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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Rant #1,704: Music Notes

Today, it is just another day for me at the proverbial salt mine.

Get up, go to work, come home, watch TV, go to sleep.

I am like a hamster running in a cage, like a machine churning up for another day of toil.

I have no idea how I am going to segue all of that into what I am going to talk about today, but I guess these two people I am going to talk about worked their tuckises off, too, and reached a level of notoriety due to their toil and trouble.

Tony Hatch is not a name that most people know, but you know the music that he was behind, mainly in the 1960s.

The British singer, songwriter and producer worked with many artists during his most productive period, including one that eventually became his wife, Jackie Trent.

But he is best known as the man behind the success of Petula Clark in America. Numerous hit songs came from his collaboration with Clark. And two, in particular, stand out.

The first, "Downtown," was inspired by Hatch's visit to the U.S., and to New York, specifically, to try to figure out how to break Clark in America. The singer had been a huge star in Europe for seemingly her entire life up to the early 1960s, but she could not break through in the American market. Hatch came to America, saw what the music mood was, and wrote what became Clark's first number one hit in the states, solidifying her with audiences here forever.

Another notable song he wrote for Clark was "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love," which was actually a tune about his love affair with Trent, the woman he eventually married.

Hatch, who was divorced from Trent years ago and today lives in Spain with his third wife, turns 77 years of age today.

Another notable birthday is more of a tragic one, one that solidifies the "sex, drugs and rock and roll" adage, making it more than true.

Florence Ballard was born today in 1943, and she would be 73 years of age today if she had lived.

Ballard was a member of the Supremes, probably the most successful girl group of them all. Featuring Diane--later Diana--Ross and Mary Wilson, the act had numerous No. 1 hits, played in concert around the world, and if pop music in the 1960s had their kings--the Beatles--then the Supremes were pop music's queens.

But behind the scenes, things were not right with the threesome. Ballard may have objected to Ross' ascension as the lead singer and main focus of the group, and she had become difficult to work with.

Amped on by drinking and other bizarre behavior, Ballard was surprisingly axed from the Supremes in favor of Cindy Birdsong, which led to a further spiral into nowhere for Ballard.

Supposedly down and out and immersed in strange behavior, Ballard died in 1976.

It was one of the real tragedies of the rock era, one that is still talked about today--how could such a vibrant, talented person fall into the spiral of hell?

She is another rock and roll tragedy, but her legacy is preserved on the numerous records she participated in, her one solo effort, and all the video there is of her on YouTube.

So there you have it, two pop music icons that kind of fall under the radar are celebrated today for their birthdays. During their times in the spotlight, they helped bring us a lot of joy with their music and talent.

Now, back to the salt mine ... who coined that phrase anyway?

Classic Rant #349 (October 7, 2010): My Time of Year

This is my time of year.

As the leaves are starting to fall, the baseball season is in full tilt with the annual run to the World Series.

There is no sport more exciting than baseball, especially in the games leading up to the Fall Classic.

The eight best teams in baseball are all vying for the ultimate prize, the World Series Championship, and this year, I think that any one of the eight teams could win it all; there isn't a bad one in the bunch, and they all deserve to be where they are.

The playoffs started yesterday with a bang, as Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay pitched the first post-season no-hitter since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, leading the Phils over the Reds 4-0.

This was preceded by the Texas Rangers and Cliff Lee topping the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1, and was followed by the New York Yankees defeating the Minnesota Twins 6-4.

Today has a slate of three games: Texas at Tampa Bay, New York at Minnesota, and in the first game of their series, Atlanta at San Francisco.

Anybody who says that baseball is too slow, too boring, and too old fashioned, should watch these games. Every pitch, every play, and every at-bat is important, and with the crowds as loud as ever, you just know that even as we approach the middle of October, this is still baseball season.

Sorry, football lovers and ESPN, in spite of what you think--and in spite of what your brackets tell you--this is baseball season, and will be until the final pitch is thrown in the final World Series game, which might be in early November.

Halladay's triumph yesterday was clearly incredible. He joined the Yankees' Larsen, who defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers with his perfecto, as the only pitchers in baseball history to throw a no-hit, no-run game in the postseason. Again, this feat was not done against some also ran, although that would have been impressive too--this was done against the Reds, one of the top teams--and top hitting teams--in the sport.

