The Ten Album Challenge

If you’re on Facebook. (Which I am. Too Much) you’ve probably seen the following coming out of your friends and family lately.

I’ve been nominated by *Insert Name Here* to post 10 albums, 1 per day for the next 10 days which MOST influence my musical taste, without any caption or explanation. I’m gonna tag a friend each day to share the same.

Well, 10 days ago, my sister Mary tagged me to do it, and since what I do, like all the time is talk about the media and art that has influenced me and hit me and made me happy throughout my life, the “no explanation” part was hard for me. So I journaled the explanation and I will now be sharing those quick paragraphs with you.

Day 1: Green Day Dookie

Dookie

This is the album that taught me the glory of basic, 3 chords and some angst rock and roll. So much came to be because of this love and I still, to this day, will turn up the volume when a song from this comes on. (Hell, “Basketcase” came on the radio on Sunday and I cranked it and rolled down the windows.) This isn’t even getting into the “hidden track,” which is stoner humor perfection. “And did I mention…I was all by myself,” still makes me giggle.

Day 2 – Backstreet Boys Millenium

Millenium

This is the album that made me fall in love with pop music. It also happens to have the three best songs ever recorded by a boy band, “I want it that Way,” “The One,” and “Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely.” I will defend the music of this time forever, I will not however, defend the haircuts.

Day 3: Sara McLachlan “Mirrorball”

Mirrorball

I like people singing sad songs with pianos. I don’t know why, but I do. I think a big part of it was being 11 when this album hit. But I also love live albums, especially from eras I missed. I was too young to really experience the whole Lillith Faire thing, but I’ve always loved the soft acoustic energy of that festival.

Day 4: Zac Brown Band Uncaged

Uncaged

I have a deep appreciation of musical artists who think genre is bullshit, and the person who I think does this the best is Zac Brown. He’s a country artist who refuses to discount his rock and roll roots for the poppier Nashville sounds, and Uncaged is the album that made me fall wildly in love with his ability to use romantic imagery to tell classic country stories. (“She’s a natural disaster, she’ll tear the land in two. She’s running to be running but that’s all that’s left for you.”)

Day 5: Original London Cast Recording Les Miserables

Les Mis

Look, choosing what Showtune to put on this list was practically impossible, so I went with my earliest memory, and Patti Lupone. Also, “One Day More.”

Day 6: Bruce Springsteen The River

The_River_(Bruce_Springsteen)_(Front_Cover)

This is the Springsteen that I love the most, the party song mixed in with the heartfelt ballad storyteller. I love Springsteen infinitely, but this album is my favorite, the one that clicked for me as a kid, understanding why exactly it is that my family worships this man.

Day 7 Coheed And Cambria Second Stage Of The Turbine Blade

Second Stage Of The Turbine Blade

There’s a piece of wisdom out there, which is, “you will always think the music you loved when you were 14 is the best.” And for the most part, this list isn’t that (it actually skews a bit younger) but I was 14 when Second Stage Of The Turbine Blade imprinted on me, and Coheed And Cambria came to be everything to me. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before and I’m still chasing that high by seeing them play live every year. (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let Manhattan be having concerts in September!)

Day 8: Billy Joel Songs In The Attic

Songs In The Attic

My father gave us all the incredible gift of loving the B side. Movies that weren’t quite hits, songs that didn’t make it on the radio, restaurants that you have to walk a little bit from the main tourist drag to get to. Songs In The Attic is that impulse contained in an album, a collection of songs that Billy loved, but hated the album cuts of, and that the record company wouldn’t promote. So he made an album of the live versions, and they’re perfection. “Miami 2017” and my favorite song ever “Summer, Highland Falls” make appearances too, so I can’t complain.

Day 9: The Postal Service Give Up

Give Up

Deciding whether to go with Give Up or Ben Gibbard’s other band, Death Cab For Cutie’s Plans, I realized quickly that in addition to the fact that I still listen to Give Up, in it’s entirety regularly. It also opened a whole world for me, as a teenager, to that whole synth based, indie rock world. (Basically the other thing up for this entry was the Garden State soundtrack. That whole scene)

Day 10: Carole King Tapestry

Tapestry

I am a white woman who loves rock and roll, to not include Carole king would be beyond strange. (Much like she isn’t in the hall of fame! WHY NOT? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?) Anyway, this album is the best, and everyone should listen to it all the time.

