Saturday, October 31, 2009

New Kid in Town

Recently, someone at Clay Aiken’s official fan club posted a question. What would you like to see Decca Records to do for Clay as we wait for his album promised in the first half of 2010? It’s an interesting question and it’s perhaps too simple of an answer to say, everything.

But I’ve actually been watching how Decca treats some of its other pop/crossover artists. They have some household names like Sting, Rufus Wainwright and Andrea Bocelli. They have other artists that are pretty well known in their genre or region like Morrissey. They are releasing an interesting B side album to help promote his tour, despite having a new album released earlier this year. A great, simple idea to get his fans excited and informed of his next big thing. They have people I’ve never heard of like Gary Go but it seems that they have developed specific promotional opportunities that try to play to his strengths or unique talents.

I already knew that Decca would work the social media outlets well; their parents at Universal Music Group seems to be on the forefront of that promotional path. Just the fact that someone is working Clay’s Twitter account (albeit at a low level) is something new.

What I am hoping for in the marketing plan is something that isn’t cookie cutter yet still well planned and deliberately integrated rather than feeling thrown together with just the basics covered. (Exhibits A and B-the last two album promotion cycles for Clay.)

I’ve watched the recent promotion of Sting’s new holiday album called If on a Winter’s Night. There has been traditional promotion along with other articles popping up in different places. I love the fact that there is a performance DVD being offered as a companion product. A concert DVD of Clay has always been a dream of mine. (As an aside, it’s also been a dream of mine for Sting and Clay to present together at some music award show. They are both former teachers, both known for their philanthropy and both recognized by one name. Clay did a beautiful version of Sting’s Fields of Gold at his 2004 concert.)

So what does this mean for what I hope to see for Clay? At this point, I’d take news of any kind. The natives are getting a bit restless. But I’ve developed enough marketing plans to know that they have their own timeline and while they can be fluid based on the dynamics of the industry, they also require structure. (But a little strategic tweet wouldn’t be blowing the whole thing, would it?)

But, this is my blog so I can fill it with a bunch of I wants , right?

I want a press release that screams respect and pride that Clay is a Decca artist. One that is well written (you’d think that would be a given but alas…) where natural sound bites can be pulled by a lazy media.

I want to be jealous of the person who created such a well planned promotional strategy, not one filled with second tier television where he doesn’t even sing.

I want a single that isn’t a ballad. His previous label missed the mark every single time after Invisible. (Hey,did you like how that word worked in two different ways..Every SINGLE time. Oh shut up, that sounded funnier in my head.)

I want an album with the eclectic sounds of the wonderful and barely promoted On My Way Here, which had something for everyone in terms of genre and tempo. If you ask my preference (and even if you don’t) I’d prefer no covers but if you must please avoid someone else’s signature song. He deserves his own.

I want Decca to capture his strengths which are many, but also to push him a little out of his comfort zone. He’s that good. The last time someone did that, we got the lyrical gem of Lover All Alone. I hope you can tease, coax, nag, pay him to write more.

The fact that this voice hasn’t graced a soundtrack is criminal. And that’s all I am going to say about that.

I would also say to Decca-Engage the fans. Keep us informed, when we get news we process it, discuss it from 17 different angles and then move on. We don’t do well with silence. Despite a reputation mostly created by the media; the Clay Nation is smart, technically savvy and will act like a well trained army. Give us direction and a task and stand back. Yeah, we have some over the top fans but what musician or sports team doesn’t?

As an aside, please don’t use the word Claymate in any official press or on any of the sites. Half the fandom dislikes the name and it doesn’t really sound very welcoming to a casual adult fan or a male fan. I know that the media loves it but please let’s not feed the beast, ya know?

He was “discovered” on TV and he reaches his best and widest audience that way. It seems like forever since he has performed on prime time TV. He is a double threat in that he can act as well so there are plenty of opportunities for him to get exposure just for “brand awareness” as well as specific music promotion.

Clay is very capable of a water cooler moment. He stole the press cycle after the finales of AI2, AI5 and AI8. I think an unexpected acting turn that shows his darker side would do the trick. He would be hilarious returning as Kenneth’s cousin on 30Rock but I kind of hope for deliciously evil turn on Lie to Me as well.

Please do the same type of live performance DVD that Sting is offering right now and that Rufus Wainwright released in September. Most of the public, even those who consider themselves fans, know the great voice. They don’t know the bawdy, sarcastic, frighteningly quick witted consummate concert entertainer. Show the world the total Clay Aiken, the one that probably prompted you to sign him in the first place.

I am sure that the smart folks at Decca/UMG know all of this but I’m tired of people asking me what Clay is up to these days. I much prefer them to tell me they keep hearing about him or reading about him.

On a more shallow note I will shamelessly beg for a look with longer hair of any color. If I never see another spiked hair on that very smart head, it will be too soon. That casually sexy blond man standing next to David Novik will do just fine.

I’ve got a lot of faith in you Decca, please don’t let me down.

**********************************************************************************

And here's a little Fields of Gold from 2004. Hard to believe this was five and a half years ago. It's a little shaky, the fandom hadn't yet mastered the art of stealth video. It is preceded by a part of Measure of a Man. This was a special concert where Clay had to clear his throat and told us to sing. (I was at this concert.) He wrote in his book that he was overwhelmed at how much his life had changed and how much he felt it at that moment.



But that same beautiful ballad singer can dance and sing rock too, as he did here in Jukebox Tour 2005.



And of course I prefer original music, too bad this never happened back in 2005 before the mandate of love song covers.



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Monday, October 19, 2009

Change you can believe in

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the annual charity gala put on by the National Inclusion Project (formerly known as the Bubel/Aiken Foundation). I have been supporting this charity since its inception because of its wonderful vision of providing an environment where all children (those with disabilities and those without) could live, learn and play together. But given my busy schedule of full time work plus house, husband, two teenagers and a crazy half Chihuahua, support for me meant for the most part writing a check a few times a year. I am fortunate to have healthy children, nieces and nephews so I haven’t had to immerse myself in the programs, setbacks, breakthroughs and challenges that those families of children with disabilities must wade through on a daily basis.


I did purchase a copy of a book published by the Project called Our Friend Mikayla to send to our local elementary school a few years ago. The book is written and illustrated by a third grade class and describes how they approached the inclusion of a classmate with a severe disability. It shows that children have an innate way of seeing past the wheelchair or other differences and just finding a way to play. Adults should be so wise. I received a lovely note two days later from the special education teacher who gushed over the book and couldn’t thank me enough. She was immediately putting it into the program for all children, not just her students. She said it was exactly what she had been looking to find for a few years. I thought that maybe this young charity was really on to something here.

Every year for their annual Gala, I would send a donation and listen to the speeches on videotape after the event. But this year friends and I decided to journey to Raleigh, North Carolina and attend for ourselves. It was a big year for the charity; they announced their name change and an aggressive series of goals. They had just received a four star rating from Charity Navigator, the highest ranking given by the largest independent charity watchdog. This makes them the highest rated charity in their field. And just this weekend, the Project received a special donation from The Christie Cookie Company as the leading vote getter in their charity contest.

