I started a new blog.
I enjoyed writing here, but I think this particular blog has outlived its purpose. I’ll leave this one up for now, but not forever.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll join me at my new place.
I’m 13, turning 14.
During the school year, I live for hockey. Playing it, watching it, and reading about it. But the off season, June through August, brings on a void which I fill with pop music.
Z95.3 FM and MuchMusic are the staples of my early high school life. Each night I vote diligently for my favourite songs to make Z’s Hot 6 at 6. On weekends, I listen to the Top 40 countdown and write commentary in my diary.
Boy bands are particularly integral to my life 1998 – 1999. I don’t just slavishly devote myself to any boy band; I’m more discerning. The Backstreet Boys have my support, because they seem like originators, and they can “actually sing.” I’m vaguely aware of NKOTB and Boyz II Men, but they’re a bit before my time. I’m distrustful of ‘N SYNC and 98 Degrees because they feel like cheap imitations. Nevertheless, I follow the whole phenomenon with rapt attention.
It’s June. Sitting in my mother’s car as she drives along Marine Drive, probably on the way home from Park Royal. A song comes on I haven’t heard before. White boys rapping about Chinese food and something called Abercrombie & Fitch. Even at age 13, I scoff at the stupidity of the lyrics.
But the song sticks. Do I hate it? Do I love it? It doesn’t matter, I will hear “Summer Girls” what seems like hundreds of times this summer. I roll my eyes each time it comes on the radio. I never change the station. I need to stay on top of what’s current. I will see the cute blond lead singer/rapper frolic on the beach dozens of times on MuchMusic. His tips are frosted and his pants are baggy, but this doesn’t look ridiculous to me in 1999.
In the fall, LFO will release another song, “Girl on TV.” It’s catchy, sweet, cheesy, romantic. I love it. Jennifer Love Hewitt appears in the video. The song is about her; she is dating the cute blond. I think I relate to the song. Before this summer, he was unknown, invisible. He longed for a pretty girl from afar, then suddenly, like a Hollywood dream, he had her.
I feel invisible too. I hadn’t yet learned not to base my self worth on what a boy thought of me. All I know is how it feels to admire someone from afar; to wish they would notice me too. The song is sincere, simple, silly even. It made so much sense to me then.
“Summer Girls” made no sense. The lyrics are littered with absurd non sequiturs: “Fell deep in love, but now we ain’t speaking / Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton.” The song is ostensibly about a guy trying to remember a summer love that’s faded away, but his memories are filtered through bits and pieces of throwaway pop culture (and “Billy Shakespeare”). It’s not a sudden whiff of the girl’s favourite perfume or the ocean breeze that “brings [him] back there oh so quick,” it’s Bugaloo Shrimp, Footloose, and Cherry Coke. It sounds so clumsy and pedestrian in a disposable pop song, but maybe LFO was on to something—pop culture can be a great mnemonic device for bringing the past back into focus.
The other day, I found out that cute blond guy from LFO, Rich Cronin, the guy who wrote the silly songs and dated Jennifer Love Hewitt, died of leukemia at age 36 in 2010. How terrible, dark, and sad. How strange that someone who wrote a song so central to my orbit could die without me knowing for three years. It’s unsettling. It doesn’t jibe with the breezy pop tunes of summer ’99.
We like to relive our memories in sepia tone. Our teenage years should be in attractive soft focus, overexposed with daisies and lens flares like a montage from a Sofia Coppola film. We want this so badly that we invented Instagram to make it happen in real time. We blur out the sadness, the disappointments, and the boredom, and play the memories back to a soundtrack of pop songs.
What did I do in the summer of ’99? I probably wrote letters to my friend away at camp. I probably went to hockey school. I probably ate penny candy from 7-Eleven and went rollerblading. Was I worried about my frizzy hair, a boy who didn’t notice me, or my dad’s frequent business trips? The answers are in my diaries, buried in the depths of a drawer in my old bedroom, waiting to be re-read or hastily destroyed (I can’t decide which). Without the diaries to remind me, everything bleeds together.
So what did I do in the summer of ’99? I listened to “Summer Girls,” over and over and over again.
Back in March, I went to Hayden‘s show at The Rio. Before the show, I wasn’t very familiar with his music, other than his great new album, Us Alone, and a few other songs. Still, I figured I knew what his “thing” was: quiet, unassuming music, innocuous and pleasant, enough for an enjoyably low-key concert.
