28 May 2013

Offensive Mental Hospital Is Offensive

"No good deed goes unpunished..."

In my last blog piece, I argued about the ways in which pot shots taken at Amanda Bynes and other celebrities going through very public "rough patches" undermines the confidence that the rest of us Nobodies have that we can find the compassion and help we, too, need. You can well imagine, then, how quickly my eyes rolled when I saw Bynes's statement on TwitPlus regarding the entire affair:
For once and for all, this is the last thing I'll say about the mistaken arrest. I'm suing NYPD for illegally entering my apartment, lying about drugs on me and lying about me tampering with non existent drug paraphernalia, then I'm suing for being put into a mental hospital against my will, then locked up overnight for coming home after a facial and working out with my trainer like the good girl that I am. I'm allergic to alcohol and drugs and don't partake in any of the above. I'm so offended by all of this but so proud to not be a drug or alcohol user. I don't need to talk about this anymore. My lawyer and I are taking this offense so seriously! Everything they did was against the law and The judge saw that there was no drugs on me or proof of any type of bong or mental illness (I was so offended to even be taken to a mental hospital and they would not let me call my lawyer until the next day after being in jail all night, then I went to court and was immediately released because the judge saw that I was wrongly arrested. The cops found no proof of any type of drug use or evidence of drug paraphernalia such as a bong in or around my apartment) I'm also suing my apartment complex for lying about me smoking in my building. I'm free forever! You can't lock up an innocent person! Thanks for caring! Look forward to seeing me in music videos! I'm getting in shape and getting a nose job! I'm looking forward to a long and wonderful career as a singer/rapper!
The bolded emphasis is, obviously, mine. I don't know anything about the particulars of her post-arrest hearing, and I'll refrain from speculating about how much attention went into any such determination that there was "no proof of any type of...mental illness". It seems a bit hasty, and anyway the difference between a medical and a legal opinion on the status of someone's mental health can be vast but whatever.

It's the part where she was "so offended" at the very idea of being taken to a mental hospital. The clear implication is that jail was bad enough, but that it was even worse to be remanded to a mental health facility. I mean, jail is one thing. Sure, it's not ideal but we all understand that's where you go when you're arrested. But you have to be seriously messed up to not even get to stay in jail, right?

I don't know the legal code where she lives, but here it's merely protocol given the nature of the allegations. Like I mentioned in my last piece, about half of us patients at Our Lady of Peace were there for mental health issues, but the other half were there for substance issues. It's become standard for people under arrest with those kinds of allegations to be treated in a hospital rather than left to sit in a jail without the proper care they (may) need. But since we don't talk about such things, the misperception persists that only the "seriously messed up" people don't get to just stay in jail with "normal" people under arrest.

I get it, actually. I really do. There's such stigma attached to "the loony bin" that even being there for substance issues and not mental health embarrassed and upset some of the other patients I met. But that's the problem, really; the persistence of that stigma. I know this was an emotionally upsetting experience for Amanda Bynes. It would be upsetting for most people, even without the added scrutiny of being in the public eye. I saw patients who were admitted after I was who basically sat and stared and tried their hardest to not cry their eyes out because they couldn't believe they really were where they were. I get it.

I couldn't believe I was actually there myself. It's funny, really. I mean, I was at a point where I very nearly combined a ton of sleeping pills with an entire bottle of bourbon to end my life, but I didn't think I belonged at Our Lady of Peace. If I didn't belong there, then who did? Where did I belong? So yeah, I definitely understand why it's so upsetting.

Just as taking potshots at a celebrity going through his or her own issues sends a chilling message to the rest of us about how little actual compassion exists out there for us, so too does it hinder us when offense is taken at being sent to such a facility. It's a matter of protocol, and for good reason, but that's not even relevant to the more basic issue of how we as a society talk about such facilities.

There are a lot of issues to be addressed in our mental health care system. Everything from the legal code to the nature of big pharma's pill-pushing culture, from how patients see themselves to the late night talk show monologues needs to be reexamined. I don't claim to have all, or even any, of the answers. But I do know that one thing we as individuals can do is to be more mindful of how we personally talk about such matters.

P.S. "Allergic to alcohol and drugs," Ms. Bynes? Like, all drugs? Allergic how, exactly? Because if they alter your behavior, that's not an allergy. That's what they do.

25 May 2013

A Baseball Wife, an Actress and a Nobody Walk into a Mental Health Facility...

Back on Monday, I caught one of numerous unkind things said on Twitter to a woman I follow. I'm not naming her because she deleted her tweets relevant to the discussion, which I take to be an indication she doesn't want to deal with it any further and I respect that. The short version is that she's married to a professional athlete and had expressed some anxiety - a topic she's shared just as candidly as I have (though, you know, with a much wider audience).

Naturally, some dude felt compelled to snipe at her:
damn you have such a tough life following your athlete husband around the country. Please cry about it more
I, of course, was instantly upset. As I noted in my earlier piece, "On Depression", there is no lifestyle insulated against the misery of mental health problems. People continue to think that everyone is equally miserable, until they get to the point they can buy their way out of it. Both parts of that are patently untrue. Again, we're back to the misconception that there are people who are, and who are not, "entitled" to be anxious or depressed. Anxiety and depression don't give a damn about such things.

This guy persisted, though:
quit crying nobody cares solve your own problems like other people and not seek attention for your problems 
I know firsthand that it is impossible to "solve" mental health problems alone. They thrive in isolation, which is why depressed people withdraw from the ones who love them most. It's paramount that those of us who do fight these chronic issues maintain a certain level of connectedness. Is this young woman an "attention-seeker"? Perhaps, but only in the sense that she is actively seeking attention on behalf of those who also struggle with anxiety. She knows what I know: that the biggest problem with mental health issues is the ignorance of the general public. Raising better awareness, promoting fuller understanding and putting a human face on the issue are instrumental if we're to change how mental health patients fare.

These are, incidentally, the exact reasons why I share what I share - in person, in this blog, on Twitter, on Facebook; wherever the subject may arise, I use my voice to try to change the misperceptions that have made it so difficult over the years for me and millions like me to receive the proper help we need. There is no philosophical difference between her using her voice and me using mine on this issue. The only difference is that she's known by a whole lot more people...which, in turn, means that she has the chance to reach a much wider audience than me.

This brings me to last night's arrest of Amanda Bynes. For months now, the actress has become controversial for erratic behavior. It seems that she threw a bong in her apartment, was arrested and then remanded to a mental health facility. That isn't actually the kind of dramatic thing it sounds. Half the patients with me at Our Lady of Peace were there for reasons similar to mine, but the other half were there on account of substance issues.

