Tag Archives: Changes

Rowling Along the Reading Rainbow

I never much cared for book learnin’ when I was a wee lad. I still don’t do much reading now, to be honest, but I at least have changed my stubborn, childish tune from “books are stupid and long and hard and I don’t want to read them!” (younger me really set myself up for ridicule from someone with a dirty mind). Today, I have put some literary miles behind me and have dabbled in just about every major genre of fiction, a fair degree of nonfiction, and I write a decent amount on my own (clearly). I owe a great deal of this to a good required reading list throughout high school and an excellent English teacher whose enthusiasm encouraged me to actually read the books I was assigned. Thanks Mr. H! His job would have been considerably tougher though were it not for the fact that I had already approached one book series with gusto where I had previously dismissed others with little regard. When I was in grade school, my mom came home from a weekend trip with some of her friends and I was pretty stoked to have her return; not because I missed her, oh no, but because she had some loot for me! She promised a present and delivered me… a book? What? What am I supposed to do with this? You’ve ruined me, mother. I’ll just go over here and lay face down in shame for the remainder of my life.

Yeah, I was a melodramatic youth, but aren’t we all? But hey, what was I to make of a book with a bespectacled British boy flying on a broom reaching out for a ball with wings? The book in question was of course Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s if you are American where we like alliteration) and today marks the 20th anniversary of its release on June 26, 1997.

Like many young readers of the late ’90s, once I took a look inside the book I was quickly turning pages, engrossed by the magical world within. This is interesting for me now as I never was one for fantasy outside of the realm of space until my teenage years when I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed The Hobbit in my aforementioned English teacher’s freshman class. I was an extremely devoted fan to cinematic space-based fantasy like Star Wars, and was easily more excited about the newest movie in that series that had come out a month prior to the book about the boy wizard. Now it is easy to say that absolutely Harry Potter is superior to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but young, developing in body and mind me was not at the same level I am currently. And for what it’s worth (nothing; it’s worth nothing) I did enjoy reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone more than watching Episode I. What is worthwhile, is that Harry Potter helped me change my stupid stance of protest towards leisure reading. In an historic occasion where the desires of a parent actually occurred after she actively encouraged it, my mom did get her wish of Harry Potter making me excited to read. Truly, all credit should go to another mom, Joanne Rowling, better known by her pen name J.K. Rowling – because unfortunately having your clearly female name displayed on your book can turn people away from it.

Thanks to the contemporary take on a magical world, it was easy for me as a non-fantasy fan to become engrossed in all Harry’s world had to offer, from Privet Drive to Diagon Alley to Hogwarts, I was onboard with the owls, monsters, spells, ghosts, and even a school that you live at. Ugh, it would have seemed like torture for younger me were it not for all the cool shit! Yet therein lies the grandest appeal of Harry and his world to a little boy about the same age as him. Harry was extraordinarily relatable to me as he was just like me, y’know, just without the parents I had. Even though he was a product of it, Harry was as new to the magical world hiding around the corner as I the rest of us were; we discovered everything with him. For me and others my age, we continued to discover the magic, both dark and light, not just within the ensuing series of books and movies but within our own bodies. This time I am intentionally referring to the sexy stuff, or more specifically the hormonal changes that arise throughout our teenage years to biologically drive us to reproduce with the avalanche of side effects that amplify our every emotion. The Harry Potter series will always be near and dear to my heart not just because of its rich fantastic lore, but mostly because of its incredible sympathy for my puberty. I have never read a book or seen a movie – not even the terrific adaptations of these books – that understands the natural growth of young people in mind, body, and society. Nowhere else has the development and deterioration of friendships, families, and world views been better captured.

At the crux of it all is the most difficult or frightening concept for us to tackle: death. Rowling has stated many times that the central theme of the story is dealing with death. Harry is an orphan whose parents are the first to die in the story, and he bears a permanent physical scar from their death that helps to accentuate his emotional scars that help define his character. Voldemort wants to avoid death at all costs to himself and others and hold dominion over it so that he is master of it. Throughout each book more characters meet their mortal end, and the frequency and impact of deaths ramp up as the series gets darker, just as Harry and his friends become impacted by the darkness of the world around them at an age where we begin to recognize how hard life is and how little we know, typically by blindly professing how we can do anything and know everything.

