Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Shift Happens--I Hope (#IWSG & BOTB Results)

      On the first Wednesday of each month Tossing It Out participates in Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group--a forum of writers who convene to discuss the struggles as well as the triumphs of pursuing the literary life. For a complete list of participants visit Alex's Blog.  It's an extensive list which will lead you to much worthwhile information. 

Shift Happens--I Hope

       Insecurity doesn't apply to me so much these days as far as writing goes.   Maybe ambivalence might be a more appropriate term to use for the way I feel.   Knowing what I really probably should do is not enough to make me do it.  A calumnious spirit of my inner writer seems to be trying to talk me out of wasting my time on an activity that might not reap that many benefits.   Or maybe a deleterious attack of apathy is keeping me from doing much of anything in regard to writing.

        On Tuesday an unexpectedly long wait at an auto dealer gave me some time to read a book that I had had the foresight to bring with me.  These days I try to remember to bring a book with me whenever I think I might have a wait somewhere.  For this wait I grabbed an old paperback that was from my junior year in high school.  The book was The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.  The last time I read this was nearly fifty years ago--the price on the book was forty five cents.   While waiting I read over half of this relatively short book.  I'll finish it tonight.

        Maybe I need to read some more so I can spark my enthusiasm for writing.   Or maybe by reading more I'll get discouraged about my own writing after reading someone else's good writing.   I don't think so, but I do need a recharge.

          Hopefully this is just a passing phase that will be over soon.  Then maybe I'll shift into high gear and get back on that writing road.  I hope that's what happens.

"La Cucaracha" Battle Results

         When Louis Armstrong is one of the combatants in a Battle of the Bands contest he is likely to be the winner.   I haven't been keeping records on this, but I believe Armstrong has been used more than once in various past Battles that BOTB participants have put up and I'm pretty sure he has always won.  With my most recent Battle we can hand Satchmo another victory.

          The Battle was between the ever popular jazz man Louis Armstrong and Mexican-American eclectic artist Lila Downs performing very different versions of the old song "La Cucaracha".    These versions couldn't have been much different.   There are many reasons other than simple taste or musical preference why Armstrong won this one.  I won't speculate on any of these reasons, but I can offer a defense for my own reason for voting as I did.

         No doubt that Armstrong's version is quite good, but to me he took what is often a trite song presentation and turned it into a somewhat trite hot jazz novelty tune which includes some scat singing (of which I am not particularly a fan) and mostly unintelligible lyrics that seem to say little if anything.  When the sax and trumpet solos kick in at the end it's kind of cool, but nothing musically groundbreaking.   Don't get me wrong;  I like Armstrong's version just fine.  It's fun and it's well performed.

          However, Lila Downs actually gives "La Cucaracha" a sense of musical importance.  The lyrics are complex, meaningful, and intelligible (if you understand Spanish).  The minor key creates a sense of gravitas rather then making the song mere silly passing fun.   Lila's vocal is far superior to Armstrong's and the musicianship is equal to the hot jazz band as well as being more interesting--to my ears at least. 

          My vote goes to Lila Downs with a nod of respect to the efforts of Louis Armstrong.  Many of the voters felt similarly.  The race was a very close one with Lila ahead at times and a near tie toward the end.  But in the final stretch Louis Armstrong captured the votes he needed to score the win in this Battle.

Final Vote Tally:

Louis Armstrong       16 votes

Lila Downs                13 votes

          My next Battle of the Bands post will be a special for the Halloween season.  Be here on Thursday October 15th for the scary showdown.

      Do you remember to bring reading material when you expect to wait somewhere?  What required reading from your school days have you revisited in more recent years?   What is your response to the outcome of my Battle between Louis Armstrong and Lila Downs?      

Monday, October 5, 2015

Who Is the Star of Me? and Top 25 Favorite Movies

  The Question of the Month is hosted by Michael G D'Agostino from A Life Examined.  The first Monday of each month I'll be answering a question posed by Michael prior to event day.  Click on the link to his blog for more participants.   

      Here is this month's question:

 “Who would play you in a movie of your life?” 

       This is not a good question to ask me.  For one thing I don't keep up with many newer actors and that's obviously the crop from which I'd have to pick unless we were talking about actors from all time.   Even then I'm not sure who I'd think would play me well because I can't remember their names.  

