My TV Season Premiere Reviews (So Far):

The Playboy Club B-

It’s got hints of the style and the 60s flair, but I wish it was kicked up a notch.  The mystery aspect is cool, and they do get the Chicago Way down pretty good.  The Bunny costumes and the club itself are pretty swanky, but I wish the hair and makeup were more accurate to the time.  If you look at pictures of the original Playboy Clubs, those girls looked FIERCE (and I don’t use that word often).  These girls look like 2011 gals with a bit of styling added.

Some of the acting is a bit stiff, and some of the characters are forgettable.

I think the LGBT storyline has potential.  Not many people know anything about the Mattachine Society, so this could be educational to them.  It makes me think about how many people had to live a lie just to live their lives back then.  We’ll see where this goes.

Still, it’s got Eddie Cibrian, who is never bad to look at.  And there’s a lot of great music to enjoy.  I hope it sticks around a while.

 

Pan Am – C+

I was expecting so much more.  It was just okay.  The costumes were great, the sets were awesome, and the music was fun… but the acting?  Flat as a pancake.  Aside from Christina Ricci, (who was a bit under-used in the premiere), I couldn’t really tell the girls apart.  And there is no way that kid would be captain of a brand new line of planes on its maiden voyage.  I’m not giving up on it yet.  I think it’ll build up to something fun, along the lines of the Love Boat without the cheesy comedy.  Maybe more like Fantasy Island?  We will see.

 

Revenge – A

I LOVED this show.  Far too many times when I watch new TV shows, I’m lost within minutes trying to figure out what’s going on.  Not here.  They did a great job of setting up the story, telling us who the characters are, and why they are doing what they are doing.  Emily VanCamp really surprises me here.  I liked her on “Brothers and Sisters,” but her character was so mousy I was worried that she could not carry this kind of show on her own.  My mind was changed almost instantly.  She draws you in and can actually kick some ass while doing it.  I think I will love her interactions with the delicious Madeline Stowe as the arch-enemy matriarch of the Grayson family.  Definitely looking forward to the next episode.

 

New Girl – C

Zooey Deschanel is as quirky as her name, and boy does she quirk it up on this goofy new comedy.  I missed the premiere episode, but saw the first 15 minutes because I programmed my DVR to record 15 minutes past the end of “Glee” for when it followed “American Idol.”  I enjoyed those 15 minutes and figured I would give the show a chance.  It’s cute and funny, if not a bit weird.  The guys are all douchey in their own special ways, but none douchier than Schmidt, played by Ugly Betty‘s Max Greenberg.  He thinks he’s all that, and he so isn’t.  It gets a bit annoying after a while. (Did anyone notice that he’s already stripped his shirt off for no apparent reason in each episode?  What’s that about?) I found the show charming, but I’m worried that it could get annoying after a while.  A few more airings will prove me right or wrong.

 

Still To Come:  Up All NightWhitneyThe X Factor, and I think I may need to program Suburgatory — just looks too fun to pass up.

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2009: The Year In Review

2009. What a year.

In many ways, this was probably the most tumultuous year of my life.  I’ve had some harrowing experiences in previous years, but this one just kept ’em coming, one after the other.  I’m amazed I got through it with my sanity somewhat intact!

But there were a lot of really great moments, too.  They were special moments that I never could have planned for.  I started the year in a bad place, and I ended the year in a pretty damn good place.  So 2010 is starting out on a better note than 2009 started.  I think that’s progress.

So here’s a timeline-based review of the year, with a little rating system, just for fun.

January

Barack Obama Inaugurated as the 44th President. After all that hubbub in 2008, our next President was now official.  Everyone waited with bated breath to see what would happen next. A year later… well… we’re still waiting.  I’m not saying I’m 100% disappointed, but I would like to have seen a few more  tangible results.  The economy is improving, and that is probably the best thing to happen since last January… but we’re still at war, we still haven’t passed health care reform, and the rights of LGBT people are still being infringed upon.  Let’s hope 2010 sees some more of that change.  I’m still hopeful.

Rating: Thumbs up for the change… Thumbs down for the progress.

