October 18, 2017

Notable and Quotable: W. Phillip Keller

"This is a titanic transaction of eternal dimensions. God, very God, in Christ, takes my sins and gives me His goodness...Hid own righteousness. Nothing else can satisfy my searching spirit. I look away from myself to see the splendor of His supreme self-sacrifice for my salvation. I see that He has made me whole...My spirit leaps for joy, where before it was sunk with sin and despair."
                            
                              Author W. Phillip Keller

October 17, 2017

Carpenters Boxed Vinyl

Karen and Richard Carpenter created some of the world's most beautiful and lasting music. And now this November, Universal Music (who purchased A&M Records years ago) is releasing The Vinyl Collection, a gathering of 12 of the duos beloved albums in one box. 

It's a very pricy set, but you just know it is going to be gorgeously reproduced. Once the duo hit the big time in 1970 with the release of Close to You, each of the original album releases had nice artistic touches that set it apart from their contemporaries. While A&M Records marketing department didn't really know what to do with the brother sister act until the incredible Horizon album in 1975, the art design and packaging off their discs was always top notch. An absolutely perfect match to the timeless music inside. 

I have to pass on this collection due to the price. Perhaps Mr. Carpenter would gift this life-long fan with a set. (Smile). If not, I think I'm waiting until 2019 for a 50th Anniversary package of some sort, celebrating their signing to the label. I'm sure that will be something worth saving for as I can't pass it up regardless of the price.

(Artwork copyright Universal / A&M.)

October 16, 2017

Moments in Time

The recent crash of my Mac due to an installation of High Sierra, got me thinking about photos and files. As I was going through some of my files, I came across several shots of various times and places.

Some so long ago now it seems...

Others much more recent...

All capturing moments in time.

Others that seem like only yesterday but really were long ago.

I know one day, my family will enjoy running across these as much as I did! Happy Monday to you all!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

October 14, 2017

Saturday Night Special: World's Fair Dinosaurs

You've got to click on this one! Incredible in the largest format! This beautiful piece of concept art by the multi-talented Disney Imagineers was created for the 1964 World's Fair. Specifically built  for the Ford exhibition, Magic Skyway, the attraction was a huge hit with the fair's audiences. Guests boarded the newest model convertibles for a splendid, innovative, eye-popping journey back to the beginning of time and continued all the way to the Disney imagined future. The striking colors and retro feel make this one of my favorite pieces of art. One of several pieces I snagged it on line before the Disney Parks Blog changed its design. Enjoy!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 13, 2017

A Donna Summer Story

Coming from the major hit that was Michael Jackson's epic disc Off the Wall, (as I've long said, it's one of my favorite albums of all time by any artist), I was very excited to learn Quincy Jones would produce Donna Summer next. When her MacArthur Park single caught my ear on late night radio, it made me think twice about the Disco Diva. There was no question this woman could sing. Everything combined, I purchased her self titled album about a year after we were married. Needless to say, that was years ago.

Being in a bit of a retro mood lately, I decided to pop in this disc. Did her highly publicized and much anticipated album by the producer hold up decades later?  

Donna and Quincy in happier times.

Let's turn back time and backtrack a bit. Donna's 1980 album The Wanderer was not the mega hit the new label wanted and needed. It was too rock, too new wave, too different, too much of a stretch in style. It wasn't in the vein of dance floor hits like On the Radio, Hot Stuff, and Last DanceMuch worse than the stylistic evolution was the fact her warm strong voice was stripped clean of its roots and usually buried in the mix, turning her instrument into another to be used and arranged instead of being up and center where it belonged. In short, aside from the title track and Cold Love, the collection wasn't all that fun or likable.

There were personal issues as well affecting her public image. Donna's surprising decision to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ probably didn't work in her favor at the time. (But for eternity, well, that is another story.)  Her striking gospel flavored I Believe in Jesus from The Wanderer did win her another Grammy. Clearly, Donna was growing as an artist and as a human, but her fans didn't seem to follow her. Nor did the radio. 

The next planned disc was not even released- quite a slap in the face for the star- and her new label head David Geffen brought in "Q" to give her something fresh, hoping to bring in a hit and recapture the attention of the public. On the surface, it appeared the perfect match of superstar artist with superstar producer.

Whose album is this anyway?

There was no doubt Quincy Jones was trying to create an "event", and as leader of the project, he needed a very strong direction. "Superstar" was name of the path he chose. 

Bringing in "A List" artists such as Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, and then red hot Christopher Cross to sing background on State of Independence was just the start. Getting Bruce Springsteen to contribute a track? Check. Duet with James Ingram? Done. All star studio musicians and song writing teams? Of course. Nothing was held back in pursuit of a hit. The promo machine was ready to go. 

