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Friday, July 25, 2014

Oz Continues to Inspire

Written by Jon Williams

It all began in 1900. That year saw the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a novel intended as a fairy tale for children. Little did he know then that it would in fact capture the imaginations of adults and children alike, keeping the Land of Oz and its inhabitants and visitors alive and growing well over a century later.

Baum himself was able to capitalize on the success of the novel. Although he did not originally intend for a series, he wrote the first sequel in 1904. He hoped The Marvelous Land of Oz would quell the clamour; it did not. When he wrote The Emerald City of Oz in 1911 (the fifth sequel), he tried to cry off by claiming that he had lost his ties to Oz and therefore could no longer learn the stories from there. That didn’t work either. He followed it with The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913, and continued to publish a new Oz story each year after that.

Baum passed away in 1919, but as we all know, the story didn’t end there. The movie adaptation produced in 1939 has come to be even more famous than the novel that spawned it. Its bold use of new Technicolor technology brought to stunning life Baum’s fantastic world of Yellow Brick Roads and an Emerald City; paired with Judy Garland’s singing and performance as Dorothy, it remains a wonder to behold. The film was so beloved that it inspired adaptations of its own, such as 1978’s The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and 2005’s whimsical version starring the Muppets. And in 1985, there was a sequel called Return to Oz that mined some of Baum’s further adventures, and has since become a cult hit.

Even now, Oz maintains its grip on the imaginations of a new generation of writers and filmmakers who continue to tell stories of the magical realm. Witness the popularity of Gregory Maguire’s 2005 novel Wicked, which explored the origins and motivations of the Wicked Witch of the West, the antagonist of Baum’s novel. That itself spun off into three sequel novels and a wildly popular Broadway show.

The high level of interest in all things Wicked is one factor in the recent Oz revival that has continued to expand the story of the land and characters created by L. Frank Baum at the dawn of the 20th century. Last year’s box-office hit Oz the Great and Powerful tells the tale of how the Wizard himself, played by James Franco, came to the Land of Oz. This year, the animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return brought the tale forward from Dorothy’s original visit to the Wizard, bringing her back to face a new threat to the Emerald City. And a recent novel from Danielle Paige, Dorothy Must Die, plays with a similar theme: that Dorothy has become a malevolent ruler over Oz, and must herself be defeated.

Needless to say, Oz devotees will find no shortage of titles to hold their attention. Search on our website to find more, and help transport your patrons over the rainbow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Weird Al Owns the Internet

Written by Jon Williams

In case you’ve missed it—and I’m not sure that’s possible—musical comedian Weird Al Yankovic has been absolutely killing it over the past week since the release of his latest album, Mandatory Fun. To promote it, he released eight music videos in eight days via various pop-culture-centric websites, beginning with last Monday’s “Tacky” (a parody of the Pharrell hit “Happy”) and finishing off with today’s corporate-buzzword-skewering “Mission Statement” (not a straight parody, but heavily influenced by Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”).

In between those videos were the grammar lovers’ dream “Word Crimes” (from Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”), the twisted ode to aluminum “Foil” (from Lorde’s “Royals”), the contractor’s commercial “Handy” (from Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”), the honest college fight song “Sports Song,” a lamentation of “First World Problems,” and a name-dropping “Lame Claim to Fame.” All eight songs, plus four others (including the staple polka medley), can be found on the new album. (You can view all these videos at weirdal.com if you missed any of them.)

Yankovic’s career start came courtesy of the Dr. Demento radio show, which played his Knack parody “My Balogna” and then had Al on as a guest to record “Another One Rides the Bus” in 1980. Both songs appeared on his self-titled debut album, released in 1983. His real break came with his second album, Weird Al Yankovic in 3D, which featured “Eat It,” a parody of the skyrocketing Michael Jackson. Pairing his sharp-witted lyrical stylings with clever music videos gave him a leg up in MTV’s ‘80s heyday, as did support from Jackson, whom Weird Al parodied again with 1988’s “Fat” (on the album Even Worse, both a play on MJ’s Bad).

In a career that now spans more than thirty years, Yankovic has had to evolve, as he did with 1992’s Off the Deep End, with both the lead single (“Smells Like Nirvana”) and the album cover playing on Nirvana and the breakout of grunge music. He gave the songs on that album more of a satirical edge, which has carried through to his music today. Mandatory Fun is Al’s fourteenth album…and probably his last, although he’s not retiring. With the prominence of video sharing sites like YouTube and the rise of digital music, he plans to do future distribution via those means, so as to be more even timelier with his work.

