Friday, February 29, 2008

new music!

I just bought three cds as though I were a "Money Making Money Maker That Makes Money"*.

Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Rogue Wave - Asleep at Heaven's Gate

*Please don't google this song. It will make your ears bleed.

Kanye West's "The Glory"

I'm kind of over Kanye West as a solo artist. It's just hard to listen to his polished, overly produced sound. My feeling with Kanye is that he's much better when he's preaching than when he's ballin'. Ya know what I'm sayin'? For example, "Heard 'Em Say" and "Roses" are much better songs than "Touch the Sky".

However, I'm inspired to listen to his latest album, due to this lyric in "The Glory":

In two years Dwayne Wayne became Dwayne Wade

Dude! Is Kanye the first to confuse these two? Because I've been talking about this ever since Wayne stepped on the court. Isn't that the guy from "A Different World"? So is Kanye saying that Kadeem Hardison is cool now that he's on Lupe Fiasco albums, or is he simply heralding the greatness of Dwayne Wade? I'm guessing the former.

Related question: which was more shocking? 1) Urkel as a non-nerd on the annual NBA Stay In School Jam, or 2) Dwayne Wayne as a non-nerd in the later years of "A Different World"?

One last note on this subject, since I can't imagine another time I'll discuss Kadeem Hardison: I owned a pair of Dwayne Wayne sunglasses as a kid. Can I still buy these? And can I pull them off, or is it way too hipster bike messenger?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Grizzly Bear's "Reprise"

I'm kind of a sucker for alterna-folk these days. First, Bon Iver. Now, Grizzly Bear. Here's "Reprise":

new Method Man & Redman

I feel obligated to post new Method Man, since I write about him a lot on the blog. This song kind of stinks, though. I like the Redman line, "I'll poison Bel Biv Devoe with the pen." That's probably the only redeeming part. Warning: the song has as much foul language as you would expect.

best karaoke video ever!

E introduced me to my new favorite YouTube video. This follows on this post. We're doing karaoke again this weekend, so we better start practicing! Man, I'm such a sucker for midi files.

pejorative, pedantic, patronizing

Word: pejorative

The context in which I most recently heard/saw it used
: My professor said he didn't intend to be pejorative about the zoning case's verdict.

Meaning in the aforementioned context: disparaging, belittling.


Word: pedantic

The context in which I most recently heard/saw it used
: In one of NY Magazine's best photo captions ever: "No, no, it's spelled P-E-D-A-N-T-I-C." This was in a review of the first episode of season five of The Wire; the writers agreed that real life editors are just as persnickety as the fictional editor who insisted that you can evacuate a building but not people.

Meaning in the aforementioned context: characterized by a narrow, often ostentatious concern for book learning and formal rules.


Word: patronizing

Meaning: with an air of condescension.


Further thoughts on these words: I use the word patronizing often; I think pejorative may sometimes be a better word. Pejorative is straightforwardly negative; patronizing has a more wiser-than-thou, know-it-all connotation. I didn't really understand the meaning of pedantic before reading the NY Magazine post, so it's a fresh addition to the vocabulary.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

fun with photoshop!

I figured since I've been blogging for three weeks, I should spruce up the place a bit. How funny is this header photo? I love that Sam Endicott is singing directly into Mosley's tail.

The significance of the images is painfully obvious, but I'll spell it out anyway:


The 4th image is the trickiest; it's from the "Make Way for Ducklings" sculpture in the Boston Common.

ESD#18: figure skating

You should listen to this while reading this post (Beirut's "Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)"):

I just returned from a walk in the Boston Common, where I observed an empty frog pond save one lone skater doing all sorts of fancy spin and jump moves--we're talkin' axels 'n shit. Viewing his otherwise unnoticed performance, I was overcome with sadness. Perhaps the fact that I was listening to Beirut* at the time contributed to my emotion. As the accordion swelled, I imagined how it feels to have a talent so unique yet so useless and rarely exhibited or appreciated.

Eh. Maybe he was some famous skater unrecognizable to me, since I haven't watched figure skating since the glory days of Brian Boitano (I thought he looked like Balki from Perfect Strangers, a very misguided childhood crush).

*Apropos to this post, my ipod categorizes Beirut as "Weddings and Funerals". How awesome is that?

ESD#17: Dukie dream #2!

Until last night, my only recurring, tv-inspired dream involved vampire slaying. That's right, I had yet another dream about Dukie from the Wire. In this dream, he was shot and killed right in front of me. What the hell? Maybe this was because I stayed up late writing a transit analysis of Baltimore. But diving deeper into my subconscious, I think these dreams are coming from some kind of maternal longing. E had two baby dreams this week, so I'm not the only one.

E and I have given a lot of thought to adopting and fostering children. We've done some research and spoken with friends who are adoptive/foster parents. This is not in our near future, and I suspect that going the foster care route would likely happen much later in our lives, but my passion for adoption and foster care is certainly growing. I won't criticize here the recent trendiness of celebrity adoption, but I will say that I wish there were a celebrity voice for foster care, especially as it still holds a kind of stigma that adoption doesn't.

In season four of the Wire, Randy's a foster kid who tries really hard to please his foster mom, who likewise cares deeply for him. Randy sort of accidentally becomes a snitch after trusting a police officer who pressures him for information on a homicide. His peers turn on him, and eventually attack his family, which results in Randy being admitted into a group home. Watching each of these Randy scenes, I cried uncontrollably. Randy in the hospital waiting room? I wept. Ellis offering to be his foster parent? I wept. Ellis told it would take four months? I wept harder. Randy walking into the scary group home? I wept. Randy beaten up by the scary group home kids? I wept. Man, the last two episodes of season four were tough.

I've been dreaming up a foster parent non-profit business model in my head, which I'll try to put into words here. Why not address such a serious topic on a vapid blog that considers such issues as the tautological style of Ludacris?

This vision comes from my current work in supportive affordable housing. I envision a co-operative housing project with 6 2-bedroom units and community space on the ground level. The residents of each unit are dedicated, well-trained, single foster parents who care for children who need short-term stays. Communal meals and homework time occur on the ground floor. The six parents share duties related to school, after-school and weekend activities. The community space also hosts regular support group meetings for foster parents outside of the co-op. The overall vision is to create a supportive network both for foster parents and kids who need short-term care.

We'll see where this vision takes me. As a supportive housing project, I think it could be fiscally viable. I'm more unsure about its programmatic feasibility--especially since the only thing I know about being a foster parent is to tell my kids to avoid snitching (sorry, but it's true).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last Night's Concert (I didn't go to): French Kicks

Guess who's lame?

I didn't go to the French Kicks show tonight, because, i) it was a free show with doors opening before I could get there after class, so I probably couldn't have gotten in; and ii) there were three opening bands, which means I would've gotten home after 1 on a school night. Yep. L-A-M-E.

I really wanted to go to this show, too. I liked this band even before the whole journey of discovering new music.

Speaking of this journey, since I've replaced all the Wu-Tang on my ipod with new indie stuff, I haven't been inspired to write more essays. I'll try to correct this soon.

Here's some French Kicks:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Last Night's Concert (I didn't go to): Bon Iver

A post in three parts.

Music I am and I am not listening to

The Bon Iver concert is sold out, because they're opening for a stinky, yet popular band Black Mountain. There is no genre of music I hate more than crappy, hippie music. Wait, what did you say? How dare you accuse me of owning "Phish: A Live One"! Give me a break; that was high school.

Here's some Black Mountain.

Let's throw on a good song to erase our memories:

E has proven to be an awesome new music researcher. He introduced me to Beirut. Lovin' it! (to be spoken in the style of In Living Color's "Men on Film").

I could go to the Akrobatik concert tonight, but I'm way too busy (I've also seen him before). I have an assignment due Tuesday, I'll be home late Monday, and then there's the "Bostonians for Nader" campaign I need to launch.

Just kidding, folks.

