_1089[1]Yesterday, I fell in love at first sight with a Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader that showed up, surprisingly, at my door in a smiling box. This device took my breath away. In its unassuming simplicity, it fills a technological void.

Compared with the iPad, it is not a burden but featherweight, even next to such actual tomes as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its pages look like a book’s. It reads like a book. Doesn’t hurt my eyes with piercing light rays nor does it overstimulate my brain. Doesn’t beckon to me to check my e-mail or Facebook notifs or to play another round of Angry Birds. It lets me escape and focus on an actual book.

Of all the e-books I had downloaded onto my iPad in nearly two years, I managed to finish only one. For me, the famous “i” prefix stands for “incomplete.” But taking my night-light Kindle Paperwhite to bed last night gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I’m no Luddite, but this device combines the best of both worlds — the old and brave-new.

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Thanks, Santa Andy. iOU. i♥U.

Takes me back to those good ol’ days of Christmas past, when FaceTime (TM) meant something else entirely.

Dated dating songs: A sex education playlist

Frank Loesser‘s push-pull duet Baby, It’s Cold Outside – an Oscar-winning holiday classic — has been dubbed the “Christmas Date Rape Song” by Urban Dictionary and countless bloggers and feminist sites.

While the man mixes cocktails and lies about her routes of escape (impassable weather/no cabs), the woman says “no” – clearly — a half-dozen times, and itemizes a dozen more reasons for not staying. Written in 1944, originally for a housewarming party hosted by Loesser and his first wife and regularly performed by them to entertain their friends, it eventually was used by MGM in Neptune’s Daughter (1949), starring Red Skelton and Esther Williams, launching its meteoric rise. Given “date rape” was not coined until 1987 by Ms. magazine, it seems that Baby, It’s Cold Outside (BICO) was a half-century ahead of its time in waving red flags on acquaintance rape — an act defined not only as assault but any assault attempt.

Composer Loesser also penned Standing on the Corner (1956), about idle guys’ preoccupation with ogling strange women. Not as potentially creepy as BICO, but still … what gives, Loesser?

A quality of great art is that you can gain different insights each time you revisit it, find new meanings over time. Possibly the hottest and also creepiest performance of BICO is the pairing of 33-year-old Norah Jones and 79-year-old Willie Nelson — he’s old enough to be her grandfather.

If you haven’t paid attention to the lyrics in a while, listen through the filter of a rape survivor — that would be an estimated 1 out of every 6 American women who have experienced rape or an attempted rape in her lifetime — and not all of them survivors.

The most menacing line: “Say, what’s in this drink?” Cosby much?

In 2007, Men Against Assault listed date-rape drugs (and their street names) along with tips on how one can avoid date rape, here.

Whether or not I agree with the malice people read into this particular song, songs certainly offer a great opportunity for parents to explore sexuality issues with daughters and sons. Rather than shirk our duty because it’s uncomfortable or we can’t find the words, music can help bridge this challenge of the ages. It’s doubly effective as a means to stay in touch with the popular music of the day and gain insight into the modern memes and messages being relayed to the next generation.

I thought about what sort of sex brainwashing I was subjected to growing up while listening to satellite radio the other day — The Bridge station, with my invented tagline: Music I Know All the Lyrics To. My first pop album ever was one of Carly Simon’s, and I have remained a fan, but when Jesse came on, I suddenly thought the lyrics seemed seriously sick, as if sung by a serial recidivist abuse victim in need of a restraining order:

Oh mother, say a prayer for me
Jesse's back in town, it won't be easy
Don't let him near me
Don't let him touch me
Don't let him please me
(chorus) Jesse, I won't cut fresh flowers for you
Jesse, I won't make the wine cold for you
Jesse, I won't change the sheets for you
I won't put on cologne 
I won't sit by the phone for you
Annie, keep reminding me
That he cut out my heart like a paper doll
Sally, tell me once again
How he set me up just to see me fall
(chorus)
Jesse, quick come here
I won't tell a soul
Not even myself. ...
My friends will all say "She's gone again'
But how can anyone know what you are to me
That I'm in heaven again because you've come back to me - Oh Jesse!
Jesse, I'll always cut fresh flowers for you
Jesse, I'll always make the wine cold for you
Jesse, I can easily change my mind about you
And put on cologne
And sit by the phone for you
Jesse, let's open the wine
And drink to the heart
Which has a will of its own
My friends, let's comfort them
They're feeling bad
They think I've sunk so low ...

OK, there’s something pseudo-innocent-sounding with the fresh flowers, cologne, even the changing of the sheets (unless she gets a lot of turnover traffic) — and something oh-so quaint about “waiting by the phone.” Remember that, and with no caller ID?

