Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Heart & Soul Power: Excellent Work by "Old Man" Ed McGuire Makes For a Fine 'Prelude to a Kiss' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Prelude to a Kiss
by Craig Lucas
Presented by The Comrades
at Greenhouse Theater Center
Thru February 5

SPOILER ALERT: It is almost impossible to give even a basic description of Prelude to a Kiss without revealing its central plot twist.

As the play was first produced in 1988 and a movie version four years later, not only is this conceit far from a secret, I don't think knowing it going in harms one's appreciation of the play (it's probably even helpful). But if you want to be oblivious, stop reading here and just know that due to some fine acting, especially by an elderly actor named Ed McGuire, The Comrades' new production of the Craig Lucas piece about love is rather worthwhile.


I saw the Prelude to a Kiss movie starring Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin, just once, years ago, on a plane, but I recall liking it.

I hadn't previously seen the play but a solid yearlong Broadway run, Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations and being a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist bespeak a highly regarded work by Craig Lucas, a playwright who's had a nice career.

I've seen and enjoyed several plays directed by Derek Bertelsen, who helms this production, and admire The Comrades troupe that he heads.

This rendition of Prelude to a Kiss features two likable leads (David Coupe and Bethany Hart as Peter and Rita), and while I felt there was a bit too much '80s sheen added to a piece that was written and set then but whose insights can be read somewhat differently now--NY Times critic Frank Rich originally wrote: "...this play can be taken as an indirect treatment of [AIDS]," which is not something I picked up on--it remains a pretty powerful look at love, our inner/outer selves and what makes us not only unique but attractive to others (on a holistic level).

Yet the most specific reason I found this production to be excellent and well-worth your time is the performance of Ed McGuire in the key role of "Old Man."

If I can now, safely, reference the unique premise of Prelude to a Kiss, at the wedding of Peter and Rita an uninvited old man wanders in, wishes them well, gives the bride a smooch...and then takes over her body as she does his.

As with many, I presume, I knew this upon entering the theater, but I didn't recall that the prelude to the kiss entails about half an hour of Peter and Rita meeting, romancing, falling in love and preparing for their wedding, including his meeting her parents (nicely played here by James Spangler and Carol Ludwick).

While I recognize that getting to know the characters is crucial to the rest of the play, post-kiss, I can't say I found the preamble all that fascinating. Coupe and Hart are attractive and engaging, their chemistry sufficient, but amid bad '80s jackets and Miami Vice color schemes, there wasn't enough of a dynamism to have me all that riveted.

Or in a bit of cheeky criticism that really isn't meant critically, two fine young local actors weren't as compelling as Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin (circa 1992, at least to the point that memory serves).

But until I just looked it up, I didn't remember who played the Old Man in the movie version--Sydney Walker--and based on his being listed 8th on IMDB perhaps he doesn't get as much screen time as stage time, but it's hard for me to imagine him doing a significantly better job than McGuire does here.

I haven't knowingly seen Ed McGuire onstage before, but the play's program notes that he's performed for over 35 years in Chicago and Florida, so he's clearly no newcomer.

But perhaps due to a bit of frailty in an actor I'm guessing is pushing 80 if not beyond, he imbues the Old Man with a particularly fine realism, even in convincingly acting like the young woman inhabiting him.

While body swap stories--Freaky Friday, Big, Vice-Versa, Like Father Like Son, etc., etc.--unavoidably involve misunderstanding, disbelief, discovery/revelation and re-examination as also happens here, the pathos of good ones makes you feel warmth well beyond the way gimmicky tropes can make you (OK, me) cringe.

McGuire--and also Hart when acting as if the Old Man is within Rita--goes a long way to getting the tonality right, and I was genuinely moved by the end of the one-act 90-minute play.

If I was supposed to see how much Peter had changed due to the supernatural scenario, I'm not sure I did as--overtly bad fashion choices notwithstanding--he seemed like a decent guy from the beginning, even if armed with some hammy dialogue.

But without spoiling anything further, I presume the message of Prelude is that true love entails seeing one another in intimate ways--including internally--that perhaps even our own parents might miss.

Especially for just $15-$20 or even less through HotTix and Goldstar, Prelude to a Kiss is never less than an enjoyably entertaining evening of theater that should well continue The Comrades' appeal to younger patrons new to the theater scene.

