The Sunday Magazine: Glee


In May of 2009 I spent most of a week humming Journey’s song “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Now it could have been I was just listening to the 80’s station but it was because of a television show. I had watched the first episode of a series called Glee. Glee told the story of a group of lovable geeks who wanted to sing in the glee club. In those days of 2009-2010 the show was a white-hot phenomenon introducing the nation to the real-life show choirs and a cappella groups which existed in high school and college. I wasn’t just the music, though.

In the early seasons it was about finding friends in high school when you’re a quirky outsider. Our heroes regularly got “slushied” with one, or many, thrown in their face. It dealt with very serious issues like teen suicide, teen pregnancy, or bullying; among many. Glee grabbed a hold of its bully pulpit and was unafraid to show its audience the consequences of actions.

glee logo

For three seasons the show had a clear mission as the glee club called New Directions kept competing until they finally would win the big prize. The final three seasons were more problematic as the kids graduated and their stories in the real world never gained the same amount of emotional traction. Part of the issue was one group of characters went to New York City to chase their dreams and another group stayed behind in Ohio. Glee had a very hard time balancing the stories and it became doubly hard when actor Cory Monteith died of a drug overdose in July 2013. Whatever the grand story arc that had been planned by creators and writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk had to be changed. When Glee returned after that it felt like it had lost its way. I felt it never really got its groove back.

Glee came to an end this past Friday night and I sat down for the finale which was a mix of looking back to the beginning and flash-forwarding five years to see our geeks become great. When they reunited everyone who had played on the show for one last performance in the auditorium to OneRepublic’s “I Lived” it brought a final tear to my eyes.

Glee was never meant to be realistic it was a big fantasy of the way I would wish the world to be where the geeks can carry the day. For a while they had a large part of this country embracing that outsider part of their character all while humming “Don’t Stop Believin’”. After everything that’s a pretty good legacy to leave behind.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Contact

When I am flipping channels late at night I almost always hear Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels and Nothing’s On”. My problem is I eventually reach the movie channels and there always seems to be something on. More often than not it is after 11PM on a work night and I end up staying awake too late. One of my recent re-discoveries was the 1997 film “Contact” based on the book by astronomer Carl Sagan and directed by Robert Zemeckis.


Contact tells the story of humanity’s first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. What sets Contact apart is that it is not a story of alien invasion but a meditation on the co-existence of spirituality and science. I saw the movie when it came out in the theatre and I remember sensing the disappointment of my fellow moviegoers that there had been no explosions or bug-eyed aliens. Mr. Zemeckis wanted something less sensational and more emotional. Jodie Foster plays Ellie Arroway who is the scientist who discovers the signal. She is the voice of science who doesn’t believe in God because she hasn’t seen evidence He exists. I had forgotten Matthew McConaughey plays the voice of the spiritual, lay preacher Palmer Joss. He is the spokesman of faith over empirical evidence. The themes are approached from many vectors throughout the movie and I think Mr. Sagan’s story and Mr Zemeckis’ direction allow the movie to explore all sides of this.

An example of how they do this is a conversation between Ellie and Palmer about halfway through the movie. Ellie uses the principle known as Occam’s Razor which says the simplest explanation is most often the right one and she has seen no proof of God. Palmer responds with a question for Ellie, “Did you love your father?” when she answers yes he tells her to prove it. It is such an elegant way to describe matters of logic and faith.

Contact was the first movie Mr. Zemeckis did after winning the Oscar for Best Picture in 1994 for Forest Gump. Like that movie he used real footage of the current President, Bill Clinton, and inserted the actors into the video. It gave Contact a real feel of faux-authenticity that surprisingly held up when I watched it recently.

As a scientist who also has faith Contact is one of those rare movies which treats both sides with respect and allows one to think. So if you’re hearing Bruce Springsteen in your head and you see Contact showing on your channel guide press select. I promise you in this case something’s on.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: For the Love of Money by The O’Jays

It is a curious thing when a song begins to stand for something diametrically opposed to the lyrics. There are many examples of this but it is always this time of year that makes me shake my head over the misuse of the 1973 hit by The O’Jays, “For the Love of Money”.


