Saturday, April 27, 2013

THRIFT STORE ADVENTURES (Pt. XI)

THRIFT STORE 
ADVENTURES 
(Pt. XI)
___________________________

I can't believe that I've 
not posted any thrift-
related content since 
my PINK TUESDAY 
feature last fall. Well, 
I'm certainly ready to 
make up for lost time. 
___________________________

It's certainly been a banner week for thrifting. I ventured out for my first excursion in quite a while — converging on three locations over the last couple of days.

I started out on Thursday morning at one my favorite spots, the Goodwill on Courtenay Parkway in Merritt Island, Florida. I've blogged about this place previously. It's huge — 10,000+ square feet. It's clean, well-staffed and well-stocked. Unfortunately, on this day it was considerably busier than usual. In fact, after a couple of painful run-ins with opposing shopping carts, I felt that it might be better to bail out early and head to the next destination — but not before I spotted a real find — an instructional French language cassette for $1.

A French instructional cassette for just $1.00.
But can I actually learn to speak the language?
Oui! Oui!
In conjunction with The Sharing Center, one of my favorite charities, The Big Thrift has two locations serving Florida's Brevard County area. And I was psyched to visit the Merritt Island store for the first time.

Clearly a case of quality over quantity, this shop is smaller than most, yet it houses a treasure trove of amazing goodies. And I showed up on the right day, as everything (excluding jewelry and furniture) was half-price. Plus, several clothing racks in back offered 50¢ items. In sum, I walked out with two new hats, a new hot pink top and a black leather purse in which to carry my important guy stuff — all for less than $5.

I dedicated the entire next day to visiting my all-time favorite thrifting destination — Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, located on Highway A1A in Indian Harbour Beach. This place is so monstrous that it occupies two buildings — both packed to the gills with the most incredible crap anywhere.

Apparently all of Florida's 40-plus-year-old 
band dudes also shop at Holy Name!
Each building offers its own unique vibe. While the sound system in the back building pumps a local radio station that plays an  array of super hits from the 70s, the "Golden Girls" up at the front register blast an eclectic music mix. The last time that I visited the shop at Holy Name, we were treated to an assortment of stellar show tunes. However, today we were offered an hour-long Elton John marathon. And it wasn't his kick ass, "I'm still in the closet," circa '74 stuff either. It was all from his, "Hey this my partner Steve," circa '85, "I've run out of material" era. Yikes! The playlist even included a syntho, techno, disco remake of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" — a duet with a talented male vocalist. Kiki was so missed.

Although regrettably I had to pass on the Hannah Montana bathrobe, I did score a couple of fun tops that surely will be the envy of all the guys in my Bridge Club.

OH RATS! 
This Hannah Montana
robe was just too small.
Tanya Tucker on 8-Track
SCORE!
And for the kids looking to beef up their personal music libraries, Holy Name boasted a slew of hot releases from the likes of Tanya Tucker, Herb Alpert and Barbra Streisand — ALL on hi-fidelity 8-Track tapes. Good stuff to be sure.

All in all, this week's thrifting expedition was a slam dunk experience. Now, where to next week?

-Christopher Long
(April 2013)


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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: "Lincoln"

MOVIE REVIEW
Lincoln
_______________________

I finally got the chance 
to see Lincoln. And 
although reviewing a 
film six months after 
its release is about as
 relevant as analyzing 
the Electoral College 
breakdown of the 1976 
Ford Carter election,
I still felt compelled 
to share.
 _______________________

Thank goodness movies today aren't always about sexy vampires dealing with their complicated lives, sexy teens battling each other to death, sexy teachers struggling to finance a boob job, or vulgar teddy bears. Sometimes in our sophisticated iGadget era, substance and quality actually prevail over that — other stuff.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Lincoln is truly epic. And as a true blue American history buff, it was right up my alley.

Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film offers considerable insight into the personality and character of America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln — a man who was arguably the nation's all-time greatest leader — a man who, in fact, was NOT a vampire hunter.

Oh sure, the two-and-a-half-hour running time might be a bit long for some movie fans, and it may move a bit too slowly for others. But Lincoln recreates in gritty detail a tumultuous chapter in our nation's history — a story that requires and warrants ample time to play out. And there is much to be learned here. Lincoln projects vivid snapshots of war, death, hatred, rotting bodies, severed limbs — and in the end, freedom for all. Now that's a story — one that should appeal to even the most savvy Call of Duty enthusiasts. Shouldn't it?

More specifically, the film focuses on the last few months of Lincoln's life in early 1865 — primarily his efforts to pass (force) the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution through the U.S. House of Representatives. An objective considered impossible to achieve by most Washington insiders of the day.