Ralph Nader

I was mildly obsessed with Nader in 2000. I used to watch him for hours on CSPAN2. I voted for him, but this was in PA (Gore won the state), so don't start hating. For reasons I can't recall, E voted for Nader in 2004. Certainly, Kerry was less than inspiring, but he needed all the help he could get. E put a bumper sticker on our car that read, "Don't blame me. I voted for Nader." This sticker was awesome, because it was printed in 1992, totally ironic in 2000 and completely irrelevant in 2004.

I attended two Nader rallies in 2000: one in Boston (my first trip to Boston!) and one at Madison Square Garden. The Boston rally had Howard Zinn. The NYC rally had Phil Donahue, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins (as Bob Roberts), Eddie Veddar, Ben Harper*, Ani DiFranco and Patti Smith. Also, we sat behind Gaby Hoffman and Julia Stiles, saw Thom Yorke from a far distance, and passed Ad-Rock, wife and kids with our car.

I want to hang out with celebrities

Speaking of Gaby Hoffman, sometimes when my head wanders off into that weird fantasy world, I like to think about what clique of actor celebrities I should be friends with. Here are some options:

#1: Gaby Hoffman--Christina Ricci--Adam Goldberg--Beck--Marisa Ribisi--Giovanni Ribisi

#2: Laura Prepon--Chris Masterson--Danny Masterson--Bijou Philips--the entire "That 70s Show" cast, which probably connects you to Ashton Kutcher--Demi Moore--Bruce Willis

#3: Lukas Haas--Leonardo DiCaprio--whatever supermodel DiCaprio is dating--Tobey Maguire

#4: Casey Affleck--Summer Phoenix--Joaquin Phoenix--Liv Tyler (formerly part of the group), which then connects you to Ben Affleck--Jennifer Garner--Matt Damon--Matt Damon's hot waitress wife

#5: Ryan Philippe--Breckin Meyer--Seth Green, which I vaguely recall (but the IMDB won't confirm) connects you to Ethan Embry--Jeremy Sisto

#1 has a lot of promise, because Giovanni and Christina Ricci! But I find Beck to be a bit tiresome. And Scientology's a deal breaker. Scientology also cancels #2 (also: major tool factor).

#3 is way too intimidating, and the scary drug factor is through the roof.

So I'm stuck between #4 and #5. I love all things River Phoenix, including his crazy family. And like any good Bostononian, I have a healthy love/hate relationship with the Afflecks and Damons. But due to their collective beauty, celebrity and substance abuse, this group is also very intimidating.

Thus, I choose #5. First of all, Buffy. Second, "Robot Chicken" and all things Adult Swim. Third, years ago, I saw one of them (Embry?) on Letterman, where he showed pictures of two of them crying with laughter while watching "3000 Miles to Graceland". It was the cutest, funniest story and no one, not even Dave, found it entertaining. But I laughed, so I think Embry + crew + me = good times.

The only way to redeem this stupid** post is to conclude with a chart.

Ribisis & CrewThat 70’s Show & CrewDiCaprio & CrewAfflecks & CrewSeth Green & Crew
Collective beauty43454
Assumed compatibility52255
Nostalgia / connection with their work41254
Scary substance abuse00-4-40
Tool factor-1-5-300
Intimidation factor-10-3-30

* Ugh, also add Ben Harper to the category of hippie music I used to love and can't stomach now.

**I'm feeling a little self-deprecating today, because: i) I'm missing the Bon Iver concert; ii) I'm lazy and don't want to do schoolwork; and iii) this post stinks.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I made you a mix-tape #2

I have class tonight, and the in-laws are in town, so there will be no blogging for the next couple of days. Hasta Domingo!

Here's another mix to hold you over. Oh, and how excited am I that I haven't listened to Low in seven years, not knowing that they completely changed their sound, and it's awesome, and, hi, run-on sentence?! Low! This whole dumb, indie music journey is totally worth it for new Low.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ESD#16: high school musical

Because my office abuts the State House and Boston Common, I'm often distracted by loud rallies/parades/protests/performances on the Common or the State House steps. Post-Red Sox victory and Christmas were particularly busy times.

Today, it's High School Musical The Ice Tour! promoting their show on the Frog Pond. I've been listening to screaming children for the past hour.

I thought High School Musical was cute, especially the "Stick to the Status Quo" song. Not cute enough to see a second time. Certainly not cute enough to see the sequel. It kind of lacks the panache of classics from my childhood. You know, like, Camp Cucamonga?

Coincidentally, today I read that there's a recording of Sufjan Stevens performing an acoustic medley of High School Musical songs. I would kill for that recording (alright, so maybe I'm a bigger fan of HSM than I'm letting on!).

[Editor's note: Yeah. There's no Sufjan HSM recording. Sufjan's ironic, no? Well some guy who is even more ironic made a fake Myspace page with the most asinine mash-ups he could think of, including Sufjan/HSM. This was a really funny joke back in 2006. This is how behind I am with new music. I'm learning about 2006 hipster indie rock jokes in February 2008. Fail.]

Last Night's Concert: The Bravery

As I’ve already made evident in my previous posts, I have no idea how to write about music. So this isn’t so much a concert review as it is a personal reflection.

Last night, E and I saw The Bravery with two other bands at the Paradise. It was pretty wacky.

Your Vegas, the first opening band, was great – really fun energy, totally danceable, all around good sound.

The crowd seemed pretty cool, too. It was already packed for the first band – good sign. And the guy next to me didn’t seem to mind when I spit PBR on him after E made me laugh (something about the keyboardist phoning it in – it was funny in context).

Switches, the second band, SUCKED. SO. HARD. For the first three songs, I honestly thought they were a parody band. Their sound was really tight, but the lyrics and melodies were totally cliché. I’m not sure what I thought they were parodying – British indie rock, I guess. Each song was increasingly more funny, and I was laughing so hard that I had to get tissues from the bathroom from crying. Usually I’m not so heartless as to laugh at a bad band, but I sincerely thought they were in on the joke. When I later realized that they were taking themselves seriously, it wasn’t as much fun. But I did still laugh. The Bravery kind of confirmed their suckiness when they accidentally called them the Stitches and then were like, oh wait that’s some NY band. These guys are Switches and if you call them the Switches they get really pissed.

On to the big show – The Bravery. To give you some background, E and I are bandwagon Bravery fans. We own their new album "The Sun and The Moon", but barely know their first one except the radio hit “Honest Mistake”. But we appreciate the fact that they’re an insanely popular band and it’s very cool to see them in such a small place as the Paradise.

As an aside, Boston is in this weird state of concert viewing flux, because Avalon, one of Boston’s medium sized venues, was shut down; now relatively big acts have to choose between the Orpheum (too big) and The Paradise (too small). I assume The Bravery could have sold out the Orpheum, so seeing them at the Paradise was great (they played two nights, a rarity for the Paradise).

Respecting the fact that I’m i) old (28), and ii) a bandwagon Bravery fan, I thought I’d stand in the balcony (still only about 100 yards from the stage) and let the real Bravery fans have the floor. I would of course dance and dance and sing all the words from "The Sun and the Moon". But in the unspoken rules of concert going, the big fans should be on the floor so when the band plays that rare b-side, they can see ecstatic faces passionately singing, right?

So the Bravery started their set. AMAZING. Even if you were unfamiliar with their music, the acoustics were so good, The Bravery has such a clean sound and the danceable beat is so infectious that you have to move. So it was shocking that the crowd did not move. I mean, barely a hip was swayed.

I was so embarrassed - for The Bravery, for Boston in general. I am never one to dis Boston. Sure I’ll make the occasional affectionate jab at our fashion sense and gruff attitudes, but I love this town. And the music scene is pretty good. The "university capital of the world" supplies enough young music fans with a lot of free time, and we have some great little clubs (albeit mostly in Cambridge). Well, somehow, The Bravery is a phenomenon that missed Boston. It was like no one cared.

The crowd barely reacted to their current radio hits “Time Won’t Let Me Go” and “Believe”. Between sets, there were some golf claps and the occasional "woohoo". If I were the band, I wouldn’t have come back on stage.

