i have a question...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Music Explorers, vol. VII

Last night was hard. Kids streamed in, unattended, unnoticed. I didn't know any of their names. We got through our agenda ok (a brief dance routine, the orchestra game--where they all made animal sounds, and a story rap), but the volunteers, for the most part, were apprehensive and less than enthusiastic.

The main obstacle on this project is that the employees of the organization where we're working don't help us. They gossip and make noise and generally disrupt. And they are technically in charge, so there's not much we can do...

The main thing, though, is that we learned a lot last night. About how to iron out the kinks of the project, in general. We're going to do ice breakers with the adults, make sure they understand our agenda really well. Then, we'll always start with a game, during which it doesn't matter if kids stream in. We're also pushing back the class by 15 minutes, so we don't compete too much with activities in the nearby park.

I'll try not to be too discouraged. I suppose it's all a major learning experience.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


The movie Once has been dubbed a modern-day musical, but I stand by the fact that it’s just a movie about musicians…so of course there’s music in it. I fear that spoilers may lie within the review because the music is basically the plot of the movie, which makes it even more beautiful.

In the film, the magic of the first playing of “Falling Slowly” can’t be separated from the song itself. It is a seriously stunning scene, illustrating spontaneous harmony, in more ways than one. It starts with just guitar and piano, the instruments of Guy (Glen Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova) in the movie (pointedly, they remain unnamed) and explodes into one of the most beautiful choruses I’ve ever heard. The song gains momentum and strings, but the electricity of it is that in the film, it’s the first time these musicians are playing together, and it foretells an intense, prolific relationship.

What is particularly striking about the music in this movie is that not only are entire songs played (not just snippets) but the way they are unveiled within the plot seems completely organic. They materialize out of the natural occurrence of the film—like I said, the music is the plot. “If You Want Me” is one of Irglova’s solos. Within the plot, Guy has given her the gift of writing lyrics to one of his songs. The characters call it romantic, but it’s strikingly sad. The wonderful mystery of these songs is that you can’t quite ever tell who they’re singing about. We find out that both characters, though obviously drawn intensely to each other, are also pulled to their own previous spouses—for her, it’s a husband, for him, it’s his ex-girlfriend whom he plans to win back. But on first listen, “if you want me, satisfy me” seems to be a yearning plea to Guy. This song also features a drum machine and Hansard on backing vocals, which makes it an anomaly on the soundtrack.

One of the turning points of the movie revolves around Guy arranging to record some of his music. He recruits Girl and some fellow buskers to play with him, and “When Your Mind’s Made Up” is the first track they record. It features bass and drums and Irglova playing piano that could only have been inspired by the Amelie composer, whimsical and melancholy, as well as Hansard’s intense, emotional screams that crescendo and then just keep going. There’s no resolution, which is perfect at this point in the movie.

As Guy sings “Lies,” he watches an old video of his ex (we find out early on that she “screwed some guy she knew”) and it seems that she and this have inspired most of his music. It’s about the unraveling of his relationship—“the little cracks that escalated.” Hansard’s wispy falsetto brings Jeff Buckley to mind, and the Irish fiddles shudder along with him.

At one point in the movie, Guy and Girl go to dinner at a pub where it seems like the only requirement for dining there is that you sing. “Gold” is a song that Guy sings with his cronies, all guitar players. The sound of this song is so full, many guitars, many voices, and sweet, melancholy lyrics like “And if your laugh was gold/how long do you think you’d stay livin?” I think that may be my new philosophy in life.

During the recording session, the emotional climax of the film occurs when Girl sings “The Hill” to Guy. It is just her voice and her piano playing, sounding a bit like a melodramatic movie and singing slightly trite lyrics: “Walkin up the hill tonight/And you have closed your eyes/I wish I didn’t have to make all those mistakes and be wise.” (In the movie, she admits the lyrics need work.) Still, as she sings about her husband, obviously just a young girl trying to figure out how to be a wife and mother, she breaks down to Guy and they really touch for the first time, finally concretely admitting their connection. It’s a potent moment, despite the immaturity of the song.

The crux of the movie lies within the above songs. The others don’t sit with as much weight in terms of the entire movie, although “Trying to Pull Myself Away” is the obvious radio single of the album, with Hansard sounding an awful lot like Ben Harper, featuring a broad chorus and intricate descending strings. Further, “All the Way Down” is a sleeper favorite of mine.

