Girls Have Power…

February 29, 2008 at 6:46 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings, News and other stuff... | Leave a comment
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My niece is in 3rd grade – and she’s a real zinger. I remember playing songs for her pre-school when she was three or four (the kids were rocking out to “Five Little Speckled Frogs”…so that’s my age reference) – and Celia walked out in front of the entire class, like a sergeant leading her troops through a basic training drill. I mentioned it to her teacher, and she responded, “She is an organizer – ” That’s the kind of appropriately vague, non-evaluative statement that makes me wonder. At the time, I decided to take it as a compliment to Celia.

About a week ago, I was watching the brood (my 3 plus my sister’s 5, and, yes that does equal 8 kids…), when Celia asked, “Uncle Steve, will you write me a song for the talent show we’re having at school?” I said (of course), “Yes, honey, what do you want it to be about?” She said, “I’m not sure, I’ll think about it…”

Celia called tonight and said, “Uncle Steve, can you write my song about how girls have power?” PAUSE – this is my 9 year old niece talking – allow me to review that quote, “Uncle Steve, can you write my song about how girls have power?” WOW! I hope, when my daughter is 9, 12, 15, 18…and so on, she wants me to write her songs about how girls have power, about how she has power – I’ll start writing those songs now and (hopefully) continue for a long time.

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Girls have power? Indeed they do!

I did have to ask Celia what it means to have power as a third grader (mainly because I don’t want to invest all MY hopes, dreams and political opinions in this song). It may well be, in her perception, that having power means having parents who have the best car – but I really hope (and believe) that it goes deeper than that. She’s writing me a list of the things that make her feel powerful – so it remains to be seen – but I actually think that Celia is tapped into something that’s pretty profound as far as our society goes. She is a girl who knows she has power – she’s not second guessing herself at all.

My experience as a teacher suggests a similar dynamic – girls know they have power. I have asked my eighteen year old students how many would call themselves feminists, and felt like a dinosaur because none of them would- the term itself feels obsolete (don’t get me wrong here, I do call myself a feminist and I argue the cause), but girls today seem to look at you like an alien when you even suggest that the idea of feminism is needed. “Of course we are equal – why wouldn’t we be?” (Could this be why Hillary’s campaign has found traction among middle-aged women, but not in the younger crowd – for them, is it just a detail that we haven’t had a woman as a president?)

So Celia is writing her list, and I’ll be writing her a song…I just hope I can do the sentiment justice – stay tuned!

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – the 2nd variation (and another free MP3…the deals never stop!)

February 28, 2008 at 6:33 am | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | 5 Comments
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Here’s variation #2 – Twinkle Twinkle.mp3

(Go here to get variation #3!)

After writing about this song (here), I set to work recording it – you may have been one of the few lucky ones to have downloaded the now rare (and deleted) version that I posted earlier today – I tried to clean it up, and offer this version now – Mozart did 12 variations on this tune – I’m on my second, and may try a few more before it’s all said and done. It’s an interesting song – weird that I could do a bass line that isn’t too far from Pachabel Canon in D – Anyway, enjoy this variation – I’m going to shoot for at least 10 more. Look for them to pop up every now and again.

(…MORE than a few months later, I finally got to number three…check it out here!)

Oh yeah, here’s the entire poem…if you wanted to keep singing –

The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky!
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Then the traveler in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.
In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.
As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,—
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
– Jane Taylor, 1806

Hamlet, Hillary and Obama…Words vs. Action – 400 years later

February 26, 2008 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Musings | 2 Comments

Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder’d,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A scullion!

-Hamlet II.ii

Whoa!!! Stay on this blog! As shocking as it is to see the words ‘ass,’ ‘hell’ and ‘whore’ on a blog committed to kids’ music, let me explain (by the way, all those words were written by stuffy old Shakespeare, so they should be ok…right?) …It may come as a surprise to the three of you who read this blog regularly that I am more than my kid’s music credentials. I actually have another life, as an English teacher. It is not uncommon (and actually it’s desirous) for the world and the classroom to intersect. But this campaign season, as I’ve watched the primaries unfold, it just so happens that I have been teaching Hamlet; the intersection between real world and classroom has witnessed a crash (apparently no one heeded the stop signs).

I know what I said I’d write about on this blog, but, this has been so monumental that I need to at least acknowledge it – here we are, 400 plus years after Shakespeare penned Hamlet, and Barak and Hillary are slugging out the same debate that Hamlet held in his own head (that’s why he was a hero – he could hold two presidential candidates in his psyche and still have intellectual room to spare…). Hillary (and Bill) accuse  Barack of using his rhetoric to weave false hopes and fairy tales while asserting that she (they) can get things done. They are, they seem to suggest, the Fortinbras to Barack’s Hamlet.

