Friday, January 31, 2014

Whew! ExpressScripts comes through in time with my RA med Orencia

It took five calls and a lot of assertive patience to get this med.
I have an excellent result to report after a trying exercise in consumer advocacy over the last week, working with my required Blue Cross/Blue Shield prescription fulfillment service, corporate giant Express Scripts (@ExpressScripts/@ExpressRxHelp )/Accredo (formerly Medco).

It has been terribly difficult and disconcerting several days to get my weekly RA biologic med, Orencia (abatacept), a specialty med that is critical for me to be able to continue working by reducing the painful, debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis.

Good news!  It arrived early this morning via UPS! Thank you, ExpressScripts.

I've documented the frustrations about this company's poor customer service and questionable business practices in several posts (here, here, here, and most recently, on related to this latest horrible nonsense here). I have 6500 Facebook friends/subscribers 14K Tweeps, and 15K G+ followers that have been following my chronicle about this mess, and some of them shared their experience with ExpressScripts.

This latest debacle was the last straw in terms of delays, shipment cancellations and confused customer service calls about my account status. On the positive side, I was also fortunate to find a community of active and vocal customers of ExpressScripts on Twitter that have dealt with issues like mine over and over again.

One such person is the dynamic Valéria M. Souza (@VSouza_STL), who has been fielding complaints from fellow patients about the poor customer service doled out by ExpressScripts/Accredo and has researched and documented the many customer service shortcomings since the corporate prescription behemoth swallowed up Medco. She is working diligently to establish customer-to-corporate communications to show the ES executives that it is in their best interest to do right by patients dependent on their service.

I want to thank Valéria for forwarding information on my situation to corporate as an example of how NOT to do business, and how simple things like listening and ensuring follow through with customers is critical to improving ExpressScripts' reputation. And they should care about that reputation.

Orencia is injected once a week.
Missing a dose can have a devastating, painful impact on RA patients.
While I realize that shareholder relations and profits are linchpins to any company's success, it's equally critical to keep in mind the business you are in -- helping patients maintain their health. It's not selling widgets.

And in the case of specialty medications, you're talking about patients that have chronic conditions that, if untreated by delays screw ups in orders, may result in dangerous and/or painful circumstances. The need for good customer service is essential, and ExpressScripts has been wildly inconsistent. Quality control (in terms of controlling losses) is clearly important to the company, but it should not come out of the hide of patients whose coverage by their insurer is already subject to the whim of contracts and agreements that have zero to do with maintenance of the health of subscribers.

And a big thumbs up here to Accredo -- I also want to thank the Accredo operator that I spoke with on Wednesday; I don't know his name, but he was the only one to take the time to go into my records and various connected databases to verify I had a 84-day prescription from my doctor (it somehow was "changed" to 28-day by Accredo), and confirm I was entitled to receive the entire script in one shipment. He also got it to me this AM, just in time for me to take my dose at 4PM today.

[NOTE: Why this day/time? It's because the medication has significant side effects -- chills, fatigue, etc. -- that make me pretty sick over the weekend. So I take it so that I can be recovered enough by Monday when it fully kicks in and the side effects, subside. It means my weekends are pretty shot; but most RA patients will tell you that this is the price we have to pay to live a fairly normal life. There's no cure for RA; meds like Orencia extend your productive quality of life.]

Impact of Social Media on Corporate Image

It's 2014 --  In this day and age it makes no sense to do wrong by customer -- the word will get out. Social media like Facebook and Twitter have a significant impact in spreading feedback from customers. It can give thumbs up  to companies that go the extra mile, but if a company acts in bad faith, well, if you have enough followers, you can really marshall forces to jack up a company's image. Who needs that? Why not build bridges to excellence; our health care industry is already a minefield. What we do have is solidarity as customers to help make things improve.

I'm satisfied with this resolution; I am mindful that others are still struggling to get their essential meds and will continue to monitor the Twitterfeeds @ExpressScripts/@ExpressRxHelp

* You know just how much Express Scripts/Accredo sucks?
* Unintentional lessons learned from Accredo/Express Scripts F'up - just how much my RA has progressed
* Too little, too late love from ExpressScripts

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Another month, another delay by ExpressScripts on my critical RA med (update 3)

See updates 2 and 3 at the end, and the final result here.