Texas has proven that they are a team to be dealt with. They haven't been this far in a season in years, and they are a legitimate contender, as are the Rays, who faltered yesterday but won't do that too consistently.

The Yankees always seem to be one of the teams that could be in the World Series, and they always seem to dominate the Twins, but one game does not make this series a done deal. As a die-hard Yankees fan, I know the Twins are to be reckoned with.

And the Giants and Braves are two very good teams that will duke it out starting today.

What more can I say? The National Pastime is as strong as ever, and even though it doesn't generate as much betting interest as football does, it is our national sport because it is pure sport--no betting, no phony fans just in it to win their brackets, no hangers-on.

Baseball is for real sports fans, and with that being the case, real sports fans really enjoyed the regular season and can now sit back and watch eight finalists vie for the World Series trophy, which the Yankees are defending.

It doesn't get better than this, does it?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Rant #1,703: It's What's Up Front That Counts

What I am going to talk about today should not surprise anyone, although I, at least, find it pretty interesting, and I wonder if it applies in our neck of the woods as much as it does in Europe, and in France in particular.

According to a research study done by Paris-Sorbonne University, women can gain an edge in the job application process if they supply a resume including a photo showing a bit of their cleavage in the picture.

Over a period of three years, researchers responded to hundreds of job postings using two fictional candidates. Both had nearly identical resumes and background, but one supplied a photo of a woman in a conservative outfit, the other included a photo with a woman wearing a low-cut top showing plenty of bosom.

Researchers found that the woman with the photo showing plenty of skin received more interest than the one wearing the conservative attire.

Out of 200 sales job queries, the woman wearing the low-cut top attracted 62 more job interview offers than her more conservative counterpart. And this cut across all jobs, from sales jobs to accounting jobs, from jobs where perhaps a little skin might be considered attractive assets to those jobs where skin doesn't really matter much ... or at least you might think it doesn't matter much. For instance, in accounting, the woman with the low-cut top generated 68 more job offers than her conservative counterpart.

So, what does this say about the job recruitment process? I don't know, but again, this was done in France, and I think they have a little bit more liberal policies toward attire there than we have here.

But I could be wrong. We are becoming a bit looser in what we wear to work, and yes, I do think many women do dress to impress by showing a little cleavage at work. Heck, fashion today almost forces women to accentuate that part of their bodies, whether they like it or not.

But in the U.S., without any scientific data to support what I am going to say, I don't think the same thing would hold true here if the study were done on our soil. I think we still have that perception that a woman who would show a bit of cleavage in a job resume photo simply wouldn't be as good at her job as one who wore a high-neck blouse.

You can call this whole thing sexist, and that it really doesn't matter what women wear as long as they do their jobs. but in spite of what we are being fed by the media and elsewhere, there are differences between men and women, and one of those differences--or perhaps two of those differences--are in the upper part of our torso.

Breasts have been loved, hated, stigmatized, shown off, covered up, pointed to, shied away from, revered and scorned for eons, and things are the same today. Nothing has changed.

Attitudes on dress have changed, and what we might have considered a bit risque just a generation ago is now accepted as the norm.

Look, honestly, if I were a job recruiter, I think the first thing I would look at would be a resume, but if a woman sent in a photo of herself hanging out of her top, I probably would do a double take and wonder where she was coming from with the photo.

But the resume would still come first, bosom or no bosom.

There really isn't any more to say about this, but I am sure that you can figure out that I will keep you abreast of this situation if the survey is ever run in the United States.

I am sure it will bust out all over if it makes its way to these shores.

I am sure we will nip it in the bust ... err ... bud here, won't we?

Classic Rant #348 (October 6, 2010): (I’m Not An) Office Politician

I really hate it when people are thrown into a turmoil that is not their own making while at work. It just makes the workplace stink even more than it normally does.

I have been thrust into a situation which is beyond my repair, because other people put it into such a poor state that there is nothing at all that I can do about it ...

Except be used as a scapegoat.

About two weeks ago, I was told to write a story involving a major company and an organization that helps out soldiers in need.

