Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Archive for the month “December, 2013”

2013: It Was A Very Good Year

New Year - Philadelphia2013 was my first full year of blogging, and it was a great one. I wrote 174 posts and exceeded 20,000 views, reaching people in 118 countries. I also had the honor and privilege of interviewing some of my favorite authors, actors and musicians, including:

  1. Lisa Scottoline
  2. Andrew Gross
  3. Melissa Manchester
  4. Michael Des Barres
  5. Douglas Preston
  6. Jon Land
  7. M.J. Rose
  8. Steven James
  9. Taylor Stevens
  10. Donald Bain
  11. Thomas B. Sawyer 
  12. Dick Hill

And 2014 is shaping up to be an even bigger year with interviews already scheduled with 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee John Oates and bestselling author Stuart Woods.

Thanks to all of you who regularly read my posts, as well as those who take the time to comment. Speaking of which, below are my top commenters’ great blogs. Make sure to check them out:

2013 was my best year yet, both personally and professionally, and I plan on making 2014 even more special.

Happy New Year!

Gone Home – A Compelling Interactive Story

Gone HomeToday, I started and finished one of the shortest – and best – video games I’ve ever played: Gone Home. This game, developed by The Fullbright Company, is unlike most video games in that you won’t be leveling up, wielding a gun or jumping from platform to platform. Instead, you’ll find yourself wandering through a dimly lit house unraveling an emotionally stirring story about a young girl’s family. Set in 1995, the house is filled with VHS tapes, fanzines and records, as well as other vestiges of this time period.

In addition to the items strewn throughout the house, the story is told through answering machine messages, handwritten notes, photos, postcards, and countless other items you’d expect to find in a dwelling such as this. The bulk of the unpredictable story comes to life through the superb voice work of Sarah Grayson, who plays the role of Samantha Greenbriar. The smartly written script, along with Grayson’s excellent performance, make for a compelling narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what’s next.

Also worth noting is the wonderful score composed by Chris Remo. While a good portion of Gone Home includes records and cassettes featuring licensed music, Remo’s haunting score perfectly sets the tone for the game and enhances the dialogue at exactly the right moments. It’s the best video game soundtrack I’ve heard since Petri Alanko’s score for Alan Wake. I wholeheartedly suggest you pick up a copy of Remo’s original score here.

Gone HomeWhile it can be completed in two hours, Gone Home is an unconventional game that immerses the player in an unpredictable and thoroughly entertaining story that’s worth playing again. Even better, the game now features a commentary mode where, while playing the game, you can learn more about the creative process and all the hard work that went into constructing this masterpiece.

Gone Home is one of the best games of the year for two reasons: it tells a great story and it does so in a way that goes against the grain. If you’re a fan of video games, or great stories, I highly recommend you buy this game. It’s an unforgettable experience that shows how video games, when done right, can be unparalleled works of art.

I Read 54 Books In 2013

GoodReads - Books Read in 2013It’s hard to believe but I read 54 books in 2013. Since I love books in all forms, this includes audiobooks, print books and e-books. You can check out the full list of what I read here. Below are a few of my favorite books, categorized by genre, that I read this year.

Thrillers

Young Adult

  • The Maze Runner – James Dashner
  • The Death Cure – James Dashner
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling

Autobiographies

Southern Literature 

Short Stories

  • High Heat – Lee Child
  • Guns – Stephen King

Alienware Vindicator Backpack Review

Alienware Vindicator BackpackIf you’re thinking about buying the Alienware Vindicator backpack, make sure to watch my video review below first. The good news is Dell is sending me a replacement backpack at no charge, so we’ll see how that one holds up:

Movie Review – Anchorman 2

Anchorman 2Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, the sequel to the 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, opened this weekend following what I consider to be one of the most creative advertising campaigns ever for a feature film. The question is, does this sequel live up to the hype? Read on my curious friend.