Throughout the day, I saw countless tweets about Ms. Bynes actively rooting against her receiving help. Here's a typical reactionary tweet, variations of which are easily found:
Amanda Bynes was arrested today. Day=Made
There's a reason this upsets me so much, and it goes beyond seeing Amanda Bynes as a human being. When someone like this tweeter makes such a remark about a celebrity going through such an obviously difficult time as Bynes has been recently, it sends a chilling message. If this person's day was made by Amanda Bynes being arrested, what support would she offer for the millions of us Nobodies going through similar ordeals? How much compassion can there be for those of us with mental health issues when even popular patients invite such active venom?

This is, of course, where such people become defensive. "It was just a joke, man." Maybe to you, but you didn't even stop to consider how it also undermines a very serious matter for other people. "Hey, that's not my responsibility. If they can't take it, they shouldn't read/listen/whatever." You don't tweet/write/speak in a vacuum. You don't get to choose who can and cannot read or hear you. You aren't responsible for how people react to your words but at the very least, you are responsible for being mindful of which ones you use.

"Well, if my one little tweet/joke/ecard meme was the breaking point for someone, then they clearly had bigger problems anyway." This is my favorite defense, because it argues that we were all playing a game of Jenga, and the tower was still standing after their turn. Your one little throwaway quip may not have been the one that brought down the tower, but you contributed to compromising it.

Will Amanda Bynes be affected terribly by any one person who tweeted that her arrest made their day? Probably not. But what about people who actually know those tweeters, who saw their quips and made the mental note to themselves, "Don't reach out to him/her/them about my own depression/anxiety"?

We cannot continue to try to have parallel conversations about mental health issues. We cannot treat celebrities with mental health problems as "fair game" and act as though somehow, that's different from mocking a Nobody like me. When I see a baseball wife or Amanda Bynes ridiculed for what they face, I know that the only reason that same scorn isn't actively directed at me is that they have no idea who I am. We need to quit this dangerous game of Jenga. The objective should never be to see how much we can take away from someone else's life before they collapse. It should be to see how much we can help build up one another.

24 May 2013

C2E2: Meeting the Statons

Two years ago, for whatever reason, I found myself perusing the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America's web store. I'm not one of those patients who feels the need to "brand" himself with ribbon-logoed apparel and to be entirely honest, I'm not all that big on the CCFA in general but that's immaterial to this post. The pertinent part is that they had produced Pete Learns All About Crohn's and Colitis, a comic book to explain the basics of diagnosis to younger patients.

Let me repeat: There was a Crohn's comic book.

I had to have it. The sheer novelty alone made it interesting. As a lifelong comic book reader and as a Crohnie, it was simply too perfect. Better still: The CCFA offered copies of the comic entirely free of charge. I ordered a bundle of ten, not really sure what I would do with nine extraneous copies but I figured along the way I'd find a use for them. I gave one to a comic book collecting friend of mine for his collection. Another friend thought it was so great that such a comic existed that I gave him one of them.

Somehow or other, I had occasion to reference Pete Learns All About Crohn's and Colitis in a comment on one of Ty Templeton's blog posts. I had managed to overlook the tiny writing and art credits, which were tucked away with the rest of the issue's small fine print on the inside cover. Mr. Templeton instantly identified it as the work of his pal Joe Staton, and hazarded a guess that its writer would be Mrs. Staton. Sure enough, on the PDF version available from the CCFA, I actually did spy said credits which had been in my print editions all along. Because I'm observant like that.

Earlier this year, I began to cobble together a handful of specific comic books I wanted to take to C2E2 on the hopes of getting them signed. Unlike the eBay sellers and truly obsessed fans, I generally restrict myself to one item per signor. I only take my personal favorite issues, rather than take along a lot of comics just because I could. Besides, I never know how cooperative my health will be and having a small group of comics is simply more practical.

In case you haven't already guessed, Mr. and Mrs. Staton were both on hand this year at C2E2. I very briefly flirted with taking Legends of the Dark Knight #66, the first of the four-part "Going Sane" which Mr. Staton had illustrated but, no. There was really only one choice to be made, and for the first time, I would violate my self-imposed, "Don't be The Guy Who Stands at a Table with Several Comics" rule. I've relied heavily on my online Crohn's support group the last several years, and I have become very close with a few of them to the point that we share very personal things with one another that have nothing to do with Crohn's. None of the three collect or read comic books, but so what?

I figured that the Statons didn't get a lot of requests to sign Pete, so I had been looking forward to their reaction. Every now and again, they told me, someone will show up with that book but by and large, yeah, it's fairly obscure. We chatted for nearly half an hour, with me sharing with them all that I've already recounted here (except, far more enthusiastically than it reads in text, I'm sure!).

They explained that one of their friends is a gastroenterologist who does some work with the CCFA in Boston, and that he had invited them to some dinner function. There, the idea of a comic book directed at young Crohnies took form. The Statons visited one of the summer camps that the CCFA organizes each year as a Crohn's-mindful alternative for younger patients. There, they developed a feel for how younger Crohnies perceived and discussed their diagnosis.

The comic book is simplistic, and the cynic in me might even call it "naive", a point that I did make to the Statons, but I also understood that its purpose was not to scare young patients. They'll find out what their personal experiences with Crohn's may or may not be on their own, but Pete is a starting point for getting a sense that life with Crohn's is different from life without Crohn's. There's a persistent optimism that may ring a little false so some of us older patients, but again, it's worth remembering that we weren't the target readers. I did discuss these concerns with the Statons, who patiently let me express my thoughts before affirming that yes, it was written to avoid presenting Crohn's as a life-destroying bogeyman.

After discussing the issue at length and so enthusiastically, they inscribed copies to myself and to three of my closest Crohnie friends. I'm sure several others will be upset with me that I didn't think of them, and I don't mean for it to be a slight of any kind. There were just only so many books and I didn't want to be That Guy, remember?

This year at C2E2, most tables in Artist Alley collected donations for The Hero Initiative, asking for cash for the charity in exchange for signing comics. The Hero Initiative works to help comic book creators hit hard by medical bills and other such financial difficulties, since most of the industry's pioneers were paid peanuts at the time they created the iconic characters that have since become multi-billion dollar properties. The old-timers were left out in the cold, until the late 1970s when prominent writers and artists like Neal Adams began to rail that the industry - particularly the two conglomerates who had reaped the benefits, DC Comics and Marvel Comics - owed them better. I tossed a fiver into the collection container at the Statons's table.

Mrs. Staton then insisted before I left their table upon getting a photo with me. We made sure to include a copy of Pete in the photo.

