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Friday, April 19, 2013

RUSH: Clockwork Angels album review

On the occasion of the long-overdue induction of Rush into the Rock & Roll hall of Fame, I present my review of their current album “Clockwork Angels”:

In their 44-year (and counting) career, Rush has amassed 24 gold records and 14 platinum (3 multi-platinum) records; placing them third after The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums by a rock band.  Their 20th studio album, “Clockwork Angels,” could very well be their best yet.  I give it 9 out of 10 stars – and I reserve the right to increase that rating.

Clockwork Angels” is an ambitious concept album that fires on all cylinders and dramatically delivers an entertaining emotional story with the surgical precision that Rush fans have come to expect.   The concept is simple, broad and universal: an idealistic young man takes a literal and emotional journey.  Rather than create epics songs as they have in the past (2112, Hemispheres), Rush created an epic album with each song illustrating a high point of the man’s journey.  The album’s 12 tracks are the 12 most important chapters in a story that likely contains 20+ chapters.  For those who want to know the complete Clockwork Angels story, Novelist Kevin J. Anderson, a friend of Neil Peart, will release a novelization of the album later this year. 

Starting with their 1996 album “Test For Echo”, Neil Peart’s lyrics took a decidedly heavy turn - more so following the tragic loss of his daughter in 1997 and wife in 1998.  The lyrics on 2002’s “Vapor Trails” and 2007’s “Snakes And Arrows” feel heavy, meandering, detached and in some cases joyless.  Conversely, the lyrics on “Clockwork Angels” feel fresh, tight and multi-layered.  Neil Peart’s drumming on Clockwork Angels is better than ever thanks to his studies with Freddie Gruber  and the direction of album Co-Producer Nick Raskulinecz.  Ho-hum: Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing and Geddy Lee’s Bass playing are as stellar as ever. 

The following is my track-by-track analysis, including songwriter notes that might only interest a few:

“In a world where I feel so small / I can’t stop thinking big”
One of two tracks released in June 2010, it sets up the story nicely: In a steampunk world, a boy watches steamliners rolling by and dreams of leaving his farming village and making it in the distant city.  Hard-driving and fairly straight-forward with a funky 1:30 instrumental in the middle, “Caravan” sets up the album perfectly.
This is technically the first single from the album, released in 2010.

“Blind men in the market / Buying what we’re sold”
Released with Caravan in 2010, “BU2B” (Brought Up To Believe) was remixed and a new intro was added for the album version.  BU2B presents the mindset of the society – life has been pre-planned for everyone by the loving Watchmaker and you get out of life what you deserve as long as you blindly conform. A dark slash-and-burn song, the heavy guitars in the verses contrast with buzzing, dissonant guitar sounds in the chorus. 
*Songwriting Note*: Peart wrote the song as a series of quatrains in which the first line of each quatrain is the 2nd line of the previous quatrain.  Works fine for the first 2 verses & chorus, but the last 2 verses had to be re-arranged when the song was completed.  Still, it’s an interesting lyric form.

“You promise every treasure to the foolish and the wise / Goddesses of mystery, spirits in disguise”
High above the heart of the city square we see the angels of light, sea, sky and land assuring the denizens that “everything will turn out for the best”.  Clocking in at a trim 7 ½ minutes, the title track of the album begins with a guitar part that had me thinking of “Cygnus X-1” and “Hemispheres”.  Dissonance in the vocal melody called back to those songs as well but also added tension to the narrative. 
*Songwriting Note*: The Bridge of the song is a variation of Proverbs 3:5  from the Hebrew bible.

”The lenses inside of me that paint the world black / The pools of poison, the scarlet mist, that spill over into rage”
We are introduced to a new character – a terrorist who blames his life’s failures on society and plans revenge. The song’s intro knocks you down: thunderous tom-toms, driving descending guitar riff, funky bass, then the bass melody knocks you out.  The song circles around and inside the Anarchist’s mind -  not to make sense of his actions but to illustrate commitment and motivation.  The guitar solo on this song reminded me of Alex’s guitars on Grace Under Pressure.
*Songwriting Note*: The verses carry the same rhyme for 4 lines, the chorus rhymes lines 2, 5 & 6 (a repeater line) also lines 3 & 4 rhyme.

