April 15, 2014
Alejandro Escovedo: Rock ‘n’ Roll Storyteller

By James F. Finn

Texas-based singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo’s music has been praised by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter (Lead singer of Mott the Hoople), Melissa Etheridge and John Cale (The Velvet Underground). Yet his catalog is relatively unknown to mainstream listeners. As I stood from the side of the stage at the Fairfield Theatre Company in downtown Fairfield, CT, the predominant age demographic was 40 and up. My brother and I were the only college-aged listeners in the crowd. I have been a fan for years after seeing him at a church in New Canaan, CT, and in an exclusive live radio performance at Sirius XM in New York City.

Mr. Escovedo is 63 years old and has followed his passion through the decades. His musical career began in the 1970’s with the punk rock movement in New York and San Francisco. His band, The Nuns, used to open for British punk act, The Sex Pistols. He released his first solo record in 1992 and has since gone on to make 14 records. The most recent album being, Big Station, released in 2012.

As a performer, Mr. Escovedo seeks intimacy with his audience. He plays with his four-piece band, The Sensitive Boys, at clubs, theatres and festivals throughout America. Mr. Escovedo effectively leverages his life experiences and family history within his music by telling the audience about the thought process and memories that inspired the song.

My favorite Alejandro Escovedo song is “Castanets.” In concerts, Mr. Escovedo reflects on a memory about a woman who does not have rhythm. A quick note about this song: In 2005, “Castanets” appeared on the top ten songs on President George W. Bush’s iPod. In protest, Mr. Escovedo refused to play the song until the president had left office (he lifted the moratorium in 2007).

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “There is one thing one has to have: either a soul that is cheerful by nature, or a soul made cheerful by work, love, art and knowledge.” Alejandro has it all.

To learn more about Alejandro Escovedo, visit his website or like him on Facebook.

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Filed under: music culture 
April 6, 2014
Springing into a Half Marathon

By James F. Finn

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After a long, hard winter, Spring was in the air at Tod’s Point. The temperature was at 43 degrees, complemented by a bright sun, cloudless sky, and no wind chill. Tod’s Point is one of the most scenic parts of Greenwich. For the last two years, the local running store, Threads and Treads, has hosted a 13.1 mile half-marathon course that spans the beach at Tod’s Point through downtown Old Greenwich. As a belated 22nd birthday gift, I decided to run this course.

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Unlike other popular half marathons around the country that host thousands of runners, approximately 600-plus east coast runners from Massachusetts to North Carolina came out for the festivities. The race kicked-off at 7:30 AM at the second concession stand and requires runners to run up a hill. For the first mile, runners are bunched together in a herd. By miles two and three, the runners space out and fall into their paces for the race.

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To help you visualize the course. Here is a map.

Miles three and seven lead the runners into town and through some intermediate hill running. Throughout the race, neighbors cheer on the runners as they run past their driveways and offer water, tissues, and positive reinforcement. Runners feel a burning sensation in their calves and shins, but remain stalwart to finishing what they started.

The last three miles are a free-for-all 5K sprint for the young (and old) hard-chargers. Runners have returned to the beach and endure three forms of terrain: pavement, sand, and the same hill from the beginning. If you haven’t trained on sand, you’re missing out or just plain out miserable as you pass through. The key is to run in the footprints of others. The course comes full circle as runners sprint up the hill they started on. Though tired and sore, runners have not only a cheering audience, but a beautiful, glistening Long Island Sound.

Coincidentally, this writer who just turned 22 came in 22nd place running a 1:29:08 half marathon at 6:48 pace. Local events like these are a great way kick off a beautiful Spring season.

Photos courtesy of Irene Cunanan

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Filed under: running fitness health 
November 12, 2013

Honoring Our Veterans in the Nation’s Capital

By James F. Finn

It’s been way too long since I’ve last blogged. Mea maxima culpa! Life has been in the fast lane for me the last couple months.

Veteran’s Day in D.C. is an amazing experience! Arlington National Cemetery, World War II, Korea and Vietnam memorials attract tourists and veterans from all around the country and world.