I was not prepared for what I experienced. I had not realized how progressive their programs were and how they were embraced by other, more well known programs including the Boston University's Camp Shriver program. The Director at Shriver noted that the Project’s camp programs and curriculum were “genius” and they will be adopting their model. I think everyone around our table mouthed “wow”.

They presented Champions Trophies to three deserving groups. The first was presented to two high school cheerleaders who developed a program called The Sparkle Effect which incorporates children of all abilities into their program. They have even developed an online model for other schools. The young women accepting the award were poised, composed and articulate beyond their years. I have a daughter the same age and I think I sat there feeling like a proud mother. I can’t imagine how their mothers feel. Kind of brings a new meaning to “and a child shall lead them”.

The second winner was the corporate award given to Mitsubishi Electric. Their Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) is an integral part of the company and works hard at a number of initiatives important to the Project. It was wonderful to see such a solid corporate partnership.

Finally, a Champion Trophy was presented to a young man named Patrick Henry Hughes, along with his father Patrick John Hughes and Patrick’s band leader at U of Louisville. Patrick Henry was born without eyes along with other physical challenges. He is a musical prodigy and he plays trumpet in the marching band, with his father pushing his wheelchair. I’ve been in a marching band, it’s hard enough to remember the music and the steps, never mind doing it while pushing a wheelchair. We were treated to a few songs on the piano and I was amazed at his musicality and his stage presence. I remarked that Patrick was living proof of what the Project was trying to achieve because you forgot he was blind and you forgot he had other physical challenges. You simply enjoyed the music and laughed at his enthusiasm.

Previous winners include the family who produced Including Samuel, which can be seen on PBS this month.

As someone else said this weekend, it is truly amazing that this charity started as a college assignment for Clay Aiken to complete his degree in Special Education. His and Diane Bubel’s vision is more than a reality. It’s changing the reality of thousands of children.


To learn more, please visit Inclusionproject.org

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Anticipation

There are signs everywhere. That line was repeated a lot in the romantic comedy “Fool’s Rush In". Sure it’s easy to read into something if you want to believe it bad enough. But sometimes logic just tells you that the signs are real, they are important and they are leading to something good.

Lately, the signs surrounding Clay Aiken have reminded me of watching that staging light that professional dragster racers watch before they hit the gas. Ever since it was announced that Clay has signed with Universal Music Group’s Decca Records, good things are evident. I sense motion and change that will serve as the foundation of better things. I can hear the engines revving in my head as the pulse of activity grows stronger.

Clay’s official fan club site made a brief announcement about the Decca signing and a new album in 2010. Decca is expected to make an official announcement as they typically do when they sign a new artist. But they aren’t standing still. They added him to their artist roster and began building his artist page. His social media sites like MySpace and Facebook have also been updated and now his management will operate his official Twitter site, @Clayaiken.

Decca and Universal have always been active in online marketing but they are also paying attention. When Jimmy Fallon made a joke about Clay signing with Decca, the folks at Decca tweeted back with some information to counter it. As an aside, why is it Fallon jokes about Clay so much? As a fan pondered recently, did all the writers not good enough to follow Conan to the Tonight Show (which is a scary thought on its own) get stuck writing for Fallon? Was there a sign when they turned in their resumes that said line forms to the right for those with a fourteen year old’s mentality? Sorry, I digress.

Recently, Decca posted a picture on Twitter of Clay with David Novik, who is the VP of A&R at Decca. A&R professionals match the artist with the songs and material that they will record. Clay looked gorgeous. Mr. Novik looked quite happy and filled with his own kind of anticipation at having this kind of talent to work with. Or is that “with which to work”. Sometimes good grammar makes a dull sentence. I know, I know. I digress once again.

The fans happily tweeted back and Decca noticed. They responded with a tweet of their own (boy, the lexicon of Twitter makes me feel like a pre-schooler). They were quite happy to see how enthusiastic we were (original meaning, not Clay’s synonym for crazy) because they shared that enthusiasm with us. A music label interacting with the fans? What a novel idea…

Mr. Novik has said in online interviews that he feels strongly about an artist combining music with touring and merchandise. Clay’s always been a strong seller of merch and so fan anticipation grew a little more when the official store was down for upgrade. Clay indicated they are working on a calendar. My anticipation grew exponentially with that comment because he hasn’t sold one in a few years. He must like what’s coming down the road if he plans on releasing one. (Most especially because he hates photo shoots!) I wonder if they ever read that thread about fan suggestions for items in the store. One can never have enough striped socks, although I’m an argyle person myself.

Anticipation... For a new album produced by a company whose first comment about their artist is “enthusiastic” and not the snide comments from the old label found in the 2003 TIME Magazine article.

Anticipation... For utilizing all avenues of promotion and a core fanbase that knows how to help spread the word.

Anticipation... For new pictures and new merchandise

Anticipation... For seeing and hearing him at his annual charity gala next month. Forget the national day of service, this man has dedicated himself to a lifetime of service and I’m happy to go along for the ride.

Anticipation... To hear the Voice again in concert.

Maybe Carly Simon will open for him.



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Monday, August 10, 2009

Don't Look Back


There comes a moment in everyone’s life when you know that it’s time for a fresh start. Maybe it’s work, maybe it’s a relationship, maybe it’s even just where you live. I know the time I decided to leave my first real employer, not high school job or the college summers job but my first honest to goodness adult job. I was grateful for the initial opportunity; they took a chance on me when all I had was my diploma and a smile.

But I started to feel that they were using my talents and skills and in return I got more work with more headaches. There was just a day that something in my head clicked. This employer was doing more harm than good for my career. Yes, my customers liked me. Most of my colleagues were good people with the exception of the one or two who lied just to make themselves look better at anyone’s expense. But my career had plateaued there and the only way up was out. It was funny but literally the day I heard that click in my head, I received a call from a headhunter who had a new employer who had heard of my work and wanted me. As it turns out, leaving that job was the best thing I could have ever done.

Don’t look back
A new day is breakin’
It’s been too long since I felt this way
I don’t mind where I get taken
The road is callin’
Today is the day


Today, the fans of Clay Aiken received glorious news. Well it’s kind of part two of glorious news, the first being back in February when we learned he had parted ways with RCA. I wrote about it here Listen blog. You can read there about the stunning incompetence, indifference and self-indulgence from those who were charged with taking a proven seller and treating his recording career like they took the playbook from a college paper graded a D minus. It’s a tribute to his talent (now stretching beyond music), his perseverance and his ability to create loyalty that they failed to beat him down. His situation was similar to mine, only on a grander scale and with a binding contract to boot.