“Sometimes the angels punish us by answering our prayers”
Our protagonist is working in a travelling carnival when his path crosses with that of the Anarchist leading to an unfortunate outcome.  The song opens with a heavy, HEAVY guitar riff evocative of “Working Man” - I wanted more of that riff. There’s a lot of nice things in this song that I wanted to hear more of – including a cool jabbing synth riff – that I wonder if this song was originally twice as long to accommodate all the great parts.  A good song that made me wanting more.

“So shameful to tell / Just how often I fell / In love with illusions again”
A short interlude to the narrative as the young man muses on a girl in the carnival he fell for who reeled him in only to ultimately reject him.  Musically this song is a bit of a pallet cleanser – a short, light ballad detailing yet another instance where the young man’s perception is proven terribly wrong.
*Songwriting Note*: There is no rhyming scheme and there is no chorus - a musical interlude serves as a bridge.  The changing refrain “What did I ___? / Fool that I was” at the start of each verse serves to tie everything together.

“A man can lose himself in a country like this”
Our protagonist hears the legend of the seven cities of gold that lie past the desert.  Enduring a parched desert and snow-covered mountains, Cibola always seems out of reach.  The songs starts out with a very funky bass riff and has an atmospheric guitar solo in the middle. 
*Songwriting Note*: The chorus rhyming scheme effectively uses the suffix “-ation”  The second half of lines 1 & 3 of each verse repeat the same line, while lines 2 & 4 rhyme both halves of each line (4 rhymes total) with relevant imagery of the journey.  Simple & effective.

“All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary / Of a miracle too good to be true”
Our protagonist is on a sailing vessel that is distressed during a storm, when the boat steers toward what appears to be a safe harbor.  As the ship breaks apart on jagged reefs and is plundered by locals, our protagonist is the sole survivor.  This is the 3rd single from the album.
The music for this song came about when Geddy was fooling around with one of Alex’s guitars that had been set to “Nashville tuning”.  After Geddy wrote the chorus and verse chords, Alex grabbed a bass and wrote the bass part. 
*Songwriting Note*: Nashville tuning is replacing the 4 low strings (E A D G) on a 6-string guitar with lighter gauge strings set an octave higher than usual.  This is usually done by taking the higher strings from a 12-string set.

“Some days were dark / I wish that I could live it all again”
Our protagonist reflects back on his adventures, and despite enduring some tough times, he wishes he could do it all over for the fun of it.  This is the 2nd single from the album.
This is the song that “old Rush” fans would enjoy the most.  It’s a non-stop out-of-control jam.  The lyric “I wish that I could live it all again” came from Neil’s drum teacher and friend Freddie Gruber who passed away in 2011.  The drum work on this song is insane!

“Belief has failed me now / Life goes from bad to worse”
A dark cloud is over our protagonist as he reflects back on his adventures again and this time he feels despair that things are not all that great living outside the orderly universe of the Watchmaker, but he makes the best of what he has left.  This is a very short, story-filler song.
*Songwriting Note*: Like BU2B, this song is a series of quatrains.

“Thank your stars you're not that way / Turn your back and walk away”
Rather than try to change or waste energy on people who are bitter and vengeful toward him, our protagonist decides to just walk away and let them go without even asking for an explanation.
The lyrics apparently sprang from Neil Peart’s own experiences with people once considered friends.  It’s a good hard-driving song, but the message in the lyrics carry the song.

“The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect / So hard to earn, so easily burned”
Sentimental and heartfelt, this is a song about reflection and the meaning of life itself.  The final song on the album is possibly the best song on the album.  Starts out with shimmering keyboards and strings, with acoustic guitar entering as the verse starts.  The drums do not enter until after the chorus – it’s a great build to the highly emotional song.  Say what you will about the tone of Geddy’s voice, but he nails this song perfectly.  Alex’s solo for this song is amazing!   Awesome, awesome song.

