Author Archives: Melissa

Living on a Prayer with Bon Jovi in Pittsburgh

Immediately after performing “Runaway,” a song released 33 years ago, Jon Bon Jovi made a confession to the Pittsburgh crowd gathered at PPG Paints Arena on a Wednesday evening.

“I think I’m singing like shit tonight and I apologize,” he said, promising his fans he would keep “pushin’ on,” and adding “if you stick it out with me, I’ll stick it out with you.”

And that’s sort of how it has been for those of us who grew up with Bon Jovi, hasn’t it?  His music was part of the soundtrack to our youth, the backdrop to everything from our first loves to our last slow dance at the prom. To prove it, there was an entire arena on Wednesday night full of Gen Xers who, intentionally or not, seemed to be throwbacks to the 80s with mullets and big hair and clad in Slippery When Wet concert t-shirts from 1987 and clutching cans of beer while unabashedly belting out every single word to the likes of “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Lay Your Hands On Me.”

Same as it ever was.

At first I thought Jon’s admission that he had been battling a cold since Saturday was simply concert shtick or, perhaps, a clever intro to “Bad Medicine.” I still thought that when he brought a fan up from the audience to help out on “Born to Be My Baby.”

But when he walked over to the edge of the stage and recited Prince’s infamous, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life” — that’s when I admit to feeling a little freaked out and unsettled. Here’s yet another rock icon of my youth saying he’s not feeling well and invoking the words of another who died way too young and reminding us of our own mortality and his. My generation doesn’t need any more reminders of the fragility of life, that we’re getting older and that, personally speaking at 48, more years are likely to be in the rear-view mirror than down the road.

Whoa, we’re halfway there, whoa, livin’ on a prayer … 

On Bon Jovi’s new album “This House is Not For Sale,” one of the tracks is called “God Bless This Mess.”   I think it kind of puts into context this phase of life and how we’re starting to feel its effects.

“My voice is shot, I’m going grey, these muscles all ache
Don’t cry for me, I’m the life of the party
I’m smiling most of the time
I may be gritting my teeth, can’t get back where we started
These days I’m doing just fine.” 

The song has been frequently included on this tour’s setlist, but we didn’t get to hear it in Pittsburgh because as the world knows by now, the Pittsburgh show was abruptly cut short — 90 minutes into what would have been a two and a half hour performance — and with no rousing encore. It’s a decision that has some expressing frustration, mostly via social media temper tantrums, about getting an abbreviated version of the show.

To which I say, get yourself a fucking life. If you’re complaining about something as trivial as being “cheated” out of sixty minutes of a concert — during a week when innocent people were gassed to death in a unfathomable literal hell on earth — then check your privilege at the door, thank you. Sure, it’s disappointing to not get something you expected. But there is nothing that comes with a guarantee in life. Nothing.

And that’s what Bon Jovi’s songs are all about. They remind us to enjoy that moment, that guy, that girl, that kiss, that night, that time, that love.  I went to the show with my 15 year old daughter and we danced our asses off and sang at the top of our lungs. We had a great time, enjoying every moment. For the record, I thought Jon sounded fantastic and his performance was great.  My girl loved it and said it was one of the best nights of her life.

“Take my hand,” I said, as we crossed a busy street to get back to our car.

We looked at each other. “We’ll make it, I swear!” we sang.

We remember how we were, once upon a time, not so long ago. We take nothing for granted, holding on to what we’ve got. These days, we’re all living on a prayer.

Thanks for a great show, Jon. Get well soon. 

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Currently … Listening, Attending, Anticipating, Celebrating

Our daffodils bloomed this week. Or maybe it was last Saturday, I’m not sure. And even though they arrive on a different date each year–sometimes varying by several weeks, depending on the vagaries of Pittsburgh’s weather–they always seem calibrated to appear at the exact moment when I need an emotional pick me up.  Despite this particular bloom pictured above from the front yard, they’re looking a little droopier than usual this year. Maybe the late season snow of a few weeks ago is to blame, I don’t know.

Listening….
As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent most of this week being obsessed with S-Town, the new podcast by the team behind Serial and This American Life. It’s only seven episodes of about an hour each, give or take, so you can easily listen to the whole thing during your commute plus some time at your desk or as you work out or however you listen to podcasts. And if you don’t listen to podcasts, this is a great one to start with. I’m so in awe at the reporting and sheer craft of storytelling with this one.  If you’re not listening, you need to start. Now.

