Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blue Music To My Eyes

I am so pleased the powers that be at Tokyo 2020 went with my first choice for their new and improved official logo.

The fresh and geometric design was unveiled this week from a field of nearly 15,000 entries and four finalists shared earlier this year.

According to the organizing committee's official statement, the design is from a former architecture student turned artist, Asao Tokolo, whose website Tokolo.com features some pretty cool other works and designs.

I dig some of the back story to the design as well -- it's simple and clean, and should translate well when transformed into vibrant "look of the Games" pieces.

My expectation is that the indigo blue -- a sign of "refined elegance and sophistication," may eventually be turned into an array of other color schemes and even presented in a three-dimensional form, as the rectangles of varying sizes may be easily assembled like LEGO pieces.

Those three different shapes, by the way, are indicative of "different countries, cultures and ways of thinking."

Indigo and midnight blue are longtime personal favorites of the color wheel, and for unknown reasons the logo instantly brought to mind music blue references starting with Madonna's 'True Blue" and Joni Mitchell's "Blue" album. If you want to get technical with Japanese color traditions, check out this document and this site for a rainbow -- that's 虹 in Japan -- of history.

Nothing but love for Mr. Tokolo's great work. Paraphrasing Ms. Mitchell's lyrics to "All I Want," ... Applause - Applause!

Photo via TheBlaze.comhttp://www.theblaze.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/AP16116327260411.jpg and Channel News Asia




Friday, April 22, 2016

Purple Tears In Rain


















Thursday's news about Prince really took my breath away. I mean, just a few weeks ago the singers of the band America were talking about "Ventura Highway" and "Purple Rain" connections at their cheery Atlanta concert, then Prince sang a week ago, and now this sad turn.

First Avenue 4/21/2016 by Joanne Moze
For Minneapolis, the city that inspired my college years at Mankato, Minn., I can only imagine the public sadness and rich celebrations underway -- friends from the Twin Cities went downtown to First Avenue (site of the epic "Purple Rain" audio and film recordings) with thousands of other fans.

Kind of wish I was there to see the buildings and bridges aglow with violet light in tribute.

One fan at Paisley Park photographed a rainbow over the Artist's suburban home and studio where he was found unresponsive.

Philip Hussong via Twin Cities Live
I flew over that landmark on April 19, 1995, en route to KARE 11 for a live interview with my dad, an Oklahoma City bombing witness -- the award-winning pilot Max Messmer took us over Prince's residence, perhaps to cheer me up from the day's somber news, and Prince's lawn was covered with emerald grass, yellow daffodils and violets by the thousands arranged on tiered landscaping. The royal treatment, if you will.

The Minneapolis mayor shared a moving tribute to the city's hometown hero, and outlets from the Star-Tribune to The New York Times and NPR are sharing initial reactions, tributes and stories.

One reporter decided my experience at The Artist's penultimate concert -- in Atlanta's Fox Theatre one week ago -- was suitable as "all the news that's fit to print."

Paisley Park image via People.com
During these initial hours processing the news, the following key Prince moments from my life came to mind in step with millions of other fans' own memories:

-- Earliest Prince moments: Paying close attention to the lyrics to "1999" during a 1982 Lake Tenkiller camping trip, and starting my personal countdown to late '90s New Year's Eves; associating "Little Red Corvette" with the b-movie "Corvette Summer;" learning "Let's Go Crazy" lyrics from Olympics [now Odyssey] of the Mind teammate Jennifer Crooch and watching, mesmerized, the "When Doves Cry" video on MTV at childhood friend Nate Newby's living room; enjoying "The Glamorous Life" and "The Belle of St. Mark" performed by Sheila E. and written by Prince, also at age 10 (autumn 1984); and purchasing a "Pop Life" single 45 record

-- H.S. and college year connections: Julia Roberts singing "Kiss" in a bathtub; learning "Batman" lyrics; visiting the downtown Minneapolis dance club First Avenue/Seventh Street Entry with friends and learning the venue's Prince connection; studying his recordings during work shifts at KMSU-FM and learning his likely self-actualization peak whilst recording the song "Purple Rain" for the film; gaining a more complete appreciation of his catalog

-- Atlanta Olympics to early 2000s: Found it fascinating Prince hired Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes for a music video to his cover of "Betcha By Golly, Wow" (The Artist's main Olympic connection I recall so far); discovering "When You Were Mine" (sung by Cyndi Lauper) and "Stand Back" (sung by Stevie Nicks, who credits "Little Red Corvette" for its inspiration on her wedding day) as favorites Prince penned.

