abbott & costello on american idol

Remember the famous "Who's On First" comedy routine that Abbott and Costello used to do years ago? If you weren't around back in the 1930s and 40s you probably don't. I've seen video and heard old radio broadcasts of the skit, and to me it's as confusing as it is funny. But it is funny. About 40 years after the big-time comics made it famous, Chris Simonsen and I felt it was time for our generation to get its own kicks out of the back and forth, so we decided to sign up for the Madison Central High School talent show. Honestly, it didn't go so good. Thank God it wasn't a Gong Show. We would've never made it to the next base. (What's on second...)

I like a good talent show. It's fun to watch people who don't normally stand in front of a crowd, stand in front of a crowd. Their song or dance or monologue or feat may be crippled by their nervousness, but they stand there and give it all they've got. It's fun to root for the best and cheer on the worst. They're not all winners. But they're all tryers, and usually it's an honest show.

I'll admit that I've had my fascinations with American Idol. Some genuinely remarkable talent and some of today's biggest music names have come out of the TV talent show, and if nothing else, it has proven the old adage; It's not what you know. It's who you know. But the however-many-seasons-the-show-has-been-evolving-on-the-air-show has proven too that it is not completely honest - at least not up front. Still, you've got several million people who carve a notch in the middle of their week to take it in.

I'm sure most people who watch the show know that Randy, Paula, Simon, and now Kara don't take the time to listen to the tens of thousands who show up to audition. We're kinda led to believe that they do. But they don't. The couple of hundred singers who eventually do get to sing to the stars have been strung along and pumped up for weeks by the show's producers, since their first visit to the city. Even the tremendously tone-deaf who get the call-back have been misled into believing that they could possibly be the next amazing phenom in the pop music world. That's why so many bad singers walk away in tears after they were first congratulated and lauded by a phone call from LA , then laughed at and poked with a stick when the arrogant celebrities come to town. But it makes for good TV, and right now, that's what this show is really all about. A more serious look at music is scripted later in the season.

Personally, I think American Idol is as much about humiliating good people who just can't sing as it is finding really good singers. Many of the best who show up at the original audition hoping to be discovered have to be passed over. The show must make room for characters. When the show meets its quota of blond/brunette or tattooed/clean-cut or black/white (and this season Hispanic) good singers, there's no more need for another good voice. Talent or not, when they're full they're full. Now, if your fashion sense is a little off or if you have bad teeth, a skin problem and greasy hair you may have a chance yet. But only if you sing like a wounded banshee.

Several months ago American Idol came to Louisville. Several weeks later the famous faces arrived to tape their parts. After a few more weeks of shooting fields, trees, barns and banjos, then creatively editing the hours of footage, some of the good and much of the embarrassing was put on TV. I'm not sure why, but the producers felt it was necessary to make our state and all of its great citizens look like back-woods hicks and country goons. We're proud Kentuckians, and we're not ashamed of our culture. We're also not stupid. I was, along with many of my friends, humiliated again by a Hollywood that gets a sick kick out of manipulating and misrepresenting good people for a greedy purpose.

On the Louisville show Paula and Simon made a big deal out of a not so talented good old boy's country way of saying goodbye. He said, "Y'all be careful." Paula and Simon exploded, "What! Was that a threat!?" I'm sure that these two judges are like most celebrities that you couldn't get to for a handshake, much less something more sinister. Granted, the simple fella who really meant no harm at all could probably shoot the hood ornament off their speeding Jaguar if he wanted to. But why waste a bullet on such hollow things?


news of an honest nature

I want to know what happened in the real world while I lived in my dreamy one overnight. So, most mornings my habit has me turning on the television for the early morning headlines. First the local word, which is usually pretty reliable, then the big stuff according to one of the networks. Even though most of the stories are usually sad or shocking even, the means and delivery are sometimes sort of a spectacle in themselves, and maybe just as newsworthy.

From time to time I’ll twit or blog something a little critical of one of the big news networks. It’s been revealing to learn how many people, more than I ever would’ve thought, actually attach their news source to their politics. They take it personally when you offer a bit of criticism or judgment on their favorite reporter, and that’s usually the one who slants the news in their favorite direction. I can mention CNN or MSNBC and you’d think I kneed a Democrat or a liberal in the groin. I’ve been getting more and more annoyed with Fox News lately. I mentioned it the other day when I updated my Facebook status. I was practically accused of digging up Ronald Reagan and rolling him over.

I’d love, really, really love to find a news source that is just honest. No weighting or leaning, no pro/con adjectives to tilt the story, no love/hate expressions. Just facts. Just straight-to-the-point information without a bias. If there is a network or a newspaper or a source out there anywhere that will allow me to determine the worthiness of the info, I’m having trouble finding it. I guess news is too big a business to risk something like a calm, neutral audience. NPR can’t even do it.

This morning, someone on the Today Show teased an “exclusive” interview coming up later, then they go to a commercial. I flip the channel and there is their “exclusive” interviewing with another talker on another network. As small as it seems, if the Merediths, Matts, Dianes and Harrys don’t mind fibbing a little on the small stuff, how reliable is the big story?

In the afternoons, I sometimes turn on CNN. There’s Wolf-man practically having an orgasm over our new president. It’s non-stop. If I guessed two thousand, I’d win the office pool on how many times “President Obama” can be mouthed in thirty minutes – and always with a trembling lip to prove the love. This has nothing to do with the president. But it has everything to do with “the most trusted name in news.”