I can see
It took so long to realize
I’m much too strong
Not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around


And now we know that Universal/Decca Records sees what we saw and what much of the world saw. There are enough fans with connections to the recording industry and radio to hear professionals shake their collective heads at the way Clay’s musical career was treated. But, that’s the past. RCA is in his rear view mirror.

I finally see the dawn arrivin
I see beyond the road I’m drivin
Far away and left behind

It’s a new horizon and I’m awakin now
Oh I see myself in a brand new way
The sun is shinin
The clouds are breakin
cause I can’t lose now, there’s no game to play



Universal Music Group's Decca Records has an extremely eclectic artist list offering a wide range of music genres. From Andrea Bocelli to Rufus Wainwright to Sting and a whole bunch of interesting pop, jazz, opera and instrumental artists in between. International artists. Respected artists. Decca was a powerhouse in the early years too with many of the biggest names in music on its roster, from Bing Crosby to Bobby Darin to Bill Haley and the Comets.

And in 2009, they want Clay Aiken.

Universal Music Group (UMG) also gets marketing music in this decade with a new playbook required. They don't rely on radio and trying to insert their artists in between the bubble gum pop princess of the month and 42 Rihanna songs. UMG worked with MySpace to start MySpace Music in 2008. They delivered one BILLION video streams to YouTube in that same year. In 2009, they partnered with YouTube to form VEVO which many are calling MTV 2.0. Videos for the digital age. Personally, I don't think Clay could have found a better fit for his music. His online fanbase is strong and knowledgeable in pushing along internet information. It's a partnership made in digital music heaven.

Here’s the voice of his generation. The one who can put lyrics to a simple melody and create heartache in the form of a poem. Perhaps Decca will give him a chance to do more of that. Here’s one who can sing just about every genre and do it better live than he can in the recording studio, something that would cause a mild breakout of hives in today’s young Pro-tools polished singers. Maybe now we’ll get to see what a well promoted album looks like. Maybe when his new album (promised in the first half of 2010) gets the right spotlight, it will bring attention to his last album, On My Way Here, quite simply the best album he’s ever recorded and one of the best albums I’ve heard, period. Maybe now, the versatile voice and the name recognition will end up on a movie soundtrack, where he should have ruled since 2003. (And maybe now that it is pretty obvious that he’s a damn good comedic actor, he’ll get a little part in that movie too.)

For the first time in years, I feel like those maybes are not just wishful thinking. That the shackles are gone and his recording career will be ruled by strategy and smarts instead of stupidity and imperialism and perhaps even retribution. That I won’t have to watch a mediocre marketing effort that makes my head hurt but instead observe one that makes me jealous that I didn’t think of something so clever.


Clay sang it best in a great song that was a bonus track to the last album.

Walk away let my heart pretend
The dreams come true when the story ends
I get on my feet and start again
Say goodbye to all I've been through
And forget I ever knew you.




Here’s a little Boston . Don’t Look Back, Clay.





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Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Real Faces Behind The Health Care Reform Debate

I know that we don't usually get political here on the ConCLAYve blog, but this particular issue is very personal to me. This may or may not represent the feelings of other members of this blog - but it definitely does represent mine.

I would write something long and detailed about why we so desperately need health care reform and why we need a public option that takes the profit out of the health care industry . . . but nothing I would write could possibly be as eloquent as this short video by Brave New Films. It shows the true nightmares of what regular people who think they have insurance are faced with when they actually need to use their insurance to combat serious illness. These are real people and the frightening thing - any one of them could be -- and may be -- us.

I pray for a day when need and not means dictates health care.




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Friday, July 24, 2009

An Unexpected Gift


Last Sunday, almost five years after the passing of my father, I received yet another sign that people live on after their deaths. Not that I needed one, of course...as I bet you have, too, I've seen plenty of evidence that this is the case.

Following in the footsteps of his mother, my dad was a visual artist. She -- a late bloomer in this department -- began in her 70s to paint landscapes, still lifes and street scenes, mostly oils but some watercolors. Dad, on the other hand, focused more on inked cartoons and caricatures, and he was pretty good. They were a big hit at our childhood birthday parties -- each child would go home with a really unique party favor (I've often wondered where some of these ended up!). After his retirement, he had the time to apply himself to some more serious work, but evidently he produced nothing he felt compelled to share.

He also liked to collect unusual art, especially antique maps of places he visited. Many of these were hanging on the walls of our home when we were growing up -- puzzlingly, he kept them in cheap plastic box frames that he claimed helped to preserve them. Ugly, but functional.

After our old house was sold (and subsequently demolished to make way for a tasteless McMansion, complete with lawn jockey) and my dad had passed away, my sister couldn't bring herself to get rid of all of those maps, so she stacked them in her basement and pretty much forgot about them. Recently, though, during a renovation, she dusted them off and took another look. Deciding they might look nice on her walls, she took a couple of the best ones downtown to have them properly framed.

As she and the framer removed the first one from its plastic box, they were surprised to find something behind it -- a large detailed pencil sketch of ME. Judging from the hairstyle, it's circa about 1989. No idea how he did it, why he kept it, or why he hid it away behind a yellowed map of Crete. But, as you can probably understand, to me it was a more thrilling discovery than a heretofore unknown Rembrandt.

Did he ever intend for me to see it? I guess I'll never know. One thing is for sure: I'll always be thankful that my sister, five years ago, didn't just toss my father's maps in a dumpster!

All this led me to wonder...what will I leave behind for someone else to find? And what will it mean to the person who finds it?

Whatever it is, it had better be something good.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ignorance is not bliss


An anti-bullying bill presented by North Carolina State Senator Julia Boseman recently passed despite some truly moronic statements by the Minority Leader, Skip Stam. His comments are beyond ridiculous. A few months ago, an eleven year old boy in my part of Massachusetts hanged himself after being bullied in school and called gay. I guess Skippy believes that the kids who bullied him were only doing their civic duty.

Clay Aiken, who is a self proclaimed news junkie, blogged this evening to his fanbase. What I didn't realize is that not only did Skippy make these statements with a straight face (pardon the pun) but he did so in front of Senator Boseman, who is a gay parent. And her son was in the room when this was said.

I'm having a hard time trying to figure out if Skippy is ignorant, stupid, afraid or some combination of all three. I hope the good people of North Carolina don't allow him to spread his personal form of bigotry and intolerance for another term.

Clay's blog was called "Warning"



I'm a little late on this one, but... be careful. Don't breathe in around me!

In debating the School Violence Prevention Act during a legislative session, NC General Assembly Minority Leader Skip Stam (R*-Wake) said that "explicitly protecting gay kids from bullying would lead to pedophilia and gay marriage," The man, who has obviously come unhinged from reality also argued that gay parents are "more dangerous than second-hand smoke."

I hope I haven't caused any health problems for any of you!

What a dumbass!

Do enough of you guys live in southern Wake County to help him lose his job next year?

c



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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Sing


Recent news stories have reported that several distraught fans of Michael Jackson (mostly overseas) have committed suicide after his death. While I was a big fan of Michael Jackson (before the bizarre years), I can’t imagine taking things to that extreme. Really? Nothing left to live for? Why? He was just a singer.