And I certainly buy the accounts of Daniel Day-Lewis remaining in character throughout the film's production, as he seemingly became Abraham Lincoln — a well-deserved 2013 "Best Actor" Oscar nod indeed.

For her part, Sally Field's portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln was nailed perfectly. Oddly, when I think back to what I learned about Lincoln in school, what comes to mind first is not the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment or his tragic assassination — what I recall first are the disturbing accounts of his wife's often unstable behavior. Likely suffering from what doctors today would diagnose as bipolar disorder, Mary Todd endured near constant migraines and bouts of depression throughout her adult life. Truly a no-nonsense-type gal, the First Lady was over-bearing, to say the least — reportedly beating her husband across the nose with logs. Even Mary Todd herself confides to her husband late in the film that history would likely reflect more on her mental illness than on his accomplishments.

Other stellar Lincoln performances include David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward, the ever-ass kickin' Tommy Lee Jones as Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Jackie Earle Hardy as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, James Spader in a less slimy than usual role as lobbyist William Bilbo, Lee Pace as the unlikable loudmouth New York Democrat Congressman Fernando Wood, Bruce "D-Day" McGill as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant.

Yes, American history, particularly presidential American history is my bag, man. And I applaud Steven Spielberg for bringing this chapter of our nation's history to the big screen — and for doing so without making Abraham Lincoln a vampire teddy bear school teacher who's trying to finance a boob job while abolishing slavery. Hey, ya know, that just might work!

-Christopher Long
(April 2013)

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Friday, April 19, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Full Tilt" by Creston Mapes

BOOK REVIEW
Full Tilt
- Creston Mapes -
(Multnomah Publishers)

The endorsement printed
on the cover says it all... 

"Full Tilt takes readers
on one serious
roller coaster ride." 
- Bill Myers
(Author, The Presence)
____________________________

I recently was sitting in class at my college university when out of the blue, a classmate named Tami leaned over and informed me that she had just read my latest book. "It was a great story and I love your style," she declared. "Wow. Thanks," I humbly replied. Tami then began rummaging through her huge "mom" purse. A couple of seconds later, she produced a book from the bottom of the striped canvas bag. "I bought this just for you. I thought that you could relate," she confessed. The book was Full Tilt by Atlanta-based author, Creston Mapes.

The second in Mapes' popular Rock Star Chronicles series, Full Tilt is the riveting 2006 sequel to his 2005 debut, Dark Star. In short, the series tells the fictional story of Everett Lester, the once out-of-control frontman for the platinum-selling heavy metal band, DeathStroke. A man battling many demons — the usual rock and roll suspects — sex, drugs, booze, greed, ego and the like, Lester ultimately experiences his own "Damascus Road" awakening and realizes his true life purpose. But even after discovering and accepting the love, grace and forgiveness of Christ, his troubles are far from over. Darn those Badinos!

Simply put, Full Tilt pushed all of my buttons. At the risk of abusing a perfectly good cliche', it literally had me on the edge of my seat as I burned through each chapter like a hot knife through butter (cliche' #2). In fact, Mapes' vivid accounts of mobsters, murder and meth often gave me chills.

Mapes is an amazing storyteller, captivating me with non-stop suspense while remaining focused on a broader faith-based message. From my own first-hand past experiences in the rock and roll world to my current path pursuing Christian ministry, I've personally lived out much of Full Tilt. Hence, I can endorse the story as being completely authentic and believable. Mapes paints his characters with Picasso-like precision — so real and endearing that I felt personally connected to them all — even those darn Badinos! So much, that I actually felt as if I was an unmentioned extra placed in the middle of every scenario. 

CRESTON MAPES
But despite the gripping intrigue, Mapes presents greater messages — one of Christ's radical love, and a challenge to us all to love the unlovable. Solid stuff, to be sure.

Although I'm quite accustomed to getting things bassackwards in life, I thought initially that I might miss something by diving into this two-part series in reverse. However, Full Tilt stands up just fine on its own — loud and proud. And I was left with no unanswered questions — that is until the very end, when I found myself salivating for Part Three.

-Christopher Long
(April 2013)


_______________________________

THE CRESTON MAPES 
COLLECTION:

Rock Star Chronicles Series:
Dark Star - May 2005
Full Tilt - March 2006  
Nobody - September 2007

The Crittendon Files Series:
Fear Has a Name - June 1, 2013
Poison Town - February 1, 2014
Sky Zone - June 2014 
______________________________ 


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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

MEL & THE POORBOYS: A Snappy Little Combo!

