Stay the Hell Home!

It’s the night before Thanksgiving and I’m staring out the window at the freezing rain and snow.  I’m not a fan of colder temperatures, I’ll take a balmy summer day over the frigid winter wind any time.  Despite this I couldn’t be happier the weather outside is frightful.  Not because of chance to spend time … Read more

Stand Up Comedy: The Last Truth in American Entertainment

Earlier this month Chris Rock, arguably one of the funniest men alive, took criticism for his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live for discussing the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings and the attack on the World Trade Center.  Although the comedian made it abundantly clear he was not making light of the attacks nor the victims, some chose to criticize Rock claiming his jokes were awkward and insensitive.  In case you haven’t seen the opening, review the video below:

Although this is far from the first time stand up comedy has been scrutinized for taboo subject matter, it seems more now then ever comedy and our freedom of speech is continually under attack.  In most cases it seems the comedians jokes are taken out of context and then re-shaped to aide the argument of a special interest group or the news media.  Although I can give you countless instances where this is the case, I feel the best dissertation on this subject came from the late comic, Patrice O’Neil. Back in 2007 Patrice appeared on Fox News to discuss the suspension of the popular talk satellite radio show, Opie and Anthony,after a belligerent homeless man (a guest on the show) stated he wanted to rape Secretary of State Rice.  By the way, it was clear the man’s remarks were not a joke, nor did anyone construe it so.  A representative for N.O.W (National Organization of Women) saw the radio program’s suspension as a sign the public was sick of brash humor, even siting O’Neil’s act as offensive to women.  Perhaps Patrice put it best when he said, “..PC cops run a muck.”

The core of the discussion lies in freedom of speech, a sword everyone likes to swing through the air until they remember its a double edged blade and like any sharp pointy object one has to treat it with a measure of responsibility.  First, one must realize their message may be offensive to others and exercise caution in the manner they choose to express themselves.  Luckily, stand-up comedy has a sanctuary in the form of comedy clubs across the nation where people can choose to hear their favorite comic’s act whether it be a profanity laced set act or a guy with a puppet (or both). The medium of television and radio allows one to simply change the channel if they are offended or simply don’t want to hear what the comic has to say.  A key fact everyone seems to forget is the reality everyone has the freedom of speech in this country, including those who may not agree with you.  Just as you have the right to make your voice heard, so does everyone else.  Although one can choose to ignore the opposing or offensive perspective, they can also choose to argue it.  By argue, I do not intend to mean call for someone to be fired or be outraged, I’m talking about intelligent adult conversation. This is where stand-up comedy truly shines as the last truth in American entertainment.

The role of a truly great comic is not just to entertain but as Mel Brooks put it in the film, History of the World, the comedian (or as he calls it the stand-up philosopher) is to, “coalesce the vapor of the human experience into a viable and logical comprehension.”

What are comics if not modern day philosophers? Comedy legends like Joan Rivers, George Burns, Benny Hill, George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman juxtaposed the realities of modern day life with satire to create a message that was not only entertaining but unlike television can challenge the listeners way of thinking and expanded one’s perspective.  Their work paved the way for generations of comics to inspire and entertain millions.  Today there are some wonderful comics like Louie CK, Jim Norton, Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, Nick DiPaolo, Robert Kelly, Vinny Brand, Jim Bruer,and Brian Regan (just to rattle off a few of my favorites) who simply put, take the art of comedy to another level.

Getting back to my original question:was Rock’s monologue out of line? Absolutely not.  His act, as he did point out, wasn’t about making light of the horrible terror attacks rather it was about the commercialization of our history and traditions to suit the needs of big business.  Days once reserved to commemorate important events and people are now used to sell mattresses, cars, and things people don’t need to and can’t afford.  Perhaps rather than focusing on being offended by the Chris Rock’s monologue, some would benefit by re-examining it keeping the commercialization of our nation’s traditions in mind.  If not and you are truly offended by his message, then remember you have the right to be and can choose to ignore it.

Do you agree or disagree? Who is your favorite comic? What do you think of the monologue.  Comment and let me know 🙂

Philip A. Maenza aka “Philtastic Phil” is an internet entrepreneur and consumer behavior professional whose interests include art, film, music, stand up comedy, fitness, and comic books. Phil is also a dedicated community volunteer and always open to connecting with like minded optimists.   Phil’s favorite comedy club is The Stress Factory in New Brunswick, NJ and his favorite comic is Robert Kelly. No I haven’t been paid to say it- it’s a really great place!!! 

Best and worst cover songs.

