After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Hit Men in concert at Three Rivers in Florence, Oregon - Oh, What a Night!!

A music review by  © 2013

Last year my sisters and I had such a great time attending a performance of "Jersey Boys" at Keller Auditorium in Portland that when I saw some of the original "Four Seasons" had formed a new group called "The Hit Men" and were to perform at the Three Rivers Casino over on the coast in Florence, Oregon I couldn't resist booking some tickets.

I was certainly glad I did.  The show sold out and when the group started playing, everyone in the audience, including me, could hardly resist singing along with them and I think there was even dancing going on in the aisles!  They started out with a Four Seasons medley that included the Four Seasons classics "Dawn", "Rag Doll" and "Working My Way Back to You".  Then they kept knocking out hit after hit after hit.

Many of the songs were from the Four Seasons repertoire (some of my most favorite dance music from the 60s and 70s) but the group also includes members who have played with Tommy James and the Shondells, Elton John, Carly Simon and Jim Croce so we were treated to spirited renditions of "Mony, Mony", "Hanky Panky", "Crocodile Rock", "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown" and "You're so Vain", too.

Apparently, the musicians were inspired to get together again because of the phenomenal success of "Jersey Boys", the Broadway play that tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and includes many of their hit songs.  Lee Shapiro on the keyboard, who got the Hit Men together, and Gerry Polci, on the drums, were members of The Four Seasons until the 90s.

Gerry Polci was also the lead singer on one of the Four Seasons greatest hits, "Oh, What a Night!".  The song, written by Bob Gaudio and his wife Judy Parker, was originally about the repeal of Prohibition and entitled "December 5th, 1933but after a lyric rewrite at the urging of Franki Valli, the song became a nostalgic remembrance of a young man's first affair with a woman and the rest is music history.When the group performed that song during the concert, Polci once again sang the lead and it sounded as terrific as it did when The Four Seasons first recorded it all those years ago and released it as a single in December 1975.

Not only did the songs sound as good as I remembered but the musicians were all obviously having a great time, too.

“It's really amazing to be reliving my greatest moments in music with the the guys who were there.”
– Gerry Polci, Hit Men drummer and former Four Seasons.

I was also totally blown away by the energy exhibited by the band members as many were at least as old as I am. Russ Velazquez who has not only performed with Sting, Carol King, LL Cool J and Paula Abdul but is a four time Emmy-nominated composer and arranger for his work on TV's Sesame Street,was just all over the stage and had an amazing vocal range.

Larry Gates sang a particularly mean "Mony, Mony" and supplied the distinctive falsetto in many of The Four Seasons' songs. Jimmy Ryan, who has received gold and platinum records playing alongside Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Cat Stephens, Jim Croce and Carly Simon was in absolutely top form, too! Of course as a close friend of Carly Simon, he sang the lead in "You're so Vain." Ryan also frequently told little stories in between sets about the early days of rock-n-roll that were really interesting and certainly turned up the nostalgia factor!

One of Ryan's stories included a memory about a performance when the power went out and they had to sing without amplified instruments.  To show us what it was like, all of the men walked up to the front of the stage leaving their instruments behind, except for Ryan's unplugged guitar.  Then they sang "Silence is Golden", first released by The Four Seasons in 1964.  Their harmony is so sweet they didn't really need their instruments anyway.

I noticed that Don Ciccone, another member of the Four Seasons, is featured in some of the Hit Men videos on YouTube.  He has also appeared with them but did not come on this particular tour.  In addition to The Four Seasons, Ciccone sang with Tommy James and the Shondells and is probably the reason the Hit Men include songs from that group, like "I Think We're Alone, Now", "Hanky Panky" and "Mony, Mony" in their performances.

If you see an advertisement in your area for an appearance of "The Hit Men", by all means, don't pass it up! You, too, will be saying "Oh, What a Night!!"

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Slitherine Games capitalizes on "Gravity" success with Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager

A gaming resource article by  © 2013

In my Slitherine Ltd newsletter today I see that the game developer is capitalizing on the wildly successful space drama "Gravity" starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney by preparing to release a new strategy game entitled "Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager".

"Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager (SPM) is the ultimate game of space exploration. It is the mid 1950s and the biggest nations in the world, in an effort to conquer outer space together, have established the Global Space Agency (GSA). You are in charge. It's your duty to carefully manage the agency's budget by opening programs, spending R&D funds on improving the hardware, recruiting personnel and astronauts and launching space missions in this realistic turn based strategy game. 
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, ScD 1963 (Cou...
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, ScD 1963 (Course XVI) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In sandbox mode manage your agency, recruit and train technicians, astronauts, flight controllers, scientists and engineers. Research and develop thousands of components for hundreds of missions, all the time balancing your budget. Then watch your missions launch with thousands of beautiful renders of these amazing spacecraft. In Campaign mode do all this while also dealing with politicians and their short term goals. 
Develop the X-15 Space plane, the Sputnik satellite, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned spacecrafts and in later episodes on to Mars! You are not limited to the missions that did launch - you can also try out many that were planned but that never left the drawing board. For example, instead of sending men to the Moon using the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) approach used by Project Apollo in the late 1960s and early 1970s, you will be able to rewrite history and use either the alternative Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR) or Direct Ascent schemes. The number of options ensures every game will be different and there is huge replay value. 
To ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the game it is being developed in consultation with Dr. Buzz Aldrin, former U.S. Air Force combat pilot (66 missions in Korea) and NASA astronaut, who took part in the first Moon landing mission and became the second human being to walk on the Moon." - Slitherine Games
When I was a school girl back in the 60s, inspired by Gene Roddenberry's original "Star Trek",  I dreamed of being the first female astronaut.  I ended up on a very different career trajectory! But maybe this game is my chance to experience the space program after all!
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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sears Shop Your Way Rewards a Joke!!

A consumer resource article by  © 2013

I don't usually rant online but today I have to vent about my frustration with Sears "Shop Your Way Rewards" program.  Like many retailers, Sears jumped on the rewards program marketing scheme last year.  I was encouraged to sign up for the program when my husband and I happened to be in Sears shopping for tool accessories.  I thought, "Why not?" so I filled out the application and signed up for email alerts.

One day I received an email from Sears Shop Your Way Rewards offering me a free piece of apparel if I bought one other piece as long as it wasn't outerwear or a leather item.  I had been into Sears earlier in the week and saw a blouse that I liked so I printed off the coupon and headed to the Sears store in town.  I found a couple of blouses I wanted and went to the checkout counter with my coupon.  The sales clerk scanned the coupon but it wouldn't register.  She called the department manager who also scanned the coupon and didn't have any better luck.  She then read the coupon fine print and said it was intended to be used at a Sears catalog outlet not a Sears retail outlet.  I told her that was ridiculous since it was not obvious to a customer they meant it was only good at a Sears catalog store and not a retail store.  I also pointed out that Sears catalog stores also have very little apparel if any in stock so essentially what good was it then!  She finally agreed to honor it but admonished me that I'd better not try to "pull" this again as if I was trying to swindle them or something.

I decided then and there that I would virtually ignore future mailings as they were essentially worthless.  But, today I noticed that my GE refrigerator filter warning light came on and commented to my husband that I guessed I would have to drive in to Sears (where we bought it) and pick up a new one.  Those filters are always very expensive - about $40 each.  I remembered seeing one of those emails from Sears Shop Your Way Rewards in my inbox so I checked it out and it was offering me $12 in points if I bought something from Sears before the end of the week.  So I logged into Sears.com and checked for the refrigerator water filter I needed.  I saw the regular GE brand filter I always bought at the store for the usual $40+.  But, I noticed a generic filter that was compatible with my refrigerator for only $22 so I put it in my shopping cart instead.

When I went to checkout I couldn't find anyplace to indicate I wanted to use my points on this purchase even though I was logged in with my Rewards ID.  So, I called customer support.  The service representative told me that on the last page of the checkout process there would be a choice to redeem points.  I told him that I saw they would accept Paypal and wanted to use it but I knew that once I clicked the Paypal option, I would be taken directly to Paypal to finish payment authorization and knew there would be no option to apply points there.  The service representative admitted I was right and said if I used Paypal I could not redeem points.

