I feel that if I leave this place behind me, things will shift. I will shed this cracking, bitter, heavy skin and suddenly be myself again. Free and unencumbered by all I’ve been brainwashed about who I am while living here.
Admitting something always makes it a reality. It’s like the door to the slippery slope has been opened and somehow the force of gravity downwards is even stronger now. Sometimes there’s relief, but it’s in thoughts like Escape, Run, Move On, Quit. Not in thoughts like Work, Communicate, Evaluate. I’m still looking for a quick fix.
I keep looking down at my hands, surprised that the nails are so pink, surprised there is color in my cheeks and lips, that I still wake up every morning and make the trek to work. I’m healthy. But that comes as a shock.
So I’ve made doctors’ appointments. Three in two days, spanning 3 months. Maybe they’ll convince me.
This morning, I found myself strangely mesmerized by a woman across the car from me. She caught my eye at 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, putting on powder so vigorously, I couldn't actually tell if she was putting it on or wiping it off. She continued, applying blush with a brush that she methodically dipped in the color, then brushed off on her jeans and blew through. Then she sucked in her cheeks like a fish and applied the blush, looking confusedly at her reflection in the hand mirror. I can't imagine she actually applied any color, after all of that methodical blowing. She bravely used an eyelash curler on a moving train and even brought out little eyebrow scissors, snipping carefully and then grinning like a maniac to check the shape. (This is when I almost laughed outloud at her.) I imagined her handbag actually contained the contents of a little surgical tray. I mean, she even brought out a little pencil sharpener. Eyebrow liner, lip liner, and lip gloss were also applied.
She didn't finish until West 4th street in Manhattan.
Joanna Newsom is a word nerd. Which I’m pretty sure is what makes her such a startling lyricist. Her second album “Ys” was introduced to me during a wonderful day last December, when my old college roommate and her boyfriend made me breakfast. I knew if I listened to the album more carefully, it would probably dissolve me into tears.
Newsom is both harpist and vocalist on this complicated album. The album is comprised of only 5 songs, most of which clock in over 10 minutes. Each song is so intricately written, both lyrically and instrumentally, it’s hard to encapsulate each one in a paragraph.
“Emily” begins like a dirge. It struck me as some of the most melancholy singing ever and within the first line, she throws the word “chim-choo-ree” at us. Then suddenly the orchestrations hit at such a strong force, the first time I heard it, I nearly had to choke back a sob. That effect hasn’t really decreased any, after many more listens. It’s so intensely visceral, whirling and speeding towards a climax but never reaching it. Newsom’s songs are so wordy, you have to look up the lyrics to appreciate them. “The meteorite is a source of the light/And the meteor's just what we see/And the meteoroid is a stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee.” Or how about “You came and lay a cold compress upon the mess I’m in/Threw the window wide and cried: Amen! Amen! Amen!” Newsom’s voice is odd; it rises and falls from the squeak of an 8-year-old to the alto hum of an old woman. Sometimes she sounds like Bjork. Sometimes she sounds like she’s whistling, but it’s coming from her throat.
“Monkey and Bear” is the second track and begins sounding like a madrigal. It’s a winding tale about a monkey and bear escaping and in love. Newsom’s rhyming here is astounding, “Your feast is to the East, which lies a little past the pasture/When the blackbirds hear tea whistling, they rise and clap/And their applause caws the kettle black And we can't have none of that!/Move along, Bear; there, there; that’s that.” Her voice scoops from a bass to bursts of young joy as she sings to the others to dance. There is an Asian melodic theme present, perhaps due to the abundance of strings—she is, after all, a harpist. And this song includes the only use of the word “spelunking” I’ve ever heard in a musical recording.
On “Sawdust and Diamonds,” Newsom accompanies herself on harp alone. This track begins with a chant and returns to the chant at the end. She sings here of a long lost love and the search for him forevermore. This track is probably my least favorite and I think it’s because of the blatant lack of orchestrations. We are left instead to interpret the puzzling lyrics.