        Since my life has been neither particularly heroic, tragic, or even all that romantic, I'd probably want to see my life as a comedy.  But who to choose?   Damn, I'd make a lousy casting director.  

          I guess I'll just go with that guy--you know, the funny guy who was in that funny movie--what was it called?   Aw, you know.   The funny movie with that uproariously funny actor what's-his-name.   Maybe I'll think of it later.   Or maybe you can tell me.

          Bad answer I suppose, but it's the best I've got.

One of the twin movie theaters at Casino Theat...
One of the twin movie theaters at Casino Theatre Entertainment Center, Mount Pocono, Pa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


      This question was asked at Stephen T McCarthy's blog and since we're on the subject of movies I thought that this would be a good time for me to post my list.  You too can join in with your own list by linking your post to Stephen's blog or by answering in the comment section of his post on the topic.

        Here are the rules in part:
Top 25 lists should be in TWO PARTSThe Top Ten, and The Next Fifteen. You don't need to order them as #1, #2, #3, etc. You can alphabetize them if you want (that's helpful), or you can just list them in any random order, so long as we can tell the Top Ten from The Next Fifteen (because 'Top 10' movies will receive 3 points, while 'The Next Fifteen' movies - in your Top 25 list - will receive 2 points).
And, according to our old rules, a person can list singly a movie from a series, or they can take the ENTIRE SERIES and list it in one spot. 

       For more details, again, visit Stephen T McCarthy's blog to get the complete story on this.  I'll be listing my films in no particular order other than what comes to my mind first.  This was more difficult than I expected.   My list today might vary next time I'd think about it, but this is a good overview of some films I tend to have enjoyed over the years and still enjoy watching.  Some of my listed films will be unlikely to show up on the bigger list of the generally most favorite films, but I've been told I have some odd taste in films.  That's okay because I know that I'm right.  My choices are all quality films.  For more information about each film in my list you can click on the title.

My Top Ten

Fellini's Roma (1972)--There is so much to this film and I find it to be a visual delight as well as an interesting social and historical commentary.   Since there is not much in the way of story or strict continuity to this film, I can watch it all in one sitting or just specific parts and always enjoy it.

Apocalypse Now (1979) --Not necessarily the best war movie ever made, but probably the best war allegory.   Those who dismiss the film as being "unrealistic" are missing the point I think.

The Wizard of Oz  (1939)--I've been enjoying this since I was a kid.  Some things never get old.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)--This is one of the eeriest scariest films I've seen.  A masterpiece of film making minimalism.   George Romero proved that you don't need a massive budget, big stars, and extreme effects to create a film with lasting impact.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)--One of the best film noir films ever.  I've gotta have at least one film noir on this list and I can't think of one I like much more than this one.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)--A wonderful surrealistic western with so much going on that it seems like three movies.   I guess that's why it has three titles.

Mulholland Drive  (2001)--It's weird and I like weird.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)--An interesting film that might be more relevant now than when it was released.  One of those what-if films that might make you think a bit.  Also, more evidence that big effects and CGI don't necessarily make a great film.  A good film maker can do a lot with a small budget.

On the Beach (1959)--This one scared me when I was a kid, but also fascinated me to the extent that I never forgot it.  Now that I have the DVD I watch this at least once a year.  An outstanding film that has a lot of impact.  I get chills whenever I even just think of the closing scene of this film.

Intolerance (1916)--For a film made nearly 100 years ago this is pretty darn amazing.  I'll put this up against just about any film made in the past 10 or 20 years.  Yes, it's silent so that will be a turn off for a good many people.  Those with the patience and aesthetic appreciation of great film art will be rewarded by managing to hang in for over three hours to see this film through to its conclusion.

Next Fifteen 
(most of these could easily be fitted into my top 10)

8 1/2 (1963)--A great film about writing, film making, relationships, and inspiration.  It has all the elements that most modern movie goers hate--black and white, foreign language with subtitles, little in the way of action, puzzling story line at times, and so on.  This film stirs my emotions.  It does require some intellectual investment for those who are willing to spare the time and effort.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)--A favorite since my childhood.  Now I see it in a much different more spiritual way and like it even better as an adult.  Yeah, black and white, low budget, limited special effects--modern audiences might want more, but for me this film is just about perfect as it is.

