It’s just not Fun anymore

Never fear, dear readers. It’s not what you think. I may be a little late posting this week, but I enjoy working on my blog too much to quit after just 1 year. This is fun.

What is no longer fun is my listening experience with a specific song. In this case, that song is We Are Young by the up until recently (for me, anyway) purely enjoyable band called Fun. As far as idealistic teenage indie pop anthems with clever drug and subtle domestic violence references go, this was pretty much the tops. I’ll admit that at the ripe old age of 31, I felt just a tad self-conscious singing along with Nate Ruess’s power ballad. But I’m not exactly ready to hang up my headphones yet and most days I still feel reasonably capable of setting the world on fire, so most of the time I just made sure my car windows were rolled up and tried not to make a spectacle of myself. It’s a good song. Why shouldn’t I enjoy it?

Well, it turns out that my enjoyment was not meant to last. Despite being a well-produced song from a talented band, I’m now finding myself reaching for that dial every time the opening lines come over the speakers. You may ask how this could be? What could sour me so towards a previously appreciated tune? Two words: viral video.

I’m sure you must have caught this about a week or so ago. The wise-acres over at Yahoo’s Sketchy Comedy took a nice song with an aesthetic video featuring the gratuitous use of slow-motion cinematography and people beating the crap out of each other and turned it into a parody that–let’s be honest here, folks–hits just a little to close to home for this 30 something. Wittily called We’re Not Young (gee, I wonder how they ever managed to come up with that creative leap?) they poke fun at the pre-mid-life existential crisis that is faced by those of us who are too old to be called teenagers but are still too young to claim the dreaded title of middle-aged. The video is filled with images of youngish people looking at their lives, wondering what the hell happened to their dreams and goals, and trying desperately to find ways to be “young” again. And well… I hate to say it, but I found myself relating to them.

Okay, you can stop snickering! I mean it! Okay… I’ll wait.

I realize this is literally the definition of a First World Problem. Where else but the Western World can a 30-year-old with a steady job and a guaranteed paycheck feel the desperate need to seek self-worth and fulfillment in an adult improv class after work? But come on and admit it. Since college ended and you took that soul-crushing job to keep Sallie Mae from collecting your student loan debt in broken kneecaps and tears, you’ve probably felt the same disillusionment. The truth can be hard to take, especially when it turns out that you’re the butt of the joke. But I have to say that it didn’t really bother me until I realized that one of their crazy ideas to reclaim their lost youth was to start a blog… Well, let’s just say that I can no longer listen to the original song without cringing just a little. Considering that front man Ruess is 30-years-old, he may be cringing a bit these days, too. Although he is a bone fide rock star, so may be not.

Anyway, here now for you listening enjoyment (or possibly to exercise your flinching reflex) are both versions of the song:

We Are Young by Fun

We’re Not Young by Yahoo’s Sketchy Comedy

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We’re gonna rattle this ghost town

My, my, how times does fly! I have now officially been writing in this blog for a whole year. And like most good things in life, it simultaneously feels like I just started yesterday and that I have been doing this for the last twenty years or so. I still get that stupendous rush when I’m knee-deep in the creative process that I felt with my first few entries, but after the last twelve months I feel like I have really found my voice–something that simply takes time. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t go a little crazy and revise my entries to within an inch of their little lives. Just ask my husband and he’ll tell you that I worry about the blog waaay tooo much. But even when I’m agonizing over a turn of phrase or frantically trying to select my next topic, I’m enjoying every minute of the process and I am both pleased and a little amazed that I have kept this up for this long.

When I started out on this venture, I was looking to accomplish two things: 1.) do something with my life other than work and commute, and 2.) finally write down all those little stories and memories that I am compelled to share with people whenever music is playing. I think the first of these goals has been met beautifully. I write every week that I can, miss it dreadfully when my real life intrudes, and have not-so-secretly been dreaming of leaving it all behind to write full-time. (Don’t worry, sweetie. I know that this is not an option when Sallie Mae owns my soul in exchange for grad school. But hey, I can dream, right?) And as for the second goal, well… To put it plainly, I have many more stories left to tell. I actually carry around a list of about thirty ideas for entries everywhere that I go, most of which have to do with my own experiences, and no matter how many entries I write this list never seems to get any shorter. I guess this means I should keep writing…

The one thing that I didn’t expect to happen when I started writing here was how much it would affect my music tastes. I still listen to a great variety of stuff and there still are many older bands that will always be significant to me. But my music appetite has gone from merely nibbly to positively voracious at the same time that my attention span has taken a nose dive. I’m constantly on the lookout for that next song. An album or artist probably only lasts about a week for me now. I listen to it like mad, write something up, and suddenly it is old news. I still love it and may listen again later, but it isn’t the same. I’m already on the prowl for my next target. I also constantly evaluate the things I listen to on whether or not they will make a good entry. Sometimes I wonder if it is less about the connection, the experience of listening and more about, “is this interesting enough to write about?” But I’m working on this latter problem.

