France: a musical interlude

Nothing much going on in France right now. This is the fourth day in a row it’s been cold, windy, and rainy, which means I’ve spent a large portion of the last few days indoors (my hosts are out of town until tomorrow). I did get venture into Tournefeuille on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for some croissants, groceries, and postcards, and the weather did clear up enough one evening to let me go on a walk, but mostly I’ve been inside, doing crossword puzzles, reading books, attempting to write, and listening to music.

Every time I travel I make a new traveling playlist. I made this one extra long, because I wanted it to last me through two eight-hour plane rides, two airport layovers, and four weeks of scattered downtime. I didn’t plan on listening to it for almost four days straight, though, and I’m already starting to get sick of some of the songs. Here are seven that I’m not skipping by, however (and apparently they’re all by men):

“Bruised,” by Jack’s Mannequin
I never get sick of this song. It’s actually inspired parts to two very different stories I’ve written (and am still writing, I suppose, since they both need massive revisions still).
Favorite line: “So read your books but stay out late some nights, some nights. And don’t think that you can’t stop by the bar. You haven’t shown your face here since the bad news. Well I’m here ’til close with fingers crossed each night ’cause your place isn’t far. And hours pass.”

“I Will Wait,” by Mumford and Sons
This is a sad song that makes me happy. I know that might not make a lot of sense, but I don’t know how else to say it. I’m not happy because it’s sad…I don’t know how to say it. I learned a long time ago that feeling sad is a part of life, and my ability to feel sadness is, in some ways, a gift. None of this really gets at what I’m trying to say. I’ll work on it.
Favorite line: “Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold. Bow my head, keep my heart slow.”

“Semi-Charmed Life,” by Third Eye Blind
I love pretty much every song by Third Eye Blind (and I put about six or so on this playlist), and this is my favorite song of all time. I love it, and I hate when radio stations take out the middle (the best part!).
Favorite line: “She’s got her jaws now locked down in a smile, but nothing is all right, all right.”

“Hey Ho,” by the Lumineers
It’s been interesting to note that the French seem to love this song just as much as I do. I hear it all the time on the radio, or over the speaker systems in stores.
Favorite line: “I don’t think you’re right for him, think of what it might have been if you took a bus to Chinatown, I’d be standing on Canal and Bowery, and she’d be standing next to me.”

“I’m Still Here,” by Vertical Horizon
My dad introduced me to this song. There’s apparently a really cool guitar thing somewhere in the song that he always points out to me, but I can’t ever hear what he hears. It’s a good thing I love this song so much, or all that backtracking to ask if I can hear it now would have made me crazy.
Favorite line: “The cities grow, the rivers flow. Where you are I never know, but I’m still here. If you were right and I was wrong, why are you the one who’s gone, and I’m still here? The lights go out, the bridges burned. Once you’re gone, you can’t return, but I’m still here. Remember how you used to say I’d be the one to run away? But I’m still here. I’m still here.”

“On the Lie,” by the Goo Goo Dolls
I can’t say why, exactly, I love this song, but I do. I really, really do.
Favorite line: “He said, ‘I’d hang and swap clichés all night, but I’m not in love with you.'”

“Carry On,” by Fun.
I started out really not liking Fun. I can’t stand their “We Are Young” song because, to me, it has too much of a blase approach to domestic violence. “Some Nights” sucked me in, though, and this song won me over.
Favorite line: “‘Cause we are, we are shining stars, we are invincible, we are who we are. On our darkest day, when we’re miles away, sun will come, we will find our way home.”

10 things I would do with more hours in the day

I’m departing from the usual in this blog, and especially the tone of my most recent post (though perhaps recent isn’t the best word) to bring you something silly and fun. Silly and fun? you ask. Why yes, I am capable. I know it might be a surprise. So without further ado, here are ten things I would do if there were one, maybe two more hours in the day.

1. Exercise more: I’m trying to be more active, to do at least one physical thing each day. Mostly because I miss the way certain parts of my body used to look, no small bit because it’s rather embarrassing when I’m winded after two flights of stairs (and I NEVER take the elevator), but also because I spend way too much time sitting each day. With more time in each day I would go on more bike rides, go on more walks with my dogs, finally start an ab program that I stayed faithful to.

2. Learn more: It’s no secret right now that I’m learning French (I try to spend at least 15 minutes a day on it), but less well-known is the fact that I have a stack of old textbooks that I have every intention of reading. Sitting on my shelf right now I have books on chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, linguistics, feminist theory, and literature. And yeah, when I do find the time to pull one of those out, I do the exercises.