The air was chilly, the sky blue and all the trees in Arlington were red, yellow and green. Normally, visitors can roam the grounds freely – Not when President Obama and most of the American political and military echelon are at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the national wreath-laying ceremony. All was lost, right? Not at all!

If you can’t join them, find another way to experience the Veteran’s Day celebration. I did. I found where the Army honor guard members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment had positioned three Howitzer cannons for the 21-gun salute. President Obama’s motorcade was also parked near the cannons and departed after he finished his speech to whisk him out.

At the ceremony’s conclusion the deafening blast of the cannons could be heard across the cemetery’s peaceful grounds for roughly four-and-a-half minutes. It was a spectacular and moving tribute to the nation’s fallen.

For history’s sake, here is a link to the origin of the 21-gun salute: http://www.history.army.mil/html/faq/salute.html

I continued to bask in the festivities that DC had to offer by walking a mile from Arlington all the way to the Vietnam Wall for the wreath-laying ceremony. Hundreds of Vietnam Veterans had gathered to remember their fallen comrades. Former General (USA Ret.) and Secretary of State, Colin Powell addressed the audience. General Powell spoke about the initial controversy behind the design and construction of the Vietnam Wall. He said:

“Some said it wasn’t a traditional monument; Vietnam wasn’t a traditional war.”

I had the pleasure of shaking hands with General Powell at the conclusion of the ceremony. He shook the hands of children, veterans and the American people he served during his long career in public service.

Veteran’s Day in D.C. provides excellent, moving and spectacular ways to experience esteemed speakers and history. The best thing is – it’s all for free!

Please take the time to view my film, “The Other 1%,” a documentary about veterans: https://vimeo.com/67036555

April 21, 2013

So You Didn’t Run the Marathon… Pt. 2

By James F. Finn

So you didn’t run the marathon…

Instead, you came together with the rest of your city to mourn the dead and celebrate the capture of the perpetrator to live another day in harmony. Every resident of Boston is a champion, whether they were running in the marathon or not. The marathon tragedy knocked everybody down, but we got back up again.

Sunday, April 21st was a beautiful, brisk day. People were out and about enjoying the sun. Whether it was hanging outside with your significant other; running/walking in the Common; looking at the flowers in the public gardens as musicians played folk tunes; regardless it was a day to live and enjoy after experiencing grief.

The chorus of “Times Like These” by the Foo Fighters describes today:

It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again

Moments to live, love and heal are priceless and should never be taken for granted. My father always reminded me, “you’re never guaranteed another day.” When I was younger, my mother used to tell me, “pray you live another day.”

Mom and Dad’s lessons are always applicable to situations like these; the people of Boston get to enjoy a day of harmony. We don’t know what the future holds. However, it’s sure enough that Bostonians are capable of love, compassion and unity in times of trouble.

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Filed under: bostonstrong 
April 15, 2013

So You Didn’t Run the Marathon…

By James F. Finn 

Patriot’s Day in Boston always falls on the third Monday of April. For all you history buffs, today commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first armed clashes between the British and colonial forces in the American Revolution.  The Boston Marathon is the highlight of the day.  Runners from around the country and world come to run this grueling, 26.2-mile route. For those who run this wonderful event, I salute you.   For those who have not run in this race, don’t be discouraged —there are others way to feel like a champion on Marathon Monday.

On a beautiful sunny day, take a run or walk to the Charles River Esplanade and complete some grueling callisthenic and muscular strengthening exercises at the Parcourse FitCenter.  Located on the Charles River basin, you have a spectacular view of the city of Cambridge and your muscles get a searing workout from push ‘n pull, leg and core exercises. The best part of this outdoor gym is—it’s FREE and open to everybody of all fitness levels!

If you are not familiar with these types of exercises, chances are you probably didn’t pay attention in elementary school physical education class or got a medical excuse not to participate. Have no fear!  The Parcourse posts signs with pictures showing the proper technique to stretch and perform the exercise and recommends the number of repetitions and sets to create your work out. 