Unlike the first film, which was set in the 1970s, Anchorman 2 takes place in the 1980s – my favorite decade! Despite the questionable fashion choices in this decade of decadence, the music, movies and TV shows were awesome. Speaking of which, Anchorman 2 has a killer soundtrack. You’ll find everything from John Waite’s “Change” to Neil Diamond’s “Shilo” to “Every 1’s a Winner” by Hot Chocolate. And the obligatory Kenny Loggins’ track is on here too – the terrific “This Is It” featuring backing vocals by Michael McDonald. It’s a feast for the ears that compliments the movie’s visuals perfectly.

While the classic one-liners from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy are a tough act to follow, Anchorman 2 does its best to deliver the goods. As a fan of the first film and Will Ferrell, I’m glad to report that the majority of this movie delivers the goods. However, it does drag on longer than it should and it felt as though the plot lacked focus toward the end.

The bottom line is this – if you didn’t see the first movie or don’t like Will Ferrell’s brand of humor, don’t bother seeing Anchorman 2. On the other hand, if you love the first film and can’t get enough of Will Ferrell, give this one a shot. It’s not as good as the first, but it features excellent music, solid performances across the board, countless cameos by Hollywood A-listers, and, most importantly, gut-wrenchingly funny moments.

A Conversation With Melissa Manchester

Melissa Manchester in concert Feb. 11. Contributed photoI recently had the opportunity to interview the Grammy award-winning artist Melissa Manchester. Known for her signature sound and countless hits, including “Midnight Blue,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” Manchester has been an icon in the music industry for more than 40 years.

I’m attending Melissa’s concert in New York City on February 16, and it should be a fabulous Valentine’s Day weekend performance. If you’re interested in attending this show or another one of her concerts, make sure to visit the tour page on her website.

It was a delight speaking with Melissa, and I hope you enjoy the interview below.

For your upcoming studio album, You Gotta Love The Life, you used Indiegogo to include your fans in the process and wound up raising more than $40,000. Were you happy with the experience, and how was it received by your fans?

It was a mind-blowing experience. It was my students – I teach at USC, at the Thorton School of Music – it was my students that awakened me to this new definition of the marketplace. They helped lead the team and do the project management. I said yes. It was fascinating because my fans are so interested in the process, actually, almost as interested in the process as I am; and because I was doing so many Facebook entries and all that, it was so sweet, and started to become this living, breathing entity. And when the campaign was over (laughs), the fans said “please don’t stop posting, it’s so wonderful to read what you have to say.” I would do it again in a heartbeat. I just thought it was fascinating. 

Now that the Indiegogo campaign is over, what’s the next step for your new album?

Well, the album is half-recorded and I’m going back into the studio in January to finish it and orchestrate it, and mix it, and master it, and all that. Hopefully it will come out either this spring or this fall, definitely one of the two. 

You’re releasing this on your own, directly to the fans, correct?

At the moment I am, and if fans go onto my website the first single is free to download as a thank you gift to them. It’s a rethinking of the classic “Be My Baby,” which I didn’t realize, this year, is 50 years old. So, it’s a lovely way to celebrate that song. 

My favorite song by you is “Don’t Cry Out Loud.” In Clive Davis’ recent autobiography, The Soundtrack of My Life, he said that originally you weren’t in love with the idea of singing the song. What’s the story behind that?

Well, I believe that Mr. Davis, like many of us, has selective memory, and that’s fine. I loved the song the way my friend Peter Allen first presented it, which was very quiet and very intimate. Clive Davis’ version was this big anthem, and at the time it turned out splendidly, and I’m grateful for that. Clive and I had a lot of success and (laughs) a lot of failure together. 

It’s interesting that you mention it originally being a softer song because now when you sing it live it’s usually a more stripped down version. Is that how you originally imagined it?

When I’m doing my duo show with myself and Stephan Oberoff, my keyboard player, we do a very quiet version and it really makes the crowd go crazy because they’re inside the song like I am. And when we’re with a symphony or my larger band, it’s the larger more well-known version and everyone is delighted to hear that as well. 

That’s nice that you can have such flexibility with the song. 

That’s the magic of live performance. You can reinterpret things on the spot – it’s fantastic. 

Speaking of live performances, I’m attending your concert on February 16 in New York City. Do you have any new material from your upcoming album that you’re going to try out on the hometown crowd?

