Monday, November 30, 2009

TWILIGHT!!! YES!! What a great. . . um. . . sigh

Twilight: New Moon came out in theaters two weeks ago and once again the Twilight phenomenon is upon us. I haven’t read any of the Twilight books or seen the first film. All I know about this franchise is through my wife who has read all the books and saw both films in the theater.

My wife is an avid reader, and by avid reader I mean she can read a novel that takes me a month in a week. She caught the Twilight buzz a couple months ago and read through all four books. Diana thinks that Stephanie Meyers sets a great premise, has interesting and engaging story ideas however her storytelling, pacing and dialog is sometimes mediocre.

Everyone, especially guys seem to be hating on Twilight. My negative feelings about Twilight are centered on a couple things. First off the cast inability to present them as professionals in press photos (i.e. shave, and wear appropriate clothing) bugs me (I’m beginning to think this is actually a calculated attempt at connecting with a certain demographic).

And well, honestly I can't think of any other reason that I dislike Twilight but that hasn't stopped me from making fun of the franchise.

Is it fair for me to judge Twilight and hold negative feelings towards it without examining the art itself? No. Am I going to spend the time the read the book? Probably not, so instead I’m decided to watch the first film.

After watching the first part of the film, I posted this on my page.

Facebook Status update:
Kingsley Tang k people I got through 45 minutes of the Twilight movie. . I need to take a break. . i mean geez . . it's not a good sign that Diana and I blurted out laughing when Edward said: "I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore." the things I do to be culturally literate.

Friends comments:
K: Tootsie, don't be mean. Edward is my future husband

S: God does that movie look like dogs&%$

C: The best line is: Your scent is my drug. Oops. I hope I didn't ruin it for you.

E: no one said it was a good movie. it is, in the right mindset, incredibly entertaining though

A: Does that mindset involve a fifth of burbon?

H: wait, Twilight is culture?

Wow. . . lots of people jumping on the Twilight hating here . . .

After watching 45 minutes of Twilight, my initial conclusion is that this film could be a lot better. I believe that there is a good movie in the material and the script. Yes, the dialog in clunky but not any worse than Star Wars. The major detractor here is the actors lack of chemistry with each other and there's a feeling that these actors are trying to act. Robert Pattison seems to be trying really hard to be a vampire as opposed to just being one.

The next day I sat down with my wife and we watched the rest of the film, and I actually enjoyed the rest of the film. Stephanie Meyers has set up an interesting amalgamation of horror with teenage romance with a touch Shakespearian tragedy ala Romeo and Juliet. And frankly it works.

No, it’s a great film, but it has great scenery, some interesting drama and a fantastic story. There's something about the characters and the story that makes you want to see how it all ends. Twilight is not a film that will appeal outside of its target audience but for it’s crowd it does the job.

If you’ve read Twilight or seen the film go ahead and have a ball saying whatever you want about it, but if you haven’t read the book of the seen the film, you really need cut out bashing Twilight. People do not have the right to criticize a piece of art they haven’t experiences as much as they do not have the right to be critical of a person they do not know.

As much fun as it is to hate on Twilight, it’s pointless. You think that some teenage girl who loves Twilight will hear some guy irrationally bash it and then realize how bad the book really is and how stupid they are for enjoying it?

I can’t help but think that gender has something to do with it. Girls as young as thirteen all the through their forties have gotten into Twilight. Many think of it as a guilty pleasure but there’s a lot of people loving these books and watching the films and they are almost all woman.

Female centric art is often referred to with pejorative terms like: "chick-lit" or "chick-flics." That's not really fair, yes there is bad art directed towards woman but there's also bad stuff aimed at men too. The bottom is line that the vast majority of art created in our culture is created for and marketed towards men. So while it's normal for guys to have cultural milestones like the Super Bowl or a summer action film, it's unusual for a book or film to successfully inspire similar fandom in woman.

Look, Twilight: New Moon made $142 million dollars in its opening weekend. To be generous, $15 tickets, maybe 1/3 of the those people say it twice, that leaves 6 million people who saw that film in one weekend, which were almost all woman by most accounts. Stephanie Meyers has created a significant shared cultural experience beyond her books. Anything that brings 6 million people together through art in one weekend and provides them with a meaningful artistic experience.

Yes popularity does not equal quality, but popularity does create connections between people and adds to our shared cultural identity which has far reaching effects not only in our art but in our lives.

Guys, you may not like Twilight or hearing groups of woman arguing about who’s better, Jacob or Edward. If you don't want to see the film or read the book, that's fine, whatever, but think about what you are saying. What does making fun of Twilight really say about ourselves? Are we just jealous or simply annoyed that the ladies have something to talk about that we simply don't understand?

If you don’t get why it’s annoying and immature to bash on Twilight just wait until someone complains about something you love in our culture and you’ll understand.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Buffy's family

My mom and dad were born and raised in Taiwan during a transition from rural to urban environment in the cities that they lived in. While modern conveniences were present, people still had farm animals around in the middle of the city and for my mother and father this meant that they played with the chickens they later ate for dinner.

This also included having dogs around.

These were outside dogs which mostly ate table scraps and were mainly utilized for security purposes, however the universal appeal of dogs to children was present for my parents and they would play with these dogs and enjoyed having them around.