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I read somewhere people stopped appreciating new music at some point in their late twenties.  Since hearing this I’ve been proud of the fact my thirst and passion for new tunes has yet to be extinguished.  Music, to me, is the great communicator.  It is a language echoing messages across different languages, religions, ethnicity, and levels of understanding.  It has the power to bring friends and families together or comforting the listener when you’re all alone.  It is a time machine transporting appreciators across decades of memories in seconds like a Delorian streaking across the sky.  I started seriously listening to music later than most, my senior year of high school.  Up until then my CD collection consisted of Scott and Todd phone scams, movie soundtracks, and a few Aerosmith albums I picked up to impress a girl I had a crush on Sophomore year (it didn’t work).  My love for the medium was galvanized in college when I was introduced to punk, heavy metal, and ska by two gentlemen I am blessed to call friends today- Mark and Nik (not a typo). Many of my weekends were spent in a noisy club reeking of stale beer and cigarettes or peroxide because we didn’t know to use hair dye back then.

Nik is the one in red, Mark is the one in black/grey, I'm the one in blue pleased with myself after nailing another friend, Dave, in the coin purse seconds before the picture was taken.
Nik is the one in red, Mark is the one in black/grey, I’m the one in blue pleased with myself after nailing another friend, Dave, in the coin purse seconds before the picture was taken.  Guess which one is Dave?  By the way, we’ve all lost significant amounts of weight since and Dave has children, so everything worked out just fine.

I’ve been addicted to the HBO series, Sonic Highways, chronicling the Foo Fighters road trip to recording studios across the country while they are recording their new album.  The show is also a journey through history of music in each particular city in only a way a true musician can appreciate.  Each episode is like a love letter to the medium and has turned many viewers, myself included, onto songs artists and musical genres they would never have even thought of listening to prior to the show airing.  In my case I am finding myself scouring You Tube searching for songs by the Zack Brown Band, Tony Joe White, and other country artists after watching the Nashville episode of the series.  What appealed to me the most about this episode is country’s heavy reliance on cover songs throughout history.  I’ve always been a big fan of the well done cover song. I embrace a well done cover song or tribute album as not only something familiar to bop your head along to but also as an opportunity to discover a new or old artist.  During my college years it seemed every punk band had at least one cover song they would either improve or utterly destroy.  The songs that improved on their predecessor were always a special treat and a great gem.  Like that seen in High Fidelity:

Some of my favorite cover songs:

1. “And Then She Kissed Me” – Kiss

A great example of taking a song and making it your own. One of my all time favorites.

2. “Cum on Feel The Noise” – Quiet Riot

I would normally out his under guilty pleasure but it was the first heaven metal song to reach #1 and it’s chock full of 80s music video cliches.

3. “16 Tons” – The Nightwatchmen

Tom Morello best known for his work with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave brings us a surprisingly jazzy version of the song about corporate oppression. Surprised this has never been used in a tv series. Speaking of Tom Morello…

4. “Paper Planes” – the Street Sweeper Social Club

This cover I actually prefer to the original by MIA. I blast this every time my iPod shuffles to it.

5. “Your Song”- Elle Goulde

This is so well done I almost wish it was an original song. Very delicate and delicate sounding. She’s got a great voice.

6. “Common People” – William Shatner and Ben Folds

This is the song that made me like Ben Folds and respect Shatner – sorry not a Trekkie

7. Enocium – entire cd Great collection of tribute and cover songs.

My personal favorites on this are:

“Dancing Days” performed by my favorite band Stone Temple Pilots,

“Going to California” by Never The Bride,

and “Hey Hey What Can I Do” by Hootie and the Blowfish

8. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” – Al Green

This song makes me wish I could sing.  I would sing this every freaking day!

9. “The Man Who Sold The World” – Nirvana

If you grew up in the nineties you couldn’t escape this song. It holds up and is every bit as haunting as the Bowie original.

10. “Hurt” – Johnny Cash

This video still chokes me up every time I see it. I think this was released shortly after June passed. Even though Nine Inch Nails released it, it feels like it was Cash song all along

11. “Take On Me” -Reel Big Fish

I listened to a good amount of punk and ska music in college. Every punk band had a cover song on their album. This was by far my favorite. It makes me miss ska music. Even though the video is goofy and missing the signature animation of the original, it’s just a lot of fun.

12. “Love Me Two Times” – Aerosmith

Great bluesy classic !  They also have a great cover of Come Together if you feel like searching for it.

13. “I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston

It’s a shame how she passed but when this came out I was shocked to learn its a cover of Dolly Parton. She had such a wonderful voice.

14. “Chauffeur” – Deftones

Deftones are known for their heaven guitars, pounding drums, and guttural screams but this Duran Duran classic really proves their musicianship.