The Health "Care" Industrial Complex screws me again.

Last week, I called Express Scripts (@ExpressScripts/@ExpressRxHelp )/Accredo (formerly Medco) back to request delivery of my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drug Orencia. Today I received a call -- about a delivery delay.

Oh, no, not more drama with poor customer service from these people.

I call back, go through the voicemail hell but I get an operator within 2 minutes (wow, an improvement there!). She looks into my account and says that in the notes it recorded there was an "accounts receivable issue," but that it didn't show a balance so she didn't know why it didn't ship (for arrival today).

[Duh. I have the charges auto-pay via credit card on file and I keep it without a balance, btw, so it couldn't have been a problem on my end.]

So while she ponders why the notes make no sense, I tell her that I need this medication by Friday of this week since I have to take the injection weekly.

Because Orencia is an expensive specialty medication, Accredo doesn't allow you to have more than a month's supply at a time, and won't refill until you're at the last dose, leaving you in a precarious position of not knowing if you'll receive the refill on time, or they will F up your order -- as I documented in my last post on ExpressScripts, where the company simply canceled the order and never called me -- and tweeted a "sorry" (see above graphic) after it was too late.

This time they did a little better, though the jury is still out. I'm set up to receive the delivery on Thursday, so we'll see if it arrives. If there's another snag, it will mean going without a med for a week -- a med that enables me to keep working. I've already gone through this once, and I learned a lesson.

It taught me just how effective biologics like Orencia work to reduce the progressive joint inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis. It also showed me just how much worse my RA has gotten since diagnosis and beginning biologic therapy -- all my finger bones, my wrists, elbows, hips, knees, ankles and foot bones are affected. There is new, troubling pain in the cervical vertebrae (neck) that I never had before.

UPDATE: Oh. My. God. Accredo called again and now says the prescription request was rejected by my doctor's office (!?), something that the two customer service people I've spoken with over the last week should have seen in the files if this were true.  I know this is not the case, since my rheumatologist has had me on it for a few months now, but now it's on me to get that fixed with my doctor. It means it's highly unlikely that I'll receive Orencia for my dose on Friday and will be in excruciating pain over the next week.

And - I just looked in my online prescription records w/Duke, and lo and behold, I have an active script on file:
abatacept 125 mg/mL injection syringe
Commonly known as: ORENCIA
Prescribed by [my doctor's name] on 11/26/2013.
This is bullsh*t.

UPDATE  2: Oh. My. God, part II. Now Accredo lies.

So around 4 PM, I get a call from my rheumatologist's office. I had submitted an online query to check on this alleged expired prescription, and she was nice; she said she just put in another one for a 90-day script for Orencia into the system so we wouldn't have this mess next month, and said Accredo should have it now. Great!

So I hang up and immediately call Accredo. They pick up and I do get a customer service rep in less than a minute. Unfortunately it's all downhill from there.

  • She had no clue why a delivery order that Accredo scheduled with me last week for today was able to be placed if there was an invalid script in place.
  • She said that she could see my new prescription from my doctor's office, but that it would take 24-72 hours to process. 
  • And then I have to wait for a rep to call me sometime in the above window to schedule a delivery. [Remember I need it to arrive by Friday or I have to wait a week to take the dose.]
  • Oh, and by the way, the said that the script is only for a 28 day supply
WTF?! Come on, I said, I just spoke to the nurse and she said it was for 90 days. The Accredo rep, characteristically and robotically said it is only for 28 days. So who is not telling the truth? I know my doc hasn't been anything but thorough and prompt in refilling my meds in 90 day supply increments for mail order.

What kind of game is Accredo pulling? Four different customer service reps, each with a different story about this prescription.  What do they see when I pull up my account? Is it like a slot machine in Vegas, where you pull the handle and get unique (losing) results each time?

I have to go through this all over again next month? I wrote my doctor's office again and told them I'd like to hold a three-way call ASAP to deal with this 28 vs. 90 day prescription approval.

And look at this:

Express Scripts... #FAIL again. 

UPDATE  3: (1/29)  Five calls, five stories - but a delivery scheduled (again).

I'm sitting in the waiting room at Duke Hospital (my wife was having outpatient surgery), and lo and behold, Accredo left me a VM to schedule the delivery of Orencia. Again. Of course I am quite skeptical that it will materialize before Friday, but I call back and get a customer service rep on the line in less than a minute. The very polite man ran through the list of required ExpressScripts questions to ID me and to go over the prescription specs and delivery address.

