The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Calm Before the Storm

Film poster for Earthquake (film) - Copyright ...
Film poster for Earthquake (film) - Copyright 1974, Universal Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

          This past Friday night my wife and I were sitting peacefully in our living room watching a movie when suddenly we were jolted out of our cinematic fantasy world by a 5.1 earthquake with an epicenter of about ten miles from where we live.  I didn't immediately realize what was happening, but my wife, who is like a human earthquake sensor, scrambled out of her place on the couch and I was soon behind her.

          Where we were going I don't know, except to be away from the cabinets that could potentially fall on us.  As we stood in the middle of the floor, the ground rumbling beneath us, I heard a shattering of glass from the kitchen and the thump of something upstairs falling to the floor.  Fortunately the house remained intact and soon all was calm.  I put the movie on pause in order to assess the damage and see what they were saying on TV.

          The broken glass was in a cheap picture frame that fell off the wall.  Upstairs a few knickknacks were knocked over and a small box had fallen to the floor.  Otherwise all was well.  We were safe and the city was not a disaster area.  There was of course the possibility that what we had felt was merely the precursor to something larger still to come.

          With a bit of jittered nerves we resumed watching the movie since it was only twenty minutes from the end.   It was a pretty lousy movie anyway.  The Wolf of Wall Street was up for a few Oscars so we had decided to order it from Netflix.  My wife and I both like Leo Dicaprio and as always I felt he did a superb acting job in this film, but the character he played and the movie in general was morally bankrupt with no redeeming values whatsoever.  With Hollywood turning out garbage such as this film maybe an earthquake is what this town needs as a wake up call.

          As we returned to the news reports after the film was over, there was all of this mention of being prepared for "the big one"--having a emergency plan in place and supplies in readiness.  I've been hearing this since I moved to the Los Angeles area and have yet to make any preparations.  They can't predict when any "big one" is going to come if ever.   And when it happens it will come as a big surprise.  For some people no amount of advance preparation will make any difference whatsoever.

          Sometimes people will talk about earthquake weather.  Just like I've heard people talk about tornado weather back east.  There are many differences of opinion about what the weather is like before some major disaster.  The term I've most often heard cited is "the calm before the storm".  Perhaps there is a calm period before a storm, but mostly I think it's a matter of illusion.  One minute you're peacefully eating breakfast at the kitchen table and then without warning an airliner crashes in your neighborhood and all the houses are immediately destroyed or on fire.

          Dramatic I know, but nothing like hyperbole to make a point.  Then again I think I might be missing the real point I want to make and that is today is the last day before the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge of 2014 begins.  Some of you might be ready and blissfully enjoying a calm before the storm.  Good for you.
 
        I suspect there are many like me whose blogworld is already shaking as we frantically try to get ready for the month to come.  Are you trying to write posts in these final hours?   Are you trying to square things away in your life so you'll have more free time for blogging in April?  Yeah, that's me.  No earthquake supplies, no storm cellar--just waiting for the big one to come and hoping I'm not sitting on the epicenter.

        But that is such as it is.  Today I ramble.  Tomorrow I begin the greatest blog event of them all.

        In my first A to Z post I will be incorporating another Battle of the Bands.   This may be unfamiliar to some of you.  You'll just have to come back to find out what it's all about.   Those who know about the Battle of the Bands will know what's coming.   Let me dazzle you all with my deft handling of the two blogging events smoothly melded together into one coherently themed post.   Well, it may not be earth-shaking, but it's not going to be The Wolf of Wall Street either.

           Have you ever been jolted out of a peaceful circumstance to be thrown into turmoil?    If you saw The Wolf of Wall Street what did you think of it?   Are you all ready for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge?

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Friday, March 28, 2014

How Much Do Your Blog Posts Weigh?

Even scales icon
Even scales icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


        What kind of dumb unquantifiable question is this?   How much does a blog post weigh?  Who asks a question like that anyway?

          I do--who else?   When I've got a lot of other things to think about I might now and then toss out some outlandish question for readers to think about.    I've got A to Z blog posts to compose, social media to follow, family issues to be concerned about, and other fish to fry (I'm fixing tilapia for dinner tonight--that is Thursday night of the day I'm composing this blog piece).

