Sunday, June 28, 2009

Death of a salesman

It's hard to believe we'll never hear these words again: "HI! BILLY MAYS HERE FOR (insert product here)," as the world's most recognizable salesman has died at age 50.

I'll be honest: The first time I watched Billy hawk OxiClean years ago, I thought he was just a black-bearded, blue shirt-wearing loud mouth yelling about some more overpriced garbage. A few months ago, though, I started watching "Pitchmen," the Discovery Channel's weekly show which showcases Mays and Anthony Sullivan take products from inventors' sketchboards to market on TV across the country. With this seek behind the scenes, you can really see the Billy Mays behind "BILLY MAYS!" Not only did he care about making money from the products, but he also cared about the people who put their time, effort and — in many times — life's fortune into developing. In a recent episode of "Pitchmen," we even saw Billy as a family man, nurturing his young daughter. The show is a great glimpse into both Billy and the industry he dominated.

Check out more about "Pitchmen" and Billy by going here, and don't forget the man behind the beard.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The "Thriller" is gone

Wow! The news is just breaking that Michael Jackson has died at the age of 50 from cardiac arrest.

Like everyone in 1982, I owned Michael's ground-breaking "Thriller" album here (I actually had the cassette tape, remember those?), the one that transformed him into a superstar. From "Billie Jean" to "Beat It," and "The Girl Is Mine" to the title track, this album was the biggest one of its time, making Michael a household name ... at least in my household, when I was in third grade. I still occasionally listen to songs like "PYT (Pretty Young Thing)" and "The Girl Is Mine" today on my iPod.

Soon after watching Michael introduce the world to the moonwalk in spring 1983 while performing "Billie Jean" at the "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever" televised special, I remember quickly learning how to do it, starting me on the way to break dancing. (Did I share too much there?!)

The one sequinned glove, getting his hair burned taping a Pepsi commercial, taking Brooke Shields and Emmanuel Lewis to the 1984 Grammys — everything the guy did was major entertainment news. Seriously, watch his "Thriller" music video and tell me that wasn't a landmark piece of pop culture by 1980s standards. I remember being too young to attend his 1984 "Victory" tour with the Jackson Five, but that was that was supposedly the biggest concert of its time.

After that, I admittedly never had the same interest — never bought "Bad" or any of his subsequent releases — and the later court proceedings, as scintillating as they were, never piqued my interest.

Still, Michael was an musical icon — one who influenced many and will, no doubt, be sorely missed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Will sing for food ... or books

As if the music on the stage at last week's concerts wasn't enough, I got more music that made the shows worthwhile.At each of the concerts, I got a card like this good for a free music download just for a small donation — three canned food items at the Chicago concert, and one children's book at the New Kids On The Block show.

Sweet deal, right? You give a lil' something; someone in need gets something they need (food, books, etc.); and then you get some exclusive music as a lil' thanks.

Throughout the New Kids' "Full Service" summer tour, for example, Joe McIntyre is holding a book drive at each venue through his newly formed foundation to benefit kids. (Yes, the youngest New Kid is now the father of an almost-2-year-old son ... feel old?) One new kiddy book got me this card good for a free download of Joe's new song, "5 Brothers and a Million Sisters," which can only be had online — totally worth the price of the book!

Musical greats Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire are similarly helping local people at their concerts this summer, giving fans a chance to pitch in.

Just three cans of food or a $3 donation will score fans this card, which entitles the bearer to three exclusive songs which can be easily downloaded — one by Chicago, one by Earth, Wind & Fire, one by both the bands together. Chicago has covered "I Can't Let You Go;" EW&F has recorded Chicago's "Wishing You Were Here;" the two groups collaborate on an original song, "You." Think about: Three cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli cost $3, the same amount you'd pay for three song downloads online. You get good music, and someone in need gets to eat. Everyone wins!

Now, these weren't the first shows I've walked away from with a free music download in my pocket.

The first time we saw The Police, Sting's son and his band, Fiction Plane, served as the opening act. Just for showing up, we got a similar card with a code for a download of Fiction Plane's single, "Two Sisters" off the CD the band was promoting. Sure, the song wasn't really my style. But, hey, it was free, right? Getting a free song made the $100+ tickets a bit more palatable ... just a bit.

Last week's food/book drives, though, helped people and yielded music enjoyable to a wide spectrum of fans, making them win-win promotions!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jon & Kate + wait

UPDATE (2:57 p.m. Tuesday): TLC has put "Jon & Kate Plus 8" on hiatus, and new episodes (other than next week's hour-long retrospective) will not air until August 3rd. Read more here.

If you tuned into "Jon & Kate Plus 8" tonight thinking Jon and Kate Gosselin were going to announce they're filing for divorce, you'd be wrong. That's the good news.The sad news, though, is that the parents filed for a legal separation this morning, meaning more tabloid headlines like these are going to abound — if not even more if/when they do finally call it quits.

A fan of the show since its inception, I was extremely disappointed with tonight's news, though not the least bit surprised. (Still, though, the optimist in me that hopes this separation is just a cooling-off period, one that will end with Jon and Kate reuniting their family.)