For all those “Old Rush” Rush fans – THIS is an album to check out.   
You might actually like it.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Pittsburgh - Home of the Black & Gold

Have you noticed that all three of Pittsburgh's major sports teams use the Black & Gold color scheme?  I was thinking about that after my last post explaining why I am a Steelers fan.  I think it is pretty cool that they use the same colors and it subconsciously ties Pittsburgh sports fandom together.

The Black & Gold coloring comes from the Pittsburgh city flag, which has an interesting origin story as well.


The first major team to adopt the colors was the NHL Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925.
The next team was the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers (originally known as the Pittsburgh Pirates) in 1933.
The MLB Pittsburgh Pirates switched from Black & Red to Black & Gold in 1948.
The NHL Pittsburgh Penguins changed their colors in the middle of the 1979-80 season to match the Steelers and Pirates.


The story behind the Steelers logo and the three hypocycloids is pretty cool.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How I Became A Pittsburgh Steelers Fan

I started watching NFL Football in 1978 when I was 9 years old.  At that age, my bedtime was 9pm.  We had two TVs in the house - the one in the front room (or as I always though it was called - "the French Room") that was connected to the antenna in the roof and a small TV on the back porch that was not connected and got bad reception.  My mom spent most of her time watching the TV on the back porch - usually ironing or sewing at the sewing machine or multitasking something else.  My dad, of course, was master of the front room TV. 

When dad watched football on Sundays, I generally was outside playing with friends.  But then there was Monday Night Football.  I distinctly remember lobbying my mom to stay up late on Mondays to watch the game.  Of course, I was usually doing something else during it - like sorting through baseball or football cards - but dad had my back and suggested I stay up way past 9.  So, I became a fan of football mostly as a way to stay up past my bedtime on Mondays.

A funny thing happened with the Superbowl that year - the Dallas Cowboys played the Pittsburgh Steelers, and my dad was rooting for the Steelers!  Rooting for a team other than the Bears was an odd concept to me at the time, but my dad talked about Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth and Mean Joe Greene and how great they were.

By the time the 1979 season rolled around, I started to watch the Steelers when they were on.  Oh, sure, I was still a Bears fan - who would not be a Bears fan with players like Mike Phipps, Rickey Watts, Brian Baschnagel and Len Walterscheid on the team!
Oh, and also Sweetness.
The Steelers made it to their 4th Superbowl that year and it was the first year that I was REALLY excited for the game.

Of course, the hiring of Mike Ditka as Bears Head Coach starting with the 1982 season revitalized the team and turned my attention primarily on the Bears.  The 1980's Mark Malone-Bubby Brister era was a tough one for Steeler fans anyway.  1992 was the last season for Mike Ditka as head coach of the Bears but also the first for Bill Cowher as head coach of the Steelers.  When the villainous Mike McCaskey made the bad decision to fire Mike Ditka and hire the personality-challenged Dave Wannstedt, I turned my back on the Bears.  They lost their heart and soul (no, not Ditka) and felt soft.

Meanwhile, Bill Cowher's Steelers dominated from 1992-1997 with a smash-mouth style that Chicagoans love.  Sure, they continually fell short of the Superbowl, but Neil O'Donnell and this exciting new guy Kordell Stewart were fun to watch.  I became such a big Kordell fan that starting in 1999 until 2003 I made sure he was always on my Fantasy Football team - the Montana Lizard-Men.  Unfortunately, Kordell was exciting but just not good enough to captain the Steelers to the 'Bowl.  In 1999 Dick Jauron replaced Dave Wannstedt as Bears head coach.  While Wanny had no personality, Jauron sucked the life out of the room.  It was like painting a beige room over with another, more horrible, shade of beige.   Thank you, no. 