“Only Skin” is the longest track on the album and my favorite. In listening to it again for this post, it was hard to nail down why it’s my favorite, especially because it’s over 16 minutes long. We hear references to previous tracks with the melodies. (This is an album you must listen to in entirety; it is not comprised of singles.) These orchestrations sound like they should be part of an epic, haunting and sweet film; they are full and symphonic, begging to be performed in a grander scheme. This song also features the only male voice on the whole album, in a gradually more frantic call-and-response, ending with “Come across the desert with no shoes on!/I love you truly, or I love no-one.” The song resolves with Newsom playing alone on her harp, followed by one more frenetic burst of the orchestra.
“Cosmia” features the most conclusive melody of any on the album. Newsom repeats “And I miss your precious heart” over and over throughout the song. Suddenly in the middle, an irish jig begins. And the tune (and the album) then ends, unresolved.
These songs are strange and long, but startlingly written so they make up 50 minutes of time well spent.
I was pissed yesterday because we have weekly lab meetings at work, which is when birthdays are usually celebrated. And since my birthday is tomorrow, I assumed they'd "surprise" me at the end of the meeting with cake or chips or whatever. It didn't happen, and my heart sank because I've somehow become the facilitator for other people's birthday celebrations and I was sure that would go unappreciated.
I didn't even think about it today, especially after an exhausting evening of alcohol and food for my roommate's birthday and little sleep followed by going to work, and I just planned on leaving early and returning to my bed. I got convinced to walk outside for a smoke break and noticed that a little party had converged for me outside where we eat. I nearly burst into tears. I forget that people can surprise me.
In other news, I've agreed to co-team lead the music project I've been working with for a few weeks. I was hesitant because I didn't want to step on the current team leader's toes, but apparently she's very excited about it.
And finally...in light of my impending 24th birthday, I'd like you all to seriously contemplate the following term: "birthday suit." Isn't that hilarious??
Unfortunately, tonight's project had to be cancelled because of a date mix-up between New York Cares and Henry Street Settlement. But, as I crossed the street to continue my walk back to the F train, I saw my little buddy TyShawn. His eyes lit up, he gasped, and he ran across the street to give me a big hug. We chatted for a second, and he reintroduced me to his friend Kouani, whom I remembered from the first day of music exploration. TyShawn yammered excitedly, quoting the game we'd played the first day. Then he insisted on introducing me to his mom, who didn't seem to have any idea who I was or what I did.
I must begin this week’s post with a dedication to my lovely brother who turns 27 today. He introduced me to Eminem. Thanks, Chuckee D! Rub you!
As a disclaimer, I believe that Eminem needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt and listened to as the smart, savvy lyricist and performer he is. I don’t think he’s a homophobe or a racist or a misogynist.
I went through a period of time when I kept realizing how much I missed Eminem. I didn’t have any of his songs on my iPod, even though I’d listened to him a lot in college. So I invested in Curtain Call, his 2005 greatest hits release. There are a couple of his masterpieces that aren’t included on this album (“White America” and “Kim” are among my favorites), but overall, it’s a pretty satisfying collection, spanning the hit singles from 1999’s Slim Shady LP to 2004’s Encore and including lesser-heard duets with Notorious B.I.G. (the most shocking lyrics on the album are on this duet, "Dead Wrong"), Jay-Z, and D12 as well as some new songs, including the dance hit "Shake that Ass" featuring Nate Dogg, and the hilarious track, "Just Lose It," which includes a fart joke.
This compilation begins with an “Intro,” in the guise of a doo-wop song and dedicated to the ladies in the audience, segueing into “FACK,” the title of which makes me giggle even. The bass line throbs and Eminem busies himself rapping about a sexual encounter in which he basically doesn’t want to…finish too quickly. It’s hilarious and strangely hot.
The next track, “The Way I Am,” from 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, is a driving, angry tirade against the way Eminem is interpreted in the media. It is a recurring theme in his music, obviously. Aside from the anger (which I understand could easily cloud anyone else’s interpretation of the song and the singer), he also manages to articulate really smart things about how music can certainly influence children, but the parents should be the most important influence: "When a dude's gettin bullied and shoots up his school/and they blame it on Marilyn (on Marilyn).. and the heroin/Where were the parents at?" This, also, is a recurring theme in his music.