I feel bad that The Bravery has to do this again tonight. Well, maybe it will be a humbling experience. I know there are a lot of Bravery haters out there (like Stereogum), but I don't think this explains Boston's lack of enthusiasm.

So evidently, E and I are the Bravery’s biggest Boston fans. Totally bizarre.

Monday, February 18, 2008

ESD#15: remember when I tried to write a chick-lit novel?

Remember? Neither do I. Oh, wait; it's coming back. This was five years ago, pre-Mosley, pre-homeowning, pre-new job. This was right before the blog boom, so I designed the whole thing in html. My friend Jen did beautiful illustrations. Man, I loved those courier font chapter headings!

Well, I still have the html files, and I just read through the thing again. It's kind of cute. I posted the text here. One day, I'll get it back up in its full courier font, illustrated glory. No guarantee that I'll write more, though. It's kind of hard to write about a directionless 20-something when you've been married five years, gainfully employed for seven and are in spitting distance of 30.

tautological, take two

I promise this isn't another hip-hop literary analysis post.

Last night I reread The Disappointment Artist, Jonathan Lethem's collection of personal essays. I've read this book more than four times. Oddly, it was the first time I appreciated that my repetition parallels Lethem's essays that explore how books, films and music, through multiple readings/viewings/hearings, helped shape who he is.

In his essay "Lives of the Bohemians" Lethem uses the word tautological, a word I've been trying to better understand and use. When he was a child, he asked his mother why his father's paintings had drips on them. His mother said that "in paintings, drips [are] good. They [give] evidence of the painter's hand at work." Lethem judges her response as "partly tautological".


If I understand his assessment correctly, Lethem believes that it's tautological or redundant to view drips as evidence of the action of painting, because the entire painting comes from this action. The painting does not simply appear out of nowhere. The painting is proof. Drips are tautological proof.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I made you a mix-tape #1

Somehow I went from being indifferent to new* music to being obsessed. So in my music high, I'm going to start making mix-tapes. Each will have eight tracks and follow a theme. I present mix-tape #1.

Let's Walk the Dog! Mix

1. Menomena - Muscle 'n Flow
2. Adele - Last Night (Stroke's cover)
3. Sam Roberts - Brother Down
4. Mobius Band - In a Green Sweater
5. Phantom Planet - Leader
6. Okkervil River - Black
7. Spoon - The Underdog
8. Misha - Summersend

*new to me, not necessarily new to the World

Friday, February 15, 2008

how is this not front page news?

I know I'm not blogging about music news here, but this is the most insane story I've read in awhile. According to today's NY Times, Shyne's father was just elected as Belize's first black prime minister. Let this sink in for a minute.

It gets crazier.

What the Times doesn't tell us is that Shyne's been estranged from his father since birth. And Shyne converted to Judaism in jail and now goes by Moses Michael Levly. And Shyne's moving to Belize when he gets out of jail to join the royal family. Say what?

Shyne has been in jail for seven years, taking the hit for Puff Daddy. My first reaction to this story was that maybe Diddy would finally get his comeuppance. I know Belize is not an international powerhouse, but surely the prime minister could do something. But maybe his religious conversion has made Shyne Moses a more forgiving person.

I was really hoping for more "Bad Boys" stuff. Man, I loved that song.

Tonight, we raise a glass to Prime Minister Dean Barrow. And we say a prayer for Moses Michael Levly, that he will be released in 2008 on good behavior.

Misha's "Summersend"

Love it, love it, love it. Misha's sound is all over the place. They offer a lot more songs on their Myspace page.

Bon Iver's "Skinny Love"

Bon Iver's playing the Middle East Sunday the 24th. It'll be a late show. I'm totally into it. E is totally not. $10 for banjos and falsettos? Any of the, like, eight Boston people I told about this blog interested? If you're like me, you're within spitting distance of 30 and will soon be asking yourself, 'why didn't I go to these great shows when I was younger and could stay up past midnight without yawning?'

Maybe this song will convince you:

ESD#14: last night's dream

Last night, I dreamed that I was helping Dukie from "The Wire" write a letter to a Goddard College recruiter who had promised him a full scholarship after hearing him read an essay about how his only chance out of poverty was to go to college.

This is one of the most straightforward dreams I've ever had. I'll dissect below.

Inner city kid going to college. A friend wrote this article about an impoverished kid in Tampa who hopes that winning math competitions will earn him a scholarship to MIT. It's touching and a bit heartbreaking. Reading it yesterday brought back memories of math competitions, which taught me that i) I'm not that smart, and ii) I'm a lot less socially awkward than I thought I was.

Goddard College. This is a hippie school that Dukie would never attend. I think this entered my dream, because E and I recently passed the Montessori school in Codman Square, Dorchester, and I said, "If our kids want to go to Montessori school, they're going to the ghetto Montessori school in Codman. Because if they're keeping it real, they're keeping it really real." This joke cracked us up, which is odd, considering how I was so offended when someone recently used the word ghetto, as I wrote in this post. Of course, I was using the term affectionately.

Promise of a scholarship. In my dream, the recruiter never returned Dukie's calls. This is like our neighbor David, who's been trying to get a security job for months. E has helped him draft a resume and write cover letters. It's so frustrating, because our state senator has promised to put in a good word for him, and he puts so much hope in this, but I've never seen anything come of it. It's especially hard, because he has a prison record, and her recommendation should serve as a character witness.

Middle school in general. Last night brought back a lot of OLD memories. We had friends over for Valentine's Day fondue, and E told a story about sophomore year of high school when he made me a valentine, planned to give it to me in Geometry class, but chickened out after another boy in the class sent me a singing telegram valentine (our high school tradition). E gave the homemade card to me the next day; I still have it. I brought out a shoebox of old letters and found a couple letters from this other kid. I've decided to mail them to him, since I know he's reachable through Myspace.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mystery Jets' "Flakes"

Wow, thanks again, Stereogum! Mystery Jets has helped fill that hole in my heart left by the untimely death of Jeff Buckley.

Wikipedia calls Mystery Jets a "new prog" band. Man, I hate these wacky names people create for categorizing music. Sounds as dumb to me as "post-rock". Hmmm, they list Doves as new prog, too, though. This requires further research.

Rogue Wave's "Eyes"

The jury's out on Rogue Wave. I like their two most popular songs "Lake Michigan" and "Eyes", but I need to hear some more. I found this random stop motion video some film major did of "Eyes". Awesome!

[Editor's note: I forgot to mention Rogue Wave's major turn-off. On the cover of one of their eps, the singer is wearing an H&M hat that E owns. That's like when Piz wore that striped Gap sweater on Veronica Mars. Everyone owns that sweater, Piz! By everyone, I mean E.]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sia, Adele

This site has a slew of great live covers.

My favorites are Sia's cover of Britney Spear's "Gimme More" and Adele's cover of The Strokes' "Last Night".

Bust shots at Big Ben like we got time to kill

In these short essays, I reflect on how a lyric from the Wu-Tang Clan album "The W" speaks to my personal experience.

On writing, humor and race relations.

[Warning: this essay is too self-referential for my tastes and likely for yours. Bear with me.]

When I was young, my father often told me I was clever. According to my understanding of the word, my father thought my words and actions were cute and quaint, but not necessarily profound, innovative or insightful.

One day, upon observing that I was reading Steven Hawking's A Brief History of Time, my father commented, "Oh, yes. Hawking is quite the clever man." I then realized that the word clever has a different connotation in British English than in American English. All this time, my father's view of me was entirely different from what I had assumed.

In the American sense of the word, I would not call myself clever. Certainly, my storytelling abilities are lacking. I am by no means of Toastmaster caliber.* Given enough time and thought, however, I can piece together a mildly entertaining narrative, as I attempt to do in my essays.

I find it very difficult to write a reflective essay without some degree of humor. Perhaps I am mimicking the style of my favorite essay writers like Anne Lamott, Dave Sedaris and Jonathan Lethem. Upon deeper reflection, however, I simply do not believe my life experience is profound enough to offer serious insight into another's experience. Alternatively, anyone can relate to the idea that life is confusing, absurd and challenging, and shouldn't we all just have a good laugh about it?