Reliable info is just as scarce over at Fox, at least early in the day when I’m tuned in. They work hard on shock-and-awe there, so the teases and rhetoric is usually pretty over the top. This morning, in an attempt to keep us tuned in past the commercials, one of the guys who sits on the morning team couch just flat out lied. He was teasing a story from here in Kentucky that I’ve been keeping up with and know pretty well. The Fox guy obviously didn’t think the truth was spectacular enough, so he just made something up. Now that I caught their trick, I have to wonder if any of their words are accurate.

C-Span is a cool thing. It’s real reality TV. With no commentaries or “analysis” from talking heads who follow a political speech with, “what they were really saying,” you and I can just turn it on and watch the slow wheels of government do our business. Without the confusion of an untrustworthy reporter on a biased network we can see the nuts and bolts being turned right before our very eyes. I encourage you to take a look when you can. Sometimes it’s painfully dull, and other times it’s better than a Ringling Brothers show. But if it’s nothing else, it’s better than exaggerated, dishonest, politically tainted reporting.


yes, we did

We've accomplished something today. It's a very, very monumental time for our nation, and because we are leaders on the globe, for the world. As an American, I'm excited and proud and encouraged. I'm not old enough, and I'm not Catholic, but if I had been around in 1961 I hope that I would've felt the same sense of progress then that I feel today

My delight has nothing to do with politics. Barack Obama is not our first Democrat president. He's not the first president from Illinois, or the first to inspire a generation. He's not the first to be called a liberal or the first to leave the US Senate to take up White House-keeping. He's not the youngest, or first to bring with him a young family. Other long shots have won. He's a politician, so he's certainly not the first to kiss babies, make promises and choke on a word or two.

This is a historic moment though. Our 44th president is giving all of us a place to look back on, a marker of sorts. Not so significant, he's the first president to admit he's addicted to his BlackBerry, the first to have his official portrait made with a digital camera and the first to use YouTube as a major campaign tool.

But there is a very significant second that has taken place today that is made even more emotional because of its connected firsts. About two years ago when a tall, intelligent young man stood on the steps of the state capitol in the land of Lincoln and announced his intentions to be president of the United States, many disregarded him and gave him no chance. There were too many reasons why he'd never be elected, and the most obvious couldn't be fixed.

Although planned, the history we've witnessed today is ironic and fascinating. Abraham Lincoln, the man who risked and gave his life so that others who didn't look like him, but more like the man who would nearly a century and a half later assume his old Washington, DC address, left his bible behind. 147 years, 10 months and 16 days ago it was used to swear in the nation's first Republican president. Today we get to see it for the first time, in the dark hands of a black presidential family that sees the truth of its freeing and liberating power.

You did very well, Mr. Lincoln. I'm sure if you were here you'd be thrilled to say it, "Yes, we did!"


what a day for mlk!

These days presidents are sworn in on the west side of the US Capitol building. Forty five years ago it all happened on the opposite side. So it's impossible that the gentler, more inspiring face of the civil rights movement could've looked across the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 to see a black president's inauguration. But dreamers don't have to see it to believe it, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was certainly a dreamer.

Not everyone agreed with his premise that the Constitution provides, guarantees even, equal liberty and opportunity for every American. Personally, I don't see how it's possible to read it any other way. But even if you can find a loophole in our nation's founding law, how is it possible to read Jesus' words or observe his deeds/heart and still believe that a person's skin determines their worth.

Had Dr. King lived twice as long as he did, tomorrow would be a tremendous and monumental day for the great inspirer. He'd surely feel that he had come as close as possible to seeing his Dream turn into reality. What a way to celebrate an 80th b'day!

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

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!


new start

Can we start over? Can we forget everything I’ve said and done up to this point? I’d like to erase, delete and disregard all of the minutes of my past now please. I want my next step to be my first. Can we start over?

One of the big movies of the holiday season features Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button. Ben is living life backwards. He’s starting at the end and working toward the beginning. It’s an impossible thing of course, but the idea is weirdly interesting. The movie’s synop says it’s about a man who is “born under unusual circumstances” and he’s unable to stop time. Who among us is?

I wasn’t born in my current place, in this present time. It’s taken me a while to get here. Like you, I was a user. I went through my share of diapers and bottles and cradles and grades and birthday cakes and library books and diplomas and jobs and speeding tickets and arguments and parties and dentist appointments and sermons and setbacks and on and on and on. Whether we’ve been fortunate enough to stumble into it, (Although I prefer to think of it as God getting me here even while I ignorantly made it more complicated than it should’ve been.) or we’ve worked our tails off to make our successes, it took some time, stubbornness and sweat to get to where we are.

So, thinking about it, if we could, would we really want to start over? I don’t want to do school again. I like being able to read, write, articulate, cipher, and drive. I don’t want to do the career ladder thing again either. I’m pleased with where I am, and I like the connections I have, and I’m not about to go back to my starting salary. I’ve worked hard to gradually trade up to a nicer car. Most things in my life are the culmination of hard work, strategy and patience. I don’t think I’m prepared to start them again.

I’ve done a few things I’m ashamed of and some I’m very proud of. I’d truly like to forget some of the embarrassing stuff. Some memories make me angry or sad, but some of my accomplishments pump me up. It’s all a part of who I am now. All the marks, whether they’re scars, wrinkles or medals, combine to form the tiny bits that make up all my parts and form my person, for good or bad.

Now, ask me if I’d like to go back to when my kids were young and I was thinner. Offer me the opportunity to rock my babies to sleep and I’ll jump right on it. Tell me it’s fashionably safe to pull the old suits back out and I’m a new man. Allow me to go back to the days of less stress, lighter loads and simpler solutions and I’ll buy a ticket. But be sure to quote the price first.