Attending … 
You wouldn’t know it from my not-so-great cell phone photo, but I had second row seats on Thursday night as J.D. Vance was in Pittsburgh to give a lecture about his best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy. I’ll have more to say in a separate post but I enjoyed his talk more than the book. I mean, I thought it was fine as a memoir but as the touchstone for the cultural commentary that it has been anointed as … I’m not sure. It’s certainly a book that has struck a nerve, good and bad.

Anticipating … 
After going through a One Direction phase that lasted four long years (and cost a fortune in tickets for three separate concerts and related 1D merchandise), The Girl has seen the light and discovered the music of my youth. We’re talking Michael Jackson, Prince, and Bon Jovi, in particular.

(Let’s pause for a moment while the heavens part and angelic music plays — notably by two of those three, who could be playing a celestial jam.)

I am, obviously, delighted about The Girl’s new appreciation for ’80s tunes –mainly because all said merchandise and music is already available in the basement, free of charge and accessible via convenient mixtapes and CDs. Have at it, kid.

Anyway, many months ago, she heard that Bon Jovi was touring and would be stopping in Pittsburgh. She begged to go and I was unconvinced. I should have known better, given this girl’s history when it comes to music. When she finds someone she likes, she is a fan for life. Finally, I relented over Christmas dinner.  If she worked on improving her algebra and biology grades and went to after-school tutoring if she needed extra help, I would consider getting Bon Jovi tickets.  Soon, I was getting texts from her updating me on every grade.  Like every day. And there was not a day I did not hear about Bon Jovi.

And you know, this girl worked her ass off. These are not her strongest subjects, not by a long shot, but she raised her algebra grade from a 75 to an 80 (the highest ever) and biology from a 77 to an 85. So, we’re going. And she is beside herself and absolutely delirious. She has been talking about nothing but this concert for months.

To tell you the truth, I’m just as excited as she as. I love Bon Jovi and have since the beginning. Saw them in concert when I was The Girl’s age. I think it was back in ’85 or ’86 when they played The Spectrum in Philadelphia, maybe for the Slippery When Wet Tour. It could have also been in ’89, but I seem to think it was earlier. Anyway, The Girl finds this to be the epitome of cool. And since The Girl is 15 and a half and I am still regarded as a cool mom who The Girl enjoys hanging out with,  I’ll take it.

Celebrating …
This is my birthday week and I’m thrilled that Jon and I are both still rockin’ on. Usually I try and take my birthday off from work but because of the Philly trip last month and another somewhat unplanned Philly visit over Easter, I don’t want to burn too many vacation days this early in the year. So, tomorrow will be a typical, normal work day — hopefully without too much stress. Maybe I’ll even take my full lunch hour and leave work on time. I bought myself a flourless chocolate cake from Trader Joe’s. My daughter wants to hang with me at a Bon Jovi concert. There are worse ways to welcome in 48.

“Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you got to believe
That right here, right now
You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be
Welcome to wherever you are….”
~ Bon Jovi, “Welcome to Wherever You Are”

 

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Obsessed with S-Town (Spoiler Free)

Spending time in Shittown was the best part of my utterly exhausting, challenging as hell week.

(I’m so not kidding. This week ground me into a psychological pulp by Monday night, had me up until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday working on a freelance assignment, peeing into a cup–no, there aren’t any surprises happening and everything is fine, thanks–and paying more than $1,000 total for two sets of car repairs within two days.)

So, yeah, this week Shittown was a fucking paradise.

If you’re a podcast junkie like me, you probably know that Shittown — or, S-Town, as it’s commonly known — is a new podcast from Serial and This American Life, hosted by Brian Reed.

And if you haven’t heard about it yet, chances are someone or several someones will tell you about it soon, because it’s the sort of thing that you have to talk about without specifics because you don’t want to be that asshole who spoils an amazing thing.

And S-Town is freaking amazing. It combines all the elements of excellent storytelling with dogged, investigative journalism. (Reed started reporting this story more than three years ago.) It evokes everything possible — love and hate, greed and kindness, sorrow and sex, depression and art — and starts with a compelling premise: an eccentric clock restorer in Woodstock, Alabama (“Shittown”) emails journalist Reed of “This American Life” and asks him to investigate a murder that’s been covered up in his corrupt town. They begin corresponding and talking at length on the phone and Reed eventually visits Woodstock only to discover there’s much, much more to this story than a murder (which would be fodder enough for a podcast, to be sure).

