Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Apple, John Lewis/Elton John Christmas Ads Are Actually Pretty Awesome

A new Christmas ad from Apple is one of the better ones this year. 
Most everyone who knows me understands that I'm not all that into Christmas.

I'm especially not into the constant onslaught of holiday ads, most of which are stupid, a waste of time, and just harangue you to buy, buy, buy.

The unmistakable message in these ads is you are a horrible person if you don't buy the perfect material gift. If you don't make Christmas memorable and perfect for everybody, you're a failure.

Some ads are better. At least they try to give an uplifting message. Like this year's offerings from Apple and John Lewis, the British retailer.  Yes, the purpose of the ads is to get you to buy Apple products and merchandise from John Lewis. Bur they do seem to go beyond the consumerist intent and remind us there are other things to think about.

First, I'll tackle the Apple ad, then get into John Lewis/Elton John, which I have more mixed feelings about.

In the Apple ad, I nice Pixar-like production called "Share Your Gifts," a young woman is seen in her apartment with her dog, writing or creating art on her Apple laptop, printing the work out, then being bitterly disappointed in her talent and stuffing the papers into a box.

The young woman is obviously creative and bright, but fears sharing her talent with anybody. Maybe they won't like it. Maybe they'll think her talent is stupid or something.

The dog finally takes matters into his own hands, pushing the apartment window open and sending the papers from the box flying out into the gusty, snowy city where they live.

The woman frantically runs outside trying to collect the papers, but to her horror,  they blow onto the clothes and into the hand of passersby. Those passersby look at what's on the papers, and their reactions are completely different from what she expected.

The soundtrack makes the ad complete. It's the marvelous song "Come Out and Play" by Billie Ellish.

Here's the ad

Every year, John Lewis, the British retailer, releases an elaborate Christmas season ad meant to touch everybody who sees it.

Some bah-humbugs usually hate them. I'm personally not fond of the Christmas season, so I skew to the bah-humbug crowd. Still, a good ad is a good ad, so I do get all verklempt if the ad touches all the right emotional buttons.
Elton John is the subject of this year's John Lewis Christmas ad.

Usually, John Lewis comes through. This year, I have mixed emotions. The ad this year is certainly touching. And it involves Elton John. I've always been a big fan of his. Ever since I was a little kid.

This year's ad shows Elton John, this year, sitting at a little piano in a modest living room lit up with a Christmas tree.

The piano, we think, is probably one he got as a young kid. It shows him playing three notes, then launching into the familiar chords of "Your Song." He's been through a lot, and at age 71, the ad does not mask the time that has passed.

The ad then journeys backwards through Sir Elton John's life. It goes through recent concerts, his wild days as the ultimate international star in the 1970s, back to when he recorded that beautiful love tune "Your Song," which basically launched his career. Then we see him in small clubs, wowing people with his talent.

It goes back further, with a very young Elton performing at an elementary school recital, with his confident, encouraging mom in the audience. Then it goes back further, on Christmas morning, when he unwraps the piano his mother gave him.

As a toddler, Elton looks at the piano, and plays three simple notes. Then we go back to present-day Elton, and he plays those same three notes, looking wistful and emotional, wistful and grateful.

The reason I have mixed emotions over this ad, is I just hate how companies these days stretch to find "synergy" with current pop moments, with the cooperation with current pop stars. Elton John is on his big farewell tour currently.

It looks like John Lewis is hanging its pitch on this current pop moment, and Elton John is promoting his tour by hooking up with some big retailer.

Still, the ad is touching and to be honest,  it does have a great message. The tagline at the end of the ad says, "Some gifts are more than just a gift."

No pressure here.  It looks like John Lewis expects you to buy your loved ones something as life-changing as that piano Elton John got as a little kid.

But still. I can think of numerous things that kind people have done for me over the years. On the surface, those nice gestures were no big deal. It might have been a thoughtful compliment, a supportive word when I was down, a joke when I needed it

The people who did these things for me probably don't even remember them. But they had a profound influence on my life. Maybe not as big as Elton John's piano, but significant enough. I'll always cherish and remember those giving, warm moments people gave me.

I'm sure we've all had the benefit of these random moments people gave is that helped us so much. I also hope that I've done things that, however subtlely, changed the direction of someone's life. I bet you hope that, too.

I hate the Christmas season because of the manufactured pressure to give the perfect gift, decorate just perfectly, and just be shallow consumers.

The John Lewis ad does expects us to engage in that superficial buying to create some commercial idea of a "perfect" holiday.  The part of our modern Christmas culture that I hate.

But I hope the ad, intentionally or not, also encourages us to dig deep, or maybe not so deep. Perhaps just a kind word. A compliment to somebody who thinks they don't deserve it. Or even just a smile in the long, boisterous line at the big box store.

You never know what just a mellow, friendly, brief gesture can do to a person. That person's life.

Anyway, you be the judge. Here's that John Lewis/Elton John ad. Tell me what you think:

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

How To Combine Mismatched Passions Into Something Awesome

Some of the mood captured in the Pecos Hank song/video
"Drive Under The Moon."
The other day, in my sister blog, "Matt's Weather Rapport," I featured a guy named Pecos Hank.