Evita (1996)--I am a big fan of musicals.  I enjoy the music in this one and I thought Madonna did an excellent job in the lead role.  It's a gorgeous cinematic experience.

Ed Wood (1994)--Fun and optimistic.  When you think of it, director Tim Burton achieved a rather incredible feat with this film:  He made us love and admire one of filmdom's greatest losers.

Dames (1934)--Since I tend to watch Busby Berkeley films repeatedly, I have to include one on my list and this is among his best. 

North By Northwest (1959)--A film by Hitchcock has to be on my list.  This one is among my favorites.

The Gay Divorcee (1934)--Fred Astaire is one of my all time favorites so it stands to reason that one of his films has to be on my list.  This film is a lot of fun.   "The Continental" dance number is a tour-de-force that makes this film of special appeal to me.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)--W.C. Fields was one of comedy's geniuses and this film is proof of that.  This movie is as outlandish as they come as well as being surrealistically absurd.  Watching this film makes me think that this is where Fellini must have gotten inspiration for some of his films.  The car chase near the end is madcap fun.

Gladiator  (2000)--Epic film making in the 21st century.   Rousing entertainment in the old fashioned tradition.

The Ten Commandments   (1956)--I love the Biblical epic films, especially those of the 1950's. This is one of the best of them.

The Matrix Trilogy  (1999 & 2003)--Thoughtful science fiction.   Always worth revisiting for me.

Knowing (2009)--This one's a real guilty pleasure for me.  I'm a Nick Cage fan and I'm fascinated by apocalyptic films. This is among my favorites in the genre.  Besides my 2009 review on Amazon for this film spawned a conversation thread that has continued for six years now.

Mad Max Trilogy (1979, 1981, 1985)--The newest "Mad Max" movie was a disappointment for me.  It just goes to show that excess in film making does not necessarily make for better films.  The original trilogy is the best.  Filled with action, but allowing for decent character development and good story telling, these are films I watch with more frequency that the average film I've seen.

Pulp Fiction (1994)--Inspired in part by the film Kiss Me Deadly (see my top ten), Pulp Fiction provides a unique story telling film experience.  If it's on TV, I stop to watch.  Otherwise, I've got the DVD and the video so I can watch it whenever I want.

It's a Wonderful Life    (1946) --A Christmas tradition that never fails to bring me a smile and perhaps a tear.  A reaffirmation that even when things seem to be going to the crapper, ultimately life can be wonderful.

       So how about you?  Who would play you in a movie about your life?   Do any of your favorite films agree with those on my list?   Is there any such thing as a Federico Fellini fan in this blogging crowd?


Thursday, October 1, 2015

La Cucaracha (BOTB)

        Can you believe it's once again time for Battle of the Bands?    Yes, time is going faster than a cockroach scurrying across the floor and here we are for another music Battle.  For anyone who does not yet know about BOTB, this is the event that takes place on the 1st and 15th of each month.  Far Away Eyes at Far Away Series gets the credit for first conceiving this now popular event.  Blogger Stephen T McCarthy maintains the participant list and answers your questions about the event--you can find his blog with a list of participants at  StMcC Presents Battle of the Bands.   This is not at all complicated:  Listen to the songs presented below and then in the comments vote for your favorite and tell us why you liked it.  Then visit the links listed near the bottom of this post for more Battles to vote on.

La Cucaracha (The Cockroach)

       With the next presidential election still over a year away, we have nevertheless been inundated by the political race with campaigning, debates, and all sorts of politicking activities going on.  There being so much focus on politics, I thought I'd turn to what might be the most well known politically related song of all time.

       "Wait," you might say, "How is 'La Cucaracha' political?  We used to sing this in school."

        There are some things you probably don't know about this seemingly innocuous little ditty.  According to The Straight Dope website:
"La Cucaracha" is the Spanish equivalent of "Yankee Doodle" — a traditional satirical tune periodically fitted out with new lyrics to meet the needs of the moment.
      Possible references to "La Cucaracha" have been found dating back to 1492 with the Spanish conquest of the Moorish invaders.  The song later pops up at various times in Mexican history with lyrics suited to the politics of each era where it appears.

       Most famously the song was popularized during the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920, being sung by the supporters of Pancho Villa.  Other groups also laid claim to the song changing the lyrics to suit the political messages that applied to them.

