Monday, June 28, 2021

Chicago in 2021: The Band That Still Makes People Smile

Fifty-three years later, the rock and roll band with horns is still going strong.

Billed as An Evening with Chicago and Their Greatest Hits, the band formerly known as Chicago Transit Authority (nee The Big Thing) landed in Dallas on Saturday night. As a Houstonian, I had planned to attend the Houston show the following night, but my son and I were in the Metroplex for the weekend and opted to see them at the venue formerly known as the Starplex. 

What made the show even more special was the folks with whom we attended the concert: my best friend since high school and his daughter. This was not just any old best friend. This was the guy who, in the summer of 1985, handed me a cassette copy of Chicago IX: Greatest Hits with the offhand comment that I'd know about half the songs and like the rest. I knew none of the songs, but was in love with the whole album. Thus began my fandom with Chicago and our concert-going experiences started a couple of years later. Starting in the late 80s and early 90s, after we both had vehicles and enough disposable income for concerts, we would often catch the Houston show one night and then drive to Dallas to see the show the next night (or vice versa). For the summer shows, it was always at the Starplex, so it was like coming full circle to bring our kids. 

Another friend, this time a college-era fellow marching band sax player, found me among the throng. On his Facebook post, he had a photo of both the 2021 eTicket and the ticket stub from the 1989 Austin show. We were at the 1989 show and now, thirty-two years later, we were at the same show again. He brought his daughter to keep alive the joy this music brings. 

I made a point not to look at the setlist ahead of time, an easy thing considering the Dallas show was only the third on the tour. But let's be honest: when the advertising is billed as a greatest hits show and the band is Chicago and it's 2021, you know what's going to be played. You go because it's Chicago. You go with your son because he is now a fan. You go with the guy who first introduced you to the band, the same guy with whom you sing all the horn breaks and all the little ad libs from the albums--like Terry Kath's 'woo oohs' in Make Me Smile or Robert Lamm's spoken vocals on Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is. You know what you're going to get.

But then the band surprises you.

The Surprises

Even though I got on the Chicago Train in 1985--the height of the ballad-heavy, Peter Cetera and David Foster sound--over the years, I have come to appreciate all eras of the band. Over time, my favorite song shifted until it has settled on Introduction, the Terry Kath-written tune that showed up on track one on the debut album. I often marvel at bands who release their Mission Statement Song right out of the gate, and Chicago is one of them. Yet Introduction isn't a song that shows up on the myriad of greatest hits albums. Would they play it? If so, I'd be a happy man.

As soon as the band walked out and said hello to us, I heard those first two notes. There are a handful of tunes that are great concert openers--a favorite is Along Comes a Woman where the horns make their entrance just in time for the horn break--but Introduction is a perfect way to start this set. As is befitting his tenure in the band, Lamm sung Kath's vocals and, despite a quirk in the soundboard mix which softened his voice, he made the band's original guitarist proud. 

From there, they segued into another cut from the first album, Question 67 & 68. Originally sung by Cetera, vocalist Neil Donell now sings the tenor part. This was my first time to see Donell in concert but not my first time to hear him. His vocals on Chicago 37: Christmas (2019) are spectacular and I was excited to hear how he put his own spin on those songs sung by Cetera and Jason Scheff (I never got to hear Jeff Coffey). I'll admit it's a little odd to have a bass player (Brett Simons) who doesn't sing lead and a lead singer who doesn't play an instrument, but I quickly got over it. Donell has a naturally high voice that doesn't hit falsetto and more than once during the show, he belted out a high, powerful note and held it. I love that he relishes the adoration of the fans as he sings these great songs. 

Dialogue marked the first time Lou Pardini sang lead. A replacement for both Kath and Bill Champlin, I have grown to really appreciate how Pardini interprets his lead vocals, particularly his phrasing. He's not singing Kath's parts like the record nor does he mimic the soulful Champlin's delivery. He's doing his own thing, holding out a note here, changing a note there, and truly making these classic hits his own. This was on full display in the biggest surprise of the night.