A couple of great things for the Bears and Steelers happened during the 2004 season - first, the Bears finally got a good head coach in Lovie Smith.  Now I could start to enjoy the team again.  For the Steelers, their rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger came off the bench for an injured Tommy Maddox and ripped off 14 straight wins until losing in the AFC Championship game.  I couldn't get a Big Ben Steelers jersey fast enough. 

The successful Cowher-era (Superbowl win in 2005) led right into the successful Mike Tomlin-era (Superbowl win in 2008) and even though Lovie Smith had the Bears playing "Bears football" again, it's the Steelers that have been #1 in my heart most of the time.  Sure, I could not sell my Big Ben jerseys fast enough a couple years ago after he failed to heed the phrase "No Means No", but just because I don't respect the QB doesn't mean I don't love the team.

Go STEELERS!

Monday, November 5, 2012

What's In A Name: John Kuczaj & Atomic Shop

My last name is "Kuczaj".  It's Polish.  It's pronounced "KOOCH-eye".  It was the source of much grief when I was in High School.

One of the most celebrated traits of being an American is individuality.
One of the most lampooned traits of being an American is individuality.
Cynicism kicked in for me at a very young age once I started to realize that everyone is a hypocrite and most people just plain suck.

When I was a kid, going to St. Ferdinand grammar school on the Northwest side of Chicago, if there was a culture of teasing then I wasn't part of it.  By the time you were in the 8th grade, you'd spent 7-8 years growing up with your classmates, and by then it was as if we were a family or sorts - in it together.  I recall meeting some new kids in the neighborhood around 7th or 8th grade who thought my name to be funny and made fun of it.  My reaction was puzzlement and indifference.  I do recall thinking that they were strange and likely not too intelligent for thinking my name was a source of amusement.

Sadly, that entirely appropriate reaction and assessment would change over time.

High school for me was 4 years of hell.  I hated almost every minute of it from day 1.  At first I was excited to be going to St. Patrick High School - then the first day happened.  The first class I had was gym class, where one of the gym teachers / coaches proceeded to call out all the Freshmen and explain to them that they were no longer  "king of the hill" and were now at the bottom of the food chain.
No "Welcome to St. Pat's", instead we got "You are scum".
Swell.

2nd thru 4th period wasn't any better for me as every teacher insisted on horribly mispronouncing my name to the amusement of everyone in the class and then they had trouble with it AFTER I told them how it was pronounced.  This was my lot for the next 4 years - constant ridicule of my name.  In the 4th period class I was so frustrated and bewildered by then that when I called out the correct pronunciation, I yelled the first part too loud.  The non-athlete bully of the Class of '87 seized upon that and decided that my name came from a Kung Fu movie sound effect.  For the next four years I would frequently be greeted by people who would over-pronounce my name and make karate chop moves.
Swell.

Looking back on it, the verbal bullying was a defense mechanism and a way to curry favor with the majority of students.  While at St. Ferdinand there were Jocks and Brains and Popular people, none of the groups shunned the others (well...some of the popular kids preferred their own) and there was a mutual respect and sense of community.  At St. Pat's, the Freshman class was quickly beat down several pegs by the staff, so most felt the need to assert some kind of dominance over someone, hence the verbal bullying.
Swell.

The afternoon classes had more of the same, hitting a crescendo in Pre-Honors English, where the teacher - Mr. Horan - joined in the ridicule.  It started out fine - when he got to my name he asked first.  Scott, the non-athlete bully piped in with his karate routine, much to everyone's amusement. When the laughter diminished, I piped in with "KOOCH-eye".  Horan then said "Oh, like, Koochy Kooch Eye?"
The class roared with laughter and began repeating it so much that the room sounded like the monkey cage at Lincoln Park Zoo.  Horan, to my disdain, looked fairly pleased with his brilliant quip and half-halfheartedly got the class to calm down. It is my sincere hope that Mr. Horan has suffered a very painful, slow death.