I can understand feelings of grief. I think I've only felt unusually sad a few times when celebrities have died. Princess Diana, David Bloom, Tim Russert. But it only lasted a day or so.

I remember how I felt in May of 2003, after the AI2 finale had aired. While deep in my heart, I expected the outcome, I still felt defeated, cheated and terribly sad. I remember the next day when I had to attend a conference, I would have rather stayed in bed and grieved. Would I ever see him again? I walked from session to session, feeling like a good friend had died or at least moved far away. I was in a funk, I couldn’t concentrate. And I couldn’t understand it.

He’s just a singer.

A couple of months later, I was at that same venue attending the AI2 concert. I had floor seats and was so excited I hardly slept the night before. I even had a sign (something that would make me roll my eyes now). The sign said “This is the Night for a Platinum Record.” I held up the sign when he stood in front of me. He looked, pointed and laughed with joy. I stood there and all of a sudden, I started to cry. Me. Miss practical, Type A, ESTJ in charge kind of gal. My friend looked at me and said “You’ve got it bad.” I wiped my eyes in disbelief at the emotion that had spontaneously burst forth. What was wrong with me?

He’s just a singer.

I can pick out his voice from another room when my iPod is on shuffle providing background music. I worry when he is far away in dangerous places like Afghanistan or Somalia and I try to educate myself about the horrors of their people after he describes their despair. I pay closer attention to how people treat others with disabilities. I get giddy when he writes a few words of hello. I absorb his writings on serious topics like a sponge, thirsty for more of his well-informed opinions.

I set aside vacation days for when he can entertain me again. I laugh at his comedic timing in concert, television or stage performances. He has become a part of my life, outside of the real bond of family yet closer than a neighbor or an old college friend. I’ve been a fan of many before but this is so different. But why is this so different?

He’s just a singer.

I’ve met friends whom I would trust with my life. Some share different social or political views, yet we can communicate those views in a flurry of noise and emotion that offends no one. One primary common bond draws us together, because to hear the Voice with those friends by your side adds to the vibrations in your soul. We feel the Voice, while a stranger would just hear a song. Because after all,

He’s just a singer.

I’ve learned a lot in the past six years. I’ve learned about the goodness and generosity in people. I've also learned far too much about those that are lost, intolerant, alone or just plain bad, things that I wish I had never learned. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Think of what I would have missed if I had decided six years ago to turn off the TV that night in May with a shrug and decided, eh

He’s just a singer.

He’s not. He never will be.

Sing for me, Clay.




MJ Photo credit Jae C. Hong/AP


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Friday, June 05, 2009

Landslide


I took my love and I took it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hill


About seven months ago, I posted a blog called Crossroads which reflected upon the issues facing our new President, Clay Aiken as well as my own family. I wrote about how focused I was on the complex process of applying to colleges with my daughter. I remember reflecting“In the chaos and complexity of common application, recommendations, deadlines, college tours, FAFSA and a mountain of paperwork, there is the real human emotion of preparing your child to leave you.” But back in December, that seemed like miles ahead of me.

This afternoon, under a cloudy Massachusetts sky, I will hear the familiar strain of Pomp and Circumstance. I’ve heard it plenty of times before, when you are in the high school band; you play it so many times each spring that you hope you never hear it again. But never has it had as much meaning as it will today.

Our town’s high school is on a small hill, overlooking the athletic fields. At 7 PM, those bleachers will be filled with parents, grandparents, siblings and friends but the anticipation won’t be over a soccer tournament. When the first notes of that overplayed tune begin to float through the wind, all eyes will turn to the hill. The hill, where I took two toddlers sledding whenever there was a good New England snow storm. The hill, where for 30+ years, seniors have snuck out at midnight to burn their class year in giant numbers into the grass. The hill, which has had 2009 burned in it since September, yet I’ve hardly noticed.

Then they will come. The boys dressed in green, the girls in white, with their green tassles catching a breeze on top of that traditionally strange headdress. They will walk across those numbers and down the hill, as if crossing an invisible threshold into adulthood.

I’ll try to catch her eye. She’s taller than most of the girls, so I’ll probably find her easily. Beautiful with a face that defies the need for makeup. It sometimes makes me uncomfortable to walk in the mall with her; she turns so many heads that it feels like there is a spotlight on us. Tall like her father, with the tendency to plan like her mother, but only if the topic interests her. She’s got her father’s attitude on life and her mother’s academic proficiency. Where the beauty comes from, we’ve never been able to figure out.

And the others who have been her circle of laughter and love will come. Most I’ve known since the first grade. Many of them just walk into my house now without knocking. I’m sure the lump will stay in my throat for the entire ceremony.

Time makes you bolder, children get older
I’m getting older too.


Ashley, who tragically lost her mother in their sophomore year. The school spirit winner with the huge smile and the broken heart. I will never forget the pleading eyes that came to me in September asking for help in choosing a major and a college and figuring out the applications. I took her on tours, I answered confused text messages late in the evenings, I edited her essay on the impact her mother’s death has had on her, both of us stopping to have a good cry before we uploaded it. She was the inspiration of my college consulting business.

Chel, the good friend for many years, now looking to be a journalist. Lizz, another friend who lost her mother and persevered despite a learning disability. Carrie, the only other tall one with the brains to match her height and the big foot occasionally in her expressive mouth. Arianna, the semi-wild one who couldn’t get focused on school because of a poor support system at home. Those girls took her under their wing and each did their part to get her to pass those extra classes so that she could walk down that hill with them on this day.

I’ve been ‘fraid of changing, cuz I
I built my life around you.


And then they will call her name. Her full name with my grandmother’s name in the middle. The woman who meant so much to me and who would have loved this young woman to pieces since they share a quirky sense of humor.

She’s waited for this day, counted down to it and yet has been very introspective in the past week since she finished her senior classes. I think the enormity of it all finally hit her. She knows. She knows that the future is right around the corner. I hope she knows how bright that future is.

She’s already got her class schedule for college Freshman year, an interesting mix of liberal arts and mass media/advertising. In some ways, she is following in my footsteps yet the goals she has set for what she wants to do with her training are very different. She’s braver than I was at that age, both philosophically and physically. It wouldn’t surprise me if she tries sky diving. Her spontaneity will get her in trouble from time to time but she will also experience things that I may have walked away from and have been the poorer for it.

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?


Eighty-six days from now, we will move her into her new dorm at a private college about 90 minutes from here. I can’t even type that concept without getting emotional. You hope that the value system you’ve instilled in your children will carry them through the exhilaration of being on their own, while exposed to new temptations and to people who may not share the same value system.

Her friends say she is the one that is most likely to be famous. Perhaps. She already is the one that has been mostly likely to be loved.

Happy Graduation Day, baby girl.




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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ten Years Ago Today...