Shockingly, the final result of it all was an album with even fewer hits and lower chart ratings than the previous one. Three and a half decades later, when you think about why it misfired, a fresh listen to Donna Summer reveals what went wrong. 

The "Q" version of Donna did do a few things right. Her voice is more prominent and much more natural in presentation. Without gimmick in approach or execution, it's straightforward, and it works. With solid and at times stellar vocals, this is just what you'd expect from Donna. And it's what you'd expect from any producer hired to showcase an artist. Vocally, the problem is Donna just isn't on the disc enough. 

Which leads to the main issue I have with the album years later. The star is not Donna, it's the arrangements and production. The lead track Love is in Control (Finger on the Trigger) uncovers it all. There's some promise with Donna playfully going up and down the scales and (incredibly) dropping to the basement before the chorus. Then a plethora of clever studio tricks, background vocalists, and a very complicated instrumental break take over. Where Donna as the primary artist should be clearly spotlighted among all the vocals, she's secondary at best and not at all recognizable at worst. Shades of the producer hiding the singer, like once Whitney Houston lost the great range and beauty of her voice. The obvious difference here is that Donna was in her prime. Was Quincy shooting for another Don't Stop Til You Get Enough with this opening song? His approach for the collection seems very similar to what he would finally perfect with Michael Jackson's groundbreaking Thriller later in the year.

Things improve significantly with the following two tracks. In fact, for this listener, they form the center, the very heart and soul of the album. Although two very different styles, Mystery of Love and The Woman in Me show Donna at her best. The first contains a near duet with James Ingram (legal matters stopped him from being more prominent, so he sits noticeably but comfortably behind her in the background). Beyond the classically inspired opening, Donna's voice soars above it all. She sounds terrific! The arrangement complements but doesn't compete. It is my go-to track when I want to hear something from this album.

How do you follow up such a terrific track? With a sultry ballad by John Bettis, one half of the songwriting team made famous by Richard and Karen Carpenter

The spoken intro only adds to Donna's rich, understated, and therefore very effective, performance. A less accomplished singer would try to overpower the song instead of allowing the romantic mood to remain. The song is one of the most convincing on the disc. The production on this cut was so good that the rock group Heart released its own near replica a decade later. 

From here, things change, and not for the better. 

In quick succession one after another, State of Independence and Living in America, both suffer from one common feature: Leaving the singer behind in an attempt to create the album defining mega-hit. It's almost as if Quincy forgot who the singer was while he was busy crafting the record. The production is overblown on State of Independence. The All-Star chorus wastes the talents of so many distinguished artists as all their voices blend into one, and it becoming something very ordinary. In 1985, Quincy fixed this problem with We Are The World, giving individual vocalists a chance to shine- and a reason for fans of each artist to buy the charity song even if it only included a line or two of their vocals. (It is of notice that Donna was missing from that recording.) Living in America is not much better. The recording tries too hard to be political and trendy, instead ending up trite and throwaway.

Bruce Springsteen's Protection is the hard rocking centerpiece of "Side Two" and truly the whole disc. He slams down a searing guitar at the end and even slides in some background vocals. With Donna rocking as hard as he does, it's a pretty compelling argument that she could sing just about any genre. It would have been a great duet between the two, supposedly recorded and in the vault.

If It Hurts Just a Little is next, a fun, soulful, and funky romp into Chaka Khan territory. The swing of the tune gives this album a lift at just the right time. Donna sounds relaxed and if she's having a good time. The next tune, Love is Just a Breath Away, is written by Donna herself. It is a bit of a throwback to earlier days, but even with the synthesizer driving the song, it's not all that special. 

The old standard Lush Life ends the disc. Donna plays with the tune (and the audience) as its old lyrics take on the clearly intended double entendre meaning. It's befitting that Quincy finally lets Donna stretch vocally and in spite of the extended saxophone solo, become the masterful songstress interpreter of the song. The majesty of the recording serves to remind the listener what could and should have been. Pity.

The photo used on the back side of the LP.

(One additional note- The art direction and photography for this album was challenging. What was going on with that cover? In contrast to the brilliant art design and portrait for The Wanderer, the lead photo for this one puzzled me. Not a fan.) 

A much better version of what Donna could do finally came next on She Works Hard for the Money. Producer Michael Omartian was able to accomplish what her last two producers tried but couldn't. Teaming together, he and Donna created her best album in years. This was a career evolving, satisfying, richly textured collection that showcased the singer instead of the production. The disc was a fun listen without being lightweight, and as a result, it was also a sizable hit. Producer, label, artist, and thankfully, fans were all very happy.

With fours successes and four misses on the disc, why is the Donna Summer album and the artist's collaboration with Quincy Jones so interesting decades later? 