But with deference not only to Coupe and Hart, but an enjoyable 12-person cast, it is when McGuire takes over the stage later in the show that this Prelude to a Kiss really starts to feel blissful.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Night After Night, Show After Show, Buddy Guy's Legend Continues to Grow -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Buddy Guy
w/ opening act Corey Dennison
acoustic set by
Joe Moss & Sean McKee
Buddy Guy's Legends
January 12, 2017
(part of 16-show residency through January 29)

Forever young at the age of 80, the legendary Buddy Guy maintains a touring schedule that would put to shame many a far younger musician.

Including his current 16-show residency at his own Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago, the blues icon is presently scheduled to play 75 concerts in 2017, with all but 10 coming before the end of May.

Along with crisscrossing the U.S. mainland from Seattle to St. Augustine, Guy is scheduled to appear in Paris and at Bluesfest near Byron Bay, Australia. This comes after 70+ shows in 2016 that also took him to Europe.

If Buddy Guy comes to play in a town near you, I emphatically recommend you go see him, as the sound emitted when his fingers blaze along the fretboard of his Fender Stratocaster is one of most glorious you'll ever hear.


But while catching Buddy at a comfortable theater with reserved seats may be far more hassle-free than figuring out the game plan for fitting in among the cultish legions who pack his shows at Legends, seeing him in that hometown setting has been one of the great thrills of my life.

Repeatedly, and again this past Thursday.

This was the 7th time (over the past 16 years) I ventured to the 700 block of South Wabash to see Buddy Guy at his namesake club. (I also saw him once at Ravinia and opening for--and playing alongside--the Rolling Stones at Milwaukee Summerfest in 2015.)

I happily would have gone far more often, but while the cost to see Buddy onstage for about 100 minutes is fair, it's not inestimable, and to get a seat you have to arrive at the club hours ahead of time.

(For those for whom this, or considerable standing in a crowded club, isn't an appealing option, I recommend the archived broadcasts of the Legends shows for just $5 each, which you can find here at BuddyGuy.tv. In past years shows were broadcast live, but this doesn't seem to be the case in 2017.)

When my ticketed companion for Thursday night fell ill, I was somewhat surprised to have my mom offer to pinch hit at the last minute, and in reaching Legends around 4:30pm table seating was already quite sparse.

Fortuitously, we were able to get a pair of seats at a table with a couple who had come from Oregon primarily to see Buddy--they said they had done so once before, in 2001, and were delighted to have another chance--and had gotten to the club by 11:30am.

It seems many other of the patrons seated at tables had come even earlier, waiting out in the cold before Legends opened its doors at 11am. (Note: The timeline I will reference applies to Thursday and Sunday shows of Buddy Guy's residency; Sat./Sun. shows run later, so check pertinent info for yourself if you plan to attend.)

Appreciably, Buddy and those who help him run Legends are aware of the devotion of his fans, and on nights when he is scheduled to begin playing at 9:00pm, the live music begins at 4:00pm with a 2-1/2 hour set of acoustic blues.

Hence, when we arrived, a performer I later discerned to be named Joe Moss was playing and singing, accompanied by a younger man named Sean McKee, whom Moss identified as having been a student of his.

Their set was enjoyable, and provided a nice soundtrack for my dinner of Blackened Catfish, garlic mashed potatoes, collared greens, gumbo and cornbread.

My mom had some veggie gumbo and I couldn't resist trying the Peanut Buddy Pie.

All of the food was excellent. I've only ever been to Legends to see Buddy Guy, but I really should get there more often.

At 7:30 came the night's official opening act, Corey Dennison, a singer and guitarist whose announced moniker of the Chattanooga Cannonball seemed just about perfect. (He also seemed to be nicknamed "The Deacon.")

Frequently cajoling the audience to stand, the affable and energetic Dennison delivered a highly enjoyable hour with three bandmates, including a rather formidable guitarist named Gerry Hundt.

I can't confidently name any of their songs, but one was presumably, "Misti"--with an M-I-S-T-I refrain--while others may have been called "Where the Green Grass Grows," "I'm Gone" and "Are You Serious?"

You can actually watch Dennison's entire Jan. 12 set at Legends here, and some may enjoy (and perhaps better explain to me) the lyrical reference to "Levi Roosevelt Franklin Stubbs," which seems to pay homage to both the lead singer of the Four Tops and a former major league ballplayer.

