Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Ambassador and the Children of War

© 2006 by berkeley

On Thursday, July 27, UNICEF Ambassador and singer Clay Aiken blogged to ask for donations for aid to children who are victims of recent warfare between Lebanon and Israel.

Clay provided a link for donations so UNICEF could track monies coming from his fans: UNICEF Donations

Within 24 hours, $47,556.96 had been raised by Clay Nation’s UNICEF supporters.

(If you would like to contribute, please click the above link or cut and paste in your browser’s address bar.)

As a child Trick-or-Treating for UNICEF, I started supporting UNICEF a couple of decades before I heard of Clay Aiken. I grew up listening to the echoes of a distant war. Then and now, I am deeply weary of children being the victims of the violence perpetuated by adults. That is one of the reasons I follow a philosophy of service and nonviolence.

Images of children who have been injured, killed or forced to flee their homes in Israel and Lebanon have dominated the media for the past two weeks. In some quarters, there have been hours of bitter debate; in some, an increasing anger and frustration; in others, a weary resignation.

And though I already support UNICEF, UNHCR, American Friends Service Committee and Oxfam, I am grateful to Clay for the reminder that there is something that the average person can do.

With just a few dollars, we can save the life of a child.

Here is a little bit about UNICEF's stated mission:

Founded in 1946, UNICEF helps save, protect and improve the lives of children in 158 countries through immunization, education, health care, nutrition, clean water and sanitation. UNICEF is non-partisan and its cooperation is free of discrimination. In everything it does, the most disadvantaged children and the countries in greatest need have priority.

Because UNICEF’s mandate is to help children in developing nations, children in Lebanon will be the ones to receive assistance. (Information for aid to Israel is included later in this piece.)

Last fall, for the first time in its history, UNICEF provided aid to the United States. The reason stated for going beyond its charter was the unprecedented and overwhelming devastation, loss of life and destruction of property caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In almost every instance, the United States, as well as Israel, most of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and all other developed countries, fall outside of the purview of UNICEF's mission. These countries are, in fact, among the thirty-seven National Committees working to raise money for UNICEF’s humanitarian missions.

Clay fills a specific and important role as a UNICEF ambassador.

From "US Fund for UNICEF":
Some celebrities have chosen to do what they can to save the lives of children in developing countries by making the rest of humanity aware of their plight.
The U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s celebrity Ambassadors... play an important role across the country and around the world. They stay informed about children’s issues, visit UNICEF field projects and represent UNICEF before government.

I have written two essays about Clay’s travels as a UNICEF ambassador, my miniscule contribution to raising awareness of UNICEF’s work. The first was called “Aiken Goes to Hell” and it was a short piece about Clay’s first field mission to Indonesia in March of 2005, two and a half months following the tsunami. The second was “The Ambassador and The Single Seed”, inspired by Clay’s May 2005 trip to war-torn Northern Uganda. It was eighteen pages long and drew from more than 100 sources, with over forty listed in the article’s bibliography and resources.

Though Clay was a featured in both pieces, he was not the focus --- that distinction belongs to the people overcoming the trials of war and natural disasters and to the humanitarian workers who spend their lives bringing aid to those most in need.

What Clay has done and continues to do as a UNICEF Ambassador is raise awareness of the plight of the children in these developing countries. Aid in those situations literally can mean life or death. I am so grateful that Clay uses his celebrity to call attention to the need to lift up children in the most desperate of situations.

There are radical differences in the situations in Indonesia, Uganda, the Gulf Coast of the United States and the border zones of Israel and Lebanon, but Clay’s call to action for all of these areas brings to mind some great wisdom from the Talmud:

"He who saves one life saves the world entire."

I love and admire Clay for living his faith through his compassionate actions and I am in awe of those who dedicate their lives to these critically important missions.

There is one way I can choose to make a difference for the children, in this tragic situation and in too many others.

I choose to wage peace.

For me, UNICEF is a way to start.

“For every child
Health, Education, Equality, Protection


From Reuters Foundation AlertNet --- Alerting Humanitarians to Emergencies:

On Wednesday, July 26, an article titled “U.S. Charities Respond to Situation in the Middle East” was posted. The source of the information is Interaction USA

AlertNet writes, “InterAction is a coalition of more than 160 US-based private relief, international development and refugee assistance organizations. InterAction members have agreed to abide by a set of standards to ensure accountability to donors, professional competence and quality of service.”

AlertNet includes an extensive list of organizations which charters that mandate aid to victims of war in both Israel and Lebanon. Many more can be found at the website. Here are just a few, included for those who wish to give more comprehensive aid:

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Gaza-West Bank Response 1501 Cherry Street Philadelphia, PA 19102 888-588-2372

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee JDC- Israel Emergency Response 2006 132 East 43rd Street PO Box 530 New York. NY 10017 212-687-6200

Save the Children Middle East Response 54 Wilton Road Westport, CT 06880 800-728-3843

United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Middle East Emergency #601740 PO Box 9068 New York, NY 10087 800 554 8583

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Lebanon Response1501 Cherry Street Philadelphia, PA 19102 888-588-2372

American Red Cross Lebanon Relief P.O. Box 37243 Washington, DC 20013 1-800-REDCROSS

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Middle East Crisis Response P.O. Box 17090 Baltimore, MD 21203-7090 877-HELP-CRS

Oxfam America Middle East Crisis Fund PO Box 1211 Albert Lea, MN 56007-1211 800-77-OXFAM (800-776-9326)

Save the Children USA Middle East Response 54 Wilton Road Westport, CT 06880 800-728-3843

World Vision P.O. Box 9716 Federal Way, WA 98063-9176 888-511-6548

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Thousand Different Ways to Cure a Phobia: Part II The Treatment

There is a phobia for almost everything. Do you have a mild case of Syngenesophobia-(Fear of relatives ) before the annual family reunion? How does one admit to Sesquipedalophobia- (Fear of long words) without feeling anxious? I imagine not too many Clay Aiken fans run the risk of having theatrophobia (fear of theatres) or cyberphobia (fear of computers), but it occurs to me that there might be a case made for the addition of ticketmasterphobia to the long list of anxiety inducing situations.

Whatever the phobia, there is always hope for cure. As a child you might have had clinophobia (fear of going to bed) because of bogyphobia (fear of the bogeyman), achluophobia (fear of darkness), and ablutophobia (fear of bathing). Today chances are good that most of you go to bed without checking your closet or looking under your bed, that you don't go ballistic if the lights go out, and you can get a good scrub down once in a blue moon.

Confronting the Feared Situation
Instead of avoiding the feared object or situation (snakes:Ophidiophobia), the fear *might* need to be confronted while managing the level of anxiety. F’dawg and I will altruistically assist Mr. Aiken, rather than selfishly focus on ourselves. (Translation: We aren’t ready to look at those legless lizards… yet.) Yes, we shall attempt to help Clay work through his fear of CATS.