My lot was set for 4 years at St. Patrick. Constant put-down based on whatever new name variation anyone can come up with. Any adult looking at it now might say - so what?  It's stupid.  Ignore it.  Indeed, that was my original reaction a couple years prior. However, it was impossible to ignore because it was ubiquitous and it didn't REALLY matter WHAT was being ridiculed, did it?   The message was "I am picking on you because you are weak / different / inferior".  That message was received loud & clear.

I never experienced ridicule at Columbia College Chicago - not once.  The message going into the school was clear to everyone: you are an adult now, act like one.  Meantime, my goal was to break into the TV business and at Columbia that meant either doing technical things (editing, camera, control room) or being a reporter.  I  opted to try the reporting side. No instructor (most of them TV news professionals themselves) ever suggested I come up with a "viewer-friendly" name, but it was a thought I had. For about 10 seconds.

Despite having a hard-to-pronounce and hard-to-spell last name, it was mine.  It was my identity.  To give a fake name would be whoring myself out, and to operate as a journalist with a made-up stage name would undermine my credibility and worst of all - it would be a lie.
So, John Kuczaj it was.  Unique.  Weird.  Difficult to pronounce.  Me.

So, when I started to record songs that I had written with the ultimate goal of releasing the final recordings, I had a decision to make.  Would I release them as solo artist John Kuczaj, or with another name?  Well, since my ultimate goal was to be in a band rather than be a solo artist, I decided that a catchy band name would be the best option - perhaps at some point I could recruit some band members and play live shows under the moniker.  Also, it would be much easier for people to search the internet for info on a catchy band name than my name.  My choice of band name was never in doubt.  It was a name I had in the back of my mind for almost 20 years - but that is a story for another time.  Until then:

John Kuczaj IS Atomic Shop
Atomic Shop IS John Kuczaj

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire - The Game is Afoot!

I appeared on yesterday's (September 27th, 2011) original episode of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". This is the story of what happened after Meredith Viera announced my name.

Breathe...BREATHE DAMMIT!

Standing on the steps of the Millionaire stage, I could feel many higher brain functions overloading. I had not expected the nervousness to overwhelm me in such a way. It wasn't that I couldn't think - it was that my mind was racing and trying to process the whole situation while simultaneously controlling my emotions and at the same time sustaining the life functions of within my body.
John Kuczaj Aug 31, 2011

Luckily I had already pooped earlier that morning.

First up was the ceremonial kiss-greeting with Meredith. I hate the cheek-to-cheek kiss-greeting. I find it fake and unsatisfying. Yet, I knew I could not approach with outstretched tongue. I acquiesced. Step over to the podium and look down to make sure I am on my mark. Whew! Everything's going as just as I expected.

"So how long have you wanted to be on the show?" Meredith asks.
Wait, what?
This is the most obvious part of the show where my nervousness comes out. I had not expected this question. Before the show, the Producers I had talked with said that she would probably ask me about my music or maybe the comic collection. I didn't know that something I mentioned at the audition 7 weeks prior would make it on the show. I had mentioned that I went to the first auditions for the show 10 years prior. Seemed like an off-handed comment. Yikes. Now I needed to summon up my year of Improv "Yes, and" training to find an appropriate answer.
"...I've wanted to be on the show since the show came into syndication," I blurted.
Ugh...wasn't ready for that. Let's just get to the game.

Randomizing

Most of my friends and family didn't know that last season the show was changed so that all the money amounts are randomized, then the questions are randomized. Now you could get a hard question with a low dollar amount and an easy question with a high dollar amount. This eliminated the most boring part of the classic show where contestants answered several "duh" questions until they got to the harder questions.

I would say it also made the show harder.


Now you could see an easy question and wonder if it were a trick question (which they never do anyway). Yikes!

Take a look at how my categories were shuffled HERE.
The hardest category was shuffled down as the first question!