15. “Cat Scratch Fever” – Pantera

I saw an interview once with Dimebag before he passed where he proclaimed Ted Nugent as a huge influence on him and Vinny Paul. The arrangement and care with this track is a meticulous testament to their admiration of the song.

16. “Desolation Row” – My Chemical Romance

I’m not a fan of My Chemical Romance and I don’t know of Bob Dylan is either but when I hear this song I don’t care lol. The official video is boring so I went with a fan made one using footage from the film The Watchmen, based on the graphic novel of the same name. This song appears on the soundtrack.

17. “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” – Urge Overkill

The Pulp Fiction soundtrack cemented Tarantino’s knack for mixing music with motion picture to invoke emotion, like Scorsese before him. This was the only cover on the soundtrack but a stand out track.  When I was in high school I copied the track onto a mix tape. I didn’t realize this was a cover song until the manager at the indoor amusement facility I worked for, Dimitri, borrowed the tape.

18. “Don’t Think Twice” – Mike Ness

The Social D frontman really showed off his musicianship with this classic. Exactly what you wouldn’t expect from punk, that’s why it’s so punk.

19. “Airbag” – Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine

If you don’t know who Richard Cheese is you need to go to iTunes and download all his songs RIGHT NOW !!! Swankified versions of rock amd rap hits. Hilarious and well done.

20. “The Man in Black” – The Bouncing Souls

Hands down my favorite cover !!!! From the best band out of NJ!! Bon who ?? Boss of what ?? That’s right I said it !!!

Honorable Mentions:

1. “Keep Me Hangin On”

Vanilla Fudge

and Kim Wylde

I kept both versions to illustrate how the same cover from 2 different artists can have two totally different moods.

2. “Sweet Dreams” – Marilyn Manson

Turns the 80s dance song into a creepy nightmare.  

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He later did a cover of “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell and “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode.

Both of which….sucked.

3. “Got The Time” – Anthrax

4. “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” – Hole

Remember the film, “Crow:Salvation” few do.  It was direct to video fodder you can’t even find in a bargain bin today.  The soundtrack, however, was fantastic and included this tune.  Hole also had a great cover of “Gold Dust Woman” on the Crow: City of Angels soundtrack, which was also great too.

5.”Come on Eileen” – Save Ferris

Monique Powell was supposed to be Gwen Stefani before we knew who Gwen Stefani was.  Campy video but great sound.

6. “Land of Confusion ” – Disturbed

Great song but apparently they tried to cover the video of Pearl Jam’s song Do The Evolution too, including hiring comic book artist/legend Todd McFarlane to design the video  but failed 🙁

Todd McFarlane with his biggest creation, Spawn.
Todd McFarlane with his biggest creation, Spawn.

7. “Holy Diver” – Kill switch Engaged

Great song. Terrible video. I’m assuming they were trying to spoof Dio’s video for Rainbow in the Dark by visiting a Midevil Times

8. “Teenager in Love” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

9. “Imagine” – Blues Traveler

10. “Don’t Stop Me Now” – The Vandals

11. “Turn The Page” – Metallica

A noticeably darker version takes on a whole different meaning than the original. I would have listed it under my best but it was overplayed.

12. “I Will Survive” – Cake

That’s right ladies, we’ve taken it back l!

13. We’re a Happy Family – A Tribute To The Ramones Entire Cd
Great Ramones covers from U2, Rob Zombie, Kiss, and Pete Yorn.  Although Red Hot Chili Peppers version of “Havana Affair” is my favorite, I’ve included Garbage’s cover of “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do”

14. “Strutter” – The Donnas

Let’s face it –

Brett Anderson of The Donnas

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looks a lot better as the Star Child

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Than Paul ever did

15. “Save a Prayer” – Eve’s Plumb

16. “Kick Out The Jams” – Rage Against The Machine

17. “Heroes” – The Wallflowers

Literally the only good thing about the Godzilla film from the late 90s. Jacob Dylan’s explanation of this song ruined it for me ” The Wallflowers are playing despite the city being destroyed cause that’s what we do for our fans ” yacht !!

