Tuesday, January 20, 2015

America's Best Neighbors™

Consider how much television a 10 year-old consumes in any given day. By the time the sun sets, supper is served and bedtime is not far behind, he or she has absorbed ("like a sponge") enough images, words, phrases, story lines, and adult interactions--both good and bad--to fill an entire book! It's occurred to me in recent years, that parents necessarily have to be concerned with two general scenarios, relative to what children are left to process from a day's worth of television viewing (the exact hours are negligible). 

At the end of the day, I suggest that children are left with either feelings of encouragement and hopefulness, or negativity and despair (to varying degrees). In fact, this same scenario applies to adults.

Throughout the years, we've witnessed changes in television broadcasting content and viewers tastes. Nevertheless, there is one fundamental fact that never changes: our need to experience hope with meaning in our lives. This is at once encouraging and positive. It also happens to be the entry point where my television series pilot comes in. 

As I mentioned earlier in the video above, coast to coast in large cities and small towns alike, there are tremendous acts of courage that are often hidden from the national news. One exception is the work of Catholic priest Father Michael Pfleger in Chicago to bring together rival street gangs for a basketball tournament. I first saw Diane Sawyer of ABC News report on Father Pfleger's work in 2012. "Nobody wins in a shoot out", he stated. "We're trying to create an atmosphere that when something comes up, talk it out rather than shoot it out", Father Pfleger added. By helping gang members attain their GED, career training, and jobs, this is truly a tremendous story of merit.

Just the same, there are the smaller scale neighborhood stories that are no further than the person living next door to us (or several houses down the street). Often, it's here where acts of kindness that change lives for the best may not make the 10 O'clock News, but they're taking place. Imagine a weekly television program that identifies these stories of selfless giving and how it motivates viewers through their hearts to take similar action. 

At this stage of our development, we are convinced of the need for this program. We're also confident that the demographic of America's Best Neighbors™ is wide open. This means that you can be 7 years old or 107 and be able to enjoy a 30 minute episode at least once a week. Parents, children and grandparents will each have something to think about days after an episode airs.

Traveling the United States by bus would enable a Spartan crew of videographers, audio and lighting professionals to capture our story of neighbors making a difference. When communities become stronger, our country becomes stronger. It's that simple, and I'll be providing updates as the project moves further along. It  won't be easy. Neither is it impossible.

P. S.: Blogger was not posting to Facebook properly, so I added the video separately. Thanks for the emails about this issue. We worked around the technical problems and succeeded. Cheers


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Vintage Cars That Rock!

 All Photos by Michael Manning

The Russo and Steele Car Show was in Scottsdale Saturday evening. I had just finished working out and decided to stop at this show ahead of Barrett Jackson, which I had to miss in-person this year. Although I snapped about 80 photographs, I've limited myself here to a select number that rocked. I have been writing so much about music legend Neil Young, his books, his car collection, his albums, his PONO Player and bio-electric alternative power for automobiles, that this vintage car collection weekend was a natural wrap up feature.  

This car is a 1958 Cadillac Biarritz. It's for sale if you have $178,000 to hand over. There were approximately 810 that were built and this was a beautifully restored model. To belabor the obvious, the imagination, the creativity, and the clay design studios were amazing during this time period. Here, engineers worked with their hands and sculpting tools to design an automobile, instead of the computer automated designs of today. There is so much detail in how the gauges and the interior looked and felt, how the car handled when you drove it, the prestige associated with the body design and how the fit amongst the panels made you feel when you drove it. Neil Young is right about cars having a soul, particularly these cars. It's a harder argument to make about present day models. But that's just my opinion. Again, pull up to an intersection and notice that nearly all makes of cars today tend to resemble a refrigerator on wheels--not very exciting. What's happened to us? Perhaps it's complacency. What is undeniable is that these older automobiles had personality! 


 Here is a 1958 Cadillac Coupe De Ville, criticized by many for it's lavish use of chrome and tail fins. It became the last car to enjoy this treatment. Interestingly, in the Cadillac family, if you look forward from 1958 to the mid 1960's, the design influences of prestige and style are still present, just defined and presented differently.

Immense sloping glass and interior comfort. This is one example of what I call the "Frank Lloyd Wright" of automobiles, as far as I'm concerned.