I was completely unprepared to for the devastating emotional impact of this man in a live setting.
It’s kind of hard to explain Hayden’s appeal, especially since I didn’t fully “get it” before seeing him live. Yes, his music is lovely: soft, sad, and delivered with a pleasingly deep and grainy voice. But it’s also subtle, quiet and doesn’t immediately grab you. It’s almost too mellow, to the point it may never grab you at all.
Although I don’t usually go in for the confessional singer-songwriter thing, I don’t find Hayden’s lyrics to be mawkish or syrupy. There’s something exquisitely melancholy in his chronicles of failed and faltering relationships. His subdued delivery lulls you into a sense of security, only to break your heart.
Onstage, he comes across as shy and sweet, almost surprised to find a theater full of people cheering for him. It’s utterly disarming and, like I said, devastating. Oh, did I mention the fact that he is tall, svelte, well-dressed, bearded, and looks like Mark Ruffalo? This also helps.
The funny thing is, he’s remarkably self-aware and realistic about his career:
for sure, my music isn’t for everyone. A lot of people think I mumble. And that I’m mopey…. But there’s a huge, huge possibility—and I’m not being self-deprecating here—that if I fully promoted all of my records crazily, toured my ass off, had U2′s manager or whatever, had all the pieces in place, that I still wouldn’t be a big artist.
I think that attitude encompasses why I’m so taken by Hayden. He’s not doing anything ground-breaking and he knows it, but that honesty in turn drives his music. He’s unpretentious, almost to a fault, but ultimately it’s completely endearing. As he says himself, his music isn’t for everyone, but go on. Put the kettle on, wrap yourself in a blanket, and put on a Hayden record with me. Sometimes it’s nice to wallow in the sweet sadness.
Last week I watched Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I know this film is going to get lumped in with other movies about “insufferable quirky white people having emotional problems,” but it honestly blew me away. Or more accurately, knocked me down flat. The plot is simple: Michelle Williams is Margot, a wayward freelance writer married to cookbook author Lou (Seth Rogen) in Toronto. She meets a dreamy artist (Luke Kirby, from Slings and Arrows!) and her already shaky marriage starts to crumble. Rather than showing us a torrid, sexy affair, Polley instead focuses on the relationship between Margot and Lou. By giving us the sweet, day-to-day moments in their quiet life together, Polley destabilizes the notion that the grass is always greener. I thought Williams was fantastic. Even though her character veers into iffy Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, Williams finds Margot’s shades and nuances, portraying an emotionally disturbed woman who can’t find stable ground. I also loved Rogen as Lou, and Sarah Silverman as his sister. I was already in a melancholy mood when I watched Take This Waltz, and it completely devastated me. Sometimes I like that in a movie, though.
By the way, the clip I posted above is a great visual metaphor for one of the film’s main themes: it’s a great ride while it lasts. It’s also just one of the best movie scenes from this past year. Polley’s imagery can be heavy handed, but it’s effective.
Take This Waltz has interesting parallels to Silver Linings Playbook, which I saw on Sunday. Silver Linings also features emotionally unstable middle class white people with marital problems, but it feels much more like a conventional Hollywood romantic/screwball comedy. While Polley takes an impressionistic approach towards mental illness, David O. Russell’s film is an overt examination of characters grappling with mood disorders and grief.
In many ways, Silver Linings Playbook is a blatantly manipulative, formulaic rom-com/dramedy. I could see the plot signposts from miles away, from the sparring duo who are expected to fall in love, to the lies that are designed to backfire, to the artificially raised stakes. The movie also irritatingly uses Chris Tucker as the Token Black Friend who literally teaches whitest white guy Pat (Bradley Cooper) to dance with more “soul.” At one point, an Indo-American character says “cocksucker,” and the joke is that the word “cocksucker” sounds funny in an Indian accent. Russell uses the excuse that the two leads are training for a dance competition to repeatedly show us close-ups of Jennifer Lawrence’s ass. The mental illness of the characters is exploited as a plot device to achieve the final goal of this genre: the blissful union of the central heterosexual couple. All of these things greatly annoyed me as I watched the movie. And yet, god dammit, I walked out of the theatre in a fantastic mood. But this also made me really uncomfortable, because of the way Russell abandons his unflinching, honest examination of Pat and Tiffany in favour of a feel-good ending. Pat is basically a stalker with violent tendencies, and Tiffany—who’s also kind of a stalker—is enabling him. It’s creepy and weird, but that tension drives their relationship, and the way it gets glossed over in the end didn’t sit right with me.