3. Bake more: I love to bake, especially bread. And not with a bread machine either. No, you’ve got to get your hands in there. It’s the physical connection, the smell—the absolutely yummy food you get to eat. I can’t even think of the last thing I baked, though. Maybe those ginger molasses cookies at Christmas?

4. Play more video games: I really try to make an effort to not spend too much time in front of the television—TV doesn’t interest me all that much unless it’s the Food Network—but I do have a soft spot for certain video games. But right now I do limit my time rather severely. Plus—and this has nothing to do with how much time there is or isn’t in the day—my Xbox is broken right now.

5. Sleep more: I like to sleep, I do. But I also am not a fan of sleeping in until 11. I like to be up by 9:30 at the latest, but when I stay up reading until 4 a.m. some nights, I end up really tired the next day. I really do need my full eight hours.

6. Be more social: Sometimes I think my friends must think I don’t want to hang out with them, because I’m very good at being busy when they call. With more time I could better show them that, yes, I care.

7. Straighten my hair more: Okay, I know this one sounds silly, but I stopped straightening my hair regularly about the time I started graduate school. There were just other things that needed to be done—it felt silly to spend half an hour with a straightening iron in front of the bathroom mirror. But—call me vain—I really do love having straight hair.

8. Spend more time on forgotten or new hobbies: I’m really, really good at filling my time. And there are so many things in life I wish I could try, could be good at. Take my guitar playing. It was a hobby for a few years, but now I hardly ever touch it. And I’d really like to finish that one cross stitch piece I started four or so years ago. And I’d really like to learn more about history. And I wish I knew how to use Flash. I wish I could identify the birds that come to our bird feeder without looking in the book. There’s so much knowledge out there, and I really do want it pretty much all of it.

9. Read more: I have so many books that I want to read, and yet I don’t often seem to have the time to really dive in to books. Oh, I read pretty much daily, and I do spend some nights reading when I should be sleeping (see number 5), but I wish I had time enough that I am able to read faster than I buy books.

10. Write more: Too much lately this has been the first thing falling off my plate. I’ve got work, I want to write a book review, I try to stay networked, I’ve got errands to run, I’ve got to plan for that community ed class I want to teach in the fall… I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that. My family/friends want to spend time with me. The dog is lonely. I’ve got another darn migraine. And somehow, too much of my writing is being done in my head. Despite being number 10, this is the number one reason I’d like more time. Though I do worry that even with all the time in the world, I’d still find reasons (numbers 1-9 for starters) to put off writing.

But I’m working on it. I promise.

Lady Gaga’s Judas

Lady Gaga’s Judas was leaked early, and I must say, I love it! The song is, to me, metaphorical, about loving the wrong man, about loving someone who hurts and betrays you, and all the conflicting emotions that exist in this type of situation. To be sure, the surface story of Mary Magdelene and Judas works for me as well, I just love that there’s more to it.

From my limited research (if you can call it that), however, I’m finding that there’s a lot of vitriol toward the song, and toward Lady Gaga in general. A radio station here in Orlando premiered it yesterday and then had people call in with their opinions—over half (at the time I was listening) didn’t like it. (Of course, Lady Gaga was performing in Orlando at that exact time, so I feel like the numbers were skewed against her.)

I’ve thought about this response since then, and all the public response after Born This Way was released. And I’ve decided: This has more to do with Lady Gaga than it does with the music.

Okay, stay with me.

We live in a culture that oftentimes pushes against success. We to see a moderate amount, not sensations. This is evidenced in the people that call musicians sellouts when their music finally breaks into mainstream play, by the people (some of whom I went to grad school with) that find popular literature unworthy of attention. This is the girl that told me, in all seriousness, that she would never read Harry Potter for the sole reason that everyone else liked it. This is why we love to see celebrities fall, fail, why these days Britney Spears makes a splash in the news when she screws up but only a ripple when she does well. And now, I believe, this phenomenon has come to Lady Gaga.

She has her fans, of course. Loyal fans. People who tell her—and mean it—that her messages of tolerance have saved their lives. But she has also caused a stir with some of her antics, and so there is a substantial group of people out there who believe she’s had enough attention (or too much) and that it’s time for her to be done. It seems to me like the people who will go out to vote against something but not for something—the voice of the opposition can be so much louder.