My mom told me my very first dirty joke at the age of nine.  I was a little slow on the uptake -- it took a decade for me to get it.  Not that I would ever have admitted it to her.  The joke, if I remember correctly, had something to do with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and her method of cooking his breakfast.  ("Sliding up and down the banister!" brayed my mom gleefully.)  I've always wondered if she read that joke somewhere or made it up herself.  Either way, I laughed right along with her -- I wanted to be as cool and smart and irreverent and funny as she was. But did I have any idea what it meant? Nope. Not a clue.

Bright red chipped toenail polish.  Mischievous gray eyes and a cynical smile.  A foamy glass of beer.  Elegant fingers cradling a lit Parliament cigarette, poised over a misshapen green ceramic ashtray I had made in art class and proudly presented to her one Christmas. (I never saw it thereafter when it wasn't full of lipstick-stained butts.)  A nimbus of hazy yellowish smoke around her head.

These are some of the images I retain of my irrepressible mom, who has been gone now for exactly ten years today. 

If I had to guess, I'd say that the very last thing on earth she aspired to be was a suburban housewife and mother.  (Funny how that whole "self-fulfilling prophecy" thing works.)  Having found herself in that position, though, she gamely gave it a shot...with mixed results.  She wasn't what you'd call domestically inclined -- she had zero interest in housekeeping, wasn't very good at mending our clothes or tending the garden or ironing.  She could charitably be described as an indifferent cook:  her Jello molds were crooked, her gravy was lumpy, her pot roast was tough, and her cookies tended to come out burned around the edges...assuming she remembered to turn on the oven in the first place.

It was clear even to me as a child that her heart just wasn't in it, and it was obvious that she thought that any woman who professed to enjoy these things -- like the perky gals enthusiastically hawking housewares in TV commercials -- was either "a lying sack of crap" or had been brainwashed.  Forget Donna Reed and Jane Wyatt and (later) Florence Henderson.  I'm thinking my mom's television alter-ego was probably the sublimely sexy Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, who serenely ran her household from a big rattan peacock chair without ever appearing to do any actual work.  (That slinky black dress, perfect manicure, and enveloping mane of hair would have made it difficult in any event.)  What a life -- effortlessly beguiling her smitten husband, Morticia never had to concern herself with mundane things like attending PTA meetings or pretending to be interested in somebody's new recipe for chicken salad or keeping up on the latest kitchen appliances.

So, no...my mom wasn't going to win any housewife-of-the-year awards. We were fed and clothed and had what we needed...wasn't that enough? Dust? Clutter? Big deal -- life is short.  And she didn't have much use for anyone she saw as phony, elitist, and pretentious, whether they be a public figure or someone from the neighborhood.  Case in point:  Jacqueline Kennedy, either before or after JFK's assassination. "They were aiming at HER!" declared my mom to the ladies at the weekly bridge tournament, who nearly dropped their Bloody Marys in shock.   That was fine; my mom liked to shock people.  It should come as no surprise that she didn't have a lot of friends among the neighbors, who probably found her candor alarming.

She fled from convention.  She deplored conformists.   Ironic, considering where we lived on my hardworking dad's teacher salary: a small, flat ranch house identical to many others in our cookie cutter bedroom suburb.  Such a banal existence must have seemed like the seventh level of hell to someone like her.  There were many days that she retreated into alcohol and food and ordering things on the Home Shopping Network and shouting out all the right answers on Jeopardy.  Her bed was her best friend sometimes.

I've always wondered how her life would have been different if she had continued to work. Clearly, she was a brilliant woman, and proved to be -- to our pleasant surprise years later -- a very savvy investor. There were many times, I'm sure, when she was frustrated and miserable and filled with regrets.

But catch her in the right mood and oh, the stories she would tell!  Scheherazade in a seersucker robe.  Outrageous tall tales about her childhood, her wacky family, her various unusual jobs, the men she had um...dated...in her va-va-va voom youth before my dad came along (no detail was spared!), and her skillful lampooning of our very stereotypical 1960s-era neighbors...

The Osaka family -- mom, dad and three daughters -- who trooped out of their house every Wednesday evening to their county orchestra rehearsals, all of them with French horns in tow. Mrs. Osaka also gave French horn lessons, and whenever the sound would waft out of their house and over our back fence, my mom would bellow, "Release the hounds!"  The McKendricks, whose Grandma had Alzheimer's (we didn't know that word then -- to us, she was just crazy). The poor thing would forlornly wander the neighborhood in her bare feet and nightgown in all kinds of weather, searching in vain for her late husband.  My mom would sigh, throw on a coat, grab a blanket, bundle the trembling Mrs. McKendrick into the car, and determinedly take her back home.  The Pembertons, who perennially won the prize for the gaudiest Halloween and Christmas displays...co-mingling church and state, they thought nothing of having a big Santa and his reindeer right next to their Nativity scene in the front yard.  Mrs. Pemberton, resplendent in her heavy Cleopatra eye makeup, capri pants, and perfect ash blonde beehive, assailing us with an impossibly chipper greeting as she arrived for the early morning kindergarten carpool.  My mom had a field day with that -- "What, is she up at four in the effin' morning?"

The time I, a newly-minted five-year-old, refused my mom's help and insisted on personally carrying six big flat boxes of chocolate donuts into my classroom birthday party.  Of course I dropped them, and my mom and I, laughing like loons, had to chase down four dozen donuts as they rolled down the snowy street...later doling them out anyway with nobody the wiser.

And the family -- her doctor brother Herb and his family, looking down their noses at us while constantly moving from pillar to post.  Her feckless philandering cousin Jack and his long-suffering wife Joanne, who once went after him with a stiletto-heeled shoe right there in our living room -- in front of all us kids -- upon hearing of his latest indiscretion.  Her genial faith healer mother, a line of alarmingly bright wigs on her dresser (probably a holdover from her flapper days), whose rambling St. Louis boarding house was filled with doddering catatonic shell-shocked veterans, books on the occult, a perpetually smiling black cook named Elmira (my very first African-American!), and an ever-changing coterie of striped felines -- all named "Mama Cat" -- undulating in and out of the house.  Her tight-lipped frugal Baptist mother-in-law, for whom even Mother Teresa would never have been good enough for her only son.  She and my mom proved worthy adversaries, doing surreptitious battle for years right under the nose of my unsuspecting father.  His only sister, who baked for church socials and raised four Eagle Scout sons in rural Indiana while harboring a secret fascination with bats -- she liked to keep the little creatures in the garage until she was persuaded that they didn't make good pets for the kids.

A running commentary on all of this, and much more, would flow freely from my mom with a swig of beer and a sardonic drag on her cigarette.  Was it all strictly accurate?  Who knows? As my dad used to say, "Your mom never let the truth get in the way of a good story." Certainly I never tired of hearing her stories -- on the contrary, I was her biggest fan, and made her repeat them over and over.  I think she liked that; after all, what good is a performance without an appreciative audience?  And in my eyes, she was Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller and Lucille Ball rolled into one.  I hope she knew it.