I passed their table a few times throughout the show, chatting briefly. They asked how I was doing each time they saw me, which was very thoughtful. I felt miserable through most of the weekend, in truth, but I admit that I found their inquiries sweet and that made me smile. I realized on Sunday that I had made one serious oversight, though. I should have brought one more comic to be inscribed to my doctor. I was only even at C2E2 because she insisted that I go, and she's done a solid job taking care of me the last few years. Mrs. Staton checked, but they hadn't brought any copies of Pete with them.

She then took my home address and they mailed me a copy, signed by the two of them to my doctor. It arrived about a week after the convention.

C2E2 2013 was the sixth comic book convention I've attended over the years. Despite my health issues and one of my two scheduled interviews falling apart, I had several really great moments at this year's show...but meeting Hilarie and Joe Staton, and finding out just how truly sweet and warm they are, was my favorite.

You can download Pete Learns All About Crohn's and Colitis from the CCFA here.

20 May 2013

"Batgirl" #20 & "The Movement" #1 by Gail Simone

My favorite comic book writer, Gail Simone, has a new book out now called The Movement, and since I'm terrible about remembering to review Detective Comics I'm going to try to make a monthly, single-post review of her two DC Comics books. She's also the new writer on Red Sonja and hopes are high for that book but the truth is that the character and setting don't appeal to me so I think I'll pass on that for now. Plus, my very limited entertainment budget can only go so far.

Batgirl #20
"A Splinter Where My Heart Should Be"

Writer - Gail Simone
Pencillers - Daniel Sampere & Carlos Rodriguez
Inker - Jonathan Glapion with Vicente Cifuentes (finishes on pages 16 & 17)
Colorist - Blond
Letterer - Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists - Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira & Blond
Editor - Katie Kubert
Group Editor - Mike Marts
Batman Created by Bob Kane
32 Pages/ $2.99
Date of Publication: 15 May 2013

Babs has had a rough go of things, between finally having to confront The Joker in "Death of the Family" and the showdown with her brother, James, Jr. She's been pushed to emotional limits, and we see her begin to crack. What works about this is that it feels organic and not a set-up for the kind of dark, brooding character trope that permeates so much superhero fiction. I'm not worried that Batgirl will become a callous anti-hero. This is a natural part of growth for her, and it's something that reminds us how human she is...and that Simone writes real human beings. Self-doubt is normal and can be healthy, if managed properly. It's nice to see that.

The big part of this issue, of course, is that we meet The New 52's Ventriloquist. In this incarnation, it's not Arnold Whisker, but rather Shauna Belzer. The Ventriloquist of the comic books never really interested me, though I thought what they did with the character in Batman: The Animated Series was terrific. Reinventing him as a marginalized woman is an interesting take, and The Ventriloquist is one of the few noteworthy characters that lends himself to such a radical change. Shauna Belzer is genuinely creepy and feels like she's straight out of Tales from the Crypt.

Look at story page 8, when Shauna's audition crashes. Panel 3 shows us one of the most sympathetic faces I think I've seen in this book to date. I want to pat her on the back in panel 4...and I want to run the hell away from her as quickly as possible in panel 5. It's this range of emotion that Simone handles so well, and fortunately, the art chores on Batgirl have been handled by artists capable of really putting on the page that range.

Bonus C2E2 Connection

I paid $10 to get a Batgirl head sketch by colorist Blond. He told me it was the first time he had ever drawn her. Knowing that was pretty cool. I thought it turned out great. You can comment on it in my nascent gallery on comicartfans.com.



The Movement #1
"Eaten from the Inside Out"

Gail Simone - Writer
Freddie Williams II - Artist
Chris Sotomayor - Colorist
Carlos M. Mangual - Letterer
Amanda Conner - Cover
Dave McCaig - Cover Color
Kate Stewart and Kyle Andrukiewicz - Asst. Editors
Joey Cavalieri - Editor
Matt Idelson - Group Editor
32 Pages/$2.99
Date of Publication: 1 May 2013

What if Anonymous had super powers? That's basically the premise behind The Movement: youth activists are tired of living in a city where social justice is a privilege, not a right...and they have the means to do something about it. I was away from comics when Simone first appeared as writer of Birds of Prey but I gather that she writes team books nicely. I'm looking forward to seeing her develop entirely original characters of her own making.

I would be lying, though, if I said that I really connected with this first issue. There was just too much going on and I never really had the chance to connect with any of the Channel M ("Movement") members. I did, however, take an instant liking to the police captain, whose name I can't find anywhere in this issue. He seems like a decent guy and one that should make for a nice point of view character going forward.

Starting off the story with abusive cops Whitt and Pena shaking down some teens and then trying to extort sexual "favors" ("Give us a little peek") was a highly effective way to not only establish what things are like in Coral City, but to also upset us from the very beginning. There was a similar scene in the Academy Award-winning film, Crash, and while many found the film itself manipulative and cloy overall, that one scene was very powerful. Simone's version of it is just as striking, perhaps because it plays out over just a few still panels, forcing my imagination to fill in the gaps of the dread and fear that must have come over the young woman being threatened.

I also enjoyed Movement member (leader?) Virtue calling the police captain "hoss" on story page 16. It's a little thing, I know, but any time I encounter someone using that term, I think of Waylon Jennings. As I tweeted to Gail Simone, I felt this issue was a bit too frenetic for me to really get a sense of most of the main characters, but I did respond strongly to the setting and premise. I'm looking forward to issue #2.

Bonus C2E2 Connection

The Movement #1 hit shelves the week after C2E2, but I did chat briefly with cover artist Amanda Conner, who was kind enough to take a picture with me:


14 May 2013

Oldham 8 Theatres, 1995-2013

Logo preserved and uploaded to the Oldham 8 Facebook page by Jakob Taylor.
I've discussed the Oldham 8 a few times previously in this blog, but I find that now is an appropriate time to revisit some of what I've already shared. The theater opened to the public 8 September 1995, too late for me to see Batman Forever there, but in time for my first ever new release James Bond movie, GoldenEye. I was a junior in high school, so I was at the perfect age to begin going to see movies without my family. I've always been in awe of cinema, a thrill instilled in me from my childhood - even just going to the second-run theater for a matinee showing with floors so covered in spilled Cokes that the bottoms of my sneakers began to stick with each step I took was exciting.

