27 April, 2010

Lyrical Analysis: Rihanna's "Rude Boy"

Lyrical analyses are a great way to pass the time on the commuter rail (or as the cool kids call it, the crail). Lately I've been venturing into a musical genre that is characterized by driving dance beats, prominent musical break numbers, and mostly nonsensical lyrics. No, not High School Musical. (Jess- looking at you.) I'm speaking, of course, of the songs that call the top 10 countdown their home. This is music that has been gifted to me by my flatmate and all-around hip music-person, RJ.

The best of these artists, in terms of making time go quicker on the crail, is Barbados-born Rihanna. Rihanna is the girl that moved to the States to pursue a record career when she was just 16 and sang that classic song about rain gear. She has had no less than eleven top-ten Billboard hits in her relatively young 5-year career, which, for a 22 year old, is not just a little bit impressive (and most likely a major contributor to her 'tude).

Rihanna's label, Island Def Jam, released her most recent album in 2009. They named it "Rated R" (Get it? ...Ha.) Off that album comes the recent hit that has been flirting with the number one slot on the Billboard Hot 100, "Rude Boy." Some backstory: a 'rude boy' is an affectionate slang term for juvenile delinquents, originating in Jamaica in the 1960s.

I first heard the song "Rude Boy" in a bar downtown, when everyone immediately flocked to the dance floor. So strong is the power of Rihanna. But as with most top 40 (coughKe$hacough), to be a hit on a dance floor relies less on what the song is saying and more on the rhythm behind it. But even acknowledging that some (...a lot) of pop music today avoids silly little things like lyrical content, I was still a bit taken aback with "Rude Boy." There's an excessive amount of repetition, yes, but mostly it was the feeling that listening to this song was like subjective myself to narrative porn, (but narrative porn set to a compelling reggae-inspired beat, which clearly has a large market in the states).

Keep in mind that this is a Billboard hit song. Therefore, these lyrics are probably being sung by twelve year olds the nation, nay- the world, over. Is it catchy? Of course it's catchy, it's a song by Rihanna, the woman who could make you want to dance to a song about domestic abuse, "Breaking Dishes." Should this song be heard by anyone under the state-dependent age that one can legally consent to sexual relations? Survey says: no. Even with today's relaxed attitude towards sex, the lyrics to "Rude Boy"make it the porno of the mainstream pop world. I liken it to Ke$ha's "song," "Blah Blah Blah" where she uses the line, "Don't be a little bitch with your chit-chat, just show me where your dick's at." Aw, warm and fuzzy feelings all over. Yay American pop.

Back to Rihanna's "Rude Boy." The beginning of the song starts with the chorus, which, if you miss it, is played another 8 times. You have time.

Rihanna's "Rude Boy"
Come here, rude boy, boy; can you get it up?/ Come here rude boy, boy; is you big enough?
Take it, take it baby, baby/ Take it, take it; love me, love me [x2] 

There are few things in the world that bug me more than improper verb conjugation in songs. You're taking the time to tell me a story, can't you take the time to make sure the language checks out, too? Here, the intentional use of the second person usage of "to be" comes in the lyric, "is you big enough?" Not only is Rihanna trying to demonstrate her connection to the cool kids by deliberately casting away grammar rules, she is also asking an entirely personal question. At first blush the line could be an innuendo that could refer to her sexual partner's stature, moral high ground, or, ahem, endowment. But the phrase is prefaced by "come here, rude boy: can you get it up?" Can you get up your... posture? Moral aptitude? I don't think so. So we, the listeners, are led to believe it's the third option, the biological endowment of Rihanna's sexual partner. Is there no mystery left in the world, Ri-Ri?

Also, I thought I pretty much understood the mechanics of sex. But the line "take it, take it," when sung by a girl, causes me to pause.

Tonight I'ma let you be the captain/ Tonight I'ma let you do your thing, yeah
Tonight I'ma let you be a rider/ Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up babe
Tonight I'ma let it be fire/ Tonight I'ma let you take me higher
Tonight, baby, we could get it on, yeah, we could get it on, yeah 

Oh, he gets to be a captain! That's exciting. Then he gets to "do [his] thing," (which I'm gathering is to "get it up"?) You have to be a pretty sexy person (and/or *Nsync) to sing the lines "Giddy-up" three times in a row and still be considered cool. (Anyone? Bueller?) I like that Rihanna uses the conditional, "tonight, baby, we could get it on," though after she just commanded him to "get it up," I'm not fully convinced there's any doubt left about what could be happening later. She's not so full of smoke and mirrors, that Rihanna.

Do you like it?/ Boy, I want, want, want whatchu want, want, want
Give it to me, baby like boom, boom, boom/ What I want, want, want is what you want, want, want
Nah nah-ah

Ho hum, typical pop song about sex. Though I haven't heard the words "boom boom boom" in a song since the Vengaboys, and it makes me giggle. Aside from the stereotypical lecherous non-english speaking men, does anyone actually say "boom boom boom?" C'mon, Rihanna, there have to be cuter allusions out there. Know your demographic.

Come here, rude boy, boy, can you get it up?
Come here, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?
Take it, take it, baby, baby, take it, take it, love me, love me [x2]

Tonight I'ma give it to ya harder/ Tonight I'ma turn ya body out
Relax; let me do it how I wanna/ If you got it I need it and I'ma put it down
Buckle up; I'ma give it to ya stronger/ Hands up; we could go a little longer
Tonight I'ma get a little crazy, get a little crazy, baby 

Boy, but that is explicit. If you were to judge Rihanna's sexual preferences only by the lyrics in this song, here's a summary of what she likes so far: pretending to be a horse ("giddy-up"), safety ("buckle up"), commanding others to do her bidding ("hands up," "come here," and "take it"), as well as sharing ("I'ma let you be the captain") and saying onomatopoeias ("boom"). So after this consideration, I ask you- Rihanna: super hot sex god? Or elementary schooler trapped in pop prodigy's body?

Like it?/ Boy, I want, want, want whatchu want, want, want
Give it to me, baby like boom, boom, boom/What I want, want, want is what you want, want, want
Nah nah-ah

Come here, rude boy, boy can you get it up?
Come here rude boy, boy is your big enough?
Take it, take it, baby, baby, take it, take it, love me, love me [x2]

I like the way you touch me there/ I like the way you pull my hair
Babe, if I don't feel it I ain't faking, no, no

I like when you tell me 'kiss you there'/ I like when you tell me 'move it there'
So giddy-up; time to get it up: you say you a rude boy: show me what you got now
Come here right now/ Take it, take it, baby, baby, take it, take it, love me, love me 

We are literally just listening to Rihanna sing about her impending sexual experiences. I like how I'm saying that as if it were a new thing in modern music, but really people- put this in a magazine and it's Playboy. (...'cause people read it for the articles.) Again, yay American pop.

The song ends in the [Chorus]
Come here, rude boy, boy, can you get it up?
Come here, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?
Take it, take it, baby, baby, take it, take it, love me, love me [x2]

Obviously, there is a lot of repetition in this song. But just how much repetition is there? As seen in the following chart, the nine most common words and phrases of "Rude Boy" are shown in descending order of occurrence.

Bet you weren't expecting "love me" to be the fourth largest contender of air space in the song. Here is the same breakdown in a pie graph.

Food for thought: there are about 522 words in "Rude Boy," depending on how you count combination words like "I'ma" and "giddy-up." (...one word?) Most of it is aggressively sexual. There are a few references to love, and the phrase "love me" was the fourth most common word/phrase of the song, repeated 17 times. This reference to love is a good way to divert the focus from the much more animalistic approach to desire, as seen in "take it," "i'ma give it to you harder," etc., etc. The word "boom" was used 6 times, about 6 times too many. Sadly, the phrase "giddy-up" was not used nearly as much as I had hoped it would be at the outset of the analysis. And I'm pretty sure the pie graph won't hold much water, but I know Georgie will like how it looks.

22 April, 2010

Surreality is a real word because Chel says so

There have been a few times in the past couple of months when an ominous and powerful sense of surreality has come over me, a feeling that has caused me to ask myself, "No, but really. Really. This is my life now?"
Yesterday it became especially noticeable when I got hit in the face with a vuvuzela. A vuvuzela is a kind of blowing horn that is used at sporting events in South Africa. This vuvuzela was being swung by an enthusiastic toddler, one who was also trying to blow raspberries to the tune of Tom Cochrane's 1991 seminal hit, "Life is a Highway." The toddler then proceeded to pat me on the back and say he was "sowwy." Which was nice of him, I guess, but surreal all the same.

Example Two: when I was in a liquor store with some friends, I was entertaining the idea of a "splurge" by buying a bottle wine with the Barefoot label, instead of the usual Charles Shaw. That extra dollar could be used for laundry!

Or last night when, after the splurge, I didn't have enough quarters to wash my clothes in a traditional washer and dryer (oh, life); instead I did it by hand in the kitchen sink, MTV's classic 16 & Pregnant playing in the other room. Because, if I have to pay that much for cable, Comcast, I am going to get my money's worth. (And then who will be laughing?!) Perhaps this is not so much surreal as unfortunate, but it is definitely telling.

It's after events like those mentioned above when I boggle at the fact that these are the events that now occupy my days. For some reason, the events that fill up the lives of people in their "twenties" on television seem rather different than what I'm currently experiencing. (Though, happily, I do finally look old enough to belong on the types of shows that are being targeted at teens because I am now the same age as the actors portraying them. Does that mean that my real-life thirties will actually look more like my twenties in tv years? Will I have to turn fifty before I appreciate CougarTown [if ever]?  Is television perpetually just a decade ahead of real life? I digress.)

Last weekend I peered at the piece of paper some call my "college degree," my name all nice and scripty, as well as some elegant latin that I don't understand. The "degree" was hanging on the wall in my parent's house, and it looked very imposing and awfully pretty, sitting up there all important-like like it meant something. And such a nice frame, too! Though I've yet to discern it's true purpose in my life, maybe it will be worth more in time, like a fine wine. That's what people keep saying to me, anyway. But I wouldn't really know, as I'm pretty sure Three Buck Chuck doesn't follow the normal vineyard aging process, and that's my main frame of reference these days.

People also have told me that personality is the winning factor in job interviews. So, on recommendation from monster.com, I have made a list. But instead of the traditional list of "qualifications," I've noted some stories that have made a lasting impression on me, and that (maybe) could be used as potential ice-breakers and charming anecdotes to secure the high-paying, jet-setting job of my dreams. This is a way more interesting list.

Things that set me apart from the crowd of job-hungry applicants/ reasons I am awesome:
  • At my peak, I could hula hoop upwards of 5 hoops at one time. (My peak may or may not have been 4th grade.) 
  • With an unbelievable amount of luck and star-alignment, I won the Western Massachusetts Free-Throw Competition and a shiny trophy half my height in 7th grade. I then competed in the state of Massachusetts Free-Throw Contest, and lost. Badly.
  • I was a blacksmith one year in college, and made enough sculpted metal bottle openers to supply a small, drunken army. 
  • I can play the piano, guitar, alto sax, trombone, flute, drums, and violin all decently well, due to amazingly supportive parents and, most likely, undiagnosed childhood ADD.
  • I was once a promotions model at a historical museum. They paid me for use of my photographic likeness in non-alcoholic beer and mixed nuts.
  • I lived on a boat for 4 weeks, clocking in a personal record of being seasick for 23 hours straight. If you don't think you can be seasick while you are sleeping, you are wrong.
  • I once swam with sharks in the Bahamas, but found out only after my friends and I had gone cliff-jumping onto a deeper local reef. A local teacher, who was also swimming, told us about the sharks once we had already jumped in the water. The cliff was 20 feet high. The man was laughing.  
  • Under the duress of the "double dog dare," I have swum nudely in the Northern Atlantic, Southern Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf, and Lake Michigan. (Why isn't swum a word? It is fantastic.)
  • As is the case of many other idealistic young persons, I have written a novel. I like to tell people that the concept is "a modern take on "The Sun Also Rises," but after three failed attempts to finish that book, I'm not really sure if this is the case. 
  • I can identify popular songs throughout the decades after just 5 seconds of listening with a deadly 89% accuracy, according to Sporcle.com. The last one won't really help me secure a job, but it will make me a highly entertaining travel partner, and that's what really counts.

17 April, 2010

The Food Revolution & KFC's Double Down

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Know what I'd like to eat with my meat? More meat." Kentucky Fried Chicken has just the thing for you. But first, let's go back to two important food movements that have taken place this year.

A little over two months ago, on February 9th, 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched a movement that she has stated to be her White House Legacy, the "Let's Move" campaign. Let's Move encourages better food education for parents and children, promotes physical activity in kid's daily lives, and importantly wants to ensure healthier food options in school cafeterias across America.

Also in February, activist and chef Jamie Oliver received the TED Prize at the TED convention in Longbeach, California. Oliver spoke on the pitfalls of American food culture and his desire to start "an all-out assault on our ignorance of food." Jamie, like the First Lady, is quickly building up support for his Food Revolution, helping many in America, especially kids, to start inquiring about where their food comes from and combating the very real epidemic of childhood obesity.

So, on April 12th 2010, two months after these two fairly large social movements hit the general public, KFC decided to unleash their newest diabolical creation, the "Double Down."

KFC's the Double Down

Just what is a Double Down?
It's a sandwich, but a sandwich that gets rid of that pesky, carb-loaded bread, instead replacing it with two pieces of breaded and fried (or grilled) chicken. Its purpose is to have you "taste the unHungry side of KFC." Between the layers are the Colonel's"secret sauce" (why so secret, colonel?), two types of cheese, and bacon. Because if you've already made to choice to eat fried chicken, what harm is a little bacon going to do?

The nutrition of the Double Down
Topping off at 53 grams of protein, the Double Down contains 71% of an adult's daily recommended dose of sodium. It's being promoted as containing a shockingly low 540 calories, (which is practically a reasonable number for a single meal, calorie-wise. Not factoring in the french fries...) Compared to Burger King's a longtime staple the single Whopper, with 670 calories, the Double Down seems to be a slightly better choice. (Especially compared with the meat-packing wonder, the Triple Whopper, clocking in at 1160 calories = heart attack city.)

What's more, KFC does give the protein seeking diner an option of grilling the chicken instead of the deep fryer. While this change of fry to grill saves (shockingly only) 80 calories, it also unexpectedly adds in 50 more milligrams of sodium. The grilled (code word for "healthier") option has a total of 1430 milligrams of sodium, or 95.3% of one's daily recommended dose of sodium. The MayoClinic's website recommends not exceeding "the range of 1,500 and 2,400 milligrams (mg) a day for healthy adults" and to "keep in mind that the lower your sodium, the more beneficial effect on blood pressure." But what do they know?

KFC, for its part, does dedicate a page up on its website called "Keep It Balanced." Their Keep it Balanced statement:

"We believe eating sensibly, combined with appropriate exercise, is the best solution for a healthy lifestyle. KFC offers a variety of menu items for those that want lower fat, lower calorie choices, including Tender Roast and Honey BBQ Sandwiches, corn on the cob, BBQ baked beans and green beans."

For obvious reasons, the Double Down is not mentioned here (or how I like to think of it, the 'double the sodium, down for the count.') While this statement does seem like a considerate and healthfully-minded gesture, in this day and age it would be actually kind of shocking if they didn't have some sort of a balanced diet campaign. KFC's partnership with eFit4me.com, an online and customizable resource helping signed-up users to make healthy eating choices as well as get into shape, feels like a step in the right direction. Efit4me's mission statement says that their primary goals are to "educate our users on how to change their fitness and nutrition behaviors as they work toward achieving enhanced lifelong health and wellness." Here's a educational tip that you don't even have to sign up for: maybe try to not eat so much at KFC. And perhaps you should steer clear of the Double Down. Just saying.

The eFit4me and KFC cooperative comes across as mainly strategic PR backpedaling and efforts to avoid an legal persecution, such as Pelman v. McDonald's Corporation and whether McDonald's was legally responsible for teenager Ashley Pelman's health problems caused by her obesity and the family's history of eating at McDs.

It's not news that there are some Americans who can't afford or don't have the time to not make eating at fast food places like KFC, a McDonald's, a Burger King a regular occurrence. The Double Down's commercials show men in their 20s and 30s, so it is mostly clear that the "sandwich" is not being targeted at children, which is decently good news and not totally at odds with combating childhood obesity. But will some kids still order it? Probably.

There are many who will even seek out this sandwich just for its sheer novelty, like its predecessors of Angus Bacon Burger at McD's and BK's Bacon Double Cheeseburger. At the end of the day, KFC's newest promotion is not only a missed opportunity to saddle up with two movements that will be hugely influential in the next coming years but also a step backward in terms of securing a place in the shifting world of fast food options. And that's something that will have a long memory in the collective American consciousness, if Oliver and the First Lady have anything to say about it.

14 April, 2010

Lemon Laws

Genetics are a peculiar concept. Sometimes certain genetic combinations can come together in such a way that you get amazing results. Albert Einstein. Alessandra Ambrosio. This kid. But sometimes such a meeting of the genes can create unexpected results. How are parents to know what could possibly happen when they procreate? They don't. They just marry and hope for the best. Genes are a crap shoot, and some aren't as lucky as others.

I qualify for the latter category, as I am basically a lemon. You know how a car can look fine on the outside at a dealership, but if you buy it and take it home you discover that it has all these physical problems that weren't advertised? That's a lemon. I'm like that, but biological.

The whole lemon thing started to show when I was two with an eye condition opthamologist call "strabismus." Imagine a lazy eye. Now imagine it's exact opposite, an ocular muscle so powerful that it can totally counteract all the other muscles in the eye. Instead of one eye lolly-gagging around and staring at the periphery, a lá a fish, my left eye just kinda chills around staring inward at my nose. Like Groucho Marx. (But cuter?) And it's only my left eye. You know when that type of movement is useful? When you're an iguana. But when you're a human? You only see that stuff at circuses. (Albeit a very lame circus.)

Thus, growing up I avoided focusing on any object and all objects too close to my face, lest my "special" eye cross in. For the most part this tactic worked, but it also meant that I met with more than my share of doors, chairs, and small children who dared cross my blurry, unfocused path. Luckily with the passing of years, this eye trait only shows itself to the world when I am overtired and don't have enough energy to focus on not focusing. Weird? Perhaps. But people know how to handle someone with a lazy eye. They laugh appropriately. Since mine did unexpected things (Why only one eye? "Was I doing it on purpose?" Yes, because I just think it looks super cool) I usually just got a mixture between fascination and disgust. Disgust was not exactly a sentiment I was going for in middle school, especially as everyone else was getting their first kiss.

"Hey Em, want to go see that movie... ew nevermind, what's wrong with your eye?!"
"Nothing!!... love me?"

Thanks, parents. Hours of my life that I will never get back were spent fretting over my first kiss. (What if I forgot and try to actually look at him?!) In reality, my first kiss went over decently well, happening at a birthday party at my friend's backyard barn where I nearly choked on a twizzler. But that's a different story entirely.

Now, I love my parents. They are great. They fed me, attended all of my soccer games, put me through school, and still laugh at my jokes. (Because they are FUNNY.) And I am, for the most part, healthy and normal. Well, except for my jaw. But that isn't entirely the fault of the gene's of my parents.

If you didn't know, apparently there are repercussions to signing your signature on that little waiver that the hospital makes you sign before anyone performs any surgery (and one should always take the time to fully consider the consequences of such surgery). With my wisdom teeth surgery last spring, all four- the whole she-bang, I was one of the rare statistics of "people who have had bad things happen to them during surgery." PSA: Kids- it could happen to you. I lost the feeling on the right side of my jaw, lip, and tongue. As in, I lost all the feeling. Fun for poking yourself with sharp objects as a parlor trick? Definitely. (Also another characteristic of a pretty lame circus.) But except for the very real potential to drool on people when I'm not paying attention, it's not wholly bad. I did learn to chew food in a whole new way. I've read somewhere that doing old tasks in a new way is mentally stimulating. Would I have rather just rearranged my room? Maybe, but beggars can't always be choosers.

My friend TP mentioned my jaw to her professor (as any person would, I suppose) and he told her that the same thing had happened to him. (I'm not alone!) And that the feeling had even come back. (There is hope!) ...after only 27 years. So. There's that.

So I am a cross-eyed, drooling lemon. But I am a healthy cross-eyed, drooling lemon. And my mom loves me. Because she has to. And will likely be the only comment on this post. Hi, Mom! I don't really curse your genes.

...Most days.

Editors note: I realize that these two things alone do not a lemon make. I just didn't want to go on and on about my own ailments. But since some believe this to be whining (coughDancough), I will continue on and prove the lemon-ness. For example, I am also mildly allergic to most things under the sun. Not anaphylactic shock allergic, but just an ever-present undercurrent of allergic reactions to most things on God's green earth. So, that's cool. Most preservatives give me migraines, even the ones in the medicine that is supposed to alleviate migraines. I'm even nauseously allergic to the smell of peppermint, the very thing that is supposed to soothe upset stomachs. I can induce an asthma attack after only one dance to a Lady Gaga song. (Rah rah oh la wheeze... wheeze.) My hearing is pretty wonky from the years of ear infections, infections that can easily be traced back to a maybe not so incredibly hearty gene pool; my left ear is shot in terms of the upper and lower register. I can't remember anything short term, but the daily happenings of hollywood stars is something that always seems to stick. I also have no feeling in my left pinky toe. There now, Dan, I feel much better.

I think.

09 April, 2010

Roaches in the Keyboard

Yesterday, as per my Wednesday schedule, I went into the aquarium to work. I sat behind the only computer in the Freshwater area, an old beat-up Dell stashed behind-the-scenes. The Freshwater area houses piranhas, turtles, carp, anacondas, and all your riverine aquatic creatures and/or charismatic Amazonian megafauna. Freshwater has a very clubhouse feel: there are a lot of wooden planks, plants, and wet floors from some overflowing tanks. The air hangs heavy and damp due to the continual spray of "rainwater" that drips down to the trees and bushes in the exhibits. It took a little while for me to be able to say goodbye to my old department and the sweet, sweet Jellies. But now, Freshwater is my own little personal tropical rainforest.

Usually at work my routine is to turn on some tunes and type 'til my heart's content, pumps and water-sprays clicking on in the background and providing perfect ambient noise. However, after lunch yesterday the other intern Jimmy was "doing work" at the computer (checking his fantasy baseball roster), so I took the opportunity to take a short break.

It was late afternoon. I was tired. As he typed, I zoned out by staring into the space, gazing without seeing towards the computer area. After a few minutes of quiet contemplation, a movement caught my attention. There, underneath the Enter key on the keyboard, a small pair of antennae were poking out. They tentatively scanned the surface of the table. The antennae were long, maybe three quarters of an inch. They felt around the keyboard and, suddenly frightened by Jimmy's tap tap tapping, popped back in from whence they came. Jimmy saw them, and then turned to me with an astoundingly nonchalant tone.

"Have you met the roaches yet? They live in the keyboard. I think Marion named some of them."

Jimmy pulled the little roach out by its long antennae and proceeded to walk over to the turtle tank, where a group of businesspeople were getting a walking tour of the exhibits in Freshwater. Jimmy tossed the roach into the tank and waited to see if the turtle would take it. The group barely acknowledged the action and he shrugged, walking back and hopping up to the computer.

"There's a whole family in here." Jimmy told me as he shook the keyboard against the old wooden desk. Little bits of white fluff and black things, that I can only assume were roach poo, fell out from between the cracks in the keys. "The turtles love them."

This is what most days are like at this place. And, I'm assuming, most nonprofits. There's a whole slew of unusual characters, clad in severely unflattering khaki, who work together on so many large and unconventional projects that the little things don't even phase them.  After spending an hour siphoning out orange anaconda feces from the Amazon river exhibit, a couple of live baby roaches barely register.  The discovery of roaches living in one's keyboard becomes useful as potential fodder for the turtles and merely a gently amusing anecdote.

There are other interesting discoveries that happen here, too. The deep sea fish exhibit recently had to be shut down for reasons that bring me nothing but endless amusement. You see, the exhibit was veiled behind curtains that visitors had to walk through to view special deep sea fish. The fish are (were) phosphorescent and could only be found in the deep benthos of the ocean. To see them in all their colorful phosporescent glory, you would need near-complete darkness. Hence the curtain. Upon the discovery of a pair of panties in the deep-sea fishes exhibit, the higher ups had recently decided that the exhibit was a hazard. The panties' discovery prompted many to speculate about the exhibit's possible uses by other opportunistic sex fiends, and maybe even pedophiles, that could conceivably infiltrate the aquarium's unsuspecting and kid-friendly displays. This is a family institution. The pair of panties brought the ultimate end to the really cool (albeit dark) deep sea fishes exhibit. Damn you, horny youths.

In character-building news, have you ever walked by a person holding a clipboard in the street and looking at you with eyes that shine with hopeful enthusiasm? Did you then avoid any and all eye contact with said person and turn up the volume on your headphones instead? Congratulations, you are a terrible person. On Wednesday that clipboard-carrying person and was me. Me, desperately trying to get people to answer three painless questions for aquarium research. I was supposed to get 200. I got 24. Even after I switched to a more aggressive approach ("Non-committal survey! No purchase necessary! For the good of science and your children!"), the response was less than overwhelming.  Though brimming with the aforementioned hopeful enthusiasm, I got very few takers.

We, the clipboard carrying peoples of the United States, are good, hard-working samaritans. We have feelings. We just want to study the wealth and diversity of the local populace through simple, innocuous, and virtually painless question-and-responses, the results of which will likely support the greater good of all humanity! How dare you.

Nah, I'm just kidding. Besides being completely demoralized, it wasn't so bad. And when people weren't giving me and my clipboard a 20 foot berth, their responses (besides the No thank you's, I'm all goods, and so sorry's) were, at the very least, entertaining.

Sometimes I got lessons about different parts of speech.

"Hi! I'm doing research with the New Engl-"
"Got to go get back to working. Doing work... at work."

Ah, I see. Please go on about this "work."

Sometimes I got encouragement, without the added benefit of any actual data for my survey.

""Hi! I'm doing research with the New Engl-"
"Wish I could help you. Good luck getting people to talk! Perfect day for surveys."

Don't give me any false hope by engaging me in conversation, sir. You just crush my dreams.

Dude, I'm not going to lie: doing surveys is not something I'd wish even upon a frenemy. But on my commute home I walked past a "Save the Children" petitioner stationed a few blocks away from my apartment. I still felt an impulse to leave my headphones on and keep walking. I just wanted to get home; they had to understand that! But then I remembered with shame the feelings of inadequacy I developed from being rejected by nearly every working man, tourist, and Benjamin-Franklin impersonator alike.