Even though so much of Silver Linings Playbook is so wrong, the cast rescues it. A lot of things in this movie don’t make sense, but it’s like the whole cast believed in the movie so hard that they willed it to cohere. Cooper nails his character’s inappropriate, delusional, and fragile optimism. He’s trying so hard to keep it together, but he’s a complete mess, and as a result, incredibly vulnerable. Jennifer Lawrence is hilariously off the rails, yet ferociously determined—like someone who’s completely committed to what they’ve learned in therapy. Robert De Niro plays Pat’s dad, who channels his OCD through his obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. The idea of spectator sports as both a therapeutic outlet and an enabler of mental illness is something I’ve started to explore in my own fiction writing (which I hope to keep doing), and I think De Niro/Russell are spot on here. And really, that’s the other thing that worked for me in this movie: they got the details right. I feel like the romantic comedy framework was artificially imposed on an otherwise compelling, relatable, and funny portrait of a family dealing with various manifestations of mental illness. Side note: Julia Stiles (who was great) as Jennifer Lawrence’s sister was genius casting. They’re basically identical.
I’m also just going to admit here that I’ve had a crush on Bradley Cooper since his Alias days. Before you scoff (okay, you can scoff), hear me out. The Hangover is the worst movie I’ve ever seen (okay—half-movie, because I had to turn it off). Because of that stupid franchise, Cooper has a sleazy douchebag image. On the other hand, since he doesn’t have an outsize media persona, he’s also regarded as boring melba toast. But in every interview I’ve seen (example), he seems thoughtful, intelligent, reasonably well-adjusted, and like a generally good guy—which brings up the question of why he would participate in something as atrocious as The Hangover.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence is a media darling because she’s young, phenomenally talented, and viewed as refreshingly candid. But some of things she’s been saying lately on talk shows etc. have really made me cringe. From reading some posts on Tumblr, it seems some fans have essentially boycotted Lawrence because of her comments (Google will bring you up to speed). I’m not going to get into the details of her comments, but while I appreciate her frankness, some of her comments seem, at best, narrow-minded. I always struggle with this stuff, because I do think it’s possible to enjoy an actor’s work, even if you think they’re a complete tool as a celebrity. Love the art, hate the artist, and all that. It seems to me that the problem is not so much actors who say stupid/offensive/privilege blind/phobic things, but the whole culture of celebrity worship that puts a disproportionate amount of attention on the public personas of actors. I realize that it’s all part of the pop culture package, but it does get irritating. I absolutely think it’s important to call out famous people for making comments that perpetuate oppressive discourses, I just don’t know where to draw the line in terms of my own consumption of culture. Is it important to know all of an actor/writer/director’s political and social views before going to see a film? Does it/should it inform your view of their work? I guess it really depends on the case.
Once again, I’ve stayed away too long. To be honest, I probably won’t be posting all that regularly until I finally finish some more papers. I’m a bit freaked out that 2012 is over already, and I don’t really feel like attempting to condense my thoughts on the year into a blog post. Suffice to say: it was a good year.
As for 2013 goals…I’m not a big resolution person, but I’ll say that my main objective is to graduate. Maybe if I put it in blog-writing, it will help keep me accountable. But for now, instead of a year-in-review/preview post, I’ll share some thoughts on stuff I’ve read and seen lately, but I’ll split it into two posts and start with books.
For xmas, Michael gave me a stack of exciting new books, two of which I’ve managed to read over this winter break. I think one my first posts on this blog was a quick review of a book he gave me last year, so this feels appropriate. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her are actually pretty similar, which I wouldn’t have guessed from reading the summaries. Both Diaz and Egan tell their stories out of chronological order, with each chapter/story told from a different perspective/point of view, while exploring the way relationships evolve and deteriorate over time. New York looms large in both books, even though they jump to different settings throughout.