My last exchange with her, ten years ago this weekend, was typical. In the final stages of lung cancer (all those Parliaments had finally caught up with her), she was now in a wheelchair on oxygen. I had brought her a big tightly bound bouquet of bright pink tea roses, and upon taking them out of the wrapping, I was dismayed to discover that they were full-blown, meaning they wouldn't last long. I said as much, and my mom gasped, "No, I'm glad...I don't have to wait for them to open. They're...perfect."

We had a nice visit and shared a grilled cheese sandwich (sadly, I ate most of it). As I was leaving, I leaned over to kiss her goodbye and said I'd see her tomorrow. She smiled sardonically and rasped, "Maybe I won't be here." I looked at her, weak and ill, hunched in her wheelchair, hooked up to those heavy oxygen tanks and a loudly buzzing generator, and asked her where she was planning on going. "Maybe I'll be out dancing," she whispered, with that old glint in her eye.

I guess she knew more than I did -- she was gone the next day. And maybe she really did go dancing. I like to think so.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Much Ado

About nothing? About an iconic show? About one person’s opinion of another person’s performance that others have already critiqued in a similar manner.

Clay Aiken has added a great feature to his fanclub site where he answers questions from fans on just about any topic. He’s been funny, serious, thoughtful, snarky and even political at times. It’s been the best addition to the fanclub site since its inception. (I find it interesting that he only started it after he left RCA but I digress). There have been over 4000 questions asked and he’s answered about 300 so far. It’s been a wonderful experience to get to know him a little better because the format is just like people sitting around a living room talking about the issues of the day. He’s answered questions that surprised me (for instance, we knew he had TMJ surgery in February but they actually broke his jaw to fix it). He’s obviously well read and that shows too.

Recently a fan reminded him that he’d said he thought AI wasn’t the same as it used to be and asked if Kris Allen won, would that renew his faith in the show getting back to its roots. Clay waited until the results were announced and then addressed the question, first on the message board and then moved to his blog. The basis of his answer was that he felt that the other contestant, Adam Lambert, was pushed on to the public and practically declared the winner ahead of time. Seriously, the guy had a magazine cover weeks ago, how fair is that? I didn't even watch the show and I knew who Adam was and what he looked like. I didn't even know who the other guy was.

Clay felt that there may have been some public backlash to that which drove votes to Kris and overall, he felt that Adam and many others in the last few seasons have been too polished and too professional and that’s not what made AI so successful when it started. I agree and I think it started when they raised the age limit and was exacerbated when they focused more on the guest acts and forgot about the regular folks competing on the show.

He’s said this before as have countless other news outlets. Here he was talking about it with Good Day LA in 2008. As you can see, the anchors note that Simon Cowell was rather frustrated as well.



Here he is talking about it with Kathie Lee Gifford during that same time period, including reiterating that he's grateful for the opportunity Idol gave him.



Media Magnet
Clay started his blog by talking about Adam Lambert. He’d received a handful of questions about this contestant specifically. He noted that he didn’t care for Adam’s rendition of Ring of Fire (a performance that Cowell called “indulgent rubbish”). He said it made his ears bleed. While I agree 100% with Clay on that account (and Cowell for that matter), it is understandable that many Adam fans have cried foul or expressed some resentment. Of course the media has run wild with it. (Which amuses me to no end that Clay has stolen the spotlight during finale week, the same way he did during season 5 when he surprised Michael Sandecki.)

A few weeks ago, Clay visited the Idol set with his son Parker. He has said he has many friends who remain on the show and just like you or I might return to a former place of employment with a new baby, he did the same. The National Enquirer took that little piece of truth and concocted a story about him looking to mentor Adam or do a duet. (I guess the bleeding ears thing kind of refuted that, eh?) The Chicago Sun-Times took that story as gospel and ran with it and other “journalists”(are there any left in entertainment media?) copied it verbatim from either source. Now those same “journalists” are taking that lie and using it as a reason why Clay spoke about Adam and the way he did. How convenient for them. They fabricated a story and then used it to put their own twist on a new fabricated story. Boy, I wonder if they even have to turn on all their brain cells for that one. Or as Nan has said, the media love dust-up, distortion and distraction. And if they can’t find it, they “help it along”.

The other little side piece of crap about that story was that Clay was escorted out. (Interesting is that same piece of crap story was repeated during finale weeks of years past.) While I agree that AI has shunned Clay (they refused to let him sing when he was promoting his album On My Way Here and 2 years of Idol Gives Back fabricated charity shows and they didn’t once mention one of their own who is a UNICEF Ambassador and has visited five countries in very dangerous situations?) I am not buying that for a minute. Convention wisdom is that by leaving the AI/19 management group (and likely convincing tour buddy Kelly Clarkson to do the same) he doesn't have to hand over a huge chunk of his millions. They might not have taken too kindly to that.

But the producers are one group; his friends who work behind the scenes are another. Does anybody believe he would have taken his son to visit friends if he didn’t think he could get past the gate? He was recently an invited guest at a birthday party for a former Idol producer, as well.

I’m glad Clay was honest in how he felt, even if he wasn’t as diplomatic as he could have been. Unfortunately the focus shifted to his Adam comments and many are missing the message of the blog entirely. He said America has always gotten it right, even in his season and that perhaps this was sending a message of "let us decide." Well, America may be sending another message as this was the lowest rated finale since Season 2. The highest? Clay and Ruben’s finale. The second highest? The AI5/Sandecki one where Clay appeared with the new dark haircut.

I do feel badly for Kris Allen. First, his headline is that he “upset” the media/judges favorite. Now, because the media favorite is deemed slighted, he’s pushed to the background.

A second blog by Clay
After I wrote this Clay blogged again to laugh at how much influence he has at times and how things are twisted. He made the blog public so here it is.


Who knew I had so much influence and that my words and opinion mattered so much to so many people!?!?! HA HA HA I'll be the first to admit that my opinion is just that, only my opinion, but for as much as some of the bloggers seem to dislike me and care so little about my thoughts, they sure can waste a lot of their space on what I say! If only many of them took the time to pay attention to important things like the US economy and the welfare of the world's children. But... nah... I could blog about that type of stuff anytime and most wouldn't think twice, but let me say something that they can pick and choose quotes and misinterpret me... and it's showtime! I never assumed my opinion mattered so much! I guess I may have been wrong.

That said, since my previous blog got dissected like a biology lab frog, i suppose I should clarify and even retract some of what I wrote.

I am sure that some were upset by my choice of words describing my opinion of a performance I heard from Adam Lambert. I hope no one actually believed that blood truly poured forth from my ears when I heard him. I obviously meant it as a colorful statement to imply that I did not enjoy what I heard. Any performer hopes that their music will appeal to all people, but no singer realistically expects it to. God knows, I am SURE there are PLENTY of people who can't stand to hear me sing either. I wouldn't dream of assuming that, and I am sure that far worse things have been said about my performances than I would even venture to type here. To me, that's fine. I don't expect unanimous, nor even majority support for my music. But, my guess is Adam doesn't either.