But honestly, prayers aren’t going to be enough for this girl, Mom — and it’s not her friends who need comforting, it’s the singer, who is being isolated from her support system and may need professional help.

Compare that wimpy breakup song of 1980 to Rolling Stone magazine’s No. 2 pick for the top 50 songs of 2012: Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. At least Swift is more decisive than Simon, no doubt thanks to the music video director.

Wooing and breakup songs are de rigueur on the radio. Here is a list of just a few songs off the top of my head that could prompt good discussions on various dating/sexuality topics.

1. Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye (LOSS OF VIRGINITY) — When I first heard this groovy song at age 12, I sensed there was something nasty about it; it kinda made me tingly. In hindsight, I praise it for keeping the topic of FEELINGS at its center and promising not to force the issue:

We’re all sensitive people
With so much to give
Understand me, sugar
Since we got to be
Let’s live
I love you …
I ain’t gonna worry, I ain’t gonna push
Won’t push you, baby

2. Imaginary Lover by Atlanta Rhythm Section (MASTURBATION) — It occurred to me only recently what this 1978 song was really about. If you need to assure your children that they won’t go blind, or want to help them learn to love themselves while they WAIT to meet the right person, this song has you covered, under the covers.

When ordinary lovers
Don’t feel what you feel
And real-life situations lose their thrill
Imagination’s unreal
Imaginary lover, imaginary lover
You’re mine anytime.
Imaginary lovers never disagree
They always care
They’re always there when you need
Satisfaction guaranteed.

3. Under My Thumb by The Rolling Stones (CONTROLLING BEHAVIOR) — Although I love Mick Jagger, I take big offense to the comparison of his (in)significant other to a female dog or sex kitten, so to speak.

Under my thumb
The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways

It’s down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
Ah, ah, say it’s alright

Under my thumb
A Siamese cat of a girl
Under my thumb
She’s the sweetest, hmmm, pet in the world

Under my thumb
Her eyes are just kept to herself
Under my thumb, well I
I can still look at someone else

4. On the Street Where You Live from the musical “My Fair Lady” (STALKING) — As much as I love this romantic musical, there is inherently something disturbing about Freddy Eynsford-Hill hanging outside Eliza Doolittle’s residence for two weeks just to catch a glimpse of her, after she has repeatedly rejected him.

5. Paradise By the Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf (COMMITMENT, FOR BETTER OR WORSE) — Again, when I was young, this song was hot and steamy, telling the tale of a couple’s decision to go all the way, cleverly counterpointed against the color commentary of a baseball game (hitting all the bases). What I love about it is that the girl demands a vow from the boy before she’ll “put out”:

GIRL:
Stop right there!
I gotta know right now!
Before we go any further!
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?
Do you love me!?
Will you love me forever!?
Do you need me!?
Will you never leave me!?
Will you make me happy for the rest of my life!?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife!?
I gotta know right now
Before we go any further
Do you love me!?
Will you love me forever!?

BOY:
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
And I’ll give you an answer in the morning …

(she holds her ground … keeps insisting)

I couldn’t take it any longer
Lord I was crazed
And when the feeling came upon me
Like a tidal wave
I started swearing to my god and on my mother’s grave
That I would love you to the end of time
I swore that I would love you to the end of time!
So now I’m praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive
‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
I don’t think that I can really survive
I’ll never break my promise or forget my vow
But God only knows what I can do right now
I’m praying for the end of time
It’s all that I can do …

6. Born This Way by Lady Gaga (ACCEPTANCE FOR FULL SPECTRUM OF SEXUALITY) — It is a shame that it took several decades AFTER the sexual revolution for so-called “alternative lifestyle”-positive music to hit mainstream charts, but Gaga is the queen of feel-good sex music that helps everyone, no matter your orientation, feel both unique and normal.

7. Sodomy from the musical “Hair” (VOCABULARY) — Introduce this song at the right age, then take them to the library for some supervised perusal of old-fashioned reference materials.

8. Love the One You’re With by Stephen Stills (PROMISCUITY) — This song always bothered me. Still does. I’m only hoping he wrote it as tongue-in-cheek advice.

If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking to
Concentration slips away
Cause your baby is so far away
CHORUS
Well there’s a rose in the fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with
Don’t be angry – don’t be sad
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had
There’s a girl right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do
CHORUS
Doo doo doo doo
Turn your heartache right into joy
Cause she’s a girl and you’re a boy
Get it together come on make it nice
You ain’t gonna need any more advice

9. IT’S TOO LATE by Carole King (SELF-CARE/BEING TRUE TO ONESELF) — This is just one of the most pitch-perfect breakup songs ever written. Nobody does it better — sorry, Carly Simon.