Even if you’re not a marathon runner or much of an athlete, find a way to feel like Rocky Balboa on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Get outside and exercise today!  This includes “gym rats” and “muscle monkeys” who only like to “pump iron.” Do your body a favor and take a run or do some callisthenics. You will feel the burn in all the major and minor muscle groups. Most importantly, your brain will release a rush of dopamine – giving your body a “natural high.”

The best things in life are free: Life, Love, Exercise and the Parcourse FitCenter.

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Filed under: fitness health 
February 18, 2013

Snowstorm Nemo

January 22, 2013

A Moment in History: Presidential Inauguration, 2013

By James F. Finn

The following “Finnding” posting focuses on an important moment in time, rather than on a specific place.

On Monday, January 21, 2013, I took the opportunity to travel by bus from Boston to Washington, D.C. with a group of fellow Emerson  College students to witness the  second inauguration of President Barack Obama. 

Our trek was not for the weak or faint of heart as we journeyed on an overnight bus ride lasting eight hours followed by a two hour walk in the early hours of the morning  from the Robert Francis Kennedy football stadium on the outskirts of  D.C. to the National Mall between the Capitol building and the White House.  

I found a place to stand within view of a jumbotron and an earshot of speakers.  The President and Vice President were a mile and a half away, but modern video and sound technology brought them closer to me and the swarms of people around me.  

Following Justice Robert’s administration of the oath of office to President Obama, the nearly one million strong crowd of men, women and children from all races and ages, cheered, cried, embraced and waved the American flag. A truly wonderful moment of pride, patriotism and unity for our country.  

I will never forget one of the most moving elements of the President’s speech about our growing, evolving and progressive country: 

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths - that all of us are created equal - is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”

What amazing words of equality for all — for men and for women, regardless of race or sexual preference.  I was proud to be witness to a special moment in history.

(Source: youtube.com)

December 17, 2012

Film Is Here To Stay – For Some

By James F. Finn

In 1979, rock musician Neil Young sang the lyrics, “Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away.” Those lyrics were from the song, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”. Mr. Young was highlighting the ever-changing movement of rock music from one trend to the next during the 1950’s through the 1970’s – from rockabilly to folk rock to acid rock to punk rock.

A similar trend is happening today in the business of cinema. Earlier this year, 20th Century Fox announced plans to phase out the printing and distribution of 35 mm film by 2013. The 21st Century solution will be to distribute to theaters digital files of new releases on a hard drive.  Digital files, however, can only be screened if the theater is equipped with a Digital Cinema Package (DCP).  DCP will ultimately replace the analog movie projector whose trademark buzzing can be heard from the back of dark, silent screening rooms.

According to LA Weekly, today it costs the studios about $1,500 to print and distribute a movie; in the future, that cost will drop to just $150 per digital copy. That is a ten-fold difference in what it costs to print and distribute new releases. Multiply the difference in cost when switching from analog to digital by the number of movie theatres in the country and one is looking at a dramatically more efficient cost structure.

Large movie theater chains such as Regal and AMC are making the transition by purchasing and installing DCP’s. For small, independently owned theaters across the country to stay competitive, they too will need to invest in the new technology. The Coolidge Corner Theater, an independently run movie theater in Brookline, Massachusetts, has been able to stay in business by making such a purchase.

As the day begins at the Coolidge Corner Theater, the smell of popcorn is in the air as patrons line up at the box office window to purchase tickets for the newest features the theater has to offer. As Andrew Thompson, the operations director at the theater, and Matt Gress, the lead projectionist, prepare for their workday, both gentlemen discussed the move from analog to digital and how it has affected their business.

“The existing projector was a combination of applying for some grants,” said Thompson. “We had been doing quite well business-wise. So we had some money in the bank,” he said.

Mr. Thompson went on to describe how the theater plans to bolster its business by continuing the transition from analog to digital formats as it purchases more digital projectors.  He said: “The DCP will look better in terms of brightness and resolution. The real reason that we’d want to get DCP projectors in as many rooms as possible is largely so that if you get something that you’re showing on DCP.  You could move it from one room to another. Right now if we got something, we’d only be able to show it in this one house on DCP.”

The Coolidge is very fortunate to be able to continue its operations. However, not all independently run theaters are able to make the conversion as smoothly as the Coolidge did.

