Archive for April, 2019

Playlists

April 18, 2019

Over four months ago, my good friend Joe passed away in his sleep. As I had previously stated, one of the things that we shared was a love for music. Though we sometimes argued over what constituted “good” music, we agreed that music was good. One of the things he did was curate playlists on YouTube like people used to make mixtapes. This year I decided to start making my own playlists of my favorite music. I add to them from time to time but I also go on music binges trying to pump them up so I can put them on in the background sometimes. Below are three of them that I have worked on the most but I have so many more I want to create.


Rap


Pop Music


Hard Rock

So what do you think I am missing? What other playlists should I create?

(Written on 4/13/19)

An Ode Remembered

April 17, 2019

“Read that last bit back to me, Halas,” Darden said, sipping the last of his glass of blackwine.

Halas finished writing and then took a deep breath. “Of course, sir,” he said. “You said ‘ And so the song of the sea was now safely in the hands of the library in <>.”

“Great,” Darden said. “Another of my stories written down for posterity. You can go home now. Take the rest of the roast with you.”

“Yes, sir,” Halas said, setting his book aside on the desk and wiping the nib of his pen clean and setting it aside too. He stood up. “Have a good night.”

“You too, Halas,” Darden said. “And stop calling me ‘sir’.” He smiled as Halas shrugged and shuffled out of the room, headed to the kitchen to pick up the remains of the roast to take home with him. Darden slumped in his chair, relaxing as he stared into the fire in his fireplace.

Dictating stories of his adventures with Halas always stirred up all sorts of memories for Darden. Some of those memories were very good and some of them were very bad and everywhere in between. In his youth, he had been inspired to leave home instead of following in the family business. He had become a wandering bard, touring the country and performing for money and he had seen a lot. At some point, he had unlocked the magic that music contained thanks to the teachings of an elder bard far to the north. He had become an adventurer then, helping a group of like-minded individuals fight evil and rescue the common man. He had had a long and successful career and he had made his fortune. In fact, he had given away more than he had earned and he still found himself rich.

He remembered how delighted he had been when he discovered that his voice could hurt and heal, weaken and strengthen. He had traveled with a wizard gnome, a drow thief, a human sorceress, a half-orc bruiser, and a tiefling swordswoman. He had made friends with these people which had made up for his lonely childhood. All along the journey, he had found many of the pieces he had felt missing early on. He grew into a stronger person, a hero. He had found love and lost it. Now in his declining years, he was trying to get it all down on paper with Halas’ help. He did not want his stories to disappear from the world when he disappeared from the world. He hated these morose moments in front of the fire. Perhaps it was time to go to bed. There was a knock at the door.

“Halas?” Darden called out. “Why did you knock? You know you’re always welcome.”

A familiar elven face opened the door. “I am not Halas,” the man said. “So I thought I should knock.”

Darden’s heart nearly stopped. “Kalavas!?” He shouted. “Is it really you?”

“It is, old friend,” Kalavas said. “I hope it is not too late for a visit. I was passing through and I heard you had a house in this town.”

“Friend?” Darden asked. “Of course, you’re welcome but I would have thought you were done with me.”

“Done with you?” Kalavas asked, his laughter was genuine. “You were the one who led to my awakening.”

“I mean, you’re not wrong,” Darden said. “I did lead the way for the wizard that broke the spell on you but…”

“Yes?” Kalavas asked, his eyes curious and amused. “Are you torturing yourself?”

“I could have led somebody to you long before I did,” Darden said. “Somebody could have released the spell years earlier. I visited you and sang to you instead of helping you.”

“Is that all?” Kalavas asked. “I should have visited decades ago. You were a child, you can hardly be blamed for your romantic notions.”

“Romantic notions?” Darden asked. “What do you mean?”

“I still remember the songs you sang to me when I was petrified,” Kalavas said. “I remember many of the words you told me.”

“You could hear all of that?” Darden asked.

“Sort of,” Kalavas said. “It was much like I was in a dream.”

“So you knew I had a crush on you,” Darden said. It was not phrased as a question but he still eyed Kalavas closely.

“I did not want to mention it when I woke up,” Kalavas said. “I thought it might be too awkward and I have no preference for men.”

“I guess I should thank you,” Darden said. “You look exactly the same as back then.”

“We elves age slowly,” Kalavas said. “I wish you could live as long as I will.”

“Me too,” Darden said. “But it is nice to have a proper ending.”

“You had a good life,” Kalavas said. “I have heard some stories.”

Darden smiled. “I did have a good life. Soon you will be able to read all about it.”

Kalavas smiled. “I’m glad. You did a lot of good in the world. I hope your stories can inspire others to do just as good.”