Via PaulLNewby.com
In 2004, during his "Musicology" tour, I finally experienced Prince live at Philips Arena, then a client venue, with several coworkers also in attendance. What a treat it was -- that guitar and his in-the-round staging were just spectacular. His voice simply soared.

He returned to a much smaller venue in Atlanta -- The Tabernacle -- a few years later in support of one of his proteges, a starlet who was not great (terrible, actually -- so forgettable her name does not appear anywhere online). Though he played some great guitar, and we saw him up close (arm's length), sadly he did not perform any of his own tunes. Not long after that night, Sinead O'Connor performed all her hits including "Nothing Compares 2 U" on the same church stage.

But my most vivid memory of Prince will likely remain what turned out to be his penultimate concert just one week ago.

On March 31 I stood in line for tickets at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

On April 7, I moped when Prince called in sick, delaying the event by a week.

4/14/2016 photo via GAFollowers.com
And on April 14 I cheered when Prince performed "Piano and a Microphone" for two concerts.

Friends who heard me describe the 7 p.m. show last week will tell you I concurred with many of the remarks made by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's music reporter in her review. One friend in Shreveport, La., will point out that I took Prince to task for an abbreviated performance (I did).

Some of my other feedback from the experience is now, as mentioned earlier in this post, part of the record in The New York Times. One thing left out of The Times' interview/conversation: Twice during Prince's show last week, I cried -- the melodies and his voice were so beautiful. I think Prince cried as well upon completing a cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" -- upon finishing the song, he stepped away from the piano, took nearly a minute to compose himself during audience applause, and returned to the mic to say, "Sometimes I forget how emotional these songs can be; keep it together, Prince."

Most folks have a favorite Prince song. I have several, for different occasions and milestones of his 40 years in the public eye. Listening to all the tributes tonight, "The Beautiful Ones" and the second half of "Purple Rain" stood out in my personal top five. I also dig one of his newest songs, "Revelation" on the "HitnRun - Phase Two" CD handed out at the concert last week. His Fox Theatre cover of "A Case of You," as mentioned above, is pretty sweet and hits some very high falsetto notes.

I captured about 30 minutes of the 7 p.m. concert on April 14, and this recording will remain pasted below for as long as possible before the copyright police come calling. The Mitchell tune is toward the end -- also included are "Chopsticks" with "Pop Life" and "I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man" as noted on the midsection of the set list.

I am extremely curious whether Prince's announced memoir is still possible (was enough of it in the can to keep a book on schedule). One previous biography was very informative though unofficial.

Thank you, Prince Rogers Nelson, for all of your many gifts shared with the world.

Photo of First Avenue by Nicholas Wolaver; "When Doves Cry" image via LivinLaVidaCoco; Editorial cartoon by Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Mike Luckovich

The following was recorded on Nicholas Wolaver's Samsung Galaxy via Voice Recorder app on April 14, 2016, at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta:

video


I provided the following transcription from the show/recording to The New York Times, paraphrased here:

Transcription: 

“Thank you, Atlanta. Once again I’d like to apologize for the cancellation I was a little under the weather. But we’re here now. I want to take this time to thank you, each and every one of you for coming out and enjoying this night with us. I want to tell you a little bit about myself. I was born in Minneapolis. My father taught me how to play the piano … (starts playing “Chopsticks”) …he didn’t teach me that. I taught myself … (continues “Chopsticks” more soulfully and playfully improvising, then upswing of supporting tracks) … One of the things my father taught me was that funk (pause) is space … (starts improvising a more funky piano beat). My father couldn’t sing but he, he, he used to do this thing with his month, he says (starts scatting lightly). I used to watch him do that and (more scatting) … That’s funky, right? (transitions to more serious tune). When I got a little older, and started doing things my way, he liked to frequent this club down on 36th pimps and things used to hand outside and cuss for kicks … ” (starts singing "Joy In Repitition").

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Atlantan Rows For Rio Berth and Sizzle Reel


In public relations and broadcasting, pros build portfolios of TV coverage for a "sizzle reel" of greatest hits.

This week I was pleasantly surprised to learn a longtime acquaintance -- in this case a TV producer and on-air personality who reported on several clients in my P.R. reel -- is an aspiring Olympian building a great reel of life experiences tied to rowing.