          But concerning the weightiness of a blog post, I'm not necessarily talking about how many words it contains.  A long post can be a lightweight bunch of fluff.  A content laden post might have a lot to tickle your mind, but does it leave any lasting impressions?   A lot of pictures can make a post look heavy, but what do you take with you after you leave?

          A truly heavy post is the one that weighs you down and entices you to think about it for a while.  I'm not sure how often this happens.   Since most of us are busy with this or that we might not have that much time to ponder ideas from a blog post.  We might even need to watch TV or something.

         What I'm talking about is like the difference between lugging home a bag of gold bars and a big tote sack filled with fluffy cotton candy.  I kind of like cotton candy.  It melts in your mouth--you don't even have to chew it.   And it tastes sweet and good.   You can't eat the gold bars and it takes a lot more effort to carry them.  It can be a back-straining sweat-inducing effort.   Ultimately though the gold bars are an investment that can pay you back.

          Sometimes I enjoy some cotton candy.   Or popcorn.   Or pudding.    Such a pleasure to sit dully in front of the TV watching some mind-numbing show while pigging out on junk food.    Escapism in part I suppose.  Addiction of a sort from another perspective.

        I sometimes strive for blog posts that weigh lot.  Not long mind you, but something to chew on.   I'd like to think I'm occasionally writing blog posts that are more like the equivalent of a granola bar or a garden salad with a lot of fresh vegetables in it.   Something you have to chew on and might be getting some nutritional value from.

         Then again granola bars can be kind of like eating that composite wood stuff or maybe a cork bulletin board.   Maybe I'd rather write a Three Musketeers bar or one of those chocolate covered marshmallow bunnies they have at Easter.

            How heavy do you like your blog posts to be?   Would you rather read a cotton candy post or raw carrots and cauliflower?    Do you like a blog post that makes you think a bit and inspires you to leave a deeper comment than you typically leave?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Who Do You Follow? Who Do You Read? #atozchallenge #AZchat

Twitter
Twitter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


         It has now been a little over two years since I opened my Twitter account.   I can't say that I know much more about Twitter now than I did back then but I suppose I've gotten better.  With well over 5000 followers and nearly 8000 tweets to my account, I guess I'm not what one might consider a Twitter heavyweight, but I'm doing moderately well for whatever that's worth.

         When I first started on Twitter I naturally began following all of my blog contacts who had accounts and a few other people I know.   I also began following every literary agent and publisher I came across.  I figured by doing so I'd get some insider knowledge about things I'd need to know about being a writer and perhaps even get a foot in the door with some of these contacts.  Wrong!--at least as far as I can tell.

         First of all, I discovered that most of these agents and publishers had a ton of followers--probably writers like me with the same goals as I have--and they had a minuscule number of accounts that they were following.  They were unlikely to see any of my tweets and probably didn't care whether they saw them or not.  Like any high profile Twitterer, they were sitting in their high places tweeting their tweets expecting their fans to revel in everything they sent into Twitterland.   Where I would excitedly note who followed my account and courteously follow them back, they were probably deleting every "following" notice they received as quickly as they came in.  Actually they probably had an assistant or an intern casting people like me off into non-entity limbo.

        Not only would they be unlikely to ever follow my Twitter account, I discovered that most of the publishers were just tweeting marketing information about their products and many of the agents were tweeting absolute nonsense.  They were making comments about the weather or what they ate or some such usual nonsense that many people tweet about.  If I tweet about stubbing my toe nobody's especially interested, that is if they even happen to notice my tweet in the first place. An agent needs to be tweeting me something that's going to provide me with information that is going to lead me to success.  I guess not though.  After all they're just people too and they don't have all that much to tweet about either and if they do have something about business it's about their client or something like that.

        I eventually decided that I didn't need the agent tweet clutter in my feed and started unfollowing all of the agents.  I get enough dumb stuff flying through my Twitter feed.

         Oh, and if you're an agent and you happen to be reading this post, I wasn't talking about you.  I love you and would like to start following your Twitter account.   Just let me know your handle and I'll faithfully read about what you had for lunch or what you're wearing today.   And if you're ready to sign a contract with me then let's talk.   I love all of your tweets!  You can find me at @ArleeBird.  I follow back!


Tweeters You Should Know

         If you want to get to know some great folks on Twitter then join in the next A to Z Challenge Chats on Twitter tomorrow (Thursday March 27th at 1 PM and 8 PM EST).  This is a good bunch of people who have a good time and dispense some useful information.

          You can even join in if you're not signed up yet for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge and just want to know more about it.   Have questions about A to Z?   Jump into the conversational fun and just ask.  The previous chats were very enjoyable--much more so than I had expected.

          All agents and publishers are welcome to join the A to Z chat sessions cause I really do like you.    Just ignore what I said earlier.

Why Should You Come to #AZchat?

         A to Z co-host Pam the Unconventional Librarian tells about why you should attend the A to Z Twitter Chats.  Please drop over to her site and take a look.

          While you're at Pam's blog, if you haven't done this already, please stop in to check out my guest post about one of my favorite books.

           Do you follow Twitter accounts of literary agents, publishers, or other professionals whom you think can be helpful to you in your field of interest?   Do you follow any celebrities or well known people?    Can you recommend any particularly helpful tweeters who post useful content?



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Monday, March 24, 2014

Attacked By Earworms: Five Songs That Really Annoy Me

This post is my 1000th post on Tossing It Out!   Strike up the band.   Let the music begin!!!!!

It's a small small world
It's a small small world (Photo credit: weesen)
   

        Starting the week off with something light, this might also be the post that messes with your head and might drive you bonkers.   I'm talking earworms--those crazy little tunes that get stuck in your head and no matter how hard you try they keep coming back to haunt you.

         Usually these are quite innocuous pieces of music that in their original context are pleasant and fun to hear, but when they start playing in my head I can't seem to shut the durn things off.  They'll come back to play on a regular basis--sometimes daily and sometimes several times during the day.  They may echo through my head like the music torture the United States government has sometimes used.   Or that loud rap music that emanates from cars that sometimes pull up next to me at traffic lights.

         I love music, but it's a sad day when music starts to annoy me.  If you want to risk an earworm attack, you can click on the song titles to hear what my music nightmares sound like.  Most of you are probably familiar with these songs.

Five Truly Annoying Earworm Songs:

5.   "High Hopes" --From the film A Hole in the Head, the song was most notably sung by Frank Sinatra with a cloying chorus of children singing along.  It's been since covered by many artists.  When I was a kid we used to sing the song in school.  We have a rubber tree plant in our backyard and every time I see that damn plant that song starts playing in my head.  I wish an ant would come and carry off our rubber tree plant so I could possibly stop thinking of that song.

4.  "It's A Small World" -- Whether you've been on the Disney ride or not, you are most likely familiar with this song that is considered by many to be the ultimate earworm song.  Years ago when my oldest daughter was a toddler, we enjoyed the Small World ride at Disney World and then later in the gift shop bought a cassette tape soundtrack of the ride with the song played in different languages and different orchestrated arrangements.  My daughter loved hearing that tape.  We played that tape many times.  In the context of the ride it is a fun song, but not necessarily something you want to hear all the time.  All the time.  All the time. If you aren't hearing "It's a Small World" in your head right now after reading this, you need to click the link and listen to the song.  You apparently haven't heard it enough in your life yet.

3.  "Yellow Submarine" --Okay, I loved this song when it first came out.  I enjoyed the animated film and the accompanying soundtrack.  It's a fun novelty tune and it's the Beatles.  But enough is enough.  There are times when this song will pop into my brain and have me singing along.  I don't want to, but I just can't help myself.

2.  "Mairzy Doats" -- In a way the concept of the song is clever, but the lyrics can get pretty annoying upon repeated listening.  Why it happens I don't really know, but there are times when I will just spontaneously start singing this song to myself and as I sing I will start singing in various weird and obnoxious voices.  I always do this when I'm alone.   I hope I never do this when someone else is around.  Considering that I'm still alive I guess I haven't done this yet.

1. "Theme from The Bridge On the River Kwai"-- I love this film and in the context of the film this song is wonderful.  But once the song leaves the film it drives me nuts.  Every single day--and I mean every single day of my life--I will at some point start whistling this song.  And usually it's several times during the day.  Make it stop!  Please!  Oh, I can't help myself.

        Do you have any songs that are your earworms?   Do you actually enjoy listening to any of my choices?  What do you think is the ultimate earworm?

Be sure to visit my guest post at Unconventional Librarian where I discuss one of my favorite books.
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Friday, March 21, 2014

#atozchallenge Theme Reveal / BOTB Winner

A to Challenge Theme reveal blogfest
Gorgeous badge by Samantha Redstreake Geary


       Hosted by  Vidya SuryAnna TanCsenge Zalka, Guilie Castillo Oriard and Samantha Geary.  Visit their sites for the list that will lead you to other theme reveals.

My 2014 A to Z Theme:  Marketing  
   
        During the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge of 2012 my theme was Marketing A to Z.  I barely dented the topic during that run of the alphabet and since there's so much more that can be discussed on the subject of marketing, promotion, and other related topics, I will be once again presenting some of my thoughts about this topic that all of us encounter on a daily basis.   And as I've said before, marketing and promotion is something we all use in our own lives whether we realize it or not.

        Never fear if you are intimidated by marketing.  I'll be mostly tapping into everyday things that relate to each of us personally as well as on the level of promotion and marketing.  How you sell yourselves to others is an integral part of how you market whatever it is you are trying to sell to others.

         Hopefully I'll be offering some practical everyday advice that will have applications in whatever marketing endeavors you do or might be doing someday.   There's also another aspect of my April theme that will become evident on April 26th.  The A to Z Challenge is just the start of this theme.

          Please be sure to visit this blog in April for Marketing Concepts from A to Z.

Battle of the Bands Winner

       My most recent Battle of the Bands post pitted two versions of a somewhat obscure Carole King song called "Snow Queen".    I had a version by the vocal group Roger Nichols & the Small Circle of Friends up against the brassy sound of the jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat, and Tears.    

         Blood, Sweat, and Tears ran away with this contest with most of the voters citing the more lively tempo and clearer vocals.  A handful voted for the Roger Nichols group while others said they sounded "hippy dippy".

           My vote will have absolutely no affect on the outcome of this contest.   The BS&T version was new to me and I was biased toward the vocal version which I first heard in around 1971.  The BS&T version is fantastic, but it took a few listens for me to come to that conclusion.  At first the jazzier arrangement seemed too frantic and a jumbled mess to my hearing, but as I listened more I could hear the tightness of the band and the intricacy of what they were doing.  Still my vote goes to Small Circle of Friends.  I prefer the gentler sound and the superb harmonies of the vocals.

         Final tally was Blood, Sweat, & Tears 12 votes and Roger Nichols Trio with 4 votes.

          The next Battle of the Bands will coincide with the opening day of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge.  Hopefully we'll see more votes on that one.

           If you are participating in Blogging from A to Z, did you join the Theme Reveal Blogfest?    Do you have a theme for April?    Are you a Carole King fan?   Were you familiar with the song "Snow Queen"?
           
Be sure to visit my guest post at Unconventional Librarian where I discuss one of my favorite books.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Choosing Sides: Why Do You Fight Your Battles?

English: Cat Play-fight
English: Cat Play-fight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
   

Do You Want to Fight?

        This is a wishy washy post.   In other words I don't want to bring up any specific issues about what I believe or about which I have opinions.  We all have some sort of belief and probably most of us have strong opinions about certain specific issues.  These beliefs and opinions may concern matters of major consequence to society or they may be irrelevant to most people.  The point is that there are matters of disagreement that we all have with someone somewhere.   Do we defend our stance on an issue or do we cede to the side with the loudest or most persistent voices?

         My blog often will present debatable topics that have some degree of controversy.   This can be risky when it comes to retaining readers and not sending them off in anger, distaste, or some sense where they feel that my blog does not fit it with what they want to read.   I take that chance in the interest of discussion as well as the increase of knowledge and understanding.  My greatest desire is to find thoughtful readers who enjoy discussion among those with differing viewpoints.

        There are, however, certain topics that I do not address here and probably won't because they are such hot-button issues that they will target me from the opposing side causing more flack than I care to deal with as a blogger.  I don't have the stamina or heart to take up certain battles.

         Then there have been a few battles that I have taken on because I felt a confidence that many readers were on my side and my discussing the topics would not create any significant opposition that would overly affect me in an adverse way.  I won't name those topics, but I will say that the nature of them has been so absurd in many ways that arguing against them has mostly been an exercise in futility with a bit of debate entertainment thrown in the mix.

         The blog battles that I have enjoyed the most so far are the Battle of the Bands posts that I do here every 1st and 15th of the month.  Otherwise I'm not here to battle any issues in a fierce combative manner that goes on and on.   Some topics may crop up more than once and there are some that I may never talk about.   I won't name any of them here in this post.

Why Do We Pick a Side?

          Let me present to you some sketchy thoughts on choosing sides and why we might choose battles to fight.   This is a much more vast topic than I want to address in this post so I'll present them as a list.   A few things that we base our decisions on:

1)  Feelings
2)  Unwillingness to accept personal accountability
3)  Self-centered me-ism
4)  What we think others think
5)  What we think others will think about us
6)  Our cultivated morality or lack of morality.
7)  Rebellion against traditional values or alignment with societal norms
8)  To feel accepted and to be part of a movement
9)  The platform of our politics
10)  What will benefit us individually or the needs of a group with which we affiliate ourselves.

       What other reasons for decision making when forming opinions can you think of?    Do you have causes that you feel strongly enough about to take action for or against?   What kinds of causes will you risk taking up even with the knowledge that you might be labeled in some way?    Do you avoid discussing your advocacies on your blog or do you tend to be open about your beliefs?    Are there any types of opinions that would make you stop reading what a blogger had to say?   What causes have you seen taken up that you would consider dumb or frivolous?   


Thursday #AZchat


Twitter Logo
Twitter Logo (Photo credit: Jon Gosier)

        Hope you can join us tomorrow (Thursday March 20th) at 1 PM and 8 PM Eastern U.S. Time for our weekly Twitter chats.  The previous ones have been fun and informational.   Topics relevant to the April Challenge are introduced and addressed by A to Z Team members.  If you have a question that you've been wondering about, this is a good time to ask.    If you've never joined in on a Twitter chat this is a good way to find out what they're all about.  Hope to see you there.

A to Z Theme Reveal

 

       It's not too late to sign up for the A to Z Theme Reveal coming up Friday March 21st.   This is the event where you tell us about the theme you've chosen for the Blogging from A to Z 2014 April Challenge.  It's a good way to get a head start on the Challenge and let other bloggers get to know you better.  If you've already revealed your theme you can still sign up since there are undoubtedly many bloggers who still don't know what you're doing.   Introduce yourself and your blog to the A to Z participants.   To sign up you can go to A to Z Theme Reveal.




   
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Monday, March 17, 2014

I Can Hardly Wait Until...

BSS77
BSS77 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        There used to be this lady who worked at the corporate office of the company for which I worked.  She'd been working there for several years before I started managing the West Coast operation.  She handled things like payroll and accounts receivable and payable.  She would email me frequently when she had a question or a request concerning my office.  Her tag line before her signature was always "Hurry Friday!"

         She was one of those TGIF people who existed for the weekends.  I never understood that philosophy.  Maybe when I was in high school, but not really.  I had favorite TV shows during the week and I did okay going to school.  Didn't care for it all that much, but I very easily tolerated it.

          Still the "can hardly wait" idiom frequently appeared in my language. "I can hardly wait until my vacation" or Christmas or whatever.  I still catch myself saying these types of phrases or even thinking the thoughts.  The truth though is  that I can wait.  I don't want time to hurry any faster than it already does.  I'd like to savor every moment.  Or a least all the good ones.

          I don't really wish such and such a date would hurry and get here.  Life is short and I don't need to make it any shorter.  Even those times when I feel kind of bored.  In reality there's never a legitimate time for boredom as there is something interesting about every situation in every moment of the day.  I think of boredom as a stubborn display to reject what we think we don't want to do.  Or a tedious time as something I know I don't want to do.   The state of boredom is a lie which we begin to believe and if we openly express this lie we become more and more frustrated--or bored.