When I was growing up, it seemed that all of my friends had golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers. I remember asking my parents if we could get a dog, mostly wanting one so we could fit in and they would say no citing responsibility or allergy issues.

So I was surprised when I asked my mom what she thought about Diana and I getting a dog. She immediately told me it was a great idea. She said that she felt that everyone who was willing to put in the time and effort into to having a dog should have one. To my mom, a dog enriches one’s life. Through caring for someone or something else, it invigorates the spirit and getting a dog is a great way to do this.

I’m thinking my mom may have had some ulterior motives.

My mom followed our first couple months with Buffy closely through my blog and conversations over the phone (my parents live in Seattle). In the Fall, my parents usually visit Diana and I in Chicago and my mom and it seemed like a perfect time for my parents to meet Buffy.

My mom called me a week or two before they came and told me she was worried that Buffy wouldn’t like her. I reassured my mom that of course Buffy would like her but as soon as I hung up the phone, I realized that there was a possibility that Buffy may not like my mom.

Buffy likes people. In general she comes up to people that she senses wants to pet her and is happy to be petted and played with. Now there have been people on the street that Buffy has shied away from but she has never not taken a liking to people Diana and I care about. Regardless of this, Buffy is a dog, and sometimes and you really can’t predict everything they do.

When my mom first met Buffy it took approximately 0.5 seconds for Buffy to fall in love with my mom.

My dad didn’t initially know what to do with Buffy, which was pretty much exactly the same as when I was babysitting a dog before we got Buffy (which I discussed in this earlier post). However, within a couple hours I could see that my dad was enjoying Buffy and within a day, he was infatuated with her.

By the time my parents were leaving for Seattle, we had spent pretty much the whole weekend walking and playing with Buffy. We had a great time, it was beautiful Fall weekend in the Midwest and it was great to see how much fun Buffy and my parents were having with each other.

When my mom got back to Seattle, she called me and told me that she and my dad were already missing Buffy before they got on the plane. She suggested that we move our family trip, which we planned to do in Seattle in the spring to the Midwest so that we could include Buffy.

This really warmed my heart.

I’ve always felt that Buffy, Diana and I are a family. But I didn’t have any expectations that my parents would necessarily feel the same way. I know whatever is important of my life, my parents will embrace and maybe Buffy gets that too. Maybe that’s why Buffy and my parents affected each other so much. Or maybe Buffy just liked the way my parents smelled.

Buffy, you not only got me, Diana and Diana’s family but you’ve also go my parents as part of your family. You’re a lucky puppy to have such a great family and we’re lucky to have you as part of our lives.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Welcome To The Future by Brad Paisley

“The future” in the literal sense is the time that is ahead of us, but in the figurative sense it means so much more. When people in the 1950s talked about “the future” they thought of advancement in technology and a better more utopia-like society. For many, “the future” is an idea, a better day and another chance. It’s reason we get up in the morning, it’s hope.

Brad Paisley reminds us to take a second and realize that we live in the future of our past selves. He asks the question, what has become of the things that we hoped for in the past, what has truly changed, what is this future that we live in?

In “Welcome To The Future” Paisley’s second single off of his eighth studio album American Saturday Night, he crafts a personal reflection on how far we’ve come. He starts with the trivial singing about how much he wished he had a Pac-Man arcade machine when he was younger and ends the verse commenting how he know owns it on his phone.

The chorus immediately breaks into the religious exclamation “Glory, glory, Hallelujah.” There is something amazing about the advancement in technology that has now mad Pac-Man portable, but not in the spiritual sense. At first, this puzzled me, until I listened further into the song.

“Glory, glory, Hallelujah” is a reaction to something he sings about later in the song and by starting with the anecdote about Pac-Man, he slowly draws the listener in with his characteristic charm and silliness to discuss something deeper.

The second verse goes deeper into his past as he thinks about his grandfather fighting in World War II having to write letters to his grandmother to stay in touch. He wonders what they would think about the fact that now he video chats easily with a company in Japan.

Brad examines the human part of technological advances making us think more about how these changes have affected the way we interact with each other. As the second verse moves closer to the human conditions, in the last verse Paisley takes us one step further into the heart of what has truly developed in the future, not the technology, but our humanity.

The final verse begins with the story of a football player he knew in high school who was African American that asked a Caucasian girl to prom. Members of the Ku Klux Klan reacted to this by putting a burning cross on his front yard. Focusing on this experience, Paisley reminds us how far we’ve come from a woman on a bus, Rosa Parks, to a man with a dream, President Obama.

Glory, Hallelujah

Maybe Paisley was referring to Martin Luther King Jr. but for some reason my mind went straight to President Obama. Regardless of your political viewpoint and how you feel that President Obama is doing with his job currently it is amazing that only 40 years ago the idea of an African-American President was preposterous and now it’s a reality.

The President invited Paisley to perform at the White House to celebrate country music last summer. Before he performed “Welcome To The Future” for the President he explained how the election inspired him and how he wrote this song to capture how it made him feel.

