Friday, April 29, 2011

COLUMN: No way to treat a Lady Gaga

There comes a time in every columnist’s life where he must take a stand, one way or another, on Lady Gaga. If Walter Winchell were alive today, I’m reasonably sure he would agree with me.

The only problem is, believe it or not, I’m torn on the Gaga issue. On the one hand it would be very easy to dismiss a woman who goes out in public wearing bubbles and metal breastplates and meat (not at the same time, probably) as an artist for whom “the music” isn’t a top priority. On the other, I heard her single “Born This Way” once and it attached itself full-on to my brain, possibly entering through my nasal cavity like the creature in “Alien.”

With those things in mind, I’ve decided to do what every good journalist should; namely, make a list of pros and cons and, after considering them carefully, come down on the side I consider to be most offensive to Republicans.

So here we go:

Pro: Lady Gaga is a better singer than Madonna. I’m talking about sheer vocal ability, not things like phrasing and breath control, which are hard to think about when you’re covered with meat. As you’ve probably heard, some say “Born This Way” is a rip-off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” and in fact, this week a PR woman offered me the chance to analyze both songs note by note with an instructor from SAE Institute of Audio Engineering. I declined, opting instead to coax a cat into clawing out my eardrums.

Con: Lady Gaga is NOT a better singer than Edith Piaf. This may be true, but I would have liked to see Edith Piaf croon “La Vie En Rose” in a clear plastic dress with black electrical tape across her bosoms. Probably more than I care to admit.

Pro: Lady Gaga has professed herself to be “a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.” She even got Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons to play on her new album, which for me is a bizarre collision of worlds — sort of like when Bob Dylan did that Victoria’s Secret commercial, although thankfully not in a clear plastic dress.

Con: Lady Gaga got into a public feud with “Weird Al” Yankovic. They’ve since worked things out, and Gaga is allowing Yankovic to go forward with his parody of “Born This Way.” Which is good, because I’d have to take Al’s side in that dispute — he remains the most famous person I’ve ever interviewed, primarily because Pee-Wee Herman won’t take my calls.

Pro: Lady Gaga is not afraid to promote personal expression by wearing bubbles and metal breastplates and meat. This is in stark contrast to more conventional performers, such as Rod Stewart, who has spent the last 30 years wearing the same Rod Stewart costume.

Con: Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video inspired thousands of fans to start wearing enlarged “circle” contact lenses, creating an entire generation of teenage girls who look like Bratz dolls. This would seem to indicate that it’s only a matter of time before her “Little Monsters” are also regularly engaging in hair sculpting, eye stretching and thigh elongation.

Given that, along with the fact that I have a daughter whose teen years are bearing down on both of us like a hormonal freight train, I think in the final analysis I have to deny Lady Gaga my full support — at least until she tarts it down a bit. Call me old fashioned, but even if I had her talents, you wouldn’t see me dancing around wearing nothing but lace body suits and police tape.

On the other hand, I’m reasonably sure you wouldn’t want to.

Peter Chianca is editor-in-chief for GateHouse Media New England's North Unit. Follow him on Twitter at

Thursday, April 21, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Thursday: Obama Budget Plan Would Save 'One Life To Live'

WASHINGTON (CAP) - President Barack Obama continued to reveal details of his deficit-reduction plan this week, including a controversial provision that would raise taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans in order to save the recently cancelled ABC soap opera One Life To Live.

"One Life To Live is, uh, part of the cornerstone, the bedrock of American culture," said Obama in a press conference Monday. "How many of us spent lonely afternoons following the adventures of, you know, Bo and Clint Buchanan, and Viki, who suffered from dissociative identity disorder and became Niki, the sexually promiscuous party girl, and Karen and Larry Wolek, who, uh, had control chips implanted in their brains by the evil Dr. Ivan Kipling."

Obama recalled rearranging the rabbit-ears antenna on his small, black-and-white TV set as a youth in order to pick up the soap opera. "It was often very tough to get the signal there in Kenya," he said. "By which I mean, of course, Honolulu."

The budget provision, which would filter funds gleaned from the tax hike directly to ABC-TV in much the same way PBS and National Public Radio receive government funding, has not surprisingly drawn fire from the GOP.