Of course, this sentiment is shared by many writers. The New York Times' Deborah Solomon recently interviewed Ben Karlin, former producer of the Daily Show and editor of a new anthology of humorous essays, and struggled to elicit one answer from Karlin that was not sarcastic or self-deprecating. When she noted that her favorite essay in his book was the only unfunny one, he replied, "I worked a little bit with him to try to put some more jokes in."

There is underlying humor in my Wu-Tang Clan inspired essays, since, as a white woman, I am not the intended audience of the hip-hop ensemble. Further, I treat these songs with a certain level of sobriety, which is in sharp contrast to lyrics such as "in a room full of crackers, I might cut the cheese." This is similar to the sardonic style The New York Times often employs when writing about hip-hop.** By referring to the artists as "Mr. Cent" and "Mr. Game" The Times subtly judges hip-hop as beneath serious consideration. The formal writing style is intended to be ironic.

On the contrary, I write these essays with no intention of irony. I genuinely enjoy the Wu-Tang Clan and find much of their music thought-provoking. Thus, to avoid accusations of insincerity, at this point in the essay I'm going to loosen up my writing style. In fact, I'm going to use the word shit three times. Can't do that in The New York Times! Can't use contractions either, and I just used four!

Using hip-hop culture to humorously point out cultural differences is rarely done well. "Granny singing rap" has been beaten to death. "Chicks with gang signs" is blatantly ignorant. Dynamite Hack's cover of "Boys in the Hood" could be judged similarly. However, I argue that this folk version of the hip-hop classic aims to point out the absurdity of adult contemporary music and not hip-hop. "Boys in the Hood" shows that the only way to make lame, Jack Johnson style music tolerable is to add lyrics about guns and prostitutes. And when they sing "punk ass tripping in the dead of night" to the tune of "Blackbird"? That shit's just straight up funny parody.

Every good hipster loves Wu-Tang Clan. I recently observed some teenagers sitting outside their jeep blasting "M-E-T-H-O-D Man" and I self-righteously rolled my eyes. I then realized I had Wu-Tang's "8 Chambers" in my bag. But I'm not blasting that shit out of my jeep. I'm listening to it quietly with the windows rolled up, like Michael Bolton from "Office Space".

Unlike Michael Bolton, however, I hide my love of hip-hop, not out of fear, but out of a constant struggle to treat cultural differences and race relations in a way that's sensitive, honest and humble. And if I'm indeed being honest, I should throw guilty in there, too. In one of his "Ask a Black Dude" sketches from the Chappelle Show, Paul Mooney claims that if there's anything good about black culture, white people will steal it. "They don't let them have too much fun." Watching this sketch feels like a punch to the stomach.

This concept of stealing is present in any discussion of gentrification. Living in a fast changing neighborhood, I've seen a lot of what Mooney would call stealing. For example, my neighborhood is predominantly African-American and used to be full of jazz clubs. Currently, only three remain. Wally's has a long history of black ownership, but the patrons are predominantly white and come from outside the neighborhood. Bob the Chef's has been a pillar of the African-American community for years. A few years ago, the owner changed the name to Bob's Southern Bistro to appeal to a larger (read: wealthier) crowd. And now the owner sold it to someone outside the community who will reopen it as a martini bar named "Night Town" (which I will inevitably call "White Town"), targeting the growing population of students and young professionals (read: me). Slades is the only club whose patrons are predominantly African-American. I love Slades' food; I'm friends with the owners; and I'll occasionally drop by. But I can't help feel like I'm stealing when I do.

In the Chappelle Show episode with the Mooney sketch, two men walk onto the stage and tell Chappelle, "we're the white people coming to steal your show." In acting out Mooney's claim, Chappelle acknowledges the complexity associated with a show that focuses its humor on racial differences and appeals to both black and white audiences. As many have assumed, wrestling with this complexity surely contributed to Chappelle's decision to bow out of the show, despite being offered huge sums of money to continue.

* * *

Method Man often peppers his lyrics with humor. In "Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)", he offers one of his most clever lines: "Bust shots at Big Ben like we got time to kill." However, this brilliant lyric is weakened by the lyric that precedes it: "Now what clan you know with lines this ill?"

Here Method Man uses the same style I use when I try to tell a funny story. Usually, I precede and end the story in hyperbole, saying "the funniest thing happened to me today" and then afterward "I couldn't stop laughing" as though these qualifiers somehow increase the comic value of the tale.

By pointing out the illness of his line before he says it, Method Man may as well say, "Want to hear something funny?"

*This claim is ironic on many levels, as I believe this is one of the funniest sentences I have ever written.

**Searching The NY Times' archives for "Mr. Cent" and "sardonic" led me to this article. It's the perfect example of The Times' attitude towards hip-hop. Of course, this type of grammatical analysis is exactly what I did in this post, so I can't point the finger at The Times without pointing at myself. I love that the article's last line includes the phrase "the words were spelled right" and not "the words were spelled correctly." I wonder if this was intentional.

pithy vs. paltry

Word: paltry

Meaning: Lacking in importance or worth

Not the meaning: pithy, which is defined as precisely meaningful, forceful and brief

Potential future use of the word:
I used it in my last post, saying, "she... [relayed] paltry anecdotes from her personal life..."

Further thoughts on the word: To me, the word pithy sounds the exact opposite of its meaning. Pithy sounds pitiful, useless. Paltry sounds appalling. I've likely used the word pithy incorrectly for a long time.

ESD#13: hate the haters

I am repeatedly irritated by a girl in one of my Urban Planning courses. During every class break, she incessantly talks to her friend, mostly relaying paltry anecdotes from her personal life (like what I'm doing here), complaining about a difficult professor or making fun of her classmates. Is it hypocritical to hate hate?

Usually when I hold this much contempt for someone, I invent tragic stories about his life so to excuse his behavior. In college, I discovered that all the stories I created for one girl were true, so it works sometimes!

I can attribute part of my irritation to the fact that I project onto her things I don't like about my program. She reminds me that the program isn't selective and allows for immature, disengaged students with poor analytical skills.

Last night, I deliberately sat next to her, so I could start up conversation and try to overcome my irritation. But I almost flew off the handle when she told her friend that she used to go to school in the "ghetto, but it's not ghetto anymore." She thought it would be "hilarious" to wear a shirt that says "I used to be ghetto, but I'm not anymore."

It's not hilarious. It's dumb and insensitive and so are you. The fact that you call that neighborhood ghetto shows that you have little understanding of the historical and cultural context for where you lived. If you were that disengaged from the community, why are you studying Urban Planning?

I wanted to be like Dave Chappelle in his wife swap sketch and throw her into a real "ghetto" ("g-g-g-g-get out of the car!").

Admittedly, I'm overly sensitive, because she was talking about my neighborhood. And I know that when you live in a tough neighborhood, you affectionately call it "the hood" or something similar. But there was little affection in her tone.

Apologies for the self-righteous rant.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Word: tautological

The context in which I most recently heard/saw it used
: NY Magazine's Year-End Approval Matrix placed in the low brow despicable quadrant “tautological reasoning in MIMS' 'This is Why I’m Hot'”.

Meaning in the aforementioned context: Needless repetition of the same sense in different words; redundancy.

Potential future use of the word: I used it in this post, pondering whether the phrase "discover something previously unnoticed" was tautological.

Other thoughts on the word: There is a fine line between tautology, repetition for the sake of emphasis, and bad similes. The difficulty in judging something as tautological is distinguishing repetition from needless repetition. Let us explore some specific examples.

Mims’ “This is Why I’m Hot”

I’m hot cause I’m fly
You ain’t cause you not
This is why
This is why
This is why I’m hot

I appreciate that NY Magazine highlights MIMS' poor reasoning, but I don’t think it’s tautological. On the contrary, it falls under some logical fallacy, like self-definition or something. To restate MIMS' reasoning:

I’m hot because I’m hot.
You’re not hot because you’re not hot.