Sure, there’s plenty of new stuff from the album that will be all over the stage, and because of the occasion of Valentine’s Day, you never know what I might sing. 

While at NYU, you were enrolled in a songwriting class taught by Paul Simon. Today, you’re an Adjunct Professor at the Thorton School of Music. What’s a typical semester like for someone enrolled in your course?

Well, I teach a class I call “The Art of Conversational Singing.” I teach mostly the pop students and some musical theater kids, and they bring in whatever they want to learn about that day. Sometimes we discuss their compositions, and sometimes they want to talk about the life on the road – surviving that. I always assign them songs from the first volume of the American Songbook because I want them to see what singing was like, what breathing was like when songs were melody driven, as opposed to rhythm driven, which is the aesthetic of today. And it’s all very interesting because there’s no way they can imagine what a career feels like in the bones but I can absolutely reimagine what it feels like to be at the beginning of that adventure. So, what I’m trying to do is help them survive it as intact as possible.

That must be interesting for you now being the teacher when you were previously the student. I imagine it’s a surreal experience. 

 (laughs) It is surreal. Totally surreal, that’s the word. 

You and Barry Manilow, who I adore, met while singing jingles for commercials, and you both identify as singer-songwriters. Is this one of the reasons that your friendship has remained so strong over the years?

Well, we really grew up together. And because we shared the experience of Clive Davis together, we really (laughs) know what that kind of experience is all about. We have enormous respect for each other, and surviving in this industry, relatively sanely, relatively stably, relatively well is no small feat because, as you well know, the industry is littered with cliches of people who were enormously talented that couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time. So, to have been gifted with this long career that shows no end in sight, is something we share and our enormous respect for each other. 

Our idols were the singers that did have very long careers: Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, and Tony Bennett. Those people were our touchstones of the kind of long careers we were looking for. We were never really rock and rollers, so it’s sort of interesting that I’m number 92 on the list of top 100 rock and roll females (laughs). 

We’re very loving friends, and part of the goal of my Indiegogo campaign was to donate a portion of the funds to the Manilow Music Project, which I think is just a fantastic organization. He has his fans donate used musical instruments and he has them repaired and donates them to public schools.

You’re currently co-writing a new musical, The Sweet Potato Queens. What’s the premise behind it and when should fans expect to see it on stage?

It’s a little too early to talk about it other than that I’m writing it with Rupert Holmes and Sharon Vaughn, and we’re just starting to present it for workshop. 

You’ve been in movies, plays and, of course, Blossom. How is acting on stage different than being on screen? Do you prefer one over the other?

Acting is sort of scary business. With singing you always have the energy of the music to inform you, regardless of how you’re feeling or what you’re going through in your personal life. Whereas, with acting there’s nothing but you and the silence, so you better be really present and in that moment. But all creative energy has room for all versions of expression. Whether I’m writing a score for a Disney movie, or writing a song for my upcoming album or writing a show, it’s all coming out of the same hunger. I’m really still as hungry to create as when I first started. 

You were nominated for two Grammy awards before winning the 1982 Grammy for Best Female Vocalist. How did it feel to win the big one?

It was delightful, of course, but it was certainly surprising because prior to that I was nominated for those mid-tempo ballads that I was (laughs) sort of known for. So, to be nominated for “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” which was this great disco record that the great Arif Mardin produced for me was so surprising but so delightful. At first, I couldn’t quite get it and sync up with it. I couldn’t totally accept the gift that I’d been given by my friends Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford, who wrote it for me. Now when I sing it live, I always show the videos of me performing it on Solid Gold and on the Grammys, and it’s lovely to be able to chuckle along with the audience about the shoulder pads and my hair cut (laughs) and all that stuff. And the song is great, it’s just great. I’ve been very fortunate to have lots of great songs cross my path. 

Your father was a bassoonist with the Metropolitan Opera. How did his career affect your own? 