Late in the first set, Pardini came down center stage and started playing a keyboard set up for him. Only bassist Simons and Keith Howland on acoustic guitar accompanied him. He chatted with the audience over his playing then dropped the hint as to the song he's about to sing. He mentioned this song was a number one hit in 1989 and I instantly knew it's going to be Look Away. Over the years, Chicago 19 has risen in my personal list to where it now sits: my third favorite album, my favorite 80s-era album, and the album that contains my favorite Chicago song from the 1980s: You're Not Alone. With Champlin and Scheff gone from the band, I just chalked up the Chicago 19 songs as those the current iteration would never play. When that familiar keyboard riff started, I was over the moon.

I love the original version, I enjoyed the full-band version with Champlin, I really enjoyed the acoustic version Champlin started playing in 1995, but this 2021 version of the song with Pardini was truly special. Again, his phrasing really brings out the anguish the lyrics express. What I loved also is that the band brought horns into this original horn-less ballad, something they've done for all the 80s ballads. Pardini's interpretation of Look Away and his wonderful lead vocals on Chicago 37, especially I'd Do It All Again (Christmas Moon), make me smile every time. And I was grinning ear to ear on Saturday after Look Away.

But the band wasn't finished surprising me. Late in the second set, they broke out Street Player from Chicago 13. I know a lot of fans don't enjoy this album, but I enjoy the two-album Donnie Dacus era (Hot Streets and Chicago 13), and Chicago 13 still stands as my favorite album cover. As you can expect, Donell was able to hit those high notes with ease, even starting the song sounding like the remix many of us know.

They played all the 80s ballads, but the one that really seemed to hit the audience the most was Hard To Say I'm Sorry. Not sure what it is about this tune--maybe because it was the first 80s ballad--but most of the audience pulled out their cellphones and activated the flashlight feature in place of the lighters we all lit back in the day. Everyone was singing along and it was a blast.

Saturday in the Park is always in the set, but mainly it's been in the first quarter or third. When they broke it out after the raucous Get Away, it made for a great song placement. It's a sing-a-long tune and by placing arguably Lamm's most famous vocal at the end of the show, kicked the song's prominence up a notch.

And, as always, they closed out with 25 or 6 to 4. I mean, how else do you end a 30-song, three-hour Chicago concert? Agreed. No other way.

The Afterglow and the Reality

I can't count the number of times I've seen Chicago, but scheduling has prevented me from seeing them for the past few years. As a deep fan who often eschews the hits on my personal playlists in favor of the deep cuts (Mother [Carnegie version], Now That You've Gone, This Time, Hot Streets, Take a Chance, Reruns, Manipulation, If It Were You, all of Stone of Sisyphus, Come to Me Do, and I Can't Let Go all get constant spins), it was a thrill to hear the old classics again. Because they are the classics that will live on past the day the Chicago Train finally pulls into the station and the members disembark, confident they have earned their rest after five decades on the road.

Because let's be honest: the original guys are not getting any younger. They are in their seventies now. Founding trombonist and songwriter James Pankow wasn't there as he's recovering from surgery, leaving Lamm and trumpeter Lee Loughnane as the only ones still carrying the flag first picked up in 1967. Unless the newer guys continue on under the banner of Chicago after Loughnane and Lamm call it a day, there's going to be that last Chicago show. 

Even now, as I write this, a wave of emotion washes over me thinking about it. David Bowie, another of my four all-time favorite rock acts (KISS and Bruce Springsteen are the others), is already gone from this world and the shock of his death prevented me from truly enjoying his songs for awhile. Thankfully, back in April 2004, I got to see him, my third time. Turned out, a mere two months later, Bowie suffered the heart attack that ended his live touring career. 

In a recent interview with Jimmy Pardo from the Never Not Funny podcast, Pankow commented that the band used the COVID pandemic to write some new material for a new Chicago album. The lightening bolt of joy that coursed through me upon hearing those words was almost instantly tamped down by Pankow's follow-up comment: that it would likely be the band's last. 

Everything is finite, but music isn't. We still listen to Bach, Mozart, Bernstein, and McCartney/Lennon and will for decades to come. So, too, will we hear and enjoy the songs of Chicago, in all its iterations.

The Challenge

Why am I ending this review on a somber note? Well, it's to implore you with this thought. If you're on the fence about seeing Chicago in 2021, get off it and go see the show. 