And in that vein, I am going to celebrate my first big milestone with a song that I absolutely love right now, mainly because the video makes me smile and the title has my name in it. This is a sweet, goofy, and oddly uplifting video from a new band called Walk the Moon. There is so much joy in this song, the beat is infectious, and there is choreography! The lyrics, which are easy to overlook on the first few listens, have an almost sad desperation in them coupled with a fierce determination.

What do you know? This house is falling apart
What can i say? This house is falling apart
We got no money, but we got heart
We’re gonna rattle this ghost town
This house is falling apart

We may be going down, but damn it! We’ll make it count. Enjoy!

Walk the Moon – Anna Sun

Three days from New York City

If you are anything like me, then it has probably been a lot longer than you’d like to contemplate since you’ve had a real vacation. Not the fake kind of vacation where you visit family, go to a conference, or squeeze in a little sight-seeing after a job interview. No, I mean a real vacation–when you take time off school or work, travel to a city you’ve never been to before, and go exploring. Well kids, I’m long over-due and I’m really excited to be able to say that this problem is about to be addressed. In case the entry title slipped past you, I’m going to New York City! I’ve actually never been there, my only experiences with the Big Apple being several drive-thrus (read: slowly losing my mind in stop-and-go traffic) when going back and forth between Boston and Charm City and a lay-over at JFK with a huge plaster cast on my leg (long story). Sadly, this time is still not quite ideal in that I’ll only be there for a little under 48 hours and for most of that time my poor husband will be working. But he’s made his peace with it and I’ve been busy making plans for a solo exploration of Manhattan.

I’ve decided to take a page from Anthony Bourdain and treat this like a real layover. On the advice of several people, I’m going to avoid most of the usual tourist stops. My goals are few and flexible, which I hope makes them doable:

1. Go to the New York Public Library and see the original toys owned by the original Christopher Robin of A.A. Milne fame (to make the little 5-year-old me immensely happy)

2. Get a real New York City bagel for breakfast

3. Visit Strawberry Fields in Central Park (my very first real Beatles pilgrimage! Somebody pinch me!)

4. Visit my buddy from grad school (she’s been trying to get me up here for about 2 years now. How can I refuse?)

Everything else I do will be incidental, unplanned, and hopefully delightful. I do hope that my husband will be able to pal around with me in the evenings, but I’m not holding my breath. Honestly, I’m just thrilled to be getting away from my normal life for a little while. I’m sure I’ll be exhausted when I get back, but it will be well worth it.

So now in honor of my maiden voyage to the Empire City (and for your entertainment, of course), here are my top three picks for songs about New York City. Enjoy!

First up is the impeccable Joni Mitchell and her 1969 classic, Chelsea Morning. Hailing from her second album, Clouds, this song showcases that amazing lyrical magic that Mitchell is known for and which helped to cement her reputation early on as a hit-making songwriter. Originally covered by Judy Collins in 1967–for whom it charted higher, I might add–I find that I much prefer Mitchell’s version. The combination of her simple orchestration and complicated lyrical rhythm make for a pleasant listen every time.

Next on my list is the often energetic and always eclectic Vampire Weekend with 2008’s (holy crap! Is it really that old already?) A-Punk. Their strangely obscure and at times unintelligible lyrics do in fact have something to do with New York City. And I’d like to think that the hyperactivity of this frenetic song reflects something of the city’s bustle. Either way, the video is creative and will make you smile.

And last–but certainly not least–is a little Canadian indie rock girl band called Cub that chances are you may not have ever heard of. But if you’re a nerd like me, you’re probably familiar with They Might Be Giant’s cover of their song, New York City (I know! I was as shocked to discover this as you. This is why I am not allowed to call myself a hipster). Cub was a short-lived trio from Vancouver who favored a soft brand of pop-like punk that some critics apparently dubbed “cuddlecore”. Personally, I think the name is both fitting and adorable. But what do I know? Oh well, Cub broke up in 1997, but first they made an equally cutesy video for this song in 1995. It is ’90s-tastic. Enjoy!

