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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

For Mom


It's been one year since I got the phone call, the one that I knew was coming but had no intention of accepting until I heard the words from my sister; Mom died. It was early in the morning on this day one year ago when I was told that my mom's battle with Alzheimer's Disease ended, as my wife held our 2-month old son Gavin, and I started dealing with the pain I've felt every day since then. I remember being strong for the first few minutes until my dad called and just hearing his voice forced all of my emotions out and it took everything I had just to answer his questions. Trying to speak at her funeral service proved harder than I imagined, and once again my emotions took my voice. I've yet to reach the point when I can think about her without shedding tears, mainly out of frustration but also out of sadness that she never got to meet my son, her third grandson. Underneath the tears is a great deal of pride and great memories and I am happy when I think about her, but also very sad to think of how hard it was for her in the early stages to deal with knowing what she was facing.

At the age of 56, Mom should have been close to retirement, or working very limited hours just to keep busy, and enjoying visits with my son and my nephews. As much as it saddens me, it also angers me just how cruel life can be sometimes. I've had to watch two very important people in my life and my father's life get ripped away from us in similar fashion. Charlie Kraus, a very dear family friend and practically a second father to my dad, passed away from the effects of Lou Gehrig Disease and his son Randy has struggled with Parkinson's for several years now. I can't imagine a more painful or frustrating end to life than to have your body or mind taken from you well before nature should be taking its course. In my mom's case, I think her problems started much earlier than we all were aware of but simply forgetting things once in a while is so common in everyone that the warning signs didn't appear to be cause for concern.

Mom will forever be remembered for her laughter, her kindness, and her generosity, and also for her courage and ability to keep smiling and laughing despite living under the blanket of confusion that Alzheimer's causes. It's so hard to believe that a year has gone by already, until I think of how much Gavin has grown and how fast the time goes when you have a child. After considering that, it all makes sense but still seems hard to swallow. I'm not a very spiritual or religious person, and only been to church for weddings aside from a few visits with my wife and her parents. However, I fail to accept that she is just gone and I try to envision her being able to see me and my family doing well and seeing my Papouli who she missed dearly, and I never got to meet although I wear his ring proudly. I've seen her in dreams since she left and I don't know if that was just her way of letting me know she's OK but whatever the reason I look forward to her next visit. I love you, Mom.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Favorite Music Of The Moment

In the current music scene, there are a few artists who have caught my attention and a few of my old favorites who have released buzz-worth material. I'm going to share with you what I've seen and heard and the things I love right now.

Amy Kuney
I came across Amy's song "Love Is Trippy" through the media guide on Windows Media Player on my computer and just clicked on her randomly among the unfamiliar faces of new talent. The song came on and it was a different sound than I'm used to hearing, not another pop girl a la Britney Spears. Her music has a big band old music style and her voice is reminiscent of Fiona Apple in its depth and smoky delivery. You can read about her and hear "Love Is Trippy" and other songs on her music page
HERE. Her bio is included on the "About" page and she gives a fairly extensive history of her background and how her life has culminated to this point where she's on the verge of worldwide recognition. Her appearance on "Gilmore Girls" certainly didn't hurt, along with some cover songs she's done which are avaialable on YouTube.com.

Linkin Park "Minutes To Midnight"
This album came on the heels of massive success for the band after the 2003 release of Meteora which has sold 11 million albums worldwide. "Minutes" is a huge departure for the group, with only 3 or 4 rock songs and the rest souding like the makings of a concept album. Being that it was so different from Meteora this album took a while for me to warm up to, aside from the opening single "What I've Done" and the track opener "Given Up". One song that stood out early on is "Hands Held High" which deals with the state of the world including war and gas prices. The drum roll opening gives the song a sense of importance and when you hear vocalist Mike Shinoda start his pseudo rap about the state of affairs you know this song has a purpose and it has become my favorite on the album. This album came out more than a year ago but being that I've just now started paying its due respect, it feels new to me.

Korn "MTV Unplugged"
When a band as loud and aggressive as KoRn strips down their songs to play them acoustically on Unplugged, you know something special is going to take place. Opening the show with a flamenco-style run of their first hit "Blind", KoRn let us all know that this was going to be unlike anything we've ever heard and it continued throughout the show. Amy Lee of Evanesence joined the band for a piano-driven take on "Freak On A Leash", and The Cure came out for a mashup of Korn's "Make Me Bad" and their own "In Between Days". KoRn stuck to their hits mostly but added a cover of Radiohead's "Creep", which Jonathan dedicated to "anyone who's ever been picked on or made to feel inadequate" and shared that the song gave him a lot of strength during his school days. There is an obvious irony involved in this particular performance of Unplugged in which the power of Jonathon's lyrics almost made you forget the songs were being played acoustically. Examples of this are evident on "Love Song" and "Throw Me Away", as well as "Coming Undone". This band continues to surprise me with the raw power of their music and delivery and this performance is in my top 3 favorites done "Unplugged" along with Nirvana and Alice In Chains. **Honorable mention goes to Pearl Jam for giving the Unplugged performance that sparked my eternal devotion to their music.**