MEL THE POORBOYS 
A Snappy Little Combo!
________________________

Argh, shiver me timbers!
Starboard two lads and 
a lass out thar drownin' in 
the treacherous sea of 
gnarly cover bands. Argh
throw 'em some rope 
'fore they're shark grub!
___________________________ 

I've been connected to the Florida music scene for the last 35 years — and I've seen the trends all come and go. I can remember Florida's east coast original music explosion during the late '80s and early '90s. In those days the area was all abuzz with exciting, creative and talented bands — all doing their own thing. In fact, in terms of the country's top scenes, there was LA, New York, Athens, Austin and — Melbourne, Florida. But that was a very long time ago. Oh sure, there's no current shortage of high-energy bands who all cover "Man in the Box," "Enter Sandman" and "Crazy Bitch," but very few can truly close the deal like back in the day. Well, I finally discovered one! 

Me with "the Poorboys'" Jeff Stanton
backstage at a Florida music event in 2012.
I first met singer, songwriter and guitarist, Jeff Stanton, at a radio appearance in December 2011. I was hocking my soon-to-be released book, C'MON! and Jeff was promoting an upcoming gig with the band, Honey Miller. I could hear them playing live on the air as I waited in the station's lobby. Simply put, the band was incredible. Jeff and I ran into each other again a few months later, backstage during a Florida music awards ceremony at which we were both appearing. As a solo artist, Jeff's performance once again was stellar and he brought the house down. So when I heard recently that he was seeking gigs for his new band, Mel & the Poorboys, I called him up, and in short order, booked them to play at a club where I DJ in Palm Bay...

MELISSA WEBBER
Singer, songwriter and frontchick, Melissa Webber, led her band onstage with confidence. Smacking of the alterno era circa 1990, her songs are beautifully simplistic — uniquely catchy and edgy, yet organic and delicate. And when coupled with Stanton, the vocals are HUGE and the harmonies are absolutely superb! For his part, Stanton also contributed some lead vocals while switching off with Webber from guitar to bass sporadically throughout the show. By the end of the night, Jeff also had knocked out a few tunes on keyboards. And from behind his vintage four-piece kit, drummer Ryan Perez possessed the skills to overplay, but maintained the discipline not to do so. Less IS more indeed.

RYAN PEREZ
Three 45 minute sets is a long stretch, to be sure. However, Mel & the Poorboys had no problem devoting half of those 135 minutes to original material — a feat practically unheard of these days. Bravo! From funky old school R&B ditties to a few pop classics to an impressive Beatles repertoire, the band delivered just enough covers to get the the gig, but enough solid original material to be a legit contender — captivating several of the club's regulars far past their typical "bed times." As for me, I thought that the band was a welcome breath of fresh air and I look forward to seeing and hearing them again soon.

-Christopher Long
(April 2013)

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: Chicago (4/7/13)

CONCERT REVIEW
Chicago
St. Augustine Amphitheater
(April 7, 2013)
___________________________

In 1967, their fusion of rock
and jazz was considered
revolutionary. By the end of
the '70s their chart-busting
hits had become iconic.
During the '80s they further
maintained a platinum pop
presence. Today, Chicago
remains one of the world's
most successful touring acts.
___________________________

The sunny 80° Florida spring afternoon morphed into a perfect 65° evening in which to enjoy an outdoor show at the fabulous 4,000-seat St. Augustine Amphitheater — an evening with the legendary rock band, Chicago.

Commencing promptly at 7:30PM, the nine-piece combo took the stage and the two-hour cavalcade of hits ensued. Co-founder, keyboardist, singer, and songwriter Robert Lamm announced early on that the band had, in fact, kicked off their 2013 tour that weekend in Florida — much to the delight of the sell-out crowd.

THE ORIGINAL FOUR:
 Pankow, Parazaider, Lamm and Loughnane
(Photos: Neil Migala)
Following such first set classics as "Alive Again" and "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long," Lamm reiterated the band's continued commitment to breast cancer awareness. As part of this effort, fans are allowed to place online bids via Chicago's official website for the opportunity to sing the 1976 #1 hit  "If You Leave Me Now" along with the band, live onstage at various stops on the tour. Tonight's winner was Larry Hays who handled the honor with the assistance of two little blond girls, dressed in pink — an admirable effort and an adorable moment indeed!