“I hope they do better,” Darden said. “We should always be better than we were before.”

“That is a noble sentiment,” Kalavas said. “I suppose that is something the younger races are better at. Improving.”

“Why don’t you stay the night?” Darden asked. “Have a glass of wine with me.” He turned to grab the bottle but when he turned back, Kalavas was nowhere in sight.

Had he imagined the whole thing? Had he simply had too much blackwine and it turned his own memories against him? Perhaps. Or perhaps Kalavas did not want to linger. Darden had a feeling he would never get the answer to his questions. Still, the experience left him feeling lighter. It also might make for a good page or two for his books. He would think on it when he was clear-headed in the morning.

(Written on 4/13/19)

The Nightmare Before Christmas

April 16, 2019

(SPOILER ALERT for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Go watch it and come back or read on at your own risk)

I am a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I have written about the movie several times before. Last year, during the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I started a tournament bracket for best Disney Animated film and I took Nightmare Before Christmas all the way to the finals and the movie won the whole thing. You can find those words in the First Round, Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, and Finals. Basically, I talked about how I have dealt with both anxiety and depression in my life and how the movie mirrored a lot of moments in my life. I also talked about how Danny Elfman’s music was probably the best he will ever achieve in this movie. I also related how I had experienced my own job-based depression and I learned to better balance my life and work. I also finally found a job that I love doing which allows me to kick ass by day and be creative by night. I am almost always thinking about this movie in one way or another so I want to express some of that.

A thought I literally had last night as I was driving home from work was sparked by the lyrics of “Town Meeting Song”. The song suddenly resonated with me even more when I realized a few things. First, I feel like the song is mostly about cultural differences but I will set that aside for the moment. The song takes place about halfway through the movie and Jack has just arrived back from Christmas Town. He is bubbling over with excitement about this huge discovery that he has made. Then he tries to explain something that he does not fully understand himself. He talks too quickly and when his audience does not get it, he keeps plowing forward instead of going back to clarify. This is so relatable. The more excited I am, the more I tend to ramble and throw things out there. It is excitement through the lens of anxiety. When I have a moment to breathe and maybe write things out, I do so much better at explaining everything in a linear manner. Part of the real emotional conflict of the movie begins here.

Even if Jack explained himself better, his endeavor would probably still be doomed. Jack loves Christmas because it is a shiny new toy but he does not really understand it himself. He proves that in “Jack’s Obsession” when he experiments and tries experiments to dissect Christmas. As I got older, I grew to appreciate this scene better. Jack is trying too hard. Christmas is not world peace or famine relief. It is a holiday intended to be a simple and good time. Sometimes you just learn to enjoy things by taking a deep breath and a break and coming back to things later. I have solved a lot of my problems by letting my mind wander and coming back to things. A problem that had bested me previously was now something I easily dominated. Jack also isolates himself from everybody else in the town. Sometimes another perspective can help you figure out a problem. Another set of eyes could have been just what Jack needed.

Continuing along that line of thinking, I was trying to think of what Jack could have done to actually succeed at his mission in this movie. He clearly got the citizens of Halloween Town excited about the possibilities of Christmas but he was having trouble getting everybody to see his vision. At first, I thought that Jack should have taken the townspeople in small reconnaissance groups to actually show them Christmas Town. That way they would have actually seen and understood what Jack was telling them about. Then I realized how stupid that idea was. It is just spreading the problem around. The secondary conflict of this movie is between Jack’s vision of Christmas and the rest of the world’s vision of Christmas. In order for Jack to succeed, those two visions should be one. If he had actually stopped to talk with Santa Claus then he could have set up a cultural exchange between the two towns. Of course, that would have stopped him from having a huge life event that allowed him personal growth and allowed him to overcome the main conflict of the story.

Of course, he does not stop and talk to Santa Claus because he does not believe he needs to. I feel that this is because he has a confidence problem stemming from depression. Jack has been the King of Halloween for a long, long time. We are never told but I always thought it was probably since the advent of the holiday (whatever that means). He has gotten really good at his job which means that everybody is always looking to him for guidance and saying what a good job he is doing. Part of his depression is that he is disinterested in his job because he is too good at it. He discovers Christmas and is happy at a possible new challenge. However, he is still stuck in that mindset where he is the king of all he sees. So he dives into Christmas with overconfidence. Shaking loose from depression is not that easy and he literally crashes and burns. It is only when he accepts who he is and learns to not be complacent that he truly starts to find happiness.

So those are a few thoughts I have had recently and I hope they let you love this movie a little bit more. Please tell me what you think about The Nightmare Before Christmas or tell me why I am wrong about it being the best Disney movie.