Pecos Hank is a storm chaser, the kind of guy weather geeks like me love. He spends days, weeks, maybe months out in the Great Plains, chasing after tornadoes and other severe weather.

Unlike many storm chasers, Pecos Hank emphasizes creativity and art over the usual yelling and screaming and shaky images of tornadoes that most storm chasers embrace.  Pecos Hank's storm videos, which he narrates, are moody, beautiful, beguiling.

I think his creativity with the storm videos comes from his other job, his other passion. Pecos Hank is a musician.

Pecos Hank last year was wise enough to combine one passion, storm chasing, with the other, music, to create a haunting music video that I just can't resist.

OK, I'm a fanboy of this guy. So sue me.

The song is called "Drive Under The Moon." It liberally uses outtakes of his storm footage to create a dark, mysterious, almost morbid music video. I like songs that have a darkness, so this appeals to me wonderfully. Pecos Hank's deep voice, combined with his sort of Tex-Mex sound, is just perfect. And the 1950s styles in the video add to the retro, brooding mood.

Is the creepy guy driving the car the Grim Reaper? Is the glamorous woman adventurous and oblivious to her fate, or is she a willing participant in this tornadic, deadly story? You decide.

You have to see this. Watch:

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

You've Never Heard "Bohemian Rhapsody" In These Ways

Check out this guy doing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 42 musical styles.
Now that the movie "Bohemian Rhapsody" the biopic of Freddie Mercury is in theaters, we might as well celebrate the song the movie references.

To do so, here's a guy who performs the song in the voices of 42 artists. Now you can hear how parts of the Queen classic in a way that artists including Frank Sinatra, Ozzy Osbourne, Abba, Prince, Johnny Cash and others would have done.

Anthony Vincent is the genius behind this video. It's something you never knew you had to listen to, but you really must listen

Here's the video:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Florida Man Outdoes Florida Man

This Florida man broke into a restaurant, got naked
ate a meal he brought with him, and played the
bongos. He won't be criminally charged because
he didn't rob or damage the restaurant, and
put everything away neatly when he was finished.
You know Florida crime weirdness is bad, when cops there investigating one weird crime find something even more odd.  

But this is Florida, after all. It's the land of Florida Man. You know the headlines see all the time. It's every day "Florida Man Does (Insert Very Weird And Novel Thing Here)"

So it was that a St. Petersburg, Florida was reviewing surveillance video because he was investigating a burglary at The Chattaway restaurant in which the intruder broke in, ate a plate of chicken wings, ad grabbed a beer to enjoy.

By Florida standards, this kind of thing is pretty routine, for sure.

But then, the police officer found something unrelated, but much more interesting in the surveillance footage.

I'll let pick it up from here:

"The video shows a man riding his bike up to the restaurant at 358 22nd Ave. S, pedaling around the parking lot for 10 minutes, then slipping in through the back gate. After wandering around a bit, he opens the door to a shed for storing odds and ends, and removes them one by one. 

Then the man gains access to a restaurant bathroom. And exits without his clothes." 

Well, I guess a little nudist burglary is a thing. Who knew? continues:

"He proceeds to sit naked at one of the restaurant's picnic tables and digs into a meal he brought with him - Maruchan Instant Lunch ramen."

I've got to hand it to the reporter, McKenna Oxenden, who was able to get such detail on what the guy was eating. As if that was the most important part. Then again, it's good Naked Florida Man didn't steal the food from the restaurant.

The video also shows the man, still naked, playing bongo drums. Not sure what the neighbors thought of that.

The money quote comes from Chattaway waiter Chad Pearson: "He came in with pants on but he rode off on the bike without pants....I'm not sure if he took his pants with him, but we didn't find them. We still don't know where his pants are."

Maybe the other guy who broke in and ate chicken and drank the beer stole the pants. It's a theory, anyway.

Police figured out who the naked guy is, but did not release his name. The restaurant isn't pressing charges, because Naked Florida Guy caused no harm, and even put everything back neatly when he was finished.

The (presumably) clothed guy the cops were initially looking for has not yet been caught. Authorities and the restaurant DO want to press charges against the Florida Chicken Eater Burglar because he stole cash tips, a laptop, a tablet and a grocery bag full of beer, all collectively worth more than $500.

The Florida Chicken Eater Burglar also tried unsuccessfully to break into a safe.

I bet the cops want to review Chattaway surveillance video every day, just to see what they'd find next.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

SNL's Pete Davidson Apologies For Cruel, Awful Joke With Target's Cooperation

Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw, left, accepts an apology from
Pete Davidson,  who made an inappropriate joke about Crenshaw's
war injury. The apology on SNL last Saturday is one road map
to counter President Trump's negativity and divisiveness. 
More than a week ago, comedian Pete Davidson on "Saturday Night Live" told a really stupid, bad cruel joke.

It was just before the midterm elections, and Davidson was riffing out jokes about several Republican political candidates when he got to Dan Crenshaw, who was running for Congress from a Texas district.