One of the things that I love about Brad Paisley is that his music has a shine to it. You can feel the sunlight between the notes. Brad Paisley not only sees the glass as half full but cherish every drop of water that is left. Listen to “Welcome To The Future,” and you’ll understand why.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues by Elton John

In 1975, Elton John released Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy which became the first album ever to enter the charts at #1. Riding a huge wave a critical and commercial success, John seemed to do no wrong.

Two years later, John announced he was retiring from performing and his next album Single Man, had no top ten singles and was a critical and commercial disappointment. By the time he released Too Low For Zero, Elton John was a shadow of his pass self. Drug and alcohol abuse as well as personal challenges including negative reactions to a 1976 Rolling Stone Interview in which he admitted to be bisexual were taking its toll on not only Elton but also his music.

Instead of having five or six singles off of an album that were hits there were one or two and instead of toping the charts they merely broke the top 10. Amidst this, there were a few songs from this era endure quite like, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”

Featured on the album Two Low For Zero, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” only reached #4 on the charts competing with monster hits like “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson and “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. Once Elton John’s music was at the edge of popular music experiment with form and creating unique sonic landscapes like in the opening of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with the epic “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.”

Now Elton sat squarely in the safe and adult contemporary sound of the early 1980s synthesized rock, but this couldn’t overshadow the warm nostalgia and emotional honesty of the “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”

Elton divided the beat into the three small parts giving “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” a lilting, almost childlike quality. Elton’s voice contrasts from lines sung as manner of fact statements “don’t wish it away, don’t look at it like it’s forever,” to earnest expressions of support “before you and me run. . . ” at the end of the first verse.

At these moments and also during the chorus, “laughing like children . . ” John uses a rhythmic musical device called a hemiola. Instead of having note last over three small beats like 1-2-3 1-2-3, the notes hold over two small beats 1-2-3 1-2-3. This make the notes seem like they are lagging behind slightly creating drama by accenting the offbeats.

“I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” is about being away from the ones that you love. Reflecting on a relationship, John figures that this feeling of being away from each other must be “the blues.” However, the overwhelming feeling of this song is not “the blues” or sadness from being apart but instead is love, glowing out of soul like a warm memory.

While the most famous lines of this song “Laughing like children, living like lovers, rolling like thunder under the covers” are fun to sing along with juxtaposing child like joy with sensuality, it’s the end of the second verse that says it all: “I simply love you more than I love life itself.”

The 1980s didn’t last forever. In the early 1990s, Elton John wrote the music The Lion King and the release of Songs from the West Coast in 2001 a return to John's piano roots which many considered one of his best albums featuring songs like “America Triangle” (which I discussed in this earlier post). Whether it be shows in Las Vegas or his success on Broadway with Billy Elliot, it seems that Elton is back.

It seems that many things left Elton during the 1980s, his health, his commercial success and his creative drive, but "I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” reminds us that he never lost his heart

Friday, November 20, 2009

Buffy, Come!!!

Looking at Buffy, from across the room, I yelled “Buffy come,” and she ran across the room right up to my feet. Ignoring Diana who was holding her collar, ignoring the trail of treats on the ground and the other dogs and owners in the class Buffy came ran right up to me when I called.

I slipped into her mouth the piece of hot dog that was in my right hand, scooped her up into my arms and joyfully carried her back over to Diana as the other owners and Brandi the dog trainer in our puppy class applauded.

Weeks earlier in our first Puppy II class, I called Buffy over to me and she completely ignored me. I went up to her, gave her some treats and ran away hoping she would follow. Nothing. Buffy just wandered over to sniff another dog. We put Buffy on her leash and two feet away from her, Buffy finally came over to me. Embarrassed and frustrated, I knew I needed to make a change.

Earlier in the fall we took Puppy I class at Diana at Barker Behavior. The instructor is Brandi Barker. (Really, if your last name is “Barker” doesn’t that pretty much predetermine your career path as a dog trainer?). This is a fantastic dog training company and if you have any need of training help or classes for puppies or older dogs, I highly recommend you look into taking a course from Barker Behavior. I discussed Buffy graduating from Puppy I in this earlier post.

When we signed up to take Puppy II and it was clear that Buffy wasn’t responding as well to me in class as Diana. For various reasons, I was training Buffy less and it became apparent in Puppy I that Buffy was responding much better to Diana than I was. This concerned both of us. Buffy is our dog, and it’s important to Diana and I that Buffy has a strong relationship with both of us.

After that first class of Puppy II, I committed to working with Buffy more inside and outside of class. I realized that my training with Buffy would improve but probably wouldn’t be at the same level as Diana and Buffy as well as the other dogs and owners in class. This frustrated me, but I couldn’t do anything about the past so I focused ahead.

As the weeks of Puppy II progressed Diana and I made an effort to better split the training time with Buffy in class more evenly and I spent a significant more time with Buffy doing training not only at home but also during her walks.

Here's the thing, Buffy really enjoys training. Often during walks, she will look up at me looking for some praise or direction. Sometimes during walks, it's easy to just go through the motions but Buffy likes to have some variety and who could really refuse to engage a puppy with those cute eyes looking up at you.

We first practiced comes from two feet away on leash and eventually Buffy and I got pretty good at comes around the house, but I didn’t really expect that she would be all that great with comes in class. So when Brandi set up Diana at one end of the class with treats in the middle to distract Buffy, I didn’t really think that Buffy would come all the over to me. However, Buffy surprised me as she ran right over and I was ecstatic and everyone in the room applauded knowing how far Buffy and I had come.