And that’s not all from the world of Weird Al. Yesterday also marked the 25th anniversary of his film UHF, in which his character takes over a defunct TV station and creates zany programming that makes it wildly popular. Although neither the film nor its soundtrack is currently available, Al said in a recent Newsweek interview that there are commemoration plans he’s “not at liberty to talk about right now” for later in the year. Will it be a Blu-ray release? Maybe a sequel announcement? We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Weird Al’s popularity has risen to all-time heights—there’s a good chance Mandatory Fun will top Billboard’s chart this week, which would be a first in Al’s career, his previous best being 2011’s Alpocalypse, which made it to #9. So make sure you have the new album on your shelf, and SmartBrowse ‘Weird Al Yankovic’ on our website for even more by this hilarious (and Grammy-winning!) artist.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Garth Brooks Sets His Return

Written by Jon Williams

Last week, country music superstar Garth Brooks held a press conference in Nashville to announce his return to the music scene following thirteen years of semi-retirement. Although he was vague on details at the time, news came down yesterday that his upcoming world tour will kick off in Chicago on September 4. And that’s not all—there is new music in the offing as well. A new single from the hitmaker is expected within the next two months, with a full album of new material coming in November. Given the amount of material compiled during his time off, Brooks says it may turn out to be a double album.

His road to becoming a music legend began when he burst onto the scene with his self-titled debut album in 1989. Garth Brooks contained the hits “Much Too Young” and “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” which became his first #1 single. The album closed with a little ballad called “The Dance,” one of his best-loved songs and Brooks’s personal favourite from his own catalog—although he promises a track on the upcoming album that rivals it for that distinction.

He continued his breakthrough by following his debut up quickly with No Fences (currently unavailable) in 1990. With smashes like “The Thunder Rolls” and “Friends in Low Places,” it is his bestselling album to date. Honours for second best go to 1991’s Ropin’ the Wind, which made history by debuting atop the pop charts, the first time a country album had achieved this feat. The album’s pop credentials were boosted by a cover of Billy Joel’s “Shameless.”

By this point, Brooks was bona fide country sensation, and the rest of the ‘90s was spent consolidating his position with hit singles and strong albums. The anthemic “We Shall Be Free” propelled The Chase in 1992, while “Standing Outside the Fire” and “The Red Strokes did the same for 1993’s In Pieces. He followed that with Fresh Horses (containing “The Beaches of Cheyenne”) in 1995 and his seventh album, Sevens, in 1997.

In 1999, Brooks, who despite being firmly rooted in country music was influenced in his youth by a number of rock acts, attempted an ill-fated side trip into the mainstream pop world. For a movie project in which he would play a rock star, he released the album In the Life of Chris Gaines (unavailable). Because it came out before the movie, there was some confusion as to exactly what Brooks was doing; although the album went multiplatinum and placed a single (“Lost in You”) at #5 on the pop charts, it was deemed a failure, and the project was shelved, with the movie never being filmed.

Following this “fiasco,” Brooks announced his retirement from recording and touring in 2000. One final album, Scarecrow, was released in 2001. And that has been it…until now. With the news that Garth is getting back in the saddle, though, his music is sure to be in demand. Be sure you have all these classic albums on your shelves, and rest assured that we’ll bring you the information on his forthcoming release as soon as it becomes available.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In Memoriam: Casey Kasem

Written by Jon Williams

The legendary disc jockey passed away over the weekend at the age of 82. Most remember him as the longtime host of the American Top 40 radio program that counted down the most popular pop and rock radio hits each week. Kasem co-created the show in 1970 and hosted it through 1988, then returned in 1998 and remained as host until passing those duties on to Ryan Seacrest, who continues in that role today. In addition to the best and most popular songs, the show became known for music trivia and stories behind the songs, and, perhaps most of all, the “Long-Distance Dedication” that allowed listeners to request and dedicate a song to a far-away loved one.

However, it’s not just die-hard music fans that are familiar with Kasem’s golden voice. Cartoon watchers, primarily of the 1970s and ‘80s but spanning clear into the 2000s, have no doubt heard it as well. His most well-known role, of course, was as the title canine’s beloved sidekick Shaggy on the various incarnations of Scooby-Doo throughout the years. He first voiced the role in 1969 and held onto it for 40 years, finally retiring in 2009 after Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword. Over the years, he voiced a number of other characters in many popular animated shows. He provided the voice of Robin, the Boy Wonder, first in The Batman/Superman Hour, and later on the Super Friends series. He also played the Autobot Cliffjumper and provided a number of other voices in the original Transformers animated series. And these are just the shows in which he had recurring roles—there were plenty of cameos and one-offs as well.

You can SmartBrowse Casey Kasem on our website for plenty more, including a number of compilation CDs curated by this musical icon. In the meantime, his signature sign-off seems particularly appropriate: “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Perrotta’s Leftovers Coming to HBO

Written by Jon Williams

HBO recently announced that its hit series Game of Thrones has surpassed The Sopranos to rank as the most popular show in their history. At its peak, The Sopranos averaged 18.2 million viewers per episode; Game of Thrones is now averaging 18.4 million. This number comes on the heels of Season 4’s eighth episode, “The Mountain and the Viper,” which affirmed the show’s reputation for compelling, shocking twists. The season finale, which airs this Sunday, could push those already stellar numbers to even greater heights.

Those searching for something to fill the void in their Sunday night TV schedule caused by the absence of Thrones won’t have far to look. Its timeslot will be filled the following week, June 22, with the return of another very popular HBO series. The vampires, werewolves, witches, fairies, and humans of Bon Temps will begin to wrap up their story with the premiere of True Blood’s seventh and final season. The week after that, on June 29, True Blood will be followed by the premiere of a brand new series called The Leftovers.