Wish me safe journey! I’ll try to post some pics next week.

On my radar

So the past couple weeks have been kind of a mess. Between intense 16 hour a day seminars at work, a recurring migraine that just WON’T LEAVE ME ALONE, and a bit of rather inevitable writer’s block, I’ve been hard pressed to put together the necessary brain cells for a blog post. But never fear, my dear readers for I am here. I am alive. I’m okay, I swear. Now I realize that crippling concern for my whereabouts is probably not what has been keeping you up at night, but I know that when I don’t write I start to itch–even if it doesn’t bother anyone else. Bringing to mind that ancient mystical question: If an unread blog doesn’t get updated, does anybody care? Ah well, I care. And I guess that is what matters.

For the last few days I’ve been desperately wracking my poor tender head for ideas to write about, but handy ideas have truly been feeling scarce lately. And despite a few recent purchases and quite a bit of casual listening, I wasn’t really feeling strong about much of anything musically. Or so I thought… and then the other day I got the (if not brilliant, at least positive) idea to post a few of the songs that are just coming on to my radar. Well, as with every good list, once I got started it quickly became hard to stop. But in the interest of reserving stuff for future entry fodder and to practice that useful skill called self-control, I’ve managed to cull the herd a bit. And so my friends, here’s a short(er) list of new-to-me artists who are currently getting me excited:

Cheerleader – St. Vincent

I’d heard the name bantered around the last month or so, but had no idea what I was in store for when I first encountered this video. I absolutely love the concept and am now leaving myself notes to grab a copy of this album.

From Now On – The Features

I didn’t realize it until browsing on YouTube just now, but I was totally into a song by these guys last summer. I failed to pick up on them at the time and ultimately forgot about them–shame on me! But I’m definitely putting them on my music store list now. Truly a fun and raucous song that is reminiscent of the more upbeat songs by Kings of Leon; although apparently that is not their normal sound. And the energy level this one inspires in me more than makes up for the fact that it appears to only be available on the Twilight Breaking Dawn Soundtrack.

That Old Black Hole – Dr. Dog

I love the playful lyrics in this one. Very clever and it pretty well mirrors my mood the last few weeks. No video yet, but here’s their recent performance on Conan.

Don’t Let It Get To You – Rostam Batmanglij

A quarter of New York City’s Vampire Weekend, Batmanglij (isn’t that just the best name EVER?) is also a promising music producer with what sounds like a very promising solo career in the offing. I love the layered organic sound of this song. Think of a bunch of people playing empty plastic bottles instead of instruments, then pair it with an orchestral string section. Creative is the very least that I can say about this guy.

These are just a few of the songs I find myself randomly humming these days. Who’s on your radar?

Wishes for 2012

The last two weeks have been absolutely wonderful and just a little bit insane. Between family coming to visit (including cousins, a sister, and a 4-year-old ball of pure energy called a child), multiple tattoo shop visits, and that whole holiday thing, I’m feeling a little ambivalent. I’m feeling physically drained, yet emotionally recharged. As a result, I’ve decided to count this as a win, even though I’m still catching up on sleep and my shoulder is still healing from my little self-inflicted art project. But with all the excitement lately, updating the blog just kept getting pushed farther and farther down my to-do list. So I decided to take a little unscheduled holiday hiatus from writing. Plus, I figured that 2 Christmas themed entries from me was more than enough for one year. And since I’m still not quite back to the usual grind, I’m going to keep this short. But I plan to begin posting regularly again starting next week. A little New Year’s resolution, if you will.

But with the advent of 2012 now whizzing past us, I still feel the need to at least comment. 2011 was a complex year for me, to say the least. A lot happened and I’m still trying to total up both the good and the bad columns in my 2011 ledger. It was a bad year for pets and an even worse year for some people I care very deeply about. I traveled more than expected, but most of it for work. I was officially asked to stay on in my grant-funded position and ever since I have been trying to come to grips with the idea of living in Charm City (or at least this state) on a more permanent basis. My husband got hired by the company he was contracting at and started talking about buying a house. I experienced my first earthquake and dealt with an unexpectedly strong case of seasonal depression (apparently, Winter #5 is a doozy). I spent some extra time quality with family and had one of those significant (as in permanent) bonding experiences with my youngest sister. And (quite momentous for me, if for no one else) I started this blog in an effort to bring some creativity to my life. It has been a crazy time and for the most part, I am glad to put 2011 behind me–even though I do believe that all-in-all it wasn’t a bad year. I still hope that 2012 is a better year for me, or else I may lose what little is left of my sanity.