Buffy is still not perfect with coming when she’s called. It’s not one of those things she’s naturally good at like sitting or rolling over on her back to get her tummy rubbed (ok that’s not so much a training thing but it’s REALLY cute). But we’re getting there.

With dogs, just like kids, it’s the little moments that make it all worth it. Whether it’s a lick on the face, a wagging tail (I’m talking about dogs here btw), or a little fuzzball responding to a command.

Buffy and I have a long way to go, but we’re getting there. At the end of Puppy I, Buffy was hardly responding to anything I was doing in class and at the end of Puppy II, I was the one commanding Buffy as she passed her final exam and we more than caught up with everyone else in the class.

I am really proud of you girl.
I can't wait to see you when I get home.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Only The Good Die Young by Billy Joel

In our culture there are two prevalent stereotypes of “Catholic school girl.” Either it’s a girl who is incredibly chaste and innocent or a girl who in response to her upbringing is mischievous and rebellious.

Now I married a Catholic school girl. Diana was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school from grade school all the way through high school. Diana doesn’t fall isn’t either stereotypes. She is well balanced and has almost never felt a need to rebel from her upbringing (unless you count marrying me, which is a whole separate issue). ANYWAYS. . . .

Billy Joel on the other hand is dealing with one extreme: the Catholic girl who under the power of the Lord has not done anything bad, never takes a chance and of course would be seen with the protagonist that Billy Joel portrays.

Joel’s character uses brilliant “Barney Stinson” logic to convince this girl to go out with him and to loosen up and live a little.
Saints, the people who are good always seem to die young so wouldn’t you rather sin a little bit and have more time on earth to party? What young person wouldn’t rather “laugh with the sinners than die with the saints?”

With an upbeat boogie-woogie baseline and a celebratory swinging horn section Joel revels in the glory of enjoying sin. What Joel is talking about isn’t anything really all that bad. He’s commenting on the atmosphere that he grew up in during the late 1950s. This was a time when the reaction Elvis Presley was that his dance moves were sinful and that his music was evil ala Jon Lithgow in Footloose. Do you remember all the things people said about Marolyn Manson being a bad influence on children? Yeah, the exactly same things verbatim were said about Elvis. Sigh, isn’t it nice to see how far we’ve gotten?

While this song is silly portrayal of teenage logic, it does have some interesting things to say about the nature of teenage sexuality. Joel makes statements about the Catholic education, “Virginia, they didn’t give you quite enough information.” Now I’m not here to judge Catholicism stance on sexual education, but Catholic schools aren’t exactly leaders in this field. The idea of a protagonist like Joel’s character doing the teaching to my daughter? ‘shudder’ This is why we need to really think hard about what we are teaching our children about sexuality.

Back to my wife. . .

Did I have to do a little persuading to convince Diana to go out with me? Yes. Did she reject me the first time I asked her out. . . kind of. . . but it was all worth it. Now it’s not like I was Billy Joel’s character. I wasn’t out to corrupt Diana. I did teach her how to better utilize expletives in her daily discourse and I am responsible for her enjoying of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which does feature pagan witchcraft. However, Diana found the Harry Potter books herself so I can’t be held responsible that level of sin she has sunk down to.

Joel sings, “sooner or later it comes down to fate, I might as well be the one" which reminds me of convincing Diana to go out with me. I wasn’t going to leave it to fate, Diana was too special a person to pass up. And I thank God every day that she chose me to be the one.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tracks Of My Tears by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

When people think of hot producers and song writers, names like Timbaland, & Rick Rubin come to mind. In the early 1960s at the headquarters of Motown called "Hitsville U.S.A." the hottest and most important song writer and producer was Smokey Robinson.

With over 1000 songs to his credit, Robinson wrote and produced some of the most influential and well known songs in popular music history including "My Girl" by the Temptation. Working with Berry Gordy the founder of Motown, Robinson changed the face of music earning the title, "The Poet Laureate of Soul."

If all Smokey Robinson did was write and produce “My Girl” (which I wrote about in this earlier post about in this earlier post about my brother) he’d be fondly remembered as a significant influence on popular music. Fortunately for us, he did so much more than that.

There are many great Smokey Robinson songs but one that keeps coming up in our culture is “Tracks Of My Tears.” Most recently covered by Adam Lambert in a beautifully crafted and intimate performance on American Idol, “Tracks Of My Tears” like so many of Robinson’s songs has stood the test of time.

Conceptually this song is amazing. The idea of a man crying so much that it leaves tracks, but only if you look closely is original and poignant. Smokey Robinson has such utility with his words. Like Hemingway he uses as few words as possible to get his message across. What he creates is straight forward simple words and rhymes that resonate with depth and meaning.

Check out the second verse:

Since you left me if you see me with another girl,
Seeming like I'm having fun.
Although she may be cute,
She's just a substitute
Because you're the permanent one.

There is extended alliteration with “see me” being soon followed by “seeming.” The rhymes are subtle and smooth in an ABBA pattern, "fun" with "one" and "cute" with "substitute." Listen closely to that “she’s just a substitute” line. It could not fit with the melody any better. This is one of the greatest pop lyrics I’ve ever come across. It’s so great that Pete Townsend of The Who wrote and recorded “Substitute” as an homage to this great line.