You know their songs. You've danced at school dances to their ballads. You've driven down the highway with the windows open and their music blaring from your speakers. You've grown up with their songs and now have passed them down to your kids (and maybe even their kids). Their music is a part of the fabric of who you are. Now go see the guys who made the music and are still making the music. 

A thought occurred to me as I drove back to the hotel on Saturday night. In that immediate afterglow, I was reminded why I love this band so much. But those thoughts of the finite also passed through me. Did I just see my last Chicago show? Maybe. Maybe not. 

But if circumstances dictate that I have, then my last Chicago show--with my son at my side and my best friend and his daughter on the other--was perfect.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Seventy Years On, The Thing From Another World Still Delivers the Goods, And a New Warning

After watching Them! the other week, I decided to keep going and watch my other favorite science fiction film from the 1950s, The Thing From Another World. Released in the spring of 1951, this is a Howard Hawks's production based on "Who Goes There?" a novella by John E. Campbell from 1938. Chances are good you probably already know the plot--either from this film, the 1982 version starring Kurt Russell--but I'll give you gist.

Up in a remote scientific station in Alaska, a team of Air Force men led by Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and reporter Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer) are sent up to investigate reports of a nearby crash. Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) heads the scientific team and his secretary is an old flame of Hendry's, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan). The men fly to the crash site and discover what looks to be a tail of an aircraft sticking out of the ice. They spread out to the edges of the dark shape under the ice and what results is one of the my favorite shots in all of science fiction films: they're standing in a circle and they've discovered a flying saucer.

The team also discovers the pilot, frozen in a block of ice. Naturally, they haul the block back to the station and thus ensues the human conflict. Carrington wants to study the alien while Hendry follows the last orders he'd received prior to a winter storm: leave the creature in the ice. No one is happy, least of all one of the guys who is standing watch over the block of ice. He covers the block with a blanket--that just happens to be an electric blanket which is plugged in--and soon, the creature is defrosted. 

After the team recover the Thing's severed arm--the result of a fight with the sled dogs--the scientists realize the alien is actually an advanced form of a plant. Convinced it is intelligent and envious of all the things he could learn from it, Carrington wants to communicate with it. Captain Hendry wants to kill it, especially after they learn the Thing feeds on the blood of the sled dogs and, naturally, two of the scientists it has killed. Interestingly, Carrington is willing to die for science and thinks all the others should be equally as willing.

The ensuing scenes follow the team as they try and figure out how to kill the Thing with the limited resources they have on hand. With this being a black-and-white film, we get some great shots. There's the one in the doorway.

The Thing on fire.

Carrington's attempt to "grow" new aliens from the blood plasma they have on hand for emergencies.

And the finale, where they design a method to electrocute the Thing.

Science vs. the Military

In many SF films, there are always opposing sides to any first-contact issue, and they are on full display here. Unlike 1954's Them, the military guys don't trust Carrington and his scientific team to do the right thing, that being kill the alien. There's a line about the atomic bomb here that's used as the reason scientists can't be trusted. Coming only six years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki--and two years after the Soviets also got the bomb--the fear is palpable. Even the sporadic orders Hendry receives from his superiors wants him to keep the alien alive. But what are humans to do when confronted with a life form determined to survive itself using human blood? In Them, the lead scientist has zero qualms about killing the giant ants. In The Thing, the scientist is willing to die for knowledge.

The Limitations of 1950s Filmmaking

If you've read the novella or seen the 1982 version, you'll know that the Thing can actually shape-shift. Well, not really shape shift but more like it can imitate other forms it encounters, including other humans. Back in 1951, that would be a difficult thing to pull off convincingly, so Howard Hawks dressed up James Arness, the future Matt Dillon himself, as the alien and allowed him to wreck havoc on the humans. 

The Last Warning

I've always had a fondness for this version of the Thing and find it perfectly acceptable for its time. It's a great snapshot of American life in 1951, with the camaraderie of the military men and the discussion about settling down. Sure, it's not perfectly aligned with the novella, but the movie works on multiple levels. It's a basic Kill the Alien type movie while still being about American life in general, less than a decade after World War II and in the early days of the Cold War and the Korean War.