If you have watched television at all over the past month and don’t fast forward through the commercials you have heard the iconic bass line and the opening lyrics, “money, money, money, money….money” advertising income tax specialists H&R Block. If you’re a fan of the reality television show The Celebrity Apprentice the same combination provides the theme song to the series. In both of these cases the song is used to promote the actual love of money, as in greed, as a desirable thing. The sad thing is if they paid attention to more than the first sixty seconds of the song they would hear a song which speaks about the love of money as a bad thing. After talking about stealing from your brother or your mother, lying or beating some on up, or prostitution. The song concludes with the lyrics, “don’t let, don’t let, don’t let money rule you”. How a song preaching against the love of money has become the theme song for greed is fascinating to me. That people who extol the accumulation of wealth like Donald Trump use it makes me wonder what the song writers think about how their song has been used. I was unable to find a quote from any of them on the subject. It will remain a mystery.


Anthony Jackson

When I looked up the song writing credits I found something which did make me smile because it seems the lyric writers walked the walk. As I already mentioned that bass line which runs throughout the song is maybe the most recognizable bass line in rock music. Bass player Anthony Jackson was fooling around with new equipment in the studio and running his bass line through a device called a phaser. A phaser takes a guitar line and transforms it. Mr. Jackson was already using a wah-wah pedal when the engineer took the bass line and put it through the phaser. Right there was when the bass line was born. What is special about it is Mr. Jackson was given co-songwriting credit with Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff who wrote the lyrics. Even they recognized the bass line was as important as any word being sung. It is not a common practice in the music business. What I think it shows is Mr. Gamble and Mr. Huff lived up to the lyrics they were singing over Mr. Jackson’s bass line. By allowing him songwriting credit he gets a residual check every time the song is played. So while H&R Block and Donald Trump might not “get it” at least Mr. Jackson is reaping the rewards of their ignorance. For the love of money, indeed.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Leonard Nimoy

When I give career day talks about my job as a chemist I always lead with a picture of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock from “Star Trek”. The idea to become a scientist was sparked by the man who played the Science Officer on the USS Enterprise as they would “boldly go where no man has gone before”. As kids we would climb into the branches of the big gumbo limbo tree and pretend it was the bridge of the Enterprise. I always wanted to play Mr. Spock and only very rarely was I not pretending to be analyzing the alien threat. In the late 1960’s as the US was nearing the first man on the moon Star Trek made us believe those were more than small steps for man but that they were huge steps for mankind. The entire cast of Star Trek were ambassadors to generations of kids who dreamed of the final frontier.


Like many of those kids it would lead me to a career in science although much more earthbound as a chemist. Whenever I speak about it with people of a similar age I often find the story to be similar. Mr. Nimoy struggled with being so identified with a character that held so much importance to a group of fans. He would go so far as to write a book in 1975 called “I Am Not Spock”. It would take him twenty years to reverse that with a book entitled “I Am Spock”. I met Mr. Nimoy twice and both times mentioned to him that his character was the inspiration for my career in science. He gave me a large smile both times we had this conversation which were closer to the “I Am Spock” years then when he was trying to shed the image.


I only realized how much I considered him my mentor when I watched his final scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I was sobbing loudly as I watched him impart a lesson that logic and friendship can co-exist. Of course in the movies Mr. Spock would cheat death many times but Mr. Nimoy will not be so fortunate. He will live on in every one of us who was inspired by his portrayal of Mr. Spock for almost fifty years. Which is its own form of immortality.  

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Silk #1- The Future of Marvel Comics


When it comes to movies there is probably no more successful production studio currently than Marvel Studios. The visual arm of the comic book brand has connected with audiences in a big way. As a longtime fan of the comic books Marvel produces I am not surprised. The biggest difference between Marvel and their main competitor DC was that the superheroes on the Marvel page felt more relatable, more like real people bestowed with extraordinary powers and the struggle to adapt to them. As a child I could sympathize with Peter Parker as he navigated high school and being Spider-Man simultaneously. It is this which I think is the foundation for Marvel’s success on the page and the silver screen.


When I was growing up, girls didn’t read comics. In 2015 that is not true. Women are the fastest growing segment of the comic book reading audience. It has been very interesting to watch as Marvel has actively reached out to that audience. This effort began in earnest with Ms. Marvel in February of 2014 which chronicles a shapeshifting Muslim teenager in New Jersey. In less than a year it has become one of the best-selling titles for Marvel. Last fall the holder of the mystic hammer Mjolnir which makes one Thor was a woman. In January of this year The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl debuted as she fought off a supervillain while moving into her dorm in college. Just this week the character which I think is the best of all of these debuted in Silk #1.