And as for you, I wish you immeasurable happiness. I hope you hear from an old friend. I hope you find that $20 you squirreled away in a forgotten hiding place. I hope you read your favorite book (again). I hope you watch a gorgeous sunset painted across a desert sky. And I hope you hear a new (to you) song that literally stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away with its power and beauty.

To possibly help you achieve that last one, here is Energy by The Apples in Stereo. A beautiful song that makes me feel like the whole world is goodness and light, with a slide guitar solo that somehow always brings tears to my eyes. Enjoy and have a very Happy New Year!

It’s been one of those days

Have you ever had one of those days? The kind where you feel like you’re dragging around more than your usual baggage? You start second guessing every little decision and find yourself dissecting every email or text message for hidden meanings. You fear that people think you’re a clod. And deep down inside you find yourself agreeing with them. It’s a bad scene and today it was kinda my scene. I hate those kinds of days because it can be so hard to talk yourself out of it.

No, nothing really happened. People still like me, my marriage is sound, my job is secure. I’ve just been working really hard lately and avoiding sleep when I could really use it. And most people have a tendency to beat themselves up when they are tired. So I’m going to try to take my own advice and hit the hay early. I promise I’ll post some length treatise next week about the cultural significance of Rush.  (You think I’m kidding?) But for tonight, I will leave you with a song that perfectly reflects the black rain cloud that has been hanging over my head all day.

I give you The Reeling by Passion Pit, a wonderful little electropop outfit from Cambridge, MA. They got their start during my own days wandering around Cambridge, which always makes me feel inexplicably pleased. Almost a sense of kinship, if you will. In this song, lead singer Michael Angelakos strikes the perfect balance between dance-ably upbeat and existentially questioning. He cries out to the listener, “Look at me, oh look at me. Is this the way I’ll always be?” The video is colorful and gorgeous, calling to mind the magazine collages you might have made in high school art classes. And the significance of the constantly peeling layers plays right into the analytical tone set by the lyrics.

Do you have a “one of those days” song?

Best guest star in a music video

There is a long history of big name movie stars randomly showing up in music videos, usually years before they have made their reputations. It’s literally gotten so prevalent that you almost can’t watch VH1 these days without running into familiar faces. Some famous examples include Alicia Silverstone in Cryin’ by Aerosmith, Courtney Cox in Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springsteen, and Hugh Laurie in Walking on Broken Glass by Annie Lennox. Haven’t seen these videos? Have you been living under a rock for the last 15 years? Any way, in each case a huge artist or band just happens to cast a great, if relatively unknown, actor for their video. Hindsight is 20/20 and eventually, often years later, someone digs up a copy of the video and starts yelling at the tv screen, “I know that person!”

It is less common for the opposite scenario to happen. But it does happen. And my favorite example has got to be Elijah Wood’s appearance in Dance Floor by The Apples in Stereo.  The album, Travellers in Space and Time, was released in 2010, years after Elijah Wood became a household name for portraying Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. For all that I happen to love The Apples in Stereo for both their quirkiness and their ability to make truly happy music and I honestly believe that they are a wonderfully talented band, their reputation pales against that of Wood. So how did they get him to appear in their video? Why, he’s a fan! That’s how! After what may one day become an infamous meeting between Wood and Apples frontman, Robert Schneider, at SXSW in 2003, led to Wood signing the band to his label, Simian Records, in 2006.  He also went on to direct the video for Energy on the album New Magnetic Wonder.

In Dance Floor, Wood pulls off an amazing performance and shows off a little-known (at least to me) talent for physical comedy. He is utterly adorable and invariably makes me want to smile and pat him on the head. The song is catchy as all get out, blending smart hooks with subtle auto-tuned backing vocals. It is happy and up-beat, but with a strong undercurrent of uncertainty. Schneider asks, “Where are we to go when our world is so confusing?” It is a message equally appealing to the angsty 14-year-old and the disillusioned 30-year-old alike. But Wood’s endearing performance proves the perfect bridge between the peppiness of the music and the sometimes dark lyrics.

And that is why he gets my vote for best guest star in a music video!

Do you have a favorite cameo in a music video?