It’s simply bad logic. There’s no support behind his claim of hotness and notness.

Ludacris' "Money Maker"

E thinks that this is tautological. There's a mash-up of the song circulating on the internet called "Money Making Money Maker That Makes Money." The title alone seems to affirm his belief. The lyric in question:

Shake your moneymaker
Like somebody 'bout to pay ya

I find nothing wrong with this lyric. One could argue that Ludacris has chosen a poor simile, but I think he’s simply instructing the listener to act as though they were a dancer for money and further defining the term "moneymaker".

There are more straightforward tautological Ludacris lyrics, such as...

Ludacris' "You's* a Ho"

There’s a lot of repetition in this song, but is it needless?

You doin' ho activities with ho tendencies...
Ho tendencies to do what you do…
Ho (HO!)
You's a ho (HO!)
You's a ho
I said that you's a ho (HO!)

Surely, Ludacris' claim of the subject's ho status would be better qualified with more adjectives or specific examples of ho-like action. But the repetition seems to be solely for the sake of emphasis ("I said that you's a ho").

This song does not warrant further analysis since I assume the artist does not intend to be taken seriously regarding the literary acumen of the lyrics.

Ying-Yang Twins' "Shake it Like a Salt Shaker"

I haven’t heard this song, but by the title, I will assume this song contains many poorly chosen similes.

*In the few times I've seen this contraction written, it is written "youse". I know slang is slang, but this looks disgusting to me, and I choose to stick with the contraction. I'm all for the evolution of language, but I don't understand the need to spell slang completely phonetically. "Youse" comes from the slang "you is", so the contraction "you's" is perfectly reasonable.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Every few weeks, for my own benefit, I'll reflect on what I've written so far.

The Wu-Tang essays.
I've written two and have six in progress. Writing these has been fun yet challenging. The two completed ones definitely need some further editing. The challenge is that I'm trying to connect personal reflections with a single lyric, but I'm tempted to write about the entire song. The first post on being the minority does this perfectly, but the rest kind of go off into too much of a Wu territory. Also, my Wu-Tang essays tend to get self-referential, i.e., why I'm writing about Wu-Tang, which is really, really annoying.

The music posts.
These posts are pathetic. Granted, they're intended to just be a personal log and not informational for the reader, but still. Ugh. All my new music cues come from Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan. I could ask musically inclined friends for recommendations, but in all honesty, I'm just not that excited about new music.

These have been fun to write.

Words and phrases posts.
I'll often draft a post with a new word I want to use, then use it in a different post. So I think this category will soon be unnecessary.

Favorite line I've written: [In reference to hip-hop artist Fabolous] "A proclivity to rhyme slowly does not preclude a love of fast women." Pat, pat.

Most annoying thing about this blog: I constantly reference "my husband", because i) he's a big part of my life so naturally shows up in personal reflection, and ii) I like to keep a bit of anonymity and not use his name. But always using the word husband makes me think of this guy in college who would mention his girlfriend in every other sentence. It made me so uncomfortable, like he was accusing me of flirting with him or something.

From here on out, the husband will now be referred to as E. Alternatively, I could call him Steve, the name my crackhead neighbors use (apologies for the derogatory term, but it's true). They use Steve, because they can't pronounce/remember/understand his real name (it's not that hard). They also call me Mrs. Stevens, which would make him Steve Stevens. They don't find anything odd about this. I think I'll stay with E.

Essay that has most impacted my life: Wu-Tang essay on tics and good beats. Either my tics are increasing or I'm more aware of them, but man, my tics have been in overdrive this week. I guess I'm a little more stressed than usual with a busy work and class schedule, but this is kind of ridiculous. I've even developed new ones (the most dominant new one is fluttering my lips, like motor mouth or giving raspberries to someone).

Essay that makes me feel like I've had a few too many drinks: I'm in the middle of writing a Wu-Tang essay on poverty and our perception of it. It explores how people perceive poverty in the States vs. the developing world. When I'm at a party and have reached a certain level of trust with a stranger (after a lot of drinks, this takes about 20 seconds), Bono himself can not stop me from talking about this subject. It feels funny to write about this with a sober mind.

Fiction Plane's "Death Machine"

Last year, my husband and I had free tickets to see Fiction Plane at the Paradise, my favorite music venue in Boston. It was surreal.

Fiction Plane is Sting's son's band. In a crazy case of nepotism, Fiction Plane opened for The Police's arena tour last Summer. In their defense, and to explain my surreality claim, Fiction Plane is extremely qualified to precede The Police, because:

- Sting's son looks EXACTLY like Sting
- Sting's son sounds EXACTLY like Sting
- Fiction Plane is a 3-person band
- Sting's son sings and plays the bass
- Fiction Plane's sound is influenced by reggae
- Fiction Plane seems kind of hip, but you sense that inevitably Sting's son will break up the group to do lame solo projects

It was a fun show. For the encore, we stood behind the VIP section (which is 36 square feet of roped off floor), and I said to my husband, "Look! There's Sting's wife!" to which he replied, "Look who's standing next to her." Ah, Sting in all his torn sleeveless shirt glory. Awesome!

I listened to some Fiction Plane today. It's not that bad (not that good either).

ESD#12: godsmack or godspell?

This is an old personal anecdote, which my cousin Laura recently reminded me of. Laura is uncanny at remembering funny family moments that the rest of us forget. Further to the point of my forgetfulness, I have no idea who was the friend in question. Anyway, it's a good story that's going into a piece of fiction at some point.

A friend told me that her parents were very excited for their upcoming New Years Eve plans. They told her, "We bought tickets for that musical that's a modern interpretation of Jesus and the disciples. You know, 'Godsmack'?"

My friend replied in horror, "That is NOT the musical!"

I don't know what they did with those Godsmack tickets, but I like to think that they went to the concert anyway. I think you could easily turn that scenario into a short story. Maybe it could have an O'Henry type spin on it, like the husband sells his antique Bible for tickets or something. Hmmm. I'll keep working on that idea.

ESD#11: losing my sense of irony

I generally love all things related to Dave Eggers. I was young and self-absorbed enough to relate to Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I was an early subscriber to the Believer. I even belong to McSweeneys' Book of the Month Club. And, now I'm a donor and (hopefully) future volunteer with the newly opened 826 Boston.

Each of the 826 non-profit tutoring centers have what they call a storefront. In New York, it's "Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co."; in San Francisco it's "Pirate Supply Store"; in Boston it's "Bigfoot Research Institute".

When I went to the opening of Boston's 826, I got wrapped up in this sort of disingenuous, tongue-in-cheek conversation with the person representing the Institute, and I honestly had no idea what we were talking about.

Then, today I received an invitation to attend a Bigfoot Research Institute Product Testing Seminar. It's like reading Greek to me.

I just don't get it. Have I lost all sense of irony, or is this confusing to everyone? More importantly, do the students understand this? Considering the location of the writing center and the programming they offer, I assume they're targeting the Latino and African-American communities. In my experience, sarcasm and irony does not cross cultural lines very well, so I question how this will go over with the students.

I hesitate to write this, as it comes off as critical (which I don't intend to be). I'm just honestly confused. As I get more involved with the organization, hopefully it will make more sense.

ESD#10: late fee confessions

I have in my possession my high school's copy of Frank Herbert's Dune. I will never read this book again. Think they have eleven-year amnesty? To improve my late fee karma, I'm considering donating it to 826 Boston.

My copy of Wu-Tang Clan's "The W", the album that serves as an inspiration for my thematic essays, belongs to the Cambridge Public Library. It's at least six months overdue.

Over a year ago, my friend Laura lent me Veronica Mars Season 2, which I watched over a three -day bout of the flu. I still have it, despite seeing her at least weekly.

Duke Ellington, jazz

I generally don't enjoy jazz. The Sex and the City episode where Carrie makes fun of the jazz musician she's dating is the one example of Carrie's vacuousness that I find entirely endearing.