S-Town will make you laugh and cry, gasp and cringe — all within the same minute. It’s addictive listening — one of my coworkers was so engrossed she drove right past the exit she takes every day to get to our office. It’s completely immersive and its the kind of thing you have to talk about it with other people who have had the same experience. I told one Facebook friend that I felt like I needed a support group after listening to this. I’m completely obsessed with all things related to this story now.

Apparently me and my coworker aren’t alone; S-Town has been downloaded 10 million times since it was released on Tuesday.

If you’re into podcasts, this is well worth a listen. (Consider this your #trypod recommendation — all throughout March, podcast fans have been sharing our recommendations.)

 

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wednesday musings

image of a late winter sky with heavy and light cloud streaks over pittsburgh, february 2017

Still with me? I know, I know … it has been a few weeks since I wrote an actual blog post here–besides posting links to several published book reviews, that is. Actually, those are a big part of the reason for my absenteeism in this space. Most of you know I do some freelance workwriting, editing and the like. This in addition to my full-time, pays-most-of-the-bills-and-provides-health-insurance (for now) job, which also involves quite a bit of wordsmithing.

Anyway, to my delight, the freelancing assignments have picked up speed in recent weeks. Definitely a nice problem to have. One consequence (if you can call it that) is I’ve needed to spend more time reading–and since most of those books are for reviews post-publication, I feel I can’t say much about them beforehand.

Which, you know, doesn’t lend itself to having much material for one’s book blog.

Good thing there’s nothing else going on in the world to discuss.

(We won’t talk politics tonight because the whole state of the world has me feeling overwhelmed, angry, sad, hopeless and downright frightened. Often all at the same time.)

Tonight offers a slight reprieve from reading and writing (plus The Girl, who has been using my laptop for homework is finished early) so I thought I’d give you a few updates.


Two weeks ago I made an impromptu, whirlwind trip back to my hometown of Northeast Philadelphia for what was a sad visit. My best friend’s mother died and as I said in my eulogy at the funeral, she was like a second mom to me. I expected it to be an emotional trip–and it was. I’m working on a post or an essay about this because it was a jarring experience to return to my hometown after many years away. I’m really, really glad I went even if it took me a good week to feel back to what passes for my regular self.


On my trip, I listened to the audio of Wishful Drinking by the late Carrie Fisher. Albeit bittersweet, it was the perfect choice for what is a boring five hour plus drive across the red state of T**mpsylvania. (The audiobook is shorter than the drive.) It’s incredibly conversational, as if Carrie herself was riding in the passenger seat. An excellent audiobook. I loved it.


Mrs. Douglas, our cat, had a bout of pancreatitis last week. She’s on the mend now, thank God.


Kids are fine. I’m in summer activity mode. I think The Girl is going to be doing some volunteer work along with at least one or two week-long camps (writing and music).  The Boy is going to camp for four weeks. Thanks to the freelancing, there will likely be a family vacation after not being able to take one last year.


Speaking of The Girl, she has been working really hard to improve in math. At Christmastime, she mentioned she really wanted to see Bon Jovi in concert when they came to Pittsburgh so we struck a deal: if her math grades improved and she sought extra help after school through the tutoring service if necessary (something she has vehemently resisted), I would think about getting tickets. She hasn’t stopped talking about this. She’s been consistently hovering above or close to a B for a few months now so we’ll be seeing Jon in a few weeks.


Can I say how much I love that my girl is a huge fan of Bon Jovi and how grateful I am that she inherited my taste in music? (Because, yeah, twist my arm to take her to see Bon Jovi and pretend I’m back in 1986.)


I haven’t been running. Like, at all. Even though this has been a mild winter by Pittsburgh standards, I’m not a cold weather girl.  I haven’t managed to get myself to a yoga class or anything else I’d intended on doing. Hell, I’ve stopped taking the stairs at work. When the weather gets warmer–maybe as soon as this weekend!–I’m going to start over with Couch to 5K. That means I won’t be ready to do the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K this year, but maybe I’ll aim for the Great Race this fall instead or another 5K.


If you need a good book to read, here are two of my recent Shelf Awareness reviews.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff  (she’s a Philly writer, whooo!)

The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis

 

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Book Review: The Dark and Other Stories, by Deborah Willis

You know how much I love me a good short story collection, and this one — The Dark and Other Love Stories, a collection of 13 short stories by Deborah Willis — is absolutely engrossing and irresistible.

I was fortunate to review this one for Shelf Awareness. You can read more of my thoughts here.

 

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Book Review: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

If the reviews on Goodreads and such are any indication, my dislike of this novel puts me solidly in the minority of Lucky Boy readers. It has a good premise, one that is timely and in sync with current events surrounding immigration issues, but I had more than a few issues with … well, a lot of things.