I tell the operator that I have to have the medicine by Friday afternoon or I will have to skip the dose until the following week. He says he can get it there by Fri afternoon. As he is concluding his set of questions, I ask him if I can ask him one for clarification:

"Look, I've been on calls with different reps trying to get this prescription filled and each time I'm given different stories about whether the script is valid, if the account is paid up, etc. I want to be sure that I'm really going to receive this, and that it is covered by my BCBS at the right co-pay."

He ask me what is my question and he'll see if he can look up the answer or refer me to someone who can answer it.

"I was told by the last rep that this was for a 28-day script, when I had just gotten off of the phone with my doctor's office, and the nurse said it was sent in for a 3-month supply. How is this possible? I don't want to have to get a new prescription every month for a medicine I take regularly and not have go through this mess each time."

He says he will check several dbs -- the order, the kind of coverage I have, etc. After some hold time he says what I knew all along -- the records show that a 84-day supply prescription was received from your doctor. He had no idea why it was changed to a 28-day script. He says he can cancel the delivery under the 28-day script and re-enter it under the 84-day one.

I ask "so wait, I want to be sure this doesn't get delivery screwed up, or a receive a call saying BCBS won't cover it, or my co-pay is outlandish (it should be $30). I want to be sure that we're on the same page -- under my 90-day script before, I received one month's worth at a time and had to call to schedule the next month's delivery, but didn't need a new prescription. Under this 84-day prescription you're describing, it sounds like I will receive the three month's worth in one delivery (something that I've not had before). Is this what you're saying?"

He says that it is indeed going to be filled for 3 month's worth in one delivery (!).

Now how is this possible? In one phone call, I have yet another answer about what I'm entitled to under my policy, and it's one that has never applied to my biologics.

While this is a more than satisfactory outcome (if it indeed arrives when they say it will), it is troubling that I have had completely different stories about 1) my account, 2) my prescription status , 3) my policy coverage, 4) ability to deliver and 5) payment status.

This was the first customer service rep to take the time to review my whole account, history, my BCBS coverage for the med, and what my doctor actually sent over. He was on the ball.

This isn't right -- it places the onus all on the patient to figure out whether ExpressScripts customer service is incompetent, told to dial back on servicing patients with the correct co-pay and eligibility for specialty meds. All of these customer service reps, like the one today that did go the extra mile to retrieve information that proved what I knew all along to be true, should be equally competent at navigating their company databases to ensure accuracy and save everyone precious time.

Today, thanks to Valéria (see below). I received a call from ExpressScript "Presidential Escalation" office; they left me a message. I intend to tell this representative in the AM (they were closed by the time I could call today, so I left a message) about the troubling and inconsistent service that occurred at the company since it swallowed Medco. And I never had problems with order fulfillment like this.

I'm going to use this valuable opportunity to share what it is like from the patient perspective to get continually jerked around at a most-vulnerable time in their health needs. Not everyone can be a spot-on advocate for themselves. If not tenacious or assertive, working with ExpressScripts will leave you without vital medications because of the disarray there (intentional or unintentional).


On the battlefield...

I want to give a big shout out to Valéria M. Souza, who has been fielding complaints about the poor customer service doled out by ExpressScripts/Accredo:
Thx, , for your tireless work advocating for customers of and receiving sub-par service.
I tweeted that out last night. Follow her on Twitter to see just a sampling of what patients and caregivers are going through when it comes to receiving critical specialty meds for chronic and serious illnesses from this health care industrial complex giant. Her blog is

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Steve Perry back on stage, enjoying himself (but what a tease!)

[NOTE: Bucket list - lunch with Steve Perry. One can dream...]

I'm so pleased to see that Steve Perry, who has battled skin cancer and the loss of a partner in the last year or so, 1) looking healthy, and happy, and 2) back on stage. It's huge deal as he's not been anywhere close to a public appearance like this in years. Glad to see him enjoying himself.

The gig was a Guitar Center Drum Off event on Sat, 1/18. We should all look this good at 65 (he turns 65 on 1/22). Here's a Vine from the event taken by Thomas Lang.