Anyway, those are my 10 albums and some little entries explaining why I chose them! Hope everyone is staying safe, still. Love you all so much.

 

Third Time’s A Charm – Be Our Guest NYC

The incredible Captain Awkward,an advice writer who I’ve been following for the past few years, has stated that when attempting to meet new friends as an adult you should find a recurring event that sparks your interest and go three times, no matter what. Three times, decide if it’s right for you, if you fit in.

Back in June, I got a Facebook notification, in the “events near you” section for “Be Our Guest: A Disney DJ Night,” the even was taking place that Friday, and the event description appealed to me, an evening where a bunch of people wore costumes and drank and sang along and danced to Disney music.

Yes, I couldn’t have designed a better evening myself. I texted Aless and asked if she wanted to come, she gave a hearty “OF COURSE” and we went. We had an absolute ball, talked to some great people, haunted a diner until 5 am and stumbled back to Aless’s apartment at 6 giggling.

It was incredible. In September, I went back. Aless was back in Colombia visiting her mother, but I thought about that 3 times thing, and I bought the ticket and went by myself this time. It was, again, unreal. I was immediately surrounded by people I felt connected to. I sang and danced and again, found myself in a diner at five in the morning laughing about everything and nothing.

This past weekend, I got my third shot. I laced myself into my black Ariel As A Human Corset, I hopped on a late train, and walked into the Gramercy Theater on 23rd Street and danced and sang my face off and had just, the absolute best time. (Aless came again this round).

Trying to explain why this event has gotten so inside of me is tough. It’s just a strange intersection of things that I really love. The cosplay and Disney songs are nice trappings, but what I really love about it is communal. It’s the part that gets me sitting in a diner talking to new friends until 5 in the morning. The part that I lost a lot of when I outgrew a group of friends. Getting a taste of that, even if it’s only one night every few months is nourishing. 

So anyway, I’m in on this event now, I’ve found people I care for very much there, and I hope to be as much of a regular there as I can. I’m also going to try to hang out with the people I’ve met there in other spaces. But even if those friendships never quite make it past the late night disco fries and milk shakes stage, I’m grateful for it.

Magical Movies Tour: Fun And Fancy Free

“Mickey and The Beanstalk” is a full stop perfect Disney Classic, doing some things that Walt did best in story telling, reinterpreting a classic fairy tale, incorporating the Mouse and his friends in ways that are both creative and satisfying. It’s also funny, has some neat music and cool character designs.

The rest of Fun And Fancy Free doesn’t quite live up. The title song performed by Jiminy Cricket is a delight, but the first short “Bongo The Circus Bear” is interesting but goes on too long and ends in a bizarre bear dance number about slapping to prove love. The middle segment is a showcase for veltriloquist Edgar Bergen, who is very talented and also narrates the Beanstalk portion, it’s quite a non sequiter, and doesn’t quite do it for me, despite Bergen obvious talent for a mostly lost art form.

But wow, I love “Mickey And The Beanstalk,” especially the opening segment which shows the depths to which Mickey, Donald and Goofy have sunk, with Mickey slicing that bean three ways to make sandwiches on bread sliced thin enough to be transparent is comic genius, as is Donald’s subsequent blow up. Willy the Giant is also a great deal of fun and the singing harp does the job as well as possible.

Seriously, I’m enjoying these anthologies much more than I thought I would. I was kind of dreading this month, and I actually burned through all of them in a weekend (giving myself a nice little cushion going into warmer weather!) and I will probably be revisiting them for casual cleaning the apartment or cooking type viewing. They’re such a delight!

Next week, we continue down this path with Melody Time, will I continue to love these? All signs point to yes!

Magical Movies Tour: The Three Caballeros

What a weird, trippy, again kinda racist, delight of a film! I’ve always been a fan of the Cabelloros, from Disney World and from those Disney Sing-a-Long videos, but had never watched the full film.