 

(Written on 4/11/19)

Musical Gimmicks

April 15, 2019

WILPW

Obviously, music has been tied to professional wrestling for a long time. It started in the 1950s but really hit its stride in the seventies and eighties with the marriage of rock and wrestling. This basically amounted to music playing as performers entered the ring and when they won a match. Also, music was obviously used in promos and advertisements. Later, I heard stories about music videos that were produced for Smoky Mountain Wrestling to introduce new members of the roster. Music is a powerful force that can provide a lot of information through tone and lyrics in a short amount of time and minimal effort. Also, a performer’s entrance music fires the crowd up and lets them know who is showing up so they can cheer or boo appropriately. However, what I want to talk about today are professional wrestlers who are actually musical.

Though, I actually want to start with those gimmicks that were music adjacent but actually rarely showed much musical skill. As usual on these overviews, I will probably expose some gaps in my knowledge but enjoy the ride and educate me in the comments if you must. First in this group is the Honky Tonk Man. Honky was a master at making people hate him but he was also a guitar-wielding, Elvis-inspired performer. He hit more people with his guitar more than he ever played it. Speaking of hitting people with a guitar, there was also Jeff Jarrett. He was supposed to be a country music musician who wanted to use pro-wrestling as a platform to become a star as improbable as that sounds. He never sang a word and he broke hundreds of guitars throughout his career. Funny enough, his entrance song was sung by another wrestler Jesse James but the WWF never went anywhere with that. I also think of people like Jillian Hall who did a tone-deaf pop singer gimmick, squealing into a microphone to the delight of nobody.

But no, I am here to talk about those with actual skill. The first that I want to talk about is John Cena. Those who only know him as a meme or as a Hollywood personality might not know his past in the early 2000s. Back then, he changed from being a fairly normal guy into a white rapper gimmick. I am sure there are many who would be surprised to know that he was a very competent rapper. It started with him recording his entrance theme “Basic Thuganomics” and doing 8 Mile-esque rap battles on Smackdown. He was dubbed the Doctor of Thuganomics and then he recorded his album which included a lot of great tracks including the aforementioned “Word Life” and “Bad, Bad Man”. His rap career started to fade away as his gimmick evolved but he did record his now iconic theme song of “My Time is Now” which a lot of people might recognize from the popular John Cena meme. Every so often, he breaks out the rap and stretches those muscles. Just recently at Wrestlemania 35, he got back in his Doctor of Thuganomics gear and laid a rap down on Elias.

Who is Elias? Well, he is what happens if you take Jeff Jarrett’s gimmick and you actually give it to a talented musician. Elias started down in NXT as The Drifter Elias Samson. He was a drifting musician who played the guitar down to the ring and was booed for slowing down the action for an impromptu concert. Eventually, the songs he sang did their best to insult the crowd. He eventually moved up to the Raw roster where he continued to “drift” around, playing his guitar. Eventually, he proved himself to be a really talented pro-wrestler and a very talented musician. He sang a lot of impromptu songs to insult the audience and his opponents. Like Cena, he actually released an album Walk With Elias (which he claims is what WWE stands for). He continues to impress with his music but lately every time he tries to play he gets interrupted. He is getting more chances to show off his in-ring skill which is great.

Probably the most successful is Chris Jericho. He earned a reputation as an artist in the squared circle. He has constantly reinvented himself over and over to change with the times. However, all during his career, he was always a huge fan of heavy metal. He idolized all of the greats but his dream of professional wrestling came first. However, in a weird real-life twist on the Jeff Jarrett gimmick, his fame from being a WWE superstar started to get him attention from a lot of his idols in professional music. He started to make friends with a lot of these guys and they saw that he was as passionate about music as he was about pro-wrestling. He was not just some wannabe singer who might assemble a band as a vanity project. He wanted to be an actual heavy metal singer. He was able to put together a band named Fozzy which is still touring today. They have put out numerous albums and they play huge concerts and festivals all of the time. Now, he has been able to extend his pro-wrestling career by balancing it with his music career which will probably allow him to do both for as long as he wants.

There are plenty of people who sang their own entrance themes. Shawn Michaels re-recorded his theme song (“Sexy Boy”) with his vocals. R Truth raps his way down to the ring live, showing without a doubt that he has some skills. There was famously the West Texas Rednecks (a group in WCW) who sang a song called “Rap is Crap” which actually charted and was played on the radio. Tyler Breeze recorded a theme song which is an ode to his gimmick as a supermodel and an actual banging electronica song. Meanwhile, Mickie James has recorded two Country albums and is working on a third which is why she has been away from the ring for a while. I am sure this list will continue to expand as the years go by and the stars of pro-wrestling get better at diversifying their talents. We already have plenty of pro-wrestlers in Hollywood, why not some who get a Grammy eventually?

(Written on 4/10/19)

Legally Frisked

April 13, 2019

Before I get this post started, I need to say that I am a paralegal and by law, I cannot give legal advice. This post is merely to explain the law and does not constitute legal advice.  Check out the other posts in my Legally series in the archives.

Back in 2004, rapper Jay Z released probably one of his most famous tracks “99 Problems”. The song has been played endlessly for the last fifteen years and I have also heard it parodied and the hook used to create one-liner jokes. Obama even cracked a joke at Jay Z’s expense using the line “I have 99 Problems and now Jay Z is one”. The song is about all of the obstacles in Jay Z’s life (which he emphatically states that a woman is not one of them). He deals with fame, critics, racism, and people getting in his face among other things. He does not go on to name all 99 of his problems but he does tell the story of getting pulled over by a racist cop. This is actually based on an event that happened in 1994, way before he was famous for rapping, headphones, and being Beyonce’s husband. In all honesty, this is a quick little summary of a research paper written by Caleb Mason, a law professor at Southwestern University so I cannot take much of the credit.

Jay Z explains in the song how the incident went down. He was driving in his car with drugs in his trunk and, although it is not specifically claimed, probably a gun in the glove box. He hears a siren behind him and the telltale flashing lights of a police car are in his rearview mirror. Now, he knows he is in trouble because he has all of this illegal contraband and he is a black man in 1994. This is three years removed from the Rodney King beating and the LA Riots that followed. Not only is the LAPD proven to be racist, but they are also violent towards people of color. He gives himself two choices. He can stop and deal with it, knowing that if he does get arrested, he has some money to hire an attorney. The other choice would be to floor it and try and get away. Deciding that a police chase is too risky and too much of a hassle, he pulls over.

The cop sidles up to Jay Z’s car and asks him if he knows what he pulled him over for. Jay Z asks the cop if it is because he is young and black and dresses like a gangster. He asks the cop what the actual reason is. He assumes that he has been pulled over for Driving While Black and asks if he is under arrest. The cop says that he was driving 55 in a 54. Any experienced driver knows that a cop will not pull over somebody for driving one mile per hour over the speed limit. That is a joke. The cop asks Jay if he has a gun because he knows ‘a lot of you are”. Jay does not fall for the obvious ploy and points out that his license and registration are legit and asks if there is anything else. The cop asks to look around the car. Jay tells him that his glove box and trunk are locked and that he will need a warrant to search them. The cop, defeated, claims he is going to bring in a K-9 unit.

This segment of the song is in reference to notorious laws such as Stop and Frisk which were used along with racial profiling to harass black people for a long time. Thankfully, most of those laws have been abolished now. The main question here is “When can a traffic stop be used to search for drugs?” This is a Fourth Amendment question because that amendment guides law enforcement on search and seizure. The first important thing here is that Jay Z acted correctly in submitting to the police officer’s authority by pulling over. This preserved his 4th Amendment rights. He also correctly said that he didn’t know why the cop pulled him over, not giving the cop any more ammunition later in court. By law, the cop was within the rules to pull somebody over for going even one mile per hour above the speed limit even if that is suspect.

Jay Z’s first error is refusing to step out of the car when asked. That request is well within the rules laid out by the Fourth Amendment. Jay Z also basically gives the cop permission to search the vehicle, secure in the knowledge that the two bad spots are locked up. He did not have to give this consent. Usually, when cops ask for your consent for a search it is because they need it to continue. Also, no warrant is required to search a car during a traffic stop. Searches can happen if there is any probable cause and probable cause covers a lot of ground. Additionally, locking any part of your car will not prevent cops from legally searching it. They will just unlock it and continue. Finally, the cop calls in a dog whose search does not require probable cause and bypasses a lot of Fourth Amendment privacy concerns.

I hope that this educated you in a small part and that you learned a little from this trip into the law with me.

(Written on 4/7/19)

The King of Bards

April 12, 2019

The Tournament of the Grand Festival of Treania was an annual event in the Capital city of Kaliah. It was the most elite fighting tournament on the entirety of the Pekko Continent. It was a no holds barred contest where competitors were allowed all of their spells and all of their equipment. It was a particularly brutal competition but it was a great spectacle for the people and the winner earned a lot of prestige and quite a lot of gold from the winner’s purse. It was highly anticipated throughout the year and nobles and royals groomed and supported competitors and covered their expenses and entry fees. Those competitors were always of good breeding and were big names from around the world. Their benefactors were also the biggest names in the world.

