test your musical knowledge with my favorite game

Hello, old pal, it’s been a long time. Too, too long. So long, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I was going to remember my login and password. But my long-term memory came through, and here I am. Continue reading

queens of country to premiere at phoenix film festival

UPDATE: After a year in post-production, including the addition of a score by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse and Ugly Casanova, Queens of Country will officially premiere at the Phoenix Film Festival on Saturday, March 31.

I, for one, can’t wait to see how the film has changed since I participated in a screening in December 2010. And I’ve really been enjoying Lizzy Caplan on New Girl lately, so it will be fun to see her again in all her country glamour.

Tickets will sell out, so get yours now at the Phoenix Film Festival website. And check out the trailer:

Original post from Dec. 5, 2010:

I recently had the chance to attend a focus group screening of Queens of Country, an unpredictable, sweet and irreverent comedy by filmmakers Christopher Pomerenke and Ryan Page. Full disclosure: Ryan is married to my best friend, which one might argue makes me biased. And maybe I did go into it with unconscious favorable bias because of my personal connections, but I did my best to view the film with an open mind. Continue reading

life lessons courtesy of the Muppets

Miss Piggy is my role model. I’ve spent years trying to deny it, hiding my true feelings by claiming that she’s my least favorite of the Muppets gang and that I find her karate chops and shrieks annoying. But after seeing The Muppets recently, and experiencing a surge of nostalgia so strong it startled me, I can no longer fight it. I aspire — I suppose I always have aspired — to be Miss Piggy.

I adored the movie. Jason Segel, a comic hero of mine since his Freaks and Geeks days, did a fine job rebooting the beloved franchise. From the very first moments of the movie through the closing credits (featuring the infectious “Mahna Mahna” song) I was sporting a huge smile, the kind of smile that could only be brought on by some serious walking down memory lane. I had forgotten what an impact those fuzzy puppets had on my childhood. Seeing my old friends through adult eyes brought all those feelings to the forefront and I understand now, perhaps for the first time, why Kermit and the gang were so important to me.

1. The Muppets taught me about friendship. The Muppets were so much more than just a strange collection of animals and humans and animal/human hybrids. They were a family — a big group of strong personalities who were constantly bickering and getting on each other’s nerves, but who would ultimately do anything for one another. Through love and loss and bad jokes and misfiring experiments and human cannonballs, they comforted and supported each other, and they celebrated each other’s quirky talents. And if that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is.

I can’t help but think Thelma and Louise is at least in part based on Kermit and Fozzie’s friendship. I love this road trip scene and I will never forget how hard I laughed at the fork in the road. So clever!

2. The Muppets taught me about acceptance. There’s a frog, a bear, a pig, a dog, a lot of chickens, some aliens and some weird hook-nosed guy (really, what is Gonzo?). If this were a Natural Geographic special, someone would likely be losing a limb. But in the Muppets’ world, it’s perfect harmony among species. Looking at it now, I understand what Jim Henson was trying to tell me. It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you came from, or even in what part of the food chain (or galaxy) you reside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

3. The Muppets taught me how to overcome adversity. I remember it like it was yesterday: the moment in The Muppet Movie when Kermit and Fozzie inadvertently leave the giant Sweetums behind at the car lot. This scene traumatized me, and I have thought about it often since I was about five years old. It made me so profoundly sad, the way that this big giant oaf is running after the car, wanting so desperately to join his newfound friends in an adventure to Hollywood. And while I know Sweetums eventually meets up with his friends in the end, this scene left in me such a paralyzing fear of being left behind that I’ve spent my life working hard to prevent that from ever happening. Sheesh…who knew a kids puppet movie could be so anxiety-inducing?

4. The Muppets taught me about hard work. Through countless episodes of The Muppet Show and several movies, the Muppet gang showed me the value of putting forth real effort to make things happen. In so many challenges overcome and problems solved, Kermit, Miss Piggy and friends taught me that I could achieve anything with a little ingenuity. But it was their puppet cousins over at Fraggle Rock that really drove that point home. I loved that show — I even prided myself on never having missed an episode (pre-DVR, what am I saying? Pre-VHS!) — but I often found the Fraggles’ brand of hippie tomfoolery to be a little immature. This from a 7-year-old. But I could always identify with the hard-hat wearing Doozers.They kept Fraggle Rock operating so those silly Fraggles could sing songs and eat radishes all day. I knew right away I would rather be a Doozer.