If you watched the Season 5 premiere last month, let alone any of the episodes since or the media coverage surrounding the family, you could tell this was coming.
It's been pretty evident from the past month of shows that Jon and Kate have been living separate lives apart from each other (if not in separate residences), making DVDs like these containing happier times seem like collector's items.

Again, watch a couple of the previous seasons' episodes, and it's pretty easy to form an opinion as to who to blame for the split. (Got a favorite Gosselin parent? Vote in the poll to the upper right column.) Sadly, it doesn't really matter now, as the damage is done ... though hopefully not irrevocably.

While they appear in our living rooms every week, the Gosselins (all 10 of them, including 8 adorable children) are real people, and it's for their sake I hope this separation can be a wait-and-see period that can bring the family back together for everyone's sake.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Kids bring it "Full Service!"

It's without any exaggeration or hyperbole that I say this: I just came back from the best concert I've ever seen!!!My favorite group of all-time, the New Kids On The Block, just brought their "Full Service" summer tour to Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and it was nothing you will ever seen on a stage! It was even more amazing than the New Kids' earlier reunion tour, which I saw four times last fall.

Don't believe me? This picture should say it all...

Yes, that is Donnie Wahlberg, performing the guys' song "Single" in the middle of thousands of fans! Making his way through the crowd with the help of a few security guards, "DDub" here (that's his Twitter nickname) risked life and limb to sing amid the thousands of faithful fans (yes, like me!) who have waited for the New Kids to reunite since they disbanded in 1994. Even if I meant sprinting 20 rows behind me to get to where Donnie was singing, I wasn't going to let a chance to get this close to a New Kid pass me by! (Though, you know I met the New Kids last year, right?)

Lucky me, I was able to document the experience with this video, shot just inches from Donnie as he sang:
So dedicated to the fans is Donnie that he ran up to the edge of the seating to the front of SPAC's lawn area, singing and dancing the whole way. I even got to pat him on the back as he made his way back to the stage.

For two full hours, the New Kids played all their hits, from their 1986 self-titled debut album to "The Block," their most recent CD, which came out in September.

No outdoor summer concert is complete without pyrotechnics, right? Well, how's this???Here's a scene from the guys' performance of "Dirty Dancing." As Donnie would put it: Saratoga was fire!

A special treat was watching the youngest New Kid, Joe McIntyre, sing "Popscicle," one of the best songs on that 1986 CD. Having known the set list since the tour's opening night, I made sure to take video of this song, one the guys haven't sung since 1990.

And yes, Joe's clothes are supposed to be dated, from the mid-'80s! (This video is for my buddy, Danielle in N.C.)

But, yeah, from the minute the guys took the stage til they took their final bows after encores of "Step By Step" and "Hangin' Tough," they put it all out there for us fans, hence the "Full Service" tour name!

Just like last year's tour, you could easily tell how appreciative the New Kids were to still be drawing thousands of fans a night, more than two decades after they first burst on the scene and became international stars. For two hours, it was 1988 again and all us of — the five New Kids on stage and the thousands of us in the crowd — were all teen-agers, enjoying the music and not caring what anyone else thinks.

Even after the success of these two tours after a 14-year hiatus, there's been speculation — even from one of the guys on his Twitter page — that this tour might be the New Kids' last ever.

If that is the case, one thing's for sure: Both the group and everyone who watches them this summer are happy this reunion has been so positive, going strong for more than a year. We've goto great music — both old and new — and we've got great memories of the ol' days and this second time around. Just like hangin' (tough) with old friends!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Saturday in the Park

OK, so it was actually Sunday. And we weren't in a park, as much as an outdoor concert venue; but you'll see where I'm going here...
We just got back from seeing a great concert: Chicago with Earth, Wind & Fire at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. It was a show I'd been wanting to see since these groups starting touring together two summers ago.

I first saw Chicago play Poughkeepsie's Mid-Hudson Civic Center in early 1992 (I believe it was '92) and I still tell people it's the best concert I've ever seen that wasn't one of my top three musical acts: those being, in order, New Kids On The Block, Barry Manilow and Britney Spears.

This CD, which chronicles the band's best songs from the '80s, has long been a staple of my musical collection; even before the CD, I owned the cassette tape (remember them?). It's got some real gems, both while after lead singer Peter Cetera was with the band. From "Hard Habit to Break" and "You're the Inspiration," to "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" and "If She Would Have Been Faithful," this CD has got them all. It's great listening!

With almost two decades of great memories from both that first — they played for more than two hours during that '92 concert — and amazing music, I'd tried in vain to attend Chicago's local concerts each of the past two summers.This year, however, I was able to snag a few tix to see the show and both bands were well worth the wait. For almost three full hours, we were treated to one set of EWF, one set of Chicago, and still another the two groups finished the show playing together. It was almost like three concerts in one! (And in these hard economic times, can you beat that?!)

Perhaps it's the wordsmith in me, but I've long been a fan of Chicago's lyrics. How can you not enjoy songs with lines like It's a paradox, full of contradiction (from "If She Would Have Been Faithful"), or ...another illusion I chose to create (from"Hard Habit to Break")? So I knew what to expect Chicago and they didn't disappoint — simply amazing from the first song to the last.