Question #1: Category, 'Bewildering Bylines'

What unusual twosome co-wrote an opinion piece in USA Today in 2011 about the need to eradicate dirty stoves in homes worldwide?John Kuczaj Question #1
A: Angelina Jolie and Bob Dole
B: Sandra Bullock and Joe Biden
C: Julia Roberts and Hillary Clinton
D: Madonna and Colin Powell
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the hardest of the bunch. Oh, love my luck!
My first thought: "What the F@#&???" My second thought: "Since when does anyone pay attention to USA Today opinion pieces?" I had never heard about this before so I knew immediately to jump the question, so I used my first lifeline on the first question.
The answer was C: Julia and Hilary. Good for them.

Question #2: Category, 'Ancient Trends'

Finding 57 of them preserved on a 5,300-year-old mummy, scientists had to rethink the origins of what body decoration?
A: Tattoos
B: Bracelets
C: Piercings
D: Necklaces
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #4 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale. I could not decide between tattoos and Piercings. On the one hand, 57 tattoos seemed excessive for someone not dating Kat Von D. On the other, I could see 57 pieces of metal attached to a mummy. I wasn't too sure, so on the second question I felt I needed to burn my second lifeline. I wasn't completely sure the audience was made up of mostly archaeologists and anthropologists, so I jumped the question.

The answer was A: Tattoos.
Skipping the first two questions…all I could think about was that I was in trouble. And that I must look really dumb.

Question #3: Category, 'Party Time'

A recent social trend, "dadchelor parties" are events thrown for men who are about to what?
John Kuczaj Question #3 A: Graduate from college
B: Buy a home
C: Have a baby
D: Retire from a job
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the easiest question. Earlier in the day, a Producer gave us tips on what to expect and how to play. One of those tips was that some questions actually lead you to the answer if you read them. I have never heard of the term "Dadchelor Party" and I have yet to find someone who has. However, considering I am planning a Bachelor Party for my friend Joe, this seemed like a simple analogy question to me Marriage is to Bachelor party as WHAT is to Dadchelor party.
I made an educated guess of C: Have a baby and was correct!
Then the money was revealed - $25,000! Wow! With one question, I was out of a massive hole! Sweet! Also: Meredith High-Fived me! Ha!

Commercial Break

At this point in the game, we went to commercial and I was able to bask in my last-question success. While a few adjustments were being made, Meredith and I had some small talk time. She was consoling about the first two questions and said good job on the last one. She mentioned that she had lived in Chicago for a time and that a couple of her kids were going to Northwestern University. In the short time I talked with her onstage, I can tell she's a very nice person. The Producers had even told us that she takes it hard when people miss questions. I believe that.

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that my strategy was to only answer the question if I was 100% sure, otherwise use up my lifelines and then walk away. There was also a second part of my Strategy - take a lot of time before answering every question. When you watch the show, it looks like I answered everything very quick. Not so. They edited a lot out. Even (sadly) some funny banter between Meredith and I. The next question was the only question that needed no editing.


Question #4: Category, 'Book Buying' - Double Money Question

Using an image from a classic children's book, Barnes & Noble offers a gift card that shows a girl and her pig looking at a what?
John Kuczaj Question #4
A: Ant
B: Butterfly
C: Spider
D: Grasshopper
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #5 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale. I had an inkling that it was the spider and maybe Charlotte's Web, but I never read the book and vaguely remembered the 1973 animated movie. My strategy dictated that I ask the audience.
87% of them said it was C: Spider. HA!
I felt the audience at that point was getting an air of superiority about them, so I decided to stroke their collective ego
"This audience has yet to fail me," I said, getting a big laugh and applause from them. Then when Meredith added the great straight-man's line of "There is always a first time…" I had a chance to throw out some of my better facial reactions.
Okay, I accepted that overwhelming vote and locked it in waiting to see what dollar amount would be doubled. $100!!!! Woo-hooo! $25,200 in the bank!
Actually, I did cheer this in an exaggerated fashion, but I still had a ton of pent-up anxiety to deal with. By this time you might expect me to ease into things. Not at all. I was having difficulty concentrating and standing still.

