Friday, November 26, 2010

New Projects!

Hi all!  I'm still writing, I still have lots of opinions about popular music and pop culture and why I hate most music/film writers! 

However, most of my creative energy of that sort is not only spent toward my job (at least they make deposits into my account for said things!) but also toward a new project I'm doing with my awesome pants friend Gina!

Years ago, I started...wait.  Allow me to rephrase that.  My friend Ryan and I hung around, like all the time, and we'd have these great conversations that he was convinced we should record.  He wanted to get into podcasting...he was all into web development and he wanted to do more with it.  We hung out on NYE with some other people, each consumed about a bottle of wine, made a podcast at 2am, then continued every Wednesday after I taught clarinet lessons and we bought vegetables, and you can find it if you search iTunes for "crapface". 

I will say that all of my aliases over the years on the internet have kept me protected.  I had a private student once who I told that I was on iTunes.  I then challenged him to find my podcast.  He probably forgot, but he never found it and never mentioned it to me.  Anyway.

Ryan and I used to skype Gina on our podcast like mad, and now years later, Ryan is kind of a hot shit developer, goes all over the world wielding his Drupal sword, and I suggested to Gina in about October-ish that we might want to do a podcast.  She jumped at it, and we've had a few episodes.  It's going well, and we're doing a blog with it.  Kind of cool, and kind of trying to keep it on the subject of popular music, although we often incidentally talk about feminism and junk.

Anyway - here is a link - - and we are awesome. 

So I'll be back around here when I have really long, rambling thoughts and some time off. 

Until then, the new Ben Folds is really, really good, Vampire Weekend still sucks, and I listened to Sufjan Stevens in the car the other day and frantically tried to remember what all the fuss was about in 2005. 


Sunday, August 15, 2010

So Who Can We Look Down On? (more Scott Pilgrim)

 If you haven't read the previous entry with (Scott Pilgrim) in parentheses, then please, do.

There was a brilliant piece published on NPR about critics bashing the intended audience of the Scott Pilgrim film.  I read it before I'd really read any of the reviews of the movie, and it was an almost immediate call to arms of those who associate themselves with nerddom.

The author calls out movie-reviewers, such as this guy, who immediately show their bias not just against the Scott Pilgrim universe, but against nerds/geeks/dorks/fanboys/girls as a culture.  And he does it rather overtly to the point I'm really glad he got called out about it.

I had a facebook-based discussion with a friend about how, often more so than not, film critics are an elitist bunch.  This might not be surprising.  What is surprising, however, is that many of them are anti-nerd.

Say what?

Film critics are anti-nerd?  Aren't most film critics uber-nerds?  About the things they love?  Don't they worship at the altar of Woody Allen, or Wes Anderson, or some other equally nerdy dude?

Here's a challenge: ask a film critic what they think of Star Wars.  To me, this is the most over-arching cultural phenomena associated with nerds (geeks, whatev).  Not just the original film, but the franchise, and the mythology behind it.  The people who were at Celebration V in Orlando this weekend (I know a few people who were!).  The film critics who are among the geeks at Celebration V are the ones who run their own blogs, who happen to get picked up on the Rotten Tomatoes scale.  Big timers?  Not so much.  And even if the entire pool of film criticism isn't fully of big fat jerks, the jerky ones are rather potent.

The aforementioned jerks will roll their eyes when confronted with the Star Wars topic (or worse yet, a nerdfight about the importance of episodes 1-3 to the entire series) and go on a tirade about corporate marketing, how people who love such things are intellectually inferior, and about how much they hate so many other geek-ified, fan fiction inspiring items: Harry Potter, Nintendo nostalgia, Star Trek, B-movies, anime, etc.

Okay, I get it.  You don't want to read Manga.  Duly noted.  But who are you, geek who was forced by everyone in high school to sit at the far table, because you really didn't fit in, to chastise other geeks for what they like?

So, you like pretentious films by Danish filmmakers, some of which are misogynistic and downright terrifying?  Or you've seen every underground, indie-fart, no-budget film by the current class at NYU?  Or you only like action movies if they feature an all-Asian cast?

Why are those passions any better, or more legitimate, than people who like generally geeky things?

I guess I get it, to some degree.  I have been called a music snob.  I call myself a music snob.  Someone does need to keep an eye on popular music in culture, because sometimes, what we hear and how we hear it can have serious ramifications against the whole of society.  Like in Madagascar.

However, I'm getting to the point in my life where I'm able to ration out not just good from bad music, but that snotty attitude about what I like against what society is into.  I personally want to educate people about music.  Do you like Li'l Wayne?  I personally am not a fan of his, but don't worry about that.  I love Big Boi's new album, and I think you should really check out some old Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.  I know it's sort of a guilty pleasure, but I do love that T.I. song that Weird Al parodied.  Did you also know that technically, "Rapper's Delight" was not the first commercially viable hip-hop song, but was preceded a few weeks by the less popular and obviously less remembered "King Tim III (Personality Jock)" by Fatback Band?  The Fatback song is more so a disco song with some slightly cheesy rapping over it, but still.

This process is especially fun when involving younger kids.  They sure do act like they don't want to learn, but in reality, they walk away with something more.  Maybe a little less of their money will one day end up in Clear Channel's pocket and a little more in the drawer at the local record store, or maybe more of their hours will be spent at the library, listening to jazz as opposed to downloading whatever dreck is currently available on  Although it gets a little sketchy sometimes...I taught an 8th grade girl a few years ago who was eager to show off her piano compositions.  She was pretty good, and would also always come to school wearing black shirts featuring some of her favorite bands (mostly Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails).  Based on her piano interest, I thought she would really love Tori Amos.  I just wasn't sure I wanted to be the one responsible for her blaring "Professional Widow" in her parents' house, given my position as her teacher.

Point being, my ideas on music are not only the fact that I'm a snob, or I take pride on the knowledge I've gathered over the years on both classical and popular music, but it's important to expose people to a variety of things.  I'm certainly not one of those classical musicians who dismiss anything popular - hello, I just wrote a three part blog entry about Beyonce & twee bands - but I think people need to be exposed.