Then there’s the vocal. The falsetto of Smokey sounds masculine and is full of soul and blues. This is what every pop singer strives for their falsetto to be like but never quite captures. If we didn’t have Smokey, we wouldn’t have singers like Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake or Adam Lambert.

Take a listen to this a cappella edit of the recording.

Note the shape and the harmony in the Miracles vocal introduction and the way that Smokey effortlessly ends his phrases. My favorite thing about the interaction between the background vocals and Smokey is how the vocal introduction comes back in the last half of the second verse as a background vocal adding emphasis to the words.

Then there’s the chorus and the way that the background instruments continue the vocal line with descending triplets that Smokey starts. The melodic baseline, the snap of the tambourine on the offbeats. . . OMG EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS SONG IS INCREDIBLE!!

‘exhale’ okay. . .

I’m back sorry. This song really gets me excited. I could go on forever about this one. The craft is so artful and beautiful expressing a transcendent feeling of joy.

Yes, this song is about a breakup, heartache and desperation, but it’s also about the how good love feels.

Oliver Stone perfectly captured what this song feels like, what it means in his film Platoon. A whole bunch of young guys trying to deal with the stress of a war that makes no sense to them, finds camaraderie, release and pure joy in Smokey Robinson’s music.

It’s like what Butters once said in an episode of South Park

“Wuh-ell yeah, and I'm sad, but at the same time I'm really happy that somethin'
could make me feel that sad. It's like, it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. And the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt somethin' really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good, so I guess what I'm feelin' is like a, beautiful sadness. . .”

Could not have said it any better myself little man.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Taylor Swift: Entertainer Of The Year

There have been three times in recent memory that I've cried while watching television.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show announcing Barack Obama had won the presidency of the United States of America.

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Paris Jackson, expressing her love for her father Michael Jackson at his memorial service.

And last night, watching Taylor Swift win the entertainer of the year award at the 2009 Country Music Awards.

All three of these moments were genuine, open expressions of feeling. Even though the emotions were different the honesty of their words and the power of each of these moments connected with the way I felt about these events effecting me in a profound and indescribable way.

I'll never forget the first image of Taylor Swift I saw: A striking young lady in beautiful dress singing "Love Story" from the song's music video (which I raved about in this earlier post). Here was a young girl, singing about a fantasy, capturing the hopes and dreams of teenage romanticism in a hopeful, romantic and beautiful way. It was feeling the first rays of sun rising up on a Spring morning.

One reason, Taylor Swift struck me the way she did is because the last time we saw an 18 year old explode into popular culture it was Britney Spears when she released " . . . Baby One More Time." The video portrayed Spears in a perverse school girl fantasy with suggestion lyrics and dance moves. I have nothing against sensuality in music but with Britney, it didn't feel genuine, it didn't feel right.

Early in the day on Wednesday, I started seeing stories about how Taylor Swift was nominated for entertainer of the year at the CMA's, the youngest person to ever be nominated for that honor. I've never watched the CMA's before but I figured I would record it on my DVR and scan through it.

When I finally sat down and watched the CMA's, I was amazed. The hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood made some great jokes. They were a little silly but had a lot of fun. The most shocking thing for me after watching years of the Video Music Awards on MTV and the Grammy's was when Brad would pick up his guitar and her would sing joke songs with Carrie. Not only were these songs funny but Brad and Carrie sounded amazing singing together.

Then there was the music. Chock full of performances that focused not on big productions and dances numbers but on the musicianship of the performers. Country music proved that they have within their genre were some of the greatest musicians around.

Then there was Taylor.

She opened the awards show with an energetic performance of "Always and Forever."

The first part of the song she sang without a guitar, dancing around stage displaying an understanding of stage presence and performance that is well beyond her age.
Later in the evening she performed "Fifteen" surrounded by her fans. Like singing around a campfire, Taylor performed with her fans transforming from a stadium stage performer to folk sing/story teller.

At the end of the show came the big award: Entertainer of the year. When Tim McGraw and Faith Hill announced that Taylor had the big award there was a feeling that this was something that everyone in the stadium rejoiced in. The crowd went wild and the look on Taylor's face was priceless.

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw had supported her from before her first album. Every single one of the artist who were nominated for entertainer of the year had let Taylor open for them, which Taylor mentioned in her speech. The entire country music community had rallied behind this girl from day one to get her to this point and here she was. For a moment I felt like I was right there with the crowd cheering for our girl.

It was watching someone's dream come true. It was proof that being a good person and working hard paid off. And it was a reaffirmation in what is beautiful in art and inside of our hearts.

Now there are people out there who think that Taylor Swift's image is just that, an image. It's hard for me to believe that her song about her mom, "The Best Day," which I did a post about reflecting about my own mom was just a another calculated ploy to see more records, but that doesn't mean that is an impossibility.

The way that people view Taylor swift is the way that they view the world. Pessimist who see the glass as half empty see Taylor as an act. They want to see her fail and want to tear down and they want to prove that she's nothing but a marketing tool.