I enjoy a classic Coltraine record or the sweet sound of my neighbor playing the sax in the park behind my house. When I'm feeling adventurous, I can listen to Herbie Hancock's modern piano pieces. But long modern improvisational stuff, I just can't stomach.

I also generally don't enjoy Jimmy Stewart. So it's beyond me why I recently rented the movie "Anatomy of a Murder," a Stewart courtroom drama with a Duke Ellington soundtrack. The movie's great, if you can get past the latent anti-women sentiment. The Ellington soundtrack is wonderful. I will even concede that Stewart is excellent in this. Hands down, the best part of the movie is the following dialog:

[Judge Weaver has stopped the testimony by Detective Sergeant James Durgo, State Police, and called the lawyers to his bench]

Judge Weaver: Mr. Biegler, you finally got your rape into the case, and I think all the details should now be made clear to the jury. What exactly was the undergarment just referred to

Paul Biegler: Panties, Your Honor.

Judge Weaver: Do you expect this subject to come up again?

Paul Biegler: Yes, Sir.

Judge Weaver: There's a certain light connotation attached to the word "panties." Can we find another name for them?

Mitch Lodwick: I never heard my wife call 'em anything else.

Judge Weaver: Mr. Biegler?

Paul Biegler: I'm a bachelor, Your Honor.

Judge Weaver: That's a great help. Mr. Dancer?

Claude Dancer: When I was overseas during the war, Your Honor, I learned a French word. I'm afraid that might be slightly suggestive.

Judge Weaver: Most French words are.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Nick Hornby -esque post

In the spirit of Nick Hornby's column "Stuff I've Been Reading", I'd like to occasionally add "music I intend to listen to" to "music I'm listening to" . So here's my current intentional list:

The National
Of Montreal
The Liars
Bon Iver
Band of Horses

Though I've listened to these artists, I've never heard their albums in their entirety:

Lily Allen
Amy Winehouse

Here are albums I bought in 2007/early 2008 and my short reviews (further evidence to my claim that I've been ignoring new good music for the past few years):

Aqualung - Memory Man
British poppy goodness. "Garden of Love" makes me tear up every time.

Arcade Fire's - Neon Bible
One of my favorite road trip albums. They performed a great show at the Orpheum.

Common - Finding Forever
Nice to see Common without Kanye. Also kind of missed Kanye, considering how much I prefer "Be" to "Finding Forever". Common was great in concert, though Q-Tip, his opening act, stole the show. Q-Tip has an incredible amount of energy, and his songs never go out of style.

Dashboard Confessional - The Shade of Poison Trees
Chris Carrabba is getting soft. Ha! That assessment works both ironically and non-ironically. After multiple listenings, this album grew on me--especially the slower ephemeral stuff. He writes a hilariously pretentious song called "Matters of Blood and Connection" about trustafarians. It's so bad, I could have written it. I also saw him in concert in 2007--what a gracious and talented person. The best part was saying to people at the bar, "I am WAY too old to be at this concert." All of us over 21 agreed.

Radiohead - In Rainbows
Awesome, as expected. Surprisingly upbeat.

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Listening to this album inspired me to get hipper to new music.

The Bravery - The Sun and the Moon

Vega 4 - You and Others
British poppy goodness. Like Aqualung and Snow Patrol.

Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams
I believe my love of the Wu has already been established.

[Editor's note: I forgot Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool". Like Common, I prefer the first album. But bonus points for Kadeem Hardison, AKA, Dwayne Wayne, playing the character of the Cool on the album. We also saw Lupe in concert (man, we saw a lot of shows this past year).]

[2nd Editor's note: I was wrong about Common. Kanye West produced both "Be" and "Finding Forever", so I can't use Kanye to explain my preference.]

Explosions in the Sky, post-rock

When my friends and I play poker, conversation often turns to music. Sometimes I butt heads with my friend Luke. Things got ignorant a few weeks ago when he dissed the Doves and other family favorites, so I finally asked him straight up to explain his musical tastes. He said he mostly listens to "post-rock". I accused him of making this up, but apparently it's a genre of music. I'm too annoyed by this term to research it, but my husband told me that Explosions in the Sky, which I recently discovered, falls within this genre, so I'm a little intrigued now.

As an aside, the top five albums played during poker:

Black Star's self-titled album (always my request!)
Ludacris' "Release Therapy"
Common's "Be"
The Roots' "Tipping Point"
Blackalicious' "Blazing Arrow"

Sam Roberts Band's "We Were Born In a Flame"

My husband shares my feeling that we're behind the times on new music. So with $25 i-Tunes credit from my cousin's Christmas present (thanks, Drew!), he spent over 4 hours this past Saturday listening to every new indie band that blew up over the past two years. The problem with this approach, though, is that he got easily bored and was more inclined to go with the high energy stuff. He finally bought the Sam Roberts Band album "We Were Born in a Flame". It's good, but a little too rock out for my tastes these days.

Wu-Tang Killa Bees' "The Swarm Volume I"

My husband told a co-worker about my Wu-Tang inspired essays, so he lent us a Killa Bees album. [Killa Bees is the name for Wu-Tang's collective side projects.] This stuff is bananas. I need more Killa Bees!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Michael Leviton's "The Beach Gets Cold"

Everyone likes a good ukulele. And the mini golf-themed video is very sweet.

ESD #9: easy like Sunday morning

Overheard while walking to the video store this morning: "You get one drink in me, and I'm easy like Sunday morning!" I am definitely going to use that line in future writing. Lionel Richie would be proud.


I've decided to change the tag "Eat Shit and Die" to "ESD" because it's such a hostile phrase in contrast to the posts, which are simply random anecdotes to be used in future writing. It's a little off-putting to repeatedly read that phrase on the blog.

I know it's a blogger faux pas to edit old entries, but oh well.

The origin of the tag is here.

ESD #8: soulless generations

Last week, my husband went to see our dog's namesake, Walter Mosley, speak at the Boston Public Library.

Mosley the dog:

Mosley the mystery novelist:

Mosley the novelist was acting rather disgruntled that evening and said he's now writing existential novels to speak to his "soulless generation". Quite the provocative statement.

During Q&A, my husband asked Mosley if there's any hope for our generation, to which he replied, "how old are you?" Upon hearing that he's 29, Mosley thought about it and simply said, "maybe." Sheesh. That's harsh.

Maybe this explains why Mosley the dog sighs a lot.

On a related note, in January's The Believer, Nick Hornby wrote a great review of the book X Saves the World. It's on my "books to read" list now. I'm apt to like any book that follows on the heels of Douglas Coupland's Generation X.


Karaoke last night was fun, though I wasn't able to perform my new favorite karaoke love song. I wrote a photo essay about it here.

commentary on previous wu-tang essay

I've been rethinking my claim in this post that Fabolous shouldn't perform songs about settling down with one woman. To quote myself, "By hip-hop standards, Fabolous is too young, too hot, and too thug to settle down. A proclivity to rhyme slowly does not preclude a love of fast women."

Last night I attended an open mic for teens where one kid wrote a song with the lyric:

There's one last card up my sleeve /
I'm gonna get down on one knee /
And ask you to marry me

This kid is, like, fourteen. So, now I think talk of marriage in hip-hop might sometimes be used as an exaggeration of someone's love.

Friday, February 8, 2008

ESD #7: to know oneself

I just discovered a previously unnoticed chickenpox scar on my forehead, which prompted me to ask the question, 'how well do I really know myself?'

Follow-up question: Is the phrase "discover something previously unnoticed" redundant? Tautological?

unintentional poetry

I just forwarded an e-mail to my husband with the hastily written message: "Pup, someone is copping our style. Mosley, chomp!" I won't bore you with context or annotation. I simply want to highlight that this falls into a beautiful 3-5-3 rhythm. Reformatted here:

pup, someone
is copping our style
mosley, chomp!

The only way I will ever be able to write poetry is unintentionally.