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Hamlet – Words vs. Action?

Just to review, Hamlet is about a young man who is visited by the ghost of his dead father, Hamlet (ok, so they weren’t awfully creative in the name department in the 12th century…). Hamlet Senior tells Hamlet Junior that he was murdered by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle – STAY WITH ME HERE! The rest of the play is Hamlet Junior debating between words and action…most of the words are in his own head – BUT (and this is important for Hillary to understand) some of his words ARE action (apparently, the two aren’t mutually exclusive) – Hamlet uses a play to “Catch the conscience of a king…” – In other words, he uses words to achieve a really important end.

Hamlet is a poet – he talks a lot – he uses more than any other Shakespearian character. He uses words to catch the king, to free his mother from her self-imposed moral corruption and to set Denmark on the right path after his death. Unlike every other character in the play, Hamlet does not simply act – he thinks and talks before he acts. By creating such a talkative character, Shakespeare sets Hamlet apart from every other character in the play. They are lost in the Middle Age mentality of responding without thinking. Often, when Hamlet does act, it’s an indication of his decline – he shuns Ophelia, he accidentally kills Polonius, he has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed.

It’s not that Shakespeare (or Hamlet) completely trust words. One of the central metaphors of the play is pouring poison into someone’s ears. The wonder of words is that they can bring redemption – the danger is that they can be used to manipulate and corrupt.

A close reading of Hamlet would be instructive for both Hillary and Obama. She would be reminded that words are not always bad… I suspect she may be figuring that out with the recent polls. They allow us to define our world – and our experience. Unfortunately, for the the Clintons, words have been used over the years to defiine them unfairly and inaccurately. Obama might learn that his considerable gift to use words as poetry is not enough. When (and if) he moves into the general election, he has to use his words to explain how he will act.

In a recent article for “The New York Times,” Frank Rich compares Obama’s poetic language to JFK’s (you can find it here ) – it’s a frequent comparison, and it reminds us how a very young and oratorically gifted president can reshape the reality of our national experience – and can use words to great effect.

The great irony of all of this is that Hillary is using words to discredit Barack’s words. She should be careful, however, because at times, her acerbic rhetoric feels a little like poison in the ears.

If this post was too wordy for you – stay tuned – I’ll get back on the kids’ music and post an MP3 of “Twinkle,Twinkle Little Star,” as promised, tomorrow.

“Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Ah vous dirai-je maman,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” “ABC,” Jane Taylor and Mozart

February 24, 2008 at 8:54 am | Posted in kids music, Music for You | 5 Comments

OK, let’s talk, for a moment about Twinkle, Twinkle…every kid loves it (and, because it’s such an easy hit, so does every kids’ singer). It is a song with some serious kid song mojo.

Rumor has it that Mozart wrote the tune, but Mozart himself debunked that myth by titling his piece, “12 Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je mama” – the source was a French folk song – here’s a great page with Mozart’s version – Mozart’s 12 Variations on Ah vous dirai-je maman – it is fittingly manic (as Mozart seems to have been) but I’d like to suggest that it’s not as successful as the eventual variation that Mozart never heard – “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

The text for the now famous version of this song was written in 1806 (15 years after Mozart died) by Jane Taylor in England. We’re not really sure how the melody and the poem got together – but generation upon generation of children are happy that they did. It truly is a melody and poem that were star-crossed – the Romeo and Juliet of the Music world…

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Twinkle, Twinkle, little song…

And yes, I am aware of the implications of that metaphor – just like Romeo and Juliet, there were forces trying to pull these two apart. This brilliant (and anonymous) melody has been courted by a whole lot of other lovers – “ABCD” and “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” use it, as well as the the German song “Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann“and the Hungarian Christmas carol “Hull a pelyhes fehér hó“, and the Dutch “Altijd is Kortjakje ziek“. In addition to Mozart, Franz Liszt, wrote “Album Leaf: ‘Ah vous dirai-je, maman’

Suffice to say, this song rocks…I guess it’s time for me to set my star with the greats and record my own variation. Stay tuned, I’m dusting off the 4-track as I finish this…a few days later…finished it – Check out the results – my Twinkle Twinkle Free MP3 here!

To hear the third variation, go here!