But I'm an optimistic. The glass is half full in my world.
I believe that people are good.
I believe the greatest joy we get in this worlds is caring for others.
And I believe in Taylor Swift.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Dance by Garth Brooks

[for those of you who know me well and are trying to figure out who Jennifer is, chill, "Jennifer" is a pseudonym]

Everyone has a moment in their lives in which they lived through "The Dance." These are the relationships have ended, but that we are better for having gone through.
One of the things I’ve realized as I’ve grown older is that as bad as break-ups fell, they don't change the good times that are shared.

My favorite memory with Jennifer was dancing in her dorm room to her favorite Garth Brooks song, "The Dance." As the song got to the second verse I she looked up to me, smiled and sand the words accentuating "king" which is the nickname Jennifer called me and then giggled to herself.

Holding you I held everything
For a moment wasn't I a king
But if I'd only known how the king would fall
Hey who's to say you know I might have changed it all

At that time, the first part of this verse is what spoke to me. I didn't think about the fact that this King "would fall." All that I was focusing on was the moment, the feeling of companionship and sharing a moment with a girl who at the time was my world.

There are other moments in my memory of being with Jennifer that make me smile. Singing with her, exchanging long rambling e-mails and just hanging out with her and being silly. She helped me break out of my “take myself way to seriously shell.” But we broke up and that wasn't fun. In retrospect it wasn't like a horrendous event, nobody did anything wrong, it just wasn't working out, but at the time it was painful.

As time has passed the breakup has become less consequential and what is more meaningful is the good times we shared and how Jennifer effected my life.

Jennifer introduced me to many things. Her infectious love of Bon Jovi gave me an appreciation of the power of rock anthems (check out this past post on “Livin’ On A Prayer.”) She was a fan professional wrestling which brought me into that world which even though I do not actively watch any more, I used watched religiously for a couple years and still enjoy this get a kick out of watching every so often.

The most powerful world she brought into my life was country music. People often talk about Jazz as being the true American music and I have to disagree, for me it’s country music. This music derives from Gospel, folk and religious music, while providing the foundation rock music and almost every other style of pop music.

Jennifer's favorite country artist when we were together was Garth Brooks. Now I was aware of this guy. It was impossible to not know who he was. This guy has sold more than 220 million copies of his albums and singles worldwide. But growing up in grunge-centric Seattle there was nothing worse in my high school as enjoying country music so I created a distaste for a genre of music that I didn't even know.

When I started going out with Jennifer, I was interested in getting to know her and part of that was learning to appreciate these things that I had irrationally disliked. This was a two-way street as there were kinds of music that I enjoyed that she didn't like that she made an effort to get to know.

Jennifer gave me a couple Garth Brooks CDs to check out and what initially bugged me was the country fiddle and slide-guitar twang (which I totally love now). Most of all what I thought I hated about country music was the way they sang. Garth Brooks is the perfect ambassador of country music for people who thought I used to. He sang in a country style but he didn't overdo it. He looked like a guy who would live next door to you and sounded like it too.

What really got to me were the words. In the 1990s, lyrics were romantic drivel that didn’t make much sense like “I Want It That Way” or depressing and dark contemplations on life like Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.” The words in the “The Dance” are completely different and they blew me away. Almost like a sermon, “The Dance” passes on wisdom about life in a direct and meaningful way. The lesson is something I may have heard before but never thought about.

Jennifer really hasn’t been a part of my life for a couple years. We both went our separate ways but every so often I check up on her page and it warms my heart that she has found happiness in her life and I like to think that she feels the same way.

Looking back, I could have lived without the breakup, the awkwardness and friendship that was lost, but I would have had to miss all the moments we shared and most importantly our dance.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Paparazzi by Lady Gaga

My first encounter with Lady Gaga was hearing a group of my third grade students sing “Poker Face.” I had heard them talk about how much they liked this song and one of them brought it in for me to listen to.

When the song started, almost all of the students immediately started singing along with the opening instrumental hook, which was cute. Some of them started dancing around which was entertaining and also cute. The cuteness continued as they sang along to the lyrics. Then the line came “I’ll get them hot, show him what I’ve got” which was less cute and then the second verse rolled around and hearing a bunch of third graders sing “and baby when it’s love, if its not rough it isn’t fun” diminished any sense of cuteness.

This whole experience put a bad taste in my mouth when it came to Lady Gaga. I know that the kids had no idea what they were singing about and that it was harmless but it still felt a little weird. From my first impression, “Poker Face” seemed like a catchy dance song that had a good hook and was an obvious throwback to the 1980s.

But I wasn’t impressed and I didn’t really understand what the big deal about Lady Gaga was. Months pasts, I read about how Madonna loved her, learned about her background as a trained classical musician and couldn’t really ignore her presence on the popular music scene. However, the singles that came off of her album Fame simpy didn’t do much for me.

Once a month I take a look at the Billboard 200 charts and listen through the top 20 songs to stay current with what’s going on. After listening to Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears nonsensical single “3,” and the Black Eyed Peas” mediocre “I Gotta Feeling” I was ready to give up (good god the only reason these guys are popular has gotta be from a lack of options, I mean starting a song with repeating the same line for 1 and half minutes, seriously?!? “fill up my cup, Mazel tov” are you kidding? SIGH).