ESD #6: OCD envy

I recently wrote this essay about my tics and compulsions, which for the first time, forced me to think about them in a comprehensive way. Then this morning I read this NY Times piece about people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and the challenge of restaurants. The few OCD tendencies I have fall into the pattern/symmetry realm and fortunately, not the cleanliness one, which seems incredibly overwhelming. When I read about the man who always separates the salt and pepper shakers with a napkin holder, I thought,'Wow, that's such great discipline. I should do that.' So now I think I understand anorexia envy.

Side note: Is Adrian Tomine on staff now at NY Times? He's been all over the Times the past few months.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Obligatory Vampire Weekend Post

In a span of three days, I read about Vampire Weekend everywhere, from GQ to NY Times Sunday Styles' "A Night Out With" to every indie music column in the blogosphere. I became sick of the band, and I hadn't even heard their music. NY Magazine wrote a hilarious piece describing the whole phenomenon. See here. The Zach Braff dig is particularly funny.

Recognizing that if you write a blog that addresses music, you must write about Vampire Weekend, here I go:

- Columbia
- Preppy
- Paul Simon's Graceland
- Afro-pop
- Oxford Comma
- Blog hype
- Blog hype hype

I finally heard a single or two. I'm not really into it.


Word: equivocate

: to use ambiguous or unclear expressions, usually to avoid commitment or in order to mislead; prevaricate or hedge

the meaning
: equate [While writing this post I learned that I've been using equate and equivocate interchangeably. Bad mistake.]

Potential future use of the word
: When asked for how long she expected to continue with her blog-writing habit, she equivocated, "Oh, I expect this will last at least a devil's fortnight."

Further notes:
Devil's fortnight is a phrase my husband made up to avoid committing to a time frame.

My Brightest Diamond's "The Robin's Law"

I'm really digging My Brightest Diamond's album "Bring Me the Workhorse" (thanks, Ivan!), because--let's call a spade a spade here--it sounds like Portishead. [Bonus points for being on the Asthmatic Kitty label (see here for my love of Sufjan Stevens).]

And like Portishead, I like to plot My Brightest Diamond songs on a creepy/sexy axis, kind of like this*:

At first, "The Robin's Law" is very sexy and only mildly creepy. But it suddenly jumps up the creepy axis at the last line of "Mama made me bury her in the backyard." The sexiest voice and arrangement can not make up for that lyric. Granted, I think she's singing about a bird and not her actual mother, but CREEE-PEEEEE.

*Have you seen this website? Have you SEEN IT?!

Peabo Bryson's "If Ever You're In My Arms Again"

I'm attending a karaoke birthday party tomorrow night. I've decided that Peabo Bryson's "If Ever You're In My Arms Again" could possibly be the best karaoke song in the genre of passionate love songs. Some reasons:

- Easy range
- Short
- Can be performed as a duet
- A bridge that's bananas ("The best of romances/Deserves second chances...")
- Includes a key change

Just think about it.

I walk with a slight lean from the weight of my heat

In these short essays, I reflect on how a lyric from the Wu-Tang Clan album "The W" speaks to my personal experience.

On tics and good beats.

[Further precursor to the essay: according to a quick internet search, astute listeners believe the lyric is, "I walk with a slight lean from the way that the heat..." followed by some non-linear lyrics that make little sense to me. Since I cannot recall the exact lyric from The Wu-Tang Manual, I prefer my own interpretation. In fact, I am uninterested in the correct lyric, as I believe mine is more in the spirit of the song than the one mentioned above. I use the same reasoning in regards to the Coldplay song "Clocks". I believe my heard lyric of "tigers wade in to the Thames" presents stunning imagery far superior to the correct lyric "tigers waiting to be tamed." This is an ongoing debate with my husband, which usually ends with one person proposing that the other is an ass-clown.]

I developed my first tic when I was nine. Compulsively and repeatedly, I bit hard under my bottom lip, which eventually resulted in a sort of scabby soul patch. The blemish lasted for a week, a lifetime for a fifth grader. My fear of sticking out put a quick end to this compulsion; but the scab patch was a harbinger of many tics to come.

When I was eleven I started sniffing as though I had a mild cold. My mother was understandably annoyed by this habit (oddly, I can not recall her reaction to the scab patch). I was unaware of my uncontrollable sniffing, and my mother's reprimands only exacerbated the problem. Seeing no resolution to our struggle, I lied to my mother, telling her I felt sick.

At the doctor's office, I was diagnosed with sinusitis, and my mother became terribly apologetic. What luck! I knew the doctor was a quack, but my mother stopped harassing me, so I was pleased. A few months later, hypochondriac karma had its way when I told my parents I thought my wrist was broken. They waited 48 hours to take me to the doctor. Though I was proven right, there was no guilt this time.

The sniffing did not cease and was soon accompanied by coughing. These were soft dry coughs, not to be confused with compulsive throat clearing, the latter which I have observed as a common habit for others. To this day, the sniffing and coughing persist.

During high school, I expanded my repertoire of tics, none of which I have completely lost. Among others, I added:

1. Blowing out my cheeks: Surprisingly I recall being caught in this act only once, though I am rather sure this occurs daily.
2. Sucking on the inside of my cheeks: This always follows number one. It also follows applying lipstick and brushing my teeth.
3. Tapping my hands in a specific sequence: This habit is borderline obsessive compulsive, as if I do not finish the sequence, I believe that Someone. Might. Die. Predating the scab patch, I recall tapping sequences during car trips as a young child, though I do not believe it was compulsive at the time. When I was young, I also habitually recited powers of two in my head until the number reached too high to remember. I similarly thought of large numbers and divided them by three, but, again, this was not so much compulsive as it was entertaining.

In college, I affectionately received the nickname "Rain Beth" after a friend caught me rocking back and forth repeating some sequence of numbers. Fortunately, I lost this tic almost immediately after being caught. The nickname stuck, though, as it was soon discovered that, like Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man", I was unusually fast in counting objects. [As a child, I often won the 'guess the number of jelly beans in a jar' type game. To this day, I become very anxious when that party game is played, and almost always guess above or below my actual projection, so as not to reveal this ability.] I once told this story to some co-workers, who then found that, without counting, I know the number of characters in long Spanish words.

Today my counting compulsion appears only when I observe ornate detail in architecture. A few years ago, I struggled to count the number of pipes in a church organ. My frustration changed to anxiety, as I feared I had lost this innate aspect of my personality. This was an early indicator of my nearsightedness. Seeing that organ with my new glasses confirmed that I had not lost my gift(?).

Since college, my only new tic is hard squinting. Interestingly, I recognize this as my father's one compulsion, which is especially pronounced when he drives (likewise for me). I wonder if he had many childhood tics, lost in adulthood, and if this might also happen to me. I often suspect that my father and I were very similar children.

Occasionally I will develop an unusual compulsion that I can easily cease, as long as I detect it early. Recently at work, I caught myself unknowingly mouthing and sometimes audibly sounding out consonants I was reading. I stopped this before anyone noticed. Hopefully this has made the way of the rocking tic. My husband once caught me putting my hand in my dog’s mouth while he yawned. Upon asking why I would do such an odd thing, I realized I had been compulsively doing this in secret for days. Since I did not catch this early on, I still struggle with this.

I find great comfort in the presence of other people with tics. At my last job, we hired a woman with a pronounced stutter, and I was immediately endeared to her. My co-workers understood her condition, but occasionally felt uncomfortable or impatient and finished the word she could not. On the contrary, with every stutter, I grew more and more patient and comforted by her presence.

I have the great fortune of living and working in a city full of mentally unstable individuals I encounter daily. Every morning, I find great joy in walking through Boston Common with the man who walks in perfect squares, the woman who jerks her head to the left every four steps, the elderly Chinese man who passers-by think is doing tai chi (he isn't). In no way am I equating my mild compulsions with mental illness; I simply find comfort in a familiar action. I especially feel a bond with the high functioning business suit types who, like me, walk through the park alone hoping to privately let loose the tics they have bottled up over the past few hours. Many times, I have observed looks of shame after accidental eye contact, but no! It's OK! I'm like you!