        Many popular versions were recorded by American artists as well who took the liberties of changing the lyrics to a non-political message.  Over time the song has become a cliche representing Mexican music.  It's been used numerous times in cartoons and comedic film sequences.  Often the song can be found on recordings of children's music as well as being sung by children at school.

         I'm sure they don't sing the lyrics translated below which are the lyrics most well known in Mexico:    
The cockroach, the cockroach,
can't walk anymore
because it's lacking, because it doesn't have
marijuana to smoke.
        Check out the following two brief clips from the popular Speedy Gonzales series and listen at the end for the reference to "marijuana que fumar" or "marijuana to smoke".    These are not part of this Battle and are presented only for the sake of context, history, and fun:

Here's the Battle:

         What follows are two very contrasting versions of the song for you to vote on.   The first is an Americanized arrangement jazzed up by the ever popular Louis Armstrong.  This is followed by a more traditional Mexican version by the incredible song stylist Lila Downs.  Enjoy, compare, and then vote!

Louis Armstrong "La Cucaracha"  (1935)

       This artist probably needs no introduction since his fame is international and his influence on music is historic.  He was an innovator in the Hot Jazz movement and was respected as a musical artist until his death in 1971, just a month before he would have turned 70.   To this day Armstrong remains a favorite as has been affirmed by his appearances on other Battle of the Bands posts.

        Perhaps unknown to many, Armstrong was a life-long user of cannabis or marijuana.   He was an advocate of the legalization of marijuana.  In a letter encouraging then President Eisenhower to consider the legalization of cannabis Armstrong stated:
"It makes you feel good, man...[it] makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro. It makes you feel wanted, and when you're with another tea smoker, it makes you feel a special kinship."
         Armstrong was arrested once in Los Angeles in 1931 for marijuana usage, but managed to avoid a jail sentence.   The arrest did not stop him from smoking marijuana for the next several decades.   Any references to his marijuana use were removed from his 1954 autobiography Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, but Armstrong is reported to have planned to write another autobiographical book called Gage (his slang term for marijuana) which would have been about his life with the substance.

        The lyrics in this version of "La Cucaracha" are minimal.  All of the internet song lyric sites I found cited far different lyrics as reportedly sung by Louis Armstrong, but I could not find any corresponding YouTube videos where those lyrics could be heard.  Still, musically speaking this version by Louis Armstrong is pretty darn good and a heap of fun.

Lila Downs "La Cucaracha" (2004)

     One of my favorite female vocalists, Mexican musical artist Lila Downs exhibits an eclecticism that I highly appreciate.  She surrounds herself with top quality musicians and chooses from diverse song choices and musical styles on her recordings.  The music of Lila Downs is intelligent as well as intellectual, but never sacrificing the sense of fun and entertainment that good music should provide to the listener.

     In her version of "La Cucaracha" Lila Downs makes reference to the rendition popularized during the Pancho Villa era while interjecting some more modern political references.   The translations I've found of her version are a bit awkward, but perhaps that is the nature of the song   If you're interested in an approximation in English of what she's singing you can visit Batlyrics or a number of other sites.

      Whether or not you can understand the lyrics, hopefully you can still find enjoyment in just listening to the music.  Take special note of the influences of Arabic and Jewish music in Lila's version.  The violin and clarinet add a lot to this arrangement in my opinion.   Mix in the Mexican percussion and harp with a very cool electric guitar introduction along with a brief rap interlude and you get a near perfect blend to turn a somewhat trite song into a musical masterpiece.   Give this one a chance--I think it's worth a few minutes of your time.

Time to Vote!

         I don't want to sound like a pest but I hope you'll add your vote to this contest. Which song version do you like the best? Surely you think one is better than the other even if you don't like either presentation as much as the original version. Judge what you hear in the above videos. Which version do you prefer? It's up to you to help determine the winner.