But the energy level waned early in the show. Longtime bassist and vocalist Jason Scheff commandeered the Yamaha keyboard placed in front of a sheer black backdrop that had been pulled across the front half of the stage to perform "Will You Still Love Me?" — the first of three consecutive, stripped down love songs. Next, Robert Lamm took his turn at the Yamaha and commented jokingly that, "the bassist is a better keyboard player than the keyboard player." And with the accompaniment of Keith Howland on acoustic guitar and newly recruited percussionist, Walfredo Reyes, Lamm delivered "Wake Up Sunshine" — a treasure from 1970. The medley came to a conclusion with smooth groovin' keyboardist Lou Paradini offering the 1988 #1 hit, "Look Away."

The show's first half wrapped with a pair of staples from 1970's Chicago II. Clearly still a fan favorite, "Make Me Smile" felt as fresh as ever, while co-founding trumpeter Lee Loughnane spanked "Colour My World" like it was a naughty schoolgirl!

The surgically enhanced, female 30-something contingent had seemingly all migrated to the front of the stage during intermission, and after a somewhat sleepy start, the band zinged to life for the second half!


Old school standards such as "Feelin' Stronger Every Day," "Beginnings," "Saturday in the Park" and "Just You 'n' Me" dominated the powerhouse second set. Other show-stopping highlights included an incredibly ferocious onstage dual between drum god Tris Imboden and percussionist Reyes during "I'm a Man," while co-founding saxophonist  Walt Parazaider simply slayed "Free." And of course, co-founding trombonist James Pankow was animated, energetic and entertaining throughout the night — the life of the party as always. Quite possibly the group's signature tune, 1970's "25 or 6 to 4" made for a mighty show closer, and after an unbelievable 43 years, it continues to rival even the heaviest of current hard core anthems.

Onstage, the band remains a powerful force. Their music continues to stand the test of time —resonating with generations of fans. And given the success of their recent home DVD concert release and the fact that their 2002 "Best Of" record currently is back burning up the charts, we're not likely to see Chicago embark on a "Farewell Tour" anytime soon.

-Christopher Long
(April 2013)

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Friday, April 5, 2013

YES SIR-EE — MY BLOG TURNS THREE!

YES SIR-EE — 
MY BLOG TURNS THREE!
_____________________________

Yikes, it seems like just 
yesterday when the doctor 
entered the waiting room 
and announced, "Mr. Long, 
you're now the proud father 
of a bouncing new baby 
blog!" And to celebrate
this milestone third
birthday, all it wants
is a new pony.
_____________________________

I first began pursuing my writing endeavors back in 1990 — creating local music reviews for a host of Florida entertainment magazines. By the early 2000s I was interviewing an array of big time rockers for features in different print and Internet publications. In 2004, I began pitching a variety of  book proposals to major publishers. They all turned me down. In fact, one prominent rock star informed me privately that I'd never get a book deal because, as he so tactfully put it, "nobody gives a **** what you have to say." OUCH!

The initial rejection and criticism was stinging. However, each publisher offered me the same piece of valuable advice  — develop my platform and build an audience by launching a blog. But at that time I had no concept of what a blog even was. And after finally signing my first publishing deal in 2009, everyone on my team was unanimously encouraging me to start one.

My first cover story was for Florida's
Brevard Live magazine in 2001.
By April 2010, my first book arrived in stores and I recognized the importance of mounting a thorough Internet marketing campaign — and this blog was born. I've been asked frequently why I chose Blogger over WordPress. The answer is simple. It was the first option to pop up in my Google Search. I was naive. In fact, MySpace was just ramping down, Facebook was revving up and I merely approached this new blog as an extension of my typical social networking. Hence, my content was limited to posts regarding book-related updates, my upcoming personal appearances and what I'd be doing on any particular weekend. In short, my blog was boring! But I wasn't terribly concerned, as I didn't think that anyone would ever actually check it out — I was just going through the motions. Six months later, I learned how to monitor my blog stats. And to my dismay, I discovered that the site had actually received nearly 2,000 visits. I reasoned quickly that if that many people were stopping by to read generic crap, my audience could potentially explode if I put forth a little effort and actually created quality content.

My first book signing 
(Orlando, FL / April 2010)
Since receiving that revelation, my traffic has, in fact, sky rocketed. I now post updates several times a week. And from faith and fashion to pop culture and politics, I discuss a wide range of topics, all based on my personal perspectives and experiences. I've recently weeded out  my less compelling content from over the years and as of this auspicious third anniversary, my blog houses over two hundred of my best posts. I hope that readers agree.

My favorite posts include the weeklong Welcome to the Jungle series, the continuing wedding series, Here Comes the Bride and my latest series dedicated to drum enthusiasts, We've Got the Beat. I've also recently posted reviews of some incredible new records, including releases by Kim Walker-SmithTal & AcaciaPlumbJJ HellerStryper and Holly Starr. And if you hang out and look around long enough, you will also discover other record, concert, movie and book reviews — even some fun accounts of my numerous thrift store excursions, a few riveting political observations and more.