The lights dim, the jingle for the concession stand or the theater chain play, the trailers run...it's all such a tease. I think you have to be a child to get caught up in such pre-feature fare, where each time a clip ends you hope that the next thing to start playing will be the feature itself but...
No! Another trailer! Come on, just show the movie! Wait! What's this movie they're advertising? That kinda looks good. Okay, I might want to see that when it comes out. Oh, yes! I definitely want to see that! Now hurry up and play the movie I came to see! Yes! This is it! No, never mind. Another trailer! QUIT TOYING WITH MY EMOTIONS, PROJECTOR PERSON!
Then finally, the fade-to-black cat and mouse game reaches its crescendo and the feature begins. The studio logo and its music seems so majestic, even if it's just the work of a marketing department for a soulless conglomerate. New Line Cinema always had my personal favorite music, with its sweeping high-range strings. It elevated my emotions just to hear it, and truth be told I always found it jarring when the movie would open with a bad pop song immediately after the logo screen.

Now, you might think I'm discussing childhood reflections but I'm not. I felt this way when the Oldham 8 opened, too. I felt it at every one of the 129 times I saw a movie there, and I still feel it to this day whenever I go to see a movie play on the big screen. If the day comes that I don't go through this private roller coaster at a theater, I'll probably just quit seeing movies at all. I'll also probably be in some kind of serious medical condition so check on me.

The first time I ever went to the Oldham 8 was especially memorable because it was also my first ever official date. I had met a girl at a mutual friend's Halloween party and we both asked our mutual friend about the other. We hit it off over the phone. I can't even remember why now, but for some reason I had actually gone to my dad's the weekend of the date, which was 4 November 1995 - a Saturday. I was stoked to see GoldenEye, but it was two weeks off and frankly, I had no idea what other movies were even out because I paid no attention to such things normally. I still hadn't acclimated to the idea that we had a theater in our small town. I deferred to her - which seemed the gentlemanly thing anyway - and she selected Powder. I didn't know until she was dropped off at the theater that she hadn't actually dressed up at all for Halloween, and wore the goth look regularly.
My date and I were kinda like this, except she was the conspicuous one.
I tried to be all nonchalant about it, though you'd have to ask her how well I succeeded. I was floating on a cloud when we met outside the theater and she let me open the door for her. She was my date so it would have been rude for me to divert my attention, but the truth of the matter is that I was even more attracted to the lobby. It was a movie theater lobby, right there in LaGrange! I could come here regularly!

There were, in those days, two ticket sellers, a handful of concessionaires manning "Cafe D.W." (so named for LaGrange native and cinema pioneer D.W. Griffith). We had a ticket-taking usher, which I had never seen in any of the theaters in Louisville. Buttered popcorn filled our noses, the hustle and bustle of buzzing people filled our ears and excitement filled at least me, maybe her. We bought Cokes and maybe some popcorn. I was amazed that they served hot dogs and nachos which, like the usher, I don't think I had ever seen at a movie theater. A large screen played a loop of trailers for forthcoming features. I'm almost certain they played the trailer for GoldenEye, and that I had to tear myself away from it before I looked like a complete dweeb.
Photo from Oldham 8 Facebook page.
Powder, of course, was a colossal disappointment as a movie and the relationship barely lasted a month, but no matter. My love affair with the Oldham 8 had begun and with it, the dawn of the third significant stage of my maturation. Over the next seven years, I would go to the theater 104 times, including a second viewing of eleven movies. My friends and I would go even if we didn't have a movie picked out ahead of time. Sometimes I didn't even know what was playing, or the first thing about any of our choices. I didn't read the newspaper and we didn't have Internet access at home in those days. These days, audiences already know every plot spoiler about each movie before the director gets into the editing room but in those days you could still live in a bit of a bubble. I enjoyed being in that bubble. Movies should be allowed to use the element of surprise and I try to give them as much chance to use it as I can.

I'm sure a lot of Oldham Countians lamenting the closure of the theater have said things like, "What a shame" and "Tinseltown put them out of business". It's certainly true that Tinseltown, which opened after the Oldham 8 just 20 minutes away in the booming Springhurst area, was tough competition. Tinseltown had more auditoriums, bigger screens and, most significantly, it was located in a happenin' shopping and restaurant district. Parents could drop off their adolescents at Tinseltown and while away a couple of hours dining at O'Charley's, where unlike LaGrange, they could enjoy an alcoholic beverage. They could go shopping, or even see a movie themselves.

Those were advantages that the Oldham 8 never really had. We all hoped its establishment would lead to a brave new LaGrange with new businesses but none ever came to town. There was talk for quite a while of a bowling alley taking over the abandoned Walmart building adjacent to the Oldham 8, but being unable to sell beer to patrons discouraged anyone from ever establishing one.

Eventually, there came to be problems with disruptive youths. By 2003, most of my peers had been taken away from Oldham County by college and job opportunities elsewhere. Coming up behind us was a generation of kids just a bit too young to really appreciate the importance of having a theater. They loitered outside and all around the theater, in large part because it became the de facto weekend drop-off babysitter for a lot of them. Whether they were callous, resentful or just plain poorly mannered, they made a lot of older patrons increasingly uncomfortable. The theater was slow to respond to the issue, initially fearful of alienating the youth demographic known for supporting the movie industry at large.

Soon, though, it reached the point where LaGrange City Police had to be on hand for weekend evenings, and often throughout the summer. However offputting it may have been for some older patrons to have to walk through a crowd of unruly teens to get inside the theater, it was even more alarming to see a parked police car with its lights flashing. It gave the appearance that the theater was a constant crime scene. I don't know what the proper solution would have been to the issue, but it certainly wasn't the combination of spineless appeasement and police visibility that theater management and ownership chose.

The downturn of the economy of the 2000s hit the theater as it hit everyone else. Instead of two ticket sellers and a team of dedicated concessionaires, there were often just two employees who bounced from one counter to the next. Sometimes you'd have to wait for everyone else to finish buying their tickets before the ticket seller could become a concessionaire. The hot dogs were a thing of the past and the popcorn looked like it was the same popcorn from the past. The second concession stand stayed closed. There was no longer a ticket-taking usher, and the screen that used to play trailers in the lobby stayed black. At least one urinal was physically broken in the men's restroom and stayed that way for years, covered with a clear plastic bag and a lot of tape. It took on the appearance and smell of a poorly maintained truck stop.