Madonna "Hard Candy"
The release of Ray Of Light in 1998 marked a reinvention for Madonna and the days of blond ambition are long gone. That theme continues with Hard Candy, released almost four months before her 50th birthday. For this new release, Madonna has worked with a number of hit producers including Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D. and Kanye West, along with Timbaland. She is joined by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake on the hit single "4 Minutes" which was produced by Timbaland. The album overall is solid and shows how this incredible performer can continue to reinvent her sound nearly 30 years into her career. While this is not my favorite album of hers, I remain in awe of her ability to put out good music when most would say she should be retired based solely on age.

Ice Cube "Raw Footage"
Gangsta rapper turned megastar Ice Cube has released his 8th studio album titled Raw Footage. This album is basically a follow-up to his 2006 release Laugh Now Cry Later which marked a return to his roots after a six year hiatus from making music when he focused on film and television projects. The album's first single "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It" is signature Ice Cube as he takes a stab at the industry being blamed for violence. My favorite track on the album is "Jack In The Box", with the main line "my head is so big they call me jack in the box", just a fun song to listen to. Other great tracks include "Stand Tall" with its old school vibe and laid back tempo, and "Get Used To It" featuring WC and The Game which is one of the few tracks with guest performances. Ice Cube seems to be getting more strategic about using guests on his album, as his last two albums have had only 2 or 3 tracks with support on them. Even if you completely ignore that Cube helped pioneer the gangsta rap movement and rate him by music only, you cannot deny that Ice Cube is one of the most prolific and aggressive icons in the business. His latest surge of music shows how versatile he can be as he traded music for film and returned to the mic sounding like he never left.

Wyclef Jean "The Carnival 2: Memoirs Of An Immigrant"
Wyclef's album The Carnival was a huge hit and I think showed the world what he is capable of. He makes music to bring people together and uses a very different approach to making an album than most rappers do. The most impressive thing about this sequel to The Carnival is the guest appearances. Nearly every song has an amazing guest on it and Wyclef made every song a true collaboration as each track with a guest feels like a perfect blend of the artists' styles working together. Wyclef didn't just stick with hip hop persona either; Norah Jones, Paul Simon and Shakira put their mark on my favorite tracks on the album. This album is a perfect party CD to put on, with the huge variety of sounds and styles. System of a Down singer Serj Tankian makes an appearance in the album opener, which shows just how diverse Wyclef can be. I'm extremely impressed with this album from start to finish.

I'd love to hear what all of you are listening to right now, whether it's an old favorite you've put back into rotation or a new artist or album.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Time For Change

"Change We Can Believe In" is the ambitious campaign theme for presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and is an idea that every American clings to whether they believe he can bring that change or not. In a post-911 world, change is exactly what we need as our troubled economy takes center stage and thousands of troops are still overseas fighting a fool's conquest to end terrorism.

I downloaded and browsed through Barack's "Plan For America" which is available for everyone to see. I have to say it reminds me of the mission statement from Jerry Maguire that the title character wrote during a moment of optimism early in the film. Barack has a very clear vision of the direction he wants to lead the world in, which deals with health care, economic changes and even tackles credit card fraud and protection. He mentions how he wants to do away with lobbyists and the dirty politics that have run the government for several years with kickbacks and bribes and money that taxpayers are giving to the government that gets misused. While I'm very impressed with his plan of attack on all that is broken in our country at the moment, I have to wonder how much of this he really thinks he can accomplish if he takes office.

On top of this, there is also the current situation in Iraq. Personally, I think that pulling our troops right way will basically put us in danger and will do injustice to the families of the fallen troops whose lives were lost in the fight against terrorism. I think creating a schedule of bringing troops home over the next year and replenishing them with new troops is a better idea. I don't know the exact amount but I know that hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in supporting our troops. Saddam Hussein is dead, but Bush plans to keep the troops there until Osama Bin Laden is also captured or killed. That only helps if all of his followers stop dead in their tracks and declare the end of terrorism, but there are many people out there who are on their own and will carry on without the Taliban or Al-Quaeda connections.

I have read recently that the two candidates we have this year, Obama and McCain, give us one of the poorest choices for office that we've seen in many years. I disagree, in favor of Obama, since McCain is trying to rest on the fact that he has served his country and been a prisoner of war as a way to show his patriotism. McCain seems to be the second coming of Kerry, pushing his war service history on the public to garner approval instead of giving us his plan for office. Obama has outlined his entire plan for us all to see and aside from some light sparring with Hillary Clinton, he has maintained a fairly clean campaign which is rare. I don't know what Obama can accomplish from his plan if he is voted into office, but I truly believe that we finally have someone who wants to run the country the way it should be run.