A Facebook friend asked a familiar question for those who aren't diehard Journey fans -- "Why isn't he the lead singer for Journey any more?"

It's a pretty well-known story -- here's the Cliff Notes version. After recording their reunion album, Trial By Fire (1996), SP was hiking in prep for the tour. He hurt his hip, and it required surgery. Then the story becomes somewhat disputed. SP told the band he needed time to think about having the surgery, after several months they wanted to tour and told him to make a decision. He wanted more time, they gave him an ultimatum, then began auditioning singers. He then either quit or was fired.

Journey went on with Steve Augeri for 8 years; he had vocal issues in 2006-7 and was replaced briefly by Jeff Scott Soto on tour. Arnel Pineda was discovered on YouTube. Neal Schon had him flown in to audition and he's had the gig since 2008.

Steve Perry went on to continue writing and work behind the scenes on projects for others, but has led an otherwise quiet life out of the spotlight, doing an occasional charity event but he didn't tour. He did interviews rarely, but surfaced for several in conjunction with the release of Journey's Greatest Hits Vol. 2, a project he personally oversaw the remastering of (and the tracks sound crisp and awesome, btw). Before and during those interviews he discussed that he had built a home studio, written 50-plus songs and did some demos and planned to record them.

Perfectionist that he is, I think he's terribly afraid that his voice -- The Voice -- isn't what it was during any of the periods he was active with Journey and thus would disappoint fans. Most people are familiar with his acetylene torch mid-tenor vocal period (1981-83), less so with his bell-clear high tenor altino during the first three albums with Journey (1977-1980). By the time Trial By Fire was recorded, he had lost some of the high end, had a bit more dirt (roughness) in his vocal delivery, but obviously hadn't lost a lick of his emotive expression and lyrical interpretation. But what does he sound like now? I think most fans are so hungry for new music and to hear Steve Perry's voice again, and are more forgiving than he thinks.

Of course there will always be critics who will have (unrealistic) expectations that after a huge gap of time that a performer that doesn't sing regularly with the level of discipline required for public performance can somehow generate with the same vocal cords the dulcet tones of 40 years ago. Can't be helped. It pains me that those few may keep SP from recording and releasing new material. But it's his choice in the end. He's left us a legacy of recordings that are timeless and preserved at the peak of his natural talents. What's most important is that he's out and will hopefully see he's still beloved by so many Journey fans and give him the confidence to share what's musically on his mind someday soon.

...and here he is on stage, doing some percussion (more cowbell!) at the Drum Off. If you get to 2:07, he actually does jump on the mic for a bit (even with a little wail on "Pick Up The Pieces"!), just enough to tease us.

At the mic!

UPDATE: More of SP singing! At the 6:30 mark. Great, strong and oh-so-Steve Perry. Aw, man, give us some new music, it's killing me!


A reminder about just how hard the road was on Steve Perry's voice -- his instrument -- when he was at the height of touring with Journey. From Fire and Air:

"No articles that I’ve found focusing on vocal training or quality exist for Perry, and most interviews concentrate on the somewhat acrimonious breakup between him and his former bandmates. Other interviews mention only in passing the difficulties of performing as a quasi-operatic vocalist for 180+ sets a year for years on end, well beyond that which is euphemistically called “punishing” or “grueling” in the operatic world and firmly in the realm of larynx-shredding insanity.
...Perry was left quite on his own in dealing with these issues and both he and his voice suffered for it. Often the only points of comparison for singers in rock are their instrumentalist bandmates, who while they are also subject to great stress while touring, can nevertheless do something singers can never do — buy new strings or new instruments when they play out their old ones.

...Due to the fact that neither the rock music industry, his management, his bandmates, nor Perry himself apparently had any profound awareness of how to caretake voices of that caliber, what should have been a luminous 35-year career was effectively burned through in what amounted to roughly one decade of active recorded performance.