They stopped even printing tickets, resorting instead to lazily printing out a ticket-formatted receipt. It was just paper. I know most people don't keep their movie ticket stubs or even pay them any heed, but it was one of those little details that declared to those of us who do pay attention that the theater had abandoned its earlier idealism. It no longer saw itself as a vibrant hub of entertainment. Now it was a dismal daycare that just wanted you to get in and out as quickly as you could.
Photo from Oldham 8 Facebook page.
These were probably decisions made by someone in ownership whose business philosophy was to "stop throwing good money after bad". I can picture them insisting to keep offering the same popcorn until it's all gone before they would ever order a new bag, and declaring that being one urinal down in the restroom just meant a lower water bill so why bother replacing or repairing it? The cumulative effect of these "cost saving" measures may have made the ledger look better somehow, but at a dramatic cost to the theater itself. Ownership can blame teen ruffians all they want for chasing away families with younger kids and older patrons and they may be right about that, but they can't blame anyone else for all the business decisions they made.

In 2006, my wife and I moved back to LaGrange but we continued to see our movies at Tinseltown. Not only was Tinseltown properly maintained, but they offered $5 tickets all day long on Tuesdays, whereas the Oldham 8 charged $8.00, then $8.50 and eventually $9.00 a ticket. Even with the admittedly exorbitant price of gas, it was better for us to go to Tinseltown and pay $10 for two tickets than to stay in LaGrange and pay $16+. At Tinseltown, there were up-to-date digital projectors and speakers, a full concession stand and a restroom that didn't make me try to remember the last time I had my booster shots. That's to say nothing of being in a much more interesting and appealing area of Jefferson County as opposed to being in LaGrange.

Had the Oldham 8 been properly managed, we would happily have continued to have supported it. It would have been much more convenient, certainly. If they had just matched Tinseltown's $5 Tuesdays, or even come closer (say, $6), that would have made some difference. It would have been worth $2 to save on the gas if we were just looking to see a movie and not much else, but I just could not perceive the value of the Oldham 8 experience being what I paid for anymore.

Then came new hope. I was thrilled to learn late last year that Regal Cinemas had purchased the Great Escape chain. It seemed fitting, as Regal also owned United Artists, and D.W. Griffith was one of UA's founders. I looked forward to seeing them resurrect the Oldham 8. A spring date was set for the installation of state-of-the-art digital projectors, mandatory to ensure that the theater could continue to screen movies since studios have 86ed film prints. I haven't made it out to many movies since Regal took ownership, but of the few that I've seen in the last six months, two of them were at the Oldham 8. When I was too miserable to go see Iron Man 3 with my friends at Tinseltown a week ago, I decided I'd just see it by myself at the Oldham 8. I felt too miserable each night last week, though, and I just wasn't up to sitting through a movie with a 140 minute run time.
The Oldham 8 welcomed to the Regal Entertainment Group, 4 December 2012. From Oldham 8 Facebook page.
And then I learned on Friday, 10 May, that NOW CLOSED was all that was displayed on the marquee outside. I couldn't believe it. Closed? Surely that wasn't right. Maybe they meant they had to close temporarily to install those new digital projectors? No. If there was any effort made to inform the community that the promise of reviving the theater had devolved into simply snuffing it out, neither I or anyone I know ever heard a word about it. Somehow, I suppose that's befitting the decline of the once-grand little theater though as someone who remembers its glory days I find it troubling. It didn't have to be this way.

As it turned out, the bookend counterpart to Powder was (is?) Oz, the Great and Powerful, which I saw with my niece 30 March of this year. I was disappointed by both films, honestly, though I was excited by both visits. My first visit, of course, I was overcome by what was there; in my last, I had visions of what may come with proper ownership. I never considered that Regal would go all Lucy on me and yank away the football, but they did.

I don't know what lessons ought to be learned, or by whom. I just know that for a while, the Oldham 8 was my preferred house of worship and now I have no choice but to practice my faith elsewhere. It's sad to me that part of our community was allowed to poison the well for all of us, and sadder still that the well owners tended that well as indifferently as they did. Owners from the opening of the theater through the Regal board responsible for its closure may wish to challenge me on this. "Where was your support, Travis? You didn't set foot in the place from 22 August 2002 until 2 October 2006. That's four years where we could have used your patronage!"

Maybe they're right to feel that I let them down about that.

"And then, you went from 31 May 2009 until 4 July 2011 without a single visit, and then didn't come back until 30 December 2012!"

I surely did not visit during those stretches. To be honest, I'm not even entirely sure what kept me coming back as often as I did return from the end of 2006 through the end of May, 2009. Tinseltown remained my primary first-run theater, for all the aforementioned reasons. I watched through those two-plus years as nothing improved from one visit to the next, while there were never any breaks on ticket prices. If you were content being our "slumming it" theater, that's fine but you should have stopped charging "prestigious experience" theater prices. I don't pay Tinseltown money to the Village 8, and that's exactly what the Oldham 8 asked of me. (My apologies to the Village 8, which has actually been well maintained the last several times I've visited.)

I vividly recall the night that Titanic opened. The staff went all out for it, having artificially fogged the skylight window, hung fake cobweb streamers throughout the lobby and all dressed up as ghosts. I adored seeing that kind of effort put into making the place so personable and lively. Now, I contemplate an empty building where a theater used to be. I picture its skylight truly covered in grime, with real cobwebs taking over and the ghosts of our collective adolescence roaming the lobby. Perhaps, though, someone with deep pockets passionate not only about film but our community may see the potential for resurrecting the Oldham 8 and we'll reanimate the place, restoring her to her former glory.

Click here for the complete list of movies I saw at the Oldham 8.


UPDATE #1
After publishing this piece, it occurred to me that I could do better than "opened in 1995", so I spent some time at the Oldham County Public Library Main Branch.  It took some doing, but I dusted off my collegiate research skills  and scoured through the July-December 1995 Microfiche recording of the Oldham Era until I found it. The theater opened to the public 8 September 1995 with the following show schedule:

The things I do for you, Dear Reader... Microfiche! It was like I had actually traveled back to 1995. I will at some point happily update with the bookend of the theater's final week show schedule, but believe it or not that's actually proving nigh impossible to find. Apparently, neither the Oldham Era or The Courier-Journal still have the longstanding movie review/show clock section that served moviegoers in such good stead pre-Internet. Which actually would be fine with me, except they still list the TV schedule. If you're watching TV, you can find out what is, or will be, on. You don't need the paper for that. Conversely, knowing from the paper what movies are playing at what time and at which theater would be handy to anyone who didn't want to have to go to every theater in person to find out that information. Oh, what's that? The web makes having that information in a newspaper redundant? Sure it does, but that's as true of the TV listings, the sports scores, the forecast, the public arrest records, the obituaries...

