jann arden

REVIEW: cameo.com (Father’s Day gift idea)


Have you heard of Cameo?  Services like Cameo have become popular during Covid, when we can’t just reach out and hug each other.  I have used it twice this year (more on that below) when I couldn’t be with my family directly.

Cameo is a website where celebrities will record a brief personal message for a fee.  My first reaction was, “As if celebrities need more money,” but some of the fees are quite reasonable.  Gary Holt from Exodus is only asking $25 for a personal video greeting.  That’s a steal, considering the video is yours forever.  Mike Portnoy?  Only $50.  Bruce Kulick is $100.  Work your way up to Caitlyn Jenner and you’ll be dropping $2500.  The range for your budget is huge, and you can choose form thousands of people in sports, movies, music, wrestling, and TV (reality and otherwise).

Each celebrity has a time frame during which they will make your video.  If you forgot your dad’s birthday today, it is too late to get Chevy Chase ($250) to record a video for him.  But if it’s not until next week, Danny Trejo ($100) can have a video to you in five days.

I struggled with a way to treat my mom right on Mother’s Day. I happened to be scrolling Facebook when I noticed a friend had received a Cameo video as a birthday gift.  It was Michael Rapaport ($175) and I thought it was a cool idea in a time when we couldn’t just give somebody a gift.  I started searching and came upon Jann Arden.  My mom loves Jann Arden.  She’s seen her live at least twice (only once for me).  Jann was asking only $65 with a three day turnaround.  I was just in time so I booked her.  Best of all, 100% of her proceeds went to various animal charities.  No celebrity greed there!

In two days (one less than expected!) I received a personal video from Jann Arden to my mom.  Jann sang “Good Mother” and I think my mom must have just about fallen out of her chair!  It was everything I hoped for and more.

Two weeks later I had another quandary.  My dad’s birthday.  He hates it when I spend money on him, but I don’t pay any attention to that!  I decided that I would do another Cameo.  But who?  My dad knows so very few celebrities.  It’s not like John Wayne is around to make videos.  Then I thought, “Star Trek”!  Who’s available?  A small number of people.  Marina Sirtis (The Next Generation), Garrett Wang (Voyager), Mary Chieffo (Discovery) and Evan Evagora (Picard) were some of the notable names, but I needed someone really special to him personally.  Then I found him:  Number One!  Jonathan Frakes!  Riker himself.  My dad is a huge fan of Captain William Riker.  Within three days, and $200 later, my dad received a personal message from Number One.

Dad was over the moon. He still thinks I shouldn’t have spent the money, but who cares?  I think it’s the best birthday gift I’ve ever given him.  And I’ve given him a Lego Sopwith Camel.  (Added bonus:  Frakes was wearing a Picard Season 2 jacket, confirming his involvement in the second season.)

The only drawback to Cameo is that you only have 250 characters to communicate what you want from the celebrity.  It’s enough to tell them who it’s for, who it’s from, and a little bit about the occasion.  Not much else.  Celebrities don’t need to read an essay, but what harm could another 100 characters do?

Whether Cameo still remains popular when the world returns to a semblance of normal, I cannot say.  Most of these actors, sportsmen and musicians will be back at work.  I’ll be able to go and gift my dad a real Father’s Day gift.  And some of these people are asking way, way, way too much money for a short video.  Is Tommy Lee worth $400 when you can get Mike Portnoy for $50?  I’d go with Portnoy, on Cameo or in a drum battle.

Consider a Cameo for your next socially distant gift.

Cameo 4/5 stars
Jonathan Frakes 5/5 stars
Jann Arden 5/5 stars

Lockdown Vid #9…#9…#9…

REVIEW: Hit Zone 4 – Various Artists (1998)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

HIT ZONE 4 (1998 BMG)

“If You Could Only See” the reasons I own this CD.

Nobody buys a CD like Hit Zone 4 and likes every single track.  Stuff like this was popular because it gave kids an easy way to get a bunch of one hit wonders from the rock and pop genres without buying the albums.  There were also big names on board.  CDs like this were always on the charts, year ’round.  Today, kids just go to Youtube or Spotify.  But even a curmudgeon like me can find a few songs here to enjoy.

In particular, I bought this CD for a rare non-album version of “If You Could Only See” by the underrated Tonic.  This was their big hit, and the version on Hit Zone 4 is an alternate recording with a slightly new arrangement.  The liner notes lie and say it’s from their album Lemon Parade; this is obviously false.  In fact there’s no obvious way to tell it’s a unique version without listening to it.

What else is good?  “All Around the World” by Oasis (from 1997’s Be Here Now) is one of their more Beatles-worshipping moments.  Here it’s in the form of a radio edit (4:50).  I’ve never felt “All Around the World” was one of Oasis’ best tracks, and it works better in the context of its grandly overblown album.  However, “All Around the World” is like freaking gold, compared to Boyz II Men….