The song “Once,” which runs under the end credits is a duet between Hansard and Irglova (who are a couple in real life, after this movie) about the fleeting moment of recognition they’ve shared: “Once, once/I knew how to look for you/Once, once/But that was before/Once, once/I would have laid down to die for you/Once, once/But not anymore.” It should be mentioned here that Hansard’s falsetto is stunning.

I find it fascinating and poignant that the last song on the album is “Say it to Me Now.” The guitar here is reminiscent of a Beatles song I can’t identify. It begins with a benign enough verse and erupts into Hansard’s wrenching scream. The poignancy lies in the fact that, in the film, this is the song Guy sings right before he meets Girl. It actually starts the whole romantic, hopeful and sad story.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

thought of the day, 16: wonderwear

This show has taught me more about the importance of good underwear than anything else in my life.

I feel like I have a new body...and it's just new bras.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

As Cruel as School Children

Gym Class Heroes’ album As Cruel as School Children features the combination of smart, funny lyrics, catchy beats, and a charming lead performer. The band obviously takes a few cues from Outkast, but there’s something even more…playful and young about these guys and their album.

The first track, “The Queen and I,” is underlain by a funky Spanish guitar and Travis McCoy sarcastically railing against his woman’s drinking habits. There are recurring themes, as is expected from men who’ve newly found fame, of hook-ups, partying, and keeping one’s integrity (although none of those things is ever mentioned simultaneously in the same song). “New Friend Request” is one of the only songs I’m aware of that boasts a “MySpace” reference. Love in the digital age has never sounded so clever (“On the scale from 1 to awesome, I’m the shit)…or realistic. (He sends the lady he’s wooing a dozen digital roses and admits to checking his inbox 10 times a day.) “Clothes Off!” insists that we have to take our clothes off and have to party all night to have a good time. No questions about it. The charm oozing out of McCoy rivals Justin Timberlake, and the lyrics are hilarious in their overtness: “The way you stole my attention was flat out burgulary/What do you say let's exit stage left so me and you can/Possibly reconvene and play some naked peekaboo.”

Interspersed among all the attempts to hook up on the album are three “Sloppy Love Jingles,” all of which are brilliant in their absolute shamelessness. McCoy here is earnest but playful, not taking himself seriously, but seriously charming: “To me she equaled MC squared and everything else was mathematics/I never took the time to practice.” He chronicles one more attempted hookup, this one incredibly drunken and ending in an unsatisfying, forgettable sexual liaison: “With a smile I grabbed the note, lit a smoke and sat back,/"Dear whoever, lose my number. P.S. the sex was whack.”

The bottom line of these songs is that the productions are simple. The choruses are unexpected because, in contrast to the hiphopiness of the verses, they are usually pop-rock. “Clothes Off!” and “7 Weeks” even feature identifiable electric guitar riffs. Still, it is precisely this simplicity that makes it hard to decipher one track from the next.

The highlight of the album is their first single, “Cupid’s Chokehold.” Its unbelievably infectious chorus, featuring Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, consists of the intricate refrain, “Ba ba da da” and McCoy, again, sings about trying to find the right girl. His definitions of love range from her giving him Alka-Seltzer when his tummy aches and her having her own ring tone. It’s precisely this combination of silly immaturity that wins me over and makes me keep listening.

Plus, McCoy is totally hot.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

thought of the day, 15: i get it now

I touched an iPhone today and it was a near-erotic experience.

Friday, September 14, 2007

thought of the moment, 13: every rose has its thorn

And every payday means pay your credit card bills.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Only in Park Slope

As I walked to the subway this morning, I overheard a mother regaling her 6 or 7 year old daughter with all the benefits of breastfeeding.

I think that trumps the little girl I once saw who asked for a snack of edamame.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Jagged Little Pill

To ease back into writing reviews after a couple weeks off, I thought I’d start with one of the hinges of my adolescent musical life, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. This album quickly became a phenomenon after its release in 1995, and it pushed me into an awareness of popular music. In the more than 10 years since its release, it’s become a modern classic.

The album begins with a power chord on electric guitar and a harmonica. “All I Really Want” was never a single, but because it’s the album-opener, it leaves just as much of a lasting impression as her more famous songs. In it, she’s shrieking (sometimes anxiously, deliciously off-key) about seeking a soulmate, finding someone to understand her, testing the limits of her current, unsatisfying situation: “Why are you so petrified of silence? Here, can you handle this?”