There's a fun story behind this 1958 Ford Fairlane. My Dad briefly owned a hardtop, albeit, without the fuzzy dice and the Continental kit you'll see in a moment. The car turned out to be a "lemon" and he sold it. It was old when he bought it. 

 Yes, it was a simpler time, and thankfully, cars today do have better safety systems. 

Come to think of it, my Dad's car never had the rear wheel fender skirts either. I know this from viewing photos. But here you can see the extended rear bumper, s a component of the "Continental Kit" that held a full spare tire. Our car never had this feature. The retractable top was being demonstrated at the auto show, and I snapped some sequence photos. 

 I had to include this 1966 Ford Mustang convertible, with the American Racing Wheels as a very nice touch. Simply stated, this car was beautiful, exciting, sporty and spoke directly to youth.

 The factory air conditioning is antiquated by today's standards.

This is a good Midwestern car for me to close out this photo blog--a 1966 Chevrolet Nova II Super Sport, with a 350 V-8 that produced 400 horsepower. This car was very good looking and fast. A neighbor of mine on another street owned a soft yellow version of this car, with Hooker headers and a customized suspension. This car was popular on drag strips across the United States. When it cruised down my street at 20 miles per hour (with the headers capped), it was still a car that commanded respect. We kids stopped everything we were doing to watch it drive by. It's a wonder that we didn't salute it!

This car was selling for $31,000 at the show. My theory is that most "soccer Mom's",given the chance to drive this car over a mini-van or an SUV would probably be grinning ear to ear shifting through the gears. It was a beautiful car for its time. All good fun!


Friday, January 16, 2015

Neil Young Live at Massey Hall 1971

Photos of Michael Manning's CD by--Michael Manning

There is something so pure, relaxed, casual and rich about seeing and hearing a musical artist on tour with only an acoustic guitar, without a backup band. This was particularly true for this author of Shelby Lynne's "Revelation Road" tour, her live recording from McCabe's Guitar Shop, and of course the incomparable guitarist Laurence Juber, former lead guitarist with Paul McCartney and Wings. It's been a genuine privilege for me to have met and chatted with both of these artists. 

In recent weeks, I've been rediscovering Neil Young's catalog of music with the excitement of a kid. This 1971 performance released in 2007 on CD is my latest "after work Record Store Trade". 

One point of pride about my vinyl LP and CD collection is that I actually listen to everything! The only exception is a 78 rpm record of Frank Sinatra that was acquired last summer for $2 and in great condition; yes, my turntable does have twin speed adjustments, but not 78 rpm. 

At the outset, I intend to acquire a PONO player to re-listen to my Neil Young vinyl and CD's, and this particular recording is a gem to enjoy even in the car yesterday afternoon (when it is 70 degrees outside with clear blue skies and sunshine and in rush hour traffic). Released four months ahead of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Four Way Street", and a year ahead of the highly regarded LP "Harvest", Young announces early in the performance that he's decided to "play mostly new songs tonight." Interestingly, there is no harmonica present, just vocals, acoustic guitar and piano.  

My understanding is that this is the second release of Young's Archive Performance Series. In the recording, Young's brief banter about a song written between Detroit and Chicago ("Love in Mind"), his newly acquired farm, and a practical request of the audience to refrain from taking photos until he is through with performing a song (to avoid distraction) is authentic. The music is pure and unobtrusive, and quite a unique experience from this artist, apart from his excellent backup group Crazy Horse. 

Long before the words "unplugged" or "stripped down" were used to great marketing effect, many artists have shined as solo acoustic performers, including Jon Bon Jovi, Stephen Stills and Kris Kristofferson. This 1971 performance of course, presents the opportunity for enhanced sound technology and a revisiting of Young closer to the beginning of his still- unfolding and vibrant career.   


The January 19, 1971 concert, "Massey Hall 1971" was part of Young's solo tour, and is my definition of an intimate concert. It allows the audience to focus on this very unique singer/songwriter. 

On a personal note, I've pretty much completed my "spring cleaning" of musical LP's and CD's that stood unused, and traded them in for fresh music offerings, as is evident with this recording. It is nothing short of a delight. 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Afterglow Trilogy Finale

Reprise Records
Getting fully caught up these past eleven days from my Holiday trip has kept me busy. Part of the joy of a New Year is that, to a certain extent, you get to take a longer look at the next twelve months ahead and consider new and exciting directions.

