$50 for 50 by 50 #12: #YESWECODE

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

As I have mentioned on this blog I am a big fan of Prince and his death has rocked me in a lot of ways. I don’t understand a world in which Prince isn’t around. Makes no sense to me.

But in an effort to do good out of such lousy, I have made my next 50x50x50 donation to an organization that Prince supported, #YESWECODE. Driven by Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream organization, #YEWECODE aims to get 100,000 low-opportunity young people into high paying technology jobs through training, employment resources, and more. This would have been a cool thing to support even if Prince wasn’t involved but since he was it makes it even cooler.

To learn more about the organization and/or to donate, visit yeswecode.com.

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$50 for 50 by 50 #11: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

Okay, so this one comes with a story. My friend Maureen and I went to go see “Kinky Boots” last night at the Pantages here in LA It was a lot of fun, which is exactly what I needed on the night that Prince died. At the end of the show, the cast came onstage to let the audience know that the performance was dedicated to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS organization, which is one of the preeminent HIV/AIDS service organizations in the country. They were collecting donations, and after the show, members of the cast were performing in the bar at The W across the street.

Maureen and I decided to go and it was a blast – incredible singers doing showstopping songs. But they also had a raffle to raise more money for the organization, which involved an autographed pair of the tall, red leather “Kinky Boots” custom made in your size and delivered to your home. While I was at the bar, Maureen got us a couple of entries.

I won. No, seriously. I won a pair of these:

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They should be arriving in about a month. All I can think is… Prince would’ve loved these!

To honor the organization a little more than the raffle ticket donation, I am making Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS my 50x50x50 pick for the day. To learn more or donate yourself, visit their website at BroadwayCares.org

Prince 1958-2016

It is not hyperbole to say that Prince literally changed the way I thought of music.

Growing up in Iowa in the late 70s and early 80s, most of the radio stations played country, classic rock, or farm reports and there was only one pop radio station that played, primarily, top 40. This meant that my musical education growing up was primarily disco and soft rock and my tastes ran toward the vanilla side of things – Barry Manilow, the Manhattan Transfer, Olivia Newton-John, Bette Midler, Donna Summer, and the like. Madonna, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson shook things up in the early 80s but it was still all pop all the time.

I will never forget the day that all changed. It was in the spring of 1984 – I want to say April or early May – and I was in the garage waxing the new (used) car I had gotten as a high school graduation present. This was a momentus time for me anyway, just a few weeks away from liberation from the torment of high school, thinking about how I wanted to move to California and pursue my dreams of stardom. I had lost a lot of weight and I had a really cool car – a 1981 Mustang with T-Tops. Things were looking up.

Then a song came on the radio that was sitting on my dad’s workbench. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and I swear I could almost hear my mind expanding.

It was “When Doves Cry” by Prince.

More than 30 years later it’s still a great song but when it first came out it was revolutionary, especially for pop radio. Moody and atmospheric; an almost tribal drum beat; no bass line which was virtually unheard of; layered intricate harmonies; fierce guitar work. I stopped mid-wax and just listened. At some point I stood up. And when it was over, music would never be the same for me.

I became obsessed with Prince. I had heard “1999″ and “Little Red Corvette” of course (because they were Top 40 hits) but I never owned a single song by him but that changed quickly. I started with the “When Doves Cry” single then the extended dance mix that had the b-side of “17 Days.” I bought all of his prior albums – “1999,” “Prince,” “For You,” “Dirty Mind,” and “Controversy” – shocked and scandalized by the overt sexuality of those early recordings because nothing like that had ever made it on to Iowa radio. Remember, this is a place that thought Oliva Newton-John’s “Physical” was too graphic.

And then “Purple Rain,” both the movie and the soundtrack, which were earth-shattering both to me and to most of the rest of the world.

From that point forward the fandom grew. Albums release days were like Christmas to me and more than once I was outside of record stores before they opened just waiting to get my hands on the new Prince music. I collected 12″ vinyl dance singles, which not only turned four or five minute songs into 10 minute epics but it was often the only way you could get the unreleased b-sides that he loved to include – “Hello,” “Feel U up,” “Shockadelica,” “Irresistible Bitch,” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” and the ultimate “Erotic City.” I got underground recordings of concerts, promotional singles, picture discs, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I decorated my corner of my dorm room at Iowa State and later my first apartment in Los Angeles with posters and record covers of Prince and his acolytes.

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I still have most of it… the below is all that would fit on my dining room table but there’s more…

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Oh yes, the extended Prince family was just as important. I dove head first into the obvious like The Time and Sheila E. but also Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, the Family, Madhouse, Mazerati, Carmen Electra, and more. People who had performed with Prince were added to the list – Sheena Easton, Wendy & Lisa, Rosie Gaines, and beyond.

I got buttons for my jean jacket and I even did the white boy approximation of dressing like him when I went out to clubs – a long coat, a frilly shirt, and a military style cap with lace netting hanging from it.

I saw him in concert at least a dozen times, from arena tours to intimate venues like his Glam Slam club in Downtown Los Angeles and at the Crown Theater in Las Vegas. On stage, nobody worked harder or captivated audiences more fully than Prince.

I even went so far as to study Prince’s music for the hidden messages and obscure references he liked to put in them. I broke a record player just so I could hear what the backwards message at the end of “Darling Nikki” on the “Purple Rain” soundtrack. I still remember it after all of these years – “Hello, how are you? I am fine because I know the lord is coming soon. I know the lord is coming soon.”

I figured out weird tie between his deep cut “All the Critics Love U in New York” from the “1999″ album released in 1982. One of the lyrics is “It’s time for a new direction\It’s time for jazz to die\Fourth day of November\We need a purple high.” Two years later Prince launched his global “Purple Rain” tour in Detroit on November 11, 1984. Turn that date into numbers – 11-4-1984 – and add the numbers together. 1999. Mind blown? Mine was.