One of the fascinating things about Eminem is his many alter egos, his fierce performances on the microphone. He takes on voices: the low, serious toned “Marshall,” the bratty, high-pitched, satirist “Slim Shady,” and “Em” on the tracks where he’s chatting up the ladies or with his boys. We hear Marshall in songs like “Stan,” which is perhaps his most famous and popular single. It’s the track he performed at the Grammys with Elton John, singing the Dido sample and playing piano…watch it here. (This version of the single is also on the album.) “Stan” touches upon what Eminem seems to fear the most, being taken too seriously. The plot of the track hinges on an obsessed fan writing desperate letters to Eminem, who, when he doesn’t hear back from him, drives his truck off a bridge with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk. It ends with Eminem’s response, also in letter form, assuring him that what he performs is all an act; it’s not how he lives his life. The lyrics in this song are unforgettable, cutting, serious, and haunting: “You ruined it now, I hope you can't sleep and you dream about it/And when you dream I hope you can't sleep and you SCREAM about it/I hope your conscience EATS AT YOU and you can't BREATHE without me.” They leave a lasting impression, especially when the rapper Eminem realizes that the person who's been writing to him is probably dead.
Marshall is also the voice on the single from 8 Mile, “Lose Yourself,” which won Eminem the Oscar for Best Song. It’s a song like a train, trucking along endlessly and powerfully, an apparently autobiographical song about a struggling rapper who’s waiting and working towards his big break. It’s about seizing the opportunities that reveal themselves to us, and the lyrics are so apt that Jodie Foster quoted them in her speech at the Penn commencement last year. Personally, I think the Oscar was deserved, if only for these lyrics: “Snap back to reality, Oh there goes gravity/Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked/He's so mad, but he won't give up that/Easy, no.” Who else could rhyme “gravity” with “Rabbit, he”?
Eminem, the satirist, can’t be ignored. This is what made him famous in the first place, with “My Name Is…” in which he manages to mention (and insult) the Spice Girls, Pamela Lee, and any fan who wants an autograph. I think the charm and genius in this track is in the interludes between lyrics: “I lay awake and strap myself in the bed/Put a bulletproof vest on and shoot myself in the head (BANG!)/I'm steaming mad (Arrrggghhh!)/And by the way when you see my dad? (Yeah?)/Tell him that I slit his throat, in this dream I had.” It’s the catchiness that keeps me coming back, the hook that I think he must know is impossible for his audience to get away from. This voice comes back in “Without Me” and “The Real Slim Shady.” In fact, as I was listening to the album again for this post, I noticed how similar these three tracks are. He consistently makes fun of the president and his colleagues, pop stars (particularly boy bands and Moby, “And Moby, you can get stomped by Obie,/You 36 year old bald headed fag blow me/You don't know me, you're too old/Let go, it's over, nobody listens to techno”), and his mother.
Apparently, Eminem has officially retired to spend more time with his family. It’s evident from this album how much he seems to be regretful. “Mockingbird,” “When I’m Gone, and “Like Toy Soldiers” are all songs about how he understands how he does influence his fans and his children (a biological and adopted daughter), even though that's not what he initially expected. He knows he needs to be a leader and can't be tempted into feuds by other artists. He is striving for reconciliation with his family, wondering how his daughter can trust how much he loves her when he's insulting her mother in his songs.
Still, the last track, “I Just Don’t Give a F*ck,” probably sums it up best. (There are far too many tracks on this album to write about each one.) I think Eminem’s lasting message is that he, like the rest of us, uses his music as a way of expressing himself. And that’s really the end of the story. He doesn’t care too much about what we think of it: “So put my tape back on the rack/Go run and tell your friends my sh*t is wack/I just don't give a f*ck!!” Despite this, or maybe because of it, he still has plenty of fans.
1. Hot waiter and fancy drinks at Hard Rock Cafe in black and white shirts and festive earrings. 2. Dancing to the greatest songs of all time at Casbah in Taj Mahal. Spontaneous soap bubbles falling from the ceiling at said club. 3. Getting beer drunk out of my high heeled shoe. 4. Getting followed home by aggressive A.C. locals (this happened all weekend). 5. The massage-y sandiness on the beach after dancing for 4 hours the previous night in uncomfortable shoes. Plus frisbee. 6. Walking forever on the boardwalk, salt water taffy, Pier at Caesar's shopping. 7. Getting pooped on by a seagull. 8. Fancy dinner at Continental in Caesar's, complete with the greatest champagne drink and bass I've had in a long time. 9. Being too sleepy to party hard the 2nd night but spending too much money on taxis anyway. 10. Meeting an older couple at lunch our last day there. (They had met when they were 9 years old, were together till they were 16, had a fight, broke up for 17 years, and have been together now for 33. We named them Jack and Iris. She had just won $5000 in a raffle at Donald Trump's 60th birthday party at the Taj Mahal; she also said Carmen Electra wasn't all that pretty up close and that Donald was a creep.) 10. Making $4 profit on slots all weekend! (YES!)