Again, we have a series of shorts, this time much more connected than Saludos Amigos. Donald receives a gift and it turns out to be a magical film meant to introduce him to his cousins from South America. He learns about some different birds, before making his way to Brasil, where hey look! Jose Carrioca is waiting for him! The two friends happily dance and sing in Brasil, and then wind up in Mexico, where they meet Panchito Pistoles. They hop on their magical sarape (I said, kinda racist) and fly about Mexico, singing, dancing, Donald hits on lots of pretty girls, and then finds his way home.

It’s just delightful, neon colored, displaying early attempts at integrating live footage and animation and seriously, the songs in this one are so much fun. Also, I just adore Jose and Panchito, and I’ve already explained that Donald is my favorite of the Fab Five. So I was just thrilled to watch the movie.

And as it descended into trippy madness, I was even happier. Singers become flowers, with singers faces, Donald skips around a technocolor wonderland while Jose and Panchito look on fondly. All three fly off on a magical serape.

Again, sometimes things just need to be what they are, and this is a silly cartoon about singing birds with some fun songs sung by Mexican singers. And this executes that conceit perfectly. It’s less “educational” than it’s brother production, and all the better for it.

Next week we discuss Fun And Fancy Free, we’re skipping Make Mine Music because it isn’t on Disney+ (bizarrely) and I don’t feel like chasing it down.

Ms. Americana: Pop Songs & Finding Your Power

I love Taylor Swift.

I love her music, I love the way she snuck into the void Madonna left behind while none of us were looking because ten other pop stars were vying for the spot (She is not as good as Madonna, I haven’t completely lost my mind), I love that she’s in control of her image as much as she possibly can be. I love that I grew up with her (Taylor is two years younger than I am, but I’ve always been a late bloomer and she’s kind of a old soul.)

All that said, I don’t know if Miss Americana is a good documentary. Taylor is an vulnerable as she can be, I think, but she’s had walls up for so long, and she seems to be doing the hard slow work of taking them down rather than letting them crash, figuring out which ones are useful and which ones are limiting. That’s probably healthier but not nearly as much fun.

The movie builds a complicated picture of a woman is who is just starting to realize who she is, she notes that she’d been frozen at the age she got famous (16) and had a lot of catching up to do. Which is why her devastation that her political stand in 2018 wasn’t enough reads as sincere rather than ego. She was 27, but closer to 18 in maturity and you think your voice can really change the world then, and to be fair, Taylor Swift actually might be able to move the needle. (Apparently after she started insisting on voting young registration in Tennessee went up like 16% or something).

The film really shines when they show Taylor writing music, and working on music. Chowing down on burritos with her producer, giggling with Brandon Urie in dorky icon perfection, shouting to Jack Antonoff that she forgot the words to “Endgame.” She’s herself in that work, and it’s stunning to see.

I really enjoyed this documentary, but as I mentioned up top, I love Taylor Swift. I’d be curious what someone who either actively dislikes her or is indifferent to her and what they’d think. I think it’s just partly having tracked her life for so long that nothing really blew me away. The eating disorder confession is probably the only new information, but even that I got, “Oh yeah, that tracks.” Also her 2016 sit out was mental health related, apparently. After her final dust up with Kim and Kanye she realized her relationship with the media and the public was toxic and she needed to reset, which is marginally interesting.

Also, you remember the curls and the cat eye makeup? That was a whole thing for a while and I’m really glad she moved on style wise because OOF. (I spent HOURS trying to get my hair to do those curls though.) I also totally spent the rest of the weekend listening to Taylor Swift and watched The Reputation concert again.

60 Books In 2019 #30: Sounds Like Me: My Life In Song (So Far) by Sara Bareilles

Sometimes learning about an artist you love distances you from the very visceral way their work hits you. Especially with music.

This was not the case with Sara Bareilles, where learning more about her life just clarified why her music has always spoken to me. Her idyllic childhood spent playing outside with her sisters and cousins. Her obsession with musical theater. (She name checks Chess!) Choosing to change schools for high school because she can’t stand the world she’s been in. (In her case she went the opposite, from Catholic school to public school…) Her battles with depression and anxiety and her search for her voice.