Please vote on your favorite by letting us know your choice in the comment section and tell us why you prefer the version you chose. Then after you've finished here, please visit the other blogs listed below who may or may not be participating this time around. And if you've put up your own BOTB contest let us know that as well so we can vote on yours

Here are some other places where you might find BOTB posts:


 StMcC Presents Battle of the Bands



'Curious as a Cathy'

Sound of One Hand Typing

DC Relief Battle of the Bands

The Doglady's Den 

Angel's Bark  

Cherdo on the Flipside  

Jingle, Jangle, Jungle 

Women:  We Shall Overcome  

Book Lover

J. A. Scott  

Quiet Laughter

Holli's Hoots and Hollers


Results on Wednesday October 7th

        Find out who gets the most votes in my post of Wednesday October 7th.  Please include your vote in my final tally.   Also on the 7th I'll be joining in with the Insecure Writer's Support Group.  Don't miss it!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Home Invasion Story

English: High detail closeup of a cockroach.
 High detail closeup of a cockroach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       I had a post ready to go for today, but then I decided to hold off on putting it up on my blog.  My reasoning goes along with some of my previous posts that spoke about political correctness and avoiding controversy that might work against what I'm trying to achieve with Tossing It Out.  This blog is certainly no stranger to controversy, but sometimes it can be better to let things stew in the pot a while longer.   For now I'm going to turn the heat down on my intended controversy and put that pot on the back burner.   Instead, managing to still stay with the theme of my upcoming Battle of the Bands, I will present something that is more allegorical than overt.

The Cockroach Invasion

      A year or two after moving to our house in East Tennessee we were faced with a highly unpleasant situation.   Cockroaches had been sighted in our kitchen.   In all of my 16 years of living I had never seen a cockroach.  To my mind they were almost mythical--something one might see in a cartoon or hear about in urban slum dwellings.  Yet now they were here in our home.   We were all horrified by this discovery.

      At first the sightings were random and few.  We killed as many as we could see and thought this would win the battle.  However one night after returning from a family outing we turned on the kitchen lights to face hundreds of the dreadful creatures scurrying every which way.  The kitchen that night must have looked like a barn dance hoedown as my father, sister, and I began stomping every roach we could manage to destroy.  War had been declared and we were hopelessly outnumbered.

       Our best guess as to where the nasty critters came from was that they had made their way in groceries from the neighborhood market.  Since there weren't many grocery shopping choices in our area back then we continued to shop at that market.  Now however we were more careful about our pickings in that store and checked bags carefully after we brought them home.  Perhaps that stemmed the flow of new incoming roaches, but the ones that were already firmly established in our home were breeding with great abundance.  Roaches were in every cupboard and even showing up inside food packages.  This war was now going to call for drastic measures.   None of our family wanted to live with roaches in our midst.

        So we did the obvious thing and called the exterminator.   This was after an ineffective attempt to use bug spray we bought from the store.  That stuff smelled horrible and probably was eventually as likely to kill us as it would the cockroaches.  The exterminator used a substance that had little lasting odor and the delivery device he used covered every room of the house.   I'm not sure what poison he was using, but it seemed better to deal with that than having to share a house with an ever growing population of cockroaches in that house.

          My mother signed a year-long contract for the exterminator to come by once each month to spray.    After his second visit the cockroaches appeared to be conquered.  If any were still hiding away in the deeper recesses of the house, the succeeding visits by the exterminator must have finished all of them off.   In the fifty years since that incident we have yet to see any return of cockroaches.

          When unwanted invaders threaten to take over ones home, drastic action needs to be taken in order to maintain the status quo of ones life.  Cockroaches are amazing creatures to observe as well as being hardy survivors.  Let's face it though, they are not willing to assimilate into the family like a dog or a cat or any other pet.   Cockroaches are set on establishing their own society without regard to the society upon which they are encroaching.  I for one am not desirous of sharing my living space with cockroaches, rats, or any other unclean pests.   What other options do we have?

Battle of the Bands Song Clue

        On Thursday I will have another Battle of the Bands post.  The story above offers some hints to my song choice, but let me give you a few more:

  • The song I'll be using is a very well known folk song that is speculated to date back to the 15th century.

  • The song's lyrics have often changed depending on the times and circumstances, but typically the subject matter has to do with politics.

  • This song can often be heard in cartoons or comedies.

  • You may have sung this ditty when you were a child in school, but with age appropriate lyrics.

  • My first presenter of the song is a highly respected American artist who had a fondness for marijuana.

  • The second recording is by an immensely talented and highly educated artist from Mexico whose name might make one think she comes from the United States.

        Please be here on Thursday October 1st to find out what song I'll be using and by which artists.   I've been having fun with this one and I hope you'll enjoy it as well.

         Have you ever had to deal with an infestation of pests?  If so, how did you remedy the situation?   Do you have any idea what my next song choice will be?   Can you guess the artists?