Mar 7 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #10: Gospel vs. Blues

Both gospel and blues are musical traditions rooted in the American South, both are based in tragedy, pain, and misery. But the difference between gospel and blues is that the gospel offers hope. The very nature of the blues is that there is no hope. Your heart is broke, you’re probably going to die from it–and then things will get worse. Don’t matter whether it’s deserved or not, the point is that it stinks–and there’s nothing you can do about it.

It is completely true–I totally borrowed a plot element from a major motion picture for my VBS. The key difference is that the motion picture is a blues song. The character in the movie never changes–she begins selfish, everything she does is selfish, and the very last thing she does–committing suicide–is still selfish. There is no hope. To quote an oft-forwarded email, “The Blues are not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch; ain’t no way out.”

In my story there is hope–and change. Our protagonist does change–certainly beginning selfish, but becoming different. The funny thing is that for years I wanted to write an Iron Man kind of story–a selfish jerk goes through some really bad things and comes out on the other side different–better different–than he was before. But I never could seem to get it right; the scripts ended up morphing into something else. But this year I have inadvertently written that story.

From a storytelling perspective you want to see that change. If the character is the same in the first act as he is in the third act, then what was the point of this story? If Tony Stark is the same after becoming Iron Man as he was before he became Iron Man, the movie would be a failure (I’m looking at you, Jumper).

From a teaching standpoint you want to communicate that there is hope. If I fail to communicate that, then why did I write this VBS? If my only success is as a storyteller, then I have failed, because I missed the point of telling the story.

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Jan 21 2013

R.I.P. Jim Richey

I remember the first time I heard of Jim Richey; knowing my weakness for the blues, my friend The Celt told me about him. “Imagine there’s this amazing blues guitarist, and he’s an older middle-aged white guy who lives out here in the sticks and works out at the Hab Center as a janitor.”

I couldn’t imagine it. He introduced me to Jim and the rest of his band, The Mojo Dogs, when I went over to sit in on some of the recording sessions at Galactic Celt Studios. Jim was pretty much ordinary looking like The Celt said–older middle-aged white guy, button up shirt, gray push-broom mustache, baseball cap. But the guy played blues guitar like a freakin’ king.

I ended up going to see him whenever I could—downtown Higginsville in a hall that usually hosted square dancing, a 1970s-furnished motel lounge in Warrensburg that I dragged Heather with me to see them, despite the fact she was getting over foot surgery.

My all time favorite time was when The Celt and I decided to go see him play at the Palace in Concordia. As we were fueling up at BreakTime, the January north wind cut through us, piercing our coats and our souls. We did eventually make it to Concordia, where we sat with our coats on the entire time, as the Palace’s aluminum and glass door closed about as well as it insulated. That was when we coined the term, ‘Jim Richey cold.’

I ended up doing a CD design for Jim and the Dogs. I didn’t care for  the title, but still felt I did a decent job with it:mojocd1-400w


I saw Jim a few years ago when we were at the hospital to see my mother-in-law. He told me that he wasn’t able to play any more. Still, I hadn’t realized he was that sick until The Celt posted his death yesterday.

Goodbye, Jim.

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Jan 11 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #5: Music

For the past two years Rahne has composed the theme music. For Law of the West, our wild west VBS, I was looking for music that would fit in with a John Ford / John Wayne / Roy Rogers good guy kind of western—not a spaghetti western. When she was working on it, we listened to a lot of music from classic westerns—both what I wanted and what I didn’t want.

The best example of what I didn’t want for our VBS, despite my love for the music, was the theme from For a Few Dollars More. Ennio Morricone’s haunting theme really conveyed the grit and dirt and decay and moral landscape from the movie perfectly—it just didn’t suit the tone of our Bible school skit.

We listened to a number of good pieces, including Red River and Silverado, but the best example of what we did want was Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven. It wasn’t that I wanted, ‘Hey, can you rip of The Magnificent Seven, without sounding like you ripped off The Magnificent Seven? What I did want was something that, like The Magnificent Seven, conveyed a sense of good, morality, heroism, and triumph.  A wild west where men are men, women are women, and good guys wear white hats and never cheat or shoot anyone in the back.

And I think she nailed it. When she composed her first theme song in 2011 for Adventure on the High Seas, our pirate themed VBS, her music definitely sounded nice and piratey, but the overall composition was fairly rudimentary. Last year’s theme was more of an overture with four distinct movements, with the fourth movement a variation of the first.

Again, we have spent a lot of time listening to music. We have found some decent traditional music, as well as a lot of stuff that sounds more suited for a Chinese restaurant. One shining star however is Tan Dun, composer for Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

A couple of weeks ago Rahne, Elsa, and I had kind of a jam session–both of the girls on piano and me on djembe drum and pennywhistle. Last Wednesday Rahne and Amelia got together to go over it some more with Rahne on piano and Amelia on violin.