And yes.  Movie critics surely do serve some purpose in society.  But for some reason, film people tend to take it to the extreme.  Have you ever nosed around IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes message boards?  Holy mongrel.  They are totally bonkers when it comes to their opinions sometimes.

So back to the original topic - anti-nerd film critics.  Sure, as mentioned, there are enough people in the world who will listen to only classical music (and maybe The Beatles) to continue to fund orchestras and public radio stations featuring only classical faire (and jazz at night).  But to be honest - those numbers are dwindling, and American orchestras are in serious trouble.  Why else would they try to reach out to younger audiences by featuring performances with Ben Folds and The Decemberists?

However, current popular music-hating snobs don't get regular weekly columns in most major American newspapers.  Anti-nerd film critics do, as witnessed above.

So what groups is it okay to look down on?  Aren't nerds of different subgroups just putting in place the same social hierarchies that made them outcasts in the first place?  Is that okay?  Aside from this hilarious chart, I don't really think it is.

Why do I love all nerds, even though I might not share their interests in things?  Why do I seem to, superficially even, gravitate toward another female in glasses or a dude in a weird, plaid shirt when I'm in a group of people I'm unfamiliar with?  (Note: this will happen to me very soon, as my week of professional development begins tomorrow...)  Because these things are hallmarks of nerddom.  And I appreciate that.  Even if I can't hold court with these folks, I enjoy being around them.

But why?

Because they are authentic.  Nerds very often, especially in large groups, have no ulterior motives.  The same unbridled enthusiasm that sets them apart from the larger, play-it-cool public cannot be faked.  Why would you want to fake enthusiasm for anything that would cause segregation from the general public?

How can you tell a nerd apart from the rest?  I think of it in terms of a rock concert.  Weirdly enough to bring up the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the same entry twice, but I saw them with a bunch of friends in 2003.  We bought cheaper seats, and I was totally That Girl at the concert, who wore an old RHCP shirt to the event.  Singing along and dancing, we were somewhat nerding it up.  But because we were in the cheap seats, in the upper bowl, we saw the token middle aged wealthy dude, dry-humping a blond during the show.  Obviously, someone only took some girl to the RHCP concert to look cool, and to make an overt show of sexuality in public.  It's kind of gross, actually.

There are people who like things, or proclaim a fondness for things, in the hopes of being accepted and gratified socially.  You can find them at honky-tonk bars, arena rock shows, and even bookstores and indie rock shows.  There are people who proclaim fondness for certain things in order to elevate themselves, intellectually and even morally.  And there are people who will unabashedly tell you that they love Chicago - like, the band, Peter Cetera and all.  Because they are nerds and they don't care who knows.

These are my people.  They like to be thought of as smart, and they are passionate about something in their lives.  I've pretty much been a nerd my whole life, and I accept it wholeheartedly.  I encourage others to do the same.

If you can give a reasoned argument as to why you don't like something, I can accept that.  I like discussions as such.  Even if you're a Twilight fan. 

If you consider yourself a higher order nerd, and think that your knowledge of Dogme 95 (or Sarah Records, or whatever) makes it okay to not only trash what people are truly passionate about but the people themselves, then you are a butthead and I don't want to be your friend.

To Hell with Subtlety! (Scott Pilgrim)

 My favorite film of all time is Moulin Rouge.  For a lot of people, that instantly is a huge tick off of my taste-credibility.  They think of me as pedestrian, or worse yet, assume I must also like Twilight.  (We'll get back to that in the next entry.)

No.  I like movie musicals.  And I like excess.   Baz Luhrman is the modern day answer to Busby Berkeley.  Yeah, I said it.  And I've seen Busby Berkeley musicals.  They make much less sense than Lurhman films, and let's not even get into the unbelievable enforcing of stereotypes from a persona/character like Carmen Miranda.  I have a deeply seeded love for the genre, and (in case you didn't notice), I'm generally obsessed with pop culture.

Moulin Rouge brings excessive old school movie musicals and modern popular culture together brilliantly,  incredible performances, and not just from its two stellar leads.  Between the incomparable charm of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman at just the right time - immediately after Tom Cruise and before Oscars, plastic surgery, and marrying a country singer - and the excellent character actor performances, every line in the movie is delivered flawlessly.

But the point is that it's totally over the top.   And it embraces it, 100%.  It doesn't let anything fall by the wayside.  Every detail is perfectly in place and it comes off looking almost effortless.  It's an amazing show, and although many things I loved when I'd just graduated high school have gone by the wayside for me, Moulin Rouge stands up just as well as it did on my first and then almost immediately following second viewing.

Maybe it's that love for unapologetic excess - especially when it's pulled off so deftly - that made me love the Scott Pilgrim movie as much as I did.  As a lot of other commentators have said, it's not a movie that was made for the general public, so to speak.  It's a movie very much made to make a specific audience happy, and boy oh boy, did it.

You might have guessed, but I spend more time listening to pop radio than I do reading comic books.  I give.  I'm not truly a nerd in the definitive term.  I am terrible at video games (except for a select few Wii options - which are generally designed for non-nerds, anyway) and I was unable to participate in the discussions my friends had after we first saw the new Star Trek film last year about what kind of cups were on the set of Deep Space 9.  I am so much nerdier about the Chicago Manual than I am anything you'd find at a -Con, but I'm totally willing to attend these events with more enthusiastic friends.  I am surrounded by nerds, but I am not always able to keep up in conversation.

And I have very enthusiastically nerdy friends who will not love this movie.  Which is fine.  I saw it with one really nerdy friend who didn't like it nearly as much as I thought he would.  But I did love it, and I loved that it went for everything it went for.  I am tired of any sort of art that aspires to be something and then just gives up the ghost for fear of judgement.  If you're going to be something, and you're really gonna go for it, just go.  Go all out.  Make it happen.  Even if you fail.  Do it anyway.