Silk tells the story of Cindy Moon who was bitten by the same radioactive spider which turned Peter Parker into Spider-Man. She has spent the last ten years isolated in a bunker by a mysterious businessman Ezekiel. Ezekiel kept Silk hidden away to “protect” her because she had no training in her powers. Now that she is back in the world she is awkward not knowing anything about the last ten years. She doesn’t know what Twitter is, as an example. This is classic Marvel territory that was explored with Captain America when he was revived in the present day after being frozen post-World War II. It makes for an interesting story hook as this time the hero is not all-knowing and will make mistakes from her lack of current knowledge. Also, like Peter Parker, Cindy Moon is learning what her powers can do. In these early days they don’t seem to function as well as they do for Spider-Man. Cindy Moon will figure it out as we move along with her. The writer who will pen these early tales is Robbie Thompson who is one of the writers on the television series “Supernatural”. Based on the first issue it seems like Mr. Thompson has a definite direction in mind and the first issue is almost overstuffed with plot threads for him to weave together in the future.

SILK panel

Art by Stacey Lee

There is another vital component to comic books and it is the art. I’ve been reading comic books for over forty years now and it is a rare joy to pick up a comic and be bowled over by the artwork by a newcomer. The artist on Silk is Stacey Lee and she has a very distinctive style right from the start for Silk. She has chosen a streamlined Manga style with less of the day-glo components and no enormous black eyes. Ms. Lee’s artwork is as compelling and fascinating as Mr. Thompson’s words.

I haven’t enjoyed the debut of a comic series as much as I did Silk #1 in a very long time. This feels like the start of something big. What is nice about it is it is built on a foundation of Marvel traditions as it swings into the future. I’m going to be reading the adventures of Cindy Moon for a long time, I hope.

Disclosure: This review was based on a copy of Silk #1 I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Carmenere 2012

When it comes to wine I have the same tendencies as I do for perfume, I am not monogamous. I want to find what is newest and what is best. I prefer the smaller off-the-beaten-path producers. I’ve even found myself liking wine far from the traditional wine growing regions. The more I have tried wines from relatively young vinicultural regions the more I am convinced that modern wine making techniques can overcome a lot. The only thing it can’t overcome is the terroir, the place the wine is grown.

You can grow grapes almost anywhere and you can take those grapes and turn them into wine. It will unlikely be very good. In the great regions around the world it is the nature of the totality of the environment which leads to exceptional grapes capable of making great wine. One of those newer regions is in Chile south of Santiago. It is the Colchagua Valley and it, along with the neighboring Maipo Valley, have become one of the best New World vinicultural regions in the world.

alexandra lapostolle and cyril

Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and Cyril de Bournet

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s a number of French vineyards came over to Chile and figured out that this region was perfect for winemaking. One of the reasons for that is Colchagua sits in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The snowmelt every year carries down a degree of silt and clay which creates a unique blend of soil to grow grapes in. One of the earliest to commit to this area was Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and her husband Cyril de Bournet. The middle name of Mme Lapostolle should clue you in to her heritage as part of the family which produces Grand Marnier. In 1994 Mme Lapostolle bought her first vineyards in the region and over the past 21 years has significantly expanded their acreage.

Most of the time New World wine regions start by importing modern rootstocks to start their vineyards. One thing that makes Chile a special wine region is that in the middle of the 1800’s they imported rootstocks from France. In just a few years those French vines would be destroyed by an outbreak of a parasite, phylloxera, which required the destruction of all of the grapes. Chile’s vineyards were spared the plague and the grapes grown today are direct descendants of those original beginnings.

Casa Lapostolle CA Carmenere

Mme Lapostolle started in the Colchagua Valley with a small winery in the Clos Apalta. The winery was called Casa Lapostolle and that first wine Clos Apalta has become the standard bearer for Chilean wine and how good it can be. It also carries a hefty price tag of around $100. If you love great red wine it is worth it but most people ask me to recommend wines that are less than $20. For that I point them, very often, to Casa Lapostolle and the Cuvee Alexandre labels which are all under $20 a bottle.

Cuvee Alexandre produces eight varietal wines, six reds and two whites. I can wholeheartedly recommend all of them but if you’re only going to try one you should find the 2012 Carmenere. The Carmenere grape is what especially was lost in France when the phylloxera led to the destruction of the vines. It has thrived in the Colchagua and it has been the foundation for something wholly unique to this region. Carmenere falls close to a merlot-like red but has a bit more of a Cabernet Sauvignon spine. It is a perfect mid-weight red. The 2012 Carmenere has a deep spicy nose as you swirl it in the glass. That prepares you for the intense red fruit and chocolate taste as it hits your tongue. As you savor it hints of spices make their presence known. One thing about this wine is it lingers on the palate long after you have swallowed. This is not a wine to be quaffed it is one to savor at an easy pace. It will reward you every time.