In This is Your Brain on Music , by Daniel J. Levitin, the author writes about how the way people perceive music is based on a certain amount of expectation. We hear a rhythm or a melody, and we anticipate the beat or note coming up. That’s what gets us to tap our feet or sing along. He also notes that part of the reason people love music, part of what makes music interesting, is when those expectations are unexpectedly unfulfilled.
Rufus Wainwright is the king of this. On his most recent album, Release the Stars, the most striking, stirring parts of songs are when the melody suddenly shifts, often almost to the point of dissonance. These moments make the listener sit up and go “Huh?!” It’s masterful and evidence of his incredible genius when it comes to orchestration.
Release the Stars is veritably the score to a huge, fully orchestrated musical. The first single, and my favorite on the album, is “Do I Disappoint You?,” an explosive cry against all things melodramatic, which is ironic considering who’s singing and the rest of the album. Still, his frustrated call of “Why does it always have to be chaos? Why does it always have to be wanderlust? Sensational,” complete with Arcade Fire-like banshee screams in the background, made me think, “I KNOW, right?!” The melody of the chorus goes one way twice and then all of a sudden it flips to the point where it’s virtually unsingable.
The next song, “Going to a Town” is the first released single. It’s Wainwright through and through, accompanied by a simple piano melody, drums, and a hint of strings in the background. Apparently, he’s tired of America, and he certainly knows his audience.
“Tiergarten” begins with a chant that sounds like an Enya track and ends with harp music that sounds reminiscent of the score of Edward Scissorhands. If Wainwright is the king of dissonance and unfulfilled expectations, he’s also the king of yearning: “I have suffered shipwreck against your dark brown eyes/I have run aground against your broken down smiles.”
I read someone’s description of “Nobody’s Off the Hook” as quirky. I, however, find it hackneyed. How many words can he rhyme with hook? This, however, is the big ballad of the musical, complete with incredibly beautiful sections of just strings.
Then, we’re suddenly in a disco, as “Between My Legs,” the obscene valentine to his object of affection, begins. I tried to do some research to figure out the background of this song. All the message boarders seem to know the history but aren’t writing about it. It seems to be about escaping with a lover when Armageddon comes. It ends with the famous chords from Phantom of the Opera, which is a wonderfully clever tip of the hat to the genre he can’t seem to deny.
It’s here in the album that I get restless. “Rules and Regulations” and “Not Ready to Love” are both slow, almost plodding, and sound too much like each other. I want the songs to be shorter every time I listen to the album.
“Slideshow” is sung like a petulant, insecure, incessant child: “Do I love you because you treat me so indifferently? Or is it the medication?” The refrain “And I better be prominently featured in your next slideshow” is repeated like a whine. The song is complicated and long, complete with a large horn section and truly satisfying orchestra hits.
“Tulsa,” a hilarious, wordy, frenzied tango leads into “Leaving for Paris,” a slow waltz about brushing off a lover: “And when I get there, I will lose the ring you gave me,” that strikes me as one of few songs on the album with a quiet melodic resolution. This leads straight into “Sanssouci” , the song most obviously about escape.
The 11th hour showstopper is “Release the Stars,” which begins as a doowop song and turns into another full-fledged orchestrated showtune. In the middle of this song, Wainwright shows his huge range, sounding like a black lady belter who can also sing baritone. It’s astounding.
If you keep in mind that I can never resist a good showtune, nevermind an orchestra hit here and there, you’ll understand why this album is in serious heavy rotation on my iPod. [My mom loves it too. (Hi Mom!)]
Everything I carry, everything inside me, is crouched, ready to pounce and betray me. I want to be scrubbed clean, made vacant, reborn. I want to shed this skin, claw my way out of myself.