"This type of thing is exactly the reason the country is in the fiscal trouble it's in," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), whose own budget plan would drastically slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public education, environmental protection, social services and snow plowing, as well as eliminate road repairs on thoroughfares that go by senior centers and homeless shelters.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl - who drew fire recently when he said that "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" is abortions, when the number is actually 3 percent - also spoke out against Obama's plan.

"Actually, what I had meant to say is the well over 90 percent of what One Life To Live characters do is get abortions," said Kyl. A CAP News study of episodes of the soap opera since its debut in 1968 shows that in this case, Kyl's figure is actually a little low.

And potential Republican presidential contender Sarah Palin, star of Sarah Palin's Alaska, called Obama's One Life To Live plan "redonkulous," saying, "Who wants to watch a big, dysfunctional family of crazies with dumb names say stupid things and go all over the place having babies and silly stuff like that?"

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Sunday, April 17, 2011

COLUMN: In New England, spring’s the thing

It was Mark Twain who said, “It’s spring fever.... You don’t quite know what it is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” And given the fact that he has a bestselling book out even though he’s been dead for 100 years, I guess you have to give the guy some credit for not being an idiot.

For me, it usually takes at least until mid-February before I start peering wistfully through the frost on my living room window, imagining lush green grass instead of layers of snow. Never mind that under that snow is grass a leathery shade of brown and leaves that I never got around to raking up last fall. It’s the idea of green grass that gets me nostalgic for spring, not to mention the fact that my nose has probably frozen to the windowpane.

But this year, that feeling was already prevalent by the end of January, when all the snowstorms had made the average trip down my driveway like a run through the Death Star trench. Every time I visited the mall I got nervous that one of the giant piles of snow that had been plowed into a corner of the parking lot would fall over onto my car, and they’d find me in it after the spring thaw, sucking on old Happy Meal wrappers.

But spring fever isn’t just about putting the winter behind you. It’s about convincing yourself that once spring arrives you’re actually going to go out and do spring-like things, like taking a state park flower tour in order to sniff in the nectar of the budding season. Then spring actually comes and you suddenly recall your deathly fear of bees, and the fact that baseball is on TV.

But we at least occasionally do make good on our plans to get outdoors and embrace the onset of spring, and by “we” I mean those of us who have been trapped in the house with kids for three months. That’s what motivated my wife and me, for instance, to trek the family out to the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary one March Sunday several years back: to show our kids that if they think all their old video games are boring, just wait until they’ve watched an entire bucket of sap drip out of a sugar maple.

Spring fever also has a share of romance to it — my wife and I had our first date in springtime walking around Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, which would have been much less dreamy if we’d been in snow up to our thighs. But springtime is just generally more conducive to love, if only because when you try to hug during the winter in all those layers, you tend to bounce off each other like the fake sumo wrestlers at Lowell Spinners games.

But here in New England, maybe the fact that spring arrives at all is enough to justify a hearty bout of spring fever. It could be that Twain’s elusive thing we want is just evidence that we pulled through another winter, proving our resilience in the face of adversity and spurring our annual rebirth.

And I’d run right outside and enjoy it if baseball wasn’t on.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. This column appeared originally in North Shore Life magazine; for more, visit Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at

Thursday, April 14, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Thursday: Bruno Tonioli Gaining On Trump For GOP Nom

NEW YORK (CAP) - A USA Today/Gallup poll this week found real estate mogul and Apprentice star Donald Trump to be the reality TV personality most likely to get the GOP nomination for president. But Dancing With The Stars judge Bruno Tonioli is coming up fast, according to the results.

The poll of 5,000 likely voters found 17 percent favoring Trump, with 14 percent voting for Tonioli, which is within the margin of error. Rounding out the list were:

  • Lauren Conrad of The Hills (11 percent)
  • Flava Flav of Flavor Of Love (8 percent)
  • Snooki of Jersey Shore and Corbin Bernsen of Celebrity Mole Yucatan (tie, 6 percent each)
  • Steven Seagal of Steven Seagal Lawman (5 percent)

More than 100 other reality stars made up the other 33 percent of those named as presidential contenders, including Tila Tequila, Danny Bonaduce, Gene Simmons, the woman who dressed like a pirate on season 3 of Wife Swap, and Sarah Palin.