I would not venture to make judgements on the personality or demeanor of anyone I don't know, so none of what I said in my previous blog was directed as a "slam" on Adam as a person. At the same time, I wouldn't dream of slamming him as an entertainer. He does what he does, because he enjoys it, and he obviously has many fans who enjoy it as well. If what i said in my previous blog regarding my impression of a single performance from Adam upset or offended any of his fans, I expect that the mature ones will realize that it was simply a poorly worded metaphor describing my personal tastes. The only person I would really dream of apologizing to is Adam. And the irony is, if he's smart he couldn't give a crap what I think of his Ring of Fire performance. As an entertainer, Adam knows that one person's opinion of one performance really matters a little less than zero, in the grand scheme of things. He could not have gotten on Idol (nor made it as far as he did) without an immense amount of talent. He surely doesn't need my approval to know he has a gift. At the same time, he realizes that amazing talent doesn't always equal universal appeal. (I could NEVER have the amount of skill and talent that ballet dancers have! that's talent! But, I don't particularly enjoy it!)

I am sure that I will have plenty of opportunities in the coming years to hear Adam sing. I imagine he'll be around for years to come. But in the meantime, I definitely don't want to stoop to the level of so many negative freaks on the internet... so, I do apologize to Adam for my colorful (and negative) choice of words. I hope he can forgive me. I imagine he doesn't give a damn! :-) God knows he shouldn't. :-)


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now, for those of you who are able to comment on this.... lets take bets as to which bits and pieces of this blog will end up mass distributed. Be creative.... they don't seem to care about punctuation or whether or not they use all of the words in a sentence... so, have fun.... ;-)


Ok, Here was my prediction for how the media will discuss this new blog...

Aiken grovels at Lambert's feet after media outrage. Begs him to duet or even better, let Aiken open for Lambert on his world tour beginning in December."

Here’s is Adam singing Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire in the performance that Clay was referring to. It's a video from an Adam Lambert site that conveniently cuts off right before Simon growls and Randy Travis grimaces. If you like it, then check out more of Adam or his album when it comes out. If you don’t, then you’re no different than Clay or me. Yet, your opinion won’t be twisted by entertainment media who like blood sport more than they do truth.





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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Whatcha Doing Tonight?

Sony is releasing a number of “Best of” collections, including one for Clay Aiken. There are some of my favorite songs on there but also some songs that I would replace with others I consider favorites. But no collection of Clay’s would be complete without Invisible.

Invisible was his first pop release after the Idol semi-coronation song This is The Night (which debuted at #1 in 2003). Often mocked as a stalker song, it still is catchy and in concert it is great fun. This week, Entertainment Weekly named it one of their choices for an "Ultimate AI" playlists and said

"Aiken's shamefully addictive first single abuses every tool in the pop canon short of a key change (and really, why doesn't it have a key change?) to make you feel the pain of the poor boy's unrequited love. That high note he wails under the final chorus? Goosebumps."

The song has a special place for fans. When Clay performed it on the American Idol tour in 2003, we hadn’t yet perfected the hidden camera techniques that have served us well in the later years. (I know of video from venues that had a metal detector!) A fan managed to get a shaky, sometimes sideways view of Clay dancing and singing. An accidental pull on his shirt became affectionately known as as the “tug”. The fan’s reaction “Oh my God, what is that move?” has become part of the Clay Nation lexicon.

My personal favorite performance was in Jimmy Kimmel’s Pontiac Garage concert in 2006. I had actually flown out out to LA to attend that taping/showing. Clay had debuted a great hairstyle that was part shag part Beatles for the album promo. I remember calling ConClayve-Nan after the concert and teling her “the hair can rock”. The performance exists on youtube (with some less than stellar camera work) but you'll have to visit there as the blog code is unavailable.

Clay ends most of his pop concerts with Invisible. I love when he ends a concert with this, dancing all over the stage with such joy. The shirt tug followed by the knowing look or the roll of his eyes at the expected screams. (Our own little secret handshake with him.) The way he really changed it up during his 2005 JukeBox Tour created a version that was much better than what was originally written. He once said in an interview that he will never get tired of singing it. Here’s the last show of his 2004 solo tour.


And a montage of his JukeBox Tour


The fans are dreaming about what’s next for Clay as he takes a break for the first quarter of this year. The album comes out on March 31st and then Clay returns to television for a special episode of his pal Tyra’s show. I’m looking forward to seeing (and hearing) what’s next. Clay is well prepared to take advantage of all of the new business models out there with all of his Fifty2Thirty corporations covering entertainment, touring, publishing and merchandise. The only thing sexier than a handsome singerman with a big voice and a bigger heart is a smart and savvy version of the same.

Photo by dancerdad, taken at Spamalot stage door

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Listen

So, the Clay Nation has been buzzing about the good news that Clay Aiken has parted ways with RCA after his team decided to walk away from the negotiations. Yeah, some of the entertainment sites have been twisting the story that Clay was dropped and the fans are in mourning but they are trying for good copy rather than truth. When we got the news, I don’t think I’ve seen so many dancing bananas on the message boards since the night Clay won his American Music Award.

Snide comments about his fifteen minutes of fame make me laugh at their wishful thinking. He’s starting his seventh year in show business and just came off a highly successful and critically acclaimed role on Broadway in a part described by one critic as “not a debut for cowards.”

Listen… to the song here in my heart
A melody I start but can't complete
Listen… to the sound from deep within
It's only beginning to find release


There appear to be a lot of choices out there for a singer with Clay’s talent, name recognition and built in loyal fanbase. Since the negotiations were ongoing, he was probably fielding offers (and may have even made a choice) but I like to speculate. He could get picked up by a major label, one like Atlantic that has figured out how to attack the new digital model. He could get picked up by David Foster’s label; the rumors have been out there for years that David wanted him, long before Clay and Jaymes Foster made David an uncle. He could choose one of those hybrid models, like Hickory Records which work hand in hand with the publishers to make records pay better for the artist.

Oh, the time has come for my dreams to be heard
They will not be pushed aside and turned
Into your own all 'cause you won't
Listen


He could also choose the new model with Live Nation, especially since he is a touring artist. Clay’s hit the road nine times with a shows that are like no other. A Clay Aiken concert is a smartly woven blend of music and comedy (both scripted and improvised) that leaves you wishing it would never end and wanting to see it again as soon as possible.

Clay tried to tell RCA what he wanted and it never seemed to happen. In the summer of 2005, he hit the road with his Jukebox Tour, a fun filled journey through the decades of music. He ended the show with his own music including introducing new songs that were under consideration for the next album. The fans responded in a big way. Clive Davis responded by tossing all of that aside and making Clay start over with an album of tired love song covers. The same formula that was forced on older artists like Rod Stewart who refused to sing the covers in his concerts.