After bumping into Atlanta broadcaster Conn Jackson at the local premiere for Cirque du Soleil "Kurios" last month, we got to talking about shared interests in the Olympics. The conversation refreshed memories from the time when we each interviewed Olympic swimming champion Dara Torres during her book tour a few years ago.

Over the years, my public relations teammates and I also worked with Jackson on TV reports from Philips Arena, Stone Mountain Park, Cirque du Soleil, IAAPA and others as he contributed segments to "Atlanta & Company" through his self-owned business sharing inspiring news.

Turns out Jackson is not only an Olympic fan and broadcaster, but also an aspiring Olympian in rowing.

After walking on to the rowing team in college, Jackson eventually competed in the 1996 Olympic trials in an eight-man crew (think "Boys In The Boat" intensity for a berth on Team USA). Unfortunately, Jackson did not make the team for Atlanta's Games. But that was no end to his Olympic aspirations.

Inspired by Torres' autobiographical message that "Age Is Just A Number," Jackson again interviewed and even swam with the fortysomething Olympic champion a few years ago (a follow up to that initial interview at which we both were in attendance). This experience and their conversations, Jackson says, gave him the nudge he needed to give Olympic rowing another shot, this time for Rio 2016.

Quietly training at the Atlanta Rowing Club, Jackson also logged practice in Virginia and Florida to prepare for the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team Trials hosted by U.S. Rowing.

Jackson is in Sarasota now, and tomorrow morning he'll compete in the initial round for single sculls, rowing with and competing against other hopefuls.

A field of about 20 rowers will be whittled down to a final group of six, with Team USA's picks for Rio to be determined Saturday. The man to beat may be London Olympian and 2015 U.S. Rowing Team member Ken Jurkowski.

On a call from Florida last night, Jackson said he was savoring the experience and reflecting on the journey. He sees part of himself in some of the recent college graduates against which he'll compete. Jackson expressed optimism for the hard work of the next few days, quoting a saying his Grandmother Kennedy often shared.

"When you're in the frying pan of life there is only one thing to do: sizzle!" said Jackson.

Photos provided by Conn Jackson

Monday, April 11, 2016

Cowpoking Around The Autry Museum


One rainy afternoon in Los Angeles last month, this Okie visitor drove his rental car around the bend from Hollywood to the northeast corner of Griffith Park.


Like Oklahoma City's National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (a hometown favorite since youthful days growing up and working nearby), LA's museum "The Autry" -- founded by country music and acting legend Gene Autry -- celebrates fine art, sculpture and historic artifacts related to Native American and cowpoke culture.

Southwest heaven!

Nestled in a pueblo-inspired albeit plain building between the Los Angeles Zoo and Interstate 5 near the exit to Glendale, Calif., it stunned me to learn the museum collection includes more than 500,000 objects, the newest of which may be the costumes donned by the three principal characters of "The Hateful Eight" portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Their Wyoming winter coats incorporating bison and other furs are on prominent display in galleries filled with hundreds of treasures of Western cinema.

But before getting ahead of myself, a brief return to the man who helped round up all those artifacts.

Upon arrival at the museum, I knew of Mr. Autry mostly through his greatest hits of music and film. There's also a little town in my home state that bears his name, just a click or two north of Ardmore, Okla. (The town of Gene Autry, Okla., has a 2010 Census population of 158).

I had no idea, however, that Autry was in more than 90 movies, on his own TV show, a baseball team owner, business man and radio executive among many other titles and roles in his very successful career.

Honestly, his Christmas music won't sound the same (only better) now that, thanks to the museum, there's a more complete picture of Mr. Autry informing my listening.

The Autry pays tribute to its founder through a loop of iconic silver screen scenes projected on a large screen in one of the main galleries.

The film dialogue and many of Autry's popular songs provide a repeating soundtrack for part of the museum experience, mostly audible while viewing the extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia tied to portrayals of the Old West.

I was impressed by the collection of silent screen to modern era Western film treasures. Among the standouts (and within a few paces of the aforementioned costumes of "The Hateful Eight"): Original artwork for "Once Upon A Time In The West," hundreds of collectibles for "The Lone Ranger" and even a collection of Michael Jackson's Western wear.

It was fun to spot original paintings by Normal Rockwell and promotional items for some of my all-time favorite Western movies including "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," "Dances With Wolves," and "Unforgiven."