Relating to the film, if I were to make a Scott Pilgrim related Halloween costume, I would be Ramona Flowers; however, personality wise, I was totally Knives Chau when I was younger.  Freaking out over stuff, even stuff I'd just been introduced to recently, to the point of passing out.  Yeah.  That was me.  I could never contain my enthusiasm, and now, almost a decade out of high school and a little bit more healthily cynical for the journey, I still get that way.  I go into hyper-geek mode about the things for which I'm passionate, and I cannot help it.

I find that there are fewer true girl geeks because of the fact that generally speaking, women don't like to show all of their wares.  Some girls, like Ramona, are just by nature calmer and less prone to violent outbursts of unbridled enthusiasm.  Some girls don't want to be seen as out of the ordinary, and out of still slightly lingering stereotypes that females have less to say and less place in society than men do.  Or worse yet, there are girls who are afraid to be seen as smart.  (That makes me madder than anything else in the world.)  So girls like Knives (and myself) look even weirder than all the boys who are geeking out about something.  And yeah, I do the high-pitched squealing, often, much like Knives. 

But that was what I loved so much about this film - it's completely unbridled enthusiasm.  Obviously director Edgar Wright is smitten with the subject matter, and he was lucky enough to be given the goods to make the movie that he (and millions of fanboys AND fangirls all over the world) wanted to see.  With major studio backing.  That doesn't happen often, making it all that much more awesome.

I like some slow-paced, subtle films.  I like some films where the boy doesn't get a girl at the end, and where everyone just walks off into the snow and thinks real hard about what they've learned.  (There's a scene in SPVTW that almost winks at that idea, too.)

But visualize with me, for a moment if you will.  Imagine a girl, with typical Tina Fey-esque brown hair and glasses, who felt a bit outcast, all the way through college, not so much for geeky habits and interests but for totally outwardly expressesed hyper-enthusiasm.  That girl is not just deep down inside of me, she IS me, just a little older, wiser, accepting of her obsessive nature and embracing of her sometimes off-putting sparkly-eyed chatter about everything she loves.  That girl loved this movie.  It was nearly two hours of giddy delirium, immensely enjoyable, heartening and unapologetically over-the-top.

If you're like me, and you've never been able to keep your cool long enough to run with the disaffected hardcore hipsters, I suspect you might like the movie, as well.

BONUS LEVEL: this review actually sums up a lot of things well, particularly citing other films and directors who obviously influenced this film.  And kudos to the writer who apparently gets that Ramona Flowers is way more Kate Winslet's Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a more subtle, but still incredible film) than whatever the name of Zooey Deschenel's character in (500) Days of Summer.  I never saw that one.  But way to try to be topical, mean but stupid film critic.

More on that topic in the next entry.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Girls! Girls! Girls! pt. III


Note: in no way is this any sort of definitive list of female musicians.  Just a mix I came up with, randomly, when I wanted to listen to a wide variety of girl singers.  Proceed.

21. "Tightrope" Janelle Monae (ft. Big Boi)
Everyone I've seen post about this chick has been a dude.  I don't know why this is.  An old friend who lives in Japan immed me for the first time in years, asking me if I had heard her album and that it was amazing.  This list probably doesn't adquately cover female contributions to hip-hop; sorry.  She does indeed kick some ass though (and is also probably a better dancer than Beyonce, too!).

It's TOO BAD that they've disabled embedding the video, but please please click on the link.  The video is really, really good.  Even the short Wes Anderson-inspired title sequence.  I'm not going to take credit for it, but I did write something a month or so ago about how awesome it was back in the day that Janet Jackson just danced her ass off, covered head to toe in clothes and didn't spend all her time gyrating.  Looks like someone was either paying attention, or more than likely that the sentiment is shared among lots of folk.

22. "Hustle Rose" Metric
For whatever direction this band is taking now, this album is an early-aughts classic.  For a lot of reasons.  And this song is super sexy.

23. "Leeds United" Amanda Palmer
Another recent acquisition.  Thank Tori on this one, too - only really learned about her because she's engaged to Neil Gaiman.  However, she stands on her own.  To be honest, I don't love her voice,  I never got into the Dresden Dolls, and I'm not exactly huge into her look, but I think she stands for a lot of good as far as women in the music industry.  Not to get all "message over music", because I'm not about that at all, but she has a lot to say that I find myself really agreeing with.  Her ukelele Radiohead covers album is quite good, too.  And I actually find myself really liking this song, like a lot.

24. "Spitting Wooden Nickels" Gina Riggio
This gal is a Pennsylvania-based pianist and songwriter who is a good friend of mine, and she's been a huge influence on me.  Quite frankly she amazes me, and always comes out with something more amazing than the last thing she did.  Check her out, like big time.

This is not the aforementioned song, but here she is...

And she also performed this song on a podcast my friend Ryan and I used to do.  Whoo!

25. "Parentheses" The Blow
How cute can you get with these lyrics?  This song is brilliant, and I want to hear more from this chick.  Seriously.  I suppose it didn't get more play because it was So Very Portland, and maybe turned people off?  But anyone who I've turned onto this song just about adores it.

26. "Sailor Song" Regina Spektor
It took me way too long to get into her stuff.  Way way way too long.  By the point she was on VH1, I wasn't interested in learning more, but digging to the past, um, whoa.  This song is fun and neat, but the video for "Us" will really blow you away if you haven't seen it yet.  It did me.  For some reason, if I ever get scared or weirded out or uncomfortable, I put on that song and it immediately calms me down, like a lullabye.  She may not be revolutionary, but she's very talented, and Russian, too.  

27. "Bridges and Balloons" - Joanna Newsom
You either love her or hate her, but females who play instruments and somehow get into (what is still) the boys' club of popular music rank high in my book.  And especially instruments that will usually get you kicked out of your local rock club.  Even in large, classically based ensembles, harpists usually have to sit there and look pretty for very long periods of time.  Not her.  Hence I will always admire Newsom a harpist who causes popular music media to drool.