February

RcktMan’s Launching Pad shuts down… for a while. I was really ready at the time to just say goodbye and let that be it.  I talked about going out with “dignity,” but what I didn’t express was how much stress I was already under.  I knew I had to move out of my apartment, but I was afraid of how that was going to go, and I didn’t know how to deal with that fear.  So I started to shut down.  And I wasn’t just doing on the blog… I was doing it elsewhere, too.  Eventually I formed a plan.  I thought it would work.  I would be wrong.

Rating: Thumbs down for jumping the gun entirely too early.


Plans to move are made. Things were looking pretty good with the moving situation in February.  I found a roommate and we started to explore options for our new living situation.  I was getting more and more excited about moving.  I started to pack and make plans.  Little did I know what lurked around the corner to dash all those hopes and dreams.  I couldn’t have written the story any better than it actually played out… and it was playing out like a souped-up melodrama.

Rating: Thumbs up for the initial good news.

March

Moving Plans dashed, panic sets in. Here is where things started really going to hell, and fast.  On March 1, I received an Email from my potential roommate, saying he was backing out of the plan.  My moving date was April 1.  In that moment, everything went sour.  I never felt such panic.  I knew my financial situation was bad, and my prospects of finding another roommate was even worse.  I blanketed every possible connection with Emails, looking for possibilities.   A few came in, but none of them worked out.  Finally, toward the end of the month, when my stress levels were at their absolute highest, I decided to go it alone.  I looked at some of the most dreadful apartments I have seen in years, and the ones that looked hopeful were way out of my price range.  I settled on a place I hated, just for the sake of having something.. and that went sour, too.  I was at the end of my rope, and finally asked for an extension to stay another month.  It was the best thing I could have done.

Rating: Thumbs down… WAY down… for a lot of really bad bullshit.

April

Blog resurrected… for the sake of my sanity. After a tumultuous March, I was a wreck.  My stress levels were unbelievably high. I wasn’t eating.  I couldn’t concentrate on anything.  But I did need to vent… so I resurrected the blog.  By now any semblance of a readership that I had probably left because they thought I was cuckoo.  They were probably right.  I was cuckoo at the time.  I needed to pour out all of my thoughts, and I did just that.  It was the best thing I could have done.  I formulated a plan, and stuck to it.  And then… good luck finally struck.

Rating: Thumbs up, for doing what I should have done two months earlier.

Apartment FOUND! Thanks to a chorus friend on Facebook, I found a place.  It meant moving further away than I had hoped, but I couldn’t pass it up.  It had everything I needed and much more… including more room… for less.  In addition, the neighborhood was nice, attractive and quiet.  I couldn’t be happier with how things ended up.  After some dealings with the landlords and lots of questions and answers, I signed a lease.  All of the panic I had felt instantaneously vanished.  Next step… moving day!

Rating: Thumbs up, for the kindness of friends and good fortune.

May

Moving Day! The weather really blew… and rained… and blew… and rained… but I really didn’t care.  I was moving, and that’s all that mattered.  Thanks again to incredible friends and a couple guys I hired, we finally got everything– well, almost everything– in.  OK I lost my sofa, but I didn’t care.  It was just good to be moved into a new place.  A new beginning.  I never felt so optimistic.

Rating: Thumbs up, for finally feeling settled.

June

I meet a boy! All the while everything was going on at home, I was still active with the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus, attending rehearsals and serving on the Membership Council.  In February I was elected Membership Council President, which was a good thing… but added even more work to an already-full plate.  I was concerned how things would go, considering everything else that was happening… but once everything got figured out, I settled into the job.

In May the chorus started rehearsing for our Pride show, “Over the Rainbow,” and we decided to take new members, which we don’t normally do for that show.  There was one in particular I thought was really cute, but I didn’t really think anything more of it… until he made a move on ME!  Talk about unexpected.  So we started dating.  And it was really quite wonderful.  It was especially fun being with him at the Pride Parade.  June was definitely busting out all over… and I was having a really great time.

Rating: Thumbs up, of course.

July

Apartment broken into, computer, camera stolen. Yeah there were a few too many green, happy thumbs for a while there.  July was a very rough month for me.  If you have never been burglarized, it’s hard to describe what it’s like to discover that a stranger has been through your things; been in your house; and taken things that belonged to you.  It’s one of the most awful feelings one can feel.  I don’t want to necessarily equate it to being raped, but that’s as close as I can come to that violated feeling.  Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and everything taken was replaceable… but that feeling of safety can never be replaced.