Does Oprah have any musical standards? That’s like her recommending a V. C. Andrews book for her book club.

Then I heard a thirty second clip of “Paparazzi,” Lady Gaga’s latest single, and I was blown away and immediately bought the song.

“Paparazzi” immediately reminds me of Madonna. Here is a song that is catchy, easy to dance to but also has intriguing lyrics that reflect contemporary issues. In “Like A Prayer” Madonna relates religious ecstasy to sexuality and in “Paparazzi” Lady Gaga examines the role of paparazzi in celebrity worship and stalking.

This song does sound a little creepy, Lady Gaga uses 1980s synthesized sounds not to imitate acoustic instruments but rather to create a whole new sonic landscape. Sometimes these sounds reflected dark feelings like paranoia as in Rockwell “Somebody’s Wathching Me” (which features Michael Jackson doing backup vocals).

Even though the words are creepy and clearly unhinged “I promise I’ll be kind, but I won’t stop until that boy is mine, baby, you’ll be famous chase you down until you love me,” there is something heartfelt and kind of romantic. It’s like the bridge of “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, you know its creepy but it feels sweet and loving. This takes you into the mind of the stalker who doesn’t see himself as doing anything wrong and also allows people to ignore the meaning of the song if they just want something to dance along to.

Lady Gaga understands that this song is for people to have fun with. The bridge doesn’t really make sense lyrically in the context of the song but it supplies the line “We’re plastic but we still have fun” for people to scream along to on the dance floor.

“Paparazzi” functions beautifully as a pop dance song, giving people everything they need to have a good time from off-beat hand claps to a catchy hook, but it also has an intriguing statement about the consequences of celebrity.

Lady Gaga, I don't understand your fashion sense and I don't like all of your music but thanks for reminding us what great pop music is: meaningful, interesting, skillful, and most importantly a whole lot of fun.

. . . just ask my third graders. . .

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gone by 'N Sync

When ‘N Sync broke on the scene with hits like “I Want You Back” the Backstreet Boys had already started the boy band resurgence of the 1990s.

To me and many others, ‘N Sync was simply another copy cat group trying to cash in on the trend that the Backstreet Boys had started. ‘N Sync’s first album, wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t nearly as good as Backstreet Boys first album. When the Backstreet Boys released Millennium in 1997 with the monster hit “I Want It That Way” it seemed clear that the Backstreet Boys had set the standard for what boy bands were and could achieve. ‘N Sync returned the next year with No String Attached which was a great success selling millions of copies however Millennium sold more selling more than 13 million copies.

It seemed that the Backstreet Boys had won this round but the next one would change everything. The Backstreet Boy’s next album Black & Blue released in 2000 sold a record breaking 1.6 million copies in the first week of sales. The following year, “N Sync surpased them with Celebrity selling 1.9 million copies in the first week breaking new sales records.

Yes, sales are everything. Just because something sells more doesn’t mean its better. However in this case, the sales reflected the future of popular music. Black & Blue was an album that didn’t look forward or reflects modern trends. It was the work of an artisan creating something that he knew he could sell, doing a fantastic job creating his product but not taking any chances. The biggest song off of this album “Shape of My Heart” reflects this which is basically a rehash of “I Want It That Way.”

‘N Sync’s first single “Pop” from Celebrity was a fresh sounding commentary on institution of the American celebrity utilizing distorted vocal stuttering effects.

It was at this time that people became to notice one of ‘N Sync’s members transformed from a cute boy that pre-teen girls screamed to one of the most important voices in popular music: Justin Timberlake.

Justin’s processed voice on “Pop” had a intense style, and infectious energy but it was the following single “Gone” that established Timberlake as a force to be reckoned with.

“Pop” may talks about the glory of pop music but “Gone” exemplifies it.

“Gone” exists within the canon of popular music reflecting the greatest and most important influences in popular music, melding them into a single piece of popular art. The introspection of “Yesterday” the first great pop ballad, combined with a hip-hop beat that has no business being used at them tempo combined to create a sparse yet effective texture. With silences throughout the song, this sense of loss, something being gone comes clear through.

While the acoustic guitar combines with synthesized strings, the backup singers harmonize and respond with Motown style harmony. Right front center is Justin Timberlake channeling the pop styling of Michael Jackson and the grit of Sam Cooke.

Earlier I've did a post about Sexyback (which I made plenty of jokes about) and it's amazing to see how far Justin Timberlake has gone. There have been boy bands throughout popular music history and most of them are simply a flash in the pan but every once in a while a boy band breaks the mold. Every once in a while an artist comes out of a group and changes popular music.

'N Sync proved to the world that any stereotypes or expectations we place on boy bands are truly gone.

. . . and Thank God, because it was really rough there for a while without sexy before Justin brought it back.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Still not a fan of dogs, but I love Buffy

I don’t like dogs.

I’m not a dog person. I don’t go up to people and ask to pet their dogs. While I agree that being cruel to dogs in immoral, I don’t spend time trying to fight for that cause and I wouldn’t be caught dead reading a dog magazine.

However, I love my dog.

Okay, if this doesn’t seem to make any sense, let me try again. Many people have children, and most of these people love their children. However, few people in society like kids enough to want to devote their life to teaching kids. You can love your kids without loving “kids” and you can love your dog without loving “dogs.”

The people who are most awkward with dogs like me are people who did not grow up with them. I clearly remember the first time I spent an extended period of time with a dog (which I wrote about in this earlier post) I stood their looking at the dog having no idea what to do. I mean, it’s not like the dog talks back. They are nice to pet, but they also kind of smell funny. Anyways, I got over that in time but I still find that I can be pretty awkward with dogs.

I wrestle with Buffy, flip her over and do pick her up in weird positions. I feel confident that I know how to handle her and there is nothing that she does that intimidates or scares me. Other dogs on the other hand, not so much. There’s a dog in our puppy class who is from shelter dog. The owner is dog fantastic work with the puppy but the puppy continues to be scared of men, which may be because of some trauma.

In class we like to help each other out with these kinds of issues so I walked up to the dog after the instructor asked me to and the dog lunged towards me and growled and I jumped back and at that moment I was ready to consider wearing adult diapers next time I did this exercise.

Not cool.

But I wanted to be helpful, so they calmed the dog down and the pup eventually got to the point where he let me pet him and I did but that was one of the quickest and most disingenuous “good dogs” pets I’ve ever done.

At a recent party one of my friends mentioned to me how this early photo of Buffy and I made her understand why anyone would want to get a dog.

This friend of mine had been bitten by a dog as a child and has never understood why anyone would want a dog in their lives. But there was something about this photo of Buffy taking a nap on my chest that made sense to her. She has niece and nephews and she has pictures of every one of them sleeping of their mom or dad’s chests just like Buffy sleeping on mine and started to make sense for her.

When dogs used to come up to me and lick me, jump up or smell my crotch I used to just get uncomfortable and question why anyone would chose to have one of these slobbering, poo-producing things around the house. Now when a big dog greets me, I still get a little uncomfortable, however after having Buffy in my life for almost four months I understand what it means to share your life with a little ball of fluff.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I Want It That Way by The Backstreet Boys

The lyrics of “I Want It That Way” make no sense.

Ok, let’s take a quick look:

[1st verse]
You are my fire,
The one desire
Believe when I say
I want it that way

But we are two worlds apart
Can’t reach to your heart
When You Say
That I want it that way.

Really this first verse is fantastic. With a great opening line, our protagonist talks about how he wants to be with his lady. The second stanza introduces some conflict and that there is something between them that is keeping them apart. There’s a surprising level of depth in these simple words and the ambiguity of what “that way” is intriguing.

The chorus is where things get a little confusing.

Tell me why
Ain’t nothing but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothing but a mistake
Tell me why
I never want to hear you say
I want it that way.

So our guy is wondering why this relationship is hard, and why this feels like a mistake. Then he talks about why he never wants to her “I want it that way” when he spent the first verse trying to convince her to believe him when he says “I want it that way.” And when she says it, she's saying that she wants it to work, so why would he not want to hear her say it.

Before releasing releasing "I Want It That Way," the record company realized that the song made no sense so they asked the Backstreet Boys to record the song with different lyrics and here’s what they came up with:

I'm yours, completely
I feel, so deeply
You're my thought for everyday
And I want it that way

My life, is for you
And I, adore you
I love you more everyday
And I want it that way

No goodbyes
Ain't nothing but a heartache
No more lies
Ain’t nothing but a mistake
That is why
I love it when I hear you say
I want it that way

The record company after hearing both versions decided that the original sounded better regardless of the nonsensical lyrics and “I Want It That Way” became one of the biggest hits of the 1990s.

I agree that the original lyrics sound smoother and “tell my why” sounds a lot more natural than “no goodbyes.” But couldn’t they have simply changed the last line of the chorus to “I love it when I hear you say” to tie it all together?

People often criticize pop music especially boy band music for having nonsensical lyrics. And it’s really hard for me to ignore lyrics in a song, but sometimes we have to take a step back and think about the purpose of this song. It’s not like “I Want It That Way” is in the middle of an opera and has to move the plot along. It’s a pop song, and one of the most well-crated pop songs of our time and other musical factors more than make up for the words.

The fact that the song starts on a minor chord opening up to a glorious call and response chorus borrows from Motown harmonies and the great boy band songs like “I Want You Back.” The emotional sweep and drama is this song in infectious and the song sounds downright glorious when it comes out of the bridge into the chorus.

The last three repetitions are a revelation. The first chorus after the bridge features the response part of the chorus while Nick sings ad libs over the rest of the group. The next chorus adds two more layers with the “tell me why” response as well as a sustained voice that anticipates the response holding out “ain’t” right before the rest of the voices enter. In the final chorus, the vocals lines up taking out the sustained anticipation leaving the two vocal parts coming together one final time, before winding down to a single voice.

The ending of this song is beautiful. I’m not saying that its great “for a boy band” song, no it’s simply awesome for any kind of song. There’s a reason why EVERYBODY knows this song and whether or not they pretend to hate it, I bet most of you get a kick out of this song.

Sometimes the lyrics are necessary to make a song come to life and other times there’s something about a melody and how its arranged that makes the words seems less important. “I Want It That Way” is a perfect example of this and as much as bad lyrics annoy me, I wouldn’t want this song any other way.