You can read more of my criticisms in my review published today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Always grateful for the opportunity to talk books within its pages.

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In Appreciation: Chez Pazienza (1969-2017)

At a moment when this world needs every voice of reason, every champion of quality journalism and every don’t-give-a-fuck resister of the current political regime we can muster up, we have lost Chez Pazienza, someone who was all of these things and then some.

If you’re not familiar with his work, Chez was a brilliant writer and author of Dead Star Twilight, an award-winning journalist and media producer, blogger, podcaster and much more. But first and foremost, he was a father, fiancé, son, and loved one of many others who are grieving his untimely passing. My deepest condolences go out to his family.

Through his writing and podcasting, those of us who enjoyed and appreciated his work felt like we knew him. That’s because of what Chez shared with us, of course–a hell of a lot, as it turned out, from the personal to the mundane–and we also knew how much Chez loved those who were most important to him.

Mourning someone you’ve never met is an odd thing. It feels voyeuristic, like you’re trespassing on someone’s private life. You don’t feel entitled to your sadness or in any standing to offer up a eulogy–yet through their presence on this earth, this person was still part of your life and had an impact on it. Which is why this post is intended solely to be an appreciation of and respect for Chez’s work and how it added to my life. Nothing more, nothing less.

I first discovered Chez’s work approximately a decade ago, more or less, through his blog Deus Ex Malcontent. If his wasn’t the first blog I’d ever read, it was one of them. His was the kind of writing I aspired to–fearless, insightful, no-holds-barred, sharp witted as hell. Chez’s talent was to make you, his reader, feel every emotion possible in a handful of words.

And that’s exactly what he did, time and time and time again, regardless if he was writing about politics or his personal struggles, music or the media. Within one sentence, you could laugh and then be angry, with plenty of cursing in between. That was the case with his pieces for The Daily Banter, of which he served as editor-at-large, as well as his podcasts with Bob Cesca on The Bob & Chez Show. His perspective was on-point, always, and precisely what we need right now.

Free of bullshit and full of anger, Chez did not mince words about the implications of the sinister machinations and horrific incompetence in The White House. His newsroom experience provided him with a perspective of the media — good and bad — that one can only get from having been in the the industry’s trenches. And in a year that claimed countless icons who defined our coming-of-age years, Chez always had a relevant unique angle that resonated with those of us Gen X’ers who have the same cultural markers and touchstones.

His listeners and readers knew this election affected him profoundly and deeply. Maybe we didn’t quite realize how much. In the immediate aftermath of the election, I reached out to Chez via Facebook to tell him how much I appreciated and agreed with his commentary. I never expected him to respond, but he did and I am grateful that we had that brief exchange to commiserate and for me to express how much I thought of his work.

None of us need any more reminders or Hallmark card platitudes of how life is too fucking short or how important it is to tell people we care about how much we appreciate them. We get it. If not, Chez’s death makes that abundantly clear.

What is also tragically clear is that without Chez Pazienza’s voice, we need to make ours count even more. To resist, to point out bullshit, to call foul, to take those perpetuating the many injustices that have become calling cards of this regime to task by speaking out. Chez knew how imperative that was and I feel there’s no better way to remember him and honor his work and life.

I’d like to think he would expect no less.

My most sincere condolences to Chez’s fianceé, his daughters, his family and friends. If you are inclined to contribute, a fund has been established to help with expenses towards a memorial service and anything remaining will go to his fianceé and children.


If you weren’t familiar with Chez’s work, here are some links…

The Daily Banter: http://thedailybanter.com/author/chez-pazienza/

Deus Ex Malcontent: http://www.deusexmalcontent.com
(among Chez’s very best posts were “The Grand Finale,” written in June 2013 one week after James Gandolfini’s death and “15 Years On: 9/11 in Two Parts”, written in September 2016.)

Dead Star Twilight 


…and here are some Internet tributes. (But read the Chez links first. Seriously.)

Goodbye (tribute to Chez by Bob Cesca of The Bob & Chez Show podcast, 2/28/2017)

My Friend Chez Isn’t Gone … He’s F*cking Everywhere (Bob Cesca, The Daily Banter)

The Internet Has Lost One of Its Most Distinctive Voices  (from Pajiba)

Journalism Lost a Giant on Saturday: A Tribute to Chez Pazienza (from The State Today)

RIP Chez Pazienza (from The Tentacles of Yesterday)

 

 

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