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When You Know Them Only Through Their Music, and Love Them Just the Same

Is it possible to grieve a celebrity you’ve never met or known?

I hear it said sometimes that it is ridiculous to do so. “Why are people so upset that Michael Jackson died? It’s not like they knew him,” a coworker I’ll call “Mr. Babbles” said to me, a day or two after the iconic singer passed away. I tried to explain, but it fell on deaf ears.

When someone makes art that means something to someone, it doesn’t matter if that person ever meets the artist. The art speaks to you. You know the talent and therefore it matters little if you know the person, because you know what they meant to you. Selfish? Perhaps … but perhaps not.

There’ve been many celebrities whose deaths, untimely or not, saddened me simply because I knew and recognized their art. Michael Jackson is one; Frank Sinatra another; Heath Ledger a third, and on and on. But real grieving? I suppose there have only been two celebrities who really struck me with a genuine, sincere form of grieving. Not depression mind you, but a sadness that still feels a little sharp sometimes. Perhaps some will say this is irrational. But when Joey Ramone passed away from lymphoma when I was 19, I cried and cried. An adoring fan of the Ramones since my early high school years, I had read so many interviews and books and magazine articles, watched so much concert footage, played so many albums so many times, even chatted via email with the creator of the Ramones logo and “Ramones muse” – that in a way I did feel that I knew him. At times when I felt incredibly alone, Joey’s voice was the one that spoke to me for some reason and made me smile again. Crazy fan? No, but definitely an appreciative one.

When Eric called me from work last July and asked me if I had heard about Amy Winehouse, I knew instantly why he was asking. I didn’t cry, but I was stunned. As time went on, this feeling turned to genuine sadness and reflection. You see, I love soul music. And I loved Amy’s music especially because she was so honest and unabashed when she sang. Sometimes playful, sometimes heartbreaking, she wrote songs about her real life – put her way, not some radio-friendly way. Every word was brazen, bare, sometimes vulgar; the accompanying music inspired by Amy’s idols, people like Donny Hathaway and Ray Charles. I knew the words to every song on both of her mainstream CDs and I kept them spinning in my car constantly. How many times did I belt them out on the hours-long drive to Blacksburg from Arlington? And as the years went by and Amy went from a healthy-looking girl to a gaunt waif, it was unbearable for many people who wanted Amy in the news for her incredible Grammy-winning talent, not her strange and likely drug-induced behavior. We loved Amy and we wanted to hear more from the real Amy, not this strange Amy who was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. We didn’t know her at all, but perhaps we felt like we did because she sang about her life so honestly.

In the last few months it seemed Amy was getting back on her feet, not all the way there yet, but sober and putting out music again, and feeling peaceful. Her family, with whom she was extremely close, believe Amy may have passed away from an alcohol detox seizure rather than a drug overdose as had been assumed. In fact, posthumous tests showed that no illegal drugs were in her system when she died. It is with a great sadness that I said goodbye to Amy, one that still lingers and makes the sound of her songs in my car a little bit different.

(You can listen to Amy’s last recording, a duet called “Body & Soul” with Tony Bennett, below, or you can listen to another song of hers at my original post here.)

So, ultimately, is it silly to grieve for someone whose art we adored? Only if it is silly to adore the art in the first place. And can you truly appreciate the art without appreciating the one who made it?



“There’s no artifice in Amy’s music. A lot of people sing about heartbreak and strike a rebellious pose. But Amy lives it.” ~producer Mark Ronson, 2008

An Ode to Oscar

If you’re ever stuck making small talk at a party, just start waxing nostalgic about shows you watched as a kid. Chances are fair that you will attract the attention of at least half the other partygoers if not all of them. By the end of the night you could all be watching He-Man or toasting Cookie Monster. Why, at Virginia Tech our college radio station hosted a nostalgia hour every Saturday morning where they’d play whatever childhood songs listeners requested.