Thanks to everyone who has spent time visiting this site and reading my work. It's humbling to see how my audience has grown — I'm blessed and truly grateful. I've had a lot to say about a lot of stuff since my first book arrived in stores three years ago. My second book was released last year and book #3 currently is in development. And be sure that I'll continue to keep everybody up-to-date with not only book-related posts, but all things hip and groovy.

-Christopher Long
(April 2013)

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Holly Starr "Focus"

RECORD REVIEW
Holly Starr
Focus
(Save the City Records)
____________________________

WOW  just when
least expected, I
may have discovered
the perfect pop record!
____________________________

There I was, surfin' the Net, researching for a feature story that I was writing. I'd navigated to YouTube and thought that I had clicked on a video for one of Francesca Battistelli's latest. But a few seconds into the song, I realized that it wasn't Francesca. It was actually "Don't Have Love" by 21-year-old, singer / songwriter, Holly Starr. "Holy cow," I said to myself. "This is absolutely incredible! But that stage name is kinda cheesy." Oops, as it turns out, Holly Starr is her real name. No, really. In short order, I located her website, as I simply had to have her record.

Starr's story is a cool one. After posting a couple of tunes on MySpace (Yeah, I'd forgotten too.) a few years ago, the Washington farm girl was spotted by producer Brandon Bee. Under Bee's guidance, Starr's debut release Embraced arrived in 2008. Produced by Dove Award-winner Rusty Varenkamp, her sophomore record Tapestry was released in 2010. During that time, she toured the U.S. — playing some of the largest Christian music festivals. And in October 2012, Starr released her latest, Focus — an infectious ten-song set produced by Chris Stevens, David Garcia and Chuck Butler.

Fresh, snappy, catchy, poppy — HOORAY — all of my fave adjectives apply to this one!

Starr's voice is delightfully unique and her harmonies are impeccable — layers and layers (and layers) of amazing, tight harmonies. And combining the vocal delicateness of JJ Heller with the lyrical transparency of Sara Groves,  Focus is light years ahead of most records on today's Christian pop market.

Having co-written all ten tracks, Starr succeeds where many of her contemporaries fall short. In fact, these days, the Jesus-factor gets so buried beneath mountains of ambiguity that I'm often unsure as to whether the typical "Johnny Poptart" is singing about the King of Kings or the King of Beers. Hence, Starr scores big, in that I didn't have to invest any time discerning her message — it's perfectly clear. And that message is ALL about glorifying JESUS CHRIST!

HOLLY STARR
Based on Proverbs 3:5-6, "Let Go" is one of the best of the batch. It's a bona fide earworm and completely on-point... No, there's nothing I own. All You've designed so beautifully sewn. Oh please, help me let go. 'Cause You're in control.

In the musical vein of Maroon 5, "This Love" is another engaging highlight... By His body broken, the grave is opened up. Hope is only found in what He's done. Our sin has been erased. Our God has saved the day. We are forever changed because of this love, this love.

The record's lead single, "Don't Have Love," is a modern retelling of Corinthians 13. Co-written with Chris Stevens, it is simply one of the finest pop tunes I've heard in a (very) long time... Love's never selfish. Love's never vain. Love doesn't criticize. Love doesn't blame. From the beginning, through every age, love is the one thing that's never gonna change.

Of the title track, Starr says, "Not only do I want to focus on God in terms of devotion and spending time in the Word, I want to be able to do that as I'm walking through every day"... Lord I really need to stop right now — stop now and focus on you. Even with the chaos all around — I'll stop now and focus on you.

Written by Star and Michael Fordinal, "Satisfied" is another catchy, true blue gem — perhaps the record's crowning jewel... You're the only one who brings my heart to life. You're the only one I know who can provide, joy all my days. Though the earth fades away, you stand the test of time. You leave me satisfied.

Almost hymn-like, "Grace for All" is a collaboration between Starr and David Moffitt. Honest and pure, it makes for an incredible and moving record closer... I will remember the heavy cross where Jesus bled and died. When no one else could pay the cost through death, he bought me life. He knew the greatness of my fall, still he broke down every wall. All my sins are washed away. He has grace for all. 'NUFF SAID!

Okay, so Holly Star is amazing, and Focus is a fun, high-energy record filled with well-crafted pop songs and loads of Jesus factor — but honestly, is it really a "perfect" record? Well, yes. IT ABSOLUTELY IS!

-Christopher Long
(April 2013)



The latest from author Christopher Long
SHOUT IT OUT LOUD -
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
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