The Harry Potter series remains one of my favorite book series, with each book building more and more upon its world and most importantly it characters. I remember vividly finishing the first and last books of the series as they were similar situations. In both instances, I was up until about 2:30 AM and feeling tired, but nowhere near sleep because I was so close to the end of each text I was too excited and had to finish. I was exhausted after wrapping up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, not just because of the late hour, but because it marked the end of an era for me and at a critical time in my life. In the summer between my graduation from high school and my preparations to go away to university, I had Deathly Hallows‘ release to offer me the one constant I had for that summer. Everything in my world was changing quickly, but not simply because of the next step within my adolescence, but because of death. Throughout my high school years – when the released books in the series were growing darker – I experienced a number of notable deaths of loved ones. I lost both of my grandmothers my freshman year of high school, three great uncles over the next three, and most devastating of all, my father shortly before my graduation. My dad’s death was still weighing extremely heavily on me when I began reading the all the more fittingly titled Deathly Hallows and the sense of dread I felt while reading it was more real than with anything else I have read. J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter helped me to cope with the hardships of my youth by showing me that even in a fantasy world with a semi-snake psychopath and literal soul-sucking demons the most terrifying part of life is growing up.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please drop me a line at monotrememadness@gmail.com. If you have not already, I would greatly encourage you to check out the Harry Potter books, and after you cross those off your list go ahead and watch the films too to see one of the best complete casts ever assembled perfectly play their respective characters. R.I.P. Alan Rickman. You will always be my favorite professor at Hogwarts, even if you were a dick most of the time. Time turn your way back here next week for some more fantasy fun.

I Expecto (Patronum) to see you again,

Alex

Advertisements

There’s a Starman Waiting in the Sky

The Glam is gone. The Plastic has peeled off the Soul. Ziggy will play guitar no more.

Yesterday, January 10, 2016, legendary rock star David Bowie died. Hiding his malignant liver cancer from the world for the past year and a half, Bowie worked until his last to deliver his art to the world, specifically his musical Lazarus. He debuted his final album Blackstar on his 69th birthday just two days before his death.

Born David Robert Jones in 1947 in the Brixton district of London, Bowie was the epitome of weird and wonderful in rock and roll. Transitioning through a series of musical phases and character personas (shown in the GIF up top) throughout his entire career, no one was more flamboyant in the arts on such a large scale. Fully deserving of his inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and universal reverence for changing rock and roll – no, no, music forever.

His themes, his words, his meanings, they were all as complicated as the man himself, and, as he described in his classic song I included in my second annual list of songs to live by, he was ever-changing. Bowie recognized that we are always growing and that trying to conform to a norm is not as rewarding (in his case quite so) as being yourself. His career was helped by the fact that no one, and I mean no one was like him. He was fearless, inventive, passionate, unbelievably original, and frequently coked out of his mind. All of these factors add up to a man who shattered conventions, inspired millions, and will be greatly missed.

It wasn’t always terrific; sometimes it was terrible. Bowie had his downs as well as his ups such as his collaborative cover of “Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger. I don’t care if they fucked; why’d they have to punish us with that? We share the blame though, as Peter Griffin says, that happened, and we all let it happen.

The good certainly outweighs the bad however. Bowie produced many iconic songs and albums that will endure eternally. Here I have included a list of my favorites from the man who sold countless records to the world. These are not meant as a ranking, and I’m sure I missed plenty of great ones, but it is as comprehensive as I can make it today while I’ve been listening the shit out of Bowie’s discography. Enjoy and remember the man who made it all happen. I apologize preemptively for some of the puns.

Suffragette City” – Powerful, fast, frenetic. The most rock and roll song of Bowie’s discography is one that’ll have you saying “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!” again and again.

Rebel Rebel” – The most commonly covered of Bowie’s songs, this was his goodbye to glam rock and hello to a new generation of fans.

Under Pressure” – Technically a Queen song, but this incredible tag-team effort features perfect synchronous harmony between Bowie and Freddie Mercury with the rest of the band being excellent as always. It’s impossible to imagine this song without Bowie or Queen. Bowie was a frequent collaborator with other major artists (consult the aforementioned Mick Jagger fiasco) and as with the rest of his career these instances were across the board. He did a few songs with Tina Turner, including “Tonight” and for Christmas he sang “Peace on Earth/ Little Drummer Boy” with revered crooner/actor Bing Crosby.

I’m Afraid of Americans” – This is a fitting song for citizens of every other country, from Bowie’s native England to Australia to Canada to many here in America… especially if Trump gets elected, right guys? HAHAHA! Pandering! Of course, some of our players in the presidential race are probably a fan of the line “God is an American” that is repeated in the coda.