This fear is catalyzed perfectly in the last scene with a great, short speech by reporter Ned Scott.* Finally allowed to send out his story, Scott delivers the following:

Ned Scott: All right, fellas, here's your story: North Pole, November Third, Ned Scott reporting. One of the world's greatest battles was fought and won today by the human race. Here at the top of the world a handful of American soldiers and civilians met the first invasion from another planet. A man by the name of Noah once saved our world with an ark of wood. Here at the North Pole, a few men performed a similar service with an arc of electricity. The flying saucer which landed here and its pilot have been destroyed, but not without causalities among our own meager forces. I would like to bring to the microphone some of the men responsible for our success... but as Senior Air force officer Captain Hendry is attending to demands over and above the call of duty... Doctor Carrington, the leader of the scientific expedition, is recovering from wounds received in the battle.

Eddie: [Softly] Good for you, Scotty.

Ned Scott: And now before giving you the details of the battle, I bring you a warning: Everyone of you listening to my voice, tell the world, tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the skies. Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!

"Keep watching the skies." A perfect sentence that crystallized the paranoia and fear of the Cold War, where Americans have realized their oceans no longer protected them from attack when the enemy could fly planes over the United States and drop nuclear weapons on our cities. Here in 2021, after a year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic In which our oceans also didn't protect us, what else should we keep watching?

*I've always wondered if Gene Roddenberry enjoyed this film enough to name Star Trek's chief engineer Scotty.

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Summer 2021 Box of Comics

If there's one great thing about ebooks and electric comics is that you can carry potentially your entire library on vacation. 

But that wasn't always the case back in the days before Kindles and iPads. No, back then, you'd have to be judicious with what you wanted to read while on vacation because you'd have to carry everything. In my adulthood, I would spend almost as much time deciding on what books and magazine to bring on a vacation as I did on my entire vacation's wardrobe. I know I'm not alone here. I mean, as much as I enjoyed the 800-page, hard cover history book was I reading, there was no way it found it's way into my backpack for reading on a plane. 

Before adulthood, however, there was another factor that determined what we might bring on a vacation: our parents. I remember my youth in the 70s when we'd go on vacation, my parents would not let me take EVERY comic I owned. Even as an only child, it was just not feasible to bring them all. A friend of mine were talking this week and he mentioned his mom told him he could only bring ten comics on their annual trips. He always prioritized the 100-page giants and the like so he could maximize his reading experience. I did something similar. 

Most of the time, those issues would have a then-current story backed with multiple reprints ranging from the 1940s to the 1960s. In an era where back issues were few and far between, these issues rocked. Well, unless is some crappy story feature Prince Valiant or some Viking nonsense. Didn’t like it then. Still don’t. 

Summer 2021

One of my summer projects is to catalog all my comics. I’m almost done. A nice side effect was seeing all these old issues. Some of them have distinct memories associated with them. Others—many others—do not. In fact, I started culling many issues. “Why the heck did I buy that one?” I asked myself more than once.

Seeing all these issues made me want to read them again. Sure, I could keep all my long boxes in the front room all summer, but I think we know how that would go over with the rest of the family. So I made my own Summer 2021 comic box. I’ll probably go back and pull a few other issues, but mainly, the titles I want to read are in this box.

Those thicks ones are those awesome black-and-white reprints where you get 500 pages of comics in a single volume, the modern equivalent to those old 100-page giants.

I’ve been reading through the Master of Kung Fu collection for a little while, but I’ve sped up knowing the movie is on its way. The others are just hankering I’ve been having: 70s-era Marvel books I never read back in the day.

Marvel also published eight magazine-sized Doc Savage issues, all black-and-white. I have them all, but I’ve only read the first one.

This is one where I remember buying it but have zero memory of it. I like the 70s and 80s when comics artists and writers would just try anything, like apparently making a quarterback into a super hero. Sure.

I have a ton of Superman tiles, second only to Batman. But this Time and Time Again series is something that looks interesting.

Then there are titles like this. Have to read it for the historical value.

I discovered a few X-Files comics which are in the box, but that also led to re-discover this entry where the Dark Knight is abducted. 