As was EWF, who got us dancing from the opening song. Having traveled to Sullivan County solely for Chicago, I viewed EWF as a bonus: Whatever they played, I'd have been happy with. But between "September" and "Sing A Song" and "After the Love Has Gone," among others, I was singing their songs as much as Chicago's on the drive home. Now, I'd known a few of their songs, but my GF and I were amazed how many times during their portion of the show we turned to each other and said, "Oh, I know this song!"

Not as familiar with Chicago as I was, not to mention EWF, she was amazed how many of the songs she heard last night she recognized. Each group played almost all of their hits, making it a fun night for both of us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I don't see color

No, I'm not color-blind; I'm hooked on a bunch of black-and-white TV shows from the '50s that are now on cable.
It's kind of ironic that they day all TV broadcasts in America switch from analog to digital, I'm here writing about a few shows from the 1950s, but here goes...

Weekday mornings, cable network Ion Television (you might remember them as PAX TV) airs several old (and I mean ooooold) TV shows that have piqued my interest in recent weeks: "My Little Margie," "I Married Joan" and "The Adventures of "Ozzie and Harriet."

The first two ran both ran from 1952 to 1955, and are more or less "I Love Lucy"-type programs: Each stars a female lead (a widower's 20-something daughter in "My Little Margie" and a judge's wife in "I Married Joan") who somehow gets in a wacky predicament and must find her way out of it by the end of the half-hour, often with the help of an equally zany friend or neighbor. Having watched "I Love Lucy" since I was a kid — and seen every episode a gazillion times — these two shows seem both familiar yet new to me.

"Ozzie and Harriet" stars "America's favorite family," and chronicles the Nelson family's everyday happenings — nothing too special there, but it's a nice change of pace.

Being more than a half-century old, some of these episodes might be grainy in spots, but they're still a better alternative than some of their competition on the other channels (I can only watch so many paternity tests on "Maury" before I get tired of them).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Zack Attack came back!

Let me put this simply: This is the greatest TV segment in the history of recorded time!

Not only did Mark-Paul Gosselaar appear on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" last night, as promised, he came out as Zack Morris from "Saved By The Bell," and conducted the entire interview (and more!) as Zack. It was absolutely amazing!

Zack talked on "the brick" cell phone. He talked to the camera, and called "Timeout!" a few times. He even reunited The Zack Attack and performed "Friends Forever."

And, as if Zack signing on for Jimmy's "SBTB" reunion wasn't enough, he even got his neighbor to do the same, leaving Dustin Diamond and that cutie Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (though she's since dropped the "-Amber" part) as the only ones who haven't agreed to the "class reunion." Let's guess, who's going to be the next one to sign on: Samuel "Screech" Power or Kelly Kapowski? Place your bets...

It was amazing watching worlds collide, as I've been a "SBTB" fan since the show started on NBC 20 years ago, and I've also been a Jimmy Fallon fan since he started on "Saturday Night Live." (You know we met Jimmy, right?)

Last night's segment has inspired me so that I've donned my official Bayside Tigers T-shirt; I'll wear it all day! I don't even mind sharing that I've got every season of the original "SBTB" series on DVD (but not that horrible "The New Class" stuff that followed when Zack & the gang graduated from Bayside), even the entire series of "Saved By The Bell: The College Years," which was an odd title, considering it only lasted one year. You might have read I met Dustin Diamond a few years back, and I even got a direct message from Dennis Haskins (yes, Mr. Belding himself) on Twitter over the weekend!

Needless to say, my head is about to explode with all this "SBTB" excitement to start my day. Hopefully I'll be able to make it into work on time. But if not, it's alright 'cause I'm "Saved By The Bell!"

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mark-Paul comes back as "Zack"

Just got this from Jimmy Fallon's Twitter page, and I had to share it before tonight's show:Yes, that is actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar dressed as the character that made him famous two decades ago, Zack Morris on "Saved By The Bell," talking on the 1989 cell phone affectionately referred to on the "SBTB" set as "the brick."

Mark-Paul is a guest on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" tonight, where he's sure to talk about the upcoming second season of his TNT Network legal drama, "Raising the Bar," which premieres in about 90 minutes. Zack ... er Mark-Paul also gets on the guitar and plays with The Roots. But, looks like he's also helping Jimmy's pet project.

Since taking over the reins of "Late Night" (you know I was on an episode of "Late Night," right?!), Jimmy has been trying to reunite the gang from "SBTB" to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the show as we know it (not that early "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" stuff). So far, Dennis Haskins (aka Mr. Belding), Lark Voorhies (Lisa Turtle) and Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater) have signed on. You can even sign Jimmy's online petition to get the bunch from Bayside back together. I did!

I kinda get the feeling Mark-Paul will be the next to agree to the reunion; we'll have to wait til 12:35 a.m. EST tonight to see. If he is, it's your move, Elizabeth Berkley, Dustin Diamond and my darling, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen!