29 March, 2010

Life in These United States

I've always tended to be a hands-in-many-honey-pots kind of girl. There can be really cool and unexpected cross-over between two seemingly unrelated activities. Recently, for example, I learned a little bit about dinosaurs from kid's book during the course of a normal day nannying for my nephews. Later that same week I was able to casually contribute a little something into a conversation that just happened to lean towards ancient aquatic ancestors. ("Oh, like the diplosaurus. Ha ha, how do I know? It's just a little something I picked up.")

I wear many hats lately. I have been interning at an aquarium-based startup company focused on sustainability and poverty alleviation in rainforest communities. I nanny for my sister and the two cutest nephews known to man. I also freelance write for my hometown paper, reporting on all the hard-hitting kind of news that can be written from two and a half hours across the state. Life is just more interesting this way.

But being interdisciplinary in the "real world" can lead to some potentially embarrassing situations if one is not paying as careful attention as one probably should. Like, for example, (hypothetically) walking into a meeting with one's boss with a sticker of Mater, the tow truck from the movie Cars, affixed to the back of one's hair. For many, this situation might pose a problem. For me, I put the sticker in my pocket and carried on with the conversation. These things happen. Later on, I wondered if my nephews had purposefully placed that sticker in my hair. I thought over how long it might have been there. And I toyed briefly with the idea of showering more often. (But then, what would I have to write about in my blog?)

The variety in jobs does help to pay my rent check, as well as keep my spirits high. Whenever I have a poor performance day, say writing grants or researching potential donors, I can just head to my nephew's house, where I get commended for taking little bites at the dinner table. "Yay! You did it, Auntie Emma!" said Cole today, clapping his hands and then pointing to the strawberry in my hand that I had, successfully, taken a bite from.

I did it. It's little motivations like these in life that keep me going.

I also like to think back to where I was a year ago, in college, writing "thought papers" on pressing and critical issues affecting the modern world, so pressing and critical that they currently reside in the back of a closet at my parent's house. I did some important work, people. If someone had asked me to spend 10 hours researching a topic that would culminate in a page and a half article, dollars to donuts this girl wouldn't have even gotten past the first wikipedia search before my attention had wandered. 10 hours of interviews and research and writing for a total of 700 paltry words, are you joking? But now, when there is even a slight monetary incentive, ain't nobody gonna stop me. And this besides the sheer satisfaction I get by just seeing my name in print, published. It's pure vanity, but it helps to pay the bills as well as pave the way for a future being able to continue pursuing more interdisciplinary lines of work. Lines of work that hopefully involve less stickers in unconventional places. I'm not saying none, I'm just saying less.

23 March, 2010


It is pretty much inevitable that, once you move away from home, you will be forced to interact with those randomly selected people whom you happen to live by: your neighbors. If you're lucky, you might end up with a wacky Seinfeldian type or one of the cast from Friends. You could move in next door to a totally cool couple, your future ex-girlfriend, entirely too-nosy neighbors, or even bird collectors. The world is a crazy, dangerous place.

Technically my first "neighbor" was my twin sister. Growing up with her gave me a lifetime of neighborly experience. When I was trying to study she felt the time was right to start singing show-tunes. When I wanted to nap she moved onto power ballads. When it was time to sleep she started singing pop tunes, slow, bluesy, and ironically. Life is all about learning and taking the small lessons offered to you by others to better yourself. Thus, I learned to completely tune out any and all surrounding environments. It was, and remains, a life skill. By the time I graduated high school, I felt that this learned adaptation of 'tuning out to tune in', as my mom calls it, would give me an almost unfair advantage in the loud, crazy, sex-ridden dorms of college.

But I was wrong. There are some things that you have to be physically deaf to avoid hearing. And you can't un-hear them once you do.

Though I escaped my freshman year of college virtually unscathed, aurally or otherwise, I moved into my upper-class dorm on the 28th of August, next door to a boy whom I'll call "Guillermo." Guillermo, it seems, had a zest about life. Guillermo was a lover of the ladies. As it is only natural when you live in close proximity to another, you almost subconsciously start to discern your neighbor's unique habits, routines, and musical preference. From my perspective, Guillermo napped. Guillermo, at his leisure, attended a class or two. Guillermo enjoyed mo-town. But most interesting was the fact that Guillermo had a consistent and inexhaustible slew of women who desired to share his bed. It was college, after all. These things happen. While I had anticipated this scenario once upon a time back in high school, I felt that my ability to block sounds was not only strong, secure, but virtually impenetrable. I scoffed, unconcerned, those first couple of weeks of my sophomore year, confident that this living situation would prove to be but a blip on my radar.

And I would be very wrong.

Though Guillermo and I rarely exchanged anything besides the passing pleasantry, we did acknowledge each others' existence in the quiet moments of the co-ed bathroom, brushing our respective teeth. I knew we weren't going to be besties, mainly because our friendship was precluded by the fact that my bed was against our shared wall. Between that, there existed not an iota of soundproofing between the plaster, Guillermo, and I. So Guillermo and I felt close, very close... too close. My room was not palatial and the bed could only fit against that one Guillermo-y wall. (It was college, after all.) I heard everything. (Everything.) Thus, I spent many a night in the common room, tossing and turning on top of the high-backed "post-modern" "couches", viewing Lifetime original movies late into the night through tired eyes, and trying to hum loud enough to block out the sounds drifting in from down the hall. In some parts of the world, this treatment might be considered torture. In America, it's just another night in higher ed.

When the year ended, Guillermo and I went our separate ways. I thought I came out with a great story about terrible roommates ("The sex-obsessed college boy! So rare! So terrible!"). I said aloud (to myself) that I could now put my most interesting roommate experience behind me.

But I soon discovered: I could not. One year later...

It started with the house pick senior year; my friends and I chose to live in a cool, old, retired fraternity house. Big lofted ceilings, dark wooden fixtures, a fireplace, a marble kitchen, a double-wide winding staircase, a guy to girl ratio of 22:7; the house was perfect. This year my new roommates were my friend, recently back from abroad, and a new dorm-mate, "Horatio." Horatio and I had opposite schedules, and we would sometimes pass each other in the hall as he was leaving and I was entering. But the one thing we did share in common was our late-night activities: we both listened to Horatio sing, deep from his very soul. One was voluntary, one- not so much. Horatio would start singing some gospel, then maybe sample some R&B. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye might even make an appearance. I have to admit even now that he had a great voice, but there are some times of the night when blessed angels on high could be singing the gospel and I wouldn't exactly be in the most benevolent frame of mind to appreciate it.

Now that I'm living in an apartment building I'm discovering much the same interactions and frustrations that come with living near other people, but these are in entirely new and way more boring ways. Instead of being woken up by gospel singing in the middle of the night, I am now woken up by early Sunday morning floor waxing.

I understand that people celebrate Sundays through their own special rituals. Mine is catching up on sleep. Jesus understands that; we're cool. For others, there are different ways of celebrating the Lord's day, aside from attending church and participating in silent prayer. For example, have you ever considered marathon floor-waxing? I know a few people who can give you some pointers: the people above me. They have thusly earned the moniker "the Serial Waxers." (Which would also as double as a great indie rock band name). As is standard in most 19th century urban building construction, my neighbor's floor is my ceiling with entirely no soundproofing between. It sounds like they are in my apartment waxing, which would be a terribly frightening way to wake up, really. (Who are you? How did you get in?! You missed a spot!)  In reality, I just lose the sleep without gaining the benefit of a good floor waxing. But one day I hope to be invited up to their apartment, just to touch their floor; there is no way that it doesn't shine like St. Peter's gate.

To be fair, three colorful neighborly experiences are not something to go crying over. They are even fun tales to tell, and something I might just add to my resumé. I'll put it under the heading "Life Experience," for they have given me "interpersonal skills,""character," "compassion," and most importantly,"sleep deprivation." You know, life experience.

19 March, 2010

Luck o' the Irish

There is one day every year when four out of five people on the street will be wearing green. And by god, that green will be bright. There will be green top hats, green sunglasses, green glitter, faux irish-red beards galore, and shamrocks will be worn without shame. In fact, there is more than a little pride. I am speaking, of course, of Ireland Appreciation Day.

Depending on just who you believe, the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, broke the paganistic Irish of their polytheistic ways through Christianity and/or drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Either way, he clearly did great things for the Irish.

St. Patrick's day is one holiday that the city of Boston absolutely relishes in. And with good reason: after the potato famine hit Ireland in 1847 the previously anglo-saxon city was flooded with the gaelic-speaking, Guinness-loving Irish Catholics. (What what.) Though at the time it was not a exactly a "happy" welcome for the puritanical community (...massive cultural ostracization), St. Patrick's day has gained so much popularity that it is practically against the law in Boston to not be Irish. (And we're the liberal state.)

Our Irish ancestors settled their large freckled families into the crowded neighborhoods of Boston: the South End, Charlestown, mostly anywhere along the waterfront. These brave men and women did whatever it took to feed their families: they pushed carts, they unloaded ships, they did a variety of other thankless and unskilled labors to put clothes on their backs and food on the table. And on the 17th of March multitudes of their descendants and jovial imposters acknowledge their bravery through shouting "éirinn go brách!", donning comically large (or small) green hats, parading down the streets drunkenly, and swigging Irish beer made in America that is dyed green. Just what they would have wanted, I'm sure.

This year the holiday fell on a Wednesday, but that didn't stop the bajillions of Bostonians and Irish-appreciating tourists from flooding into the streets, green blurs wobbling tipsily over cobblestone. There were vendors hawking all sorts of furry green hats, green mardis gras beads (only a dollar!), sausage (...as the Irish do?) and a thousand other green-themed unneccessaries. Hundreds and hundreds of St. Patrick's revelers milled around the entrances of Irish-sounding bars, hoping to pay a cover to get in at places that normally advertise two dollar beer. The Black Rose. The Kinsale. The An Tain.

In all honesty, it was a great way to spend the evening. Saturated by traditional Irish drinking songs, sipping cheap Guinness, and admiring the host of people decked in green: I have never felt so Irish. An bhfuil tú dálta fós?

15 March, 2010

Analysis of Lady Gaga Ft. Beyonce's "Telephone"

The premiere of Lady Gaga's music video for Telephone, featuring Beyonce, aired on E! entertainment news at 11:30pm on March 11th. Belated gift from Lady Gaga to me in honor of my 23rd birthday? Most likely.  The video itself is an epic journey that tops out at nearly 10 minutes (9 minutes and 32 seconds, to be exact) that explores many themes, including the modern prison system, lesbianism, death, and the importance of product placement.

The video starts with a high security prison, judging from the high fences, barbed wire, and Lady Gaga's presence. I feel her to be a 'go big or go home' kind of girl in all aspects, especially dancing, fashion, and crime. Let's get serious- she wouldn't be doing time for something petty. At 0:36 we're shown an apathetic Lady Gaga being marched down a hallway by two very muscular, shirtless female security guards. The hallway is lined with tonz of bad girls ("Bitches," as the headline tells us) without clothes and strapped into sexxxy heels. Fascinating. The government is corrupt: they can't pay for clothing, but why wouldn't they shell out money for inmates to wear Lady Gaga-endorsed headphones and stiletto heels (1:33). Corruption abounds, I tell you.

Lady Gaga appears to be pandering to the young male and the gay community all at once. Perhaps with the tried and true idea that if you have double le scandal you'll get double le publicity. The security guards make a clever quip about her supposed missing genitalia when she climbs on the prison gate. Ho ho Gaga! Way to tackle the rumors head-on by showing yourself naked! That takes cohones. Or... um, perhaps...not. Anyway, it's not proper procedure to politely take new inmates sunglasses but then strip them of clothes inside their cell, but it sets up Gaga as the bad girl, too bad for clothes even in prison. Mind you, we're a minute into the video and we've yet to have the song start or any type of reference to a Telephone. I'm just sayin'.

 At 1:26 The Lady comes out draped in chains, a lá Jacob Marley, wearing eyeglasses made out of smoking cigarettes. As you are forced to do in the big bad world of stiletto prison. Maybe this is a wealth symbol, as prison cigarettes are often traded as currency. One of the inmates takes a fancy to her bound-and-gagged cigarette burning nature and starts to make out with her. Can Lady Gaga see through the glasses? Is it consensual? Doesn't the smoke burn her eyes? Man but she is exxxtreme! Another groping woman saddles up behind Gags to steal her prominently displayed Virgin Mobil cellphone. 2:09- Grandiose Product Placement 1: Virgin Mobile. Then we're taken inside, where, following the path of a sexual fantasy, two scantily clad women in obscene heels duke it out on the floor. Cue Beyoncé on the phone, for Lady Gaga. Naturally.

This video demonstrates a few very important lessons. The United States prison system can't afford pants, tops, or proper curlers (soda cans- life is tough but oh so cool), but there is plenty of eyeliner, lipstick, bedazzled undies & bras, and stiletto shoes come complimentary. Thank goodness there appears to be plenty of unsupervised recreational hallway dancing time. (3:19)  I'm not sure what computer brand that is, but it seems like a pretty obvious shot of the computer. 4:24- Product Placement 2. And following soon after Product Placement 3: Plentyoffish.com.

After being bound in caution tape Lady Gaga is bailed out of jail for an unknown crime by a pop superstar. Rejoice! 4:26- She is wearing what anyone would wear with their newly found freedom: a full sun hat, a full length skin-tight dress, and heels. That's some fierceness right there. When Beyoncé comes to pick up Gaga and we learn that Lady Gaga did something "bad, very very bad, Gaga" (fun to say three times fast! Rofl!). Beyonce offers her a chewy snack innuendo. 5:14- Product Placement 4: some sort of drive thru fast food restaurant that I again can't identify. Isn't the point of product placement, oh I don't know, to bolster sales through the audience recognition of the logo? Buyer's confusion.

Lady Gaga does offer some really interesting advice in the car: "You know what they say: once you kill a cow, you got to make a burger." Which is actually a rather deep, foreboding, compelling thought. Beyoncé's advice is not as clear:"You know Gaga, trust is like a mirror. You can fix it if it's broken." But you can't really, as Lady Gaga points out. (Beyoncé is a pretty bad actress, though. Did you ever see her Fatal Attraction remake, Obsessed? Don't.)

5:35- Super fun girly photo montage car ride scene! I always try to take at least one of these during a trip. There's nothing safer! Product Placement 5: Polaroid. Fun fact- Polaroid actually discontinued this type of film in February of 2008. Can this really be considered product placement? Polaroid is currently promenading the Lady Gaga Telephone video on their website though, so regardless of the fact that they don't sell this type of photography anymore, they appear to be peeing themselves with joy.

Back to the video: At 5:54 Beyoncé strolls into a very bustling café to meet her ill-tempered boyfriend. Though Beyoncé just shared her super deep "mirror" idiom aloud with Lady Gaga, it appears that she is now mute, as is her boyfriend. They communicate only through cartoon thought bubbles. The ill-tempered boyfriend remains ill-tempered in spite of the gratuitous cleavage shot. As the audience, we're not given much in the way of why we should hate the boyfriend too, other than he randomly stands up to establish himself as the antagonist by stepping into another rando's face and smacking a girl's behind at the bar. Boy, I hate him already. I hope he dies!

This part of the video has a cartoon feel, what with this introduction of bright colors and the speech bubblez. Beyoncé pours some "skull & crossbones" (wink.) into her man's cup of coffee. Ill-tempered boyfriend drinks it, sputters, and survives. Darn. Good thing we have Lady Gaga the cook behind the scenes in an origami telephone hat, whipping up some magic. (Ha ha! Pun intended!) Her backup dancers are putting assorted breads and vegetables up to their ears like Telephones. Get it, like a Telephone! Just like the name of the song! Product Placement 6 & Product Placement 7: Miracle Whip & Wonderbread.

For some reason, we switch scenes to Beyoncé (we can only assume this is before?) alone in a motel room dancing in a promiscuous Sergeant Pepper marching band uniform singing "Sometimes I feel like I live in Grand Central Station. Sorry for not taking my calls 'cause I'll be dancing." This is slightly confusing. Though there are many train stations and other public areas that have had famous stints of improv groups dancing, there hasn't actually been one in Grand Central Station. There was the T-Mobil improv group that stood frozen en masse. Product Placement? I could be wrong- enlighten me.

Lady "Let's Make A Sandwich" Gaga makes a poison sandwich and delivers it, while wearing a yellow hair-telephone (...wink) precariously perched atop her head, to Beyoncé's ill-tempered man. It seems to require a LOT of poison to kill this man. First the coffee and then the sandwich. But he dies. Exeunt stage right...

Oh wait, what's this?! 7:34- Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, who is wearing the infamous Lady Gaga "Paparazzi" sunglasses that LG dons to kill her Portuguese lover in the video of the same name, decide to kill off the entire café (probably with the Miracle Whip- Wonder Bread sandwich of death). Beyonce- you didn't like the guy you were dating. He was mean. He stole your honey. And so you killed him. It's ok, I get it- I like honey too. But killing the whole café? That is slightly extreme. But then again Lady Gaga was jailed in stiletto heaven and Beyoncé is just fierce. They clearly had their reasons.

And that reason was to dance! 7:43- Beyoncé and Lady Gaga commemorate the occasion the only way they know how: dancing in unison while wearing promiscuous red white and patriotic blues with some of the backup dancers they felt they didn't need to kill. How else could you have a celebratory choreographed group dance if you killed everyone? This is forethought. It might work against their usage of the insanity defense in a court of law, but it sure looks cool. Are they celebrating Beyoncés newly found freedom from her man? The countless lives they just took? The fact that Lady Gaga really enjoys dressing up as Bret Michaels? All of the above? Probably.

The end is an ode to Thelma & Louise- two women against the world. Driving in a car called the "Pussy Wagon." (Ok, so some *minor* liberties taken with the plot.)

The whole video has many an hómage to different pop culture items. The Madonna look at 2:47, the Quentin Tarantino cartoon appeal at 5:54. But the whole video, while looking really cool and allowing Lady Gaga to wear different elaborate Telephone-inspired hair pieces, just does not jive with the actual lyrics of the song. The ending, a full 9 minutes and 32 seconds later, cautions us that this is a tale "To be continued." Thus we can only watch, speculate, and wait for the next installment of the not-hyped-at-all Lady Gaga-Beyoncé partnership. And wonder why they counted in German to three at the end.

08 March, 2010

Sweet sweet sunlight

When the sun finally strikes Massachusetts it's as though the state awakens from a deep, cold sleep. It's the kind of sun that comes out reeking of spring breezes, declaring itself here by shouting it from rooftops all across the land.  (...Or so I picture it, anyway.)

This weekend the thermometer timidly peeked over fifty degrees fahrenheit and Boston became a different city. A different, beautiful, alive city. People could be seen stepping timidly out from the shadows of buildings, blinking into the bright light of the forgotten sun's rays. What was that great shining warm orb in the sky? ...The devil?

Many, like me, shook off their winter jackets and meandered around town happily in a carefree, sun-absorbing, vitamin D gorging kind of daze. In parks and along the esplanade people could be seen showing off their bare arms and legs, skin that shown translucent and pale against the brightness of the day. It was the kind of weather that makes it easy to forget the days, not even two weeks old now, when flurries batted against faces and snow turned brown against the sidewalks. And forgetting that feeling is a beautiful, magical, wonderful thing.

While everyone seems to be a bit taken aback by the wonder of actual warmth outside the call of life was far too strong to ignore. Everywhere little kids could be heard shrieking with joy while running away from parents, streaks of energy and bright clothes under that white light.

The spring makes me feel a little more alive and much more poetic. The days seem a little bit more sparkly and there is reason to celebrate in almost every activity that involves the outdoors. (Even taking out the trash. That says a lot.)

In honor of this gift of pseudo-spring weather this first full week of March I celebrated by being among those few brave souls caught stripping off their winter layers in favor of skimpier shirts and sleeves. My friend Lela and I spent a few lazy hours lounging over a dock normally inhabited by snow or geese, season-dependent. Being on the water was liberating. We continually convinced ourselves that 55 degrees was balmy, practically a Bahama breeze, and thus we remained outside 'til nearly the last light of the sun waned. And Lela and I, like every one of those other few brave souls, caught that first, wonderful springtime cold. It is a small price to pay for the awakening of one's mind, body and soul. I would do it again, I tell you! But weather is funny in the way that it is definitely affected by psychology. In the fall 55 degrees is a red flag for long jeans and sweaters. But give those same temperatures to Bostonians in March and the result is shorts, tee shirts, and even a daring bikini top. I think most of your perspective of the things around you depend on what your frame of reference is. Food for thought.

It's days like this that I wake up, as my mom would say, with a song in my heart. So how do I celebrate? By blasting my roommate's incredible stereo system with a song that fully acknowledges my gratitude of the coming spring. Just like the Mayans did. Good morning, Cambridge Street, here's some motown! (There's practically a law against not liking Stevie Wonder.) Though this weekend my neighbors didn't particularly rejoice with my humble offering (they tried to drown out my music with their weekly ritual of floor waxing, a terrible tribute indeed) I like to think that act of spring cleaning was their own simple offering to the sun gods and to the arrival of spring.

The pictures are taken amid such springtime festivities: breaking out sunglasses for the purpose of looking cool, and my personal favorite- drawing with chalk on sidewalks. As a nanny extraordinaire I have been putting my college-educated art and science skills to work, demonstrating both artistic shading as well as many different planets of the solar system to my two mildly interested nephews. (Quinn told me I did a very good job, which I took to heart.) Jupiter has an proportionately sized great red spot, and it never hurts to give Pluto some much-needed representation. When I was their age, Pluto was a planet. Never forget. Viva el sol!

04 March, 2010

Adults Listen to Music, Too

In less than a week I will be celebrating my 23rd birthday. As my family likes to remind me, I will now be in my "mid-20s." That sounds important, knowledgeable... old. Allegedly this birthday marks my entrance in real adulthood, but since I like to think that adulthood is most likely a state of mind and measured by mentality and maturity level I probably top out somewhere around 17.

If I embodied the real aspects of adulthood (ie, not breaking any and all technology around me long enough to keep a functioning iPod) the following songs would be my adulthood jams. Because adults like to listen to music too, kids. I know these things, as I am now (almost) in my mid-twenties. An adult.

Vampire Weekend- Cousins
Vampire Weekend performed a concert at college during my sophomore year. I was studying for a midterm in the library. My life has not been the same since. If I did the "right" thing, why does it feel so wrong mom?
Anyway, Cousins. This came on four times a day everyday while working in my lab at the aquarium.  And I still love it. That says something about a song. A really good something. Take home the life lesson here, kids- when in doubt? Ditch the work, enjoy to the concert.

The Books- Don't Even Sing About It
Excellent music to zone out to, to do work to, to stretch to, to escape the world a little while. Bonus: I got them from my brother in law and loved them heart and soul. A few weeks later I discovered that they were from my neck of the woods. Hometown pride!

Yeasayer- Strange Reunions
Off their latest album, Odd Blood. Yeasayer is the electronica I never knew I always wanted.

Jay Z- We On to the Next One
DoubleD told me that she likes the idea that "on to the next one" can be almost anything. On to the next... bar? Lover? Life experience? Who knows, who cares. I am inspired regardless. On to the next song.

the Kooks- Seaside
Though the waters around Boston are frozen approximately 7 months of the year, I still like the idea that, one day, I will be seaside, singing and falling in love just like the Kooks wanted.

Passion Pit- Sleepyhead
Oh yes. Just yes. Upbeat and synth-heavy giant drug references are a good foundation for a solid song. This holds true from the 70s to today.

Sufjan Stevens- Jacksonville
Sufjan Stevens is the soulful-est geeky white boy I have ever heard (aside from Jason Mraz. J'tadore.) True story: I once listened to this song on repeat for an entire 2 and a half hour flight. Supplemental true fact of previously mentioned true story: it was last week.

Darlingside- Surround
String alternative rock band? Yes, it is as intriguing as it sounds. Imagine Emerson Hart's voice from Tonic mixed with a violin intro, unexpected melodies, some pretty beautiful harmony and a dash of the band Parachute with a lot more oomph. Bonus points: they got their start at my college. Hometown pride!

Delta Spirit- Ode to Sunshine
Sometimes you just need a little "screw the world, it will all be alright" kind of mentality. Delta Spirit delivers. This song makes me feel jaded and cool.

the Black Ghosts- Full Moon
Melodic, haunting, and just generally a wonderful song to listen to while traveling if you're hoping for that added edge of "wandering." Don't let the fact that it was the opening song of Twilight diminish its greatness.

Lady Gaga- Paparazzi (Acoustic)
A song list would not be complete without a Lady Gaga nod. The Lady is singing Paparazzi without the aid of any production or editing while playing piano effortlessly and sipping a cup of tea all bedecked in a crazy costume. For anyone else it might look silly.
 Though to be honest I shouldn't be continually surprised that she sounds so good live. You know why? Because when you think about it singing live is actually just... singing. So those that can't sing live (coughtaylorswiftcough)... well. You just draw your own conclusions.

Steve Winwood- I'm Not Drowning
Steve Winwood could sing about plywood and I'd be moved. (See what I did there?) Ever need a song for the moment in your life when you realize you need a change? That you may not be soaring with the eagles, but you're not scraping rock bottom either? Steve Winwood's knows. He's been there. And he was 15 when he was signed to a label and had to get parental signatures to go on tour. What are you doing with your life?

02 March, 2010

Egress? Is that like a bird?

Location Seen: On the stairwell of an indoor parking lot, downtown Boston. Do only people studying for the SAT get the advantage of being saved by an emergency exit? Who knew fire exits could be intellectualized. Or... why?

Jon sent me this quote in response to this post from Terry Pratchett's "Small Gods." It fits.

"Words are the litmus paper of the minds. If you find yourself in the power of someone who will use the word "commence" in cold blood, go somewhere else very quickly. But if they say "Enter", don't stop to pack."

01 March, 2010

Lyrical Analysis: Taylor Swift's "Love Story"

Taylor Swift is America's sweetheart. She's the blonde-bobbed, teenaged, country, pop-prodigy that has swept the Country Music Awards, the Grammys, and countless MTV awards. She even writes her own material. She's a Hollywood dream come true. At first a misunderstood, overly-dramatizing, clique-hating, outcast, Swift rose to triumphant fame in 2006 with her self-titled debut album. Off that debut come the chart toppers Love Story, You Belong With Me, and Tear Drops On My Guitar. Swift is quoted as saying "My goal is to never write songs that my fans can't relate to." Since her music is geared towards the youngish, jaded-yet-idealistic, needing-to-be-heard female demographic (me?), let's look at the lyrics.

Taylor Swift's "Love Story"
We were both young when I first saw you/ I close my eyes, and the flashback starts
I'm standing there/ On the balcony in summer air

Who do you know that has a balcony? Especially as a teen. Already Taylor Swift is not "speaking for me." But maybe it's a southern thing. Still keeping an open mind...

I see the lights, see the party, the ballgowns/ See you make your way through the crowd,
And say, "Hello"/ Little did I know

Parties with ballgowns in high school? Jealous. And how very Jerry MacGuire, he totally had her at "hello."

That you were Romeo/ You were throwing pebbles,
And my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet."
And I was crying on the staircase/ Begging you, "Please don't go".

Of course it can't just be a guy that she loves, her young teenagéd love has to be painted in the likeness of Romeo. Fallible, suicidal Romeo.

I understand that girls (high school girls especially) are prone to draw upon tragic figures, like Juliet, when they feel slighted by love and circumstance. But it still irks me, especially in song form. You know why? Because a) Romeo and Juliet were supposed to be 13. 13! Taylor- you're young, but you ain't that young. And b) because of a combination of wacky hijinks and terrible miscommunication, Romeo and Juliet end up committing a double suicide. Call me crazy, but I'm not sure that that whole imagery is what Taylor is trying to paint for us. At least, one hopes.

While I don't recall Romeo throwing pebbles at Juliet's window, she does seem to be stretching the "Romeo & Juliet" metaphor to include more colorful imagery of things that might happen when you find yourself in a forbidden love. Guess I can't really hate on that. At least it appears like she's using her creative faculties. And Taylor did say that she had a balcony in the opening of the song, so it could feasibly have glass windows with which to have your lover throw pebbles against. She seems to have at the very least skimmed the book by ol' whatshisface, so I'll go along with the bigger metaphor. Sure, why not. Pebbles.

What I really want to know is why the boyfriend was excommunicated from "Juliet's" house. What kind of a crime would a teenager have to commit nowadays to be exiled from his girlfriend's house? What (reasonably) could have happened: cheated on a test; went to a party on the wrong side of the tracks; is simply a "bad seed". Vehicular manslaughter? Drugs in Mexico? 'What could have possibly happened?' Swift causes me to ask myself. Tragically, she never does get that far as to actually explaining the boy's troubled past. Maybe she forgot. Or maybe she simply figured that it wasn't an important part of the story to let the listener in on the background info. But it is important, Taylor, it is! Without any context, why should I care about your metaphors? I care; I do. I'm your target demographic! I just merely want to know why I should care, too.