There are several terms to accurately define a cat phobia...... ........Felinophobia, Ailurophobia, Elurophobia, Galeophobia, and Gatophobia. We will call it whatever is easiest to spell or remember. That would be ‘Cat-itis’. (Is too a word!)

Because it is very difficult to start in the middle of a feared situation, we will use the approach of a graded exposure.

Step 1. Identifying the problem: Analyse your reactions to determine if you actually *have* an object that triggers a true phobic response. Is it a new situation or is there a history of reaction?

Step 2. Reach the stage where you can acknowledge your fear to another and are ready to seek help.

Step 3. Have a certified (as opposed to ‘certifiable’) therapist evaluate your degree of phobic response.

Step 4. Read about cats. Even if the context differs, exposure to the term can reduce anxiety levels.

Step 5. Try to create positive to ease the cat-itis.

Step 6. Link the object with something entertaining in your life.

Step 7. Determine comfort level in talking about cats. Use visualization techniques. Okay, maybe not *that* one.

Step 8. Look at/touch a photograph of a cat.

Step 9. Look at/touch/wear a toy stuffed cat..

Step 10. Observe a real cat in a non-threatening environment..

Step 11. Confront fear and associate cats with pleasant experiences, preferably integrated into your life..

Step 12. Eventually you will be able to touch the once-feared object. The initial attempt may still prove stressful. Helpful friends may ‘arrange’ for this final step to happen unexpectedly.

In summary, try to view each time you challenge the feared situation as an opportunity to learn to overcome your anxiety. Frightening thoughts are replaced by rational thoughts....sometimes the object that you once avoided can become an integral and welcome addition to your life!.

Clay is busy finishing details on that new CD, “A Thousand Different Ways To Say ‘SOON‘!” so he was unable to add more than those few words as testament to our effective treatment. We hope that you, our faithful readers, will feel free to leave *your* comments below.


Nothing to say?

Whatzamatta? Cat got your tongue?

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Monday, July 24, 2006

The Music Genome Project: Or Follow The Clay Path to New Music

Have you ever wanted to discover some new music . . . but every time you turned on the radio – you heard the same old stuff? I adore music – but discovering new music has been hard. Sometimes I get lucky and I’m listening to an NPR station like WFUV 90.7FM and I hear something different and go “wow” – download some stuff or buy a CD. Sometimes someone will suggest a new artist they think I might like. But “popularity” or big bucks rules the radio waves and great artists exist but can be hard to find.

One day I was listening to Air America and Tim Westergren, the founder of The Music Genome Project was on. He talked about using The Music Genome Project to create a site on the internet where people could people could build their own radio station based on music – not popularity or image. Here’s what Tim says on their website:
Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like.

Pandora is like having your own personal DJ. All the information that was entered into the database was evaluated by musicians. But once the various elements have been analyzed, the computer goes to work. By entering a beginning point – an artist or a song – you are presented with a first song. You say “yes” or “no” to that particular song. If you like it – Pandora will suggest other songs with similar elements. If you don’t like one of the suggestions – the computer will skip and move on to others. You can also add additional singers or songs you like to the station – it will expand the choices.
I found this absolutely fascinating. I love Clay Aiken’s voice. I also love Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Queen, Tim Buckley, Ten Years After. I love jazz, blues, rock, folk – all kinds of music. I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I started with Clay Aiken and followed the path Pandora set out for me.

I decided to enter Clay Aiken rather than a particular song of his. Of course, all the Music Genome Project has to work with is Clay's MOAM. Pandora came back with No More Sad Songs. I checked to see what the general elements of this song were. Pandora told me it had pop/rock qualities, r&b influences, subtle use of vocal harmony, acoustic rhythm piano, dynamic male vocal. I said “yeah, I like this” and waited for the next song to be played. Duran Duran’s Ordinary World was suggested.

I was curious why this was selected as the second choice so I looked to see why this song was chosen. It said “based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features pop rock qualities, subtle use of vocal harmony, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, acoustic rhythm guitars.” Okay . . . sounds good. Hit I like it.

Next song is by someone I never heard of – Mark Joseph. It played a song called “Fly” from his album Scream. This I like. Hey – I found a new artist to look for. I don’t know if I’ll buy a whole album – but I downloaded that song from ITunes and added it to my iPod.

Next up was Nick Lachey – Sorry . . . nope, don’t like that – please skip. Thanks!

Now they are playing Invisible. Yup – like this song. Play more like this. I check the backstage information about this song. Here’s how they describe it:
Features of this Song
pop rock qualities
a subtle use of vocal harmony
mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation
a clear focus on recording studio production
major key tonality
a dynamic male vocalist
acoustic rhythm guitars
subtle use of acoustic piano

The backstage area of Pandora also makes some suggestions for other songs similar to this in quality:

Love Is Leaving by BBMak

The Summer of My Love by Onlyforward

Everythings Perfect by David Pack

End of Camelot by Peter Cetera

Faithfully by Chris Isaak

Gravity by Embrace

Some I’m familiar with – others not. So I load some samples. Yeah, Love Is Leaving by BBMak – another one to add to my iPod. Never heard of Onlyforward – but like this sample. I’ll have to look for them. I adore Chris Isaak and I’ve already got Faithfully. But I never heard of Embrace. Check out some info on them. Chris Martin of Coldplay played on Gravity. It definitely has that Coldplay feeling— can’t find this on iTunes – so I’ll probably have to listen to samples from the album – just might find another purchase for myself on Amazon.

Now I thought I’d also add something to the mix and see what Pandora comes up with. So I said add some Queen please.

Pandora starts by playing “Tie Your Mother Down”. Good – but I want to know why. So I hit the button to tell me why that song? Well it seems that this song also has subtle use of vocal harmony, major key tonality and dynamic male vocals. Yeah. I always thought Freddy and Clay had dynamic vocals in common. So this gets a thumbs up from me.

Next up – This Is The Night by Clay. Well I do like this song – but I don’t want this particular radio station to become too ballady. So I say “No” to this song and they skip it and give me a song called Come To Me by Eyeinside. Well I’ve never heard of this group - you can get background information from Pandora while you are listening to the songs. This is a Canadian heavy metal group but this particular song is extremely catchy. Great – another new group to look into.

Sarah McLachlen is next – they are playing Adia. I love her and this is gorgeous. It’s interesting to read why they suggest it – but there are musical connections between all these artists. And it’s fascinating to see why I react to certain songs and singers the way I do.

Pandora then suggests Survivor’s "The Search is Over" and Indigo Girls “Andy” but this radio station is now moving too far to the “sensitive” side for my taste – so I say no to both these songs.

Oh, boy that's a switch – “We Will Rock You” is up next. Oh yeah, that’s more like it. But why? So I hit that button and again I’m told there’s mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation and subtle vocal harmonies. We’re in business and this gets a thumbs up. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Loud by Richard X. Heyman. Never heard of him – but this sounds great. So I ask Pandora to tell me more about him. Appears he’s a sadly overlooked pop craftsman of the 90’s but his albums are widely regarded in power pop circles as instant classics. Well I don’t know about the critics – but I really like this tune – so off to iTunes – but they don’t have this particular song. I’m going to have to go back later and listen to the songs they do have – this guy is someone I want to hear more of.