SNL showed a photo of Crenshaw, a former military guy who wears an eye patch because of a war injury and said. "You may be surprised to hear he's a congressional candidate for Texas and not a hit man in a porno movie."

I, along with many, many other people thought that went too far. Joking about Crenshaw's political positions is totally fair game. This was just cruel and unnecessary.

The bad joke caused a bit of a firestorm. On November 6, just three days after the SNL "joke" Crenshaw won the election and is now a Congressman-elect.

This whole incident could have been another salvo in the political hate wars that seem to be gripping all of us in the USA.

But then, as you might have seen or read on the news, SNL invited Crenshaw onto the show the following week - last Saturday. Yes, this was PR, to atone for such a bad, unfunny joke. But it was the best way possible to fix this mess. The video is at the bottom of this post.

Davidson, in his pink hoodie and bleached white hair, apologized in the "Weekend Update" segment.

He said: "In what must be a huge shock for people who know me, I made a poor choice last week. "I made a joke about Lt. Com. Dan Crenshaw on behalf of myself and the show. I apologize... I mean this from the bottom of my heart, it was a poor choice of words. The man is a war hero and he deserves all the respect in the world. 

"If any good came of this, maybe it was for one day, the left and the right finally came to agree on something: That I'm a dick."

With that, Crenshaw appeared on the set and said, "Ya think?" and then sat down next to Davidson.

Then there were some more jokes, including Crenshaw having his cell phone go off, with the ring tone being an Ariana Grande song. Grande and Davidson had been engaged, but the whole thing was called off.  "Do you know her?" Crenshaw asked "innocently."


The nice thing about this is it turned into a good moment of unity in a time when we're tearing each other apart.

Crenshaw said: "I want us to get away from this culture where we demand an apology every time someone misspeaks."

Crenshaw went on: "There's a lot of lessons to learn here. Not just that the left and right can still are on some things. But also, this: Americans can forgive one another."

The congressman-elect then went on - this was Veteran's Day weekend - to remind people of the sacrifices of our veterans. He also went out of his way to honor the people "we lost on 9/11, heroes like Pete's father.

Davidson's dad was a firefighter who lost his life in the 9/11 terrorist attack.

This whole thing was great because, as an opinion piece on CNN noted, "rather than trying to one up each other or score political points with their respective audiences, they made a sincere attempt to connect in a respectful and playful manner."

I have to say, our divisiveness is to a great extent Donald Trump's fault. Whenever things go badly for him - and he's such a fuck up that that happens frequently - he starts blaming groups and people, designating enemies and making up conspiracy theories out of nothing, just to cause hate.

Who knows which side will win? Will it be the hate and blame and lies from Trump and his minions and his ardent supporters? Or will we once again learn to deal with our differences.

There are other glimmers of hope. There was an extremely close race for U.S. Senate in Arizona. Republican Martha McSally seemed to be ahead at first, but as ballots continued to be counted, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema got ahead as more votes were counted.

Trump and his GOP minions started claiming fraud and crime in the vote counting, just to undermine faith in the electoral process and try to advance the Republican, no matter what.

But when it became clear that Sinema squeaked out a victor, McSally gave an incredibly gracious concession message, with the help of her goofy dog.

Sure, McSally didn't want to look like a jerk, so that if she runs for office again, people won't bring that up. But the concession was sincere, and far different from Trump's continued attempts to yell about voter fraud against Republicans with absolutely no evidence to back him up.

Trump continues as of today to spout off about fictional voter fraud. Yes, all election officials need to be monitored so that there's no funny business. Yes, voter fraud, though very rare, needs to be squelched.

But more important is our faith in elections, our faith in each other. We're going to have to deal with Donald Trump for the forseeable future. But Davidson, Crenshaw and McSally do give us a model on how to deal with Trump's dark, anti-democratic, ignorant mentality.

Here's the Davidson/Crenshaw video. Between the jokes, it's actually a little inspiring:

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Randy Rainbow Is Here To Tell Why You Need To Vote Today

Randy Rainbow (right) wants you to vote today.  I'm not sure
if Trump wants you to. go with Randy's advice and vote.
I admit, as I have before, this has turned into the Randy Rainbow channel, but I just CANNOT resist.

Speaking of resistance, today is Election Day! Want to give Donald Trump heartburn? Wreck the GOP agenda and turn the government over back it well, us where it belongs?

The first step is to vote today, unless you've already voted early.

Voting today won't solve all our problems, but it will be a nice start.

Viral video sensation Randy Rainbow, who matches songs, often from Broadway to the current political zietgeist, has hit upon another one. This time, he's wisely urging us to vote.

He's taking a page from the song "What Is This Feeling" from Wicked to tell us to get to the polls. Funny how fitting it is that he's taking a song from something called "Wicked" to get his point across.

So watch the video, then, go out, as Randy tells us, and put on some makeup and get your ass in line and vote, or else Randy will hate you. We wouldn't want that!

Here's your inspiration video from Randy to vote: