‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a kind of magic

Queen on stage as portrayed in Bohemian Rhapsody

(Twenty-First Century Fox promotional photo)

Going into “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I knew to expect great music — Queen is one of the best bands ever, after all — but ultimately the story and the performances make this a movie that will rock you.

In retrospect, the ascension of a bunch of musical misfits who created norms-defying songs and led by a strange-looking frontman really is an underdog story. So many of us either caught Queen’s ascension at the time or afterwards that going back to the beginning and realizing/remembering just how unusual this band and its music was becomes instructive.

The talk of Rami Malik deserving an Oscar nomination as Freddie Mercury is legit. Since I don’t pay much attention to entertainment news, it really did take me half the movie to realize it was the same guy from “Mr. Robot.” Malik is asked to show us a Freddie who is at turns confident and lonely, hot and cold, and coming to grasp with his sexuality and its place in a more constrained society, and he delivers magnificently.

But I was additionally pleased the movie didn’t make this all about Mercury and sell short the contributions of his bandmates. The rest of the band, who look strikingly like their real-world selves (especially Gwilym Lee as Brian May, but also Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joe Mazello as John Deacon), show a range of emotion and real chemistry to bring us even further into the tale. That the movie includes May’s vision for the stomp-clap of “We Will Rock You” and Deacon presenting his disco-influenced bass riff that became “Another One Bites the Dust” are fabulous bits that really flesh out the band’s collaborative talents — and makes the times when a misguided Mercury pushes back on the band’s family feeling even more compelling.

Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin has both some heartbreaking scenes as Mercury’s wife who realizes he is gay well before he accepts it but also heartwarming parts as somebody who sticks by him even as his life strays the wrong direction under manipulative manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). Even seemingly smaller roles like Mercury’s family and his eventual partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) allow the performers to show genuine humanity and decency many such movies wouldn’t bother to provide.

One could quibble with the historical accuracy, or lack thereof, of parts of the film. From the formation of the band through when Mercury actually received his AIDS diagnosis, the filmmakers take some liberties with facts and timelines. This should probably bother me (and my history degree) more than it does, but a biopic is not a documentary. The reworking parts of the backstory come in service to creating a more powerful story, and the film is such a fun ride that I won’t get hung up on it. This is a Hollywood tale, after all, which is both based on a real band and a wonderful bit of escapism.

If you’re a Queen fan, it goes without saying you should see this movie. But even if you aren’t, the music and the story and the performances are all so engrossing, enjoyable and entertaining that it’s likely you’ll leave the theater as a Queen fan. It really is a kind of magic.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under words

#heweb18: solving the mermaid’s dilemma

A mermaid performs in a Dive Bar aquarium

It’s perhaps an apt metaphor that one of our favorite stops during the recent HighEdWeb Conference in Sacramento (aka #heweb18) was the nightly mermaid shows at a place called Dive Bar. Because, in a way, higher ed communicators find themselves in the mermaid’s dilemma.

The folk tale that also served as the basis for the Disney blockbuster “The Little Mermaid” features the mermaid Ariel falling in love with a human, but facing a difficult decision: If she remains true to who she is, as a sea-dwelling mermaid, she has no future with the man she loves. If she could adapt human form, she could never go back to her mermaid lifestyle.

We feel like that in the higher ed digital community sometimes. We try to stay true to ourselves and what we know our best practices, but something we find ourselves trying to please others in ways that go against our own core values.

We can gain enough expertise to speak at a conference full of brilliant humans, only to be treated like paupers on our own campuses. Through education, training, sharing ideas, innovation and trial and error, we gain expertise that allows us to generate success for our institutions and our audiences. But then HiPPOs and various others with no knowledge of these acquired best practices dismiss our expertise and make requests we know are not good for our institutions: Post this flyer on social media, put this dense mission statement prominently on the website, write this story that we’ve said no to others in the past and now will have to write 10 more in the future.

But the thing about the mermaid’s dilemma, and folks tails in general, is that it assumes a false dichotomy: We can either be this thing or that thing. We make the same mistake in higher ed: We can either do things our way or their way. But that’s overly simplistic. Generally fairy tales work themselves out with some kind of deux ex machina or some kind of magic. nd you know what: We work in positions where we can make magic happen.

As it turns out, closing keynote Sir Ken Robinson gave us the keys for getting past our mermaid’s dilemma. He spoke of the three Cs that aren’t used enough in educating children but which can better prepare them for the future: curiosity, creativity and collaboration.

Curiosity: Yes, we think we have the answers, but have we, in fact, asked the questions? One facet of curiosity is that we need to get outside ourselves (or get over ourselves) and learn more about what those asking things of us truly want. Another facet of curiosity is always looking for a better way and trying new things to move our institutions — and the industry — forward.

Creativity: This is where the magic happens. Whether it’s in writing, video, photography or other content creation; coding; design; implementation of technology; or any other part of digital communications, we put our minds, our hands and our teams to work to solve problems, even the ones that seem difficult if not impossible.

Collaboration: The idea that, in higher ed, we only have our way or their way is self-destructive. That administrator or dean or faculty member whose requests might rub you the wrong way wants the same thing you do: to recruit great students, provide them with opportunities and pave the way toward fruitful futures. We might disagree on the methods, but we want the same outcome. This is an opportunity for you to cultivate your curiosity (learn more about their viewpoints, problems and needs), instill your creativity (find clever and effective ways to solve their problems) and collaboration (remember that you’re on the same team, and to go out and build those teams. And #heweb18 shows how many of us collaborate with other campuses by sharing expertise, ideas and advice.

To those I would add a fourth C: Care. This came up in multiple presentations and contexts. We do what we do because we care about our institutions and our students. But speakers also kept promoting self-care: about finding the right work-life rhythm, about finding ways to recharge and refresh our bodies and minds and about realizing that if we’re not happy and energized, we can’t bring the best to our institutions and our students.

For those of us blessed to work in higher education, it isn’t a question of doing things in the way we’re comfortable with or abandoning what we’ve always known to please others. It’s a question of how we can make our choices work for everybody at the table, and ultimately work for our students. It’s hard work but it’s also a kind of magic.

And to attend a conference where we constantly learn new and exciting things, see mermaids swimming in giant aquariums atop bars and attend the awesome annual #karaokeplane where hundreds of people — both from the conference and locals — come together for an uplifting  evening of improvised entertainment … well, it’s enough to make you believe that magic can happen.

Leave a comment

Filed under words

The Frank Turner experience: part concert, part therapy

IMG_2304

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls rocking in concert

Seeing Frank Turner live is as much of a group therapy session as it is a(n excellent) concert.

Frank’s catalogue includes beautiful, poignant song about broken people trying to mend themselves. His words have found many of us at the right time in the right place with the right message. For me, songs like “Recovery,” “The Next Storm” and “Get Better” all lifted my spirits and my thoughts when I really needed it. And looking around the crowd that enjoyed Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls’ show last night at the State Theater in Ithaca, I was far from alone. Many people were shouting his lyrics back cathartically, while others wore their emotion on their faces, these songs washing over them and making them feel cleansed.

He’s been through a lot himself, known as a man who got where he is by a rather ridiculous work ethic couple with being a charismatic everyman. It comes across in his songs, his shows and, if you want a nice read, his autobiography “The Road Beneath My Feet.” Frank is a rock star, to be sure, but this nervous, angular, foul-mouthed Englishman really feels like one of us.

Frank tells audiences his shows have two rules: “Don’t be an asshole” and “If you know the words, sing.” If you don’t know the words, he says, you can dance. But he also urged the crowd to dance during various songs, so much of the crowd was singing and dancing.

He started with a slow song, the title track off his new album “Be More Kind,” which thematically set the theme for the night. Frank and the band picked things up with “1933,” one of a few tracks on the new record castigating fascists and racists (as any good punk rocker would) and by the time the crowd was sing “we can get better/because we’re not dead yet” from “Get Better,” the show was in full gear.

A smattering of people had their smartphones out taking a lot of pictures and recording, although it seemed like less than an average show. Frank and the Sleeping Souls provide a very immersive concert experience, best not viewed through a tiny lense. Take a few photos to remember the experience, sure — I usually do mine during the first few songs, then put my phone away — but realize this a live and dynamic thing you should enjoy in the moment. In “Don’t Worry,” the first track on his new album, Frank even has a few lines that seem to address the need to spend less time with technology and be more human:

Don’t let your heart get hardened into stone
Or lose yourself in looking at your phone
So many so-called friends
And still you feel alone
You should spend more time with the do’s than with the don’ts

This was an evening about doing and feeling and singing and dancing. Frank inserted a three-song solo acoustic set, which included “Smiling at Strangers on Trains,” a reworking of an old song from his previous band, Million Dead. Then he asked the crowd up front to make a circle and a mosh pit broke out (I was more concerned about my glasses than my body, but we all made it through).

The band closed the set with “Photosynthesis” (the show-closer for some previous tours). During the break before the last chorus, Frank said we had a chance to take this feeling, this positivity forward, that on Monday morning we could go to work or school and choose not to be assholes, to make compassion in fashion again and to simply be more kind. It sounds cheesy to say, but it was actually quite inspirational.

His four-song encore included one last fast dancing song, “Four Simple Words,” before he closed with “Polaroid Picture,” a song about making memories last. He asked the crowd to put their arms on each other’s shoulders, and soon strangers on both sides of me stretched out their arms and smiled. So we were one big, sweaty, happy wave of people swaying side to side together, one more indelible memory during a song about just such a feeling.

The best art is about transformative experiences. For many of us fans, that’s what Frank Turner’s songs mean to our life. Last night felt that way too, where even a solo like me was dancing with hundreds of strangers turned friends. How many of us got up this morning and went to work or school and decide to be more kind as a result? We’ll never know for sure. But what if we did?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under words

Goodbye to a handy man, a gentle man and a gentleman.

The world lost a good man today. Jack, the guy with the white beard in this picture, passed away early this morning. He was my mom’s longtime boyfriend and, for many of those years, the closest thing to a father I had.

He was a handyman, a gentle man and a gentleman. He was also a quiet man and somebody most comfortable behind the scenes. If you live in Central New York, there’s a decent chance you might have set foot in a place he renovated, built or supervised a crew doing work.

Closer to home, he willingly blended into this crazy family who were a package deal that came with dating my mom. He was there to celebrate as the family expanded, and while Arius and Emerson were not his actual grandchildren, at times like in this picture, he very much enjoyed their company.

His health failed in recent years and for various reasons, he and my mother couldn’t spend much time together. But she lives in a place he helped build and, for many years, made feel like a home with the kind of love she hasn’t had much of otherwise. It’s a sad day, but we do take some comfort in knowing he’s no longer in discomfort.

The last project he ever did was leading the reconstruction of my front porch. That feels like an honor for me, since he was a man who constructed and accomplished so much, even if so few know it. I do know that when I step on my porch, I will often think of Jack, and remember everything he built — in every sense of the word.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Respect the sport: This ain’t no fish story.

The author fishing

If you’re going to get up around 4:30 in the morning on a holiday, it should be for a good reason. The adventure of spending Labor Day on my first fishing charter seemed a pretty decent reason.

My friend Bobby Malo, who co-owns Sterling Cidery with his wife Amy, had reached out because his father (Bob) had booked a charter with White Cap Charters and there was room for me to join them if I was interested. It sounded exciting, so I replied in the affirmative. I didn’t ask about the whole we-need-to-get-up-way-before-dawn thing til later, but it’s not like I sleep in that much, holiday or other.

And so around 6 am, Bobby and Bob and I departed Bayside Marina with Mike, the captain who runs White Cap Charters, and John, his first mate who sets in all the gear. Having watched more than my share of “Deadliest Catch,” I realize there’s nothing particularly simple about fishing from boats of any level of sophistication. And while pursuing salmon from Lake Ontario on a beautiful (if somewhat hot) September day is not exactly hunting crabs in between winter storms on the Bering Sea, it’s no picnic either.

John set out the lines and downriggers and we had a rotation that Bob would take the first strike, then Bobby, then me. The fish seemed to take a couple hours to bite, but thien it was on like Donkey Kong. Bob’s first one managed to break free, and then Bobby brought in a really big king salmon. Then I waited and watched until the telltale pull on one of the lines meant it was my turn.

Folks, I’ve never charter fished before, let alone fished for anything bigger than a Nerf football, so this was quite a thing. Mike and John coached the noob through the basic rules of engagement: when the fish hits, let it run to tire itself out; once it stops running, first pull the pole up as much as you can; then start reeling and lower the rod quickly until the reel stops clicking; then raise the rod slowly as vertical as you can and repeat the process. That first fish felt like an eternity, but then I finally saw it on the surface and repeated the pulling and reeling until John had it in the net. It was all quite thrilling.

We ultimately made it around three times, with Bobby landing big fish on all three of his turns. Bob got one big and one smaller. On my next attempt, one hit and started running and we eventually lost it (certainly because it was about 300 pounds, or so goes my fish story). On our final attempt of the day, I got the reel on a cast that was more than 300 feet away and did a lot of pulling and reeling and repeating. It fought to the end, but eventually we pulled in one that was even bigger than my first.

While all seven salmon will be eaten at some point over the coming months, a part of me felt bad about the whole killing thing. But most of these are not very far from spawning and heading up river to die; they’re not exactly buying green bananas is what I’m saying. And it’s a large population and a thriving local industry, if the 20 or so other vessels also circling over the holes and chutes of Lake Ontario are any indication.

Mike said this is his final week of the season. The salmon are just one warm rain away from catching wind of the Oswego River and spawning upstream, there to be met by the throngs of fishermen in the lucrative fall salmon run. They are fresher and more sport at this point.

And when I say “sport,” the precision of the labors of Mike and John as well as the sheer effort we put into trying to land each one — my man vs. fish rounds felt about 10 to 15 minutes, although they were likely less — explains why charter fishing is so appealing and thrilling. To say nothing of the veritable feast that comes with it.

We finished the day with a late lunch at Turtle Cove, during which the skies opened up and scattered everybody else eating on the deck. But our group of three stayed out under the table umbrellas through the torrential downpours and steady rain that led us back to sunny skies. We’d just had an adventure on the high seas (or lake anyway), so enduring a bit more nature seemed only appropriate.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

All the lonely people — let’s help them all belong.

Cloudy morning over campus

I was on campus tonight for quick stop (saying hello to the 2018-19 Oswego women’s hockey team — go Lakers!) but a walk while killing time brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of starting college.

I saw a number of people sitting by themselves, maybe by choice, maybe not. I gazed out the window toward the bus stop where one student looked like he wanted to join a conversation but wasn’t sure how. I saw people who, in an exciting new environment surrounded by thousands of people their age, paradoxically looked a little lonely.

In essence, I saw myself in those people.

When I went away to school at Brockport, it should have been the most exciting time in my life. But it was the most lonely and discouraging first couple of weeks. I was a shy, skinny, awkward, pimply kid with bad hair. I didn’t know why all these kids who were better looking, cooler and richer than I would even want to hang out with me. I wouldn’t say I was homesick so much as just missing a place where I felt I belonged. Fortunately, I decided to wander down to the student newspaper, The Stylus, and found my tribe, including friends who remain to this day.

But what I’m saying is it’s not easy for a lot of people. They’ve left their usual friends, their routines, their comfort zones. They might be homesick. They might be unsure of what to do. They might be lonely.

One of the more gratifying parts of my job is working the incoming student social media communities, in essence trying to facilitate connections for our students before they ever reach campus. I’m blessed to work with staff and students to create content to help with the transition. And many of them find roommates, classmates, friends. But it’s not a perfect science. I met some nice people when I started college but didn’t click with them. That person who seems like an awesome roommate on social media may not in fact be a good match in real life, leaving people drifting.

I can only hope the lonely people looking for their fit can be as fortunate as I am. But even if we can’t make all the connections for them, we can do our part. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be willing to help. It’s the least we can do.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

A made-up holiday I can get behind.

Stack of

I moved offices recently (an improvement, though I don’t remember how many offices I’ve had for this gig) and am almost done moving/unpacking/filing old documents and such.

Today’s discovery was wonderful in itself — and I didn’t even realize at the time how great it was. Unpacking revealed a bunch of resumes from former interns. These SUNY Oswego graduates have gone on to success since, whether working in social media or higher ed or marketing or communications, but really what came rushing back were how helpful and willing to learn and awesome they all were.

So I took to Facebook, where I’m still connected with so many of them, and decided to tag the ones whose resumes I’d found, and as many other former interns as I could remember who have graduated, as a nice way to say I was thinking of them, and proud.

Old resumes and a thank you + praise of former interns

After posting that (and constantly remembering and adding more former students), I learned it was National Intern Day. I generally roll my eyes at all these made-up holidays, but the timing here was exquisite. But the best surprise was yet to come.

Years ago, one of my interns contacted me during his search wondering if he was cut out for this business. I remembered a particularly good story he wrote and how hard he worked, so I gave him a pep talk and encouragement. It’s the kind of thing I recall from time to time as I see him continue to climb the ladder in college athletic communication. His response was the kind of thing that makes any job worthwhile:

Thanks for the love Tim. I still remember your pep talk that you gave when I was trying to find my place in the job world after college. Those encouraging words when I was down on my luck is one of the sole reasons for my success (such as it is). Your belief in me helped give me the strength I needed to persevere. Not even I realized that day what the message did for me and I hope you know how just your positive words and belief in me and my work has helped get me to where i am.

Wow. What a reminder that a little bit of encouragement and some kind words go a long way. He honestly owes a lot of his success to his own talent and diligence, but to know that I could play any role is beyond gratifying.

So my advice, I’ve you’ve had interns or student workers or others you’ve tried to help along the way, is to consider reaching out to them, letting them know that you’re thinking of them and telling them you’re proud. You don’t need to do it on National Internship Day, but just do it when you can.

Leave a comment

Filed under words