Think about it. Quincy is 84, and his time on earth will soon come to an end. He's an accomplished artist in his own right. He's also discovered and introduced us to some amazing artists.  Modern masterpieces bear his stamp. Iconic records still in play decades after they were first created. This disc isn't among them, but it still has moments of inspired greatness.

Donna Summer is gone from us on earth, now celebrating God's goodness with the angels. Her legacy, her music, her life, is a testament to how people and their artistry can grow and evolve over time. It's also a reminder that what Hollywood markets to us is not usually substance but instead shallow flash to make a quick buck, much to our loss. 

Donna the artist, Donna the human, was smarter than that and wiser than many. She looked beyond today and into eternity, choosing to live with a purpose, impact a generation, and call people to her King. Her music and her life lives on. May ours be lived as powerfully.

(Photographs copyright Donna Summer and Geffen Records.)

October 12, 2017

Mission: Possible

As followers of Jesus, we desire to bring glory to God in all we do by loving those around us and by sharing the Good News of His Life and Sacrifice on our behalf. Great Commandment and Great Commission stuff. Our busy lives call to us with an abundance of opportunities and activities to choose. How do we decide what to do and say, and how does godly humility fit into all of this?

How can the same humble Jesus who chose when to end his life be the same one who directly challenged one of his abusers? (See John 18:22-24) How can the gentle Jesus who was approachable in the eyes of children be the same God made Man who turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple? Our beloved Savior often spoke in parables, but He began his public ministry sounding more like John the Baptist, bluntly proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4). Contradictions in His character seemingly abound. Yet, it is in examining the fullness of his actions and words that we discover what it means to be truly humble.

The answer lies in what Jesus says often throughout the book of John. He only did what he saw the Father doing; only spoke the words the Father gave Him. The fullness of humility is in doing the same in obedience to the One we love “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). Just how do we discover what the Father is saying to us? How do we discern what is from God for us to say and do and what is not?

That answer is also revealed in the life model of our Lord. Jesus made it a habit to get away from the people and the busyness of ministry to be alone and pray. Imagine if your mission was to turn the world upside down in three short years? Jesus had to rely on the leading of the Father and be one in Him to accomplish His life’s work. Be it under great ministry success or personal sorrow, this was Priority Number One- and out of that intimate relationship, Jesus ministered in full humility and obedience regardless of the task at hand.

May it be the same with us as we continue to walk out the individual mission God Himself has given each of us!

October 10, 2017

Three Vintage Posters for the Magic Kingdom

Got to love these retro / vintage Florida travel posters! Especially when they are of places you like to go. Like Walt Disney World

The now defunct National Airlines released this posted before the grand opening of the Magic Kingdom in 1971. They clearly were not given an advance look at the art for Cinderella Castle. What you see is an idea of it looking a bit too much like its California cousin over at Disneyland.  Balloons cover a multitude of artistic sins.

Delta Airlines had a better deal- be it before or after opening, at least their version of the castle was accurate. The Tropical Serenade building got a bit of promotion as well. More balloons. 

In my opinion, the best, the most colorful, and the most inviting poster had to be Eastern Airlines' wonderful look at the whole Vacation Kingdom. The birds of the Serenade still had prominence, but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine voyage and the Haunted Mansion show up as well. "The Wings of Man" airline poster did not feature its sponsored attraction, If You Had Wings, but the beloved blast from the past wouldn't open until later.


(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company and National,Delta, and Eastern airlines.)

October 9, 2017

Bi-Polar

First snowstorm of the winter. And it's very, very early this year. Last year, we made it through October and more than half of November before the snow came. Fall was lengthy and lovely, the colors so bright and strong. Since it lasted so long, I saw some of my plants change color that I didn't even realize they did so.

This year, it's a different story. And although it will be relatively warm tomorrow, the color will be gone. Such is October in Colorado.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

October 6, 2017

Port Disney from the Sky

You're seen the view from the sky. Now, take a look at the incredible concept art for a project that inspired Tokyo Disney Sea. The name was to be Port Disney, and it was intended for Long Beach, California - or it was only intended to be a concept to make the city of Anaheim pony up loads of cash and tax benefits to build the infrastructure around Disneyland.  This was necessary in order to make expansion of the resort feasible. Depends on who you ask, actually. Could be what's happening with that parking garage fiasco that never should have happened.