Let’s (not) talk about sex – aka – The 7:00pm dance party

February 20, 2008 at 6:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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This post is dedicated to Young MC – sorry I can’t play you for my kids…

There is no better way of ensuring a good night’s sleep for the kids than some serious move-bustin’ right before bed. Ben Franklin said, “…in this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.” I would like to add ‘kids dancing’ to that list. They love it and they’ll do it almost on demand.

But, speaking of bustin’ a move, how many songs are there that are great but just a little too racy?

Theatre gets dark just to start the show, then you spot a fine woman sittin’ in your row.
She’s dressed in yellow, she says hello, come sit next to me ya fine fellow.
You run over there without a second to lose, and what comes next,hey, bust a move…

Here’s a short list of songs kids would love but that…you just don’t want to be answering the questions until they’re 15 (or 16…or 23…)

  • Bust a Move – Young MC
  • I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt – Right Said Fred
  • Let’s Talk About Sex – Salt and Peppa
  • A whole bunch of Barry White tunes
  • Let’s Get Physical – Olivia Newton John
  • Love Shack – B-52’s
  • Vous le Vous Couche Avec Moi ce Soir…although this one at least introduces bilingualism, but I’d go with Dora the Explorer as opposed to Patty LaBelle.
Luckily, there are a few tunes that can fill in when you tak 2 Live Crew off the playlist…and that get the kids crankin’. Here’s our playlist:
  • We are Family – Sister Sledge
  • Dancing Queen – ABBA
  • Pump Up the Volume – Colourbox
  • Movin’ On Up – Primal Scream
  • Funkytown – Lipps, Inc.
  • Bizarre Love Triangle – New Order (Don’t ask, because, in spite of the title, I have no idea what this song is about. It does make a great dance tune for the kids, though. As a bonus, it is so stunningly ’80’s, it’s like synthesizer history lesson for the little ones…here’s a clip – bizarre-love-triangle.mp3)

In the end, it doesn’t matter.- put on whatever it was you danced to (be sure it’s the radio mix unless you want to supplant story time with a talk on the birds and bees) and…well, you know – bust a move.

Side by Side – an MP3 for you – Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 15, 2008 at 6:32 am | Posted in Fun for Your Family, kids music, Music for You | 1 Comment
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Here’s a great old tune – “Side by Side” performed by Paul Whiteman and the Rhythm Boys recorded in 1927 and featuring a 24 year old Bing Crosby on vocals.

Side by Side.mp3

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Bing loves ya, baby – Side by Side!

Here are the lyrics – seemed appropriate for V-day to me…

Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money
Maybe we’re ragged and funny
But well travel along
Singing a song
Side by side

I don’t know whats a-comin’ tomorrow
Maybe its trouble and sorrow
But well travel the road
Sharing our load
Side by side

Thru all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as were together
It doesn’t matter at all

When they’ve all had their quarrels and parted
Well be the same as we started
Just traveling along
Singing a song
Side by side

 

I love my Mom, I love my Wife…why doesn’t Disney?

February 13, 2008 at 6:10 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings, Reviews | 3 Comments
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Read the second part of this post here!

The opening lines of the Disney-Pixar film “Finding Nemo” relate a (somewhat) touching exchange between a husband and wife as they settle into their new home and contemplate their soon-to-be family…They are in essence ‘ pregnant’ (the fertilized eggs are outside the fish…cuts down on labor pain), and are setting up the new nursery (we’ve all been there) – here are the lines:
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Mmm.
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Mm-hmm.
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Yes, Marlin. I… No, I see it. It’s beautiful.
Marlin: So, Coral, when you said you wanted an ocean view, you didn’t think you were going to get the whole ocean, did you? Huh?
[deep breath]
Marlin: Oh, yeah. A fish can breathe out here. Did your man deliver, or did he deliver?

In the ensuing scene, Coral (aka MOM/WIFE) and all but one of the eggs are devoured by some ravenous sea creature (an eel?). True to Disney’s longstanding tradition, mom and wife are killed off and taken out of the picture before she has any impact at all. Hmmmmm….

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“Mom? Mom…where are you!?”