5. The Muppets taught me to sing, sing, sing. The Muppets were always singing, but two musical memories in particular left indelible marks on my heart. The first is a memory that is closely tied to my Grandma Devine, though I’m not really sure why. It’s an episode of The Muppet Show featuring Canadian songstress Anne Murray singing her hit “Snowbird.” Murray has the most soothing and pleasantly, well, Canadian voice. It’s a scene — with Murray in her white fur coat on that wintry stage — that always makes me smile and brings me peace.

The second memory relates to a record my sisters’ and I had of John Denver and The Muppets singing Christmas carols. We listened to that record until it wore out … I think we even listened to it in the middle of summer, we loved it so much. “The 12 Days of Christmas” was my favorite song, with Miss Piggy singing about five gold rings. The record made me giggle and nothing made me more excited for Christmas to come.

The Muppets were always singing and, as it turns out, so am I. I would love nothing more than my life to be an actual musical. And after seeing The Muppets, I am reminded of how much I would love to have Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter, Rolf and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem be a part of my personal song and dance. And now that I am older and as independent and bossy as ever, I would love to compare notes over cocktails with Miss Piggy.

the Robin’s sweet tunes

Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows it is an experience that will never leave you. It’s been ten years since I last worked in a restaurant, but I still regularly wake up in a panic after having the nightmare in which I get slammed with tables when I’m the only one on the floor, and I’m running around with a tray full of drinks, inexplicably unable to serve them to anyone.

The majority of my restaurant career was spent at Red Robin. I worked there for nearly seven years, first as a hostess and then, once I turned 19, a server. Even now, after the many jobs I’ve held, I still believe that many of my most important life lessons were learned at the Robin. Some are oddly practical, like investigate every bottle of ketchup for the tell-tale signs of over-marrying — a gray tree-like rings creating layers in the ketchup and the presence of bubbles. I’ll bet not too many people know that when ketchup gets old it can literally explode right out the top of the bottle. It’s true. It’s happened in my hands before. Other lessons are more profound, like kill everyone with kindness. And there’s no use crying over spilled milkshakes…especially when they tip over on the tray you are holding and you end up with whipped cream in your mouth and ice cream in all the pockets of your apron.

So much of the years spent at Red Robin are etched in my brain. I still remember many of the thousands of numbers in the ridiculous computer ordering system. Case in point: Monster Burger =14, No Mayo = 9 modify, 27 modify. Seriously, what is that information still doing in my brain?

But nothing takes me back to the Robin faster than hearing certain songs. I usually encounter them while shopping at Walgreens or Walmart or riding in an elevator, thanks to the glorious selection of Muzak channels management had to choose from.

The list is vast and varied, but here are just some of the songs that make me stop in my tracks and want to ask someone if they want a fry refill to go with their California Chicken Burger.

The Year of the Cat and Time Passages, Al Stewart
I honestly don’t know if Al Stewart exists outside the brass-handled doors of Red Robin. But there’s one thing I do know: this guy, with his smooth as Belvedere voice, was seriously preoccupied with time.

Stumblin’ In, Suzi Quatro
No one is cooler than Leather Tuscadero. This  is exactly what makes this goofy song by Leather’s alter ego, Suzi Quatro, even more of a mystery.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Stevie Wonder
Before it was the official song of the United States Postal Service, this peppy tune kept all the Red Robin  employees tweeting as they delivered breaded and fried taste treats to the masses.

Jessie, Joshua Kadison
Who the hell is Joshua Kadison? Apparently he’s a one-hit wonder who enjoyed some success in 1994 with this sappy as all get-out song of unrequited love. But I can still see those pictures Jessie painted…

Pets, Porno for Pyros
Every now and again, management would indulge our need to hear music that was actually produced in our lifetimes. That’s when we got to listen to the cool alternative station. This was the mid-’90s, so the selection was mostly grunge and super-charged pop. This minor hit from Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Ferrell’s side project was always one of my favorites…and one of the oddest choices for a family restaurant.

The Sign, Ace of Bass
I can’t even explain how bad this song used to drive me bonkers while standing at the Red Robin hostess stand. After listening to it just now, I’ve confirmed it still does.

1979, Smashing Pumpkins
This song brings back a lot of memories of college, both at the Robin and beyond. It’s also one of the few Smashing Pumpkins songs I can still stand to listen to. I’m not sure why exactly, but the Pumpkins just have not stood the test of time for me.