...Thus as an operatic vocalist functioning in rock, Perry stood in a tiny area of overlap that did not exist until he created it, located between two of the most mutually suspicious forms of music. As high as the barriers to critical respect are between classical and popular music, they are a thousand times higher between opera and rock. This left only the fans themselves, who flooded toward his music by the millions, to recognize the monumental achievement that his musically tribeless voice represents. Those fans have now begun to achieve some position of authority as they (we) enter middle age, and their respect for Perry’s voice is beginning to be taken more seriously as a result."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lesser-known Journey gems that deserve to be on a setlist

I was listening to Journey's Arrival (2001) last night. Talk about great songwriting. So many of the songs stand up beautifully over time -- Love Nothin' Comes Close, I Got A Reason, Lifetime of Dreams come to mind -- really glorious and timeless work that went unheard by the masses (their loss). Would love to see some of these gems resurrected on setlists on this tour; the same goes some of the work on Red 13 (2002) and Generations (2005). I'll talk about those albums a bit later.

The fact is that there are great songs on the albums that didn't feature the legendary Steve Perry (Steve Augeri was front man 1998-2006); popular music tastes had shifted when these albums came out, but what has not changed is that Journey put out songs during this period that have held up over the years. It's too bad that these albums never found an audience.

One of the reasons I love the band is that it has diverse musical influences that play out in interesting ways on its albums. Journey is best-known for 80s arena rock and power ballads; its RnB influences and performances, for instance (has the DSB crowd ever heard the jaw-dropping great 1978 King Biscuit jam live-in-studio boots?), are sorely missed now. And since the band is touring with Tower of Power this year, it's time to resurrect that collaboration for die-hards...please!

From the King Biscuit show:

Of late, the creative focus turned to a harder-edged, Schon-axe-based sound. I loved the guitar-heavy Eclipse (2011) by the way -- another album that the masses didn't favor -- because it adds yet another interesting stylistic feather to the band's cap. Honestly, who wants to see Escape/Frontiers repeated over and over (oh, yeah, the casual fans, sigh). From Eclipse, "Anything is Possible," a classic-sound that never managed to make it onto a setlist even though it actually charted.

My favorite creative period of the band varies with my mood; I love all but the first era (the instrumental heavy prog-rock phase; it has many devotees). I gravitate toward strong melodic vocals married with music. Journey's Steve Perry-Gregg Rolie phase (Infinity / Evolution / Departure / Captured / Dream After Dream), with shared vocals on several cuts, is a miraculous combination and transformation in the band's sound that is just catnip to my ears, and Rolie on the Hammond B3 and piano are an aural pleasure.

The Jonathan Cain era -- the most popular in terms of sales and concerts -- is chock full of classics that I love dearly as well. It's the one period -- heavily reliant on 80s synthesizers (I call it the "basement Casio keyboard sound") for a lot of songs that haven't aged as well. Exceptions with excellent synth work -- Separate Ways, Chain Reaction, Rubicon. Not so much -- Suzanne, Happy to Give (a vocally chills-inducing, wonderful song I actually love but would give anything for an arrangement with drums, piano and strings instead of synth). When the songs return to the base of the organic sound of the piano, they just soar in my book.

That leads to another wish -- that there was room for some smaller concerts that allowed for exploration of more than the dirty dozen favorites; there are a lot of fans that love the deeper cuts. We may not fill a stadium, but how about a few smaller gigs to showcase these tunes some love they deserve in a live venue.

Jon Cain and Neal Schon, 2011
It's kind of sad that the band itself doesn't seem to want to pursue an alternate path in live performance to give the back catalog of great songwriting a live airing these days -- regardless of whether some of songs ever charted. It's great music that a lot of dedicated fans listen to and appreciate and want to see performed live before the Journey boys decide to retire. I'm sure they have to be a bit weary of the dirty dozen by now; wouldn't it be gratifying to play their own favorites to a welcoming (if smaller) crowd in a few clubs around the country.

Journey during the Arrival-Generations period discussed here:

Steve Augeri: lead vocals
Neal Schon: lead guitar, backing vocals
Jonathan Cain: keyboards, backing vocals
Ross Valory: bass, backing vocals
Deen Castronovo: drums, backing vocals

(My fave songs below marked with a +, with ++ for outstanding)

Arrival (2001 U.S.)

Kevin Shirley: producer, engineering, mixing

This album has stellar writing on it; why did it suffer at release? No Steve Perry. Steve Augeri doesn't have the power or range (or that dynamic je ne sais quoi delivery) of The Voice, but he brings a style and bright, light ear-pleasing mid-tenor to this work with his own talented delivery. It was a terrible handicap to follow a popular and beloved once-in-a-lifetime voice; there's so much on this album to love. The production is less lush than Trial By Fire, but it's fine, indeed.