Dennison would later share the stage with Buddy Guy near the end of the latter's set, and clearly seemed to be having the time of his life.

Leading up to Buddy and his band, a drawing was held to win a guitar signed by the legend himself.

I gladly had bought an entry ticket for $5, not just to support Buddy Guy's efforts--through PCA Blue--to raise awareness for prostate cancer, which took the life of his brother Phil in 2008, but because my good friend Ken, with whom I had seen Buddy in 2014, had won a signed guitar the previous Saturday night.

My drawing ticket was number 541331.

From the stage, a ticket was pulled and read:


Darn! So close.

Oh well, I did buy a souvenir coaster shaped like a guitar pick that Buddy signed after his show, as he does for all fans who buy merchandise.

My polite request to have a quick picture taken with him was rebuffed by a security guard, but neither that nor not winning the guitar mattered much, as just seeing Buddy play, sing and regale (with stories, wisdom and other quips) once again was prize enough.

Resplendent in a sky blue pinstriped suit, Buddy Guy took the stage Thursday night around 9:15 and didn't leave it nearly to 11.

Still appearing to be in great shape, Buddy apologized for a rough voice--it wasn't too bad--due to it being f'ed up by a flu shot he insisted he didn't request, and proceeded to remind why, with due respect to other great, surviving blues artists who had migrated to Chicago decades ago (Lonnie Brooks, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, Carl Weathersby, etc.), there is no one else quite like him.

This is a man who recorded with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf--among many others--in the early days of Chess Records, and a groundbreaking guitarist who clearly influenced Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck (with whom he toured last year), Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons and so many more.

Yet, as I must make clear, going to see Buddy Guy in 2017 is not a trip of mere reverence.

Sure, there's reason for awe, and Buddy should be cherished for who he is, where he's been, what he's seen and what he did long ago.

But the lightning and thunder are still very much alive, and damn thrilling.

My mom, who I've never known to be a blues aficionado, was abundantly and demonstrably dazzled, as Guy knocked off blazing guitar leads, locked in with keyboardist Marty Sammon, deferred to Ric Hall--a brilliant guitarist in his own right--played classics like "Hoochie Coochie Man," honored requests for "Mary Ann" and "Feels Like Rain" and made spoken and/or musical reference to Clapton, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Lil' Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and seminal harmonica player Junior Wells, with whom Buddy famously collaborated in the 1960s.

Though I can't cite song titles, Buddy noted and played tunes from his Grammy-winning 2015 album, Born to Play Guitar, and also delighted with runs through "Fever" (as made famous by Peggy Lee), "Knock on Wood" (which I came to know through Anita Ward) and various snippets, including "Strange Brew," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and Hendrix' "Voodoo Chile," which, as always, brought goosebumps.

He even played the guitar with his teeth, and behind his back; old tricks that brought new wonder.

With Tim Austin on drums and Orlando Wright on bass, Buddy Guy seemed comfortable in the spotlight at the mic, but also away from it while letting his top-notch band shine.

Memory doesn't serve enough to say if he's slowed down any, but terrific songs and blistering solos were more than sufficient for my money...and effort.

As I tried to intimate above, seeing Buddy Guy at venues other than Legends may be easier, but I doubt any would feel as special and--including by frequently flashing one of the greatest smiles you'll ever see--he's always made me happy to witness him in his hometown lair, which houses enough memorabilia to make for a blues museum.

Noting that 2017 marks 60 years since he came to Chicago--on September 25, 1957, as he specified--after being born and raised in Louisiana, Buddy graciously thanked the audience for supporting the blues while stating:

"I know I can't please all of you, but I damn sure try."

Indeed you do, Mr. Guy--try and please, both--and while praising the show I just saw, recommending others get down to Legends if at all possible and looking forward to my next opportunity, I'll end this simply by saying:

Thanks, Buddy.

Buddy Guy, faster than the live video feed behind him.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Been Coming Round Since I Was 2: The Original Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in Lincolnwood, IL

Wednesday night, with two close friends, I went to a classic movie screening presented by the Northwest Chicago Film Society on the main campus of Northeastern Illinois University.

The movie, Nightmare Alley, is both a highly renowned and largely unheralded example of film noir made in 1947 and starring Tyrone Power.

I see enough Golden Age cinema that catching a 70-year-old movie--albeit one I'd never seen or even heard of before--isn't all that noteworthy.