The bait and switch- which I personally believe as I don't trust much press from the Company I love these days - ended up with Disney getting what they wanted in Orange County. But, lo and behold! Promise Anaheim Westcot and end up building the tepid  Disney's California Adventure 1.0, the most off-the-shelf cheap and edgy park ever built up until that time. Soarin' Over California aside, it was a muddled mess! Made up of clones of Walt Disney World attractions, common carny rides, and a whole lot of film among highly decorated shops and expensive restaurants, it was a poor excuse for anything with the Disney name on it. Particularly right next door to the original. When the new younger sister finally opened, she was not a beauty.  

Things became worse when it was compared directly to the lovely, inspiring, expensive but thoroughly groundbreaking Tokyo Disney Sea which opened shortly after, and it was a clear misstep and an embarrassment.  

Thought they'd fool the guests, but the guests were too smart to be taken for a ride. Pun intended. Years later, after a Billion plus dollars in investment, the park finally feels like a Disney theme park and not Six Flags. Will they ruin it with Marvel? Perhaps. But it will most certainly be better in every way than it was in 2001. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 4, 2017

アメリカ人は日本のディズニーパークファンの嫉妬深い

"Amerikahito wa Nihon no dizunīpākufan no shittobukai." Yes, that is what the title of this post is. OK, it's a Japanese phrase that actually - and accurately- means the following:  "We Americans are jealous of Disney Park fans in Japan." 

This incredible photo from the sky shows Mount Prometheus at the still amazing Tokyo Disney Sea. The other Asia parks, even Shanghai Disneyland, cannot compare with the place. Hong Kong Disneyland may have Mystic Manor and Shanghai the stunning, shiny, version of Pirates of the Caribbean, but overall, nothing compares to the majesty of Tokyo's second park. And just wait until Tokyo Disneyland premiers its new Beauty and the Beast Super "E Ticket" attraction through Beast's castle. It'll be the envy of park fans everywhere.

(Image copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 3, 2017

The Darkness

It's the title of the latest horror movie that you can't avoid. It is what is happening in our country. Is there any movie worse than the latest massacre in Las Vegas? But one more thing: The Darkness is also what is in the heart of every man, woman, and child- and the only way, the only hope, is a life of full submission to the authority of Jesus Christ. There is no other way. Evil will rule in our hearts without Him! You don't believe me? Spend a few minutes thinking about your life and how you live, what you say, and what you think. Every inclination of my heart is evil unless I am submitted to Him. Yours too.

October 2, 2017

Tomorrow is Dead at the Disney Parks

Adventures in Science for Disneyland by Imagineer Herb Ryman. I know, if you're like me, you thought the only Science and Technology attraction Disney ever considered was for EPCOT Center in the 80s. And we'd be wrong. 

This little seen piece of concept art shows the Rocket to the Moon long before it was a set piece in Tomorrowland. (Here's another.) This is all back when it wasn't redo or vintage but a real estimation in art form of what the future should hold.  I miss that part of the Disney theme parks! I loved the forward looking, thinking man's approach to Future World and Tomorrowland

For decades now, these theme park lands have been toon infested in one way or the other. The upcoming announcements will only make it official- "Tomorrow is dead at the Disney Parks".

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 1, 2017

Rare Imagineering Art for Epcot at 35

EPCOT Center was dedicated today 35 years ago. In honor of that, I present to you this beautiful piece of fairly rare concept art by Imagineer Nina Rae Vaughn. Italy never looked so gorgeous!

Unashamedly, I tell you that Epcot is my favorite park in all of Walt Disney World. It is certainly not what it was at opening- not even close in grandeur, scope, scale, and vision, but it is still a pretty amazing way to spend a day. (It used to talk two full days to explore all its wonders!)

There are over 350 articles on this blog alone about this incredible place. Hopefully, the recent and future decisions regarding expansion and changes will make it worthy of another 350.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 30, 2017

Ruining The Voice

Before tomorrow's post honoring the 35th Anniversary of EPCOT Center / Epcot / "IPcot"(to be coming our way sooner than I'd like), I just have to address something on my mind regarding "The Voice". Yes, it's one of my favorite television shows. The live music aspect is fun and the hook of judges initially not seeing the contestants brings some great surprises. However, this season is lacking in a few ways. Or perhaps there's just excess. Excess Miley Cyrus, admittedly slightly more subdued than the past; and excessive anger or something going on with Jennifer Hudson. Does the woman ever really relax or smile? The intensity level just slices off any sense of fun when she's on the screen. And shouldn't a show like this be fun for both judges and contestants? Thank God for staples Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. Otherwise, I'd be gone. Bring back Gwen, or Pharrell, or anyone for that matter- except CeeLo. He's just creepy.

September 28, 2017

Heaven on Earth- A Paradise in Green

Heading up the river to see the famous Fern Grotto in Kaui'i. Another untouched (and probably the last) photograph of our vacation. If Hawaii is this beautiful, I can only imagine what Heaven will be like.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)