This video is actually really amazing.

28. "Bull in the Heather" Sonic Youth
Kim Gordon is my goddamned hero.  Let's not even take into consideration the whole "having it all" thing mentioned earlier (we'll get to that later).  Let's instead take into consideration that her band has been together, with three of its original members (and the same drummer since about 1988, if memory serves correctly - wait, let me check the Gospel According to Azerrad!) for longer than I've been alive, have put out a million side projects but still managed to put out a quality album (Dirty actually being my least favorite) every 2-3 years throughout.  That she, in essence, was the most important predecessor to the Riot Grrrrrl movement.  That I personally consider Sonic Youth to be the most influential band since the Velvet Underground - and I can argue that point if you'd like to get into it.  That they invented alternative rock.  "I Broke Punk and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt?"  And if you read the Azerrad Old Testament, you understand that Gordon's husband Thurston Moore is the reason that Kurt Cobain signed to Geffen Records and that Nirvana even became what they were?  And maybe they're even responsible for so many young 90s hipsters coming back around to The Carpenters?  I don't care that Gordon is as old as my mother.  In my opinion, Sonic Youth is still, as they were regarded in the years immediately preceding Daydream Nation's release, the coolest band in the world.

Not to mention that years before M.I.A. was performing preggos, Gordon shot this video while she was first pregnant.  Before she spawned an awesome and amazing rock'n'roll kid.  Word.

And as of a few years ago, at the height of my SY obsession, they appeared on my favorite show.  Every time I watch it on DVD, I still start to shreik and geek out and go absolutely nuts.

The Gordon-Moore family shows up at 6:24 (another awesome group that is 33.3333333% female, Yo La Tengo, makes an appearance, too).  "There's no jumping in the town square!"

29. "My Moon My Man" Feist
I don't care how many iPods she sells.  She is freaking awesome.

30. "Our Lips Are Sealed" The Go-Gos
The quintessential girl group, rising out the California punk scene.  Jane Weidlen wrote this song, and I didn't even lose respect for her after she was on The Surreal Life.  As a friend of mine would say, she gets a Universal Hall Pass from me.  And this song holds up, going on three decades later. 

And there we have it.  Hope you enjoyed!

Girls! Girls! Girls! pt. II

tracks 11-20 on the list.

11. "Cheap Trick Record" Bratmobile
90s punk band, could essentially be considered pretty riot grrrrrl I suppose.  I was only introduced to them about a year ago, and I can't necessarily quantify it, but I really really like them.  (Also: if anyone has a direct link to sreaming audio of this, hook a sister up!)

12. "I Wish I"  Cars Can Be Blue
Another 50% female band.  Becky from CCBB is honestly one of the most badass chicks ever, but badass in a super twee way.  And for a lo-fi male/female guitar/drum duo, I honestly think they're better than the White Stripes.  Or maybe I just like listening to them better.

13. "The Needle Has Landed"  Neko Case
Goddess.  My favorite singer, and truth be told one of my favorite songwriters, as well.  The person on earth I'd most like to imitate.  And not to belabor the point, but don't you dare mess with her bandmates.  :-D

14. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" Beyonce
Like a decade after her now-husband put out "Big Pimpin'", about never being held down by a woman, Beyonce smacks some sense into those boys who just can't seem to commit and live to regret forever.  Word!  (Although in my opinion, not one of the greatest videos.  Ever!  Though she's workin' her girlish figure and non-twig legs, which helps all us females of all races who have non-twig legs.)


That song actually made me a Beyonce convert.  I really wasn't interested in her much before that.

15. "99 Luftaballoons" Nena
I have a serious soft spot for one-hit wonders.  Especially 80s one-hit wonder chicks.  Who sing in German.  One night, like four years ago, there was a special on VH1 classic where people pay to request songs, and the benefits go to some cool charity or something.  And someone paid probably a ridiculous amount of money to show nothing but this video on loop for an hour - alternating English and German version.  So worth it.

16.  "I'm Always Touched by Your Presence Dear" Blondie
Rumor has it that by way of the song "Rapture", Debbie Harry is  considered to be one of the very first female rappers.  Pretty good for a punk band that went disco.  This is probably my favorite Blondie song.  Note: she also dated one of the other dudes in the band, for over 10 years, and it never affected the band professionally.  Take THAT Stevie Nicks!

17. "The Sweetest Thing" Camera Obscura
Several boys in this band, but no dudes singing for at least two albums.  And most of their songs written by a female bandmember.  I love them.  So much.

This video actually looks like most of the photos from the bridal blogs I've been reading the past 6 months.  Proof?  I think that CO jumped on it before the indie wedding folks on the internetz did.

18. "Talula (The Tornado Mix)" - Tori Amos
Not very often a "remix" ends up on the album I guess, but so be it.  I love Tori.  I know a lot about Tori.  I spent much of my early 20s quoting her lyrics.  I've seen her live.  I mostly started reading Neil Gaiman because of Tori.  You know what, though?  You can tell you've found a suitable partner when you say, "I love Tori Amos," and he doesn't a) look at you like you're insane and b) you don't have to explain that you've only seen her twice and not 30 times.  Or even if you have seen her 50 times, who cares?  Guys who are not scared off by Tori-fandom are ok in my book.  Of course, if we're not talking straight boys, then all bets are off.  To wrap up, Boys for Pele is in my top 5 albums of all time.  Don't hate.

And oh, you want to find live videos of Tori?  Throw a rock at the internet.  Or not even a rock.  A pebble.  A grain of salt.  There's a 75% chance you'll land on a site with Tori videos.  I think Glen Beck even has a few links to her, as does Dennis Kucinich's wife's personal vlog.  Seriously though.  The EWF were a fan force to reckon with before the internet, but Toriphiles + streaming video = a bizarre red-headed super live video hero.