Nor would it seem was grabbing dinner beforehand at a fairly nearby restaurant that I've long enjoyed.

But in going to the original location of Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, at 6649 N. Lincoln in Lincolnwood (just north of Chicago)--amid a rainstorm as shown below--it dawned on me that I've been going there ever since it opened in 1971. (Although given that I was two years old at the time, I didn't initially go on my own accord.)

Once again on Wednesday, the pizza was awesome.

I always get Lou Malnati's famed deep-dish, and shared a pepperoni and green pepper pie with my friend Ken; it was pretty much perfect and as good as ever.

Our friend Dave opted for a thin pepperoni that he also greatly enjoyed.

Though still one of the closer Lou locations to my Skokie home, I don't get to the original Lincolnwood restaurant all that often--perhaps once or twice a year--so doing so again was a real treat.

Certainly there are ties that go back before my time of conscious thought, as my mom is pretty certain that she and my dad took me and my sisters here soon after it opened, which Lou Malnati's website notes as March 17, 1971.

I can picture at least a few notable Lincolnwood visits with family and/or friends, among dozens of others.

And on Saturday, October 24, 1981, I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah in their party room downstairs.

On at least a couple of occasions when I lived in the Los Angeles area between 1990-92, I ordered "Lou to Go" and received four frozen pies via FedEx, packed with dry ice.

I remember it being a big hit among those uninitiated to prime Chicago deep-dish.

And while Lincolnwood is most sentimental and special of Lou Malnati's Chicagoland locations--they now have 47! including carryout/delivery-only spots, plus a new one in Phoenix--I made a point of choosing others when they were near workplaces or my 12-year-residence in west suburban Glen Ellyn.

The Naperville Lou Malnati's in an old fire station is one I enjoyed numerous times, including at least one memorable birthday dinner. Likewise, the Buffalo Grove location hosted at least a few after-work get-togethers when I worked in Deerfield.

For years, my friend Todd and I would eat at the Schaumburg location on Roselle Rd., and always get a chuckle from our waitress for playing Scrabble over dinner.

The first Chicago Lou's location on Wells Street, one in Lincoln Park and an Elk Grove Village restaurant also bring fond memories, while the Wilmette carryout/delivery branch has been a dependable staple numerous times over many years.

The decor in full-service Lou Malnati's is usually heavy in sports memorabilia, and I'm pretty certain a display in Lincolnwood is how I first learned about Brian Piccolo, a Chicago Bears running back who died of cancer at 26 (as depicted in the movie Brian's Song).

Anyway, this isn't meant to be a review nor free advertising, but it seemed like a good opportunity to celebrate a place that has been an important part of my life and continues to serve up delight.

In full disclosure, Lou Malnati's is now only one of three Chicago area pizzerias I regularly patronize--either for dine-in, delivery or carryout--and probably less so these days than Pizano's. (Gino's East is my other favorite, but convenient locations have disappeared, most notably from Rolling Meadows.)

Interestingly, Pizano's--which serves my favorite thin-crust pizza as well as an excellent deep-dish--appears also to be run by a member of the Malnati family.

If I've interpreted the website's histories correctly, Rudy Malnati, Sr. opened Pizzeria Uno in Chicago in 1943, featuring--perhaps inventing, but I can't confidently go that far--deep-dish pizza for which the Windy City is now famed.

His son, Lou Malnati, worked with him at Uno--there's also Pizzeria Due, but I'm unclear on the origins and ownership--and opened his namesake restaurant in Lincolnwood in 1971, along with his wife Jean.

Lou died from cancer in 1978 and it seems his oldest son, Marc Malnati, took over the family business, aided eventually by his brother Rick. I'm not sure who is still involved, but obviously Lou Malnati's Pizzeria has expanded greatly over the years.

Per the Pizano's website--I largely patronize their Glenview location and one on Madison near State in downtown Chicago, but four others exist--Rudy Malnati, Jr. (who would seem to be Lou Malnati's brother) opened Pizano's in 1991, with active assistance from his mother, Donna.

When it comes to pizza, there isn't much that I don't like, but the only pies I would truly say I love come from Lou Malnati's, Gino's East and Pizano's.

I'm glad all seem to be thriving, and have expanded, including beyond Chicago.