         But I digress.  My real point is that we--or I and you if you want to--we should savor each  present moment as much as we can.  They fly by so it's difficult to catch a moment, but sometimes time seems to pause--just for a moment to wait to see if I've noticed.

            "TGIF" or  "Hurry Friday!" even on a Monday the lady in our company would end her emails to me.  She still had a whole week ahead.  Every day would be a "Hurry Friday" day except for when it was "Yay! It's Friday!" day.

            You can wait for most things.   Sometimes you might need to go to the bathroom after waiting and there may come a point where you can't wait any longer.  There are things like throwing up    "Blechhhh!" If there's any waiting necessary for that then you can figure that waiting's not gonna happen.

            I wait if I have to.  What choice do I have in those cases?   There's always something to listen to and to look at or at least think about.  Waiting can be a blessing.  Waiting holds options if we choose to see them.     Waiting is not really all that bad.  Besides, once we've reached whatever we are waiting for then there's something else to wait for.

          That's life.  We're all ultimately waiting for something.

           Where do you dislike waiting?   Do you get impatient or unpleasant in any way when you have to wait?    What are you waiting for at this moment?


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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: Snow Queen

     

About the Song "Snow Queen"

         Once again I've chosen a somewhat obscure song, but one co-written by one of the most well known songwriters of the past 50 years.   Carole King has written or co-written several huge hits, many with her original songwriting partner and former husband Gerry Goffin.   King's solo album Tapestry is one of the biggest selling albums of all time.  "Snow Queen" is a King/Goffin composition that was first recorded by a group led by songwriter Roger Nichols.   Soon after, Carole released her own version with her pre-solo days group The City.

         You might be interested in listening to versions of "Snow Queen" by The City and a later solo recording by Carole King, but you might want to listen after you've listened to the two vying contestants.  I'm not including King's versions in this contest because I think they would blow away the other contestants.  Either of her versions as far as I'm concerned rank among her best recordings and the song is one of her best.

         Here are the versions of "Snow Queen" I would like you to choose between:

 
Roger Nichols & the Small Circle of Friends "Snow Queen" (1968)

       I picked up the Small Circle of Friends album in the cut-out bin back in about 1971.  The album was not a big seller, but it was highly influential and remains highly regarded among many music collectors. For those who might be thinking that this group sounds mighty like the Carpenters, it might be more appropriate to say the Carpenters sound like the Roger Nichols group.  With Paul Williams, Roger Nichols co-wrote a number of the Carpenters' songs as well as hits for many other artists.  The album on which this song appeared contains several excellent cover songs.   The stereo separation is extreme in this recording and all other versions I found on YouTube so I hope you have both channels hooked up.  Still if you only have the vocal channel playing it sounds pretty cool.






Blood, Sweat, & Tears "Snow Queen"  (1972)

       Blood, Sweat, and Tears always seemed to be a band in transition with an ongoing lineup of musicians that was like a cast of thousands.   When David Clayton Thomas on vocals left the group after several hit albums,  Jerry Fisher took vocals for a while.  That's who's singing on the next version of "Snow Queen".  BS&T was one of many big horn bands that were popular in the late 60's and early 70's.   They were one of the more jazz centered of these groups.

       The BS&T version of "Snow Queen" is a big jazz production that speeds the song up from the previous version of the song.  Take a listen and compare.





         Now pick your favorite version and vote in the comment section.   Let us know why you choose that version over the other.  Then go visit the other participating blogs and vote on their battles.  Here is the list:


         Faraway Series
         Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends
         Your Daily Dose
         DiscConnected

            Donna Hole


About the Battle of the Bands

           The Battle of the Bands appears here every 1st and 15th of the month and at other participating sites as shown above and whoever else decides to join in.

          Which version of "Snow Queen" did you prefer?   Did you notice the Carpenter's and Beach Boy like sounds in the Roger Nichols version?   How do you think Jerry Fisher's vocals compare to David Clayton Thomas?  

         To read some more of my thoughts about music and remembering please visit my memoir blog Wrote By Rote. 



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