18. “Big Hard Sun” – Eddie Vedder

19. ” Polk Salad Annie” – Elvis Presley

20. “Let Down” – Scott Weiland

21. “Thank You” – Chris Cornell

22. “Ring of Fire” – Social Distortion

23. “Tired of Waiting for You” – Green Day

24. “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” – Patti Smith

When I hear this I think of watching Dennis Miller’s show on HBO with my Dad. 🙂

miller

25. “Summer Nights” – Less Than Jake

If you aren’t familiar the punk band put out an album titled Greased covering all songs from the Grease soundtrack. Some love it some hate it. I’m in the first category

26. “Hotel California” – Kid With Man Head

Most of you probably don’t know this one but it holds a special meaning for my friends and I. Every time I hear this I think of Freshman year at Rutgers, Nicholas Hall, E Wing and our times together.  This post is dedicated to you 🙂

Here’s a list of some to avoid like the plague at all costs

1. “Fame” -Tommy Lee

Someone told Tommy Lee he should try to sing. I hope that someone has since lost their hearing

2. “Feel Like Making Love” -Kid Rock

I love Kid Rock but this one hurts.

3. “Stayin Alive” – Ozzy Osbourne

Starts with “all aboard the disco train!!” —- I’ll take the next one

4. “Sweet Child of Mine” – Sheryl Crow

5. “Papa Don’t Preach” – Kelly Osbourne

Not even auto-tune can save it

6. “Dancing With Myself” – Blink 182

Just annoying

7. “Squeeze Box” – Poison

Painful

8. The Most Wonderful Time of Year – Entire Cd – Scott Weiland

The video for Winter Wonderland was great a nice call back to Bing Crosby. His version of Silent Night is long and labored.

9. “Billy Jean” – Chris Cornell

Chris is a great singer but he slims like he’s in pain through half this song

10. “The Boys Are Back In Town” – Everclear

Boring

11. “I’m a Believer” – Smash Mouth

So sweet and sugary it will make u a diabetic

12. “It’s My Life” – No Doubt

Bland

13. “You Spin Me Right Round” – Dope

Also bland

14. “Bullet The Blue Sky” – POD

A mess

15. “Another Brick in the Wall” – Class of 99

It’s a shame this is the last recording we have of Layne Stanley.

Guilty Pleasures
1.”Word Up” – Korn
2. “Smokin in the Boys Room” – Motley Crew
3. “Cleveland Rocks” – The Presidents Of The United States of America
4. “Street Fighting Man” – Rage Against The Machine
5. “Blue Monday” – Orgy
6. “Revolution” – Stone Temple Pilots
7. “Faith” – Limp Bizkit
8. “Legs” – Kid Rock
9. “Smooth Criminal” – Alien Ant Farm

10. “Going Back to Miami” – Blues Brothers

What’s your favorite cover? Did I miss one?  Let me know!

Philip A. Maenza aka “Philtastic Phil” is an internet entrepreneur and consumer behavior professional whose interests include art, film, music, stand up comedy, fitness, and comic books. Phil is also a dedicated community volunteer and always open to connecting with like minded optimists. 

Words Never Said – The Story of Fireflies and Flux

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I have a friend I have not seen in a few years. Who or why isn’t important, not to this post at least. I can’t say for sure if I ever will see her again, my heart says maybe my head says probably not. Rather than dwell on uncertainty I choose to make my own future. Let my fate be driven by my actions and thoughts rather than random acts put into motion by others. Still there is a conversation I wish I had with this person a long time ago. Let’s call this person Flux to avoid any further uncomfortable grammar. The rest of the details are irrelevant.

When I met Flux, Flux was very shy especially towards men. Flux had an issue with an abusive man and as a result had a fear of all men, even those in Flux’s family. Overtime Flux and I grew very close. I treated Flux like a member of my family and Flux did the same. One evening we were coming home from a night at the movies. I was in my car and Flux was in another. I didn’t see a “no turn on red” sign and was pulled over. I arrived at Flux’s house about twenty minutes later to find Flux was upset It was obvious Flux had sever separation anxiety and was afraid something had happened to me. A few months later, I was gone from Flux’s life. It wasn’t because of anything either of had done. The reason is irrelevant. I miss Flux a lot to this day and often regret I’m not part of Flux’s life any longer but I know the circumstances which separated us and know I did everything I could. There is one thing I was I had said to Flux. It haunts me now sometimes but I have faith Flux knows this because I have no other choice.

When I was a child and the warmer months were upon us, my sister and I would go outside at dusk and chase fireflies. We would try to trap one to watch their body illuminate before releasing them back into the night. On one occasion we were visiting my Grandmother, as we did weekly, and I had gone outside to catch fireflies. I managed to trap one in a small jar. I ran inside the house excited to show my family my new pet. My aunt and uncle ( brother and sister) sat me down and explained I had to release my firefly. I was only six or seven years old at the time but they explained to me somethings can’t belong to one person. They are there temporarily to appreciate and then are gone. Twenty five years or so later I realized I learned something important about people one summer evening at grandma’s house. People are like fireflies. They come into our life and they may brighten things up for awhile or they may just fly away. What makes them so special is the time we share amazed by their glow, not the time we spend missing their absence.