But the original Lincolnwood location of Lou Malnati's has provided the most pronounced slice of my life.

So I was happy to eat there once again, nearly 46 years on, and already look forward to my next visit coming round.

Ours Go to 11: Volume 22, Albums That Made an Impression as a Teenager

There's been a viral Facebook query going around, asking to:

"List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a teenager, but only one per band/artist."

Nobody tagged me to do a list, and I'm not big on continuing chain posts, but I liked the question so thought I'd answer it here.

I presume I could choose older albums I first discovered as a teen, but I'll keep my choices to albums released between October 15, 1981 and October 14, 1988 for which I had the most real-time affinity (as best I can recall).

And of course, my list goes to 11.

Albums That Made the Biggest Impression on My Teen Self:
(Not necessarily in ranked order; only includes albums released during my teen years)

1. Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen
2. The Joshua Tree - U2
3. Pyromania - Def Leppard
4. Let's Dance - David Bowie
5. Scarecrow - John Cougar Mellencamp
6. Life's Rich Pageant - R.E.M.
7. Purple Rain - Prince & the Revolution
8. State of Confusion - The Kinks
9. Blackout - Scorpions
10. Appetite for Destruction - Guns 'N Roses
11. Pleased to Meet Me - The Replacements

Plus A Few More

Asia - Asia 
Reckless - Bryan Adams 
5150 - Van Halen 
So - Peter Gabriel 
The Way It Is - Bruce Hornsby & the Range 
Back in the High Life - Steve Winwood 
Centerfield - John Fogerty 
Out of the Cellar - Ratt

Monday, January 09, 2017

A Picture with the World Series Trophy ... and a Selfie-Obsessed Look Back at the Cubs' 2016 Championship Run

As so beautifully captured above, this past Saturday I was able to have my picture taken with the Cubs' 2016 World Series Champions Trophy. To do so, I drove 30 miles to Naperville--there are no scheduled Cubs Trophy Tour stops near my Skokie home--and waited in line for 3-1/2 hours...including 2-1/2 outside in sub-zero wind chill.

I arrived at 9:00am for the event scheduled for 11am-1pm at Naperville City Hall. My understanding is that pictures with the trophy began closer to 10:00am, so I can't say nothing was done in light of the thousands waiting in the bitter cold. The building had been opened at 7:00am and supposedly all the indoor waiting space was filled soon thereafter.

But with due respect to matters of security, fire codes, etc., it seemed many more people could have waited inside the large building than were let in. Per an article I read, Naperville knew thousands were due to come, yet only seemed to let hundreds in before those in front had their turn with the trophy.

Anyway, I was damn cold for quite awhile, but seem to have survived and--as I posted on Facebook--the trophy was "worth its wait in gold."

Unlike at the first Trophy Tour stop, the trophy was encased in Naperville--as it has been at stops since the one at the new Cubs Store on Michigan Ave. in Chicago--but I understand why that makes sense.

And I was glad I went.

To accompany the picture above, and compile the ones below in one place--mainly for my own sake--here are other photos of me taken during and since the Cubs' championship run. (I think I'll occasionally post some silly "selfies" of me, and this seems like a good place to start.)

At a Oct. 15, 2016 wedding; aka NLCS Game 1

On my way to the parade

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Pithy Philosophies #32

My friend Ken, who's become a maven of 6-word axioms, conveyeth:

Hedonism is nihilism with sugar added.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Best (and Worst) of 2016: Recapping a Happy/Sad Year*

Except for death and Donald Trump, 2016 was actually a pretty good year.

Yeah, I know that's a pretty big exception. Kind of like saying except for those 13 losses, the Chicago Bears had a really good season.

As has been all too well documented, the 366 days and one extra second of 2016 saw a plethora of remarkably talented and beloved individuals depart the planet.

These include personal favorites--David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Prince, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Garry Sanders, Joe Garagiola--and myriad other greats & giants like Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, John Glenn, Craig Sager, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Maurice White, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Bernie Worrell, Phife Dawg, Edward Albee, Elie Wiesel, Harper Lee, Abe Vigoda, Florence Henderson, Leon Russell, George Michael, Otis Clay, Pierre Boulez, Patty Duke, Morley Safer, Pat Summit, Alan Thicke, Gwen Ifill, Sharon Jones, George Kennedy, Janet Reno, Robert Vaughn, Doris Roberts, Dan Haggerty, Chyna, Alan Vega, Buckwheat Zydeco, Buddy Ryan, Eddie Einhorn, Johann Cruyff, Lonnie Mack, Alphone Mouzon and more.