This year, the competition would be fierce. The favorite was a bronze dragonborn fighter from Ieshon named Harkon. He wielded a magical sword that was suffused with the energy of lightning. There was also Roc, a half-goliath barbarian who had been ensorcelled by a mysterious countess from Vedel. There was Akilah Korinda, one of the princesses of Kofrain and a deadly assassin whose specialty was knives. A darkhorse was Lord Rosebriar who had proven himself to be an accomplished magic user who summoned infernal creatures to fight for him. People had only seen Ahlia Dark in one fight before but they saw that she fought alongside the ghost of her brother which was just within the rules of the competition. This group and all of the others were dangerous and well-funded. A lot of them were usually up to no good but at least during the Grand Festival, they were drawn away from their activities.

So, it was a surprise when a short, sandy-haired young man walked up to the competitor’s gate dressed in rags. He could not have been much taller than a pony’s back but he was definitely human or at least appeared to be. Historically, there had been short competitors so somebody like this man was not to be underestimated. It was his clothes and his accessories that had the guards scratching their head. They knocked on the door and summoned the majordomo out into the open. The young man was wearing shabby clothing and was carrying a lute over his shoulder. He had a cocky little grin on his face.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the majordomo said, more than a hint of condescension in her voice. “The musicians’ entrance is around on the other side. In the back.”

The blond man looked confused for a moment and then laughed. “Oh, you mean this?” He asked, fingers caressing his lute. “This is my weapon. I mean to compete.”

“Forgive me but there is an entry fee for this tournament,” the majordomo said. “I doubt you have it.”

The man tossed a pouch at the majordomo’s feet, it jingled. It was a big pouch. “I think that ought to cover it.”

“Who are you?” the majordomo said, a little surprised. She bent down and picked up the pouch and weighed it in her hand and then opened it to make sure.

“You can call me Jack,” the man said. “For now.”

“Well, ‘Jack’,” the majordomo said. “You also need to be endorsed by somebody of royal or noble blood.”

“I am,” Jack said with a shrug. “I was sent here by the King of Bards.”

“I’ve never heard of him,” the majordomo said.

“He and his court, which includes yours truly, have kept a low profile so far,” Jack said. “Now we want to change that. It starts with this tournament.”

“Well, this ought to be amusing,” The majordomo said with a laugh. She turned to one of the guards. “Go get the first alternate you can find and bring them here. We will be giving Mr. Jack a little qualifying match.”

They waited for a while and then a huge mountain of a man stepped out through the gate. He had a huge, two-handed war hammer and full plate armor. He sneered at Jack and readied himself by hoisting the hammer up into the air. He did not waste time with niceties and charged at Jack with a wordless battle cry. Jack yawned, swung his lute into place and strummed the instrument hard just before impact. There was a clap of thunder and the armored warrior went flying back through the gate, splintering it into pieces. A cleric ran over to the huge man and started to heal him. There was a signal that the man was down and out. The majordomo whistled and turned back to look at Jack with new interest.

“I’m thinking that we might be able to fit you into the tournament after all,” she said. “Let me check with the officials and get back to you.”

“So, should I just wait there then?” Jack asked.

“I think you’ve earned the right to come inside,” the majordomo said. “Find a spot to yourself and I’ll come and find you when I have an answer.”

“I’m at your service,” Jack said. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

(Written on 4/7/19)

Jamming

April 11, 2019

Kath sat against the cool stone of the mini storage place on Elm Street. In the late afternoon, the sun had shifted so that she was now sitting in the shade. A kind stranger had gotten her a cool drink so she felt revitalized, ready to keep playing her guitar for the people. Her case was once again open in front of her, already jangling from the morning’s tips. She had pocketed some to encourage people to keep donating to her cause. The morning had been alright but she needed to keep going.

She was tooling her way through an acoustic version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. It had attracted some attention but it was a bit too hot out for anyone to linger to listen. The best she got was a few dollar bills, some quarters, some thumbs up, and one very good set of metal horns. It was not bad for a workday in the summer. She wondered how long she would have to play before taking shelter from the heat once again. She hoped she could go the distance.

A piece of paper fell into her case as she was starting into a Cat Stevens medley she had put together. The piece of paper was not green. Kath stopped playing and, out of curiosity, she leaned over to pick it up. She unfolded the sheet and saw that it was sheet music. She was a little confused. She looked up and saw a tall, thin man with wiry hair and big glasses. Before Kath could even open her mouth, the man spoke.

“Can you sight read?” the man asked.

“I can,” Kath said patiently. “I’m actually classically trained.”

“Are you very proficient?” the man asked, narrowing his eyes as he scrutinized her.