Listen, I am alone at a crossroads
I'm not at home in my own home
And I've tried and tried to say what's on mind
You should have known


RCA had gold in their hand (actually platinum) and they tossed it away with such glaring incompetence that I cannot wrap my business trained mind around it. When he finally got to record the album he wanted, On My Way Here, they rushed it out and promoted it in the same way that a student council would promote the latest Friday night dance. Cheaply and last minute. Actually, I think some student councils may have had better budget.

Oh, now I'm done believing you
You don't know what I'm feeling
I'm more than what you made of me
I followed the voice you think you gave to me
But now I've gotta find my own


He found his voice with songs like Ashes, Sacrificial Love and As Long as We’re Here. He wrote for the first time, including the bridge for Lonely No More and the lyrics for Love All Alone. He produced (uncredited) the haunting new version of Broken Wings. Why is it that only the internet fans know that? He found his voice in acting too and I hope to see him spread his wings there, possibly finding an intersection of his acting and his music in the movies. The voice that sells albums was never on a movie soundtrack, despite the fact that Jaymes Foster’s sister is a force in the soundtrack business. Old Clive, I guess he likes power more than money.

He’ll have some rebuilding to do. Something that lets people know that he can sing funky songs like Everything I Don’t Need and other uptempo songs found on his last album. Songs that make him rock out in concert and just when you can’t dance anymore, he’ll float a ballad on the wind so you melt back into your seat and let the voice envelope you the way warm maple syrup surrounds French toast.

I don't know where I belong
But I'll be moving on
If you don't, if you won't
Listen.


Move on, Clay. I’m already packed.


Sony/RCA is releasing a “Best of Clay Aiken” CD on March 31st. One more chance for the label to make money off the fans without supporting Clay. I shall buy it because I consider it more than a CD.



In 2006 when Clay toured with his Soft Rock in a Hard Place show, Angela Fisher (one of his great back up singers) would perform Listen every night. On this night, she was ill and Clay performed it as a duet with his other equally gifted backup singer, Quiana Parler. It came on my ipod the other day and I realized how much of a siren call it was. I found a youtube of it that is a blend of the best audio with the best video. It's got a few minutes of goofy Clay at the beginning so he can make you smile before he knocks your socks off.



Pencil drawing by Linda Hubert with blend by Pax.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Come Sail Away


Clay Aiken and RCA Records have parted ways. I and many in the fandom couldn’t be happier. There have long been rumors that Clay has been trying to get out of his contract. You might recall how I feel about the myriad of ways that RCA blew it when it came to Clay’s recording career. They never chose the right single after Invisible. His promotion was not worthy of a multi platinum seller. Actually, his promotion was not worthy of a new, unknown artist never mind one who has sold nearly six million albums. RCA plays with its artists the way a puppet master plays with a marionette. All one has to do is look at Kelly Clarkson’s career to see another example.


I’m sailing away, set an open course for the Virgin Sea
Cuz I’ve got to be free, free to face the life that’s ahead of me.
On board I’m the captain, so climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow, on every shore
And I’ll try, Oh Lord, I’ll try.
To carry on.


Free is the perfect word to describe Clay, on a personal and professional level. He’s got so much talent in so many areas that his career will endure and thrive now that he is out from under RCA’s lack of sound business logic and blunder after blunder. I’ve always said their handling of his recording career could be a Harvard Business Review case study in how to botch a sure thing.

When he was riding high after selling double platinum in one week, they made him do a Christmas album. (Yeah, I know it was a big seller but it was the wrong time.) When he was ready with an album of originals, they discarded it and made him put out an album of love song cover ballads. When he finally got to make "On My Way Here", a gem of an album with original music, they forgot to promote it. Why would anyone in any profession want to stay at a company that stifled your talents and skills? In my opinion, by being free of their incompetence and indifference, he's got tremendous opportunity.

The gossip blogs will spin it as a bad thing, even though the majority of fans are relieved. Clay could have done a dance of happiness on the spot when it came time to renew his contract and they declined. But, "Clay Aiken and fans feel great about his future" doesn't really get many hits now does it?

The best voices will not be silenced. His voice soars in a recording studio, a television studio, on the concert stage, on a Broadway stage and on the world stage.

Upset? I’ve been waiting for this day for years!



A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope, and this is what they said.
They said, come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me.


I’m ready Clay. Can I bring my computer?







And I can't wait to hear Clay sing I Survived You this time. Here he is from 2004.





Here's a blast from the past. Styx in concert, 1977











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Friday, January 23, 2009

Cabin Fever



Is it really only January? It feels like this winter is dragging on and on. Maybe because it’s so cold here in the northeast. And dry, I think I can write my next blog by scratching it into my skin. What’s that famous quote from Richard III? Now is the winter of my discontent. The only thing good about it is my bedroom stays dark until my alarm goes off.

Summertime and the living is easy. I want the sound of Fenway Park on my TV. I want to run out to the mailbox on a Saturday afternoon in my bare feet, slowing down to feel the sun on my face. Now, I bundle up and walk slowly on the snowy parts of the ice so as not to look like the least graceful person in the neighborhood when my feet slide out from under me.

I want to hear the roar of the crowd at a Clay Aiken concert. I love the roar of a crowd at Fenway when someone jacks one over the Green Monster but it’s a different kind of roar. More like a “there it gooooeees!” or “get out of here”. (Actually, in Boston it’s more like “Get outta heaaah”.

The closest thing I’ve heard lately is the roar of the crowd on the Mall in Washington DC at January 20th . It’s the roar of happiness, anticipation, expectation and celebration all rolled into a single emotion. Thousands of voices sounding as one.

They say that anticipating something so much will always make it seem like a letdown. Remember your prom? It was never quite as glorious as the picture in your head in the weeks leading up to it. Your wedding? Such a blur that you need the video to remember it.

But a Clay concert where the swell begins from the vibration of the floor to the electricity up your spine and finally culminating in the sound of thousands of hands coming together as one while the wave of a roar builds to a fevered pitch has never failed to live up to the expectation. For two hours (or more) it’s an emotional and audio journey from dance to laughter to breathless amazement and a few “I can’t believe he just said that” thrown in for good measure.

We don’t know if we will get to experience that this summer. Something tells me we will, although with so many talents in music, acting and comedy there are probably many options for him. He’s been talking a lot about singing again after a year of success in acting. Thinking about it without knowing probably contributes to my winter of discontent, more so than my oil bill or my stock portfolio. My dry fingers long to do the Ticketmaster Tango.

So, I begin my anticipation. How will he enter, similar to the ways he has done before? Will it be from the back of the arena? Will it be from within an elaborate stage setup? Will my mind go blank as anticipation meets reality? Watch and remember. And listen. Listen to the crowd. What’s exactly does that sound like?

Joy. It’s the sound of joy.

Want to reminisce?




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