Image by @christhebarker; see list of people included here 
While many of the above were older, their legacies well established, tragedy also robbed us of youthful bright lights such as Anton Yelchin, Jose Fernandez, Christina Grimmie and several members of the Chapecoense soccer club.

And it's not like sorrow was reserved for the famous and their loved ones.

Some close friends of mine lost parents; even more sadly a few people I know lost children. There were several other personal losses to rue, and far too many friends & acquaintances suffered from serious illness, depression and/or other hardships.

The city of Chicago recorded 778 murders, and from Brussels to Orlando, Istanbul to Oakland, Lahore to Ankara, Baghdad to Nice, and on and on, massacres and catastrophes were heartbreaking and horrifying, as was unspeakable death and devastation in Aleppo and elsewhere. 

Though I don't wish to devote too much thought or space to him here--and must accept that he was democratically elected, with a little help from his comrades--the campaign, election, insults, tweets, nominations and beliefs (or lack thereof) of Donald Trump were extremely distressing to say the least.

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Those of us concerned about humanity must remain vigilant as Trump assumes the presidency, and work to assure the principles of freedom, equality and respect remain in place throughout the United States...and beyond.

Inarguably, there were many far more harassed, harmed, hurt, disheartened or worse in 2016 than was I, and millions who remain acutely vulnerable.

In no way do I dismiss their tears and fears, and do not mean to minimize the void left by all the losses, whether celebrity, personal or catastrophic.

Along with much else, I rue the evaporation of artistic talent with no seeming revitalization on the horizon. 

But in terms of an unavoidably self-centered self-assessment of 2016, I can't deny--outside several moments of sadness and chagrin--largely enjoying myself.

And being thankful.

Believe me, I appreciate that sports--and entertainment and the arts--are relatively meaningless compared to life & death situations.

And in part it's because two serious surgeries had by people close to me in 2016 went well--with a heart valve replacement and a kidney transplant amazingly keeping loved ones in the hospital for less than a week, combined, with no known complications since--that I was able to truly revel in the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

And because I'd been waiting my whole life + 60 years for this to occur, it was a pretty humongous deal...and cause for continued celebration (likely for the rest of my existence on Earth and hopefully then some).

But it wasn't just the Cubs winning the World Series--finally!--that made it so wonderful.

Nor that I was fortunate to go to Games 1&2 of the World Series in Cleveland, Game 5 at Wrigley, plus two other playoff games, after a handful during the season.

Of course, that was special. And the end of Game 7 of the World Series, which I watched on my couch with my mom and sister Allison, was the greatest single moment of my year.

Yet what was truly, extraordinarily wonderful--though rather aggravating at the time--was how the Cubs won.

The 2016 Chicago Cubs had a fun young team with not only many great, but seemingly quite likable, players such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Dexter Fowler and more.

With a literate, articulate and humanistic manager in Joe Maddon.

And after reaching the NLCS in 2015 but losing to the Mets, the Cubs were not only the favorites to win the World Series this year, but clearly the best team in baseball throughout the 162-game regular season.

But in the playoffs, it took a miraculous 9th inning in Game 4 of the NLDS to finish off the Giants without facing a daunting Game 5.

They were down 2-games-to-1 against the Dodgers in the NLCS and looking lousy, before coming back to life--and prompting me to write this piece--en route to their first pennant in 71 years.

And they were down 3-games-to-1 against the Indians in the World Series before Kris Bryant's home run in Game 5--pictured above--started to awaken their bats.

But even in forcing a Game 7 and taking a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th, the lovable new Cubs threatened to break hearts like the cursed old Cubs when the Tribe's Rajai Davis tied the game with a 2-run homer off Aroldis Chapman.

Even after the Cubs re-took the lead in the top of the 10th--after a weirdly brief rain delay that seemed to serve the purpose of ginger when eating sushi--the Indians' last out was made with the winning run at the plate.

I feel fortunate to have lived through it--literally--and with the rest of the city of Chicago (save for parochial White Sox fans, who had their turn in 2005) celebrated like it was 1908 for days & weeks (and months) to come.

The Cubs' championship parade & rally supposedly drew 5 million people, one of the largest gatherings  in the history of mankind.