There was always music around the house. My Mother was a wonderful singer. And my Father sometimes would take me to the opera with him to dress rehearsal when I was very very little. The grandness of it was very normal for me, the big vocal sound was very normal for me. The long held notes, the expressive interpretation – that was just the way music was supposed to be sung, and it was validated by all of the popular singers: Ella and Judy and Rosie and Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Nat Cole, and all of those people. It was all part of a continuum. It’s what really informed me. 

Those are great performers to grow up with and experience. Much better than what we have today. 

Well, I think so. That’s why I assign my students songs from the first volume of the American Songbook. I want to make sure they understand that the music form started with Stephen Foster and that what they hear today is only the latest version, and that the there was an earlier version that was melody driven and not rhythm driven. The lyric writing and the melodic structure – that’s something they need to feel and dig into to help not only bring it forward but to also bring it into their composition. 

You were one of Bette Midler’s original Harlettes. How was it working with the Divine Miss M?

She was sensational. She’s a truly brilliant woman, and as she says, she has the soul of a librarian (laughs). I was fortunate to work with her at the very beginning of her career. I worked with her for six months, right after she had been on the Johnny Carson show for the first time. To be part of watching that ascendancy from an interesting and unique vantage point, which was to the left of her as the toots in the middle, was fantastic because she gave a voice to the gay audience, which had been marginalized up to that point. She galvanized their culture and population through her energy and focus, and her choice of material was superb. Her vision on stage was superb. It was a magnificent experience.

I saw Rod Stewart earlier this week and he was fabulous as always. And, at one point in the show, he brought out his daughter, Ruby, to sing a couple songs. Do your children share your musical talent?

My son is talented but he’s more of a shower hummer (laughs). My daughter and I sometimes sing on stage and it’s lovely because there’s a tone in her voice that is from me – it’s my gene pool – and yet she has her own smokey, jazzy voice. She’s sort of a throwback like me. She likes those standards, and those long lines to sing. So, yes, we have sung together. 

Aside from the classic singers you previously mentioned, who are some of your favorite performers to listen to?

I like Radiohead, Sarah McLachlan and Bonnie Raitt is a giant to me. I love Beyonce, I think she’s remarkable. And I love Katy Perry. I think she writes fantastic anthems. 

Since you mentioned Beyonce, what are your thoughts on her secretly releasing her new album on iTunes?

I think the marketplace is open for absolutely anything anybody can imagine. I heard that we are now in a frictionless industry, which means you don’t have to necessarily bend to the convention. If you can think of a new way to do it, it may just work. 

That’s true. Today, the delivery of content, whether it’s digital music or e-books, is much more direct. Speaking of which, you recently streamed a concert online from your studio for your fans to watch. For those that missed it, will it be available to view on your YouTube channel at a later date?

No, when you do it on StageIt.com it’s just a half hour or 45 minutes and it’s gone. So, when people jump on, it’s just a lovely communal experience and that’s it. 

It sounds like it went well. Would you consider doing it again?

Oh, I’m gonna do it again. 

Are there any other exciting projects you’re working on that you’d like your fans to be aware of?

I’m starting rehearsals today for the Colors of Christmas tour that starts tomorrow in Cerritos and goes across the country for nine days, and it’s kind of wild and fast, and I’ll be home by Christmas Eve. But between now and then, I’m gone. 

Rod Stewart – Live in Philadelphia

Rod Stewart LiveRod Stewart was the first concert I ever attended, and on December 11 I saw him live for the fourth time. As always, he put on a terrific show. While not quite as powerful as it was back in the 1990s, Rod’s voice still sounds great and he knows how to wrap himself around a song and convey emotion like very few singers do. He also jumped, danced and kicked soccer balls around the stage – dressed in dapper attire, of course – with such energy and enthusiasm that it’s hard to believe Rod’s almost 69.

Steve Winwood opened the show with an unremarkable set list that included only two hit songs: “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “Higher Love.” He didn’t perform “Valerie,” “Back in the High Life Again,” “While You See a Chance,” “Roll With It,” or “The Finer Things.” When you’re an opening act, you have to knock people’s socks off and give them what they want. Winwood did neither. Yes, he’s a great musician and performed well, but there was much left to be desired.