Sesame Street is one of the first shows I ever watched, if not the first ever. There were two monsters I particularly adored right off the bat. Cookie Monster was one, and a shaggy green grump living in a trashcan was the other.

When Oscar made his debut (over a decade before my time) he was orange! Here’s his very first appearance. Poor Oscar; he was trying to mind his own business when Gordon had to come harass him. Right off the bat Oscar serves up some of his delightful snark.

Here’s the original version of his classic “I Love Trash” song! Watch for the slight goof-up moment when Gordon tries to pull the umbrella out of the trashcan; it gets stuck and he almost starts laughing as he has to keep yanking on it!

After the first season, Oscar became the Oscar I would know: a green grouch. I really felt bad for him. People would always come banging and rattling on his trashcan, bugging him, then acting surprised at his less-than-welcoming response! I wondered why they didn’t just let him alone! Sometimes people just don’t want to be social! But the right type of knocker could win Oscar over. Here’s a classic example with Johnny Cash enthralling Oscar with a rendition of “Nasty Dan.”

Although Oscar usually preferred to be left alone, he could be seen walking around inside his trashcan on occasion. He even ice skated in it at least once!

The song below from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978) delights me. He is so mean! Oscar spends the majority of the special slyly convincing Big Bird that Santa Claus will never be able to fit down the city chimneys and therefore no one will get any presents.

I didn’t make this obvious connection for a long time, but when I grew older and began working with a variety of challenging people, I found the ones who were grumpy yet good-hearted endearing. Co-workers would get annoyed and cop an attitude but I would just smile. One of my very first bosses was a really cantankerous person who wanted everything done just so. Everyone else would get irked and complain and whine while I would grin and do as I was told. It didn’t bother me a bit. Today this person and I are good friends. So thank you Oscar. I haven’t watched any modern day Sesame Street in a long time, but I hear it’s Elmo-dominated. I do not approve.

As a side note, my boyfriend’s mother learned some English from watching Sesame Street with her children in the early 1980s. Pretty cool, huh?

Read more about Oscar at his official Sesame Street bio.

Ramble On

I’m pretty certain I just finished up my Quantitative Analysis class with an A. I had some missteps here and there, but overall, a good run. I can’t recall the last time I made a final grade of A in a math class, but it definitely wasn’t any time within the last 14 years. This time around, I was surprised to find myself having fun with equations that used to scare me in college-level calculus. I mean, math is really just a series of puzzles to figure out (which is why my sister professes enjoyment of it as well). Not how I’d typically choose to spend my evenings, but the ease with which I was able to work through most problems was a relief. My professor was positively delighted when I shared these thoughts with him. Even a three-part equation with a multitude of insane symbols that took me far too long to work through was interesting at worst. I used to hate math. Now I’m guessing I should’ve just applied myself and quit goofing off, and it would’ve been cake in the end.

I’m on my final two courses which have the potential to be brutal. One class alone requires three very expensive textbooks which are going to break my bank. I rented one from Chegg and I suppose I’ll do the same with the others. Once I finish these classes, I will be prepped and ready to go to begin studying for my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. Now, in one class alone, we have an Excel sheet analysis, a short one-page paper, a charter to prepare with a group, another, larger introductory analysis paper, a one page journal explaining how I would apply all of these principles to my work, and, oh yeah, a 60-minute timed exam. This is all within the FIRST week alone, and for just ONE class, and in addition to working on my overall final research for the degree. I feel like that is kind of a lot. Heh. I am hoping to keep up my current grade average which is a 3.9.