UPDATE #2
Through the miracle of cloning, er, Google Cache, I am able to present to you, Dear Reader, a screen capture of the show schedule from the Oldham 8's final day of operation, 9 May 2013.
Ergo, the first film to play at the Oldham 8 was To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, 8 September 1995 at 1:00 and the last scheduled to start was The Croods on 9 May 2013 at 7:30. The last audience to let out was *probably* 42, with its 128 minute runtime, although it's possible that Pain and Gain and/or Oblivion outran it depending on whether either of those first week releases had more previews. Eight minutes sounds like a long time, but it's really just two trailers these days. 42 was in its fourth week of release, whereas Oblivion (third) and Pain and Gain (second) were newer. It's not out of the realm of reason that 42 wasn't as stacked with trailers. I can only definitively say that The Croods was the last show to begin playing.

UPDATE #3
Since publishing this piece, new information has been shared with me in the comments section below by David Striegel, former manager at the Oldham 8. I felt it important enough to add to this post rather than leave it to be overlooked in the comments section. He informs me that the reason that Regal closed the theater is that the landlords refused to address maintenance issues of a serious roof leak that led to ceiling tiles falling on people on two separate occasions, and the destruction of more than one movie print.

I still maintain that theater ownership over the years made some dubious business decisions, but that certainly explains why Regal took their toys and went home and I don't blame them. Perhaps it's hoping for too much, but maybe there's another commercial property ownership in Oldham County that isn't so short-sighted that might be enthusiastic about bringing us a new theater soon?

08 May 2013

A Lot About Listenin' (And a Little 'Bout Love)

I only watched four movies in all of April, in part because I turned my attention recently to revisiting my music library. It actually started with movies; I became concerned when I had a glitch with the DVD Profiler program that I use to catalog my DVDs and Blu-ray Discs so I decided to create a Google Docs spreadsheet to track what I own and the basic stats (edition, release date, purchase date, price paid, last viewed, etc.). That evolved into an entire spreadsheet with different sheets for different media, so I began to make my way through my CD library for the first time in admittedly quite a while.

I used to be all about music. Back in my pre-Crohn's days, I went to my fair share of concerts. All you have to do is take a look at my setlist.fm profile to see the dramatic difference that Crohn's made. (Hint: I was formally diagnosed in 2005.) In those healthier days, money was a lot better and I splurged on quite a lot of music. I was probably directly responsible for offsetting 4% of the market shrinkage attributed to online piracy at the turn of the century. If I decided I liked a song, I'd buy the whole album. If I decided I liked the artist, I'd track down his/her/their entire discography. I bought soundtracks, tribute albums, Christmas albums and any singles that contained a non-album version of a song (i.e., acoustic versions, club mixes, etc.).

eBay was a whole 'nother world, where I discovered promo CDs distributed only to radio stations that contained content not made available commercially. I collected radio station singles of songs from some of my favorite artists and albums, and radio specials when I could afford them. I once won a bidding war for a CD single that contained the live performances of "Friends in Low Places" and "The Thunder Rolls" from Garth Brooks's landmark TV special, This Is Garth Brooks! It cost me about $36, I think, including shipping. Just two songs, but they were the live versions that to this day have never been released commercially on CD (the versions that appear on 1998's Double Live are different performances). It was the late 90s. I was healthy and so was the economy. Why not bid $30-something on a promo CD single?

Over the last decade, though, I've found myself falling out from my musical taste. Part of it, I attribute to the impact of Crohn's on my concert-going. Music stopped being accessible to me, at least in the personal way that I had once enjoyed. I've shared some of my favorite concert-going anecdotes in this blog before, but the relevant thing is that being there in person when an artist/duo/band performs is the only real way to judge the artistry. There, you get to witness for yourself not just the technical competency away from the studio trickery but the actual charisma and passion that a given performer has for his or her craft. Clay Walker was a radio darling for a few years in the 90s, but I've held him up for years as one of the most consistently engaging and entertaining stage performers I've ever seen. That guy loves playing for an audience and it shows.

Another reason for my dwindling connection with my music library is that I've had a parting of the ways with my primary genre, country. Throughout the Bush administration, country radio became increasingly jingoistic and full of banal anthems, increasingly defiant and decreasingly thoughtful. As a liberal, I used to connect with country music as a sort of "center" point; it was common ground where I felt comfortable engaging the right. It became increasingly clear, though, that I wasn't welcome there anymore so I left. It wasn't even the infamous Dixie Chicks backlash of 2003 that chased me off, though that was certainly the obvious beginning of the end.

After the country soured on then-President George W. Bush shortly into his second term, country music went through its own identity change. If no one was into bombastic, love-it-or-leave-it songs of nationalism, what would listeners accept? Enter: Taylor Swift, whose eponymous debut album came along at just the right time in 2006. She was young, she was fresh, she was the flagship artist for startup label Big Machine Records and enjoyed their full marketing support. I actually like Taylor Swift as an artist. I like that she writes her own stuff, from her own experiences.

Overnight, not only was she a smash but she had changed the entire direction of the genre. Country radio followed her - and, as it always has done, it did so largely by trying to clone her with diminishing returns. I haven't particularly cared for any of her clones or the current landscape of mainstream country music in general. They're not addressing me anymore. That's okay, of course, because at the time that it did it had stopped addressing listeners older than me. That's just the way it goes. I've aged out of it, I guess.

The upshot is that the music that once resonated with me now belongs in the past, to someone I haven't been in quite some time. By and large, I've found that specific albums or even the whole works of an entire artist have stopped being "mine" and I mean that both figuratively and literally: I've taken and traded in several CDs to Half Price Books. I've deleted the ripped files from my digital library, too, believe it or not. If I don't care enough to keep it on CD, I clearly don't care enough to clutter up my hard drive with it, either.

It's kind of strange to whittle away at my music library like this and to find so much of it means so little to me. In a way, I suppose it mirrors how I've felt the last several months as I've gone through personal things around here; wedding photos, that kind of thing. I can't say that I'm resentful of these reminders of my recent past. In truth, I'm mostly just indifferent to them. They may as well be CDs and photos that belonged to someone else for all the meaning they hold to me now.

For the time being, I continue to make my way through my library and prune it. At some point, though, I'm going to want to address the question: If "my" music isn't the stuff I already/still own...what is?

06 May 2013

Scripture, Sex and a Dance Hall in Texas

I tend to be quiet about my faith, but as a wordsmith I know better than to try to improve when someone else has already put something perfectly so I refer you to the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 7, verse 1:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
It's a tenet of my world view and always has been. Even if you're the staunchest atheist, it's difficult to attack that line. Don't be so anti-faith that you won't even agree with Scripture that makes sense and is fair. Even a broken clock is right twice a day (another tenet of my world view), so I'm counting on you, Dear Reader, to set aside any But-I-Can't-Participate-In-A-Conversation-When-It-Originates-With-Religion objections.