And now, for the ultimate Red Robin song…

Morning Train (Nine to Five), Sheena Easton
My love for this song, as well as the accompanying memories of ranch dressing and chick-a-dees and freckled lemonades and mud pies and oyster crackers in my apron pockets, knows no bounds. It is the ultimate in cheese, and Sheena Easton is the cheese ambassador. But to this day this song will turn my frown upside down, no matter how bad a day I’m having. It got me through many bad tips and mean customers and broken glasses and pitchers of iced tea spilled down the front of my uniform. Now that I think about it, I should really add it to my iPod. It’s magic.

To all my Red Robin co-workers, or to anyone who ever worked in a restaurant for that matter, what songs take you back to your food service days?

a tour of Phoenix coffee shops (or how I survived 44 days without home internet access)

Hello, old friend, it’s been a while.

I have 101 excuses for my two-month+ absence. Some are valid (I started a new job, bought a new house, started a new website), others are not (I’m tired). I’ve missed the creative process of coming up with fun, pop-cultury topics and writing about them, but if I’m being honest, the whole thing has recently felt more like a burden than anything else. But I’m committed to this blog — and the five people who read it — so I’m determined to turn things around.

We moved into our new house in August just after my birthday. Our new house is everything I had hoped for — it’s located in a historic district tucked away just east of busy Central Avenue. Our neighbors are friendly and inviting and we can walk to many different places to eat and shop; it’s the closest we can get to living in San Francisco while still living in Phoenix. But our move came with one huge and unexpected twist: our house was not wired for the internet, and Cox would need to get a permit from the city before they could install a drop in our yard.

What? Not wired for the internet? It’s 2011!

I took the news in stride, choosing to believe Cox would get the job done on the early end of the two-four week time frame they quoted me. In the meantime, I thought, I’ll get to know the local coffee shops with free wifi. That will be a fun, hip thing to do, I thought. I couldn’t have anticipated that my internet would not be connected for more than six weeks and that I would come to think of these coffee shops as my second home. I varied the destination based on the time, day, my levels of hunger and thirst and my wardrobe (more on that later). Here are my thoughts on the four shops at which I spent the most time:


Photo by Jennifer C. on Yelp

I spent by far the most time at this über-chic bastion of hipsterdom. The shop recently upgraded to much larger digs adjacent to the tiny spot it once inhabited next to Pane Bianco on Central Avenue just south of Campbell. I never went to the old Lux, but it must have been packed to the gills based on how many people set up camp in its vast new building. The decor is worn-out thrift store furniture juxtaposed against modern plexiglass tables and chairs. So, retro modern.

Most days I chose Lux for three reasons: the ample seating, the staff’s indifference toward patrons spending five hours in the same spot after buying little more than a cup of joe and the joe itself, which is served in proper cups with saucers. I hate the distinctly American tradition of pouring every coffee in a to-go cup, so it’s a nice change of pace to get actual china (or ceramics, or whatever the cups are made of). A cup of good house coffee with soy milk costs under $2 — can’t argue with that.

Lux is definitely a scene. You won’t get kicked out if you show up with your Dell laptop, but you might be silently scorned by the legions of Macbook users. I am about 10 years older than most of the patrons, but it doesn’t really matter, as most are glued to their laptop screens. A DJ spins an eclectic mix of ephemeral house and indie music and ’80s new wave standards at a perfect volume. Lux offers a nice but small array of sweets and a selection of food items (quiches and the like at breakfast and a few dinner specials at night). I never had a meal, but I indulged in my fair share of cookies. Delicious. Although the place is always crowded, and the lines can get a little long, I never had trouble finding a comfy chair in a relatively quiet corner. And the 10p.m. close every day makes it the perfect choice for evening marathon work sessions.

Sometimes, though, you just don’t want to go to a coffee “club.” For that reason I ventured to a few other local spots.

Lola Coffee

Photo by Si R on Yelp

If Lux is the coffee shop for hipsters, Lola is the coffee shop for the hipsters’ older siblings. Lola is on the small side, with just one bright room filled with couches, arm chairs and some perimeter bar seating. The music is good and the coffee is tasty, although it runs a touch pricier than at Lux. Lola also serves up a number of pastry options; I indulged in a flaky butter croissant one Sunday morning that did not disappoint.

Spending time at Lola does not take as much effort as at Lux (I saw plenty of PCs there looking perfectly at home). The staff is friendly and I find it hard to believe they would kick someone out for over-staying her welcome, but its limited seating makes it hard to blend in and get too comfortable. I wouldn’t feel right staying there for more than an hour or so on one cup of coffee. That, and the fact that Lola is only open until 7p.m. on weekdays and 2p.m. on Sunday, kept me from spending too much time there. But it’s a great choice for grabbing a quiet cup of coffee on a Sunday morning.