I’m terrified, I want to get ripped apart. Someone, anyone, needs to crack through this infinite armor, slice me down the center, so my guts spill out. I want to be shredded, cored, hollowed out and refilled.
After a very relaxed "interview," which basically consisted of me asking a couple questions and talking about my management skills, I received confirmation that I would be brought on board with New York Cares as a Team Leader! Easy peasy!
The way it works is there are weekly lists of projects in need of leaders. I've already looked at one, on which none of the projects interested me, but there are talks about launching a drama project, and hopefully I can be included in that. It's also a possibility I'll be able to co-team lead the music project I've been working on.
It's all very exciting. And I walked home smiling at everyone and everyone smiled back. It was kind of magical.
Now, if I could only figure out what the hell to eat for dinner tonight.
I must begin with a disclaimer. There seems to have been a misinterpretation of my intentions with this “column.” I am not, in fact, going to purchase new music every week and write about it here so you all will know whether or not to buy it. I just do not have the funds for that activity, sadly. Rather, this is a chance for me to write about the music I already have in my life because there’s plenty already here that moves and inspires me. Unfortunately, that means that several of my most faithful readers already own the music they will be reading about. Hopefully, that will not deter them.
My love affair with Arcade Fire began around the winter of 2006, when my brother stuck his iPod earphones in my ear and played me the ridiculously brilliant tempo change in “Crown of Love” from their album, Funeral. I admit, I wasn’t convinced just from that listen.
Somehow the entire album came into my consciousness. The first track, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” grabbed me from its first airy piano notes and ascending guitar. The piano sounds like its being played underwater. Or is water. And then I started listening to the lyrics: “And if the snow buries my…my neighborhood. And if my parents are crying. Then I’ll build a tunnel, from my window to yours.” Later in the song, the lyrics tell of letting their hair grow long and living out in the snow. It’s reminiscent of Postal Service’s “Brand New Colony,” illustrating a powerful need to escape from life with someone, but here he’s singing about it with a passion that is somehow melancholy.
This album is sort of a smorgasbord. It careens from arena-anthem-like chants in “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” and “Wake Up,” which apparently U2 plays in their intermission, to near whispers in “Une Annee Sans Lumiere” (one of the bandmates originates from Haiti) and the use of haunting strings and a perfectly tuned tea kettle in “Neighborhood #4 (Kettles).”
“Crown of Love” is the crown jewel of the album, in my opinion. I didn’t quite understand the full resonance of it until I listened through the entire song and I continue to be floored by it. The song made me want to write epic novels, fall in and out of love, and run through the rain in summer all at the same time. It’s a stunningly orchestrated song, complete with violins that sneak up on you, vocal whispers in the background, a piano that cannot be contained, heartbreaking lyrics (“They say it fades, if you let it. Love was made to forget it. I carved your name across my eyelids. You pray for rain; I pray for blindness”), and a driving, suspenseful refrain that explodes into near-frenzied proportions. I think they must refuse to play it live because everyone would just spontaneously combust.
The album’s denouement begins with one of the band’s most famous songs, “Rebellion (Lies).” It begins with a driving drum beat, the kind that instigates a crowd to begin jumping up and down. I think it’s a song about an illicit affair; I don’t really know. But the star of that song is the key change within the chorus. It cuts like a knife. Every. Single. Time.
I must admit ignorance to the meanings of most of these songs and, being such an analyzer, that’s a difficult admission. But this is one of those albums in my world that I love because the music just grabs me in the first seconds and makes me die inside. And that’s a good thing.
I'm blogging about my own blogging assignment. How meta of me.
I had two requests within about 10 minutes for a new regular blogging column. My roommate pointed out I hadn't blogged in almost a week, and my brother told me he missed my American Idol column. I've missed it too, truth be told, but I've been without inspiration to start anything I could write about as regularly as everyone's favorite show, American Idol. And I just realized that blogging about TV shows besides American Idol is hard because AI is a show one doesn't really have to WATCH to write about. Unlike So You Think You Can Dance, for example. Or even House. Although I do love those shows and watch them faithfully enough to write about, I think live-blogging them would sort of decrease the experience for me and, thus, for you. And nobody wants that.
So, my brother suggested I write about an album a week. And considering I have 5 days' worth of music on my handy-dandy iPod, this project could go on for YEARS.
Expect the first one tomorrow evening. I know you're excited.