I was thrilled to figure out how to pronounce the unpronounceable symbol – Victor. Long story but ask me about it if you are curious.

When I started writing I naturally turned to the greatest artistic influence of my life for inspiration. My first play was called “17 Days” (the b-side on “When Doves Cry”) and every play I wrote after that used Prince songs for their titles – “Mountains” (which won a bunch of awards), “I Would Die For You,” “Escape,” “Thieves in the Temple,” and more. I wrote a couple of never published novels called “Condition of the Heart” and “Strange Relationship,” two lesser known songs from “Around the World in a Day” and “Sign o’ the Times” respectively.

My fandom started to wane in the early 90s when he got into his battles with his record label and started releasing stuff from his vault that he knew wasn’t his best work just to fulfill his contracts. By the time he came back with material he wanted to do his sound had changed, or perhaps it was just my tastes and/or the world’s taste. His last top 40 hit was a reissue of “1999″ in, appropriately enough, 1999.

But my love for his prolific 1978-1993 period never waned and to this day I still regularly put on my Prince and Family playlist on iTunes. I’m listening to it now as I type this. “Alphabet Street.” I know all of the words to backup singer/dancer Cat’s rap: “Talk to me lover come and tell me what you taste…”

The news that Prince died today devastated me on a level that I have never experienced before with the death of a celebrity. I know a lot of people were laid low by the death of David Bowie or Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston or (insert other musical great here) and I certainly had a moment of “awww” with all of them. With Prince it was instant tears.

Thank you, Prince, for helping me understand the possibility of music. For me, again today, it will never be the same.

The lyrics to “Sometimes it Snows in April” from the “Parade” album, which seem especially appropriate on this sunny April 2016 day:

Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war,
Just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend
Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again,
But sometimes sometimes life ain’t always the way

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

$50 for 50 by 50 #10: First Book

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

On an almost daily basis I rant against stupid people. I see them all the time on the commute into work, occasionally at work, in line at the grocery store, and voting in presidential primaries. Although we may not all agree on what qualifies someone to be a stupid person, I think we can all agree there are a lot of them.

So today’s 50x50x50 is going to First Book, an organization that works to get age appropriate reading material into the hands of children in under-served communities in the US. Here’s what they have to say about it:

Forty-five percent of children in the United States – more than 32 million – live in low-income households. Most of these children have no age-appropriate books at home, and the classrooms and programs they attend are woefully under-resourced. Approximately two-thirds of these schools and programs cannot afford to buy books at retail prices. A recognized leader in social enterprise, First Book has pioneered groundbreaking channels to provide new books and educational resources at deeply reduced prices — and for free — to schools and programs serving children in need.

Learn more about them and/or make your own donation at firstbook.org

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$50 for 50 by 50 #9: The Southern Poverty Law Center

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

I just read this astounding, horrifying, depressing, frightening article about a study performed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They surveyed 2,000 teachers across the United States and found that “the presidential campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom.” Some of the results:

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students – mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims – have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
  • More than third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.

Read the entire article on their website but warning: it’s going to turn your stomach.

The SPLC does important, essential work by tracking and monitoring the activities of more than 1,600 extremist groups that espouse hate and violence against minorities, women, gays and lesbians, non-Christians, and more. As hate and intolerance grows in our country, every single day it seems, their work is even more critical.

My 50x50x50 #9 is the Southern Poverty Law Center. Learn more and make your own donation at splcenter.org.

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$50 for 50 by 50 #8: Bill Foundation

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

Many years ago I outgrew my ability to file a 1040EZ form and required the aid of an accountant. Friends Mary and Steve referred me to the delightful Pat Lahr, a lovely woman who worked out of her home surrounded by a menagerie of dogs who were always friendly, curious, and often demanding of your attention. “Taxes? No, it’s petting time.”

Pat worked wonders on my returns – that was a given – but more than that, she was a warm soul who always asked about my health, my life, and my world. When Mary passed away, it broke her heart and when I got cancer, she was very concerned about me, offering any assistance I needed since she lived only a few blocks away.

She retired but I saw her again last year so she could get my taxes to her daughter who had taken over the business. She was still as sweet as ever and madly in love with the new dog she had gotten.

I just found out today that Pat passed away a couple of days ago on her 87th birthday and her daughter is recommending donations to the Bill Foundation, an organization in Los Angeles that rescues shelter and street dogs and places them in loving homes. Since their founding in 2000, they have placed more than 2,200 dogs, done completely with donations as they receive no funding from the city, state, or federal government. To learn more, visit billfoundation.org.

In honor and memory of Pat Lahr, I have made the Bill Foundation today’s 50x50x50.

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$50 for 50 by 50 #7: Esophageal Cancer Action Network

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month so what better time than to do one of my donations to the organization that I have been involved with, the Esophageal Cancer Action Network.

Esophageal Cancer is the fastest growing cancer diagnosis in the United States among men and the second for women, with a more than 600% increase in the last three decades. It is also one of the deadliest cancers – fewer than 1 in 5 survive longer than 5 years because there are often no symptoms until it is too late to do anything about it. Even scarier, it is caused by something so commonplace that most people ignore it: heartburn (acid reflux). Making people aware of this fact could allow people to prevent EC from occurring in the first place and quite literally save lives.

I am one of the lucky ones to have survived it – I have been in remission for almost 3 years now. It has been a tough road that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and if you’re really bored you can read about my experience as I blogged it throughout 2012. The index is here.

ECAN does great work in raising awareness and leading advocacy programs and that’s why I got involved with them last year to do the Stories to Save Lives rappel event at the Universal City Hilton.

To learn more about the organization please visit ECAN.org.

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