Copper Star Coffee

Copper Star Coffee

Photo by Dave B.

I found out about Copper Star a little late in the game and some Yelp reviewers claimed the wifi was a little spotty, so I only spent one evening here. But if my internet troubles had lasted longer, I likely would have spent a lot more time here. It’s also small, even smaller than Lola, and the seating is all tables and chairs. But it has a casual atmosphere befitting a coffee shop located in an old gas station. I spent a few hours there one evening alongside only a few other patrons, all of whom were studying or working or something. The music was good, but not too loud, and the staff was friendly. The coffee was tasty — the priciest so far (but not by much) — and I also enjoyed a yummy piece of pumpkin (or was it banana?) bread. I had no trouble with the wifi. As I said, when the need or the mood strikes for me to take my work outside of my home, I’ll head back to Copper Star. There was just something about the relaxed vibe that made me feel I could spend a decent amount of time there being ignored (in a good way).


Starbucks 7th Street

Photo by Had R. on Yelp

I know, I know. With all the cool, local coffee shops to choose from, why would I go to Starbucks? Two reasons: #1: It is the closest coffee shop to my house, and there were times that proximity was the most important feature; #2 I can go to Starbucks in my “I-hope-I-don’t-see-anybody-I-know” clothes. Laugh if you will, but it’s an important feature at times. So as much as I believe in supporting the local guy over the big bad chains, I do concede that Starbucks omnipresence and convenience serve a purpose. Like now, when I’m writing this while drinking a Starbucks soy latte because the closest local coffee shop to my current location, Fair Trade Cafe, was closed.

So what did I learn from all of this? Not have access to the internet really, really sucks. I realize, now more than ever, that I am 100% addicted to the internet. But it’s comforting to know that I have a number of cool, local coffee shops to choose from when I need to get on the World Wide Web (and get a tasty caffeine kick while I’m at it).

some top ’80s music picks for the bday

I turned 36 today, and this blog turned 1. I was planning on writing some big retrospective about how blogging this past year has taught me so many life lessons and made me a better writer/thinker/person. But then I had some birthday wine, and a friend asked me what my top 10 songs of the ’80s were. So now I’m going with that. But really quick before I do, I’ll pat myself on the back for posting 57 times in the last 365 days (this will be 58). That’s more than once a week, so I’m pretty happy about that.

Now on to more pressing matters: how to pick the Top 10 songs of the ’80s. No one, not even VH-1 and their listmaster generals, could do that. So I’m going to give you a list of my top 10 right at this moment. This means the first 10 ’80s songs I can’t live without that come to my head, so don’t chastise me when I leave off  “Billie Jean.” It’s a great song, I know. But they can’t all make the list.

1. Jumping Someone Else’s Train, The Cure. As with The Smiths (see #10), it’s impossible to pick one Cure song. But I chose this one because I play it for my high school students all the time. Such a great metaphor for high school life.

2. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division. The brilliance is in the haunting beauty: I love you, but that will kill me. Bonus points for appearing in Donnie Darko.

3. Don’t Change – INXS. Such an inspirational message, set against Michael Hutchence’s gorgeous vocals. My favorite in a long list of favorite INXS songs — when I hear that opening synth I get so excited.

4. Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant. What can I say? It’s a classic. And I always loved this video.

5. Heat of the Moment – Asia. The supergroup Asia, featuring members of  Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Roxy Music, might not have been so super, but this song left an indelible mark in my musical memory. These lyrics never cease to get to me — especially now that I’m 36:
and when your looks are gone and you’re alone
How many nights you sit beside the phone
What were the things you wanted for yourself
Teenage ambitions you remember well

6. Hey Ladies – The Beastie Boys. I am a huge Beastie Boys fan. I liked License to Ill, but I always felt it was a little juvenile. I really fell in love with the Boys when I heard Paul’s Boutique. This is also one great video.

7. Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go-Go’s. You couldn’t be a young girl in the ’80s and not be profoundly affected by this all-girl band. Such an influence they had on what I believed it meant to be a woman (I can be anything! Even a rock star! I can wear clothes from a thrift shop and dance in a fountain!). I was in love with Belinda Carlisle and her haircut well into the ’90s.