Jessica Mize, a sales representative with NEC Digital Cinema Display Solutions (a business unit within Texas Instruments), told me what her company was doing to help small businesses like The Coolidge make the transition rather than shuttering these theaters that have been part of the local community for many years. 

“Unfortunately the “mom and pop” style theatre is going through the worst time in this transition,” Mize said. “Due to their smaller sales-size and being family owned…etc. It has been difficult for these exhibitors to complete this conversion.”  “Most have been getting financing (which NEC offers), some have had fundraisers to raise the money and some just intend to ride out the wave and see what happens.”

To assist small businesses in the conversion, NEC has manufactured a smaller, more cost effective solution for these theaters that works with 30’ width screens.  It is based on a .68 DLP chip, developed by Texas Instruments, which has received DCI approval and is technically in compliance with movie studio standards.

Prices for even small digital cinema projectors can cost upwards of $32,000. Larger models start at $45,000 and can easily exceed $70,000, depending on the features included.

In contrast to The Coolidge, another independent theater, The Crescent Theater of Mobile, Alabama, was able to successfully fund its investment in a projector by starting what it called the “Kickstarter” fundraising campaign. Its initial goal was to raise approximately $75,000; in the end, they far exceeded that goal and raised almost $85,000. The theater plans to use the funds not only for the purchase of a DCP but also to train employees on its use and to retrofit the theater.

Mr. Gress, The Coolidge’s head projectionist, talked about how the theaters’ conversion to digital will affect his job. Luckily, he will be able to offer both analog and digital screenings.

“We’ll be able to continue to run 35 mm for as long as there is film to run,” he said. However, for new releases, the digital transition will be absolutely necessary. “There is not going to be a lot of new product anymore that’s on film.” (As stated earlier, studios like 20th Century Fox have already announced their intention to phase out film prints by 2013.)

Mr. Gress, who manages a staff of three to help him maintain the 35mm projectors throughout his 14 hour workday, said: “You’re here as long as the place is open.”

DCP technology has not resulted in job losses at the theater; rather, it has shifted the work of the staff to higher value marketing activities. The theater provides filmgoers with repertory screenings, question and answer programs with directors and award ceremonies for independent filmmakers — and the staff is actively involved in setting up for these programs.

Mr. Gress also explained how the DCP experience has in fact reduced complexity.

 “You get your feature on a hard drive and it’s ingested into the server…the trailers are ingested in a similar fashion and then you build a playlist…then you just press play. As long as you’ve done everything correctly – the program just plays itself,” he said.

Though the theater plans to continue using its analog projector, Mr. Gress clearly understands the inevitability of the transition to digital and how it will ultimately effect employment at theater.

“As the head projectionist here, I’m sure there’s plenty of work for me. But, I’m not training guys on 35 mm anymore because I don’t think there is going to be a whole lot of work,” said Gress.

When asked about their perspective on digital versus analog, student filmgoers had their own take. Charlie Nash, a student at Emerson College and an avid Cinephile, had these words regarding visual aesthetics:

“I don’t hate digital like a lot of people do.  But, at the same time, it is different and I feel that there is an intimacy in the look of film that is lacking in the digital version. When you’re watching a digital film in a theater, it basically looks like a blue ray movie you’d watch at home on your TV.”

Todd Greenberg, another student from Emerson College and a video editor, discussed the issue from a technical standpoint:

“When people think about difference, they’re like: ‘ugh, that’s digital’ or ‘ugh, that’s film’. The only time people say ‘ugh’ is if it’s lit or shot poorly. If you light it right – people are not going to really care what (medium) they’re looking at.”

Setting aside the students’ views, Ms. Mize from NEC and Messrs. Gress and Thompson also had their own perspectives on the shift to digital. 

“The thing about running something manually is you’ve got a guy running both machines and paying attention to them both and doing the changeover himself,” said Gress. “It’s going to be done right because somebody is there and I like the way film looks.”

Ms. Mize expressed her appreciation for the film medium but also noted that the general population appears to appreciate the high definition and brightly lit images that are a hallmark of the digital medium.

