Friday, July 16, 2010

Lady Gaga was AMAZING!!

There was a party in Indy Thursday night – a Monster Ball to be more precise – and all the freaks were outside. At least, that’s what Lady Gaga said.

The platinum-selling superstar performed all of her hits from both "The Fame" and "The Fame Monster" as well as a few older songs not included on either album. For two hours, Gaga gave her “little monsters” everything they’d hoped for – intricately choreographed dance routines, incredible vocal and musical performances, and an amazing stage show.

It wouldn’t be a complete review of a Lady Gaga performance if the music and costumes were ignored, but it’s important to take a minute to mention her message. When Gaga said “all the freaks are outside,” she did so to try and convey to her fans that they are not freaks, as society so often attempts to paint them.

“Let go of all your insecurities,” she said after singing “Love Game” and before launching into “Boys, Boys, Boys.”

“Reject anyone that said you’re not good enough. You remember you’re a superstar, and you were born that way. Tonight will be your liberation!”

Speaking often about how she wasn’t accepted as a teenager and how she still doesn’t fit into “that whole celebrity thing,” Gaga brought her audience closer to her by identifying with many of them who – judging by their responses – had often felt the same way.

After performing “Money Honey” and before she catapulted into the crazy popular “Telephone,” Gaga took several minutes to talk about the RE*Generation charity she is actively involved with through Virgin Mobile, her tour promoter. RE*Generation works to help the growing number of homeless youth which, according to Gaga, is heavily populated with members of the gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual community. She encouraged her fans to support the charity however they could – through texting donations or even volunteering their time to help organizations supported by RE*Generation.

Judging from the attire of many of her “superfans,” as she liked to refer to the concert-goers, Lady Gaga’s wardrobe is one of the reasons they love her so much. Imitation being the richest form of flattery, there were many in attendance whose outfits were – without a doubt – inspired by “Mother Monster.” With a total of at least 14 costume changes throughout the show, Gaga certainly gave her fans new ideas for the future.

Known for her outrageous outfits, Gaga didn’t disappoint those who were hoping to see some. While performing “The Fame,” she came out in a voluminous red cloak, a la Scarlett O’Hara, as it looked as if curtain rods were the main suspension piece at her shoulders supporting the cloak. Past midpoint of the show, Gaga disappeared inside a round, opaque screen which rather resembled an upside down wedding cake, and came out of it wrapped in a dress comprised of layers and layers of white satin and tulle, complete with a flowing train, a headpiece that looked like a white fan that would open and shut, and silver wings that also opened and closed. In that costume, and in shoes that seemed impossible to walk in, she performed “So Happy I Could Die,” at times more than twenty feet above the stage courtesy of a hydraulic lift.

Perhaps the most outrageous costume of the night was actually three-in-one. At the beginning of “Monster,” in a set comprised of huge, thorn trees and park benches whose backs were overgrown razor blades, Gaga emerged in what could only be described as a gigantic white lamp shade decorated with long white fringe. When she cast that aside, she exposed a jacket made up of very long blonde and brown hair and brightly colored sequins. After her dancers (she had no fewer than ten) “attacked” her and tore the hair jacket from her, she was left in nothing but a black leotard and short black boots. Oh, and she was bloody from where the “monster” had ripped out her heart.

Lady Gaga’s fans adore her. They ate up her performances of “Love Game,” “Telephone,” “Monster,” “Alejandro,” “Poker Face,” and her encore performance of “Bad Romance.” They jumped, they screamed, they danced and screamed some more. And “they” were people of all ages and ethnicities. Couples in their 50s and 60s sat next to others in their late teens or twenties who sat in front of parents with their “tween”-age children. People-watching at Gaga’s show is a great opening act.

And speaking of the opening act, Gaga’s longtime friends Semi-Precious Weapons opened the show with their self-titled track from their new album "You Love You." The four-man band is an interesting blend of punk and rock and their stage performance is even better than the studio-mixed version on the disc. They are high-energy, in-your-face musicians and shouldn’t be missed. Shame on those who came too late to see them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A fun, shivery read - overall

I sift through a lot of book recommendations, wherever they come from, so when several recommended Christopher Ransom’s The Birthing House, I paid attention. It’s a horror story, and the concept sounded interesting, so I bought and read it.