They even displayed shirts worn by the actors in "Brokeback Mountain" but I could not quit using my time to explore other galleries.

I think my mom would have appreciated a peek at "The Three Amigos" items reminiscent of the movie's best line "We can SEW!" while my dad might have enjoyed the Clint Eastwood items on display.

Most of these Hollywood keepsakes are arranged chronologically by decade, with a showcase featuring hundreds of Gene Autry collectibles I expect were from the man's personal collection of promotional souvenirs from a decades-long career.

In addition to the entertainment-centric displays, most of The Autry's main floor is dedicated to an impressive collection of fine art. Not to be missed, the ongoing exhibition "New Acquisitions Featuring the Kaufman Collection" (on view through July 9, 2017) has some breathtaking canvases.

I enjoyed learning about newer artists of the American West while also spotting amazing works by Frederick Remington, Georgia O'Keeffe and a modern master, Billy Schenk. Several images I snapped in the galleries may be viewed at the base of this post, and the canvas "Crowd Control" by John Fawcett has an Olympic connection.

Downstairs at The Autry takes visitors through more history of the Old West with impressive displays including a fully restored stagecoach, a rare fire engine of the 1800s, U.S. territorial maps (I spent the most time with a case of Oklahoma cartography items) and early photographs of the Frontier.

And then the museum rolls out the big guns. By this I mean ... lots of guns. All sorts of guns. Major guns. Little guns. Every kind of gun one can imagine. Thousands of guns!

For it is The Autry that is home to the newly-installed (as of 2013) Gamble Firearms Gallery and the ongoing exhibition of its greatest hits "Western Frontiers: Stories of Fact andFiction."

I was in awe of the array of firearms for all to see. To the right: Annie Oakley's gold plated pistols. To the left, one of the (if not THE) first Gatling guns (the original machine gun).

In display after display, guns owned, used by or presented to U.S. presidents or other VIP's. I lost count of all the special guns!

On the heels of a skeet shooting lesson with five-time Olympic medalist Kim Rhode earlier in the week, the collection of rifles and shotguns also caught my eye, as did the Frederick Remington illustrations on view.


Tucked in the corner of another display was a rare N.C. Wyeth canvas (my only complaint from the entire museum visit is that this one painting is placed too far back in a display for close study by art lovers).

All these guns and that Rhode connection made me wonder the extent to which The Autry may have some firearm ties to the Olympics. And with the help of their media relations team, got some answers via email.

According to Joshua Garrett-Davis, assistant Gamble curator of Western history, pop culture and firearms for The Autry, the museum does not possess any Olympic guns, but the museum likely would consider acquiring Olympian-used firearms in the future.

"We would be particularly interested in competition firearms used by athletes from the American West, or else used at one of the Olympics held in the West."

My interpretation of Mr. Garrett-Davis' words is that any Olympian who fired a competition gun in Los Angeles (summers of 1932 or 1984) or as a biathlon shooter at the Winter Games of Calgary (1988), Salt Lake (2002) or Vancouver (2010) may have a potential museum home just waiting for their Olympic guns! I am not sure if guns used at the Mexico City 1968 Games would qualify as "West" but will ask.

Garrett-Davis also reports on other five-ringed connections available at The Autry (I admit to missing these during my first visit, but will be on the lookout next time):

"We do have a few interesting items related to Olympic history," said Garrett-Davis via email. "We have some commemorative screen prints from the 1984 LA Olympics, a belt buckle commemorating Jim Thorpe; a Western-style embroidered jacket designed by Margaret Miele for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics (along with patterns, etc.).

"Perhaps most interestingly, [The Autry has] a Western-style Levi Strauss shirt that was to be worn by athletes in the opening ceremonies of the 1980 Summer Olympics, never used because the USA boycotted (Moscow's) Games," added Garrett-Davis.

I also found The Autry Blog posted on Olympic-related topics including fashion, theater, film, books, Jim Thorpe, Mildred "Babe"Zaharias Didrikson and the famed designer who created the award-winning "Festive Federalist" look of the Games for LA84, Deborah Sussman.

The Autry was only one museum on the agenda during the March 2016 travels to Los Angeles, and its collection is well worth a special trek toward Glendale. I look forward to future visits and getting back in the saddle again.

All photos by Nicholas Wolaver except the very first outdoor image of The Autry, which is via this link.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Better Eat Some Wheaties

One cereal that never made it to my table: Wheaties.