So I made myself stop. And I chatted the guy up. I learned that this boy Jules, like me, had just graduated. That Jules, like me, wanted to make a positive impact in the world. That Jules, like me, abhorred asking people questions on the street. He hated the rejection. Amen, brother. We shared a moment and almost laughed together, reminding ourselves of the utter importance of the data we were collecting. And how much it all would mean, one day.

I want everyone to stop and take a moment to talk with that person on the street today. You know where they are. Remember, they could be just like you. And they probably need more than a little bit of encouragement right about now. Maybe you should bring a beer. And mention the roach story; it was a good ice-breaker for me and Jules.

06 April, 2010

Innovation meets indie folk

If anyone is in the Berkshires this Friday, I totally objectively, not in any way biased at all recommend that you go catch this show. Coincidentally, I may have written an article about them for the Berkshire Eagle. The world works in mysterious ways.

Innovation meets indie folk
Band and singer with Berkshire roots to play Mission

By Emily Flynn
Special to The Eagle

PITTSFIELD - "We've got a cool mix of instruments that allows us to push boundaries," said Auyon Mukharji. " We'll put some mandolin and sixstringed cello-violin duets all in the middle of a hard- hitting rock song. There's lot of flexibility, and we're using it to push how we're looking at music."

Darlingside is a string- rock quintet based out of Northampton. Caitlin Canty is a Vermont- raised singer- songwriter who has found new roots in New York City. Together, the joint tour-de-force will be playing at Mission Bar and Tapas in Pittsfield on Thursday, April 8.

"There's so many different types of songs and so much collaboration. Our shows are cool because you get good variety; singer-songwriter performances and a string rock show, with a ton of collaboration between," said Canty.

She has been compared to artists Patty Griffin and Norah Jones and says that her sound is mellow, singer-songwriter folk with acoustic guitar. Others have called her voice "maple sugar on snow," a nod to her Northeast roots and sweet, pure vocals.

"They've brought so much to my music," says Canty, praising Darlingside's incorporation of non-traditional instruments and upbeat rock influence.

Darlingside and Canty have been collaborating in concerts since November of 2009. "Darlingside [has] some of the best voices I've ever heard and gorgeous songs. Their electric cello and string-driven sound is full of life and energy. They are brilliant," she said.

Darlingside is made up of five multi- talented 20- somethings: Auyon Mukharji, Don Mitchell, Sam Kapala, David Senft, and Harris Paseltiner. Their indie rock sound, they say, is "characterized by elegantly crafted cello-violin duets, soaring harmonies, catchy hooks and compelling beats." Each band member comes from a background that impacts his music, from Mitchell's training as a classical vocalist to Kapala's experience with celtic and jazz. Between them, the members of Darlingside play the violin, guitar, mandolin, cello, keys, drums, bass, and the saz, a type of Turkish lute that Mukharji picked up last year when he was living in Istanbul.

The band met as undergraduates at Williams College while enrolled in local folk singer-songwriter Bernice Lewis's winter study course, "Contemporary American Singer-Songwriter." Lewis called them "a powerhouse of vocal, instrumental, songwriting, and performing talent."

Canty also studied with Lewis while at Williams. She has a wide range of influences, from the bluesy Keb Mo' and Ray LaMontagne to more folkminded Allison Krauss and Lyle Lovett, with Led Zeppelin thrown in. She took a headfirst plunge into music when she quit her day job in May of 2009. She had worked behind-the-scenes in music production and background vocals before moving into sustainability consulting, all the while keeping her own music on the side.

"It made me miserable, not playing music. So I felt, 'it's all or nothing.' I'll make the leap," she said.
She has been well-received ever since and recently, with Darlingside, performed at the Paramount Theater in her hometown of Rutland, Vt., to raise money for the Haiti effort. Like Canty, Darlingside also made the executive decision to focus on music. They converted their basement to a studio, Oxbow Records, and use professional recording equipment to record and produce songs. There they also recorded and produced Canty's latest album, "Neon Streets," which will be available May 6. Canty's previous album, "Green," was released independently in 2007 and is available on iTunes.

Darlingside views being in the band as a full-time commitment.

"It's like running a startup," said Mukharji. "We all have our own jobs besides the music." In addition to writing and recording their own music, the band handles the production, booking, show promotion, and even merchandising to help cater to all current and future fans.

"There's always music in the house," said cellist Harris Paseltiner. "There will be people downstairs playing around, upstairs harmonizing, or outside sitting and playing banjo by the banks of the river. It's like a songwriters' retreat."