19. "Don't Get Me Wrong"  The Pretenders
I honestly don't get to my local record store as much as I'd like, but I feel like the last 3-4 times I've been in there, I've struck up a conversation with the dude who runs the store about how much I love the Pretenders and how they get way less cred than I think they're due.  And he completely agrees.  They're like a half-American answer to The Smiths, without the mopeyness and with a kickass lead female lead who's just as iconic (and maybe influential) as Morrissey.

20. "Top of the World" The Carpenters
One of my friends who was a vocal major in college never stopped extolling the virtues of Karen Carpenter.  Did you know also that little Japanese band kids are obsessed with The Carpenters, and consider them to be the essential American music?  And another essential American band (with an essential female singer/bassist) is also semi-obsessed with Karen Carpenter, but we'll get to them in the next entry.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Girls! Girls! Girls! but not Motley Crue style.

Sorry.  I don't know the keyboard shortcut to make an ummlot - or however you spell it.  I also disappoint my father because I can't speak a lick of German.

Anyway.  I should be getting work done for work work, but seeing as my vacation is coming to an end, I am instead looking at pretty pictures of fun crafts and pink things.  Because I am a girl.

Or rather, I fall into the stereotype of being a girl.  In that I love being a girl, and I enjoy spending time with other girls.  Hence I joined a sorority in college.  What! 

And I love girl music.  All girl music.  Well, maybe not all girl music.  But a lot of it.  And today, I found myself in a Beyonce mood.  What!

But sweetheart, Beyonce is no role model for young girls!!  Hmm.  Actually I beg to differ.

First of all, she and her husband, Jay-Z, topped last year's list of high earning celebrity couples - by a lot.  Like, they blew away Brangelina, by tens of millions of dollars.  And Harrison Ford and that woman who has needed a sandwich since 1998.

Secondly, although Destiny's Child was sort of a brainchild of her father, much like those damn Simpson sisters, she's made alright for herself.  For more than the last decade.  Why is that?  Oh yeah, because she's actually really talented.  She might have been overshadowed by Jennifer Hudson in that movie with Eddie Murphy, but she can still sing.  No auto-tune necessary.

Thirdly, she's not a stick figure, and I appreciate that.  When I was a teenager, my mom and I used to berate the Oscars together.  Now, we call each other when they're on and say, "Did you see that!?"  A notable memory from the '09 awards was Beyonce's performance, when my mom said, "Man, she's got some thighs on her!"  Yeah, she does, and so do I!  Hey clothing manufacturers!  You want to tell supermodel Beyonce that she's plus-sized because she's got a little junk in the trunk?  I thought not!

Fourthly, something that is freakishly awesome, is that she hired an all-female backup band.  Apparently, it was a few years ago, maybe it's still going on, but it's freaking awesome and you can't deny the impact of little girls seeing Beyonce onstage and saying, "Well, I don't know that I can sing like that, but I sure do wanna drum like that!"

And (not to sound too much like a celebrity gossiper) she was pretty classy through that whole Kanye-gate last year to Ms. Swift.   I have my own opinions on Taylor Swift, but I'll keep them to myself for today.

So, in honor of musical female empowerment, my Beyonce mood has extended into an all-girl mood for music.  So I hastily put together a mix from some of my favorite female artists.  Many of who make excellent role models for young girls out there who want to play music.  Here's my list, in three parts.

1. "Hyper-ballad"  Bjork
Regardless of your opinion of her, or whether or not you can sit and listen to Medulla (I can't), she certainly broke boundaries, especially in the boy's club of experimental music. 

2. "Time After Time" Cyndi Lauper
I don't know what else to say about her, except that she freaking rules.

3. "Hot n Cold" Katy Perry
Okay, maybe she doesn't totally belong all up in the company of many of these other chicks, but this song is just too damn catchy.  Call it a serious - and I dare say harmless - guilty pleasure.

4. "My Only Offer"  Mates of State
The band is 50% female, and you don't even need that to be on the Lilith Fair roster.  I love almost everything about this band, especially their blog, Band on the Diaper Run.  And their use of glock-type bells in this song.  Parenting while rock and rolling FTW!

5. "Never Say Never" that dog
Could be THE quintessential chick-rock band of the 90s?  I dare say so.  Excellent pop songwriting by Ms. Anna Waronker, and the worship worthy Haden sisters.  Have you heard some of the projects that followed, particularly Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out?  (Or heard how much Pete Townshend geeks out about it?)  I really dislike acapella music, as I really love instruments, but oh my god.  It's unreal.  Rather than pitch-perfect and quite frankly, boring, harmonies, she becomes a literal one-woman band and the results are unbelievable.  She is my hero(ine).  And that dog is one of my favorite 90s bands, period.

6. "Redondo Beach"  Patti Smith
All Hail the First Lady of Punk.  End of story.
She was also married to Fred "Sonic" Smith of the MC5.  Why all the obsession with who these girls married, Magpie?  I consider myself the marryin' type, and I love it when musicians, particularly women, prove they can have it all: husband, kids, and be a rock legend.  :)

7. "The Big Guns" Jenny Lewis 
She's damaged, and she's got a steel guitar.  And that's okay with me.  Although others were doing it before she was, she made country cool again, and I'm okay with that, too.

8. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" Bonnie Tyler
Yeah I'm all over the map.  But this song is sort of pop legend.  And the video is bonkers!  (As is the literal one!)

9. "Sweet Jane" Cowboy Junkies
I cannot get it out of my head that Pitchfork calls this one of the best albums of the 80s.  I don't argue with it, and the list-makers surely share my enthusiasm for Sonic Youth, but man.  I don't know why that strikes me as being so weird.  However, Margo Timmins's voice might have been the best of the 80s?  And this is one of the best covers, ever.

10. "Sleep to Dream" Fiona Apple
She's so young!  And so angry!  And 13-14 years after her debut album, all I can see in her face is a very very upset Rory Gilmore!  But I really looked up to her when I was in high school.  And I think this video is cooler than the "Criminal" one.

Stay tuned for more!