10. I WILL SURVIVE by Gloria Gaynor (EMPOWERMENT & RECOVERY) — This song should be on everyone’s playlist, for all time.

Other topics, such as TEEN PREGNANCY (check out There Goes My Life by Kenny Chesney or What Would You Do by City High), ABSTINENCE (scour the Christian music charts, lord knows) and MISOGYNY (rap is littered with it, but I’m not down with rap, ha, or rather I’m somewhat down on it, and haven’t kept up with hip-hop) — plus all manner of cheatin’ hearts country/blues music lessons for the pickings.

I encourage all of you parents to come up with your own playlists and jog some conversation with your blossoming children, according to your tastes. It’s never too soon to expose kids to music, and the lyrics will sink in when they are ready to comprehend.

Music memory lasts a lifetime. In those uncertain moments when you can’t be there, it may be a song in their head that supplies them with support and direction. What’s key: drawing kids out to share ideas about what the songs mean and how they relate or feel at different stages of their lives.

If I could, I would start teaching similar playlists in schools as part of the regular sex-ed curriculum — making more of an effort to keep up with today’s hits first, that is.

I appreciate all suggestions. Maybe this will be my volunteering project for 2013.

Voicing an objection to ‘The Voice’ and other voyeuristic stuff

Daughter Miki and “The Voice” finalist Tony Lucca mesh on Feb. 21, 2007, at Jammin Java coffeehouse in Vienna, Va. On the show, he is unrecognizable. (Photo by Terry Byrne)

The feeding-frenzy popularity of The Hunger Games — in which young people fight to the death for scraps in a post-apocalyptic society — makes me squeamish, partly because it seems only one part fiction and three parts foreboding. And why not usher in a gladiator-esque fight-to-the-death era of entertainment? We are already there.

Reality TV trains us to sit on the sidelines while we watch young people claw their way to fame or disaster — from such gong shows as American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and Project Runway to those that gauge survival skills a la Survivor and The Next Great Chef (OK, I don’t really have to know how to julienne carrots or reduce stock to consommé to survive).

There seems no end to the vicious voyeurism in our TV diets: We have competitions in the workplace (The Apprentice), in love (The Bachelor), in travel (The Amazing Race) … it’s no wonder Americans have an obesity problem (The Biggest Loser).

Miki and Tony Lucca in his dressing room after his set on June 14, 2006. He was never a nobody to us. (Photo by Terry Byrne)

Rather than experience triumph and defeat firsthand, they’ll (we’ll) sit with preferred joy-stick device, whether smartphone to text in votes or an ADHD-enabling remote control, the modern equivalent of the king shouting “off with their heads!” when a jester fails to please.

Only in America do we turn every aspect of living into a Super Bowl. Makes me want to gag order.

While waiting last night for my husband to join me at the altar of the mammoth flat-screen where we’d summon DVR’d episodes of our nostalgia-laced intoxicant Mad Men, I stumbled across a penultimate episode of The Voice.

Miki and Tony, back when they met on June 15, 2003. Will he remember the little people who supported him on his meandering climb? “Little people” = not a height reference, sorry, Miki. (Photo by Terry Byrne)

Sucking me in: One of the four finalists was a folksy-bluesy singer-songwriter whose career my daughter had followed the past decade, as he played small coffeehouses and clubs from suburban D.C. to L.A.,  New York to New Orleans. Tony Lucca, by now famous for being one of the few Mickey Mouse Club alums (alongside Justin Timberlake, J.C. Chasez, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera) to not scale the pop charts, he instead rambled the rocky road of hard knocks. His gritty, grinding, gutsy musicianship reflected that hunger.

Yet another shot of Miki and Tony, hanging out at the Jammin' Java bar during one of his visits. (Photo by Terry Byrne_

Yet another shot of Miki and Tony, hanging out at the Jammin’ Java bar during one of his visits. (Photo by Terry Byrne)

Last night, under the tutelage of Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine (as contemporaries, they are three years apart in age, and Tony is older, at 36), I hardly recognized him. Simply unreal to see him there. He seemed ice-cream-man creepy recast in his boyish Mickey Mouse Club persona, clean-shaven with a wannabe hat, as the camera panned for reaction from his proud “old lady” and androgynous progeny. Still, I had to watch and get his digits, to give him whatever small boost I could.

Tony Lucca, repackaged. Does he clean up too well?

I know he won’t win tonight. Mostly because pop-packaging doesn’t suit him. Tony Lucca is a cool dude, not a puppet, and as much as I wish him success and an eternal meal ticket to go with it, he shines best as a starving artist — not so starving as to sell out to the star-making machine. Part of me is thrilled he finally found this stage of mass consumption, but I don’t think I can sit and watch tonight as more life-long dreams get decimated. America’s appetite for this kind of thing seems insatiable.

