Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Out of Africa

If you've been reading my blog, you know that I have been hoping to get visitors from Africa, thus giving me readers from every continent (save Antarctica).  Pop open the champagne.  Last week the fruitcake files was visited by a reader in Uganda, one in Egypt, and two in Morocco.

Incidentally, my current top three entries are "The Blood of the Children," "Grimm's Tales," and "Interview with Dan Boehl."

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Right Stuff: Levon Helm (May 26, 1940-April 19, 2012)

Levon Helm, the drummer for The Band and the voice of the group's biggest hits "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "The Weight," passed away yesterday from throat cancer.   In addition to being a musician, Levon was also an actor in movies, most notably The Right Stuff with Sam Shepard and Coal Miner's Daughter with Sissy Spacek.

Levon's death comes exactly 32 years to the day after I met his fellow band mates Rick Danko (1943-1999) and Richard Manuel (1943-1986).  Partying with Rick and Richard after one of their gigs in Philadelphia was a big deal in my young life, as I was a bit of a rock and roll groupie.  The Band itself had disbanded back in 1977 after their famous Last Waltz concert in San Francisco.  Rick and Richard cobbled together a group and hit the road again in 1980.  Levon would join forces with the pair a few years later, but in 1980 he was working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  Alas, I never had the pleasure of meeting Levon in person.

I became acquainted with Levon and The Band from Martin Scorsese's movie, The Last Waltz, which I watched on HBO over winter break back in my sophomore year of college.  I loved Levon, who came across as a real bad ass.  Years later while reading This Wheel's on Fire, Levon's book about his life with--and without--The Band, I learned the reason behind Levon's anger, which comes across so clearly on film.  And, if you want to know, get the movie and watch it, and get the book and read it.  After seeing The Last Waltz I was hooked on The Band and quickly bought up all of their records.  The Band became second only to The Beatles in my rock and roll heart.  To read more about Levon, go to his website.

Incidentally, this is really weird, but a year ago today I wrote about the passing of Michael Sarrazin, who died on April 19, 2012, exactly one year before Levon passed on; Michael was born just four days before Levon.

Amazon links:
The Last Waltz (Special Edition)
The Last Waltz [Blu-ray]
This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band
Across the Great Divide: The Band and America
The Last Waltz
Music From Big Pink
The Band
Rock of Ages
The Basement Tapes

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Fever Movies

There aren't a lot of movies about springtime, but all seven of these soothe my spring fever.
  1. Mary Poppins (1964).  The spring wind blows in a magical nanny (Julie Andrews) to aid the unhappy Banks family.  Walks in the park, kite flying, merry-go-rounds, and hunting with hounds evoke the season.
  2. Camelot (1967).  The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is retold in this musical.  This one makes the list for Queen Gunivere's singing of "Lusty Month of May."
  3. The Producers (1968).  Two Broadway producers (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) scheme to make money by producing a sure-fire flop, "Springtime for Hitler."
  4. Carrie (1976).  An abused girl (Sissy Spacek) with a crazy mom (Piper Laurie) and telekinetic powers is invited to prom by the most popular boy in school; all hell breaks loose when high school bullies push her too far.
  5. Bull Durham (1988).  I've got to include at least one baseball movie.  Susan Sarandon is a baseball Annie in a romantic triangle with a young pitcher (Tim Robbins) and an experienced catcher (Kevin Costner).
  6. Enchanted April (1992).  Four women leave behind a rainy, gloomy London when they rent a chateau on the Italian Riviera for a month. 
  7. The Secret Garden (1993).  When a spoiled girl loses both parents in India to a cholera epidemic, she is sent to live with her uncle in England.  On his estate she discovers a beautiful, hidden garden, which helps her cope with her grief and loneliness.  My daughter was five or six when we saw the 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame version, and it was one of our favorites.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

13 Little Blue Envelopes

13 Little Blue Envelopes
by Maureen Johnson
HarperTeen First Edition Edition (2006)
368 pages
ISBN: 0060541431
Grades 8-10
Guided by 13 letters from her free-spirited "runaway aunt" Peg, 17-year-old Ginny is on a once-in-a-lifetime trip through Europe.  The catch:  She can only open one letter at a time, and she must complete the task in said letter before opening the next letter.  Oh, and her aunt has been dead for three months.  Her first destination is London, specifically the home of handsome Richard, a Harrods employee whose job duties include selling underwear to the Queen.

Part epistolary novel, part quest, 13 Little Blue Envelopes is a veritable page turner.  I was quite delighted to travel vicariously through Ginny and couldn't wait to discover what adventures awaited her.  Her travels take her from London to Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Corfu.  There are a couple of failed missions ahead of her, both of which seemed completely realistic and both of which disappoint me as much as they do her.  But she meets some interesting people, sees some fabulous sights, and learns about the beloved aunt she barely knew.

To order from Amazon, click here: 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Pilkunnussija

It's April Fool's Day and a perfect day to write about my particular foolish idiosyncrasy.   I am a pilkunnussija, as the Finnish say, which is a person who corrects grammar excessively.  I always have been a bit of a pilkunnussija.  I can remember laughing at a friend's grammatical error way back in second grade.  Though I no longer find it funny when someone makes a grammatical mistake and am fairly tolerant as far as the spoken work is concerned, I do have a few pet peeves with grammar in written form, especially in publication.  I mean copy editors are getting paid to make sure a piece of writing is grammatically correct, so, damn it, copy editors of the world:  Know your trade!  Following are some of my grammatical pet peeves:

  1. Use of the word "utilize" when the writer means "use."  "I am going to utilize my basement for a man cave" is vastly inferior to "I am going to use my basement for a man cave."
  2. "Less" used for "fewer."  If you can count it, the correct word is "fewer."  If the item is not countable, then "less" is correct.   "I have fewer cookies than you, but you have less ice cream."
  3. Incorrect use of colons.  Just because your sentence contains a list does not mean a colon is required.  A colon should never separate a noun from its verb, a verb from its object, or a preposition from its object.  "The colors of the flag are: red, white, and blue" is not correct.  "The flag has three colors:  red, white, and blue" is correct.  When in doubt, leave the colon out.
  4. Double possessives.  When a possessive takes an apostrophe, it replaces the word "of."  If the word "of" is retained, no apostrophe is necessary.  Correct:  "Larry is Sam's friend" and "Larry is a friend of Sam."  Incorrect:  "Larry is a friend of Sam's." (Sam's what?)
  5. See picture above.
Happy April Fool's Day.  Love to hear some of your grammatical pet peeves.  Please share them.