We aren’t there yet, but the music is getting there. I am looking into buying an erhu, aka Chinese fiddle, so that we can get a more authentic sound once composition is complete.


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Jul 19 2012

Chick-chicky boom

So you know how you get a song stuck in your head? I’ve had the same one stuck in my head for like three weeks now and it won’t go away. The song is ‘Cuban Pete’ from 1994’s The Mask. It’s really getting on the kids’ nerves, too, because I walk around the house singing it constantly. Not the whole song either–just the first few bars.

It’s not like I haven’t listened to or sung other music in the last three weeks. But until it fades from my memory I will just have to be content to be the king of the rhumba beat. When I shake my maracas I go chick-chicky boom chick-chicky boom.


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May 20 2012

Music and Memory

Every time I hear Elvis’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You it makes me think of Kaleb’s wife.

Hold on–I know I have some ‘splainin’ to do–just give me a second.

Music has a way of embedding memories. Trisha Yearwood and Clint Black, appropriately, used music to point this out, in The Song Remembers When and State of Mind, respectively. Sometimes for me it’s a whole set of memories, if the song was playing for several months during a certain part of my life. Frequently it’s just a single memory–not otherwise significant–it just happened to be when you first heard the song, or it was an event that gave new significance to a piece of music. Sometimes the music marks the event, sometimes the event marks the music.

I was just pulling onto T highway outside of Higginsville when I first heard Alabama’s Song of the South. Every time I hear it I’m suddenly 17 years old in a bright yellow ’79 Ford van. Listening to anything from Blackhawk’s first album or Paul Simon’s Love Songs & Negotiations reminds me of my wife’s and my brief courtship.

The connotations aren’t always so sunny. Every time I hear that really annoying Hall & Oates song (which one, amirite?) I’m reminded of having a giant argument with Heather in our old Mazda in the parking lot at Walmart. Likewise REM, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam bring back memories of working at Worlds of Fun, not having worlds of fun, but making little money, sleeping in my car/in the garage/at a relative’s house/on someone’s couch. Kind of like the aversion therapy in A Clockwork Orange, it’s like pre-programmed misery.

Certainly I had heard the Elvis song a long time ago, but it was at at Kaleb’s wedding that the music embedded itself on me. Mrs. Kaleb walked down the aisle to it, instead of Wagner’s traditional bridal chorus from Lohengrin.

I guess a more accurate thesis statement would have been suffixed with ‘walking down the aisle at her wedding,’ but it doesn’t have the same hook.

Kaleb walked down the aisle to Seal’s Kiss From a Rose, but it didn’t make the same imprint–that song/memory was already reserved.

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May 1 2012

Incompatible women & music

The first cassette tape I ever bought was the soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera (I already had a pirated version, but wanted the real thing). Sarah Brightman played Christine, and I loved her voice. Shortly after I bought this I started hanging around with Noodles. She did not think very much of Ms. Brightman’s voice.

And so started a trend that has followed me the rest of my life: whatever female vocalist I like, the women in my life do not like.

I started listening to Emmylou Harris the year before I met my wife. I have repeatedly said that I would listen to her sing the phone book. Heather and I were married 14 years before she revealed to me that she just didn’t care much for Emmylou. At all. We stay married for the children.

And so time passes by. My 14 year old, The Baby, has been a musical child since she was at least 2, and has always sang (we used a song to teach her to spell her name when she was little). She has always loved musicals (even bad ones). She first saw Phantom of the Opera when it hit the big screen back in 2004. The other day we were talking about different musicals, Les Miz, Phantom, etc.

“I love Phantom of the Opera,” she said.

“I just hate Christine’s voice.”


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Apr 16 2012

Review: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves


You know how you have fond memories of a TV show or movie from when you were young, and when you finally get to see it again as an adult (or in this case, older adult), it isn’t quite how you remembered it? Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s amazing, but some other times, well, not that good. Or awful.

One of the first non-animated movies we got for the girls when they were little was The Goonies; Heather and I both loved that movie. When we sat down to watch it, it was every bit as awesome as we remember (well, maybe not every bit–back then I still held out hope of finding underground passages, booby traps, waterslides, and hidden pirate ships). But there was something neither of us remembered: profanity–and a whole $@#&! lot of it.

Some other memories haven’t fared so well, either. A couple years ago I found Bravestarr on Hulu. If you haven’t seen it, it was a cartoon that was basically a sci-fi western. It was awesome when I was 14. When I watched it recently, the animation and draftsmanship were still amazing, but what else would you expect from Filmation? Everything else, though, was absolutely awful. For so long Heather wanted Greatest American Hero on DVD. We never got it for her, getting her Dukes of Hazzard and MacGyver instead, but she finally found GAH on Netflix. She didn’t even make it through the first episode.