“Again, I’m classically trained,” Kath said. “I’m pretty good if I say so myself.”

“This needs to be played with absolutely perfect precision,” the man said. “No mistakes. ‘Pretty good’ is not good enough.”

“Did you want me to play this?” Kath asked. “What is it?”

“Only if you are sufficiently proficient,” the man said. “You’re not a spy, are you?”

“Who are you?” Kath asked, laughing a little bit.

“I don’t see how that matters,” the man said. “Can you play it? Perfectly?”

“My name is Kath,” Kath said and stuck her hand out to shake hands. “Some people call me Kath Kat. And you are?”

“Can you play the song or not?” The man asked.

Kath paused for a moment and stared at the man. “And you are?”

There was another long pause.

“Fine,” the man said. “You may call me Edgar.”

“Nice to meet you, Edgar,” Kath said. “So you want me to play this song? Is it special?”

“More than you realize,” Edgar said, pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Did you write it?” Kath asked.

Edgar’s eyes narrowed again. “You never answered whether or not you are a spy.”

“I’m a music major,” Kath said. “and I’m not a spy.”

“Fair enough,” Edgar said. “I suppose whatever you said I could not verify your claim. Things have progressed and I must test my hypothesis. Before you ask, it is too complicated to explain.”

“Fair enough,” Kath echoed. “So should I play the song now?”

“Begin the experiment,” Edgar said. “Whenever you are ready, of course.”

Kath grinned and shook her head before taking a deep breath. She scanned the notes on the page and looked for any surprises or tricky bits. It was all surprises and tricky bits. This was unlike any music she had ever played before. For a moment, she wondered if she was proficient enough. She shook it off and arranged her fingers and began to play. She gave her all into and out of her guitar came strangely beautiful discordant music. Each note reverberated through her being and the air around them. She could almost feel the pressure waves from each and every note.

She wondered how other people on the street might be reacting to the weird music. She looked up and saw Edgar hurriedly writing on a pad of paper he had fished out from a pocket. He looked excited. She looked to her right and saw a tall shadowy being walking on two legs, Edgar stepped out of its way, snapping pictures of it with his phone. She saw a bird with two sets of wings swoop by, plucking a cockroach off the side of the building across the street. The building seemed to be covered with cockroaches. To her left was another group of those shadowy figures. The landscape around her seemed to flicker and change like static on a television set. She reached the bottom of the page and stopped playing and it all stopped. It was just a normal city street again.

“What the hell was that?” Kath asked. She stood up and looked around wildly.

“The other dimension,” Edgar said. “The experiment worked!”

“Um,” Kath said. “What does that mean?”

“Please come back to my lab,” Edgar said. “We have to keep going.”

“Sure,” Kath said. “I guess I can’t just walk away from that. I’m inviting a friend, though. No offense.”

“None taken,” Edgar said. “They’re not a spy, are they?”

Kath shook her head with a laugh. “No.”

Into the Woods (American Playhouse 1991)

April 10, 2019

I have always been a huge fan of folklore and fables. Grimm and Perault are iconic favorites of mine and I often seek out any adaptation of the work that I can get my hands on. There is a lot out there. I remember being read all of the stories and then reading them myself when I was old enough to read. Each of these stories has elements of fantasy, magic, and danger. Part of what sparked this interest was getting into Disney early on. Of course, the Disney versions were the safe versions. When I got a little older I discovered how dark the original stories really got. It makes sense as many of the stories were inspired by the famous Black Forest in Germany which is a huge, thick and dark forest. I was fascinated by the darkness mixed with the happily ever after, the light and the dark. Every fairytale felt kind of like Halloween in that way. Late in my college days, I actually took a literature class studying fairytales, again mostly focusing on Grimm and Perrault. I was interested to learn even more about different versions of each story and how they connected to each other. Like the connections between The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, and the Tiger’s Bride. It remains fascinating and I like to see it riffed on in pop culture (see Once Upon a Time, Grimm, and Fables).

Fair warning, before seeing this movie I had already seen the 2014 Disney version starring Meryl Streep. I remember it fondly and I do listen to music from it now and then (mostly “Agony”). I thought it was a good movie but I remember people freaking out about it before it came out. I have known plenty of people who had a great love for the stage version. When I worked at a regional theater in New Jersey, I met quite a few people who had done the show either in high school or college. It seemed to be one of Sondheim’s more school-friendly shows as the subject matter is accessible and there are a lot of characters to get a lot of kids on stage. Later, I met a guy who was absolutely obsessed with the show because he had been in it and seen it so many times. He was the one who I witnessed worrying about the Disney version. Sometimes it can be tough for people to anticipate an adaptation of something they love. For me, it is exciting because I am not so strict on following the original story or format. From what I understood, the Disney version changed a lot from the original but kept a lot of the show’s spirit which I think is the most important part. Also, they got a good singing performance out of Meryl Streep which was in doubt after Mamma Mia.