I’m going to take a little break from the music scene to contemplate this Disney curiosity (pathology?). First a list of films (that I can recollect) that belong to the Disney Dead Mom’s Club (These are in no particular order):

  • Bambi
  • Dumbo (OK,not dead, but caged and considered insane)
  • Snow White
  • Cinderella
  • Pinocchio (Maybe this is unfair, Gepetto is a pretty irresponsible Dad, though, getting pregnant with no mom to support him…)
  • Jungle Book (OK, Walt was an equal opportunity killer there, knocking Mom and Dad off…Speaking of equal opportunity, how about that “Lion King?” Just Dad was killed…)
  • The Little Mermaid (Actually, this may have been a divorce situation…in any event, mom/wife is no where to be seen.)
  • Pocahantas
  • Aladin (neither the hero or the heroine have a Mom)
  • The Fox and the Hound (another orphan situation with Tod, the fox)
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Max and Goofy…(again, it’s hard to say here, who would marry Goofy after all? Some quasi-dog lady probably just went home with him one night after one-too-many at the local pub, then left him with the kid…)
  • Cars (Just kidding, Cars don’t really talk or have relationships – they are made on production lines which, if I remember my high school biology correctly, might also be referred to as asexual reproduction.)

So, as this large body of work demonstrates, Walt Disney, and the whole Disney family, it would seem, has an issue with parents generally, and specifically with moms…why? An internet search of Walt’s family history doesn’t offer a lot of insight (granted, I didn’t look too hard)…Wikipedia states, “Walt and his sister Ruth attended the Benton Grammar School where he met Walter Pfeiffer. The Pfeiffers were theatre aficionados, and introduced Walt to the world of vaudeville and motion pictures. Soon, Walt was spending more time at the Pfeiffers’ than at home… [6]“(Read the whole bio here: Walt Disney at Wikipedia). Does the fact that Walt effectively left home at the age of 9 indicate some deep divisions in the Disney home? Could he have left home because of a domineering Mom who emasculated him and ensured that generations thereafter would suffer through scores of animated features which are, in essence, Walt’s working out his childhood demons based on his fear of his mother? Probably, but without some major research, we can only speculate.

The other option, of course, is that Walt and company needed a quick dramatic jolt to jettison their early films deep into the public consciousness. What better than the death of a mom? What, after all, is more sacred than motherhood? The concept is shocking, and it doesn’t take a cynic to imagine Walt and the boys sitting around trying to figure out how to move their little children’s film from average to blockbuster. The room, of course, was full of cigar smoke, and one of the guys said, “Let’s off the mom…that’ll get some attention…” It’s cheap, easy emotion, and, in a two hour film, it leaves lots of room for musical numbers and some comedy. After that first time, when Bambi hit the big numbers, the boys were hooked, and they’ve never looked back. It keeps paying, as “Nemo” showed us in 2003, sixty-one years after Bambi’s 1942 release.

So why doesn’t Disney love Moms? Simple, it doesn’t pay, and, in spite of what Mickey and the rest would have you believe, this is all about the money…they can’t let a few moms get in the way…

So, in tribute to Bambi’s and all the other Disney moms and wives out there – here’s an Evanescence song…we’re with you Bambi and Bambi’s Mom, Nemo and Coral, Dumbo and Dumbo’s Mom, etc….you live on, no matter what Walt put you through!

Reggae, Anyone?

February 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment
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Will someone tell me what it is about Reggae that enchants children so? Something tells me it’s not the choice of colors. (although they are appealing):

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No, it is the music that captures kids – and I will admit, for me as well, reggae is enchanting…I’ve spent more time in my life than I probably should have at Jimmy Cliff concerts, reggae fests, Wailers shows (Bob had died by then, alas), UB40 shows, Toots and the Maytal shows, English Beat/General Public shows, etc., etc…I get it – and so do kids, from the womb, it would seem (maybe the reggae beat mimics the mothers’ heartbeat…Mom’s Heart – Bob Marley?) .

I’m not kidding here – try it. A friend of mine told me about a reggae album he had for kids – it’s titled “Reggae for Kids” (wow, the originality is overwhelming, there). My response is, why bother? Just put on Peter Tosh (OK, skip “Legalize It” if you want to avoid a strange conversation with your six year old), Bob Marley, Steel Pulse…it doesn’t matter, kids hear that characteristic ‘chunk-kunk, chunk-kunk” (here it is from Peter T. – Pick Myself Up.mp3), or that rhythmic lead in on the high timbale (here it is from Steel Pulse – Steppin Out.mp3), and they’re dancin’…

I have experimented with this a bunch, in my own music…here’re a couple of clips of our attempts at reggae:

…and with my own kids – here, as evidence that Reggae works, are some photos of Gus, who had been sitting at the table painting, but couldn’t helped being moved to dance right in his seat…irie!

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“Don’t worry….

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…about a thing…

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“…cause every little thing…”

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“…is gonna be alright!”