Other decent music:  I have a soft spot for Chantal Kreviazuk’s ballad “Surrounded”.  Jann Arden too, and “The Sound Of” is one of her very best tracks.  I’ve seen Jann live, and she did a fantastic show with stories and jokes and unforgettable songs.  Then there’s fellow Canuck Bryan Adams, with his excellent acoustic rocker “Back To You”, from his Unplugged album.  Few Adams albums from the 90s on are worth a full listen.  Unplugged is.  “Back To You” was the “new” track used as a single.  It’s bright and alive in a way that Adams’ later music is not.  Fiona Apple’s dusky “Criminal” is classic, of course.  Finally, who doesn’t still love The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”?  They were one band that truly deserved their hit.  They’d been at it for so long, and this song is really just that one perfect tune for the right time.

Unless you were a kid in the 90s, you’ll find yourself skipping over ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, All Saints, Robyn, and even Hanson.  Young Hanson can be tough to listen to.  I mean, they were kids, making music that kids liked.  It couldn’t really be helped.  I also find myself breezing past Mase, The Verve Pipe and Imani Coppola.  One hit wonders, right?  Shawn Colvin’s OK, but Boyz II Men can fuck right off.  “4 Seasons of Loneliness”?  Maybe because you guys are all wearing matching sweaters.  You can’t win friends with sweaters.

Hit Zone 4 is the kind of thing you buy in a bargain bin if you find it for $1.99.  These were once front racked at the old Record Store for $16.99 because they had so many hits from the late 90s.  It really was great value, because really, are you going to listen to Imani Coppola’s whole CD?  Be honest!

2.5/5 stars

Part 76: Free Sh*t

You shall not pass, nor get anything for free

Record store employees get a lot of free shit.  From shirts to discs to posters to the oddest promotional merchandise you can think of, they get a lot.

Used record store employees, like myself, do not!

Reason being?  The word “used”.  The record distributors automatically assumed we would sell everything that we got for free.  Which we didn’t, because we didn’t want to hurt our already tenuous relationship.  This is where my personal experience differs from the average record store guy.  I got very, very little free stuff over the years.   

Sometimes you’d see the odd promo disc arrive, but it was either something completely unknown that nobody wanted, or something like Much Dance 2002, that nobody wanted.

I did get a few things.  Most of this stuff isn’t around anymore, either given away or wrecked.  Here’s a complete list of everything that I personally ever got for free from a record label during my 12 year tenure at the store, and it ain’t much!  This stuff would just show up in boxes of discs that we ordered.

  • A Jon Bon Jovi golf ball, to promote his solo album Destination Anywhere.  Ended up selling it at a garage sale for 25 cents.
  • A very nice Green Day Nimrod sweatshirt.  It too was green.  Don’t know what happened to it.
  • I had to fight for this one:  A nice black Kiss sweat shirt.  The higher-ups didn’t want me to get it.  (Don’t know what they wanted it for!)
  • A Jann Arden “Insensitive” baseball hat. 
  • A Vince Gill blue denim hat.
  • Two rolls of Star Wars stickers to promote the DVD release of the Original Trilogy.  These have lasted a long time and I still have a partial roll.  You’d be amazed how many things look better with Star Wars stickers on them
  • A bunch of Yoda buttons to promote Attack of the Clones.  Gave these away to kids.
  • A bunch of Lord of the Rings buttons, to promote Fellowship.  Also gave these away to kids.

Of these things, all I have left are the stickers and the Kiss sweatshirt, slowly fading from many washes.  Not a lot to show for 12 years of the record store grind, but as I said, the record companies really hated giving us anything for free.  The funny thing is, other people (DJ’s, employees at other record stores) would come in and sell us dozens and dozens of promotional discs that they got for free.  So the irony is, even though we played by the rules, we got stiffed.  The other people who broke the rules got free shit all the time!  Ain’t it the way?

Part 39: Mother’s Day at the Record Store

My first Mother’s Day at the store was unique.  We never tried this stunt again, because it was a bit of a waste.  It was spring 1995.  The boss had brought in a bucket of roses.  He said, “I want you to hand these out to every lady that looks like a mother, that comes in today.”  OK, all well and good.  A little on the weird/awkward/unique side, but OK.  I didn’t want to do it but I didn’t have much choice. You had to kind of guess who was a mother and who wasn’t. Not fun! “Do I look that old to you?” was a common response.

I guess the problem is that most mothers didn’t really go out to buy CD’s on Mother’s Day.  A lot of them headed out for morning brunch with the families, or spent the day with the families.  Then you’d have the occasional crackhead mother that I would skip, because they’d probably just try to smoke the flowers.  On Mother’s Day, it was pretty much just dudes.  They were in there to buy the latest Jann Arden, Celine Dion, or Shania Twain for mom.  As my bucket of flowers sat there, I figured I’d throw in a free one to any non-jerky dudes that were buying gifts for mom, too.  I got rid of a couple more roses that way.

Finally towards the end of the day, the bucket of roses still half full, I had a visit.  It was from a girl I liked named Holly.  Holly was a big Depeche Mode fan, and I had some CD singles in stock.  She picked a couple out and I decided, “What the hell?  Worth a try.”

“These are for you, Holly.”

I handed her the rest of the roses.  She was thrilled.  I didn’t get a date out of it, but at least the flowers didn’t go to a crackhead!

Oh!  And I did bring one home for my mom.

We never did the flowers thing again.  Happy Mother’s Day!