It’s a book of essays, each one centered around a song Bareilles has written, which is one of the more creative ways into a celebrity memoir I’ve seen. (I’ve read a lot of them. Many by people not nearly as notable or talented as Sara Bareilles.)

But that also makes it a hard book to talk about, because the only through line is those songs, which, I was recently reminded of the quote that, “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” It’s really hard to describe how hard I cried the first time I heard “Many The Miles,” or “Vegas,” or God bless the woman, “She Used To Be Mine.” It’s this deeply cathartic feeling that I wasn’t alone, that someone not only felt the things that I was feeling, but could articulate them.

So we’re halfway there you guys! I think I’m going to do this. I’ve managed to only read 2.5 books by white men! (Crisis On Infinite Earths, Heretics Of Dune and Fosse) I’ve opened myself up to a genre I’d always slighted (Contemporary YA) and found some new writers that I like a lot.

Up next is Let The People See: The Story Of Emmett Till, by Elliot J. Gorn, because I guess the news isn’t upsetting enough these days, and I’ve decided to make myself more upset? Frankly, I’m in a bit of  a non fiction space and I haven’t read enough not by white women books in my mission. I’ve broken out of my white man thing, but I still have some work to do to branch out further.

Because I Want To Get Better

Rocketman was billed as “A True Musical Fantasy” in all of it’s marketing. What was not highlighted nearly enough in that was musical. I went in expecting a rock and roll bio pic, in the vein of Ray and Walk The Line and yes, Bohemian Rhapsody. I think most people did.

Rocketman isn’t a rock and roll biopic. Well, technically it is. But it’s mostly a musical. Like a real deal, the characters can’t contain their emotions with dialog so they burst into song musical. It’s a musical that tells the life story of Elton John (well, the first half) with his songs, which is why it’s gotten miscategorized, but from about two minutes in, wehn Elton, in full devil drag, sits in a rehab circle and begins talking about his life, he visualizes preteen Reggie Dwight, and adult Elton and Young Reggie go through a verse of “The Bitch Is Back,” to introduce the stifling middle class suburb where he grew up, I realized, “Ohhhh, this is different.”

It’s different in a way that’s pretty well attuned to my taste. I’m a big Elton John fan, and even at their hackiest I love a rock bio (I think it comes from all those lazy Saturday mornings watching Behind The Music on VH1.) and I of course love musicals. (There were a couple of moments, especially the “Benny And Jets” orgy sequence where I was having trouble not thinking of the Fosse of it all.)

Rocketman is flawed, but even it’s flaws are hugely entertaining. Taran Edgerton is perfect, taking John from a wide eyed wunderkind to a sneering petulant spiraling superstar. It’s a powerhouse performance fueled less by physical resemblance than vocal and pure energy. Richard Madden plays John Reid as a kind of swoony devil on John’s shoulder, but it’s also great, because who could say no to anything let alone rock star decadence, when you have Richard Madden making bedroom eyes at you? (Also, it’s weird that Reid has been played on screen by both Petyr Baelish and Robb Stark in the past 2 years, yeah?) If Reid is John’s devil, then the movie casts Bernie Taupin as the voice of his better angels. Jamie Bell makes Taupin a stalwart figure, really the embodiment of the cinematic cowboys he idolized. It’s telling that the script has Bernie code switch between calling his friend “Reg” and “Elton,” and is the only one to do so. (He’s Reggie to his family for the most part, and Elton to Reid.)

The music numbers really make the whole thing worthwhile. “Honky Cat,” was probably my favorite, for it’s sheer MGM Musical on cocaine audacity, though I mentioned the Fosse feeling of “Benny And The Jets,” and Bernie finally walking away to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” is prettily done as well. I’m listening through the soundtrack now, and I’m not sure many of them work as standalone covers, but that’s not the point. (Also the only bio-pic soundtrack versions that I think do are Walk The Line, because Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were doing something very specific vocally there.)

Memory is also a major theme in this movie, and frankly I could write a whole other review just about the ways it deals with memory. I’m going to be thinking about and talking about this movie a lot I think.

  1. Avengers: Endgame
  2. Rocketman
  3. Detective Pikachu

Trailers

21 Bridges: This movie looks so dumb. If I still had cable I’d probably watch it 1000 times on TNT or whatever.

MIB International: SO SOON.