 

Easy Reader, that’s my name, uh, uh, uh…

February 7, 2008 at 6:08 am | Posted in kids music, Musings, Reviews | 2 Comments
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For some reason the other day, I thought of Easy Reader…come on now, you remember him that super cool, funky, far-out guy on “The Electric Company.” I just had to pay Youtube a visit and take a walk, or should I say a ‘trip,’ down memory lane. Just to get you in the groove, here’s a little Easy Reader to help you remember…

Yes, my friends, that is Morgan Freeman, otherwise known in Hollywood these days as ‘God’ (“Bruce Almighty,” “Evan Almighty” and of course the ominous voice from above in “March of the Penguins…”). So before he was God, he was Easy Reader…”Top to bottom left to right reading stuff is out of sight…”

Like my parents and millions of other parents did in the ’70’s I’m going to ignore the obvious and somewhat problematic fact that Morgan Freeman, as much as portraying a reader in these skits, was portraying a reading junkie – he needs his reading ‘fix’ – then his man (or etch-a-sketch) on the street, Stanley, always cuts him off, ‘just as he’s getting into the groove.’ Then he starts looking around desparately for his reading fix – a match-book, a dollar bill, you name it. I’ll ignore all that, and focus instead on the message…See, I agree with Easy’s message, ‘reading IS out of sight…’ OH, and then there’s the music…

In addition to Easy Reader, I got a few other Electric Company Skits for the kids, and, like everything else in the show, the music is a constant of stream of either funkadelic 70’s or “Free To Be You and Me.” One particularly psychedelic musical moment prompted Isabel to ask, “Why is the music so weird…?” You would have thought we were listening to Pink Floyd – “The Wall.” Here’s one example…

How about that soundtrack? 

Then there’s the opening credits…”Moving out in a new way, moving out in a new way…we’re gonna turn it on, we’re gonna give you the power…” You get the idea.

OK, so I have to say, in spite of the fact that the Electric Company overdid it on the psychedelia at times, I love this stuff. It has it all, great music, and unbelievable cast (Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers, Mr. Freeman, etc.) and it’s hilarious. I’m pretty certain Saturday Night Live owes a lot to The Electric Company…at the very least Lorne Michaels and the early SNL cast were big fans, I just know it…so, I’ll leave you with the lyrics to the first “Sign Song” from the Electric Company…out of sight!

I like fish food. You do, too.
Don’t look now; your hair is blue.
Walk right in and see the zoo.
Up is down, and I love you.Stop and go and dance a dance,
All the way from here to France.
Day and night, all bright and new.
Left is right, and I love you.

A tribute to old friends…

February 4, 2008 at 8:43 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Music for You, Musings | Leave a comment

About six months ago, Abe’s buddy Cayden moved out of town. It was tough for Abe’s four year old psyche to handle, and we ended up having a number of conversations about the transient nature of friendship (ok, I’ll admit I never used the word ‘transient’ in those discussions…also, the conversations usually were more transient than any friendship I know of, because Abe would get distracted by a matchbox dump truck or something after about 90 seconds of deep conversation, but it was still touching…). Anyway, Cayden came back to town this week for a visit, and he and Abe hit every note (sizing each other up, playing beautifully together, arguing about sharing, parallel playing, and even a hug) within about four minutes. It got me thinking about my old friends, and then (and this couldn’t have been better timed unless it was in some bad movie), my long time buddy Chris sent me an e-mail.

I met Chris my first day in high school; you remember that day, don’t you? You wander around, looking for anyone who looks vaguely approachable…Chris was in a bunch of my classes and somehow, in our first conversation, we ended up talking about Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” Chris knew about Springsteen, I had heard Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s remake…who do you think was cooler? Anyway, one thing led to another, and Chris and I formed a band. After looking at a bunch of book spines at a local bookstore, we named our band “Onyx,” after the famous book by Jacqueline Briskin (you know it, don’t you?) You can find it here if you’re interested. Here we are in an undated promo photo (I’m thinking it was sometime in the late eighties…twenty or so years ago (ouch):

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Onyx – circa ?

We recorded a few CD’s on a Tascam 4 track – here’s a sample, to give you an idea… Letter.mp3 .

Chris emailed to let me know that he had been checking out my blog and enjoying it – then, like any good old friend, he told me how great he thought the whole thing was…It’s not surprising that Chris, being the cooler of the two friends, started his blog long ago; he’s an old hand at it, so I took his compliments as words from a seasoned professional. He’s at http://blog.myspace.com/greenmtwriter , if you’re interested in reading some of of his sharp and very funny observations about the world. As you’re reading , remember that those little people who are fighting over dump trucks today in your living room, will eventually be teenagers making (very loud) music in that same living room, BUT THEN will eventually become old friends who, twenty or so years later, laugh about it all.

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