At that point the service representative offered to complete the order for me so I gave him the information he needed (shipping and billing address, payment information, etc) and we progressed to the final check out page.  When he attempted to redeem my points, he was told that points could not be used on that purchase because the item I had selected was shipped from a third party and not directly from Sears!!  At this point I was totally frustrated and sputtered "Each time I try to "Shop My Way" with your rewards program you [Sears] always have some reason why the points can't be used!  What good are they then, anyway!!!"

The service representative said he was sorry and offered me a 10% discount on my order ($2).

Maybe Sears designed their rewards program after an airlines rewards model.  Between black out dates and constantly increasing the number of points it takes for a ticket, airlines have perfected the "illusion" of value with their frequent flyer programs.  But Sears should keep in mind who their competitors are.  Amazon's rewards program works beautifully and I have used it so often and so successfully that I regularly reach for their rewards card each time I make a purchase.

I read on the web that Sears may go the same way as Montgomery Wards.  The article I read said the only thing that was keeping Sears viable was its tool sales.  Well, it certainly isn't their rewards program!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Are lewd gestures a legitimate update to West Side Story in the 21st century?

West Side Story
West Side Story (Photo credit: thejcgerm)
I loved the 1961 movie "West Side Story" and even learned the lyrics to all of the songs when my older sister Pam bought the LP album.  So I was excited when I found out that "Broadway Across America" was going to present "West Side Story" right here in Eugene at The Hult Center.  I bought my ticket months in advance and eagerly anticipated my chance to see the play.  I even got a ticket in the very front row!

So, when I arrived at the theater I was anxious for the performance to begin.  The theater company had their own orchestra and the music was as marvelous as I remembered.  As each scene unfolded the performances of the actors playing Anita, Maria, Riff, Bernardo and Action were very professional.  The actor playing Tony seemed a little hesitant but his singing, though, was quite strong.  His projection was a little uneven in the first song but he seemed to settle down after that.  I wondered if he would be able to pull off singing "Maria" as this song requires so much range but he absolutely nailed it!

I was surprised, however, by the bedroom scene with Tony and Maria and the simulated gang rape of Anita as neither was present in the movie (that I could remember).  But I figured that was considered updating the story for a 21st century audience more familiar with far more vicious gang behavior.  I willingly accepted these changes as well as much more Spanish in the song lyrics (obviously a nod to the much higher percentage of Hispanic peoples in our population now). But, I must admit I was appalled by the addition of lewd gestures during the performance of the song "Officer Krupke".  The gestures seem less obvious in the clip from "YouTube" or maybe it's because I was sitting just a few feet away from the actors in the front row.  I suppose the change in choreography could also be considered updating too, but I felt the crudeness was unnecessary and somehow cheapened the performance.  I also found the gangs' openly disrespectful behavior toward "Doc" who ran the drug store where the teens socialized to be very uncomfortable, too - definitely not the atmosphere portrayed in TV's "Happy Days" and definitely not the behavior I would like to see viewed as acceptable.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I realize members of 21st century gangs are far more brutal than the late 1950s era Sharks and Jets ever dreamed.  But I'm not sure this type of melding current social behaviors with a vintage musical is an improvement.  I remember watching the original movie in the contemporary setting of the early 1960s and I got the message of the story without having to squirm with discomfort over extremely unpleasant behaviors.

I sometimes wonder why openly lewd behavior has become so commonplace that our society just seems to accept it or just laugh it off.  Several months ago I attended a presentation by Robin Williams, also at the Hult Center.  I realize standup comedy can get quite crude, having visited a comedy club down in San Francisco once. But Mr. Williams is such an amazing talent and I loved his performance in "Good Morning, Vietnam" so much that I jumped at the chance to see him in person.  It was quite funny in parts and I'm glad I attended but I couldn't help but wonder why Mr. Williams, who has received so many awards and accolades from our society, seemed to feel he needed to include so much "crotch grabbing" as he did in that performance.  Perhaps he felt it was necessary to win over an audience that included so many college students, as Eugene is the home of the University of Oregon.  If so, that's a sad commentary on the intellectual maturity of our "best and brightest".  Personally, I would have laughed far more at some good political zingers and I think most of the audience would have enjoyed them more too.

Oh well, maybe I'm just becoming an old fuddy duddy!
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