This issue of Detective is one of the earliest I ever had. Can’t remember the story, but I will this summer. You can see the frayed edges of a well-loved book.

I’ve got a few novels lined up to read, but I think the Summer of 2021 will be comic heavy.

So, did your parents limit the number of novels and comics for your trips? Did you get to buy some on the road? And what specific comics can you remember reading during the summers?

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Embrace the Differences: The Raiders of the Lost Ark Novelization

Raiders of the Lost Ark turns forty today. Hard to believe, sometimes. I still remember watching Siskel and Ebert gush over the movie. Youthful though I was--twelve--Harrison Ford had already become my favorite actor because he was Han Solo. Who knew Indiana Jones was just around the corner.

To commemorate the movie's anniversary, I decided to do something I had never done before: read the novelization by Campbell Black. Yeah, I had the book back in the day. Yeah, I remember cracking it open. But I also know I never finished it. Heck, I don't even remember getting that far into the book before stopping it. I have no memory why. Unlike Star Wars--where I devoured every morsel of news, read every book, and bought every comic--I don't remember doing the same thing with Raiders. It is possible I didn't continue with the novelization because of the differences. Now, forty years later, those differences are fantastic.

Raiders is one of my Top 5 all-time movies. I have no idea how many times I've seen it, but those clips in the Siskel and Ebert segment are all familiar. It's probably one of your favorite movies, too. I can "see" the movie in my head when I listen to John Williams's brilliant score. But the novel was a nice breath of fresh air. 

Early Days of the Canon

Campbell Black is the pen name of Campbell Armstrong, a Scottish writer, who wrote over twenty-five novels. Few pieces of information exist on the internet about him, but his bibliography notes Raiders was this third, and final, movie novelization. 

In the one interview he did for, Black comments that he "wrote Jones as I saw him. An adventurer, yes, but I always felt there was a slight melancholy side to him. I don't think Lucasfilm really approved of this, but from my point of view I couldn't write the novel if I had to base it on the character in the script - I found him shallow and shadowy, all action and no thought, and I wanted to add some kind of internal process to him, which I think I did. Up to a point."

As much as I enjoy the extensive universe other writers created with Indiana Jones (and Star Wars, too), there's something special about a single writer, very early on, looking at stills and the script and crafting a story as he sees it. No canon, no interlaced movies, no franchise, no established backstory, just a script and one writer's ideas on how scenes of a movie can be stitched together into a coherent novel.

Like Alan Dean Foster, who ghostwrote the Star Wars novelization, Black must have had access to an earlier script because the differences between the movie we know so well and the events in the novel are sometimes striking, but that's what makes the experience so rewarding. 

The Movie is Not the Novelization

I'm not sure what happened to my original copy of the novel. I had the version with black on the cover. The paperback I read this week was published in 1989, after Last Crusade, so it has a white cover. Soon after I started reading the South America prelude, I took a pencil and began annotating the differences.

In a movie, editors can make cuts and swipes and change scenes. You can do the same in a novel, but Black provides a lot of connective tissue between scenes. Just how did Indy get to Nepal? Well, Black describes in detail all the travel and driving Indy did, even throwing in a new character, Lin-Su. Granted, he doesn't do the same for the journey from Nepal to Cairo, but who cares.

I enjoyed the languid pace of the novelization. As much as I enjoy the movie and all that it delivers, there's something to be said for the same story delivered via text over a number of days. What Black does is what novels do well: get into the heads of the characters. We hear the inner thoughts of Indy, Marion, and Belloq. They all prove quite compelling in Black's hands, adding layers and nuances to each character. 

Belloq, for example, proves himself more competitive and mercenary than Paul Freeman portrays him in the film. With Freeman, you could almost side with Belloq in his quest for the Ark and the secrets it holds. In the novel, he's depicted very much as borderline insane with his single-minded devotion to getting the Ark and using it before Hitler gets his hands on it. 

Speaking of Belloq, something occurred to me that I never considered in forty years. It's regarding the headpiece to the staff of Ra. Belloq gets his version of the headpiece because the words are burned into Toht's hand. With that, Belloq makes his calculations. Indy, however, needs the Imam to read and interpret the words on the headpiece. Did Indy not know that language?