That's right: Not one time ever in my life has a spoonful of "The Breakfast of Champions" met my taste buds. 

Maybe it was a family thing, but growing up in suburban Oklahoma City, Corn Flakes, Grape-Nuts and an array of sugared cereals are what landed in my mother's grocery cart and kitchen cabinets. So much for raising an Olympian. 

Not even Mary Lou Retton's gold medal grin could change this; Caitlyn (then Bruce) Jenner's decathlon victory also cleared no hurdles on the cereal row for this child of the '70s. 

Come to think of it, I'm not sure my eyes ever went in search of Wheaties while doing my own grocery buying as an adult -- of the Big G/General Mills cereals, Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch is kind of my preference (though I sneak a box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes from time to time). 

I might just try Wheaties later this spring, however, inspired by the brand's decision to honor three additional Olympic champions of my youth: Edwin Moses, Janet Evans and Greg Louganis. According to The New York Times and other sources, this week the P.R. team for Wheaties made the announcement about the trio of new "Team Wheaties" champion boxes set to his stores later this spring. 

Like the article in The Times, an "All Things Considered" interview with Louganis on National Public Radio detailed an online petition that likely swayed Wheaties to consider a Louganis image for the cereal aisle. 

The five-time medalist is not the first Olympic diver on the orange box, but one of only a few, according to this list which names 1932 Los Angeles Olympic diver Jane Fauntz as the second Wheaties woman, chosen in tandem with or just after fellow '32 Olympian Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias was named the first female Wheaties Champion. 

Louganis' NPR interview about Wheaties reminded me of my own conversation with the Olympic diver who earned four gold medals (1984 LA and 1988 Seoul) and one silver medal (1976 Montreal). The hero of the high dive spoke with me for about 12 minutes during the Team USA Media Summit in Los Angeles last month.

Photo by Nicholas Wolaver
My first questions for Louganis concerned his role with the LA24 Olympic bid team as our chat took place moments before the committee announced its Athlete Advisory Commission (AAC) led by Evans. 

Louganis explained his longtime friendship with the Olympic swimmer made his support of LA24 an easy sell. 

"Janet Evans is dear friend and she called to see if I'd be willing [to support the bid] and I said, 'Yes!'" said Louganis.

He added that prior to the March 8 announcement, Louganis contributed time at other LA24 events and the U.S. Olympic Committee's Road To Rio events that launched last year. I asked him what experiences from LA84 gave him the most to talk about in relation to the current bid.

"It was such a magical time to be in LA," said Louganis. "I was born and raised in Southern California, so it was great for it to be in my own backyard and to be able to share that with friends.

"I remember we were training before our event in Mission Viejo and the cycling was going through and it was so exciting," added Louganis. "One thing that was funny during that time: I would see how the teams and some of my friends were doing but then when it came to the awards ceremonies I’d turn the TV off. I didn’t want to see an awards ceremony because I didn’t want to get that image in my head and get ahead of myself because I needed to do the work."

Louganis noted the Games' positive impact for generations of children in Greater Los Angeles.

"[LA84] exposed a lot of kids to sports that they wouldn’t even think about, like kayak or cycling. That’s the thing that’s exciting about the LA24 bid is that so many of the facilities are already built, because the 1984 Games were so successful and the LA84 Foundation has been able to help with so much with youth health and wellness and outreach to youth through sports."

We also talked about Louganis' role as a pioneer and role model for the LGBT community, his 1995 book, and his perspectives on Sochi 2014 versus Rio 2016 as a potential "lightning rod for controversy" (my words) tethering LGBT athletes with the Olympics.

Louganis said he thought Brazil's Games would prove much more inclusive than Russia's.

"For Rio we can focus on the sports -- that's what it's supposed to be about," said Louganis.

The days leading to Sochi provided a whole different scene and conversation, he said.

"Everyone in the LGBT community was saying ‘boycott, boycott, boycott’ for Sochi and I was saying ‘no, don’t boycott because it hurts the wrong people – don’t hurt the athlete – [boycotts] hurt the athlete," said Louganis, who was not able to compete in the 1980 Moscow Games due to the U.S.-led boycott around the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Louganis explained he attended the Moscow Open Games -- held in the Russian capitol between the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics -- to support international friends and organizers in LGBT sports.

"I had some friends who are gay coming back from Sochi saying they felt safe and everyone was so welcoming," said Louganis. "My experience in Moscow was not Sochi -- it was totally different. 