Upon listening during a rotation of Journey tunes from various times in the Perry era to this I found myself applying "I wonder how SP would vocally interpret this song?" to Arrival. You can't help it. But listening with an open ear to Arrival standing on its own, with repeated listens Augeri really owns this album in remarkable fashion, and Journey covers  a pretty wide berth of styles here, from outright rockers and ballads (the heart-tugging writing on "Lifetime of Dreams" stands equal to "Open Arms" quite honestly) to a return to some enjoyable bluesy pop-soul.

Perhaps the most unusual song on the album is the sensual "Kiss Me Softly" -- it takes on a quasi-Quiet Storm genre sound -- territory that the band has not ventured to before or since. It has gorgeous, sumptuous piano and guitar work and vocals. I imagine this wouldn't go over with the rocker crowd fan base, but I was smitten.

  1. Higher Place 5:09 ++
  2. All the Way 3:35
  3. Signs of Life 4:54
  4. All the Things 4:22 ++
  5. Loved by You 4:02
  6. Livin' to Do 6:24
  7. World Gone Wild 6:00
  8. I Got a Reason 4:18 ++
  9. With Your Love 4:25
  10. Lifetime of Dreams 5:29 ++
  11. Live and Breathe 5:12
  12. Nothin' Comes Close 5:41 ++
  13. To Be Alive Again 4:21
  14. Kiss Me Softly 4:48 ++
  15. We Will Meet Again 5:05 ++

Red 13 (2002, EP)

Producers: Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain

Oh, lord, the production sucks on this EP. I guess you can charitably say it's got a rough, off-the-cuff style, but in my book it's just a crying shame because the songs deserve better. The drums and vocals sound like they are under water at times, barely audible, mushy.

Now the songs themselves reflect a more experimental side, without regard to being commercial, which was a pleasant shift. Neal Schon gets to shred, to use Augeri's vocal textures to create a new Journey sound.

My personal favorite is the closest to the classic sound -- "I Can Breathe" is just peaches -- great melody, bridge, harmonies, guitar solo -- and horns tossed it to great effect. I want to weep because the production is so poor on this one. It's hit-worthy and deserves some love. "The Time" is also a fantastic, driving rocker that one could easily imagine turning up on Eclipse.
  1. Intro: Red 13 / State of Grace 7:26
  2. The Time 7:09 ++
  3. Walkin' Away From the Edge 6:16
  4. I Can Breathe 4:19 ++

Generations (2005)

Producer: Kevin Elson

Another album with some fantastic compositions that deserve a remaster. This is the album where each of the band members contributed lead vocals to the tracks, with Augeri on the balance. The production is sub-par; too muddy, vocals way too far in the background on a lot of the tracks, and drums, well, poor Deen Castronovo's work on the skins is also unusually "disappeared" at times. You can still find several gems that are easily some of Journey's best. The album just couldn't find an audience.

"Faith in the Heartland," was remade with Arnel Pineda on Revelation, and the original version suffers a bit when compared in my book. The remake has better production, a powerful vocal, a tighter arrangement and drum work. But the song itself is a grand Journey rocker regardless of the version. The same goes for "The Place in Your Heart," also remade for the Japan release of Revelation. Better production, but it's up to listener preference on the vox and delivery.

Out of the band members, drummer Deen Castronovo, handles two tracks and his voice is a revelation. He always handles a couple of tunes on the road, but this was the first studio album that gave him the chance to shine. He's got a fabulous melodic voice -- just a touch of dirt in an otherwise bell-clear Perry-like tenor with a wonderful vibrato. Here is "Never Too Late" with Dean on vox :