Thankfully, Rod knows how to work a crowd and please his fans. He kicked off the show with two upbeat hits and rolled into classic material, including deep cuts like “Sweet Little Rock & Roller” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Rod also highlighted his new album, Time, with two great tracks: “Can’t Stop Me Now” and “Brighton Beach.” He also brought out his daughter, Ruby, to sing a song on her own, “Just One More Day,” and one with him, “Forever Young.” However, the highlight of the show was Rod singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” while backed by an orchestral ensemble, with snow falling down from the ceiling.

If you have a chance to see Rod Stewart live, go. He’s an iconic singer that still puts on an excellent show that won’t leave you disappointed. He had the crowd on its feet and kept everyone dancing and singing along from start to finish. He wasn’t inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice (once as a solo artist and the second time as lead singer of the Faces) by accident; Rod was honored two times because of his spectacular body of work and legendary live performances. Do yourself a favor and buy a ticket next time he’s in town. You’ll have a blast.

Below is the set list from the show and four videos I shot. Enjoy!

Set List

  1. “This Old Heart Of Mine”
  2. “Having a Party”
  3. “You Wear It Well”
  4. “Stay With Me”
  5. “Tonight’s The Night”
  6. “Some Guys Have All the Luck”
  7. “Rhythm of My Heart”
  8. “Just One More Day” (sung by Ruby Stewart)
  9. “Forever Young” (sung with Ruby Stewart)
  10. “The First Cut Is the Deepest”
  11. “Brighton Beach”
  12. “Have I Told You Lately”
  13. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
  14. “Can’t Stop Me Now”
  15. “Sweet Little Rock & Roller”
  16. “I’d Rather Go Blind”
  17. “Proud Mary” (sung by Rod Stewart’s backup singers)
  18. “You’re In My Heart”
  19. “Hot Legs”
  20. “Maggie May”
  21. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

Franklin Flea

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If you’re looking for a fun holiday shopping destination in Philadelphia, make sure to stop by Franklin Flea. Located on the first floor of the historic Strawbridge’s Building at 801 Market Street, you’ll find a uniquely curated collection of local vendors, as well as live music and food. The days and hours of operation are on Saturdays from November 16 to December 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also, a special weekday market is taking place on Friday, December 20 from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, check out FranklinFlea.com.

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Spending time with one of the most iconic parts of the old Strawbridge’s building, Il Porcellino, a replica of the famous bronze boar fountain in Florence, Italy.

Tom Cruise Returns As Jack Reacher

20120722-205502.jpgI woke up to great news this morning – the 2012 film, Jack Reacher, which was based on Lee Child’s bestselling novel, One Shot, and starred Tom Cruise in the title role, is getting a sequel. It was just announced that Child’s newest international bestseller, Never Go Back, will be adapted for the film and Tom Cruise is returning as Jack Reacher. As of right now, Cruise and company are trying to get the original film’s Director, Christopher McQuarrie, back at the helm for the sequel, but he has yet to confirm whether or not he’ll be part of the project.

To me, this is excellent news. I know many obstinate fans of the novels will continue to lambaste Cruise for being Jack Reacher because he physically doesn’t “measure up.” But people need to get over this fact because Tom Cruise was excellent in the first film and, whether they like it or not, a sequel is being made. If it’s anything like its predecessor, we’re in for a real treat.

10 Books That Touched Me

open-book-on-top-of-pile-of-booksMy friend Dawnna tagged me in a Facebook post where she listed 10 books that stayed with her for one reason or another. The goal is simply writing down 10 books that touched you without listing them in any particular order or over analyzing what should or shouldn’t be included. Then, you have to tag five friends and ask them to do the same. Since I thought this was a cool idea, I’m turning my list into a blog post. Please feel free to list your “10 Books That Touched You” in the comments section below.

  1. The Mark – Jason Pinter
  2. It – Stephen King
  3. The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
  4. The Innocent – Harlan Coben
  5. Six Years – Harlan Coben
  6. The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke – Suze Orman
  7. Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life – Donald Trump
  8. No Way Back – Andrew Gross
  9. Sex Money KISS – Gene Simmons
  10. Napalm & Silly Putty – George Carlin

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