And if you want to hate on Katy Perry, that's fine by me too.  Mocking her is fun as well!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Pop! Pop! Pop! and, crackle, pop some more!

No, not Rice Krispies.  (I prefer Special K & Cheerios, anyway.)

It's the sweet sound of vinyl.  Especially if you're like me, and you have a handed-down record player with a needle that was cheap to begin with and not very well maintained.  Not that I know really what to do to keep a record needle in good condition.

Sometimes, to be honest with you, that's just the way some records are meant to be played.  Or, rather that, meant to be heard.

MP3s are terrific because they are so very convenient.  And that's about it.  The digital method is no way to hear an album.  Sometimes I make mix discs which include 1990s Tori Amos & Smashing Pumpkins tracks that I uploaded from long held cds, with their beat up cases and torn inner liners - not trashed because they have not been loved, but trashed because they've been loved too much, and listened to and poured over.

But suffice to say, I mix those up with digitally purchased Stars and Mates of States tracks, and the difference in the compression absolutely blows my mind.  It's really, really hard to listen to, and it makes me sad.  With the computer at the DJ, it really makes no difference.  But once you move away from the glowing screen, it's pretty pathetic.

As Paste tells us (and they freaking tweet enough to keep anyone occupied most days, including that day earlier this summer where they posted that list of the creepiest kids movies ever, and gave me existential nightmares all summer) the cassette tape is making a comeback.  This, kiddies, is a good thing.  Tapes, in my opinion, were far more durable than cds - you could surely melt them or unwind them, but you couldn't scratch them.  I have a cassette tape that I was "interviewed" on when I was about 2  years old and still talked nonsense, that my mother and I added onto every few years or so up until my brother and I messed with it circa 1997.  I played it in an old handed down boombox a few months ago and it sounded perfect.  We're lucky we have mp3s mostly because our scratch sensitive cds will probably not make it another 10 years.

But vinyl is still king.  The least convenient of all recorded medium, there must be a reason that vinyl has resurged in the way it has.  I mean, come on.  Who wants to change one side of a record while you clean your house?  If you are also like me, and obsess over one track repeatedly (once listened to SP's "1979" for about 3 hours on repeat when I was 14), it's frustrating to move the needle over and over again.  (Unless you're dealing with 45s.  I totally did that with a Keith John Adams song on a 45 - "Lydia", the single of which I got directly from the fine folks at Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records!)

However, records have survived, been preserved possibly more lovingly than any other physical medium, and are showing great signs of maybe saving the music industry?  At least for real music lovers.  Have you ever been to Record Store Day?  I have.  I was also waiting in line for a Kmart to open on Black Friday this year so my friend could get a cheap, candy apple red bicycle, and I will tell you, Record Store Day at my local shop was so so so so much more packed, from open until close.  We're talking not the usual wanderers in a store, thumbing around at 10pm, but a packed record store until the owner begged them to finally leave, like 2 hours past closing.  It was pretty unusual, to say the least.  I was in there for 10 minutes and easily dropped $100, hardly even thinking about it, and could have dropped at least $200 had I stuck around a good half hour.  (Not that I can afford to - and that fact maybe even emphasizes my point.)

I could tell you more about my own personal romance with record albums, about how I inherited the "put the needle back disease" from my mother, who used to sit in her basement and do so with "Elanor Rigby" until she got called up for dinner, or how I bought an Adam Ant record at a record collectors show once and nursed it back to health after it'd been warped, or how my favorite band is so wonderful because they really do it right for their vinyl buyers, or how I'm still longing after that clear vinyl Neko Case Middle Cyclone 2 LP set I missed out on during Record Store Day, but that's not what I set out to talk about.

It's no secret that Orlando-based artists Marc with a C is a close friend of mine.  And it's even less of a secret that he loves vinyl way more than I do.  I've never written a song cycle about it.

And it's not even a secret anymore that he's pressing his latest album, the concise and rather brilliant Pop! Pop! Pop! on vinyl, and starting to sell it, um, now?

What you really might not know is how absolutely incredible this album sounds on vinyl.  I've heard these songs live, on mp3, and on a test pressing, and I can tell you without hesitation that these songs are meant to be heard on a record.  Preferably on a record player in your bedroom.  It'll remind you of being a kid and being reminded (often very loudly) to turn that blasted music down.  And it makes those reminders a good memory.

Seriously, what you need to do first is download the tracks from Marc.  He'll give them to you, for free.  Not kidding!  In the great tradition of excellent musicians who give their music away for free (even in the olde age of "Money Good!  Napster Bad!"), you can download the album at - just click on "Record Store" and you'll be good.  You can download any of his other albums there, too.

BUT don't stop there.  Because if you do I will be forced to smack you.  You should listen to it digitally.  This only makes the comparison that much more amazing if you've already heard it in a pleasant, easily accessible, if not completely sub-par format. 

If you truly consider yourself a sophisticated music listener, you MUST order this album on vinyl.  It's not expensive.  And if you don't have a record player?  Listen to Marc's song "RetroLowFi" (which pretty much sums up his attitude on life) and he'll instruct you on that, too.

Alright.  I will promise you, if you have ever had any interest in lo-fi power pop, or just really like it when people reference Holly & the Italians, listening to the first side of the album will be a religious experience for you.

DO IT!  ORDER IT ON VINYL NOW!  You will not be disappointed, I promise I promise I promise! 

[Author's note: hey Ms. Magpie, you went awhile without posting stuff - what gave?  Well, dear readers, I was out of town for a week and a half or so, sampling delicious microbrew beers and helping an old friend with crafty items and such.  I also had an experience where I was lured into writing for something shiny that turned out to be not so great, and gave me some anti-motivation for writing anything down for awhile.  I'm back though, for the time being, inspired by lots and lots of musical rants that are echoing in my head.  Oh yeah!]

Friday, July 16, 2010

Nerdiest City in the South? You Decide. THIS WEEKEND!!