And especially metaphorically, given much that happened in 2016, I (now) love that the Cubs overcame considerable adversity to win their title.

Few great occurrences rarely come easily. 

But for me, 2016 provided considerable delights beyond the Cubs winning it all, and the joys of their entire season.

As this blog exists largely to convey, I love entertainment and culture, and the past 12 months have been tremendously enriching in this regard.

Over the past two weeks, I've posted year-end lists citing my favorite  concerts, albums, songs, musicals, plays and movies, so I won't much reiterate here, but any year in which I see Bruce Springsteen five times, Pearl Jam twice, Paul McCartney, dozens of other enjoyable concerts, tons of great theater such as Hamilton, Cabaret, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and more, is bound to feel pretty special and invigorating.

I didn't do a ton of traveling as I blew my budget on three World Series games, but toured the White House and Independence Hall, visited many great museums and ate at some terrific places, both near home and further away. (See my Best of 2016 recaps covering museums, meals and sights seen.)

In late November, I briefly got to meet my hero, the Boss, when he was in Chicago on a book tour. Not too surprisingly, though I haven't finished it yet, Springsteen's Born to Run autobiography was my favorite book of 2016.

In addition to my favorite entertainer, I also shook hands with my favorite contemporary author, Harlan Coben--after a great speech by him at my hometown Skokie Public Library.

Among numerous creative explorations--some simply through headphones or Netflix--I came to better appreciate the music of late Chicago legend Curtis Mayfield, including at a tribute concert where I met his son Todd, author of a new biography on his dad. 

And though I let Allison--an even bigger Blackhawks fan than me--get a photo with Coach Q rather than take one myself, it was pretty cool to meet him at an event at Arlington Park race course.

2016 was also quite rewarding for me in ways not so glamorous or noteworthy, but no less important.

I worked a 6-month assignment as an Editor in a very welcoming environment where I renewed some great old friendships and developed some new ones.

Though I was only a contractor, my stay was extended, I was told they wished they could keep me longer and I was thrown potluck celebrations for my birthday and my last day, separately though both fell in the same week.

I recently had what seemed like a promising job interview, and am currently doing some off-site freelance work for both a copywriting client and a proofreading client.

This blog continued to be a labor of love, where 140 new posts--and over a thousand old ones--drew nearly 150,000 yearly visitors, including a 2016 high-water mark of 23,575 in December.

Megalomaniacally, one of my favorite blog pieces was an interview I conducted...with myself. 

I enjoyed many great meals and other occasions with family and friends, visited my nephew at college, attended the wedding of the son of one of my closest friends, was taken to a Cubs playoff game by another great friend, hosted a couple delightful movie nights, just attended a magnificent New Year's Eve party, developed new & maintained old friendships--online and off--and celebrated 43 years of ongoing friendship with my best pal since kindergarten.

New Yorker cartoon by Emily Flake
While I didn't fall in love, I knew it--not only from family & friends referenced above but also a beautiful woman who happens to be stunning--and far more than not, I enjoyed life.

Of course, there were many days of frustrations and sorrows.

I'm not particularly religious or even spiritual--though appreciate the uplifting outcomes (not of baseball games) the few times I did pray--yet genuinely believe the passing of Bowie, Prince, Ali and so many more erased something from our ether.

That one of my best friends just lost his mom breaks my heart; the physical and/or mental challenges of many dear to me will be a cause of ongoing concern; I'm certainly far too heavy and at risk; I believe in climate change far too much not to be gravely worried; and I find it hard to grasp that good people continue to be denounced and derided simply because of the color of their skin, the god to which they pray, their gender and/or that of their lover, or simply their desire to pee in public without being beaten.

Love trumps hate, and, let's hope, good times supersede (or follow) bad.

Here's to a wonderful 2017, with thanks for making 2016 pretty good.

And I don't just mean the Cubs.

*The reference to "Happy/Sad" in my blog title references some dialogue from the movie Sing Street, one of my favorites of 2016. It's now streaming on Netflix and I highly recommend it.

I've been a great David Bowie fan since I came to learn of him, likely in the late 1970s, and have owned most of his albums, even lesser ones. But it wasn't until after he passed on Jan. 10, 2016 that I came to know the following two songs, which I now relish. I think they make a nice summation for the year that was...and life ahead.