Key Differences

This is what you want to know, right? Well, let me get to it.

South America 

- The pit over which Indy and Sapito swing is actually obscured. Sapito nearly falls into the pit because he steps into the cobwebs covering the pit.

-Indy takes a swig from a flask as he reaches the idol. [Love this]


There are a few scenes not at all in the movie. They are from the point of view of Dietrich, the main German officer as played by Wolf Kahler. Dietrich never trusts Belloq and we get many internal thoughts from the German. It also explains how Belloq came to be employed by Hitler. Later, during the Cairo scenes, we get a few more scenes from Dietrich's POV, irritated at Belloq's pomposity.


It is certainly implied that Indy is a womanizer, all but taking an undergrad per semester. This is part of the apparent--but never explained--backstory with Indy and Marion. Based on the book, she might as been as young as sixteen when the mid-twenties Indy had a relationship with her. 


-There's a nighttime scene between Indy and Marion and whether or not they they'll hook up. It includes their actual first kiss and we get the skeevy take from Indy about how well the woman kisses versus the child from his past.

-The Imam who reads the markings on the headpiece is the one who puts into Indy's head the idea that no mortal should look at the contents of the Ark. It is the Imam's warning Indy remembers at the end.

Tanis Dig

-There is no scene between Belloq and Marion where she puts on the dress and tries to drink him under the table. In its place is Marion's seemingly being under Belloq's spell. They actually kiss and she all but succumbs to him. 

-Belloq actually sees all the lightening that floods the sky when Indy and his friends open the Well of the Souls. 

Truck Chase

-Toht is in the car that flies off the cliff. He dies here and doesn't get his face melted at the end.

-Black describes how the Germans discovered which pirate ship is carrying the Ark.

The Island

-We learn how Belloq arranged for him to open the Ark before delivery to Berlin.

-The scene where Belloq challenges Indy to blow up the Ark isn't here.


The novelization is a nice addition to the wonderful movie. There is a place for both. Campbell Black's novel is a good story and a worthy addition to the canon we now have, even if much of what he comes up with (how Indy got the bullwhip) is overridden with subsequent movies and books. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and actually might continue with the novelizations of the next three films. 

Side Note

I went and located my copy of the comic adaptation and many of the scenes mentioned here are in there. Perhaps the Marvel comics folks and Black read from the same script.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Sixty-Seven Years Later, THEM! Holds Up

What do Matt Dillion, Daniel Boone, Kris Kringle, and Mr. Spock have in common? They all battled giant ants in 1954.

I can't remember exactly when I first saw this 1954 film, but there's a sliver of a memory from the early 80s when I spent some summer weeks at my grandparents' house in Tyler, Texas and it might've been then. Moreover, I also can't pinpoint when I was re-introduced to this film directed by Gordon Douglas. Sometime this century. But it has vaulted to one of my favorite 1950s-era science fiction movies.

I watched it again over the weekend, first time in a few years, and boy does it hold up well. It is sixty-seven years old this month, and still packs some genuine suspense, especially during the anticipation of first seeing the ants and, of course, their sound effect.

The atomic bomb tests at Alamogordo, New Mexico, were only nine years old when THEM was released, and the unknowns about nuclear energy were still being learned. It is nuclear radiation that morphs the common small ant into the giant behemoths we see in the film. 

The opening sequence is gripping and unsettling, as we follow a pair of New Mexico state troopers as they discover a little girl wandering in the desert. She's catatonic, in a speechless state of shock. Even as the troopers, one of whom is played by James Whitmore, investigate what happened to her family and a nearby store owner, they can't make heads or tails of the destruction. It's only when we hear that distinctive sound effect of the ants does the girl react. Cleverly, Whitmore and a doctor do not see the girl rise up from her resting spot, terror across her face, only to lie down again, eyes wide in fear.

That sound effect. Most every time, it precedes the visuals of the creatures, and it adds so much suspense for the viewer. I defy you not to have a little chilly twinge crawl up your spine when you hear it. One of the troopers hears the high-pitched sound and goes off screen to investigate. The last thing we hear is his own death scream. 