Question #5: Category, 'Winning Formulas'

"All I had to do was keep turning left," said George Robson about his 1946 victory in what sporting event?
A: Boston Marathon
B: Indianapolis 500
C: PGA Championship
D: Wimbledon
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #2 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale but I found easiest. Duh…racecar drivers on an oval only turn left. Strange that they named the category "Winning Formulas" because Formula One racers turn left and right on most of their courses.

I said B: Indianapolis 500, and that was correct. $7,000 more in the bank that now totaled $32,200.

Question #6: Category, 'Different Strokes'

Due to his unusual painting technique, what artist earned the nickname "Jack the Dripper"?
John Kuczaj Question #1 A: Jackson Pollock
B: Salvador Dali
C: Jasper Johns
D: Marcel Duchamp
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #3 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale but I know little about painting. Cut from the show was me reading the question to myself again and then each name aloud. Concentration was minimal. However, I remembered that they have no trick questions. I vaguely recalled Jackson Pollock as being a "messy" painter and he was the only one whose first name was "Jack" or "John", so I made an educated guess of A: Jackson Pollock.
Correct! And $15,000 behind that question. I was floored...well...the look on my face says it all! $47,200 in the bank. Oh, my! I let out a few "woo"'s in order to release some of that building tension.

Question #7: Category, 'Foreign Leaders'

In the 1950s and '60s, what Asian country had a president who was affectionately referred to by his citizens as "Uncle Ho"?
John Kuczaj Question #1
A: Japan
B: India
C: Vietnam
D: China
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #9 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale. Okay, so this is where things started to unravel in my head. I heard the question. Then I read the question to myself. Then I read it again. I could not comprehend what I was reading. Vapor Lock. I took a lot of time answering this question because I was out of my mind by that time. I read it again aloud and "Ho Chi Minh Trail" hit me. Duh. Vietnam. Final answer.
Correct! For another $500 and now $47,700 in the bank.!!!
Going into commercial break, I gave Meredith the laser eyes "I'm freaking out here" look.

Club Millionaire & Say Hi to the Girlfriend

During the commercial break, Meredith did a "Club Millionaire" bumper question. There were some technical issues so it took a while. Meredith asked me how long Crystal and I had been dating. I told her 9 months and that things were looking very good. She said that was wonderful. I had a feeling that meant we'd introduce Crystal to the TV audience next and hoped that I could talk about my music and mention "Atomic Shop" on the air. We came back from commercial, Meredith mentioned Crystal, who waved to the camera then to me, and we kept playing. Sadly, all of that was cut out of the show (sorry, babe) and even more disappointing, I was not able to mention my music on national-freaking-television!

Question #8: Category, 'Cover Girl'

What supermodel has appeared on the most covers of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?
A: Elle Macpherson
B: Christie Brinkley
C: Kathy Ireland
D: Cheryl Tiegs
"Well, if the question were about all the sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues I possess," I said as Meredith chuckled, "I know the answer, and that would be C: Kathy Ireland". Now, during the taping, my deliberations went longer - even to a point where Meredith asked me where I kept my swimsuit issues (she's a great straight-man!) and I replied I kept them under the bed. I recalled the "Family Guy" episode with the Kathy Ireland cut-out. I knew is wasn't Christie Brinkley or Cheryl Tiegs. I was not 100% sure what it was. My strategy dictated that I walk. Except I never thought that. I never thought about getting more money either. It was crazy…I just plowed ahead to answer the question. WTF!

"Meredith, I'm going to swing away on this," I said, "I'm going to say C: Kathy Ireland...and that's my final answer."
At that point, I felt the music tone changed and the pause was too long.
Fuck. Me. I blew it!.
It was Elle Macpherson…on the cover 5 times. I could have walked away with $23,850 but instead left with $1,000
This is me, trying to figure out WHY I even answered that question.
Meredith was bummed and as we waited for "clear" she tried to console. I said I guess I was thinking who's been in the most issues (probably not true either) but mostly I was trying to figure out why I didn't follow the strategy. Why did I answer the question at all?

Tomorrow: Coping With The Failure