The first thing I noticed was how the production values were beautiful. This makes sense as that is what I did for a living for a while. The sets kind of looked like a book where you flip open panels to see different scenes. There were a lot of things that seemed to be done poorly on purpose for comic effect. It felt like something you would see in stage versions of Monty Python sketches. A lot of credit to The American Playhouse which put on this production. The lighting and special effects are really beautiful. They did a good job of lighting the actors while also giving the show a dreamy, shadowy feel. This matches the comedy of the show. The show feels funnier than the movie version mostly because it involves actors playing to the audience and getting immediate feedback. One of the biggest production differences that made an immediate impact was the narrator. In the movie version, they had one of the characters as the narrator. Here, the Narrator is an omniscient character outside of the story so we get more from him. They also kept the Witch and the Mysterious Stranger separate which makes a bit more sense in the end.

The actors did a really great job as well. I would be remiss if I did not start out by paying homage to one of the great queens of stage musicals by mentioning Bernadette Peters. She has developed a reputation as a legend for good reason and she does justice to the role of The Witch, a great archetype from folktales. Though villainous, she has great comic timing. Tom Aldredge plays the Narrator and he has a great dry wit to him. I had to look him up at intermission because I thought he might be David Straitharn and that is definitely a compliment. Chip Zien plays The Baker and he is lovably goofy and pathetic. Joanna Gleason plays The Baker’s Wife who is a great foil for Zien and she has a beautiful singing voice. Chuck Wagner and Robert Westenberg play the two princes and they are just as goofy and vain as they should be. Danielle Ferland plays Little Red and she is great at being the petulant little brat. Ben Wright plays Jack well as a poor, simple young man with a kind heart.

Overall, I loved this production. While the Disney version was definitely good, they cut out a lot to fit in under a two hour running time and to simplify the story. It feels like they also cut out a lot of the really charming and funny parts. This version felt funnier. In turn, it made the dark parts of the show even darker but less depressing. That was my one complaint about the Disney version now that I think of it. This show felt like a lot more fun. I also felt that this version had rougher edges which were natural for a live performance. Still, that is what we love about live performances. I can now see exactly what people saw in this show.

 

(Written on 4/6/19)

Halestorm

April 9, 2019

I love the band Halestorm and this is just going to be me raving about them for a little bit. They are a hard rock outfit that got their name from their frontwoman Lzzy Hale. What drew me to the band is how pure and awesome Lzzy’s voice is and how much it gets me energized especially backed by a rock band. Her brother Arejay is on drums, Joe Hottinger is on guitar and Josh Smith is on bass guitar. They have four albums out but they also have a few cover albums that they put out so if you want a hard rock version of Bad Romance or Get Lucky, you’re in luck.


What Were You Expecting?

Expectations can be a vicious part of our everyday lives. Disappointment and vindication both come from expecting something and either getting it or not getting it. We can definitely build fantasies in our heads that can create a lot out of a little. In this song, “It was just one kiss”. One kiss can send a person’s mind reeling and get them making all sorts of plans. This is important now that we are finally learning to respect women (thanks #MeToo) as we need to examine our expectations and keep them reasonable. It is alright to wish and hope but you need to be realistic and communicate with the object of your affections.


Miss the Misery

I actually think about this song when I think of ending any relationship and it also makes me think of MBMBaM a lot. When we break up with somebody or we end any relationship with somebody we are close to, it hurts. However, every single time I find that I still miss it even if it was painful. It is important in those moments that we keep in mind that we do not miss that person. We miss the way that person made us feel. Positive or negative, they elicited passion inside of us. As the McElroys say, we have a hole in our lives shaped like that person who is now gone. It is something important to remember so that we do not quickly go back to somebody who is not healthy for us. Not to mention this is a real banger of a song.


Rock Show

This one is just a pure ode to rock in general and specifically to women in rock and women who are fans of rock. It is an anthem to the girl in the middle of the crowd who is getting high on the adrenaline of a good rock show. It also throws some love to the girl who dreams of becoming a rocker like Lzzy Hale. The dream is possible and worth having.


Mz. Hyde

This is actually the first song that I heard that led me to seek out the album “The Strange Case…” which is my favorite album so far and is probably the album that led to more mainstream play for the band. This song is about the duality of people. We change ourselves to suit different situations and we actually do it pretty easily. For example, I am totally different at work than I am with my friends. I am different again with my family. Even among different family members, I can shift the parts of my personality that I show. We do this to please people and to protect ourselves. Also, this is hands down my favorite of their songs.