The problem was that it was tied into an ad in the publication I write for, and had been sitting on someone's desk for six weeks before any action was taken on it.

I contacted several parties having related this story, and initially, I received no response.

The salesperson attached to this story called me to give me what amounted to a pep talk about getting the story into a particular issue, our biggest issue of the year. Having been a professional writer for decades, I didn't need the pep talk, but I let him give it his best shot.

I mean, this is my job, and this is what I do ... do I really need a pep talk?

Finally, I was able to contact one of the parties I was trying to speak with.

This party was as nasty as any I have ever dealt with in my career. Talk about ranting and raving; this party was bordering on being a lunatic, because he felt that this story should have been covered when it was sent out weeks before, not in a time frame--a few days left before our deadline--that he felt was unacceptable.

I contacted the people he wanted me to, got some information from them and him, and wrote the story. It went back and forth to him for his OK, which we eventually received.

In the interim, the salesperson I was dealing with bad-mouthed me to my managing editor, stating that one of my emails to this person I was dealing with--which we are required to send out to all the parties within the company who are involved with the story--was actually condescending, because the salesperson objected to my use of "Dear Sir" instead of "Dear (the person's name). My managing editor stuck up for me, saying this was ridiculous, but I never received an apology from the salesperson.

It gets better. The last time that I spoke to the person I was dealing with, he was as nasty as anybody could be on the phone, blaming everybody involved, from some higher ups here to the salesman, and eventually to me. When he moved on down the blame ladder to me, I tried to get him back on track by saying something to the tune of, "Listen to me. Let's get back to the task at hand," or something akin to that.

And it worked. It got him back on track--I really believe he was going to pull his advertising because of his anger--and I was able to complete my "mission," for lack of a better word.

Well, little did I know that my request would be handled in such an unprofessional manner by my own company. The big boss was in the room when I made this request. He didn't like it, didn't like it at all.

After the issue was done and over with, evidently he called my managing editor into his office, and let him have it! Without speaking to me at all, he took out whatever agita he had about this story--it is widely acknowledged throughout my company that the person I dealt with is "difficult"--and now I am not allowed to do certain stories for our publication.

In the interim, not only did we get praise for the story, but the salesperson who gave me that idiotic "pep talk" congratulated my managing editor for doing such a fine job with the story. Even my managing editor was perplexed by this.

I have been with this publication for nearly 15 years. I don't think I did anything wrong, especially since this guy was getting so off track, blaming everybody here for everything short of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

But I am being used as a scapegoat, which, of course, masks what the real problem with this article was: why did it sit on someone's desk for six weeks without any movement done on it?

And, of course, that question will never be answered, because the higher ups at my place would rather cast blame than get to some real answers about a real problem with this article. It is just so much easier to point a finger at somebody who did what he was told and had nothing to do with the question that needs to be answered.

I am not the first person to have this happen to him here, and I certainly won't be the last. It is their "Modus Operandi" here, and they live and die with it.

Look, I have to take it because this is my job, and I don't want to lose it. There aren't many jobs out there for 53 year old males right now.

But to be belittled ... well, if there was somewhere else that I could go, I would in a hurry.

Going back to my childhood in Queens, I had a teacher in sixth or seventh grade (I don't remember which) whose name, I believe was Mrs. Brandon. She was a proud black woman who had a mix of a southern and New York accent. I remember her as being an excellent teacher.

We were a smart class, and teaching social studies to us must have been a nightmare. We talked, didn't listen, and were pretty unruly at times.

I remember that on more than one occasion, when we were acting up, she would say to us, "You know, I don't need this job, this job needs me."

We kept on acting up, and I never realized what Mrs. Brandon meant until I got older.

As an adult, I know now exactly what she means, and yes, it applies to my job now.

And again, if there was another place to go, I would leave without hesitation.

But, like many of us, I am stuck. Stuck so tight that if I move, I might severely injure myself.

And in this economy, where some are saying the recession is over, I certainly don't want to do that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rant #1,702: Hair-Brained

I liked David Bowie as much as the next guy did.

He was an innovator, he was cool, he was "the man" in music at one point.

I still like his music, and although he is gone, that really is what he left the world, a music catalog that will span the ages.