The Colchagua is becoming another of those wine regions that I just tell people to go to the wine store and buy because the quality across all of the producers is consistently above average. Casa Lapostolle was one of the first to realize the potential of the region and their wines exemplify the special qualities the best.

Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle of Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Carmenere 2012 I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Empire

There are many reasons I watch television. One of them is the opportunity to watch outsized characters do outsized things which make no sense. This is the epitome of mindless entertainment. When it is done right you just sit back and let it wash over you with the silliness of it all. This particular form of visual storytelling was perfected in the 1980’s with the two series, Dallas and Dynasty. The structure of both series was similar. There is a family business run by a patriarch for whom you alternately root for and against. The various members of the family and their interactions with that man as he approves or disapproves of their choices. Dallas left the air in 1991 and there really hasn’t been another one of these kind of shows since. Almost twenty-five years later the genre is back with a fantastic twist in the new Fox series Empire.

empire ad

The business in Empire is the music business and the central patriarch is Lucius Lyon, played by Terrence Howard. Lucius runs Empire Records and has been diagnosed with ALS and has been given three years to live. His ex-wife Cookie played by the fabulous Taraji P. Henson has just returned from a 17-year jail sentence for drug dealing. She confronts Lucius and reminds him it was the drug money which helped fund the early days of Empire Records and she wants her half of the business. Lucius has to decide which of his three sons will take over the business when he dies. Andre, the Wharton business graduate. Jamal, the gay middle son. Or Hakeem the young musically talented socially reckless son. Everyone is plotting their own path to eventually take over Empire Records.


The Cast of Empire

All of this is set against the music business background and Empire is liberally using different music stars throughout. It allows for excess and conspicuous consumption to be displayed at will; another necessity for these kind of shows. Empire is produced by Lee Daniels and he has compiled an African-American cast of role players all chewing scenery with the best of them. Nobody is better at it than Mr. Howard and Ms. Henson. If there is any shortcoming to the show in these early episodes it is that the screen seems less bright when neither of them are on it. In the scenes they do together their complicated relationship is exactly what this kind of melodrama is made of. That both actors pull it off so believably is what makes Empire stand out.

I’m writing about this now because Empire has only run five episodes and it is starting to build buzz and momentum so it is easy to catch up. That way you can join me with my bowl of popcorn and cackling laugh when one character betrays the other. Empire has brought back the modern overheated retelling of King Lear with a hip-hop beat and I am loving it.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Super Bowl

Like many other Americans sometime in the late afternoon I will sit down in front of my television set and watch Super Bowl XLIX between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. I have been fortunate to attend every major professional team championship at least once. My one and only Super Bowl was in 1976.


In 1976 I was finishing my junior year of high school and was working as a doorman in a condominium which catered to what were colloquially called snowbirds. These were a mostly older clientele who lived in the Northeast for most of the year but spent their winters in Florida. My job was to park cars and help them with packages and odd chores. The condo was close to one of the major resorts of South Florida called The Diplomat. It happened to be the official hotel of one of the teams in Super Bowl X, The Pittsburgh Steelers; who were playing the Dallas Cowboys. As I was sitting outside and saw some fans wearing Steeler jerseys walk by I yelled out, “Kick their ass!” They came up to talk with me and I gave them a little information about places around the Orange Bowl, the site of the game. They thanked me and headed off. About an hour later one of the men in the party walked up and asked me if I was off work in time for the game. I replied I should make it home just in time for kickoff. He smiled at me and asked me if I wanted to see it live. He held up a ticket and said if I can make it he’ll sell it to me. I said sure and I handed over the price of the ticket, $20. The “cheap seats” for this year’s version go for $500.


Lynn Swann

I got off work and because I knew the side roads and places to park I rushed into the stadium and I got to my seat just as the Steelers kicked off to the Cowboys. That return would set the stage for a back and forth game as the Cowboys tried a bit of trickery with the return which set them up at midfield. In a tight game of back and forth I saw one of the most impressive big game performances by Steeler receiver Lynn Swann who made one of the great catches of a pass in a Super Bowl as he dove and tipped the ball back to himself twice before making the catch and hitting the ground. I was hugging and cheering with my new-found friends from Pittsburgh. They would go home happy as Pittsburgh would win 21-17.