From handling the more mundane tasks of bills, catching up on the mail, and planning out a couple of magazine projects, I've also enjoyed listening to Neil Young vinyl LP's, including his eighth studio release, "American Stars and Bars". There is simply no better combination of background singers than Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson. I've thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reprise Records
Below, I've included some final photos of Christmas and New Year's 'Afterglow' around my neighborhood as part of my blog series. 
Photos--Michael Manning
Celebrating the weekend...
A wagon wheel, a Harley and the boulevard...
Still festive...
Simpler lights up close...
The bells have been rung...
Many Christmas Trees are being trucked away, but some greenery remains...

Life is a celebration...

It's important to keep the spirit of the excitement and promise of new possibilities in 2015 for each of us. I felt that a new Welcome mat was a great way to signal a fresh start here at home. 

What new directions or projects are you considering?


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Afterglow Part 2, or "Walkin' After Midnight"

All Photos by Michael Manning
When I was a little kid, taking long walks at night after dinner with my Dad was a huge thrill for me. Today, I still love to take walks at night. An argument could be made that this is when I'm at my creative best. Problem-solving comes easier, and ideas for new projects come along. Here is a cool building that I spotted along my walk last night. When we were kids, I guess it never occurred to us that graphic artists could create painted signs to look vintage. For what it's worth The temperature was 64 degrees.  

If I were a betting man, I'd suggest that Bob Seger's song "Main Street" probably didn't  look like this in his mind when he wrote it. But I digress. The Christmas lights are still up, and mine have come down at home. 

This is actually a popular plaza area in the summer for small kids, because there is a fountain that shoots water up from the ground high into the air. The kids, dressed in swimming trunks, enjoy running in between the water jets and there is much laughter--one of life's most beautiful sounds to hear. 

There is a summer concert series here, although I've never really attended it because the bands were never my style. During my first year in Scottsdale--December 2007--Rachael Ray held a cooking class here, and if you've ever heard Rachael, you know that she speaks fast and uses acronyms such as "E-V-O-O" (Extra Virgin Olive Oil). My Mom is a fan of cooking shows, so I called her long-distance and held up my cell phone for her to guess who was here around Christmas that year.  

Sage came to mind on this shot, because his daughter recently told him that she loves trees covered with lights. I'd like to dedicate this shot to her! If you've never been to Sage's blog site, "Musings", it is incredible. My friend travels throughout the United States and the world by back pack, canoe and kayak. He also reviews a wide variety of books, but is not as verbose as I tend to be.  

Here are the trees up close. In the background, there are some cool retail shops on the ground level, with fancy lofts on the second floor that cost a fortune. One tenant has hung his motorcycle in the window as an artistic expression. It's actually very interesting to see. 

How many of you remember the line from the motion picture "Wall Street", where Michael Douglas tells his intern (played by Charlie Sheen) to go out and get some furniture for his new apartment so that it doesn't look like he furnished it from Crate & Barrel? I still laugh about that. Talk about swagger! In the event that the CEO of Crate & Barrel is reading this, don't be upset. My point is that this store still has the Holiday Spirit! 

Here's my opinion about bookstores and libraries that close down for good. This is never good for anyone: the employees who lose jobs, or the public at large. I almost asked to speak to the manager when I was informed in early December that this store was closing, but decided it was an exercise in futility. An employee told me that the property owners decided not to renew their lease. Had they merged with Borders Books, the transaction may have ended up taking down Barnes & Noble the way Studebaker took down Packard before any of us were born (Google it). Our commodity-driven environment makes it very hard for a bookstore to carry millions of dollars in inventory, compared with the business model of Half Price Books, which carries recycled books and used vinyl LP's. A nice store, I wish them well. 

Okay, let me lighten things up and end this post with a more pleasant story. I dated a wonderful lady who was (unfortunately) only in town living near her parents temporarily. She ended up moving elsewhere, but found work in a Victoria Secret retail store. My friends can attest to this next statement. She was so down to earth and never saw herself as beautiful. But truthfully, every time we walked into a restaurant, heads would turn and people would just stop in mid-conversation to stare at her, which of course made her very uncomfortable. Ironically, she looked every bit as lovely as the Victoria Secret models, and this poster reminded me of her. I know, guys. "The one who got a away". Film at 11. 