I went ahead and bought into the Glowelle beauty drink mix craze. I did notice big changes in my skin. I almost wish I hadn’t so that I wouldn’t feel the need to continue spending $89 on this remedy each month. I am currently researching the exact amounts of ingredients found in Glowelle and seeing if it’s possible for me to make my own skin smoothie every day instead (or several smoothies). That’s a lot of tomatoes though! Here’s a quick breakdown of what I’ve personally discovered with Glowelle:

Pros of Glowelle: Raspberry Jasmine flavor tastes pretty good and is easy to chug down. Provides incentive to drink 16 more fl. oz. of water per day. Noticed VERY smooth and soft skin beginning with day 5. Breakouts noticeably reduced and far less severe when they do occur. Breakouts clear faster and leave fewer and lighter scars. Increased energy. Able to concentrate better. Stick packs are easy to transport and mix easily with water. Valuable source of some vitamins and minerals. (Great work-out drink!) Most ingredients are all things that we have heard of before.
Cons of Glowelle: Pomegranate Lychee flavor tastes like mashed-up potpourri leaves mixed with water — in other words, horrible. (AVOID.) Cheapest price for a box of 30 stick packs is $89 on Each stick pack contains sugar, and 50 calories. Must remember to drink one every day — on days when I forget and decide to drink the beverage close to bedtime, I have a harder time getting to sleep as it does contain tea.

I went to the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History in D.C. yesterday with my boyfriend, sister, and brother-in-law. It happened to be the same day that a very large Immigration Rights rally was being held on the National Mall and I got to witness yet another giant protest in action from a witness perspective (rather than a participant as I’ve typically been) which makes me strangely happy. I love America. Despite a long line, we got into the museum fairly quickly and very much enjoyed the new Human Origins exhibit. We also got to see some of the animal skeletons, much of the ocean hall (including the enormous Right Whale hanging from the ceiling), and all of the mammals exhibit, but there’s much more to walk through. We’ll have to return. I believe it’s the third time I’ve been there, possibly fourth, in my life, but it always seems like a new experience.

We ate lunch at the museum’s Atrium Cafe Eric and I split a gigantic burrito for 7 bucks – and had dinner at a little joint on E. Street called Ollie’s Trolley. Crabcake sandwich was alright but would’ve appreciated more seasoning; the seasoned fries, on the other hand, were bangin’ as was the whimsical, old-timey decor.

Enjoy this extremely short video of Sumo we made back in 2006. This was when Eric was first fooling around with YouTube and learning how to make video shorts. The music is the beginning of one of my favorite Donny Hathaway songs, “Jealous Guy.” And man, Sumo was FAT back then!

The Story of Sumo

Yesterday was that wondrous celebration of all things Irish, St. Patrick’s Day! And, as one of many Americans proud to have substantial Irish in my blood, I did go out celebrating it for just a bit. But it’s also the birthday of my cat, Sumo. It’s not his actual birthday, but who cares? I had to give him a day to mark his unknown birth, so naturally I chose this one. We know he was born in 2001, so he’s a robust 9 this year!

It was July 2005 and I was typically overworked at my property management job when I decided it was finally time for me to adopt a cat. I had always wanted to — I grew up with cats, which were always treated like a member of the family, and loved just as much. But shaky finances, recognition of my own irresponsibility, and crazy roommates, among other things, stopped me from doing so. At 23, I lived with three amazing roommates who also loved animals. I felt ready, so I took a trip to the local no-kill shelter with my boyfriend Eric, whom I’d been dating for not quite four years at the time. I had seen pictures of two cats in particular on their website that I couldn’t wait to meet, but they’d both been adopted when I arrived.

I went around visiting with all of the other cats. None of their personalities really gelled with mine, although of course I love any kitty. I was putting a big patched cat named Charlie back in his kennel when I felt something looking at me. I had seen something lying on the floor in my peripheral vision that I’d assumed was a large white pillow. It was not uncommon for the staff to place pillows or a chair in that area of the room for people to sit and visit with the cats. Yet as I turned, I saw that the pillow in fact had two large round eyes that were staring at me with a ridiculously cute, almost beseeching expression. I locked up Charlie’s door and the pillow, which was of course an enormously fat feline, got up and lazily walked out of the room. I was amazed — not at my mistake, but at the fact that one of the shelter’s free-roaming animals could be so much heftier than the ones confined to kennels.