"As soon as [many Muscovites] found out who was booking the rooms we were turned away from hotels. We had bomb threats at some of the events. We had to be very secretive about where we were holding some events. The military set off a smoke bomb at one of the events," said Louganis. 

"I was so impressed with the resilience (of organizers) and their courage to hold their event in Moscow in such a hostile environment," he added. 

Summer 2015 provided a more positive LGBT sports experience for the Olympic champion.

"Last year I was in Toronto for an LGBT sports summit," said Louganis. "I was so impressed with the Canadian Olympic Committee’s campaign of inclusion for one team, and that seems like the direction we’re going. That’s the reason I got connected with Athlete Allies, which is the U.S. national organization all about inclusion in sport. They are (promoting the theme that) we’re all in this together, that sports doesn’t have a label.”

When asked whether Olympic pin collecting ever was a thing, Louganis reminisced that during LA84 pin trading "really took off" and next to synchronized swimming pins (then a souvenir of a newly-introduced sport) diving pins were also harder to acquire but that he gave away more pins than he kept.

"I was too busy," said Louganis of pin collecting.

He also noted that a pin with his name and likeness is out there but he does not know who made them nor when.  

In addition to supporting LA24, Louganis shared excitement about the recent HBO Sports documentary telling his life story, "Back On Board: Greg Louganis" which was, in the weeks since our conversation, nominated for an Emmy.

When a future opportunity to speak with Louganis is presented, I'd like to inquire more about his bestselling book of the mid-1990s and his work with other Olympic bids or sponsors over the years. Might not hurt to delve into the 1980 Moscow boycott as well, if he is willing to discuss its impact on his career (I wonder whether Louganis ever met President Jimmy Carter and discussed the Moscow decision).

Louganis is very friendly, approachable and conversational, and speaking with him now ranks among the all-time favorite five-ringed conversations over the years. If there is only one regret of being starstruck by the initial conversation, I forgot to compare notes on spending time with Annie Leibovitz, who snapped the gorgeous underwater cover photo for "Breaking The Surface" the same year I met her in Colorado Springs.

It will be interesting to see Louganis' appearances with the awards presentation, future Road to Rio events, LA24 and other Rio 2016 Olympic activities play out in the weeks and months to come. 

Image credits: Mary Lou Retton/Wheaties via this site; Louganis photo by Annie Leibovitz via ArtNet; new 2016 Wheaties boxes via General Mills and Wheaties.com; Louganis with Wheaties via his Facebook page. All other photos by Nicholas Wolaver


Sidebar: During brief research of Wheaties history for this post, I learned an iconic destination of my college days in Minnesota played a role in the cereal's history. In downtown Minneapolis along the banks of the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls, the Gold Medal Flour Mill towers over the scene, and its neon letters, when reflecting in the waters of the river, form a "heart" -- at least that's what guys my age told their dates while walking along the once-abandoned, now refurbished Stone Arch Bridge, which was a make-out spot during the early 1990s. The original name "Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes" (from that smooch-inspiring flour mill) eventually evolved into "Wheaties," according to company lore

From left, Olympians Carol Lewis, Janet Evans, Greg Louganis, Carl Lewis,
Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner. Photo by Nicholas Wolaver
LA24 Athetes Advisory Council with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (center right)
and LA24 Chairman Casey Wasserman (center left). Photo by Nicholas Wolaver

Friday, April 1, 2016

Hits of America Saturated with Purple Rain?

If the bid team for LA24 plans a music compilation enticing supporters to #FollowTheSun, consider this my nomination of four California-centric hits from the band America for the collection.

Sure, this band launched 46 years ago, in 1970 -- one Olympiad before the birth of bid chief Casey Wasserman. But America's staying power and upbeat music/lyrics could provide many positive vibes on a Los Angeles Olympic bid play list.

One month ago, I was driving north from LA on U.S. 101 bound for Thousand Oaks, Calif., and tonight in Atlanta there was time to enjoy a live performance of one of my personal favorites by America, "Ventura Highway" (on the radio than March 4 evening).

Like no other, this song instantly, vividly brings to mind youthful dreams of the SoCal experience. Every time I've visited Los Angeles (the 2016 trek for the Team USA Media Summit was my seventh City of Angels adventure) "Ventura Highway" and its chipper guitar opening pops up on local radio as if to say "welcome back" to one of my favorite stretches of American road.