Sammy Hagar is up next – “Make It Alright” – check to see why and Pandora tells me
electric rock instrumentation, subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, a vocal-centric aesthetic, major key tonality, groove based composition, electric rhythm guitars, an emotional male lead vocal performance, upbeat lyrics.
Lots of similar qualities to the other music I like on this station I’m creating – but this one just doesn’t do it for me – so I hit No and wait for the next suggestion.

Something called Down & Dirty by Y and T. Okay. Never heard of them either (how have I missed them?) – but this is really catchy. I can’t believe I didn’t know them in the 80’s . . . but this is good – thumbs up and a note to myself to check out some of their stuff later on Amazon.

Now they are playing something called Nothing Left To Lose by Mat Kearney. Another artist I never heard of . . .but another I really like. Yup – he’s also got the subtle use of harmony, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation and major key tonality. Like Clay Aiken. And this is really really good. Bought on iTunes and added to my iPod.

This is great fun! I'm discovering new artists and also learning a bit about what elements I'm drawn to musically.

OK – guess it’s time for Idol stuff – Kelly Clarkson’s Because of You. I can see the musical similarities as outlined in the information but I don’t need Pandora to tell me about Kelly’s stuff since it’s all over the radio. . . so click No so I’m off to hear something new.

Sammy Hagar again. But this time it’s Mas Tequila. Yeah, I like that. It’s got a hard rock beat but also has the subtle use of vocal harmony, major key tonality and the dynamic male vocals I now know I’m drawn to. Plus some other stuff like dirty electric guitar solo and political satire lyric. Cool.

Next couple of songs – nope don’t work for me – a song by AC/DC and one by Accept – so I say no to those and I get another type of song to listen to. This is more of the indie acoustic singer-songwriter type stuff. Matt Nathanson and a song called “Sing Me Sweet”. Definitely like this and it’s bought on iTunes and added to iPod.

Seriously . . . this is addictive. And what I love is seeing what particular elements of Clay’s songs – like dynamic male vocals, subtle use of vocal harmony, major key tonality and mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation show up in other songs I’m drawn to.

So now I’ve got my pop/rock station I started from Clay Aiken. And every time I go back to Pandora - I can follow that path to new music.

I also spent many more hours playing with other genres. I started one that’s more blues that I used an Eric Clapton song as a jumping off point. Started another station for jazz that started with Andy Bey.

So – if you’re eager to discover new music and bored to tears with listening to the same stuff over and over on the radio – or if you just like the idea of experimentation and finding what elements of music you are particularly drawn to – check the Pandora site out.

One final thing that is definitely worth mentioning. The Music Genome Project doesn't know there's such a thing as genre. It's more sophisticated than that, and so it's not just going to play you any old random country music if you enter Johnny Cash. Instead it rather works off the hundreds of data fields stored about every song and artist. This means you will often be surprised by what you're played. And the surprises for me have been really wonderful.

I cannot wait for Clay's new CD and for his new music to be added to the Music Genome Project. It will be fascinating to do another radio station starting with something from the new album and see where it takes me!

Hey, that’s another thing the Music Genome Project and Clay Aiken have in common – Great Surprises!

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Many Happy Returns!

I recently finished a year of daily birthday posts at the Clack House, a Clay Aiken fan message board. Of my own volition, I looked up birthday trivia for the members, most of whom I’ve never met. Why? Because I'm crazy about birthdays.

Every time I have to fill out a questionnaire, under “favorite food,” I always write “birthday cake.” And I’m not picky about what kind it is, either -- upscale flourless, old fashioned bakery, or grocery store freezer case, chocolate or yellow or lemon or cheesecake -- I love them all equally.

And it isn’t just the cake. I love the candles, the decorations, the cards, the idea of honoring someone annually just for making it through another year. Whenever the waiters gather around to sing “Happy Birthday” to the hapless patrons in restaurants, I’m right there, lustily singing along. At surprise parties, I'm front and center. Need somebody to circulate the office birthday card? Decorate the conference room? Make the party favors? I'm there.

I’m not sure why I feel this is important -- maybe it’s because I’m a twin and never had a birthday to call my own. Always had to go out and buy a present, even though it was MY birthday. Always had to share the cake and the party. In my father’s photo albums, there are photos of my brother and me from every birthday, starting with side-by-side highchairs and one candle in the cake (which I doubt they let us actually eat), through the gender-specific outfits (cowboy and cowgirl, Indian and squaw, Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann, Superman and Wonder Woman, Captain Kirk and ...well...some female Vulcan or other...oh, you get the idea. In all of the photos, I’m wearing an expression of simmering resentment. Which finally boiled over at age eight, when I threw a tantrum and demanded my own party. (My brother must’ve been thoroughly sick of my attention whoring by then). In later years, he and I started dispensing with the formalities -- we’d go together on a shopping trip shortly before the big day and each buy ourselves the thing we wanted. Then we'd exchange them, take them home, wrap them up, present them to each other at the family party, and act surprised. And our parents were none the wiser. Wish we still had the time to do that. And that my parents were still around to be hoodwinked.

Outside of finding the funniest card -- a favorite pastime, and I like to stockpile the really good ones -- my favorite aspect of birthdays is the quest for the perfect gift. In my opinion, the ideal birthday present is:
a) something the person really, really wants (bonus points if they haven’t told anyone and you managed to find out somehow)
b) something luxurious and decadent that they would never dream of buying for themselves (bonus points if you managed to get said luxurious item without maxxing out your credit card)
c) something ingenious and personal that makes them laugh like crazy (eBay is good for this)
d) any or all of the above

I once had a rather eccentric but charming British boss who loved black. All her clothes were black. Her furniture was black, her car was black, her dogs were black, her jewelry was black -- black, black, black. (I’ll give her this -- she was easy to buy for.) I once convinced her favorite florist to spray paint a big floral arrangement black. Another year, I bought her a big glass bowl of black marbles for her desk. (I don’t recommend this -- they tend to be mistaken for something edible, and nobody appreciates unnecessary dental work.) My proudest moment came when I convinced my coworkers to go in on a more expensive gift -- we bought up as many boxes of Crayola crayons as we could get on sale, and subsequently presented her with an all-black box of 64 Crayolas. I felt honored to see it a few years later in a Plexiglas shadow box on a wall in her home.