Like many as-of-yet unsigned artists, Darlingside and Canty utilize new media, like Myspace and Facebook, to build a grassroots fan-base. Darlingside has one song available for download on their website, the track "Surround." They plan on releasing live tracks that were recorded live at their Paramount Theater performance in Rutland through their Oxbow records in the coming months.

"It's a party, that's for sure. Living with a bunch of best friends, doing what we love to do," Paseltiner said. "And it's absolute treat to be working with Caitlin."

05 April, 2010

Lessons from our youths

Alcohol does interesting things to people.

On Thursdays I take the commuter rail from the North Shore to the big city, and am typically one of the only poor souls traveling inbound. But it's nice and quiet, and I use that time to call my family and friends, take a quick power nap, access the free wifi (whee! public transportation!) and all that fun stuff I don't normally get a chance to do (besides accessing the internets. I do that constantly.) Last week there was one other couple on the train, seated a few seats away from my middle of the train perch (for it's the most spacious, psychologically).

So my knowledge of the french language is limited. I can say most of the bare minimum language requirements: hello, goodbye, let's go, and "je suis anana," what my older sister taught me to say before a school field trip in high school.  (Literally, "I am a pineapple." Family is the best.) Though I lack a definite fluency with the French language, there are certain nuances of any language that become apparent to even an untrained ear.  For instance, starting each sentence off with "Je suis" ("I am") is perhaps not the best way to demonstrate one's command of the French language. Apparently, this is not a deterrent for certain types of people. (Annoying people.)

"Je suis bien. Ça va?"
"Je suis fatigue. Ça va?"
(Laugh laugh laugh.)
"Je suis malade. Ça va?"
"Je suis desole."
(More raucous laughter.)
"Je suis prest."
"C'est bien!"
And so on, and so on.

For thirty whole minutes. It was sort of like listening to a parrot, but a parrot with less intelligence and way more alcohol. (But then again, I haven't met very many parrots in my life.) That was the key factor in their exchange, I discovered; the shared brown paper bag between them with, what I can only assume based on their content of their conversation, to be alcohol. It actually made me feel better to come to this realization, because I wasn't exactly grasping what was so uproariously funny about someone saying they were tired and sorry. And it's hard not to listen in when people are laughing so loudly. My curiosity got the best of me, but lesson learned. Alcohol: can make you seem pretentious and dumb, even if it's just from the point of view of that one lone girl judging you on the commuter rail.

In related news, there comes a point in any evening (or dance party, or bar mitzfah) when the most perfect end of the night drinking songs come on. Call on Me, by Eric Prydz. Don't stop believing, by Journey. Piano Man, by Billy Joel. Most anything by Cascada. Those kind of songs that have an catchy, easily learned, repetitive chorus that people can sing loud enough to forget the fact that they don't know the verse. You know, the good songs.

In college, the last call song of choice was Shout, by the Isley Brothers. It could be have been an iPod, it could have been a cover band, either way everyone kicking their heels up, throwing their hands up, throwing their heads back, and dancing. Especially towards the end of my junior year, going to a party on a warm spring weekend was sort of like attending a wedding. A wedding without the formal dress code and free cake, but with the addition of a freakish amount of twenty-somethings rhythmically flinging their bodies around like they were performing a tarentella. (I.e. an awesome wedding.)

The point I'm trying to make here, I think, is that faking French conversation while drinking during the daylight hours on a commuter rail? Pretentious. Drinking and dancing around to Shout with a ton of friends? Most awesome.

In sum (and Ale's words) just carp the diem and dance. There it is, your lesson of the week. One that we should have learned in kindergarten. Minus the drinking.

01 April, 2010


Martenitsa is a tradition that my friend Tanya, born in Bulgaria, keeps alive in the States through the handing out of red and white yarn bracelets. The story goes that one is supposed to wear the bracelet until they see the first sign of spring, a stork. As storks are relatively few and far between on the North American continent, the tradition has been modified to include the act of viewing a first sign of spring, typically a blooming plant or tree.

Every spring for the past couple of years my goal is to try to keep it on as long as possible. (Much to the chagrin of Tanya and her cultural traditions.) This is apparently against the Martenitsa spirit. It's hard for me to voluntarily remove it once she has tied it onto my wrist. I love my bracelet.

So this morning, on an early walk past the Commons, I (begrudgingly) acknowledged, after the tenth blooming tree I passed, that it was finally time for me and my bracelet to part ways and to usher in the coming spring by tying it to a blooming tree.

I like to think that I choose the prettiest blooming tree in Boston Commons. Happy spring, e'rybody! Celebrate accordingly.