And some people really don’t like her music. That’s fine. No one is universally loved. What gets me, however, is the people who then say that she’s not talented, as if their taste alone defines talent. I can’t stand Katy Perry’s music, but you won’t ever catch me saying she doesn’t deserve her record deal.

Anyway, here’s the new song. Enjoy it, or don’t. I personally can’t wait for the whole album, and I wish Lady Gaga all the success in the world.

I’ll double pay if your cover art is awesome

Lady Gaga’s latest single, Born This Way, came out a month or so ago. It’s the first track to be released from her upcoming album. Being the little monster that I am, I of course downloaded the song from iTunes the day it came out, happily handing over my $1.29 plus tax. A few days later I bought Avril Lavigne’s first single off of her upcoming album. (Are you noticing a trend related to my inability to practice patience?) These are both albums that I want to own and that I normally would have at least considered purchasing at the store and then transferred to my computer. Except now I’ve gone and put money essentially toward the strictly digital creation of the music. And since I’ve become a bit obsessive about saving money, it makes more sense for me to just use the awesome little Complete my Album option in iTunes.

Except I love album art. I do. I love it. I love looking through the entire design that goes into packaging a CD, from the liner notes to the back of the case to the font that’s used on the actual CD itself. That little image you get in iTunes, that shows up on your iPod—it’s cool and all, but I really like getting those extras in tangible form (plus, you usually get lyrics when you buy an actual CD). So that said, I’m thinking I might just go ahead and buy these albums at Best Buy or somewhere. There are worse things to pay for than art.

Check below the cut here to see some of my favorite album artwork, off the top of my head. Continue reading “I’ll double pay if your cover art is awesome” »

A man’s world

I went to a concert tonight at a local bar-slash-music-venue. It’s a band that got its start at the MSU Battle of the Bands and that I first (and last) saw perform seven years ago when I was a sophomore at Michigan State. It’s a band that I like, that has a female lead singer, that has non-offensive lyrics. So I went to see them tonight. I listened to three cover bands that did little to impress me (I’d say they did nothing to impress me, but one of the three bands actually had my attention for a little bit). And then the Real Band got on to play. My friend and I were in the middle of the crowd, not in the front but still close enough to see (somewhat).

Now first, let me emphasize, I went to see a rock band, but it’s sort of an indie rock band. It’s not hard rock, and it’s not punk, and it’s not metal. The group consists of guitar, keyboard, and drums (vocals by the keyboardist and guitarist).

So when they played the song that started them on their path to success, and a group of men next to me started a mosh pit, I was really quite at a loss. I was right at the outer edge of it, behind a man and his girlfriend who were trying to stay clear but kept getting slammed. I only got slightly jostled. But still. Five minutes later, a guy dove into the crowd to crowd surf. He was coming my direction, and I told myself I would not touch him.

I have a right to go to a concert, to listen to music, without risk of injury. I have a right to not have to decide between touching a strange man in a spot that makes me uncomfortable and having him dropped on my head. I have a right to go out in public without always having to watch my surroundings, having to listen in on all the conversations around me to make sure there isn’t something sinister going on. I have a right to stand somewhere without being groped (as happened a few months back in a bathroom, while I was washing my hands). I have a right to my personal space, to my autonomy, none of which (save for the lack of groping) I had tonight. My friend and I were on our own as the group of all men careened into one another, bodies crashing together, trying to do who-knows-what. We left a few minutes later. There was no enjoyment left in the evening.

So tell me: When did this become a man’s world? When did something as simple as listening to music become something so male-centric? When did personal safety become a privilege rather than a right? Why do I have to leave a concert that I paid for, why do I have to step back and away, giving up my space? Why aren’t we teaching men to respect the space of others? To notice those surrounding them? Why aren’t we teaching men that this world is inhabited by a wide scope of people, including women? When will we understand that respecting women is more than cheering for a female singer on stage, it’s more than opening doors, or refusing to wrestle a female opponent. Together we must recognize these spaces that have been so thoroughly claimed as male, and we must work to make them for everyone.

What (bad) songs can teach about writing

Today has been a hectic blog day. Somehow between last night and this morning the plugins folder disappeared from my blog and all my plugins, understandably, stopped working. That meant that until I realized what was going on and was able to log on and disable comments, I was getting all sorts of crazy spam. Things should be fixed now and I’ve added a few new plugins that I’m testing out.