I must take after my aunt -- for my 40th birthday, she gave me a shoebox (European size 40, of course). Inside, I found a necklace made of 40 paperclips, a 40-watt light bulb, 40 uncooked macaronis, a deck with 40 cards in it, a box of 40 pushpins, a gift card to a store in the amount of $40, a roll of 40 pennies, etc., etc. Clever, I had to admit. Around that time, I started to wonder about her sanity -- after decades of exchanging saccharine birthday cards featuring kitties and bunnies and puppies, out of the blue my sweet, pure Southern Baptist aunt sent me a card with two side-by-side Xs on the front instructing me to open it holding it down at my waist. When I did, I was startled to see this message: “Here’s where your tits have ended up.” Well, after that the game was on, and the cards flying back and forth have gotten raunchier every year. I don’t think she shows mine to my uncle -- she probably keeps them in a dresser drawer under her hankies and takes them out to giggle over when she’s alone. Hope so, anyway.

For this coming week, I needed to come up with a birthday gift for a close coworker of mine -- a high-strung workaholic who chews gum incessantly and never leaves her desk. Correction: the only time she leaves her desk is to beg people for gum -- she never has time to buy any. After tricking her into telling me her favorite flavor, it was off to The Container Store to pick up a tall airtight clamp-lid Mason jar and a wine bottle gift bag. Then I headed to the drugstore to buy out their supply of Wrigley Extra Sugarless Cool Green Apple. You know, it takes a long time to unwrap 200 pieces of gum. Think she’ll like it? Although if I never again have to smell Wrigley Extra Sugarless Cool Green Apple, it’ll be too soon for me.

So I’ll probably be giving her a wide berth for a while. I hope she has a happy birthday. Maybe I’ll hear about it afterwards.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

BeauzzyFawg's "A Thousand Different Ways to Cure a Phobia"

I'm pretty sure I have a snake phobia.

A phobia is defined as an excessive and persistent fear, brought on by the presence or anticipation of a specific object.

Yep, snake phobia. However, I’m okay with that because I know I’m not alone. Fountaindawg also has a snake phobia. You should have seen her reaction to a snake-shaped ghord. It wasn't pretty. Clay Aiken has a ‘cat phobia’! We’re all phobic. We have a! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Alright. Alright. Back to me ......

Somewhere … Out There …
I think I first realized I had issues with snakes in parochial school in my haste to paste over the Garden of Eden engraving in my catechism book. There were other clues as well, like the time I turned the "S" volume of the World Book Encyclopedia backwards so as to avoid the creepy snake photos. To this day, most likely I am ill informed on any subject between SN and SZ. (However, if it isn’t at Clay’s Official Fan Club, it isn’t important anyway!) I also remember avoiding the reptile exhibit during drawing classes at Carnegie Institute. All the other young artists would return to the instructor with snake and lizard drawings and I'd have snuck off to the Roman statue exhibit returning with a half naked male torso. As in drawing of a torso......from the waist the time I might have had a fig leaf phobia......

Richie, Did You Know?
The phobic situation or object is avoided or endured with anxiety or distress.

Fast-forward to my college summer job providing wildlife illustrations for a large nature center. A dream job illustrating hawks and falcons, the furry creatures of the forest, insect and plant life. A dream job if it wasn't for the fact I shared a lodge with an 8 ft. boa constrictor, the cherished pet of the park naturalist. Rich, the naturalist "walked" the boa past my studio every morning for a little exercise in the grass. I remember freezing at my drafting table, gasping for air, my pulse quickening and counting the seconds just waiting for the HUGE slithering creature to pass. To make matters worse Rich had a passion for rattlesnakes, he would capture them in the rocky cliffs and bring them back to the exhibit hall. Needless to say, I avoided that section of the hall.

Here, There & Everywhere!
The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.

Of course there is no logic to my phobia. I know snakes are valuable to the balance of the ecosystem. I know that a snake is a friend to my garden. I know that the patterns and colors on a snake are a visual wonder for those inclined to stare at such a thing. I know that some see a primitive hypnotic beauty. Snakes may have a bum rap but lets face it, have you ever seen a good guy with the nickname of "Snake eyes"? Those weren't a pit full of furry little bunnies with Harrison Ford in the Temple of Doom. They were SNAKES. Was it a cute chipmunk that Harry Potter fought off in the Chamber of Secrets? No, it was a huge ooogly evil basilisk SNAKE!

My phobia is fed at every turn! Even Disney is in on the action. Kaa the villainous snake from Jungle book hypnotises the unsuspecting Mowgli and tries to make him his man-cub meal. There is Jafar's magical but evil snake staff in Aladdin. Cleopatra had her own pain in the asp.

My house sits on a serpent spa where snakes will warm their cool bodies, curled on the limestone boulders basking in the sun. As an enthusiastic gardener it's time to face the phobia or get out of the garden.

Talking about it is the first step, and with my cohort, Fountaindawg, at my side who is equally put off by these creatures, we can do this. To a degree. We can't actually show pictures of snakes to illustrate the treatment for our phobia, because if we did that we wouldn't actually know... a snake phobia. Now, pictures of Clay Aiken? We can spend hours looking at those! We’d like to feel altruistic in our oggli …perusal of our picture files, so in an effort to help Clay deal with one of his own phobias, the object of our discussion from this point onward will be CATS. No, not the musical CATS, the animal cat.

Bridge Over Snake-Infested Waters
There are several approaches to dealing with slightly phobic persons like ourselves and Clay. Based on research, I've drawn up a hierarchy of threatening situations so that we (Well actually just Clay, not US!) can confront the least feared situation first before moving on to the more threatening ones. For example, looking at a picture of a cartoon snake gives us little to no discomfort. So this would be step one. ACKKKKKKK! Maybe we’re not quite ready for that yet!

Fountaindawg, always the loyal friend and part time personal therapist (How scary is THAT?), has devoted her time and talent to developing a series of comfort situations for Clay’s phobia. Remember, these situations will eventually be associated with a snake to help cure our own phobia.




(See Clay Dictionary for time line.)

Ya gotta start somewhere.

Part 2: I Survived Treatment
Check back soon for the treatment phase.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Claypod Shuffle

No, that isn't a new dance although Clay did something like that when he sang Build Me Up Buttercup on AI2.

I recently bought myself an iPod nano for my husband's birthday. He never wants anything so I decided to make myself happy. I've loaded about 5.5 hours of songs on there so far, including about 45 minutes of Clay from his tours. The rest of it is a mixture of recent songs and artists along with my favorite hits from the 70's and 80's. You might say I have a HOT AC type of iPod.

I'm on vacation at the beach right now and laying out on the deck with a beautiful ocean breeze masking the 90+ degree temperatures, I decided to try to listen on shuffle. This way every song is a surprise but always a good one. I found that I enjoyed this very much. I also realized that I had forgotten just how good some of those other artists are/were. (It also made me desperately want Clay to cover something fun like a Meatloaf song-preferably You Took the Words Right out of my Mouth.

Can you imagine this little exchange at a concert which is the spoken part before the actual song starts?