What struck me with this viewing is how the first half of the film is basically a crime film. There are the investigators--now including an FBI agent played by James Arness (Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke), and a pair of scientists, father and daughter, played by Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street) and Joan Weldon--just trying to figure out what's going on. The monsters drop out of their own film largely because of costs, I assume, but the unknown facing the investigators makes for quite an urgent story. The investigators scour news reports and interview eyewitnesses--including Fess Parker (star of the Daniel Boone TV show) as a pilot who saw the queen ants flying west but is thrown in an insane asylum because of his wild story. 

There's even a scene where our heroes discover another nest of ants, the workers protecting both a pair of queen ants and their eggs. Reminded me of Aliens (1986) and how many other monster films. 

A young Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek's Mr. Spock) shows up as a soldier relaying information from the teletype machine.

They finally figure out there's a nest in the sewers of Los Angeles. At this point, we jump to a more traditional monster film: humans hunting the creatures in darkened tunnels, the suspense escalating. That a prime weapon is flamethrowers lends itself to some gruesome imagery of the ants being consumed by fire. 

From a historical perspective, what I appreciate about THEM is how the soldiers and the scientists worked together. The military defers to the entomologists in the discovery of the insects, but the scientists don't want to preserve one for study, a trope in many films of this kind. No, the scientists know exactly what they need to do and work to that end. This is also a year after the Korean War where our military and the government is still held with a certain amount of respect by the civilians. Many of the side characters accept what the FBI agents tell them without question. I bet you'd get quite a different kind of movie nowadays. 

We also get a potential lesson at the close of the film, as the last nest of ants are consumed by flames. "When Man entered the Atomic Age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict." Looking to sixty-seven years to 1954 from the vantage point of 2021, we can see how many of the nuclear fears of the early days of the Cold War didn't pan out, and we're all relieved by it. But in our post-COVID pandemic era, when the origin of the virus is still not fully known, what are our fears now? What might the folks sixty-seven years hence--2088--think of our current fears. Will they pan out, or will they fester into something greater?

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Always Try Your Dreams

Every year during the first week of June, my mind drifts back to the first week of June 1944. The week leading up to D-Day. Even now, seventy-seven years later, the magnitude of the courage of the men who stormed those beaches never fails to take my breath away.

There have been many books written and documentaries compiled, oral histories recorded and movies filmed. One in particular is Saving Private Ryan which features a grueling opening segment. As horrific as those opening minutes are, you know it’s all just make-believe and that it’s only a taste of what really went down that morning.

Every year, I also take moments to look at the photos of the Allied troops squeezed into those landing crafts. For that one moment when the cameraman snapped his photo, some of those soldiers smiled. Others didn’t. Both tell the same story: the invasion was necessary and they were called on to do it. That was the nature of their birth and world events.

This week, one of those photos really got to me. I honestly can’t find it. It was part of a meme. But in this photo as in so many others, the faces of those men were young. So young. I often wonder how I would have comported myself if history called on me to do what those men did. My son’s nineteen now and he would be called as well. How would he do?

As thankful as we are for the courage of those men, it’s sometimes difficult not to get emotional when thinking of them as individuals. As regular humans on this earth. They, like all of us, had dreams of what they’d do when they got home. Many soldiers returned home. So many did not. Perhaps the cure for cancer was in the brain of one of those men. Maybe a great baseball player or an engineer who could invent something we would now take for granted here in 2021.

But today, I’m talking about creatives. Imagine the books or the songs not created, the paintings and the sculptures, the plays and the actors that never were created. All gone.

The thing is, those men had creative dreams like we do, and then they stormed those beaches to preserve the dreams for all the survivors. For us. For those that’ll come after us.

Perhaps me getting emotional on this commemoration of D-Day is related to my own recent struggles with my writing, my business, and my ideas about the future. I have grand plans and sometimes, I question myself. Why? What’s the point? Who would care?

Well, I care about these plans. I came up with them, after all. They are, to my mind, good and decent ideas. Why not try?

Try because you want to. Try because it could bring you great happiness. Try even though you might fail, but you can learn from that failure. Try because you could reach someone who will need what you create at a precise moment in their lives.

Try because of what happened seventy-seven years ago this morning and the men who didn’t get the chance to try.

Try your dreams. Always.