Rating: Thumbs down for assholes making other people’s lives miserable.

August

Rebuilding begins, while other things fall apart. August was a very transitional month for me.  I replaced the computer with a laptop that was generously donated (and soon to be purchased from) a friend, and I got back on track with everything else in life.  I wasn’t going to let the situation at hand break me.  I’d been through too much and was too happy with things to let that happen.  I did, however, re-secure my apartment, and became much more aware of my surroundings.  I wasn’t going to let what happened in July happen again.

But some things were not meant to be, and I once again became a single man.

Up until the last week, I thought things were going great.  But then I noticed the silence on the other end of the line.  Phone calls weren’t returned, Emails and texts were not responded to… I knew something was up.  To make matters worse, I was nearing the point where I was either going to totally fall for the guy or end it; and I realized I was totally falling for him.  So when I finally got in touch with him, I told him we had to talk, and I didn’t care that it was on the phone.  You see, we never officially said anything about our dating situation.  We weren’t boyfriends, and we certainly weren’t in a relationship.  We were just… dating.  And that’s how we both wanted it.  But after all that had happened and as wonderful as it had all been, I knew I wanted more.  He didn’t.  And we talked about it and agreed that it was for the best.  No harm was done, no bridges were burned.  And we remained friends, which makes things even better.  In the end, while it still hurt, I am glad we went about things the way we did.

Rating: Thumbs up, for the rebuilding; and Thumbs down, for the ending.  Final rating: A wash.

September-October

Chorus starts up again. The beginning of the chorus season is always a positive thing in my life, because it means I get to see all my friends at least once a week and I can get back to singing again, which is always a positive thing.  September was a busy month, particularly in terms of the chorus, because of my position on their Membership Council.  But I always have said that I like being busy… so that was a good thing, too.

Rating: Thumbs up, for a continually positive force in my life.

Also during September, I finally let my account lapse with DreamHost and The Launching Pad was gone for good. Although I had already copied all of the posts to this site on WordPress.com, I still hadn’t transferred my domain name, rcktman.com.  So I kept the blog quiet until everything was in place.  That wouldn’t come for another two months.  So I took that time away and paid attention to everything else for a while.

November

Rick’s Launching Pad Opens. It seemed like it took forever– and it took the better part of 2009– but by November I finally got my domain transferred and the new blog was officially open and online once again.  I still had a few bugs to clear up (like that crazy ping echo… thank goodness I figured that one out), but getting rid of that hosted account was worth the wait.  It would have costed me $140 to renew that site, and that was money I simply did not have; and it just wasn’t worth it when I looked at the small amount of traffic it generated in the first place.  So I transferred my domain to Network Solutions for a much smaller fee and applied it here.. and viola, rcktman.com now leads you here.  And if you read this paragraph and cared about what it said, you are obviously a blogger, too. 🙂

Rating: Thumbs up, for one more thing falling into place.

December

A crappy year ends on a high note. December is always a very busy month for me.  Of course there’s always Christmas to contend with, and that’s usually enough for any one person, but I also have my birthday, my annual holiday/birthday party, and a chorus show.  I read a post from a few years ago where I also had ANOTHER chorus show to prepare for in addition to the CGMC show and I almost died all over again just thinking about what a crazy year that was.  I don’t know I survived it.  Thank the Lord I came to my senses and cut a few things out!

But all those things are good things, and they helped me realize that no matter how bad things get, my family and friends are there to help me through it all.  I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have those people in my life.  They are truly the best.

Other good things– I replaced my stolen camera; the first stolen item to be fully replaced since the burglary.  Finally, it seemed, I was on the road to recovery from that nightmare.

As 2009 rolled to an end and I looked back on the year (and I started writing this post, which has now officially taken me three weeks to complete, and probably took YOU three weeks to read!), I realized that 2009 wasn’t as bad as I thought.  Sure, the bad moments were REALLY bad… so bad that I almost resorted to prescription medications to deal with the stress… but in the end, things came together, and all was well with the world.

So what’s ahead for 2010?  Well… keep reading and find out!

Rating: Thumbs up, for looking ahead and keeping things positive.