My mild tics and compulsions have had little effect on my life, and have generally been easy to conceal or compensate for. I have one habit, though, that I fear might get me in trouble, so I consciously mitigate it. I do not think this is technically a tic, and I further suspect that it is quite common. When in conversation, I mirror the stance of my partner. If he crosses his legs, I cross my legs. If he has a hand on his hip, I have a hand on my hip. The worst is the hand to the face, because the mimicking is so obvious that it appears to be mocking. To mitigate this habit, while in conversation, I alter my position every 30 seconds, knowing that about every 15 seconds I will have gravitated towards mirroring.

Likewise, I mimic mannerisms and voice inflections of my conversation partners. This almost always appears to be mockery. English accents are especially challenging for me, and the excuse that my father is British goes only so far. Thus, I consciously watch my speech while speaking with anyone with an unusual accent or speech pattern.

Music also affects my mannerisms, especially while walking. I commute by foot two miles to and from work, during which I usually listen to music. My ipod shuffle fits just nine albums, and I usually skip any song that is not emo, R&B or hip-hop. While listening to emo or R&B, my eyes reflect the soulful and earnest tone of the song. When Dashboard Confessional sings “Don’t you see that the charade is over?” my brow is furrowed in anger then raised in a plea for my lover’s return. During Maxwell’s “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever” I sultrily gaze into the distance then earnestly close my eyes when his falsetto hits a climax. But with certain hip-hop songs, I find my whole body transformed.

Wu-Tang Clan’s "One Blood Under W" is one such song. By the time he speaks the lyric "I walk with a slight lean from the weight of my heat," I have become Masta Killa. My pace slows down. I favor one leg over the other. I am keenly observant of my surroundings. I feel generally confident that if necessary, I could seriously fuck someone up (a rather futile attitude as I walk the tree-lined cobblestoned streets of Boston's Back Bay).

It is not solely the lyrics that cause this transformation, though Masta Killa’s description o­­­­f walking through Brooklyn, killing without mercy, fear or remorse does have an effect. In fact, the rhythm is far more influential. Masta Killa slowly, effortlessly rhymes over a simple beat, never changing his rhythm. The repetitive style portrays Masta Killa as callous and authoritative. Every other line is punctuated by a twangy chord I can only compare to the moment in a caper movie following a shocking clue reveal and preceding a quick fade to black. The chord emphasizes the severity of the subject and Masta Killa’s coldness towards it.

Contemporary hip-hop songs often suffer from a complete disconnection between lyric and style. When T-Pain and Akon sing about jail time and drug addiction, the listener asks, ‘How can life be so hard for these men who sound like cartoon dolphins* and rhyme over bubblegum pop beats?’

Even more irritating are songs with lyric and style that just barely miss each other. Fabolous' "You Make Me Better" has an outstanding beat that is part seductive, part sinister, and warrants a similar lyric. Instead, the song falls into the popular category of ‘I’m ready to settle down with one woman.’ This is further aggravating, because by hip-hop standards, Fabolous is too young, too hot, and too thug to settle down.** A proclivity to rhyme slowly does not preclude a love of fast women. And this is the second Fabolous song of this variety (the first being “Trade It All”)! This genre works well for older hip-hop veterans like Puff Daddy ("I Need a Girl Part 2"), LL Cool J (“Love You Better”) and Snoop Dogg (John Legend’s “I Can Change”), not for artists under the age of 30. Furthering the disconnect in "You Make Me Better" is Ne-Yo's performance on the hook, which, to match the song’s message, should be loving, but comes off as pained.

On the other hand, a beat that brilliantly matches the overall intended tone and message of the song can make up for the most pathetic lyric. Examples include 50 Cent's "So Seductive", Baby Bash's "Suga Suga" and Lupe Fiasco's "Sunshine".

Considering together my compulsion of mimicking and my discerning ear, I can only hope that i) I am not provoked while listening to Masta Killa, and ii) I am never in a situation that involves both Akon and tuna nets.

*Apologies to David Thorpe, who I believe was the first to compare Akon to a cartoon dolphin.

**I rather sheepishly admit that I read Fabolous' Wikipedia entry to ensure that he was not in fact married with children, living in the suburbs. For the first time in my life, I felt compelled to edit Wikipedia. His entry reads like a high school freshman book report, full of inconsistent and inappropriate verb tenses and unsubstantiated claims to his personality. It includes such gems as, "Initially, Fabolous was not seriously into rapping." Though not a great fan of Fabolous, I feel his life deserves a bit more of a poetic narrative. This gives me an idea for a screenplay, pitched here: In the inspirational spirit of such films as "Dangerous Minds" and "Stand and Deliver", disengaged inner-city kids develop a love for grammar and writing style by editing Wikipedia entries of their favorite hip-hop artists.

[End note: After writing this essay, I researched Tourette's Syndrome, and it was certainly eye-opening. Like many others, I have a mix of bad habits, occasional obsessive compulsions and mild Tourette's. Some of the more telling factors include bottling up tics until alone, inheriting tics from my father, onset at age nine, coughing, squinting, mimicking, and having no signs of ADHD (some tics are often confused with ADHD habits). What is unusual to me, though, is that I have developed more tics with age. Usually it is the reverse; children have many tics they lose over time.]

Monday, February 4, 2008

ESD #5: political juxtapostion

I observed a nice moment of political juxtaposition today. A group of twenty or so teenagers holding McCain posters were posing for photos on the steps of the Massachusetts State House. Catercorner to them were their dirty hippie counterparts, holding signs saying "Bush performs economic masturbation," telling passers-by about the lies of status-quo politicians like McCain, Obama and Clinton, pleading that La Rouche was the only candidate willing to tell the truth.

I tried to gage the reaction of the McCain kids. Were they losing their innocence hearing about McCain's closed door agreements with corporate interests? Or were they laughing amongst themselves, saying, "those hippies will be bagging my purchases at Costco in a few years." It was hard to tell.

ESD #4: what the...

I greatly enjoy moments when someone earnestly tries to recall a piece of information, only to recall it and realize it's entirely inappropriate to share with the present company. Even more enjoyable is the inevitable cover up after the moment of recollection.

A classic example: Sally and her boss are presenting in a room full of potential clients. She spies a familiar face at the end of the conference table, but can't recall how she knows him. During a break, she tells her boss, "I know the balding gentleman with the gray suit and red tie, but I don't know how. Do you know him?"

"No, I've never seen him before."

At once, fuzzy memories of drunk karaoke, sloppy kissing and copying machine antics come rushing at Sally, as she realizes the balding gentleman with the gray suit and red tie is Last Year's Corporate Office Party Mistake. Attempting to cover up the horror of her recollection, she calmly responds, "Huh. I must be wrong."

My husband's parents once told us about a dull yet intriguing film about string theory. My husband said, "Oh, yes, what was that movie called?" and proceeded to quote whatever he retained from A.O. Scott's review of the film. That he couldn't remember the name bothered him terribly. I smugly enjoyed his frustration, knowing he was talking about "What the Fuck Do We Know?", which surely was not the film his conservative parents had watched. I eagerly anticipated his moment of realization when he would say, "Oh I know! It's "What the..." what the... oh... no, that's not it." Alas, he didn't have that moment. I had to tell him after his parents left the room.

ESD #3: neighborhood kids

Last night, my husband walked in the door and said, "Some of the best conversations I have in this neighborhood are with the kids." Then he recalled this short bit of dialog:

My Husband: Hey, Chico*. How's it going?
Chico: Good. Who are you voting for on Tuesday?
My Husband: Obama. I read his auto-biography and really liked what he had to say.
Chico: OK. So where's Mosley**?

What I appreciate about this short conversation is that Chico cut to the chase--no need for polite chit chat or natural segues to a preferable subject. He simply wanted to know how my husband was voting. When he was satisfied with that answer, he moved on to his favorite topic of conversation: our dog.

* When I tell people about Chico, I feel compelled to note that this is his real name, and we don't call all Dominican boys in the neighborhood Chico. This is likely unnecessary, but indulge me here.

** Our dog.