I also found Jonathan Cain's "Every Generation" a yummy, soulful jaunt of a rocker that's outside of the usual Journey sound that is completely complementary here. Now I'm sure I'll get some flack for my next thumbs-up -- the Steve Augeri-penned "Butterfly." While Arrival and Generations have been criticized for having too many ballads (not unreasonable if you're in the rock-oriented camp), there were some stand-out ballads in the bunch. I think of "Butterfly" as a gentle, meandering, thought-piece that is quite wonderful. It takes time on its journey building to a crescendo that is satisfying. It's not a typical Journey ballad, but so what -- it works for me. (Giving it some thought, this song falls in much the same love-it-or-hate-it category with Journey fans as Eclipse's "Tantra," -- and that one I'm not a fan of, so it goes, lol. The good thing is that the band provides something for everyone in the fan base).
  1. "Faith in the Heartland" 6:56 ++
  2. "The Place in Your Heart" 4:20 ++ (original here; the remake w/Arnel was Japan-release only; can hear that here)
  3. "A Better Life" 5:40 ++ (Deen on vox)
  4. "Every Generation" 5:52 ++ (Jonathan Cain on vox)
  5. "Butterfly (She Flies Alone)" 5:56 ++
  6. "Believe" 5:41 ++
  7. "Knowing That You Love Me" 5:21
  8. "Out of Harms Way" 5:14
  9. "In Self-Defense" 3:10 (Neal Schon on vox)
  10. "Better Together" 5:05 +
  11. "Gone Crazy" 4:04 (Ross Valory on vox)
  12. "Beyond the Clouds" 6:54
  13. "Never Too Late" 4:59 ++ (Deen)
"Pride of the Family" (Japanese-only bonus track) 4:00

That's all for now. I'm going to put the headphones and enjoy some more Journey from this period.

NOTE: Plan to return to this space soon for an essay on my dream set list for a Journey concert -- and, no surprise, DSB won't be on it. It will be the songs I want to hear the band play live again (or, in some cases, for the first time).

* How much do I love Journey?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Unintentional lessons learned from Accredo/Express Scripts F'up - just how much my RA has progressed

Not a good day - day 6 without Orencia (RA med). Made it into work but all of my joints hurt miserably (driving really hurt, limping, have pressure gloves on, pressure socks on, lots of liniments, Aleve). I will take the injection tomorrow so I'm back on schedule, but this is misery. I couldn't take today off, but I will have to tomorrow since it will make me sick.

Bright side (I have to try to find one!): I guess Accredo/ExpressScripts' F'up on delivery last week, leaving me w/o a dose, taught me just how effective biologics like Orencia work to reduce the progressive joint inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis. It also showed me just how much worse my RA has gotten since diagnosis and beginning biologic therapy -- all my finger bones, my wrists, elbows, hips, knees, ankles and foot bones are affected. There is new, troubling pain in the cervical vertebrae (neck) that I never had before. I will need to report that to my rheumatologist next time around.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy new year - glad to ring in 2014

Happy New Year, everyone! It's bye-bye to 2013. I hope you all had a safe and fun evening celebrating. Kate and I both fell asleep and missed the ball drop hour, lol.

2013 was a year of personal milestones and observations. Here's just a short personal look back (after all, I can be self-indulgent on my own FB wall, lol).

-- I closed PHB after 9 years of online citizen journalism, with amazing send-offs from Michelangelo Signorile, Melissa Harris-Perry, and many of you with thoughtful FB messages and Tweets;

-- I celebrated my 50th birthday in NYC with friends and family;

-- I marked 20 years at my "real job" at Duke University Press;

-- And, of course, 2013 was a year of dealing with life-altering health challenges that are here to stay (and was the impetus for closing the blog).

Despite the personal setbacks related to the latter, it was a positive year to witness changes in LGBT life in the U.S. The civil equality ball has moved forward faster than I could have predicted, with the fall of a big piece of DOMA and more and unexpected states welcoming marriage equality.

On the other hand, we've got intransigent inequality in many states, where you still cannot be out on the job, there are no public accommodations protections, and marriage recognition is a pipe dream waiting on SCOTUS. Transgender rights have a long way to go no matter how you slice it. I hope the LGB movement puts forth the effort to effect changes that make a difference.

And race relations? Jesus, our country needs a reboot on this one. Re-electing the first black President only seemed to exacerbate the crazies on the Right, and generated precious little intelligent dialog along with cluelessness-- pretending we don't have a serious problem in this area is ludicrous. Trying to assign blame rather than accepting and working through the role privilege plays seems to be a challenge we cannot quite reach these days.

That whole Rodney King "can't we all just get along" rings in my head quite often.

But it's 2014 now, so I look forward to more news, more joy, more frustration and life in general -- as it is, while I work to make it what I hope it can be. Many gracious good wishes for you and yours.

On July 1, 2014, Kate and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage (thank you, Canada!), so it's a nice milestone in this new year that we both look forward to!