Yesterday: I can’t wait for this. It really does look wholly delightful.

Downton Abbey: SADHFUIFSHGNIRNBHIVNHGIDLSJLFGHIUFHGNRFJNRI. I am so excited for Downton Abbey. It’s embarrassing. No one should be this excited for the fucking Downton Abbey movie, but I AM. I can live with a disappointing GOT finale, I’ll even survive if The Rise Of Skywalker flounders but if Downton Abbey isn’t FAN FREAKING TASTIC, I will be quite put out, and I may even go to the garden to cry silently and miss the dressing gong.

Spring Has Sprung: Let’s Talk About Music

A few weeks ago on my facebook, I mentioned that season changes often put me into the mood for specific music. My Winter into spring music is pretty specific and kind of odd, but I thought it would be fun to talk about here. (We’ll do spring to summer, and summer to fall, probably too, but no promises.)

Anyway, let’s talk about it!

The Eagles

Frankly, I always like listening to The Eagles, which is kind of lame when you reflect on it, because The Eagles are kind of lame, but I also love them very much, so let’s get into it. I think Hotel California is a very good spring album because there’s something about it that feels like you should be driving with a top down while listening to it. I haven’t had a convertible in 10 years, so I settle for the windows down these days, but you know, still. Does the trick.

Death Cab For Cutie 

I actually would listen to Death Cab anytime also, but there’s something about their songs (especially Plans but really all of it…) that feels like waking up, which is very spring. I’m also in love with “I’ll Follow You Into The Dark,” right now, which you know, is kind of depressing, but it’s such a beautiful song. I also started an Amazon station of their music, which lead me down some great roads of their mid 2000s indie rock peers. So much Florence And The Machine, and Mumford And Sons you guys. It’s glorious.

John Williams Scores

OK, again, there’s no bad time to listen to this music, but it’s something that gets me moving, which is important in spring. Listen the “Eight Symphonies,” (Star Wars,) or my favorite score of all time, Jurassic Park and seriously, seriously, the Superman score, which is totally beautiful and lovely and great.

So that’s my spring music, what do you like to listen to this time of year to get things movie, and welcome the pollen that is currently destroying my resperatory system?

Thank You, Jonathan Larson

One of my arbitrary rules for myself is that I don’t seek out Rent on purpose. This isn’t because I don’t like Rent, it’s because I love and obsess about Rent so completely that all other thoughts, interests and delights become moot.

Rent is perfect. Rent is a trashfire. Rent is a phenomenon. Rent is overrated. Rent was a revolution. Rent was a mainstream sanitizing of the queer experience by a straight white dude. The thing that’s infuriating, I think, to non Rent-heads, is that the show is all of these things at once. It’s a mess. But as was made abundantly clear if you were anywhere near social media Sunday night, Rent is our mess, and we’ve all got a lot to say about it.

For me, Rent: Live (which wound up being mostly the taped dress rehearsal due to Brennin Hunt breaking his foot the night before.) was just a reminder of something very visceral, this show tatooed itself on my heart when I was 15, and so I will love it forever. (Not without criticism. It isn’t Les Mis which I refuse to examine critically.) But there’s too much emotion tied into it for me to turn my back completely. There’s too many late night diner renditions of “La Vie Boheme,” with friends. (We were a delight!) Too many karaoke duets to “Take Me Or Leave Me,” and “Another Day.” To many doodled “No Day But Today”‘s scrawled in notebooks. To many hours spent arguing whether OBC Mark and Roger, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal were better than long time mainstays in the roles like Matt Caplan and Jeremy Kushnier. (I actually prefer Matt, who I’ve always called, “My Mark,” to Anthony, I saw Rent on Broadway 4 times, 3 of those, Matt was Mark. I prefer Adam to everyone though.)