Singer/songwriter Rick Springfield was challenged some time ago by this company in court over the title of his song, "What's Victoria's Secret?" The judge sided with Rick and tossed the suit out the window. I don't know what Victoria's Secret is personally, but the song is catchy. 

The New Year is well underway. See you soon!


Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Christmas and New Years Afterglow...

All Photos by Michael Manning
Although I was tired after last night's workout, I decided that there is such a great opportunity in Scottsdale, Arizona to cruise around and notice some wonderful hold-outs from the recent Christmas and New Year's Holidays. As a Macedonian-Bulgarian by descent, I can tell you that most of us leave our trees and decorations up until January 6th. That's our tradition, and I think it's a nice one to savor. I seem to "savor" everything these days. I like to think that I don't miss as much as I used to. In fact, I keep a daily Gratitude List, which can be challenging. But on the other hand, it reinforces good and positive people and acts of kindness around us. 

"Afterglow" is curiously also the title of the fifth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan, whom I first heard with the release of her CD "Surfacing". Can it really be 12 years ago that "Afterglow" was released? Anyway, I recently had a girl email me to ask if I was all hung up on Canadian musicians. I felt this was an unusual question, but I thought about it a while before responding to her that this was not the case. 

As a kid, I admired Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley as singers. In fact, the first couple of Waylon songs that caught my ear were "The Days of Sand and Shovels" and "Somethings Wrong in California". When my parents went out and left me home alone, I loved walking downstairs into our basement garage (strangely enough, the only house on our street where I grew up that had such a garage) and I sang these songs a capella, because I loved the echo! I have a bass baritone voice and to me this was a huge thrill! We were inventive kids in the days before The Internet. 

With Elvis, the first songs that grabbed my attention were "Burning Love", and his live rendition of Tony Joe White's "Polk Salad Annie". Later, I remember riding in someone's Volkswagon bug when "In the Ghetto"  came on over a static-ridden AM station. One of his last hits, "Way Down" struck me as real rock n roll that kicked butt. Sarah McLachlan...

Aside from being a beautiful and interesting lady, Sarah founded the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach program in Vancouver. With music and extra-curricular activities curtailed throughout much of the high schools in the U.S. (an unfortunate action that has helped breed trouble and violence for kids at night who otherwise have no outlet for their creative energies), this school provides the funding for disadvantaged children to receive music lessons. So, it's not a "Canadian hang up" as this kind reader suggested. It's people creating worthwhile initiatives. I still enjoy Waylon and Elvis records to this day. Onward...

 My Mom recently reminded me of a memory she had of pulling me around the yard during December on my Champion brand sled, even though there was no snow on the lawn! We had a great laugh about this, and I vaguely remember this event. Just the same, I officially "authenticated" the memory. My sister also pulled me around the house as a tyke in a cardboard box during the winter. It was good fun. 

This tree is one of many that stands in a very cool office building lobby in Scottsdale. The building, while modernistic, makes a bow to Frank Lloyd Wright. For some strange reason, more than 80 percent of this building has been empty since I moved out here. Many of you know I love architecture, and admire Reverend Robert Schuller's study of the work of Phillip Johnson and others. Bob is not well these days, and my thoughts and prayers go out to him. 

I'd wake up as a little kid in my pajamas on Sundays to watch "The Hour of Power" with the volume very low, so as not to wake up my parents. I was captivated by this sincere man with a positive message. His church originally incorporated an old 1950's drive in theater outside in Garden Grove, California. I attended four services in 2006 at the former Crystal Cathedral. I was actually privileged to meet Bob and I'll never forget him. He is exactly as you remember him, very genuine.  

Betty White once told Larry King on one of his last appearances on CNN that what was so fascinating about her late husband, Allen Ludden, was that he genuinely found everybody he met to be fascinating. Betty said this lent a magnificent quality to their dating and marriage. Bob is the same way in his love of people, their noble projects and faith. 

I kept the Christmas lights simple this year. It's pretty clear to me that I won't be asked to decorate anyone's house next Christmas. But inside, I had warm cider and plenty of good music. 

It's good to leave the Christmas Tree up just a bit longer, for the afterglow.