Clay: On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
Lucky girl in Audience : Will he offer me his mouth?
Clay: Yes!
LGIA: Will he offer me this teeth?
Clay: (with a little growl) Yes!
LGIA: Will he offer me his hunger?
Clay: Yes!!
LGIA: Again, will he offer me his hunger?
Clay: (Desperately) Yesss!
LGIA: And will he starve without me?
Clay: YES
LGIA: And does he love me?
Clay: (Softly and with deadly eye contact) Yes… On a hot summer night, will you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
LGIA: (Physically and emotionally incapable of refusing at this point) Yes
Clay: (Back to his usual snarky self) I bet you say that to all the boys.

And the LGIA gets a red rose instead of the lei that was given out during the NAT.

Pardon me, I need to take a moment. (TM/Jemock--Taking A Moment)

Anyway, back to the ipod. Of course so many songs start playing on the shuffle and I start to think that Clay would sound great on them. But I also enjoy recalling just how beautiful Linda Rondstadt's voice was on the album she did with Aaron Neville. That is easily one of my favorite albums of all time, every song is great.

I don't imagine Clay singing those songs, I imagine singing those songs to Clay.

I've got some great bands on there from Kansas to Def Leppard to Aerosmith to Fleetwood Mac. I've got Rob Thomas with and without Matchbox Twenty. I've got oldies but goodies on there from England Dan and John Forth Coley. I've got fun and brilliant songs from Janet Jackson before she felt that she had to expose herself to get her music noticed. I've got that nifty new song from Christina Aguilera that is starting to really grow on me.

But there's one thing I really noticed while listening to things on the shuffle format. Even though I enjoyed all these songs and artists very much, I find I am just listening to them. When a Clay song comes on, I FOCUS. I stop what I am doing or what else I am thinking about and just let the voice absorb into me. I especially love I Can't Make You Love Me from New Hampshire since I was there and Back for More where he throws down the microphone.

The thought that we will be hearing a new song from Clay very shortly and a whole album's worth of material in just two short months is very exciting to me. I cannot wait to see what they have in store for 'out of the box" type promotion. I hope they promote it A Thousand Different Ways. I think I just might copy it over 2-3 times on the ipod so that they shuffle in many times.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Life's Most Embarrassing Moments

Yes, I know it's only been a day since my last blog on the OFC, but I'm bored, so the nine of you who are reading this thing will just have to put up with me, okay??
OK, so here's the thing: I spend my life trying to avoid embarrassment. To me, there's almost nothing worse than doing something stupid and having someone catch you at it.

Falling -- I've done that quite a number of times. A few years ago, I did it three whole times in one week, including a spectacular fall down the basement steps while carrying a printer, though no one saw that one but my cat. (I'm sure he was laughing his little feline head off about it, though. Cats have a twisted sense of humor.)

And then there was the time I was attempting to impress my then-boyfriend by making a complicated apple cake recipe that had been circulating among the employees where I worked. Armed with a hand-me-down electric mixer and a hand-written copy of the recipe, I set confidently to the task.

The mixer I'd been given was one of those old detachable types, meant to be both a hand- and a stand-mixer, when it didn't quite make it at either. The hand mixer part hooked onto an upright arm that suspended it over a platform whereupon the mixer bowl was supposed to sit. Unfortunately, though, the bowl had long been broken somehow, somewhere before my time, so I'd had to improvise by using a bowl of my own that looked to be about the right approximate size.

The recipe called for a whole mess of ingredients that had cost me a bundle to buy at the grocery store, and it had taken me what seemed like forever to peel and slice all the apples. But nothing was too good for my boyfriend and I knew that once I'd demonstrated all my mad, mad baking skillz, he'd fall even more deeply in love with me! Me and him and Apple Cake 4EVA!!

So I started dumping all the ingredients into the bowl, one after the other, until very soon, the bowl was so full that the ingredients came to within about a half-inch of overflowing. Undeterred, I stuck it onto the mixer platform, lowered the spindly little beaters into it, and set the speed to low. Gamely, the beaters chugged along through the batter, doing a surprisingly good job of turning the mess into a smooth mixture. Once it was all combined to my satisfaction, I turned up the speed to medium.

I stayed there and observed the mixer for quite a while, making sure the bowl was turning as it should. The batter was supposed to be beaten for 10 minutes, so rather than stand there the whole time and be bored (I have the attention span of a house fly), I decided to set the timer and join my boyfriend in the next room.
When I thought the ten minutes were probably almost up, I got up and ambled back into the kitchen...
...just in time to see the beaters doing some amblin' of their own -- right off the mixer stand.

"NOOOOOOO!!!" I yelled, flying over the remaining stretch of kitchen floor in a panic.

But it was too late -- the beaters leaped merrily off their hook, knocking the bowl right off the stand. The bowl fell to the floor, shattering and spreading across the floor in an apple-and-glass-studded lava flow. Meanwhile the beaters, now free of their hook prison, continued to whirl, throwing batter high up into the air and all over the walls, ceiling, counter, and me, as they fell off to the side and upside-down, practically yelling "WHEEEEEE!!" in the process.

"STOP!!!" I futilely shrieked as I danced around, desperately trying to avoid the bits of apple batter getting hurled at my head. Frantically dodging the spinning blades, I finally grabbed the electric cord and yanked it out of the socket.
Blessed silence.

My cats, who had come to see what all the excitement was about, stared at me with round, frightened eyes. I had batter in my hair, my nose, my eyelashes, and all over my shirt and pants. There were bits of apple and splashes of batter everywhere I looked.

I collapsed to the floor amidst the goo and wailed, "All those ingredients -- gone!! All that money!! Stupid, stupid mixer!!!" And my boyfriend?
Laughed his fool head off. He hadn't been so entertained in...forever.
Which just goes to show, the way to a man's heart is not through his stomach, but through doing stupid things that make him laugh. Because boys are simple, and it's always good to remember that.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Haunting Voices: Or Continually Recurring To The Mind

I’ve been thinking about how some voices just grab you completely unaware. Clay Aiken was like that for me. The minute I heard him, I was hooked. One reason why I adore putting his songs on my iPod and then shuffling is when it comes on unexpectedly, it stops me dead. It is as good as I remember. The other interesting thing is that it somehow fits in beautifully among the other artists I have on the iPod. I mix it all up – Elvis Costello and Gene Pitney, Eric Clapton and Eric Andersen, Ten Years After and Ella Fitzgerald. Tom Paxton and Van Morrison. Ray Charles and Fred Neil. Aznavour and Dylan. Andy Bey and Santana. It’s all wonderful music. And Clay works with them all.

Clay’s voice can be so haunting. Mary Did You Know. I Can’t Make You Love Me. Fields of Gold. Such beauty.

Another voice that I always found haunting was Tim Buckley. I adored Tim’s music and incredible voice. His Goodbye and Hello is a beautiful showcase for his stunning vocal range and powerful lyrics in a folk-rock style. While his Happy Sad highlights a more jazzy feel with a small ensemble and sparse understated instrumentation.