Naturally, it's something that I haven't always lived up to but I've worked on it quite a lot over the years. Having Internet access has benefited me tremendously in that regard, as I now regularly interact with people literally across the world from myself and from one another. I share values with all of them, but which values and to what extent varies wildly. I've got a vegan friend on this side, and a dude who knows all the best barbecue joints in the country on the other. Friends of mine are all across the socio-political spectrum, from ardent conservatives who genuinely feel anxious about things like marriage equality to the very activists working to see that it is established throughout the land. I contribute to a movie website's blog and one of the friends I interact with the most doesn't even watch movies! I learn things from all of them; sometimes about them, sometimes about others by extension and sometimes about myself.

I was told earlier by one of my dearest friends earlier about an unpleasant experience she and her boyfriend had with her boyfriend's coworker and his girlfriend. My friend holds her Christian values in the highest and she's one of the most pious people I know. She's also one of the most accepting of others, which I wish to note because too often piety is equated with self-righteousness. My friend's faith is strong, but she takes from it lessons of humility and peace. We've not spoken about it, but I would imagine that some of her favorite Scripture would be in the Book of James.

Anyway, back to the incident. The coworker and his girlfriend apparently made a point to not only boast about their recent sexual escapades, but to then make derogatory remarks about my friend's chastity. We're accustomed to slut-shaming being an issue and it's one that I actively fight whenever and wherever I encounter it. Here, rather than turn to the Holy Bible, I defer to the prophet* Waylon Jennings:
Yet here my friend was, encountering the situation in reverse. She was made a target by others who did not respect her values. My friend is conspicuous about her faith, in that she prays before every meal regardless of where she is or who she's with, and that kind of thing but she's not evangelical. For whatever reason, though, this coworker of her boyfriend's and his girlfriend fixated on her and took some very unkind shots at her both directly and indirectly through her boyfriend.

As I said, I know people across a wide spectrum, from this chaste young woman to some people in an open relationship and even a few swingers. There are plenty of people who will or will not perform specific sex acts for or with their partners because it's outside their personal comfort zone - yes, even swingers have limits, believe it or not. That's fair, and it's right to respect those limits. I don't see why those limits being established by someone's faith should invite criticism. As a feminist, I think about these things often. Sometimes, we get so caught up fighting the slut-shaming that I think we forget that there's still a battle to be fought on behalf of women who aren't sexually active by choice.

There was a great anecdote that Steve Earle once recounted about a Willie Nelson concert in the 70s down in Texas. There were some cowboys wanting to dance and some hippies sitting on the dance floor, just listening. Naturally, this led to some hostility that caused Willie to stop performing.

"There's room for some to dance and some to sit," Willie ruled. His words were simple, but wise - and practical. The dancers danced and the sitters sat, and the show continued. We should do more to accommodate others on the dance floor. We should make comfortable those who wish to be on our side of the dance floor, and respect the others' right to either sit or dance. There's room enough for us to do both.

Now, having said all that...anyone want a dance partner?

*I don't use the term "prophet" here on my own. Waylon himself once shared a story where someone sent him a tape of a preacher delivering a sermon about the complexity of modern life and the role of faith in helping his congregation to navigate those issues. "You know what the prophet Waylon Jennings said," the preacher remarked, and then cited the song "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)". Waylon had a laugh about the idea of him being called a prophet by anyone, and suspected that that preacher had a good talking-to by some of the church members after he gave that sermon. That story always makes me smile.

04 May 2013

Anxiety Invasion

Today was the first Saturday in May, which meant the Kentucky Derby and Free Comic Book Day. Because of the date, it also happened to be Star Wars Day ("May the Fourth be with you"). I was supposed to have met some friends for an 11:35 showing of Iron Man 3 where my admission was covered by movie cash I got from Disney Movie Rewards earlier in the year, and then other friends were hosting their annual Derby party. I even entertained notions of trying to get to The Great Escape when they opened at 10 this morning in time to snag some of those Free Comic Book Day books (I want Atomic Robo and The Tick).

Naturally, I never got anywhere near The Great Escape or the theater. I had a rough night last night, more from anxiety than from Crohn's though my guts were plenty angry, too. Around 4 AM, I realized that the best I could manage would be to make an appearance at the Derby party so I sent a very-late-night text bailing on the movie. At least my movie cash is valid through the end of November so even I don't get around to seeing it until it hits the Village 8 (our second-run theater), my admission is still covered. Still, I feel disappointed and frustrated yet again at my inability to do such basic things as going to see a movie with my friends with any reliability.

The Derby party, then, was going to salvage my day. These same friends had invited me to go with them to Oaks yesterday, but I knew better than to even attempt that nightmare. At their house, though, there'd be far less than the second-highest attendance on record (113,820). Plus, two bathrooms. Always a plus!

What happened? I was overwhelmed. Every room was chock full of people. I knew them all (or at least, most of them). I should have been perfectly comfortable. These are my closest friends, after all. We're such a closely knit group that years ago we just started talking about ourselves as extended family. I couldn't take it, though. Too much family. I took two Klonopin within the first ten minutes I was there. I barely lasted two hours before I was just too overwhelmed and had to come home. I crawled straight into bed and slept for three hours.

Somewhere out there are people who don't have to think about things like their guts or their anxiety level when they make plans. I used to be one of them. I wish I still was. I've been fighting a severe depressive episode for an entire month now, and this was not the day I needed.

Still, I'm reminded of that anecdote I once shared about John Wayne, who was dying of cancer while filming his last movie. The weather ruined their outdoor shoot one day and he overheard some members of the cast and crew complaining about what an ugly day it was. Never one to hold his tongue, The Duke remarked
Any day you get up is a beautiful day.
On that basis - and that basis alone - today was a beautiful day. I just wish there were more positives to it.

03 May 2013

George Strait Discography, Ranked

April was a rough month for me. I only watched four movies and didn't watch a single Reds game in its entirety. I have, however, spent the last two weeks going through George Strait's entire discography, from 1981's Strait Country through 2011's Here for a Good Time. I even sat through the redundancy of the assorted hits compilations and all three Christmas albums. As I played each song, I gave it a star rating in iTunes and then calculated the mean star rating of the album itself. You can see the entire list here on Google Docs.

So what was the highest rated album? Surprisingly enough, it was 1986's Merry Christmas Strait to You with a 4.7 rating. Each of his three Christmas albums has a distinct musical aesthetic, and by far the most entertaining remains the first one with its western swing arrangements. The Christmas album is always a tricky entry in a discography, because it's ultimately either a covers album or an even riskier original work. Between the song choices and the production, Strait nailed it the first time out.