There were plenty of moments in Sunday night’s broadcast that landed like a thud. When you know the show backwards and forwards, changes are jarring. Some of those really soared though. I’m madly in love with the ways, “Will I,” and “Seasons Of Love,” were redone. Especially “Seasons,” which is about remembering the good things in life in the face of imminent death, but has become a kind of treacly, feel good catch all out of context. Jordan Fisher’s Mark was adorable, Vanessa Hudgens continues to remind us all that Kenny Ortega did a really good job picking some top tier musical theater talent back in the day for High School Musical, and of course Brandon Victor Dixon brought the house down as Collins. (They were the MVPs, but also Keala Settle as the “Seasons” soloist and the rest of the cast was uniformly good.)

But the real kicker came with the finale. Finally moving into live mode, after the new cast sang through “Finale B,” (the overlapping of “Without You,” and “Life Support” reaching it’s breathtaking energetic conclusion with a projection of Jonathan Larson’s smiling face blessing the whole enterprise.) the chords of “Seasons Of Love” began anew, and the original Broadway cast ran onstage and my heart burst.

Even that raised my hackles in places. Idina sings the female solo? Why? (I know why! But seriously, world, she’s amazing and I love her, but we need to Let It Go!) Daphne and Fredi got to riff on the final, “measure your life,” but only Jesse got to sing out of the boys.  (Mostly I’d like to see Adam and Anthony, but also Wilson and Taye!) (Also, though, Jesse and Brandon singing together should be illegal. Nothing that beautiful should exist.)

As I meditated on this beautiful, perfect, stupid, problematic mess, I realized, that the thing about Rent, and why theater nerd kids love it so much, is that it is us. It’s an unlikely creature, optimistic and nihilistic, heartbreaking and silly, and refusing to be tamped down and shut up. The universe doesn’t seem to want Rent but we don’t care. Jonathan Larson died before he could really finish it. The movie crackles with possibility despite iffy choices all around. Rent: Live almost didn’t happen because of a star injury. People continue to take it apart and say it’s dated, but it persists.

So, Thank You, Jonathan Larson. Your last breaths have given a couple of generations of kids a way to articulate something that’s inside of them and that’s really worthwhile.

The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation! 

Grown Ups Always Forget

Mary Poppins Returns

There are moments during Mary Poppins Returns where it feels like the whole precarious exercise is about to go off the rails and Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda pull it back from the brink with sheer charm.

Like the very large shoes the pair are stepping into, Blunt and Miranda are just so damn likable, you find yourself fully tapped in to this movie, even when it maybe doesn’t all hang together cleanly.

There are genuine joys in this movie. “Imagine That,” Mary Poppins’s first number with the new generation of Banks children is a technical wonder and Blunt delivers it beautifully. A few of the songs get the music box style quality of The Sherman Brother’s on point, though I’m perhaps a little bit too familiar with Mark Shaiman’s style to not see the seams there.(Hairspray! And also Smash….but mostly Hairspray…) “The Cover Is Not The Book,” uses it’s music hall styling to organically allow Miranda to rap. (I mean, they hired the man, they had to find a way to work it in, right?)

I didn’t quite connect to grown up Michael’s story, which involved losing his wife and giving up his artistic dreams to go to work at Fiduciary Fidelity Bank in order to support his young children. (And taking out a loan on the house. Michael had a lot going on.) But I adored Jane’s story, which has her picking up her mother’s social justice causes (Mrs. Banks was a sufragette you may recall) as a union organizer,  and resuming what must have been a lovely teenage flirtation with Miranda’s Jack.

The new kids, John, Annabelle and Georgie are sweethearts, forced to grow up before their time due to the family’s financial difficulties. Colin Firth is the villainous banker trying to foreclose on the Banks house which is a perfectly fine use of him, I guess. A few other cameos do the hard work of selling that this is the same world, that’s just moved on a bit. Even if it’s very clear that Angela Lansbury’s balloon lady was clearly written with Julie Andrews in mind.

Rankings:

  1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
  2. Aquaman
  3. The Incredibles 2
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody
  5. A Star Is Born
  6. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  7. Creed 2
  8. Mary Poppins Returns
  9. Deadpool 2
  10. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  11. Ocean’s 8
  12. Infinity War
  13. Ant-Man And The Wasp
  14. Venom

Trailers:

Many the same as Spider-Verse, but also The Lion King! Which, I will see. Whether I like it or not is a different conversation, but I’ll see it.