Tonioli, for his part, said he was "just amazingly astounded" at finishing so closely behind Trump, particularly given he hasn't gone any farther than establishing an exploratory committee and printing some buttons with the slogan "Bruno: You Know You Want Him!"

"Being president would be hot, it would be sexy - it would be Mr. Hips Goes to Washington!" said Toniolo, shaking his midsection in what might possibly have been a Salsa or a Pasa Doble.

He also criticized President Obama, saying, "He looks like giant Slim Jim sliding down a fire pole!" and gesticulating wildly.

Trump, for his part, says he's not fazed by the results, and immediately demanded that Toniolo produce his birth certificate. "You can't tell me that this guy was born in America," Trump told Meredith Vieira on the Today show. "He's harder to understand than Ivana was."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Monday, April 11, 2011

COLUMN: 30 more signs you’re living with dogs

There’s nothing that gives a writer more of a sense of satisfaction and self-worth than drawing a reaction from his readers. So you can imagine how I usually feel after my column runs, when I’m sitting fruitlessly in front of my e-mail screen like a deluded Charlie Brown parked at his mailbox waiting for Valentines.

But not this time. Yes, I’ve written in the past about such hot-button topics as the end of the world, marital smell issues and humanity’s inevitable subjugation by killer robots, to nary a peep of feedback. But my February column on “Signs You May Be Living With Dogs” has drawn a steady (furry) flurry of e-mail responses, which can only lead me to one of the following conclusions: Even more people have dogs than I thought, or dogs have finally learned how to use the Internet.

You can see the full array of responses at The Longest Tail blog (, and I recommend that you do, if only to reassure yourself that despite the fact there is probably a dog sleeping next to you in bed right now, perhaps one whose picture you put on your Christmas cards and whom you dress in little doggie sweaters, there is someone out there who is way, way more wacky a dog owner than you. OK, a lot of someones.

Meanwhile, here are a few of my favorite responses so far. Keep those e-mails coming! If your dogs haven’t chewed through your computer cord, that is.

You may be living with dogs if:

1) You have “baby safety” gates in doorways and across stairways, but you don’t have a baby.

2) You begin conversations with others by saying, “Sit, stay, speak.”

3) You catch yourself saying, “sit,” “stay” and “down” to your kids.

4) When the snow melts, your lawn is declared a Superfund site

5) When you move the furniture you find someone living under there.

6) Your coffee does not taste right without a few hairs.

7) The kitchen floor stays clean … for an hour.

8) There’s nose art on all the windows.

9) There’s lots of snoring in your bed and it isn’t your fiancĂ©.

10) You often wear a fur coat and yet have never purchased one.

11) It sounds like Harpo Marx is in your living room.

12) Your household toys need to be squeakeotomized.

13) You have a huge collection of tennis balls, but there are no rackets to be found anywhere.

14) You actually bought an item called “Doggles.”

15) You add a paw to all of the cards you send to family and friends.

16) “Going to the spa” does not pertain to yourself or any two-legged member of your family.

17) Fur on your clothes doesn’t count as a reason to wash them.

18) The furniture that brings you the fondest memories are the pieces with teeth marks.

19) You always have to buy an extra ice cream cone (or hamburger, hold the pickle) for the hairy kid in the back seat.

20) The bank teller sends out biscuits instead of money.

21) You are always greeted warmly at the front door by someone who missed you terribly, is ridiculously excited that you are home and is COMPLETELY starving. (“Seriously, feed me now or I might pass out right here.”)

22) You carry towels in your trunk for impromptu river swims.

23) Stuffed animals living in your house have extremely short life expectancies.

24) The cats have to jump up on the counter to eat their dinner and you don’t apologize to company.

25) At Christmastime, there are stockings for “Santa Paws” to fill.

26) You know the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood, but not the owners’ names.

27) You step in indoor puddles, and the moisture is not from leaking pipes.

28) Leashes and collars are considered “fashion accessories.”

30) You always feel like you are the greatest, most wonderful person in the entire world.

And you’ll keep feeling that way, as long as the bank teller keeps sending out those biscuits.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. This year he’ll be taking an occasional detour from his “At Large” column to write about life with pets — you can follow his animal-related musings at