I Am The Fire

I like a lot of songs like this. The song asks “Am I strong enough?” and then answers that with a resounding “hell yeah!”. These songs always get me pumped because they have so much energy. Lzzy’s wailing cries sound like a battle cry and it is hard not to respond to that. It reminds me of stuff like Dorothy’s “Missile”. In fact, Halestorm has a lot of these types of songs. “Freak Like Me”, “Daughters of Darkness”, “Bad Girl’s World”, and “Here’s To Us” just to name a few. Telling your audience that they can be just as badass as the band and that we are all in this together is a great message.


Vicious

Another song about being a badass. Halestorm is so good at that. “What doesn’t kill me, makes me vicious.” It is a great reminder not to mess with people because they might mess with you back. Be kind. If we are all kind then we can all party together.


Shatter Me

Yeah, this is just a bonus song because it only features Lzzy. It’s so good, though.

 

(Written on 4/5/19)

The Gorillaz

April 8, 2019

I first became aware of the Gorillaz when they debuted their first single in late 2000. I first heard it in music video format at the tail end of music videos being a mainstream sort of thing. (With YouTube, they have come back a bit but younguns don’t know about MTV and VH1 back in the day). I was immediately taken by this song even though it took me a while to remember the name. The single was called “Clint Eastwood” and I loved the merger between the brass instrument samples, the dub influences, the electronica, the hip hop flair, and the rock vocals. This was all accompanied by some really awesome animation which made it probably my favorite music video of all time. At the time, I thought this might have been a one-shot thing. I loved the music and I looked forward to more singles but the animation was probably not going to be a thing. Little did I know that the animation was going to be their gimmick. The animation continued and we got actual lore produced by these new rocking cartoon characters.

The Gorillaz are a band founded by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. Albarn was doing great with Blur but he wanted to do some more experimental stuff but did not seem to want to be the face of another band. That brought in Hewlett who, among other things, was the creator of Tank Girl and a master at a particular art style. The idea of the band is that Albarn is a mainstay but any musician or guest can rotate in and perform on any track or album. The first group was Albarn, Mike Smith, Cass Browne, Simon Katz, Miho Hitori, and Dan the Automator but there have been over two dozen musicians that have been part of the band at one point or another and that does not count guests. This has led to an ever-evolving sound as new musicians and new ideas are introduced to the band.

But there is even more than that. Jamie Hewlett’s contribution is to help make these cartoon characters into almost living breathing people. Part of that is his excellent artwork and character design. He made four distinct characters that each look interesting. Then, after a few singles were released, they actual animated skits where we got to know the band members better. That meant that actual voice actors were hired and we got to see these cartoons actually talk to us and each other. We learned their backstories. The lead vocalist is 2-D, a young British man who has blank eyes due to being in two different car crashes. The bassist is Murdoc, a satan worshipping conniver who put the band together. The lead guitarist is Noodle, a Japanese girl who speaks little English but is a guitar prodigy. Finally, there is Russell, the band’s American drummer who has the power to channel spirits. These spirits are usually how they explain the guests on their albums.

Eventually, the band got popular enough that they had to figure out how to do live performances. At first, they would have the live performers behind a screen and images from the music videos playing on the screen. At one point, they just had the live performers appear on stage with only a skit from the protesting cartoon characters as an explanation. Finally, technology caught up and they were able to do some performances with the characters projected as holograms. This has definitely led to some awesome and memorable moments. As with their sound, they continue to evolve their presentation both in live performances and in their music videos. To date, there have been six albums, three side albums, several EPs, and a bunch of tours. Every album they have ever put out is that rare album that I can listen to all the way through without skipping and they all have several songs that I absolutely love.

Funny story, I was actually so obsessed with this band that I researched their first album for an actual research paper. In my second semester in college, I was in an expository writing class with a focus on writing research papers on Pop Culture. My early papers in the class were actually based on MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. The final paper that I wrote was a thirty page paper on Joe Sparks, The Chipmunks, and The Gorillaz. I explored the idea of musicians who would perform through cartoon characters instead of showing their faces. My theory was that they did so in order to allow more artistic freedom. If they performed through a brand instead of their own image, they did not have to adhere to their previous style. I wish I still had a copy of that paper because I would definitely post it here but I loved exploring the different themes. I ended up interviewing Sparks after sending him a draft of the paper but I wish I could have interviewed Albarn and Hewlett for the paper but I was just some punk kid trying his best.

(Written on 4/2/19)


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