The gist of the story is this: Jo and Conrad Harrison have a troubled marriage. When Conrad’s dad dies and Conrad comes into a substantial inheritance, he buys – on a whim – a 140-year-old Victorian birthing house in Wisconsin. He believes that leaving LA and moving to the rural Midwest will save his marriage.

The birthing house – as you might have guessed from the title – is at the center of the story. For decades, it served as a place for women to have their children under a doctor’s care. I kind of see it as a “midwife clinic,” except that it’s a doctor instead of a midwife.

You learn early on that the house has secrets and probably ghosts. You also learn that even though we tend to think of birth as a happy time, a time of celebration, that isn’t always the case. The house is stained – figuratively and literally.

When Jo gets a job offer that she can’t refuse, she leaves Conrad and the new home for an eight-week training session in Michigan. In her absence, Conrad has to deal with the house and its secrets alone, which isn’t the best for him – physically or mentally.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the book as a whole. I like a good scary story, and there are definitely parts in the novel where I was truly creeped out. I like to read at night, when the house is quiet and dark, and there were times when I’d find myself double-checking a shadow in my room or listening twice to the creak of the house. I like it when a book can do that to me. Would it have done that if I’d read it on my wooden bench in the back yard in the middle of the afternoon? I don’t know. Regardless, I have to give Ransom high marks for the creepy factor. I also really liked the idea behind the story. I’d never read about a birthing house before (although the author lives in one, so I guess they existed), so that was a unique concept for me.

Until I got to the last twenty or thirty pages, I really liked the book. The end got weird. I think I understand what happened in most of those pages, but I truly don’t get the ending. I don’t really know what happened to him, and I don’t think it’s one of those books that is supposed to leave you guessing. I got the feeling I was supposed to understand, and I just didn’t, and I blame that on his writing. It read as though he knew what he meant, but he didn’t get it down on paper to make it as clear to everyone else. I might be off on that, and would welcome other opinions.

Overall, I’d recommend this one if you like to read at night and feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s fun and it’s interesting through most of the story. And if you know what happens to Conrad at the end, please, share that with the rest of the class.

Stephen King's legacy - It's not just his books

I have to admit that when I picked up Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, I did so because he’s Stephen King’s son, and I was curious what his writing skills and story-telling were like. From now on, I’ll pick up his books because both are high caliber.

Judas (Jude) Coyne is a fifty-something, semi-retired, mega-successful hard rock star. He lives on a farm in rural New York State with his two dogs, Angus and Bon. There is a slowly-revolving door on his house which allows for the entry and exit of young, gothic female fans whom he refers to by the name of the state from which they come. Georgia lives with him when the novel begins. It is his relationships with these young women, his penchant for collecting occult memorabilia, and his ugly childhood that turn the wheels of this story.

When the story opens, Jude’s assistant tells him about an interesting item up for auction online. For $1,000, Jude can own a ghost. It’s a no-brainer. Jude tells his assistant to buy it. A few days later, a heart-shaped box arrives at Jude’s farmhouse and inside the box is a dead man’s suit. With the suit came the ghost. And from that point on, things go increasingly bad for Jude and Georgia.

I don’t know how someone could grow up with Stephen King as his father and remain uninfluenced by the man and his books. The connections are easy to see. (I even think there’s a subtle nod to Maximum Overdrive in Heart-Shaped Box.) But I don’t want you to think that Hill is another King, because he isn’t. His voice is original and strong and this novel was unique and fun to read. Hill’s second novel, Horns, is next on my list. It’s about a guy who wakes up hungover from a wild night and has horns growing out of his head. He’s not sure anyone else can see them, but he can, and he can feel them. I’m looking forward to that ride as well.