“To me personally — and I do go to the movies frequently — I have a certain respect for film technology. However, with the next generation of tech-savvy viewers, I’ve noticed a certain new bar that has been set by the plasma/LCD, high bright displays that people purchase for their living rooms. With this comparison, movies need to present themselves in a high tech manner in order to compete. People expect to see crisp, clear, bright images on the screen because that is what they get back at home. I agree that it is a change that has its drawbacks but digital is taking the movie making and watching business to new levels that cannot be reached via film.”

Mr. Thompson’s personal preference is film, but he also feels that film and digital can coexist.

“As a kid I didn’t get to see a lot of movies,” Thompson said. “So when I did start going to movie theaters when I was in college, it was a new and exciting experience. It means a lot to me personally to go and watch a film. I feel like there is a place in this world for movie theaters that show film and I’d like to see that continue.”

In a transition period, many can feel uncertain about what the future holds. However, Mr. Thompson explained why he thinks the Coolidge Corner Theater will be just fine. “We’re almost going into 2013. We’re still showing 35 mm. Nobody has come to our booker and said, ‘Hey! Next year we’re cutting you off from 35 mm.’ I don’t think we’re worried at this point.”

(Source: vimeo.com)

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Filed under: film art culture 
October 26, 2012

Industrial Spaces Transformed by the Arts

By James F. Finn

In the remnants of big industry that drove Lowell’s economy for almost a century, comes a series of spaces for artists to expressive themselves. In an area known as The Space, musicians converge to record their music, practice as a band or create a video. Another complex called the Western Avenue Studios provides space for visual artists to sculpt, paint, or throw pottery.

Lowell holds its’ place in American history as “America’s first industrial city”. The majority of America’s textiles and shoes was produced in factories throughout the city. By 1850, fifty thousand miles of cloth was produced annually — making Lowell one of the largest American industrial centers.

Today, this is no longer the case. The textile and shoe industry left Lowell between the years of the Great Depression and the 1960’s. Many of the mills were torn down. The remaining mills have since been protected and preserved as museums by the United States National Park Service.

“When you drive through Lowell now, you can see half of them that are still up”, said Bob Nista, a lifelong resident of Lowell and co-owner of The Space.

The Western Avenue Studios replaces the Massachusetts Mohair Plush Company which owned the site from 1906 through the mid-1950’s. Joann Fabrics, another textile company, later purchased the site for dyeing yarn for the automotive upholstery industry. Today, the mill is still used to create – but this time the byproduct is artistic expression.

In between two towering brick buildings is a little white house, which was once the administration office of the textile mills in the 1970’s; now it serves as a music studio, rehearsal space, concert venue, and café. The Space is relatively new in relation to its’ counterpart, the Western Avenue Studios.

“We gutted it all and cleaned it all up”, says Nista, the proud co-owner. The walls were painted white; the floors were waxed; various paintings line the wall; and instruments were set up in the studios — complete with a slightly dimmed lighting arrangement.

An up-and-coming band, Westland, was using one of the larger rehearsal rooms to shoot a music video for their soon-to-be released EP. Aaron Bonus, the band’s lead singer, commented on his experience while filming the video at The Space.

“Having a space where you are pretty much free to do whatever you want — whether that’s playing really loud music, sculpting, painting or having a full band rehearsal — is great. I think they’re pretty soundproof, so it gives everybody space. I’m sure that a lot of artists are glad to not be cramped up in their house, trying to do something like that. I think it’s a better environment,” said Bonus.

Bonus also compared his recording experience at The Space with the famed Boston music school, Berklee College of Music. “I’ve been fortunate enough to practice in Berklee’s studios and I thought that their practice studios were not as good as these.”

The staff is willing to accommodate the needs of its customers. Co-owner Nista provided Westland a four to five hour time slot to shoot the video without interruption. Practice space for local and touring bands cost $21 per hour. In the recording studio, musicians can record the tracks and perform the mixing and mastering of the music.

Finally, when asked what The Space does for musicians, Bonus replied. “It allows a rock band to do what they do best: play music”.

(Source: vimeo.com)

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Filed under: music art culture 
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