Pipe in captive Billy Pilgrim’s command to a captive audience of Tralfamadorians, who greedily watched him mate with an Earthling porn star in his space-dome prison in Slaughter-House Five: “Now we would like the night canopy.”

Same here. Privacy, please. I don’t want my Reality TV. I can no longer stomach it. Give me true fictional drama, or give me death! (a la The Hunger Games. See? You knew it’d come back up.)

Tony Lucca, remade in his image. WHAT IS IT WITH THE VESTS?

Tony Lucca, back in the day (in the back). Today, he is forced to suck up crumbs of praise (dissing) from childhood crony crooner Christina Aguilera, a voice coach on “The Voice.”

Polka is not for weenies

SMALL WORLD AT BLOB'S: This gentleman looked official, as if he worked there or was with the band, but turns out this is just what someone from Ashburn, Va., wears on an evening out stag. He joined our table, and several celestine prophecies fulfilled later we learned we were both from Pennsylvania Dutch country, both journalists, working for the same company and had mutual friends going back decades.

Everyone knows (I didn’t) that traditional Oktoberfest starts in September. Coming fashionably late to the party, I guten-tag-hop-clopped myself last night to Blob’s Park in Jessup, Md., “Home of America’s First Oktoberfest” — and likely America’s last, because these sprightly, ageless Menschen won’t give it up. Blob’s stages a family-friendly Oktoberfest every weekend, with or without a harvest moon.

Perched on a hill just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the tavern/dance hall evokes a truck stop gift shop until you enter to discover it’s really more like a church bingo hall with a $12 cover. But don’t judge! The fun is unmasked once the beer menu and band arrive.

I met up with local Blob’s veteran and dear friend Treva Stose, who picked out a pub table with an enviable view of the dance floor, buffet and beer line, which later snaked ’round the hall populated with sour “Kraut” faces admiring our colorful brews. Treva explained how those of German/Bavarian lineage wear expressions that belie their joy inside. Ahhh!

So. Treva took charge ordering specialty beers with long names, but the first two were out of stock. Our “beer wench” went back and checked each time, which cost us serious drinking minutes, but it was her “second day” so we let it slide. More proof of a giant server conspiracy; When service lags, turns out it’s the server’s “second day.” They learn that on Day One. I’ve often been tempted to return to those places and see whether I get the same server on her “second day” (Groundhog Day), but I digress.

The horn section could BLOW. Members of the Polka Family Band — six of whom were seriously injured in a wreck on Interstate 80 last year. Glad they're back on the road and making music and merriment for the rest of us.

We settled on Franzikaner Hefe-Weisse, Spatan Oktoberfest and Warsteiner Dunkel in combo and eventually had all the beer, bratwurst, sauerkraut, stale bread, chicken cordon bleu (French?), red cabbage, and carrot and German chocolate cake (which also isn’t German, Treva reminds me) we could consume. Lovely vegetables, too – a potato-based salad of steamed-tender veggies.

When the Polka Family Band, hailing from Pennsylvania possibly by way of Mexico, began at 8 sharp, we felt like wedding crashers. Joy effused with each squeeze of the stomach Steinway. The place regularly comes alive with military types on R&R from nearby Fort Meade, rollicking oldsters, curious hipsters, tight-knit families loosening up and getting tighter, and lots and lots of legs and lederhosen.

I was thrilled the evening’s brand of polka was a smörgåsbord of styles — sprinkled with salsa, dirty rice, oompah-loompahs, even classic rock. Everybody dances, mixes and matches. Girls in chiffon, seasoned couples, the pros teach the novices. It feels like the village square, where the squares are cool, and you witness memories being made.

I couldn’t wait to get out on the dance floor, and my opportunity came when John C. Bretschneider, dressed to the heil hilt (above), sauntered over to our table. We discovered a string of life coincidences that beggars belief — suffice to say, he, fresh from Zumba class, was like a spinning cuckoo clock doll and I couldn’t keep up. People: Polka is a blend of dancing AND skipping, Cardio test for the ol’ ticker. I was upstaged by the geriatric crowd. To those who think polka is old fogey music, I say “bingo!” But I also say: YOU try. It just may keep you young, like these old guys’ knees. Mine have been creaking all day at the memory. (Of these Bavarian tribesman, below, Treva mused: “I wonder whether the size of the feather indicates …anything.”)

Blob’s is a blend of old and novelty — where old friends can catch up or open their eyes to the fact there are even older folks out looking for a good time. It’s like your high school prom, where the chaperones cross the line and let their hair down. You have to be there.

 And here, a short taste of something for the kids, in all of us. (As Treva said: “The kids are watching it like TV!”)

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