Today’s post is something that’s been brewing in my mind for the past month or so and I figured since I blogged about music yesterday, today would be a good day to tackle yet another music post. My apologies if you were hoping for some variety. I’m just happy to have three posts in four days.

Owl City has a song out right now called Fireflies. Other than the strange Death Cab for Cutie sound (for shame impersonating one of my favorite bands!) I have to admit that I kind of like the song. I say kind of because while I find it catchy and usually will listen to it if it comes on the radio, I also think it’s kind of, well, bad. And the badness is in the lyrics. Continue reading “What (bad) songs can teach about writing” »

When the ugly is beautiful

I love Third Eye Blind, and after a long hiatus, they released a new album, Ursa Major, in August of 2009. It’s not my favorite of their albums–I’d say that’s a toss up between Blue and Out of the Vein–but it does have one of my favorite songs of theirs: Don’t Believe a Word (which, incidentally, has a kick ass video of black and white stop motion photography).

I’ve got a habit of listening to songs on repeat until I know all the words, and I’ve probably listened to this song a hundred times (and I still can’t get all the words!), including yesterday in my car on the way home from work. And there’s this one line in the song that I just love–but that I feel sort of wrong for loving. Continue reading “When the ugly is beautiful” »

Taylor Swift’s Love Story

I’ve been wanting to put together some thoughts on this song for quite some time now, ever since I heard it for the first time three or four months ago. I’m inclined to think I like it, though its mixed and problematic messages stop me pretty much every time I hear it. This is not an argument that the song should not exist, that it should not be listened to, or that Swift and her listeners are somehow stupid. It’s an exploration of the messages that could be pulled from the lyrics in the hope that this will inspire thought and discussion about those same issues. The lyrics can be found here and the music video, here.*

First, I want to address the most obviously problematic part of this song: The myth of the love story. This idea that love can be perfect (once two people overcome the obstacles and finally end up together) is not reality, though it is a commonly accepted myth in this world, even claiming an entire genre for itself in romance novels. Now, I’m not arguing that we should do away with everything that presents love in this sort of light–I’m not a fan of censorship–but I do believe we need to be aware of the impracticality of this belief.

Now Swift does not make explicit statements in her song about living happily ever after, but that idea hangs over the entire piece by repeating her title throughout the song. And I do not think that Swift needs to address this type of issue in her song (just as I do not believe a romance novel needs to), but the listener (and Swift herself) needs to be aware of the fantasy of such a reality.

Another problematic aspect of this song is the final verse. The girl in Swift’s song gets “tired of waiting” for her Romeo to “come around.” Her “faith in him” fades as she wonders when he will “come around.” When she does find him, she asks him to “save” her. Here she not only becomes a passive member in her own love story (which is especially odd since it seems a bit of a role reversal) but also an archetypal damsel in distress. She needs to be saved, but from what? The only problem that seems to occur in the song comes from her family’s (actually, father’s, but that’s an entire other issue) dislike of her Romeo. It’s unfortunate, but it hardly seems a dire situation from which she needs to be rescued.

Finally, there are the references to Romeo and Juliet and, once, to The Scarlet Letter. Here I’m going to mainly discuss how I feel these stories have been misinterpreted and/or distorted in order for Swift to tell her story. (Not that, as a writer, you cannot appropriate.) Romeo and Juliet was not a love story but rather a tragedy that developed out of love. They were not able to be together in the end (save through death, but I doubt Swift intends to send a message supportive of teen suicide). This misinterpretation seems to come–and this is something that really bothered one of my old roommates, so the credit all goes to Lauren–from a misunderstanding of the phrase star-crossed lovers. It’s not a pretty thing; it was not written to call up pictures of lovers with stars in their eyes. It means doomed by fate, by the stars. And since Romeo and Juliet is the story of two star-crossed lovers…well, you can fill in the rest.

The Scarlet Letter mishap is more minor, but still interesting to look at. Hester Prynne was marked with the scarlet letter to shame her, as punishment for her crime (assumed adultery, since no one save Hester knows if her husband is alive or dead). Hester cannot have a relationship because she is married whereas Swift’s speaker cannot because her father says so. And I doubt Swift is forbidden because she committed adultery.

*Eventually I want to embed things like videos, but I do want to do some more research on fair use. I’m pretty sure it’s okay, but I do want to check. I also want to find some way to use something like an LJ-cut for lyrics, but I haven’t explored this theme enough to see if something like that is supported. So for now you’ll have to follow my links.