Egan’s has a wider scope and follows a bigger cast of interconnected characters, who are all directly or indirectly connected to the music industry. At first, I thought it was going to be a straightforward industry satire, but Egan is more adventurous. Some of the chapters/stories work better than others. One chapter is told entirely in a PowerPoint presentation, which worked for me, but I guess some readers will hate it. The strength of Goon Squad are the well-drawn characters, who develop slowly as small details emerge back and forth in time. Egan’s attempt at industry satire, on the other hand, didn’t do much for me. The idea that technology has taken the soul out of modern music is nothing new, and frankly, reductive, conservative, and unimaginative. In fact, a lot of the tropes in Goon Squad feel well worn, but for me, Egan’s eye for detail and subtle characterization in the stronger chapters redeemed the more pedestrian elements of the novel.
This is How You Lose Her has a tighter focus, largely centering on chronically unfaithful Yunior (Diaz’s alter ego, it seems). Diaz is more consistent than Egan, and he somehow made me care, at least a little bit, about the fate of his ostensibly unlikable, misogynist main character. In a lot of ways, it was an uncomfortable book to read. Diaz doesn’t shy away from endemic racism in the US in representing the experience of Dominican Americans. However, every time I read a text by a male author whose misogynist narrator/protagonist is supposed to expose said misogyny, I feel like it’s such a slippery slope. I’m going to direct this conversation to QueerBlackFeminist‘s blog, where she has written an eloquent post on the subject, with an equally eloquent reply from Outlaw No. 451. (*Watch out for a spoiler for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in the first paragraph!)
In any event, it’s really nice to read some books for fun instead of poring over journal articles and theory. I hope 2013 will bring more of this. More tomorrow!
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted again. Thought I’d drop in to share my thought process of anxiety/madness when I’m writing a paper in grad school. Why? Because I’m currently writing a paper, and I would like to procrastinate. I’ll write a post in defence of procrastination, too…but I’ll do that later (haha).
Currently, I’m oscillating between 5-7. This, my friends, is the Cycle of Doom. Now that I’ve written it down and made it public, maybe I can call myself on it and break out of it. This seems unlikely, but it’s worth a shot.
I’ve been a negligent blogger, but I thought I’d check in to share that I’ve managed to catch the Worst Cold Ever this week. Yesterday I ventured out to Solly’s for a motza ball soup dressed like a crazy person (my outfit involved both sweatpants and a leather jacket), only to return home and collapse into a raging fever. The soup was almost worth it, though. But I had to miss a live rendition of This is That …sad face.
I’ve been nursing myself with Downton Abbey (I can’t stop!) and Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejuice. That reminds me, I’m unreasonably excited about the new Anna Karenina film. I don’t care that the reviews out of the UK have been mixed, Joe Wright + Keira Knightley + Jude Law + Kelly Macdonald + Tom Stoppard + costumes + Russia = I’m all over this. Anyway, I’m not deliriously ill anymore, just regular foggy head, achey, runny nose, cough, sweaty, chills…okay, I guess I’m still pretty sick. Elsewhere…
Franz Ferdinand are playing at The Commodore tonight and I am PUMPED. The three (!) times I’ve seen them have been epic dance parties, especially their last Commodore show. Is there a better live venue in Vancouver for big acts? I think not.
Plus, I’m going with some awesome friends, including Ethel. I intend to DANCE. I’m also going to listen to their three albums on a loop at work today.
In the meantime, please enjoy this giddy, hilarious, and appropriately laudatory review of their debut LP on Pitchfork (“They’re poised to be the next Duran Duran or the next Pulp” indeed!), brought to you by the guy who wrote the most overwrought review in the history of music criticism. I love Kid A too, but come on. Anyway, I’m in the mood for hyperbole tonight, so I will dance my face right off!
The play of light, the melody of light, the speed of light—this is the way films will be made. No matter how much cinema tries to make things its object, the images captured on the film stock are the commemoration of light.
In the end, it is just light. Because it is light, it conquers all forms of space and time. Light is not troubled by anything.
—from a 1926 review by Junichiro Tanaka on the Japanese silent film A Page of Madness.
I watched this film in my Japanese cinema class today. Weird, beautiful, haunting.
Recently, I moved, and am still buried under a pile of boxes—hence the silence here. I’ve been thinking a lot about possessions and my need (or not) or them. More thoughts soon.