8. The Metro, Berlin. Terri Nunn is another one of those powerful women who had an influence on me. I finally lived out a fantasy related to this song when I rode on the Metro in Paris earlier this year and said to Tim in my nastiest snarly singing voice, “I remember hating you for loving me!”

9. Wild Wild West, Kool Moe Dee. I used to record Yo! MTV Raps on my VCR in middle school. I loved it all – Big Daddy Kane, Sir Mix-A-Lot (My Posse’s on Broadway is the first song I ever knew all the words to), Queen Latifah, MC Hammer (before his Hammer Pants got crazy), LL Cool J, L’Trimm…you get the idea. But for some reason this song has always stuck with me. I particularly like all the shout-outs at the end.

10. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, The Smiths. It would be impossible for me to even pick 10 Smiths songs for a list, so I just had to blindly choose one. I do so love this one, and I sing it almost every day when I take on a task I don’t want to take on. In my book, Morrissey can do no wrong.

I have left off a million songs that I love, songs that would make the list tomorrow. I’ve steered clear of ’80s hair bands — a genre I was a huge fan of — and most of the massive ’80s pop singers like Madonna and Prince. I also neglected some favorite bands like Depeche Mode, Rush, Duran Duran, Guns N’ Roses, REO Speedwagon, etc. One day they will get the proper attention they deserve. For now I’m satisfied enough with my list to close the book on this post…and this birthday.

my obscure childhood tv memories

We all have those memories from our childhood that we question — did that really happen, or did I just dream that it did? Or did it happen to someone else and over time I just co-opted it as my own memory?

My sisters and I spent a lot of time watching television when we were young, and we have these pretty distinct memories about some of our favorite shows and movies. But after attempting to find someone — anyone — who had also heard of them, I was beginning to believe that a few of these shows/movies never actually existed, rather that they were mere figments of our collective sister-imagination.

So I looked them up (thank you, IMDB and YouTube). Turns out, they do exist…and pretty close to exactly as I remember them.  Here’s a sampling of what was on the tube in the Carver house in the early to mid-’80s.

Love, Sidney:  The thing I remember most about this show is the cute kid and the theme song, which later became a prominent part of the mid-’90s Delta Gamma rush experience at Arizona State University. It was also the first time I ever heard the name Swoosie.  The one thing I don’t remember about this show is that Tony Randall played a gay man who took in a single mother and her young daughter, in what could only be described as a feminine reboot of The Odd Couple. To you DGs watching this, it’s okay…you can sing along:

Double Trouble: This show was mandatory viewing for me and my sister Kasey. I think I may have even at one point wished we were identical twins — they just made it seem like so much wacky fun. I was also enamored by their dance moves (which they had previously shown off at the Rock-a-Hula Luau in Grease 2), because in real life, my sister said I flared my nostrils when I danced. As you can imagine, this show featured a lot of identity-switching antics. Fun fact: the twins are the real-life sisters of actress Katey Sagal (you know, Peg Bundy).

Savannah Smiles: This was one of those ’80s children’s movies that you realize as an adult was really messed up, and kind of inappropriate for a child to be viewing. The premise goes something like this:  a spoiled but ignored little girl runs away only to find herself caught up with a couple of bumbling small-time crooks. They decide to hold her for ransom but, as so often happens, their hearts melt at her adorableness. I don’t really remember how it plays out, but obviously it ends with a police standoff, Savannah’s tearful goodbye to the crooks, Savannah’s tearful reconciliation with her mother and Savannah’s mother demanding a divorce. Sad side note: Little Savannah was the cutest kid ever, and I was curious what happened to her. Turns out Bridgette Andersen met the same fate so many other child actors do: she died of a drug overdose at age 21.

The Water Babies: This movie is nuts, and my sister Kelly and I really started to believe we had made the whole thing up. That is, until I discovered the VHS in the Columbia House movie catalog in 1998. Don’t think I didn’t buy it, and don’t think I haven’t shared it with my students. This movie can only be described as a cross between Oliver Twist (orphan), Mary Poppins (chimney sweep and rich kids) and The Little Mermaid (sea creatures) in a low-rent, live-action/animation hybrid. I was at once terrified and thrilled by it as a kid, but it always annoyed me that Tom, the chimney sweep boy/mermaid, always had on Huck Finn-esque half-pants, even when under water. The movie is apparently based on a mid-19th century children’s story — who knew? I like to think of this scene, in which Tom and a Scottish lobster sing a song called High Cockalorum, as the original Hakuna Matata.

Have you ever seen any of these gems? What TV shows or movies are stuck deep in your subconscious?