Tim Buckley died in 1975 from a drug overdose. He was only 28 years old and the world lost a magical musical explorer. Here’s a clip of Tim singing a rare acoustic version of Song of the Siren on the show The Monkees.

Tim was a wonderful songwriter. He was also an awesome interpreter of songs. Here’s a clip of Tim singing the great Fred Neil’s The Dolphins.

Wow - that was a time when voices really mattered.

Tim's son, Jeff Buckley also met a tragic end, drowning at the young age of 31. He had come to Memphis to start the recording of his second album. His debut album Grace marked him as one of the most promising artists of his generation. His passing deprived the musical world of another amazing talent.

If you’re interested in these two fascinating men, consider reading Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim.

Here is Jeff’s haunting rendition of the brilliant Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

From his debut album, Grace, is simply sublime:

So . . . what does this have to do with Clay Aiken? Not really sure – except that certain voices, certain souls touch us. I am drawn to Tim Buckley and Jeff Buckley’s voices. I am drawn to Clay Aiken’s voice. They are beautiful. As can be heard in Clay singing Mary Did You Know on The View.

This blog's Quote is: Beauty without expression tires - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Porsche vs. Volkswagen, The Sequel

I just wanted to state for the record that I'm so grateful to Clay Aiken for bringing all of us disparate personalities together at this blog. I've felt very lucky to be a part of such an erudite group, and have been so inspired to read all the thoughtful, inspiring, and informative entries here. (Not to mention all the cool videos.) Now, having said that, here's one more offering that's all about MEEEEE. (Ha. Ha. Ha.) I just thought, since I started the story, that you'd like to hear the unlikely conclusion of my blog of June 6:

So, having moved on from “Jeremy” the slug actor and considering myself well rid of him, I had a couple of weeks of peace until a phone call late one night...
Me (groggy): Hello?
Strident Female Voice: Okay, let me talk to him.
Me: Who?
SFV: C’mon, I know he’s there.
Me: Who?
SFV (agitated): Don’t bullshit me!
Me: I’m sorry?
Me: He’s not here.
Me: Nope, not here. Hasn’t been here in two weeks.
Me: Not gonna be seeing him, you woke me up, and I’m not the frickin’ answering service. Did I mention you woke me up?
SFV: Bitch! (hangs up)

I started getting these calls from the BBBB (Brainless Bottled Blonde Bimbo) nightly -- and this one was pretty standard -- until I resorted to disconnecting my phone. One night before bedtime as I was leaning over to pull the plug as usual, the phone rang. No Caller I.D. in those days, so I picked up.
Me: Hello?
Jeremy: Hey, babe! It’s me!
Me (warily): Yeah?
Jeremy:’s ME! (Was I supposed to be overjoyed?)
Me: What do YOU want?
Jeremy: Can I come over?
Me: No. And do me a favor and call the BBBB -- she’s been looking for you and her shrieking harpy act is getting really old.
Jeremy (offhandedly): Oh, I moved out. I mean, sure, I slept with her, but I didn’t know her very well, and she turned out to be a real psycho.
Me: Heh. Fan me with a brick. Why has she been calling ME, anyway?
Jeremy: Well, I sorta told her I was staying with you.
Me: Well, you can sorta UNtell her. You can’t come over, I gave away your stuff, get lost.
Jeremy (appalled): You gave away my stuff??
Me: I told you three times to come and get it, and you didn't. The Salvation Army, on the other hand, was happy to oblige.
Jeremy (after a pause): Bitch! (hangs up)

Well. A fitting denouement. Eventually, the BBBB must’ve moved on to harassing some other girl(s), since I didn’t hear from her again, until...

Fast-forward two years. I’m working at the international theatre festival and hiring box office attendants. I get a call from an already gainfully employed friend.
She (urgently): Are you hiring right now?
Me: Yeah, some box office people. Why?
She: Well, I know this girl...she’s in bad shape and needs a job.
Me: Define “bad shape.”
She: Well, she just got out of drug rehab and is living in her car. She’s been depressed and can’t find a full-time job. I hear she’s been reduced to turning tricks to get by.
Me (sardonically): Oh, gosh, how can I refuse?
She: No, she’s clean, I swear. And smart. And reeeeeallly needs a job. Winter’s coming...

(Anybody who's spent even one winter in Chicago knows they're nothing to fool around with. And the thought of a woman living in her car...well...)

Me (with a sigh): Okay, send her over. I’ll at least talk to her.

And sure enough, just to illustrate that "what goes around, comes around," it guessed it...the BBBB. It was clear that she knew who I was the minute she saw me, and looked devastated. I was dying to exact my revenge, but...she really did look threadbare, haggard and terrible (and no longer blonde...the “B” for “bottled” was obviously accurate). And as she talked about how Jeremy had glommed off her, spent her money and dumped her, I reflected that, actually, we were both victims. I was just lucky to be strong enough to deal with it...and she wasn’t.

To make a long story short, I hired her, and she did a competent job, never giving anyone any trouble. We never really became friends, but I heard she at least got back on her feet.

What do they say? “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Sometimes, no matter how badly people treat you, it doesn't pay to respond in kind, and once in a while, you can turn a negative into a positive. And maybe, as unlikely as it sounds, I felt a kinship with her -- after all, we were two survivors of the highly contagious Jeremy epidemic. Now, God knows, like everyone, I've done a few things in my life of which I'm not proud, but in this case, I think I made the right choice. Lest you think I’m some kind of saint, though...

I’ve never known what ultimately became of Jeremy, his probably long-suffering wife and his named-after-me daughter, or where they ended up. My namesake would be a teenager now, and I’m a small enough person to hope she’s giving him all kinds of headaches! That would only be fair.

Jeremy, meet Karma -- one of the few gals immune to your charm.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Respond to Me

People often ask me how I can see more than one Clay Aiken concert per tour (especially when I go to two nights in a row). I tell them that no two concerts are the same because of the interaction with the audience. Clay's ability to ad lib and react to whatever is happening on/off stage or in the audience is sight to behold. Sometimes he goes right into the audience to chat and then he really turns it up a notch. He responds to his surroundings and his audience responds back. It's personal, even when you are sharing it with as ten thousand people. And he's out there, flying without a net.

I've enjoyed many entertainers and musicians over the years but few seem to have the ability (and the nerve) to step away from the script night after night and respond to the human emotions in front of them. It's what separates the good from the great. It's why Ellen isn't afraid to go out in her audience. It's why Jay Leno will never be Johnny Carson.

I remember as a little kid staying up late on a Saturday night to watch the Carol Burnett show. My favorite part was when she would say "Let's bump up the lights" and she did a Q&A session with the audience. There is actually a video made of just these moments at a site called Here there was no script, probably little editing and it changed every time.

Clay always builds in at least one if not two places in his concerts where he can interact with the audience. The best was from the 2005 Jukebox Tour where the reluctant husbands or boyfriends of Clay fans were picked on. He would look for participation from a guy who was "bound, gagged, bribed or threatened" to come to the Clay Aiken concert. He would go right in the audience and tease them about it. Here is one of my favorites.