I remember buying the CD. It was my first ever Black Friday, in 1997. My friends and I ran all over Louisville, not even really knowing what we were doing or after. Just bouncing from one place to the next, really. We stopped at one point at Biggs Hypermarket and that's where I bought this CD as well as Garth Brooks's The Hits.

The highest ranked of Strait's standard studio albums wound up being 1998's One Step at a Time with a 4.6 rating. I had known his music since the 80s, but I didn't become an active fan until 1997 when a friend introduced me to that year's Carrying Your Love with Me album - which for the longest time I thought was my favorite Strait album. In fact, any time I was ever asked to name my favorite albums of all time, that was one of the first five I'd cite.

One Step at a Time was the first album Strait released new once I became a fan. That might seem the obvious reason why it would be my favorite, but I'm not convinced of that. In truth, I was initially disappointed by it. As happens so often, my real problem with it was that it wasn't Carrying Your Love with Me. One Step isn't as lively or as breezy as its immediate predecessor. The lead single, "I Just Want to Dance with You", was an instant favorite but the rest of the album took a little time to win me over. Two of my favorite songs Strait has ever recorded, "Neon Row" (which was "I Just Want to Dance with You"'s B-side) and "Maria", are both on this album.

"You Haven't Left Me Yet" was originally the fourth single from the album but that was abandoned after I guess either it stalled or they were just ready to release the next album, 1999's Always Never the Same. "You Haven't Left Me Yet" became the B-side to Always's lead single, "Meanwhile". I've always wished that song had been given more time to chart, because it's a personal favorite but fifteen years later it's just one of hundreds of album cuts that's been overshadowed by the 59 #1 singles.

I think the album that surprised me the most was actually 1994's Lead On. It was released during that stretch of time after I was made to listen to country music but before I chose to start, so I missed it entirely. When I started to catch up on Strait's music in 1997, though, I instantly fell in love with that album. "Adalida" should have been a #1 single. "I Met a Friend of Yours Today" is another of those choice album cuts that really stands out to me. It's a confrontational song, but Strait's inflections aren't purely angry. There's a mix of "gotcha" and sadness, too. Strait has long been a master interpreter of songs, and this is as fine a showcase of that as any. Still, for all my love of the album, Lead On only placed with a 3.9 rating, tying it with 1990's Livin' It Up for 24th on the overall list (#13th if Christmas and hits collections are excluded).

The lowest rated turned out to be Strait's most recent album, 2011's Here for a Good Time. I love the title track, and I liked his take on "A Showman's Life" (though not as much as Gary Allan and Willie Nelson's duet version). "Lone Star Blues" is a lot of fun, and the album-closing "I'll Always Remember You" is one of the most personal songs in Strait's discography but there are just too many songs that didn't work for me. There are two songs about alcoholism ("Drinkin' Man" and "Poison"), which isn't an intrinsic problem but they're sequenced as tracks #2 and #4, they're both very slow and overlong. "Blue Marlin Blues" is fun, but it also feels like a throwaway song. I've only played the album twice (and the first time, I streamed it from Spotify, where I was instantly disappointed) so it may grow on me.

As far as the hits compilations go, the highest rated turned out to be Icon 2: The Best of George Strait (Deluxe Edition) from 2011 with a 4.64 rating. It was #2 overall, right behind Merry Christmas Strait to You. The Icon series, though, is just a label-wide series of compilations from Universal Music Group and not an "official" Strait album. There's also a single-disc Icon collection, which ranked #3 overall.

About a decade ago, UMG had another label-wide line of compilations, 20th Century Masters. There were two lines: The Millennium Collection and The Christmas Collection. Strait himself compiled the songs that represented him in both lines. I was surprised that The Millennium Collection placed third of the hits compilations (and fifth overall). In fact, all three of the highest rated hits collections on my list wound up being the three unofficial releases!
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection and The Christmas Collection, which is really just a retread of Merry Christmas Wherever You Are.
The Christmas Collection is also a bit of a curiosity. It's essentially 1999's Merry Christmas Wherever You Are album resequenced, with two tracks from Merry Christmas Strait to You added at the beginning. I wish there'd been more of a balance between the two albums, because Wherever is actually my second-lowest ranked Strait album. There are some nice individual recordings, but as an album it just doesn't grab me. There are two things that would have helped. One, I'll never understand why he recorded "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" without singing it with a lisp. Seriously, what was the point of that?

Two, there was an eleventh song from those sessions, "Christmas Cookies", which originally appeared on the Target-exclusive A Country Christmas 1999 release and has shown up subsequently on a few various artists Christmas discs. It's one of my favorite Strait recordings and I really wish it had been part of Merry Christmas Wherever You Are.

Not surprising to me, the highest ranked of the official hits albums was 2000's Latest Greatest Straitest Hits, which surveyed the material from Lead On through One Step at a Time. It's sort of a fifth disc to 1995's Strait Out of the Box, but unlike the box set it's not sequenced chronologically. I've never understood why Latest Greatest Straitest Hits omitted "I Just Want to Dance with You". My only guess has ever been that since it had a CD single release that worked against it for some reason but that never made any sense to me. Its absence is conspicuous - and irritating.

I was also disappointed by 2004's 50 Number Ones. It crams 51 songs onto two discs, and to squeeze them all into that set they did some harsh editing. On some songs it isn't so bad, but I'll never forgive them for butchering the end of "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind". Also, the discs don't breathe, going from the end of one song directly into the beginning of the next. It's just too frenetic, especially for nearly 160 minutes. I was aware of these deficiencies when I first bought that set nine years ago, but I'd largely forgotten about how aggravating they are.

I think it also irks me because I'm convinced that if not for that hasty, abridged release we would have likely gotten a second box set at some point. I've long toyed with wondering just what a Strait Out of the Box II would include and 50 Number Ones stole the thunder from that very idea. Though maybe there was never any thought or interest in putting together a second box, of course. The companion release, 22 More Hits, was put together more thoughtfully but curiously enough it's not arranged chronologically as is 50 Number Ones. It's also kind of odd that they reversed the photo of Strait for the cover. Who actually thought a reverse photo was a smart album art choice?

Strait's next album, Love Is Everything, comes out in a couple weeks on 14 May. I'm kind of interested to see where it ranks now that I've got this list. In the interim, I would point you to the playlist I recently made  of Strait's career, Phase One: 1981-1992. There'll be probably two more playlists in that series, most likely 1992-2001 and 2003-2013 (he didn't release anything in 2002), but those will probably wait until after Love Is Everything.