In addition to hearing "Ventura Highway" live, tonight I learned three new-to-my-ears West Coast-themed hits also crooned by America: "California Revisited" from their "Homecoming" album, "Hollywood" (much more of a rockin' song than other America works), and the band's cover of "California Dreamin'" made famous by The Mamas & the Papas (my preferred version is by DJ Sammy).

The Uber ride home had my brain swimming with other big songs of the region from "Under The Bridge" and "Californication" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers to "California Girls" and other Beach Boys tunes, Katy Perry "California Gurls" and 2Pac/Dr. Dre "California Love."

Of course, "Hotel California" also crossed my mind ... I figure the more prominent rockers (the Eagles) slept with way more groupies than America's easy-listening singer-songwriters, who maybe felt-up a lot of fans but did not take as many back to their green room or hotel.

But back to "Ventura Highway" -- until this evening, when the band was describing the song's history to the audience, I had not a clue the fourth verse includes what may be the world's first musical reference to "Purple Rain."

The two-person conversation in the lyrics carries listeners to the West Coast with the following:

Wishin' on a falling star
Watchin' for the early train
Sorry, boy, but I've been hit by
Purple rain

By chance, a Minneapolis singer named Prince Rogers Nelson will perform his "Piano and a Microphone" tour in Atlanta next week, and it will be fun and exciting to experience another all-time favorite musician (now informed by his possible inspiration from America).

Now there's a singer I'd like to see performing at the Olympics!

Perhaps given their tethered "Purple Rain" ties, America could be Prince's opening act in the music portion of the L.A. 2024 Olympics opening ceremony? Talk about California dreaming.

Images via www.venturahighway.com, www.ventura-usa.com and www.FoxTheatre.org

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Graphic Novel Illustrates Tragic Somali Olympian's Untimely Demise Adrift In Mediterranean Sea

During recent Los Angeles travels, I stumbled in to Meltdown Comics on Sunset Boulevard in search of a new five-ringed graphic novel, "An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar" by Reinhard Kleist.

The store did not yet have this title in stock, but thanks to a review copy from the publishing house, Self Made Hero, and its domestic distributor, Abrams, I did get to read this recent release on the heels of reviewing "Trashed" by John Backderf.

In about 150 pages, Kleist illustrates the too-short and true life of a Beijing 2008 Olympian who competed in athletics, specifically the 200m sprint. "An Olympic Dream" opens on an upbeat note as Yusuf Omar appears on the small screen in her family's Mogadishu living room with relatives and friends gathered to cheer for Samia.

While the Beijing experience inspires the stadium crowd and Yusuf Omar's new dream to return to the Olympic stage at London 2012, her Somali homecoming quickly evolves into a years-long marathon of increasingly awful challenges including gender and faith bias in her war-torn home town. 

Forced to flee Somalia to find safety with family in Europe, and still clinging to her London Olympic dream, Yusuf Omar embarks on an international journey through Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya in search of sea passage to Italy. One can only imagine how much worse her final weeks must have been before boarding an overloaded watercraft akin to those in use today by Syrian refugees fleeing to Greece. 

Kleist's illustrations in black pen and/or India ink bring to the page a life that is both hopeful and heartbroken. Yusuf Omar's POV is sometimes portrayed through Facebook posts or texts to family anxiously awaiting updates. Readers may almost smell the burning trash or taste the gritty dust kicked up by African winds and warlords clouding Omar's chances for a happier conclusion.

According to the book's Preface by Kleist, the author learned about Omar's fate as much of the world did following London's Games. 

"Thanks to the help of journalist Teresa Krug, who had befriended [Yusuf Omar], I was able to speak personally with [Samia's] sister Hodan Yusuf Omar, who in 2006 had fled to Helsinki," wrote Kleist.

Kleist also mentioned the Olympian's actual Facebook posts provided content and context, though most of the posts in the book are fictionalized except for Yusuf Omar's plea for help while stranded in Tripoli. Krug provides a detailed Afterword for the text as well.

Though "An Olympic Dream" provides the antithesis of a happy ending for five-ringed-hopefuls, the book does provide inspiration and a look at the struggles tens of thousands still face today in Africa and Asia. Kudos to Kleist for shedding more light on this contemporary Olympic story. "An Olympic Dream" will hit Meltdown Comics and bookstores everywhere starting April 12 (pre-sales available here).

Images via SelfMadeHero.com



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