The Leftovers is based on a 2011 novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta. Co-created by Damon Lindelof, known for his work on Lost, the series centers on a mysterious event that sees 2% of the world’s population simply vanish. Three years down the line, The Leftovers explores how those who remain have moved on with their lives—and how they haven’t. It will feature such stars as Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, and Liv Tyler; the pilot episode is directed by Peter Berg.

This isn’t Perrotta’s first go-round with having his work adapted. His 1998 novel Election was turned into the big-screen comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick, and Little Children became an acclaimed drama that was nominated for three Academy Awards and three Golden Globes in 2007. Perrotta’s most recent book, last year’s Nine Inches, is a collection of short stories sure to satisfy fans of his longer work. Judging from the popularity of those books, The Leftovers seems poised to be HBO’s next breakout hit.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

More Star Wars News

Written by Jon Williams

We’re now a month removed from Star Wars Day on May 4, and there has been no shortage of news on the highly anticipated upcoming films. Since patrons will be excited to check out work from these individuals taking their first steps into a larger world, here’s the latest.

First, two actresses have joined the cast for Episode VII and, presumably, the entire sequel trilogy. One is simply confirming a rumour that was going around even as the first round of announcements were made, and that is Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o. Her Oscar came for her work in 12 Years a Slave, but she can also be seen in the Liam Neeson action thriller Non-Stop. The second newcomer will be a familiar face to some sci-fi/fantasy fans. Gwendoline Christie is currently starring in HBO’s massive hit series Game of Thrones as the formidable warrior Brienne of Tarth. She will also be in the upcoming third and fourth installments of the Hunger Games series. It isn’t known yet what roles these ladies will play (nor is it for any of the new cast members).

So that’s the news for the sequel trilogy, which will consist of three films released in alternating years beginning in 2015. In between those films, a number of standalone films are planned to fill the void. The specific content of these films has not yet been disclosed, but they are expected to explore the origin stories of familiar characters. While major details regarding these films are still forthcoming, a few tidbits have come out. One, presumably the first, is to be directed by Gareth Edwards based on a script written by Gary Whitta. Edwards is best known for the new Godzilla movie that’s in theatres now, and he also directed the 2010 alien-invasion film Monsters. Whitta wrote the screenplay for 2010’s The Book of Eli, as well as 2013’s After Earth.

Just today, it was announced that another standalone Star Wars film (presumably the second) would be directed by Josh Trank. Trank directed the 2012 sci-fi film Chronicle, and is helming the 2015 reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise. No writer was announced for this film, so it seems likely that the script will be handled by writers previously announced to be attached to new Star Wars films, Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote original trilogy films The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, along with many other films) and Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes).

So be sure to have these films on your shelves so patrons can satisfy their Star Wars appetites in anticipation for the new films, and don’t forget about the original films, the Clone Wars animated series, music from the movies, and story-expanding audiobooks.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Memoriam: Maya Angelou

Written by Kyle Slagley

Yesterday the world lost one of the most powerful and astute voices in literature. Poet, singer, dancer, and activist Maya Angelou passed away in her North Carolina home at age 86.

Many people are familiar with Angelou at least by name, if not necessarily by having read her work. She is known as a writer whose ability to speak to readers on a deep and personal level is uncanny nearly to the point of being unsettling. Angelou’s struggles as a child in the Jim Crow south would shape her writing in later years. Her signature memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings gave insight to her struggles, having worked as a cook, nightclub dancer, prostitute, and even for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

A spokesperson for women and minority rights, Angelou’s work speaks for any group who has ever faced attempts at being silenced. Perhaps that is because Angelou herself took years to discover her own voice—literally. When she was 8 years old, her mother’s boyfriend assaulted her. When she told her brother what happened, her attacker was convicted but jailed for only one day. Four days after he was released from jail, he was found murdered. When Angelou found out, she didn’t speak again for six years, believing that her voice had killed the man. 

Fortunately for the world, Angelou found her voice and, despite the struggles she endured through the years, used her voice to speak love, acceptance, and peace to anyone who would listen, as evidenced by the fact that her words are seen in books, on billboards, in commercials, and on social media on a daily basis. Her awards, honorary titles, medals, and commendations are too numerous to name here, but I would invite you to visit her Wikipedia page for more information.

Angelou passed away at her home in Winston-Salem, NC. Fittingly, her final tweet read:


"Preacher, Don't Send Me"
by Maya Angelou

Preacher, don't send me
when I die
to some big ghetto
in the sky
where rats eat cats
of the leopard type
and Sunday brunch
is grits and tripe.

I"ve known those rats
I've seen them kill
and grits I've had
would make a hill,
or maybe a mountain,
so what I need
from you on sunday
is a different creed.

Preacher, please don't
promise me
streets of gold
and milk for free.
I stopped all milk
at four years old
and once I'm dead
I won't need gold.

I'd call a place
pure paradise
where families are loyal
and strangers are nice,
where the music is jazz
and the season is fall.
Promise me that
or nothing at all.

From The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
published 1994 by Random House
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