In his latest blog, Clay talked about the new contest his fan club is running where members have to guess the four letter acronym that can be made from his new album title (We are hoping for the album in September.) He wanted to see what we were sending in for the contest so he wrote in his blog "Respond to me".

We do and it's hard to explain why. It's more than the voice, the song interpretation, the self deprecating humor, the teasing, the snarky wit, the quick on his feet comedic timing. It's more than the selfless philanthropy, the activism, the caring for fellow human beings. It's almost chemical.

"Respond to me." He almost commanded it.

"Always", I reply. Now can I just have a hint so that I can win this contest?

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Musical Collaborations: Or Sharing The Wealth Of Talent

Clay Blogged! The excitement is building for Clay’s sophomore album and I cannot wait. I want to be a Clay Aiken fan for years and years and years. Longevity – that’s one wish I have for Clay. I want a great solo career as well as the opportunity for wonderful collaborations. After Clay sang with Heather Headley at her benefit concert for "Broadway Cares" Equity Fights AIDS back in 2004, he went into the audience to watch the rest of the performers. People who were there have described Clay as looking like a sponge, soaking up the creativity and performance skills of those who have been in the business longer and who have an ability to touch an audience.

Watch Clay and Heather and you can see the more experienced artist sharing the stage with the newcomer and her honest performance energy combines with Clay’s enthusiasm to create a wonderful moment.

As I think about my desire to see Clay share the stage with others, to work with the best, to learn from the best – I reviewed some other wonderful collaborations. This clip of a very young Eric Clapton in 1970 first singing with the rest of Derek and the Dominoes and then singing and playing guitar with legends Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash is simply awesome. It’s a long clip combining the two songs – but worth it!

In 1969, just a few short years prior to his death, Bobby Darin did a marvelous duet of If I Were A Carpenter with a very young Stevie Wonder. I wish the video were better – but there’s no denying their amazing talent and their shared admiration for each other.

Sometimes it’s simply two incredible pros like Van Morrison and Ray Charles lighting up the stage with their talents.

Charity events like Live Aid always give performers an opportunity to work together and this performance combines the fabulously talented Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Elton John and Mark Knopfler singing Tearin’ Us Apart. Watching their enjoyment of one another is absolutely infectious.

I’ll end this blog with another duet I adored. I remember hearing it for the first time at Meadowbrook, NH – how surprised we were to see Clay covering an Aretha/Michael hit – and the minute the music started – my husband turned to me and said “Clay’s getting funky” – oh, yes he is – and I loved watching him sing this with Angela Fisher. Here’s I Knew You Were Waiting from Raleigh NaT.

I cannot wait to see the opportunities that come Clay’s way over the next few years and the fabulous artists he gets to work with. What a great ride it’s going to be.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Of Thee I Sing

New Blog By Berkeley!

I grew up in Pasadena, California, home of the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl Game, the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Garden, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory --- and one kicking Fourth of July fireworks show.

Pasadena’s celebration of Independence Day is Southern California's biggest. It is held in a stadium big enough to hold a hundred thousand people, with thousands watching from their picnic locations in neighboring Brookside Park and many more enjoying the display from their homes all around the Arroyo. It’s a great show, always featuring a band and singers performing patriotic tunes, but growing up, we thought it was much more enjoyable to look out at the fireworks than straight up at them.

After a time or two, we rarely went to the Rose Bowl to see the show.

Instead, my parents would prepare a big barbecue at home and, after the meal, we would light sparklers and watch the white hot embers fade as they fell onto the brick patio. Then the five of us kids would go up to the second floor and wait for the sky to light up in the distance. We knew where to look, but the hero of the night would be the first one to point and shout, “Hey! It’s starting! Look over there!”

I’ll never forget those hot July nights, stuffed to the eyeballs with hot dogs and potato salad, the smell of sweet ripe watermelon still on our fingers and then, at last, a spectacular light show, just before the dreaded call “Children, bedtime!”

Waiting in the gathering darkness, we’d provide music of our own, singing a few of the patriotic songs we’d learned in school: “Yankee Doodle”, “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and my favorite, “America the Beautiful”. None of us ever tried to sing the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” --- with its sweeping range and difficult transitions, it didn’t sit comfortably on our tongues.

As I grew older, I wondered why our national song was a war hymn that ended with a question.

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Star Spangled Banner

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

- Words from the poem "In Defense of Fort McHenry", written by Francis Scott Key, September 20, 1814. Sung to the tune of the drinking song “To Anacreon in Heaven,” attributed to the British composer John Stafford Smith.

“The Star Spangled Banner” has been popular since its composition during the War of 1812, when Francis Scott Key wrote a poem commemorating the moment he saw the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry the morning after a battle with the British forces.

According to The Star Spangled Banner and The War of 1812 from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the words and music were first performed together at the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore on October 19, 1814. During the century, the SSB became one of the country’s most beloved patriotic songs.

The song endured throughout the Civil War as a way for Americans to express love of country and, along with ‘Yankee Doodle’ and ‘Hail Columbia’, it was played on most patriotic occasions. By the end of the century, the military was using the song for official ceremonies and playing it at the raising and lowering of the colors.

The National Museum of American History continues, “Meanwhile, patriotic organizations had launched a campaign to have Congress recognize ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as the U.S. national anthem. After several decades of attempts, a bill making ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ our official national anthem was finally passed by Congress and signed into law by President Herbert Hoover on March 3, 1931.”

It’s sometimes hard for me to hear the SSB without saying “Play ball!” in my head as the notes fade away, and I have discovered that there is a reason for that.

During the World Series of Baseball in 1918, the song was performed in honor of the troops fighting in the Great War. This was the first time it was played at a sporting event. It was a spontaneous moment and it was reported to have been deeply moving. It became a staple of every ball game, at first played during the seventh inning stretch, but formally adopted during World War II as the opening of every major league baseball game. I have some great memories of going to games at Dodger Stadium as a kid, singing rousing, off-key renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and that other fun baseball song, the good old SSB.

In a few years my knowledge of the world would grow beyond the boundaries of those halcyon summer days. We had landed on the moon, a bitterly divisive war was ending, a president had left office under a cloud, women and minorities were striving for equal rights, and the child who had danced in front of the mirror, trying to become a female Fred Astaire (I’d seen him on “The Early Show” afternoon television movie), was listening to a different tune.

My brother James, who is now the professional musician he dreamed of being in those days, thrust a mini reel-to-reel tape player in my face. (It was the iPod of its day.)

“Listen to this.”

And blaring out of that portable player, in all its tinny glory, came the sounds of the revolution.

It was “The Star Spangled Banner” as performed by James Marshall Hendrix, once a paratrooper and member of the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky --- and now, as Jimi Hendrix, the most innovative and acclaimed rock guitarist of his time.