However, some people go way beyond just liking Bowie, liking his music, and thinking that he was a cool, thin white dude.

In a recent auction held in Los Angeles, a lock of Bowie's hair was sold for $18,750. Yes, just one lock of his hair.

Evidently, the lock was originally part of a collection of his hair used in 1983 by an artist from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London, Bowie's hair was used to create a wig for a wax figure of the singer. This lock was evidently left over from that creation, and has stayed in storage for all of these years (I don't know if hair used on wax figures ages, but I guess they need backup hair just in case of an emergency).

Look, I admire celebrities as much as the next guy does--I just told you about getting autographs and meeting the celebrities at the "Dark Shadows" convention in yesterday's Rant--but collecting actual pieces of a particular celebrity is not my thing.

I find it kind of maudlin, kind of ridiculous. What are you going to do with the lock of hair? Are you going to put it into some type of eerie shrine to the dead rock star, or perhaps weave it into your own hair so you will really have a piece of Bowie with you at all times?

I really don't get it, I really don't.

I guess it might be because I, myself, am somewhat hairless on my head, as my hair follicles left me years ago.

But heck, when I leave this earth, you can still get a lock of my own hair from the back of my head, and I have plenty on my arms and legs and other places that could satisfy a curious collector.

But who would want such a piece of memorabilia from me, or even, from a worldwide star like Bowie (pictured here with a nice hat on his head, evidently protecting his scalp's mane of hair for future use)?

This is not the first time that someone of note has had a lock of hair preserved like this. I believe several dead presidents have had a lock of hair preserved, and yes, these locks cost a lot of dead presidents to own.

But I still don't get it.

Why not use that $18,750 to purchase some other Bowie artifact, something more tangible, like written-out lyrics, perhaps one of his guitars, maybe one of his ties he wore regularly in the 1980s?

A lock of hair?

Gosh, it has got to make all celebrities look at their hair brushes and pick out the loose follicles that collect on these things.

What next, some celebrity's toe nail?

I can think of some other things, but let's just leave it at that.

Classic Rant #347 (October 5, 2010): Jose Jimenez Lives!

Comic Bill Dana turns 86 today.

Dana's career just about spans the history of television. He was a star on the small screen beginning in the 1950s on the Steve Allen Show, and on record, and later, his writing talents came to the fore--he wrote the famous episode of "All in the Family" where Sammy Davis Jr. visits the Bunker household--and that is basically what he is known for today.

However, in a different place and a different time, he was Jose Jimenez.

My name ... Jose Jimenez!

For those of you who have no idea who Jose Jimenez was, or is, since Dana brings still brings him out on occasion, Jimenez was Dana's most famous creation, a Mexican who was enamored with the American way of life, but who was often overwhelmed with what he saw around him. This character had a heart of gold, but often didn't fully get what was happening around him ...

Or did he? And that was the charm of the character, who was often more worldly than you thought he was.

Dana's character was all over TV in the early 1960s, and he scored on a number of records. His most famous was "The Astronaut," which is pretty self explanatory.

However, there was a problem, which forced Dana to put Jose Jimenez in mothballs, only to come out occasionally for the past 45 years or so.

Dana was Jewish, and his character was full of Mexican stereotypes, including his accent, his supposed dimwittedness, and even his look.

Way back in the early 1960s, stereotypes were basically laughed at, except when they turned cruel. Although the Jose Jimenez character was not a cruel caricature--in fact, the character showed a lot of reverence for those immigrating to this country--Dana received lots of barbs from people taking offense to his character.

So, by the late 1960s and early 1970s--when laughing about ethnic stereotypes were perceived as becoming less and less funny by many people--Dana mothballed the character.

But he didn't mothball the idea of laughing at ethnic stereotypes, as the aforementioned "All in the Family" episode demonstrated.

Dana continues to write and to perform today, and while the Jose Jimenez character is pretty much a creation of the 1950s and 1960s, in this politically correct world we live in today, I think that we have much to learn from this supposedly slow-witted character.

We can learn to laugh at ourselves for both our faults as well as our triumphs. And I think that was Dana's point when he created the character.

And what's wrong with that?

I mean, if we can't laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?