Definitive Holiday Songs

Each Holiday season, we are inundated with new releases by semi-new or washed-up artists trying to capitalize on the Holiday music phenomenon. And each year, many of these recordings either fade into the woodwork of bland reproductions of the same tired carols. But sometimes a shining star emerges and, while the entire album may not be full of hits, there is one beautifully performed number that stands out. Over time, this performance can emerge as what I like to call the “Definitive” version of that song.

Here, then, is my current list of Definitive Holiday Songs – the versions that, unlike no other, are the ones that make the song a true Holiday classic. Of course, this list is purely objective; so I encourage you to share your own personal list of Definitive Holiday Songs.

Here we go, in no particular order (links go to iTunes, unless otherwise noted):

1. The Christmas Song – Nat (King) Cole: The ultimate. Nothing can or will top this version, though many have tried. Cole’s soothing, silky baritone, coupled with the cascading strings and cool jazz band make this a holiday classic that can never be topped. One listen, and you know – it’s Christmastime.

2. O Holy Night – Johnny Mathis: As religious-themed carols go, this one is particularly majestic. Mathis’ soaring tenor, against Percy Faith’s stellar orchestra, define the beauty of this carol, yet they do it without being overly treacly or sappy. I’ve loved this version since I was a kid, and it still gives me goose bumps even today.

3. Jingle Bells – Ray Conniff and the Singers: It’s pretty simple sing-along fare, but I have yet to find a more complete version (4 verses!) of this song, and something about the arrangement just perfectly conveys the joy of jingling along in a sleigh when the snow is on the ground. Not that I’ve ever done that before, of course…

4. Silent Night – Mannheim Steamroller: The Steamroller has gotten a little rusty over the years, but this, from the first of their Christmas offerings, is probably the most moving and stunning versions of the carol I’ve ever heard.

5. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/We Three Kings-  Barenaked Ladies and Sarah MacLachlan: This bouncy, free-spirited mashup came out a couple years ago and was the big hit of the season– and there’s a good reason why. It’s melodic and catchy, and still defines for me what the songs represent. Plus the joining of BNL and MacLachlan is perfect. I wish they’d do more together.

6. Merry Christmas Darling- Carpenters: The story goes that Karen and Richard Carpenter were students of Frank Pooler in the 1960s, and he gave the lyrics to “Merry Christmas, Darling,” which he had written in the 1940s, to Richard in hopes he could write a melody that suited them. The result is a beautiful Christmas classic that has long stood the test of time and will stand for many years to come. Karen’s vocals are stunning here. Frankly, anything that can help secure the legacy of the Carpenters is a gem in my eyes.

7. Step Into Christmas- Elton John: In the mid-70s, Elton John could do no wrong… so why wouldn’t he write a Christmas song? While some parts of the songs are a tad outdated (“Hop aboard my turntable,” for instance), the song still sounds fresh and fun even today.

8. Sweet Little Jesus Boy- Mahalia Jackson: Reverent and stirring, this spiritual carol is at once sparse and yet full of joy and wonder. Ms. Jackson’s voice is rich and booming; powerful, yet soothing. The chorus behind her is a little saccharine, but Mahalia makes up for it with her power.

9. Star of Wonder- The Roches: Relatively unknown, I first heard this song when I sang it with the Windy City Slickers a few years ago. The harmonies are stunning and thrilling- reminiscent of Imogen Heap- and the melody is beautiful. This SHOULD be a Christmas classic.

10. The Little Drummer Boy- Harry Simeone Chorale: The original and best, and no matter how many times this song is covered, none will ever touch this version.

11. Sleigh Ride – Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Pops: Originally written as an instrumental by Leroy Anderson in 1948; the Boston Pops version is, and will always be, the definitive version of this song. The lyrics, written two years later in 1950, suit the song well, but I prefer to hear it without the lyrics. I get a better image of the song’s meaning that way.

12. Little St. Nick – The Beach Boys: Who would have guessed that The Beach Boys- the surfin’ guys from California- would have created such a Christmas classic? It’s one of those songs that just can’t be done by anyone else without sounding like a really bad idea.

13. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree- Brenda Lee: This song was probably controversial and even banned when it first came out, but today it’s as much a classic as “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bells.” Which reminds me, this one is often paired with….