Jimi Hendrix - Star Spangled Banner, Woodstock, NY August 18, 1969

As Wayne Pernu writes in Star Spangled Banned:Anthem of A Generation “Jimi Hendrix's performance of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock was a turning point in the history of the counter-culture movement.

The sounds Hendrix drew from his Fender Strat were literally an aural recreation of war. In between the machine-gun fire, bombs dropping, smoke billowing from napalm blazes, and a wrenching undercurrent that evoked the agonizing polarity which tore our country apart and destroyed Vietnam, Hendrix treated the song with surprising reverence... While people presume "Star Spangled Banner" to be defiantly anti-war, it is no such thing; such a notion limits the scope of the piece... Eric Burdon [lead singer of The Animals] recalled that when Hendrix arrived in England he spoke fervently about the need for the United States to subdue Chinese Communism before it overtook the world. It is important to remember that Hendrix had been on both sides of the fence, experiencing attitudes toward the war as diametrically opposed to one another as could be... At the same time, Hendrix possessed a pacifistic nature that certainly contributed to the work's radiant objectivity.”

Jimi was my brother’s musical hero, and he devoured everything he could find on Hendrix. I don’t recall where James got that bootleg --- perhaps handed down through his musician friends, perhaps taped from the audience in the theater where the “Woodstock” documentary film played the following year. I do remember that my childish ears had never heard anything like it.

Many prefer traditional interpretations of The Star Spangled Banner and some even consider radical reinterpretations of the anthem to be disrespectful. I am a patriot of the left wing and I know that protest for many (no, not all) was born out of love for this country and a fervent desire to see it become the best it could be. Though it is not for all tastes, Hendrix’s version was a way of combining his formidable musical genius with a new interpretation of a patriotic tune, relevant to his life and his experience.

Who were the people who experienced Hendrix? They were the thoughtful, the self-indulgent, the fun-loving, the disorderly, the revolutionaries, the camp followers, the libertines and the lovers of liberty --- all coming together at Woodstock, a musical celebration as out-of-this world as the moon landing a month earlier.

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To place Hendrix’s performance in the context of its time, check out the 1970 Academy Award winning documentary “Woodstock.” Film critic Roger Ebert says of Woodstock “The Hendrix guitar solo is the most famous single element in the film, which uses it as a form of closure. As Hendrix begins, we see the concert grounds after most of the 400,00 have left, leaving behind acres of debris, muddy blankets, lost shoes. Then the chronology reverses itself to show the field filling, until finally we see the whole expanse of the mighty crowd, as Hendrix's guitar evokes rockets bursting in air.

‘Woodstock’ is a beautiful, moving, ultimately great film. It seemed to signal the beginning of something. Maybe it signaled the end. Somebody told me the other day that the 1960s has ‘failed.’ Failed at what? They certainly didn't fail at being the 1960s. Now that the period is described as a far-ago time... how touching it is in this film to see the full flower of its moment, of its youth and hope.”

What has happened to the echoes of Woodstock Nation? My brother James has lived in Italy for many years, touring the world with some of the most famous musicians of the past twenty-five years. His teenage son was born and raised in Italy, and his favorite musician is --- Jimi Hendrix.

Though I was a tad too young to appreciate the times --- except with my copycat little sister “hippie” clothing and hair --- I now appreciate so much about that era, particularly its music.

The musicians of that time sang a different song of America, but it was a song of our nation all the same.

(For more about Woodstock - read our blog Revisiting Woodstock: Or Playing In The Mud or Clay

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For the last three years, when I think of the Independence Day, I think of Clay Aiken. Clay has been a part of my musical landscape for just a few years now, but he is already one of my favorite Fourth of July memories.

Clay has an interesting and complex recent history with the holiday.

In 2002, he was a college student, sitting in the hospital where his stepfather, with whom he had a difficult relationship, lay dying.

In 2003, just beginning his transition from amateur to professional singer, he left rehearsals for the American Idol Tour to mark that anniversary with his family.

In 2004, as a chart-topping, best-selling singer, he was selected to sing the Star Spangled Banner to open the PBS broadcast of “A Capitol Fourth”, which took place on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol in Washington DC. Clay also sang “Measure of a Man” and “God Bless the USA”, dedicating his performance to the men and women who were serving the country. Clay’s brother Brett had just joined the Marines.

During his time in the public eye, Clay has performed the SSB for the minor league Durham Bulls --- and at Game One of the 100th anniversary of the World Series of Baseball. He has sung the national anthem on D-Day, the sixth of June, at a NASCAR race in Dover, Delaware; at a basketball game for his alma mater, the University of North Carolina Charlotte; and at a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game. He sings it well, with an ease that conceals the song’s difficulty.

Clay’s performance for “A Capitol Fourth” is one of my favorites --- and it is worlds away from my memories of squeaky-voiced renditions in school auditoriums and boisterous shout-outs in summer ballparks.

Clay Aiken - Star Spangled Banner, A Capitol Fourth, July 4, 2004

In this rendition, Clay’s voice, though not perfect, is just beautiful, and I love the simplicity, the honesty and the respect with which he approaches the anthem. Some renditions are overly earnest and therefore feel insincere, a few have an unfortunate air of jingoism, others feel a bit like a star turn by the celebrated singers who perform it. Accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, Clay’s version is traditional but not staid, and it feels appropriate to the setting. There are other songs of the American experience that I would love to hear Clay sing, but I’m glad I have this performance in my collection.

“The Star Spangled Banner” has now been our national anthem for seventy-five of our 230 years as a nation. The more I learned about it, the more I respected the song and its history, but it is another song, with its imagery of a peaceful America, that touches my soul.

The song is “America The Beautiful”, and the soulful, heartfelt version performed by the legendary Ray Charles has become a holiday favorite.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Hear a sample from Ray Charles Sings For America

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

From an 1893 poem by Katharine Lee Bates, melody from the 1882 hymn “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem” by Samuel Augustus Ward.
Like the SSB, “America the Beautiful” has many verses that are rarely sung, including some archaic language that would have contemporary Americans scratching their heads. But I love the song’s majestic imagery, its idyllic vision of a brotherhood shared by all Americans --- and the fact that you don’t have to be Ray Charles or Clay Aiken to sing it. It is not our national song, but it remains to me an anthem of reverent prayer and quiet celebration, just as it was to the little girl growing up in Pasadena, watching the fireworks and singing.

Now we celebrate the 230th anniversary of the birth of this country, a place that is centuries old but still experiencing growing pains. There has been discord and there has been magnificent courage. There have been war heroes, and peace heroes as well. There has been a myriad of opinions, from the left, the right and the center. And there has been the music, chronicling the changing times.

Administrations come and go, but the people and their music endure. This is my country. This land is your land, this land is my land. Born in the USA.

I’ll celebrate a while, but there is work left to do to achieve the dream.

Happy Birthday, America. On this Fourth of July, regardless of politics, of thee I sing.

(c) 2006 by berkeley

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