Overt metaphor usage in Swift's "Love Story" for the whole Romeo/Juliet thing: 1

And I said, "Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone./ I'll be waiting, all that's left to do is run.
You be the prince, and I'll be the princess,/ It's a love story, baby, just say, 'yes'."

If you follow Shakespeare's logic, unrealistic expectations will only end in double suicide. Take heed, young Taylor. Also important, princes and princesses are an entirely different metaphor from Romeo and Juliet. Most princes and princesses had arranged marriages that were intended to unite kingdoms and promote royal agendas. Yes, now there's a love story to base your life around.

Overt metaphor usage: 2 (Princes and Princesses)

So I sneak out to the garden to see you,/ We keep quiet, 'cause we're dead if he knew,
So close your eyes,/ Escape this town for a little while.

Boy, wanting to escape the town because of a forbidden love and because no one understands you. Un. Der. Stood. As I can't really escape my own city by closing my eyes (and I don't have a garden, le sigh), perhaps I'm not the target demographic this song is pandering to in this part, but I can acknowledge that younger females have felt and will continue to feel this way throughout time. So while not worthy of the discriminating stamp of Flynn-deemed lyrical gold, it's not that bad, really.

Overt metaphor usage: 3. (They're dead if he knew, but would they really be dead? Literally slain? Probs not, Taytay.)

'Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter,
And my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet."/ But you were everything to me,
Begging you, "Please don't go".

Overt metaphor usage: 4.5 (erroneous Scarlett Letter reference = 1.5 penalty.)

I may not have been the happiest with the Romeo and Juliet metaphor, but those emotions feel like puppy love compared to how I feel about the Scarlett Letter reference. Starcrossed lovers- fine. Ok. You're a teenage girl. But has the girl, or any person in her family or friend circle, even her staff for that matter, ever read the Scarlett Letter?

Let's review: the Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Protagonist Hester Prynne committed adultery and then carried the resulting child while being marred by an outcast reputation and trying to repent for her sins. Hawthorne sure enjoyed himself a good love story.

It's not just the fact that the whole Scarlett Letter thing was just a completely ill-used metaphor, it is the idea that it written explicitly to be an interchangeable allusion with the Romeo and Juliet and prince/princesses lyrics. My IQ, it rolls along the floor, slowly, away from me.

"And I said, "Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone./ I'll be waiting, all that's left to do is run.
You be the prince, and I'll be the princess,/ It's a love story, baby, just say, 'yes'."

"Romeo, save me, they're trying to tell me how to feel./ This love is difficult, but it's real.
Don't be afraid, we'll make it of this mess,/ It's a love story, baby, just say, 'yes'."

Ah, a Juliet/princess/Hester Prynne in need of saving. How refreshingly original.

Well, I got tired of waiting,/ Wondering if you were ever coming around.
My faith in you was fading,/ When I met you on the outskirts of town.

Isn't true love supposed to be, I dunno... fade-proof? You got tired of waiting, you got bored? Maybe, just maybe, perhaps, it might not be true love. Just saying. Perhaps a Romeo and Juliet kind of love though, but we'll never really know because it was so short lived. Because they died, Taylor.

And I said, "Romeo, save me, I've been feeling so alone./ I keep waiting for you, but you never come.
Is this in my head,/ I don't know what to think,"

You knelt to the ground,/ And pulled out a ring and said,
"Marry me, Juliet, you'll never have to be alone./ I love you, and that's all I really know.
I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress,/ It's a love story, baby just say yes."

Marriage? At 17? Boy, that escalated quickly. As a listener, my concerns changed gears from not knowing what happened to banish the boyfriend, to wonder what on earth could have possibly changed with the dad. For one to go from a banishéd level to marriage requiring parental consent because you're underage is... well, I wouldn't call that a small change. Is the last part all one big metaphor? Who knows. I'm confused enough as it is.

"We were both young when I first saw you..."

Aw. You're still kinda young, but ok: you were inarguably younger.

So, Taylor Swift's a "Love Story": a big ol' barrel of clichés rolled up in a small hill devoid of all background or context. Served with a side of literary allusions, undercooked. But maybe it will have the literary awakening effect of the Stephanie Meyer Twilight series, where book publishers started marking Brönte's Wuthering Heights as Edward & Bella's favorite book. If it gets more people to read the classics, then I'm all for it. Maybe then all those other listeners will be able to understand the rage I feel when I hear that Scarlett Letter line.