Glory Days

Back on topic. The year was 1991. I was in summer classes at CMSU (now UCM), taking Dr. Sample’s Drawing II (three hours a day, three days a week) and Dr. Leuhrman’s Watercolor I (four hours a day, five days a week). I absolutely loved my watercolor class. It was one of the few classes where I actually tried hard to learn, tried to please my instructor, and begged for honest critiques (unlike pretty much every other art class). I only remember a few people from class: Dr. Leuhrman, the instructor, who always wore whites and pastels, and never got a drop of paint on him; some big guy, whose name I can’t remember, but who had a giant mane of jet black hair, a jawline beard, and was one of the few people in art school that made me insanely jealous of his ability; a girl named Ashley; and a cheery young woman named Elsa, whom I would later name my firstborn after. The big hits that summer were Wind of Change by the Scorpions, and Bryan Adams’s Everything I Do, from the summer blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

I think it was Wilxn , or maybe Wayne, who was with me when I saw the trailer for RHPOT (at the AMC theater inside Bannister Mall…remember Bannister Mall? Back before it went all skeevy and they tore it down?). Wilxn and I went to see it in the theater that summer. It was amazing. I think that was the day we went to the Swap Shop, saw two movies (the other one, I believe, was Mel Gibson’s Hamlet), and probably went just looking around for stuff. We got home late (when didn’t we?), and that was when we realized it really was possible to do too much stuff in one day.

Back to the movie–easily my favorite movie of the whole summer.

Back to the Present

Later I saw it a couple of times on VHS. I know I saw it once with Noodles, whose favorite line was at almost the end of the movie: “Reckanize this?”

A couple weeks ago I picked up a copy of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on DVD. I have had Michael Kamen’s amazing soundtrack for years, but I hadn’t seen the movie in at least 17 years. Last night while I was working on a case for my new Bible I popped the movie in.

It was terrible.

The movie is so hammy, so goofy, and what I believe to be unintentionally campy it’s hard to believe I enjoyed it as a serious adventure flick. I’m not going to say anything about the movie’s most frequent complaint–Kevin Costner’s accent–because it didn’t bother me then and it didn’t bother me now.

Alan Rickman, who is awesome, chews scenery with the power of a thousand suns. His inflections in so many scenes are so funny, it almost seems like Kevin Reynolds (the director) told him, ‘Hey Alan, can you play the Sheriff of Nottingham kind of like Peter Ustinov played Prince John in Disney’s Robin Hood? That’d be great.’ Rickman’s Sheriff doesn’t just say ‘spoon,’ he says ‘speeooon!’

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, whom I remember being very pretty, um, I did not now think was very pretty (of course, all women are less pretty after being married to Heather).

Morgan Freeman was awesome as Azeem. One of my favorite parts of the movie, both as a young buck and now, was the part where Mortiana the witch busts in and and tries to impale Robin, and then Azeem busts in and throws that gigantic scimitar across the entire screen. I remember it caught Wilxn and me so off-guard I think we literally yelled in the theater. I guess we’re the kind of guys that Shakespeare had to make comedy relief for, for fear we’d jump up and stab an actor. Whatever. Lincoln would back me up on this.

Everyone else was fine, whatever. The movie’s real weakness is the goofy script and hammy directing.

Best part of the entire movie, then and now: the late Michael Kamen’s amazing score (he also did the incredible score for Hudson Hawk). For those of you who don’t think you could pick out anything from the soundtrack aside from Bryan Adams’s Everything I Do, I guarantee you have heard it, usually when you hear  that amazing fanfare accompanying the Magic Kingdom logo at the beginnings of a number of Disney movies.

The DVD Itself

The RHPOT DVD itself, well, is amazingly bad. You actually have to flip the disc over in the middle of the movie. This isn’t like Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, where the movie is so amazingly long that it literally won’t fit on a single disc, but the producers of the DVD realized this and made an elegant transition for you to get some more popcorn, go to the bathroom, come back and pop in the second disc. With Robin Hood, the disc-flip happens mid-scene.

For those of you out there who want to get into DVD production but you think your low IQ or lack of skill might keep you from realizing your dream, there is hope.

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Mar 21 2012

Alabama: 40 Hour Week

The other day I was listening to Alabama’s 40 Hour Week, a song I had heard countless times. But one lyric stood out to me that I hadn’t noticed before:

“But the fruits of their labor are worth more than their pay
And it’s time a few of them were recognized.”

I’m not sure if that is supposed to be merely an observation, a complaint, or a line designed to appeal to those who don’t understand the concept of employment.

Would you employ someone whose labor was worth less than their pay?

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Mar 1 2011

Quotable: Scene 24

“…and the music that we play
are the oldies of today
and we think those kids are strange….”

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Oct 3 2009

Free Wallpaper: Jefftones

Some of you still remember the legend of Cap’n Jeff, some of you are too young. Young or old, you can still download some sweet free wallpaper for Cap’n Jeff and the Jefftones. Enjoy!


Jefftones is available in 1600 x 1200 (standard) and 1440 x 900 (wide). Just right click and Save As (Windows) or Option-Click (Mac).

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