“You Oughta Know” and “Perfect” continue this line of angst and bitterness, but in supremely opposite ways. “You Oughta Know” is the infamous rant against a former lover and his new mistress: “Does she know how you told me you’d hold me until you died, till you died? But you’re still alive.” There is a hard-hitting beat, a wail to her voice, and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass. Then, the acoustic chords of “Perfect” begin and it seems to be an antidote to all the tortured-soulness that’s been heard so far, until the lyrics become clear: “Sometimes is never quite enough, if you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love.” The writing process of this song has become the stuff of pop music lore. Apparently, Morissette and her producer, Glen Ballard, wrote it in one sitting—the song just fell out of her. The sickening sweetness of the verses explodes into an anguished bridge: “…You’ll make up for what I blew, what’s the problem? Why are you crying?”

“Hand in my Pocket” is the first lighter track; even it is bittersweet. “I’m broke but I’m happy…I’m lost but I’m hopeful.” It’s an anthem of self-confidence, despite her youth and uncertainty. And 12 years later, those sentiments are still potent and relatable.

On “Right Through You,” Woman Scorned is back. She’s tired of being disregarded (“You took me out to wine, dine, 69 me, but didn’t hear a damn word I say”) and claims revenge through her success: “Now that I’m Miss Thang, now that I’m zillionaire, you scan the credits for your name and wonder why it’s not there.”

“Head Over Feet,” one of the simplest, prettiest songs on the album, is the closest thing to a love song Morissette can muster. She’s trying to adjust to the idea of finally being cared for, and admits that’s she fallen for him, in spite of her better judgment.

The mega-hit, “Ironic,” has been under scrutiny for years for not accurately illustrating irony. Still, it’s one of the only songs on the album with a fuller sound, more intricate orchestrations, and harmonies. However, most of the examples she writes about as ironic are just plain sad: “A traffic jam when you're already late, a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break, it's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife, it's meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife.”

I have a couple secret favorite tracks. The bigness of Morissete’s voice in “Mary Jane,” which seems to be a plea for herself or a friend to start making the right decisions, is impressive. And “Not the Doctor” is a simmering song about all the pacifiers she does not want to be for him: mother, babysitter, glue, alcohol. Plus, the bass on the chorus rocks hard.

The final single, “Wake Up,” starts with an instrumentation that portends doom. It’s a rail against her him being contrary, wimpy, and an assertion that karma will come back to him eventually.

I’m not convinced Alanis Morissette has produced anything quite as revelatory as Jagged Little Pill since 1995, but I’m pretty sure she’s not as angry anymore. And that’s got to be a good thing.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

West Side Story, zombies

I never realized this is what that movie is really about. Huh.

Escape to the West

Last night I had a dream that New York City was under attack and I needed to find some place safe to go. So S and I fled to this family's house, but we were unsafe there because we were underground and wouldn't be able to escape if a bomb hit. But when we re-emerged and boarded an above-ground train, that was also unsafe, and we all held our breath as we passed over the bridge on the train, in plain sight of the military.

Suddenly, all these public transportation vehicles were passing us by and one of them said Portland, so I jumped on it and S followed. We were escaping to my brother's house! Of course, a bus ride to Portland would have taken days, so we were waiting to be connected to flights, and this stagemanager was arranging them for us, but she needed to first know what our past theater experiences were.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

i love my kids

Nothing like a little agenda-planning for next week's volunteering to get the ol' inspired juices flowing.

How exciting!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

what I learned this weekend

1. I am a better Scrabble player than I expected, but that last round was a tight race (and my brother wins the Scattergories trophy).
2. FM Transmitters are the best invention ever.
3. My 87-year-old grandmother thinks I don't need to lose weight and that I should get a dog, even though I told her several times I can't afford one and don't have space for one.
4. Diners in upstate New York do not carry fruit.
5. Two dinners in a row at a Chinese buffet is bearable, but three is crossing the line.
6. It's strange to spend 4 straight hours with your family and not drink.
7. When I am 56, I will look 50; when I am 62, I will look 40; and when I am 87, I will look 75. (I've got good genes on my side.)

Family Week Continues

Or is it two-weeks, by now?

In any case, you'll have to anxiously await my music column until next Tuesday.

I know, you're all dying a little as you read this.