Flux is a little older now. I hope this is something Flux has come to realize. Every time I miss Flux I think about fireflies and say a quick little prayer hoping Flux is doing well, knowing if we are meant to be in each other’s life again, God will make it so. Until then, Every summer night when I see a firefly glow I will think of Flux and smile. Although I wish I could snuggle up next to Flux and play games like we always used to, I have to settle on this.

The Story of Two Monks – What Does it Mean to You ?

monkAssome of you may know, I regularly practice vinyasa flow yoga tohelp keep my back flexible as well as promote overall wellness.  At the end of one of my recent classes, my instructor read us a short story to meditate on during shavasana.

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her.

The senior monk carried this woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing.

They both were walking and senior monk noticed that his junior was suddenly silent and inquired “Is something the matter, you seem very upset?”

The junior monk replied, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the bank, however, you seem to be carrying her still.”

Although I later learned this is a classic story from the Tao, it was new to me and I found it deeply interesting on a few different levels  After class a small group of us spoke about how it meant letting go of the past and either accepting situations for what they are or coming to a peaceful resolution.

Although I agreed with this translation of the story, I found as the week continued to march on, the story took on new meaning for me.  In terms of goals and decision making the story of the monks reminded me to focus on the bigger picture.  While the younger monk thinking all the reasons why he shouldn’t help the woman in distress, the elder monk realized this was an opportunity to work towards the purpose he has devoted his life to, the betterment of man.  Although I’m not a monk and have never aspired to be one, I assume the main objective of a monk is to reach enlightenment and commune with nature on a high level of consciousness. I’ve been reading, or more accurately listening, to Grant Cardon’s “10x Rule” lately and found his overall message is not unlike this interpretation of the monks’ story.  Although his unapologetic style meant to rile up the listener with a dose of equal parts inspiration and moxie is a far cry from the peaceful monks tone, both teachings remind us to focus on whats important in life.  Don’t waste your time and energy on coming up with reasons why something won’t work and focus on how you can make it work.

This past week also started and ran a fundraiser to benefit a friend who lost her home to a fire.  I’ve always had an altruistic nature and have been a member of several different charitable and community organizations in the past.  I set a goal of raising $1,000 and proudly touted my goal and my plan online.  I was initially surprised and almost dismayed when some people I had counted on helping out flat out declined to participate. I had to pause and tell myself I’m doing this not for my own benefit but to help out someone in need.  Perhaps these people who didn’t want to help were assisting in other ways and if not, it wasn’t a reflection on me or my friend it was a reflection on that person.  Needles to say, I re-focused on the task at hand and continued to plow ahead.  I didn’t hit my $1,000 goal but at the end I had raised money from sales and donations, which I originally hadn’t considered I would receive at all.  When I collect the donations and deliver them to my friend later this week, her happiness will have made the journey worth it.

Let’s look at this from the other monk’s perspective, one can always learn something new by looking at the other perspective.  In this case, the younger monk was confined by the regulations of his order.  I’m sure we’ve all felt confined by regulations and guidelines at one time or another. That being said, the monk in this situation should have focused more on what he could do rather than what he couldn’t do.  Perhaps he could have procured a boat or canoe to help the woman sail across the water.  Maybe he could have found a way around it by wrapping her in cloth so there was’t any skin to skin contact.  Either way this is a case of ambition, if the younger monk really wanted to help the woman he would have found a way.  The fact he didn’t help the woman doesn’t make him a terrible person; sometimes good people fail to act in good ways, but in his mind he knows he did wrong.  If not he wouldn’t be preoccupied with “would have” or “should have.”  He expected the other monk to ignore the woman as he chose to, the fact the elder monk acted differently bothered the younger monk, not because he failed to act but because he felt the actions of his associate made him appear like less of a person.

In summary, here’s what I took from the story of two monks:

  1. If you have a goal that is important to you, you’ll find a way to reach it or to stay true to your path to reaching it.
  2. Over-thinking, under-thinking,and not taking action doesn’t help anyone. and finally…
  3. When faced with adversity, don’t focus on why not, instead ask yourself how.

What are your thought about the story of the two monks?  What is your interpretation and how does it apply to a challenge you’ve faced or something you want to accomplish? I want to know – comment below and let’s chat.

Philip A. Maenza aka “Philtastic Phil” is an internet entrepreneur and consumer behavior professional whose interests include art, film, music, stand up comedy, fitness, and comic books. Phil is also a dedicated community volunteer and always open to connecting with like minded optimists. Phil is also all about that bass.