14. Jingle Bell Rock- Bobby Helms: Although more “Rockabilly” than “Rock,” this has become a massive classic, and has been covered by countless artists over the years, including Hall and Oates, who had a minor hit with the song in the 80’s. But nothing compares to the original.

15. Mele Kalikimaka- Bing Crosby: A Hawaiian Christmas song? Of course! I’ve always enjoyed this sweet tune, and of course, nobody sings it like Bing (with the Andrews Sisters!)

16. White Christmas- Bing Crosby: The Voice of Christmas himself still owns the title to the definitive version of “White Christmas.” Nobody else can deliver those lines with such power.

17. The Twelve Days of Christmas- John Denver with The Muppets: The first time Miss Piggy sings, “Five… Goooolden… Riiings… Badum Bum Bum…” you know you’ve got a classic on your hands. This song is dreadfully boring without the voices of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and the rest of the Muppet Crew holding it up and making it FUN again!!!

18. Christmas Time Is Here- Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas and its soundtrack have become such a staple of Christmas music, it’s hard to imagine there was a time before it ever existed. Guaraldi’s jazzy, quiet arrangements and his incredible piano work are heard throughout the special and this album, and make this one of the all-time greats of Christmastime.

19. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Doris Day: America’s sweetheart sounds particularly sexy and sultry here… a tinkling piano and a jazzy arrangement make this holiday standard about more than just snow – it’s about romance and cuddling up with someone special. Now to find that someone special…

20. Santa Baby- Eartha Kitt: When it comes to sultry and sexy, nobody does it like Eartha Kitt… and nobody does Santa Baby like Ms. Kitt, either. The song was written for her and it shows. Growl!

And just for good measure…

21. Little Jack Frost- Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus (featuring a solo by Rick Aiello): (Amazon only) This holiday swing classic, first recorded by Frankie Carle in the 1940s, is done by CGMC with a vocal arrangement by Patrick Sinozich and a solo by some guy who writes in his blog every once in a while.  🙂

So that’s my list. There are others which could easily have made it, but I’m interested to hear what you have to say. Enjoy the music and have a Happy Holiday! 🙂

Live! Sort of! on Feast of Fools!

RickAiello2008-iTunes
Just a quick note to let you know that I joined Fausto Fernos and Marc Felion on today’s epsiode of Feast of Fools! Check it out by clicking here:

Originally uploaded by feastoffools

Rick on Feast of Fools!

I’ll be heading up to Milwaukee with them for Milwaukee Pride Fest. I haven’t been there since probably 1997 or so, so it’ll be fun to go “back to my roots” a bit. Plus the weather should be hot and steamy, which means lots of pictures of hot boys. 🙂

Avenue Q Touring CastI saw Avenue Q on Tuesday and LOVED IT LOVED IT LOVED IT! I’ve been enjoying the cast recording for a few years now but had never seen the show on stage, and it was so much more wonderful and adorable and cute on stage than just the cast recording alone. I want to see it again and again, but sadly it’s leaving Chicago after this weekend. I’m hoping it comes back for a repeat appearance or maybe even a long run very soon.

So that’s what’s been happening… more to come soon. Hope you have a great weekend!

PadCast #23: Magic

 

 

 

 

PadCast #23_ Magic

Before I begin… no, I’m not joining a cult or getting all “Dungeons and Dragons” on you. I just couldn’t think of a unifying theme for today’s show, and the first thing I saw on iTunes was “Magic to Do” from Pippin and “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John. So that’s the show’s title explained. 🙂

That aside, today’s show is dedicated to (more) apples and apple pie, and a very special segment– my review of  “The Pirate Queen.”

I promised you a review, and here it is… and you have to listen to the show to find out how I liked it. 🙂 Sneaky eh? 🙂

Drop me a line and let me know what you think.. did you see it? Do you agree with my statements? Or will you just wait til the thing opens on Broadway to find out how you like it? Share!!

Have a great weekend everyone. I’m off to the north!

Links: Dr. John’s Fortress | The Blogging Times | Tuna Girl | The Traveling Spotlight

Music: Magic to Do: Pippin: Original Broadway Cast Recording (iTunes)

Magic: Olivia Newton-John | Back to Basics: The Essential Collection (iTunes)