One of the reasons I like Orlando so much is that it is, arguably, the nerdiest city in the South.  Sure, there are other pockets of nerdiness spread across the Deep South, and Florida is not really a part of the Truly Deep South, but seeing that Orlando is home to lots and lots of programming centers, Disney, and the country's 3rd largest university (with its three Engineering buildings), not to mention NASA a short distance away, there is plenty of industry to attract nerds to the area.  Far more than say, Alabama, Mississippi, or South Carolina.

And what about those smart kids who start off in Intro to Engineering and decide that, despite their nerdy personas and their or their parents' wishes for them to make lots of money, a career at Lockheed Martin is not for them?  Well, the non-NASA nerds in Central Florida have built up quite a culture, too.  And that culture hits its zenith this weekend at Orlando's very own festival, Nerdapalooza.

In its fourth year (begun in 2007), Nerdapalooza has claimed its own place in both Central Florida culture and nerdcore culture in its own right.  Moving from living rooms to Taste restaurant in College Park to the Orlando Airport Marriott (so its audience feels right at home, as if they're attending some sort of -con), the festival includes local acts as well as nationally touted nerdcore legends.  On Saturday, George Hrab (of Philadelphia Funk Authority, and someone please, write this man a wikipedia entry!!) will play and on Sunday, MC Frontalot, the rapper who allegedly coined the term "nerdcore" will play.

I won't be there, but alas, I will say that I think although I don't love every bit of nerdcore I've ever heard, I generally enjoy the company.  I am too old and too peaceful to hang with the punks, too adverse to cigarette smoke to hang with the rockabillies, not drunk enough to hang with the alt-country crowd, too enthusiastic to hang out with jazzers, too weird to hang out with the classical crowd for longer than rehearsal time - if I had to pick a musical crew to call my own, it'd be the nerds.  I may not own enough black hoodies to be in Emergency Pizza Party, but alas.

There are a million podcasts, websites, all that geeky stuff I could point you to, but instead, I'll just link you to the official Nerdapalooza site, the excellent blog Hipster, Please!, and give a big shout-out to two friends (or two acts that include friends of mine) who are playing on Sunday!!

Marc with a C

You'll almost certainly hear this song during Marc's set during Nerapalooza, due to popular demand, but you should also check the rest of his illustrious catalog because he's got so much else to offer.

 Zombies! Organize!!

Admittedly the Z!O!! clip is not particularly typical of their performances - the girls rap a lot more - but the sound is fairly clear and the subject matter is right on tap.

And in more tribute to nerd music, my favorite all-time band of nerds.  (And dare I say, the concert crowd in which I have always felt the most comfortable.)

Happy Nerdapalooza!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love YouTube as a Music Service

I was at a party in Deland recently.  That's right.  I said party, in Deland, Florida.  Ugh.  It was late, and I was not intoxicated in the least (because I was driving and I am responsible!).  So once we got done playing Rock Band, as is the norm with this particular group of people (and they always ask me to play drums...ugh.  Drum sticks + engagement ring = ow), there was dancing, and I sat down to the host's laptop where I played DJ.  Then one really drunk girl begged me to play some Lady GaGa.  As I searched through the host's iTunes collection, rife with Swedish synth pop, I found no Lady GaGa.  She pleaded with me to go to YouTube to find them some.  I obliged, and was thanked profusely later.

And yes, GaGa more than anyone else, has benefited from the increase of YouTube.  With the most viewed video of all time, she sells so many more records, or downloads rather, and overpriced concert tickets this way.  But she is a serious case of right place, right time: YouTube wasn't always king.

As a Napster Kid, for a long time it really bothered me that YouTube had taken over as the internet's leading source of hearing music.  Maybe I'm relieved that it's taken over from MySpace - and very glad that I never have to put up with flashing banner ads that essentially shout at me thing like, "WHICH ONE WILL NEW YORK CHOOSE - TANGO OR CHANCE!?  VOTE FOR A FREE IPOD SHUFFLE!!" if I don't want to anymore.  And those damn MySpace players are really unreliable, too.

But when someone bought concert tickets for me and a friend, and he said, "check them out on YouTube," I got really cranky.  I refused to do it.  Then during my day job, I heard a kid actually say, "Why would you ever go see a live concert when you have YouTube?"  I almost cried. 

Don't get me wrong.  I grew up loving loving loving music videos.  Before I was a Napster Kid, I was the Poster Child of the MTV Generation.  As with many children of divorce, I would drown out my parents fighting with hours upon hours of MTV.  Even when my family didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, my mother ensured we had cable, I think mostly for this reason.  Aside from basking in the glow of Nickelodeon in its golden years, I watched enough MTV to develop a lifetime obsession with popular music.  I didn't listen to the radio as a kid.  My parents liked music - one important musical memory came from the summer of 1989, when my family bought an LP single of George Harrison's "I Got My Mind Set on You" and kept putting the needle back over and over again, overjoying at 6-year-old me and the kids of their visiting friends dancing to it like we were Fraggles or something.

But MTV was what ignited my passion.  I grew to worship and try to emulate Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.  Much of what I saw terrified me, especially the wave of grunge that overtook in 1991.  I had nightmares about Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" video.  (I was nine.  Give me a break.)  But I loved it, and watched deep into the 90s, as the videos faded from importance and the network pioneered the practice of making reality show cast members into stars.

In the late 90s, the internet took over, primarily as a place where I could find people who shared my musical obsessions rather than thought I was weird for having them.  My first evening ever on the internet was spent reading through a fansite called The Temple of Billy Corgan.  (I was sixteen.  Give me a break.)  But then there was a beautiful practice of filesharing, and I got all in on the Napster thing.  I never thought anything about it was bad - downloading MP3s for free seemed to be the American Way.  Of course, that had to do a lot with the artists I listened to.  Lifelong favorites of mine like Corgan and Ben Folds were all over giving stuff away for free online, so much that Corgan himself gave away Machina II - which some people consider to be the musical savior of the Pumpkins: 1st Edition - for free.  In the year 2000.  Thus, since my heroes didn't mind that I did it, I did it too, and laughed at Metallica.  Music as a strictly aural art took hold in my mind at that point, and didn't let go.