This is the biggest difference between being there and watching it on television. Tomorrow I will be amused at the commercials. I’ll have a better view than anyone at the game. My chair will be more comfortable. I would trade it all for a seat in the last row. To be at a championship event surrounded by the fans of the participants where it is winner take all is best appreciated live. The joy and the despair are amplified as every play is important. For all of the Seahawks and Patriots fans who will be spending a fraught day until a winner is named- enjoy it whether in your living room or from the last row in the stadium.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Wachowskis

There are moments when you sit in a movie theatre and you know what you are seeing will change things. I knew it before I ever sat down in the theatre to see The Matrix in 1999. In what was one of the most effective advertising campaigns I’ve ever seen they showed the clip of Keanu Reeves’ hero Neo dodging bullets on a rooftop by seemingly slowing down time. The movie could have been awful and I would have paid for a ticket to see that. The movie wasn’t awful of course and The Matrix was when we first learned about the filmmaking team known as The Wachowskis. Philip Strick of the British film magazine Sight & Sound had a quote in reference to The Matrix which I think has described much of what The Wachowskis have meant to movies, “If the Wachowskis claim no originality of message, they are startling innovators of method.”


The Wachowskis

They invented the method called “bullet time” to create the action sequences in all of the Matrix films. That technique is now used everywhere and it has allowed all directors, after its creation, the opportunity to add truly unique visuals to their movies. The saturated color environment of 2008’s, extremely underrated, Speed Racer managed to cross the feel of a live-action animated character with the world of video games. I felt like I was immersed inside the races while they were taking place onscreen. The outside world also seemed a little less vivid after walking out of the theatre that day. In 2012 they tackled the nearly impossible task of adapting David Mitchell’s babushka doll-like novel Cloud Atlas. In a narrative which cuts across seven different times and locales The Wachowskis skill with visually cluing the audience in to where they were was critical for a story as intricate as Cloud Atlas.

Speed Racer

Race Scene from Speed Racer

The first movie I am most interested in seeing in 2015 is the new movie by The Wachowskis called Jupiter Ascending. Like the TV ads for The Matrix I have been teased with visuals which leave me wanting to see them on the biggest screen I can. This is also a return to The Wachowskis creating their own sci-fi world, as they did with The Matrix. With Jupiter Ascending I am expecting originality of both message and method. 2015 is shaping up to be a year of geek heaven for me and it will all start with whatever The Wachowskis have to show me on February 6, 2015.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The White Russian

Like the search for a signature scent many of us tend to settle on one alcoholic drink that we order when we are out to dinner or at a party. These drinks are the kind made up of ingredients found at any bar from the one on the corner to the Rainbow Room at the top of the Chrysler Building. Seven and seven, rum and coke, gin and tonic, scotch and soda, screwdriver, or martini; I would venture anyone who drinks that is reading this has had one or more of those. I would also go further that there is one of those which you ordered on multiple nights out. My signature drink has been The White Russian.


The Dude as played by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski

I started drinking it during the disco nights of the late 1970’s; most of my contemporaries were drinking Tequila Sunrises but I found those too sweet because of the grenadine. Then one night a friend ordered a White Russian and I asked for a sip and that became my drink. It would fade from popularity at about the same time as disco died. Except I still ordered it. It would come back into favor after the release of the 1998 movie The Big Lebowski. The character The Dude played by Jeff Bridges drinks White Russians. The movie is a confirmed cult classic and now the White Russian is a cult classic too. Whenever I order it these days it almost always elicits a Big Lebowski comment of some kind.

southern-comfort-ad-white russian

The White Russian was first introduced in an ad, seen above, in The Boston Globe on March 21, 1965. The makers of Southern Comfort had recently introduced a coffee liqueur called Coffee Southern. Like any good new product they wanted to entice customers to buy by giving out some drink recipes. The recipe is as simple as it gets 1 part vodka, 1 part coffee liqueur and one part cream. As with all simple drinks there are variations and as I’ve become more interested in the more complicated cocktails there have been times where I have experimented with some interesting off shoots. One of my favorites is to replace the cream with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Just be careful because that is three shots of liquor which goes down very easily. When I want to change it up and make it less potent I substitute the vodka with amaretto and you have a Toasted Almond. The new breed of vanilla infused vodkas is the perfect choice for a White Russian or any of the variations. After many years of drinking them I will share the current favorite formula.

The Colognoisseur White Russian

1 part vanilla infused vodka

1 part Kahlua Peppermint Mocha liqueur

1 part half and half

Pour all of the ingredients over ice and stir thoroughly.

See simplicity itself. If you’re still looking for your signature drink give The White Russian a try. At the very least you’ll learn a lot of about The Big Lebowski. “Careful, man, there's a beverage here!”

Mark Behnke