I headed back into the shelter’s front room, somewhat dejected that I hadn’t made a match. The nice girl at the front desk said, “Didn’t see anyone you like?” I told her no, and that I was going to go home and think about the cats I’d liked the best and maybe come back and try again … and then that white behemoth walked over and sat down right next to me. I paused to look at him again.

“Who’s this?” I asked. “That’s Bobby,” she said with a smile.

I hesitated. I knew I wanted a cat I could pick up and lug around, but not all cats dig that. “Can I pick him up?”

“Sure, just make sure you support his back.” I bent down to grab him. He didn’t resist. I gently lugged him up and almost fell over. He was a ridiculously heavy cat. The girl said he’d once clocked in at 26 pounds. He started purring in my arms. I was totally smitten. It was all over.

Today, Bobby “Sumo” is a wonderful presence in my life. Every morning, he comes to wake me up by batting at my face or standing on my head. If I dive under the covers to get away, he figures out where my head is and then leaps onto it with all four paws at once. If I stagger out of bed, feed him, and then go back to sleep, he comes after me again when he’s done eating. He uses that same wide-eyed expression that I first saw him wearing at the shelter to persuade me to feed him, pat him, play with him, or brush him. He is quite vocal and enjoys lazing around meowing for no reason. He hated feet when we first brought him home – he looked scared and ran when I tried to give him the light “foot pat” I used to give all our cats – but today he nuzzles my toes. His weight has gone down quite a bit with a careful diet, but he still runs for the food dish whenever he feels scared, annoyed, or angry. If I’m sitting down, not paying attention to him, and let my hand hang down from my chair, he grabs it in his paws, yanks it over to his head, and nuzzles it. He knows that wiggling fingers mean he can run over and get his head scratched. If we stay away too long, he sits by the door meowing loudly the second he hears us come into the hall, and won’t quit until we open the door and pick him up. He salivates over birds flying outside. And he loves his sister Domino — when she had a hairball once and started coughing it up, he mewed, leaped up and ran over there to check on her. He’s a great cat and I love him tremendously. I would suggest anyone who is feeling lonely and can support a pet look into adopting an adult cat from your local Humane Society or other shelter. Thanks Humane Society of Montgomery County (Christiansburg, Virginia) for allowing us to give “Bobby” a home — one that no one will ever make him give up.

Happy Birthday, Sumo! I meant to post this yesterday, but got distracted by a suggestion that we go out to dinner and drink some Guinness. Here’s a birthday video Eric made for Sumo back in our old Blacksburg apartment two years ago. As you can see, my big polar bear kitty is also quite tolerant of all the foolishness we impose on him. Hehehe.

Watch a Trailer for … a Book?

When Eric worked at the Food Lion in our old town of Blacksburg, he would occasionally tell me about commercials he heard broadcast on the grocery store radio station … for books. He described these commercials as being like movie or TV show advertisements, with an announcer and characters speaking. Now it seems that this is becoming more popular. I can’t help but find it a bit odd, but I’m not going to act like it doesn’t make me pay attention.

Here’s one for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard…

And here’s one for the Jane Austen “re-write,” Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. This one has actors in it playing out a scene. And I nearly died laughing watching it.

What do you think of book trailers?

Edit: If you’re wondering why my blog looks all funky with the categories and everything like that suddenly shifted closer to the bottom, the truth is that I have no idea. I don’t think the theme changed, but I really don’t recall fooling with anything either. Eh, I’ll try to figure it out later.

How Tough are NES Games? by rinrygamegame

Hope this shows up a lot better than it did in my old blog, where Blogger cut off a good fourth of it! The preview shows the borders don’t want to embed. Whatever. Have fun seeing all the things you can do to your NES cartridges. Just don’t expect me to try this experiment out on mine! (I believe you rinry!)