In college I majored in music, and tried to get my grubby little hands on every bit of it I could, classical or otherwise, trying to judge everything I came across for what it was, not what sort of standard I held it up to.  (Even a band like The Fiery Furnaces.)  But music videos had long been struck from my mind.  In the early Aughts, I worked an overnight job and listened to lots and lots and lots of Launchcast.  If you watched videos on Launch, then you had a very, very slim selection.  And you always had to wait for them to buffer.  By just listening to music, sans images, you could get so much more.

Over the years, sites like and Pandora have taken over; unfortunately, I've never worked any other jobs that provided me so much damn downtime. is a fun thing to play with on the twitters, but it's not really a viable listening service.

So why does YouTube get more cred for being a music service than sites that set out for that purpose like Pandora?

Maybe it's the fault of people like Lady GaGa, who set out to revive the music video.  And that damn band with all the treadmills.  And it began to bother me.  Call my an Apple loyalist, but when I want to give someone a sample of a song, whether I'm teaching or otherwise, I search the iTunes store and just play the free snippet of the song they'll provide.  When you're trying to demonstrate something, that's all you need, right?

The only problem is that not everything is on iTunes.  But everything, and I mean everything, is on YouTube.  Everything.  Even for stuff that doesn't have a music video, which is weird, considering that the sound quality on most YouTube videos is crap.

But wait!  Holy It's Not 2006 Anymore, Batman! 


When I was 6, my parents had not indoctrinated me with Beatles to the point where I had a historical frame for how awesome this song/video really is/was, but looking back, wow.  I love it.

I'm not really great at playing the Look How Much Obscure Music I Know game, but everything, everything is on there.

And so on.  And so forth.

So really?  It is perfect for people who want their music in a single serving package.  One song, one good to go.  It's like a buying a single and not having to listen to the B-side.

Whereas myself and my fellow devourers of music (my fiance is a bookworm - when I am chastised because I am not so much, he defends me by saying, "She's a music worm") prefer a long stream of music.  I need it continually in my blood - hence the appeal of MTV when I was younger, and the few good radio stations we had when I was a teenager.  To the dismay of all of my college music professors, I also do things to music rather than sit and authentically listen.  I'm sorry, but the laundry and the dishes need doing, and they are done much better to rhythm and melody.  YouTube takes me away from multitasking, and forces me to gawk at a screen.  Bleh.

But like I said.  They.  Have.  Everything.

Hence, until we come up with something better, this is it.  Which means that the music video is back to being king again.  Oh boy.

And to make musical examples, just like conductors of ensembles do these days, I will continue to post videos to both a) add color to my blog entries, rather than prolonged use of unlicensed images, and b) provide musical examples.

If talking about music is like dancing about architecture, and a picture is worth a thousand words, then the sky seems to be the limit with music videos.

Like the beloved comic book writer Harvey Pekar, who passed away this week, once said, "You can do anything with words and pictures."  Of course, he was talking about comic books, but who's to say that music videos can't do the same thing?  Or that YouTube will own us all in a few years?

Unless, of course, this sort of stuff is what we do with the power we have...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Janet Jackson over Lady GaGa, Any Day

Seeing that I'm going to depart my 20s rather soon, I think it's okay to get over what is arguably the most pretentious decade in any music lover's life.  You get really excited about everything you learn about during that decade, be it through college professors or thumbing through record stores, talking to the employees.  On average, at about this age (the undisclosed age I am now), you stop apologizing for the things you really like but might have been too ashamed to admit when you were 23.

And seeing that I've now taught at least 12 weeks of general music, focusing on the development of hip-hop and its modern varieties, I can own up to a lot of stuff that I used to love in my childhood but left behind in favor of not looking lame in high school.

The foremost of these things I liked as a youngster?  Janet Jackson.  The first song my mom remembers me dancing around the house to at age 2 was a Michael Jackson song - "Beat It", to be specific - but I was too young when his career was at its zenith to really remember him in his glory days. 

When I was a Tween, Janet ruled, and for good reason.  Sure, her dancing was more about Paula Abdul than her, and her music was all about Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but damn. 

I mean, seriously!  The choreography is freaking awesome, and she's covered up, head to toe.  The girls in this video didn't have to wax an inch of their bodies before appearing in it.  In the late 80s, when Madonna had the cone bra and videos were just starting to get steamy, dressing Janet in military garb must have seemed like it would be a terrible move. 

It wasn't.  Supposedly Rhythm Nation was the first album to ever spawn 7 number one hits...and the only one to do so to this day?  Check Billboard for that.  Apparently, on, you can also stream music, and if you're like me, you can sing almost every damn word to the entire album.  Brings me back. 

When I was in elementary school, and insistent that I would be a singer/dancer when I grew up, my mom brought the family to Blockbuster and rented the Rhythm Nation "short film" that included this video.  It included three other music videos and a plot line to string them all together somehow, focusing on a young man from the ghetto, who realizes that he can rise above all the madness around him by dancing his way out.

Ah, a plotline for the ages.

Regardless, Janet turned out to maybe not be the best role model for young girls throughout the years.  She inherited the Jackson family crazy, sampled a Joni Mitchell song (poorly), had some unfortunate plastic surgery, had a secret marriage, and showed her boobs at the Super Bowl.  Okay, so that last one might not have been her fault.  Still.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, being a typical little girl and relishing in the pop music of my day (and of the year or two prior), because of stuff like Rhythm Nation, I would go around saying things like "Racism sucks!!!!!" rather than "these boys be blowing up my phones".  It might have been the vogue of the time, but I'm never opposed to the vogue of the time actually doing something productive for the whole of society.

I'm just saying.

"I tell anyone who's heart can comprehend / send it in a letter, baby / tell you on the phone! / I'm not the kind of girl who likes to be alone..."

(The "short film" also has an extended dance sequence at the end of "Miss You Much", if memory serves me correctly.)