Joe Hill is the real deal. He carved a place for himself long before anyone even knew the secret of his family tree. But if you glance at the author’s photo, there’s no denying who his daddy is.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A birthday retrospective

I turned 42 today and decided to look backward for a little while. On the walk I took yesterday, I walked one direction for a half hour then turned around and went back the way I’d come. I thought there was something in that – looking at things you’d seen before but from a different perspective. The sunlight was hitting the trees differently, there were fewer shadows (because the sun had risen a little more), I walked on the other side of the road, so I saw things on that side I hadn’t seen on the first half of my walk. I knew that little nugget of an idea would become something, and here it is: my birthday blog.

I turned two in 1970. I’ve perused events from that year and have chosen a few to share – some personal, some not. In January, the first 747 entered into service. I’ve been on several of those in my life. They’ve taken me to some wonderful vacation spots: Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, the Bahamas, Phoenix. The two that stand out for me are Cabo in 2008 because it was a family vacation and unforgettable because of those shared memories, and Phoenix – basically for the same reason. I took Tori to see my brother and his wife. It was the first time Tori flew and we had a blast! Also, in July of 1970, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem debuted. I have so many teen memories of that radio show, listening to see who was going to be on top each week. (And I have to admit, I loved the long distance dedications.)

In 1980, Mom remarried and Bob became my dad. There’s not a “step” needed, wanted, or included. Dad has taught me the value of work, laughter, and friendship (and the importance of keeping the oil changed in my car!). Together, he and Mom have taught me the meaning of family. The other big personal milestone for me in 1980 was beginning junior high. ‘Nuff said on that, right? The music world lost Bon Scott, John Bonham, and John Lennon. I don’t remember being affected by the first two – which is ironic because I became a fan of both AC/DC and Zeppelin – but I do remember Lennon’s assassination. Tori and I visited the memorial mosaic in Strawberry Fields in Central Park last year. And then, finally, the film Ordinary People was released. Last fall, the high school drama department staged this, and they did an amazing job with such mature material.

Ten years later, in 1990, I met Jim Gardner, whom I would marry the following year. The marriage didn’t work out, but Tori resulted from it, so I will never, ever regret that marriage. It was a very volatile year: I changed – and lost – jobs more than once. I moved twice – the first time being out of my family home and in with my soon-to-be husband. Lots of emotions ran around that year. On a broader spectrum, here are some international/national events that made me stop and go “Hmmmm” when I surveyed the list for the year: The Hubble Telescope was launched into space. Have you seen any of the pictures that thing has taken? If not, you need to Google them. They’re amazing. On a sad note, Jim Henson died in May. I was a big fan of the Muppets TV show and don’t think I could name just one favorite. Could you? Also in May, the WHO removed homosexuality from its list of diseases. I can’t believe it took that long, and I can’t believe how far we, as a society, are yet from acceptance of homosexuals. In August, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and we know the history of that, don’t we? At the end of September, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. was finished, and I think I’ll finally get to see it next year!!

Ten years ago, in 2000, I was 32 years old and wrapping up my first year as a high school English teacher while Tori was wrapping up her year as a kindergartener. We were living in our very first apartment – just the two of us – and were very happy as the budding “Gardner Girls.” Looking outside my little world, Charlie Brown missed his last football kick in February when Charles Schulz died. I still love to watch the Peanuts specials at the holidays, don’t you? Playstation 2 was launched early in the year, and do you know, I still have never played with one? We don’t own one – any of the PS versions – and I have absolutely no desire to. In October, Al-Qaeda attacked the USS Cole. Tragically, we know where they struck less than a year later.

So, here I am. It’s 2010 and I’m 42 years old. I have a 16-year-old daughter and am still teaching English, although it’s now to middle school students (whom I much prefer!!). I have a lot to be grateful for in my life: I have a great family and amazing friends. I live my dream every time I sit down to my computer and work on one of my novels. Maybe someday I’ll be published, but maybe I won’t. That’s why it’s a dream. I have a roof over my head, food on my table, and people in my life who care about me.

My hope is that I’ve lived my life in a way that has shown people that I care about them too, that their happiness and well-being are important to me. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to any of us, so, before I close, please know that I’m grateful for all the goodness God has blessed me with and that I will continue to try and live my life in a way that shows it. To my family and friends – I love ya. Thanks for being part of my life.