The Man Who Sold the World” – Thanks to an excellent performance by one of his biggest fans during the famous MTV Unplugged special, this is commonly mistaken for a Nirvana song, so much so that Bowie was often complimented for covering them when he sang this in concerts! Kurt Cobain was a big time fan of Bowie which was evident in his own work, not to mention further reflected by the specific shout out from Anthony Kiedis in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “Californication” when he sings, “And Cobain can you hear the spheres singin’ songs off ‘Station to Station‘?” Station to Station was Bowie’s tenth album and one of his cocaine powered works.

Young Americans” – About a newlywed couple who start to realize they are not as into one another as they first thought. Nice job on the saxophone from David Sanborn too!

Golden Years” – Bowie could get funky and he was a pro at tapping into the good and bad of the confusion, change, and vibrancy of youth. Here he is on top of his game with both.

Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love” – Some ’80s Bowie for you!

Fame” -Bowie’s breakout hit in America was co-written by guitarist Carlos Alomar and John Lennon. It’s message is pretty self-explanatory: fame is not everything you hope it is and has a disturbing dark side to it.

Heroes” – I’ve talked about this one before in this post. An excellent song.

Queen Bitch” – Maybe this is the most rock and roll song from Bowie? Either way, it’s fucking great!

Sound and Vision” – Blue, blue, electric blue! That’s the color of my room!… Actually my room is gray. This song is simply gray-te!

Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – The title song to the 1982 erotic remake of Cat People  was also used in Inglorious Basterds. Bowie brings the fire to it.

Moonage Daydream” – This one was in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s out of this world.

Ziggy Stardust” – The title song of Bowie’s most famous album which is one of the greatest names for an album ever produced: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Remember what I said about being yourself? Do it, because we need more poetry like that in this universe! Ziggy served as the first of Bowie’s famous alter egos. He’s the one oft seen with the lightning bolt emblem over his eye. Ziggy’s life as described in the song is one of the stereotypical rock star hitting it huge and then spiraling down as a result of his own behavior, bad habits, and inflated ego. Nobody karaokes this song like my friend Mark drunk at 4AM in New Orleans.

Space Oddity” – Bowie’s first hit, and one of his greatest songs. It tells the tragic tale of Major Tom, astronaut extraordinaire. A surprisingly upbeat melancholy song that propelled Bowie into the public eye in the space age. In fact it was released a mere nine days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Another of his most popular works, this song was most famously covered by badass real-life astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield aboard the International Space Station.

Starman” – Included on the immortal Ziggy Stardust, this serves as the story of Ziggy’s arrival to bring his music to Earth.

Life on Mars” – A collage of the surreal presented less like one non sequitur after another like Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or The Beatles “I Am the Walrus”, but more like a young girl running through a movie theater observing the plethora of posters and pictures around her. The end result is a song that is on another planet than those two and is my personal favorite from him.

Bowie’s artistic talents were most greatly showcased in his music, yet he frequently worked as an actor as well. He received praise for his performance in the title roles in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth and on stage in The Elephant Man in 1980-81. Many remember him for helping to make Labyrinth more memorable when he played Jareth the Goblin King opposite a young Jennifer Connelly and Jim Henson’s darker D-list muppets. More recently he played electricity wizard and nerd icon Nikola Tesla in The Prestige. And of course, Zoolander proved that if you ever need someone to judge your underground model walk-off I believe Bowie may be of service.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy David Bowie and the many things he crafted over his lifetime. No matter whether you’ve heard every song and have collected each album of his, or if you are just discovering him in the wake of his death, or if you’re in between like me, I hope the man can influence you as positively as he has countless others. So long, Stardust, may you live on in those different looking stars and the hearts of the spiders from Mars.

Goodbye Moonmen,

Alex

More Songs to Enjoy and Improve Yourself With

Greetings and Happy Celebration of an Arbitrary Point on Our Planet’s Revolution Around the Sun! Perhaps I should simply say the more familiar, yet less accurate Hello and Happy New Year! I hope the start of 2016 finds you well. How are those resolutions holding up? Same as always? That bad, huh? Don’t sweat it – unless of course your goal is to work out more, in which case you should perspire a few beads. Anyone who read my blog at the change of 2014 to 2015 will remember my sentiment regarding New Year’s and unattainable resolutions that I described in “Songs That Everybody Must Hear to Better Themselves (or At Least Ease Their Whining With)“. I have no problem with developing goals with the intent to improve yourself and our world, but I just think that they should be reined in to a realistic standard, and they should not cause you more trouble than you can handle. If you’re not going to listen to me, at least listen to John Oliver or brutally honest Roger. If you’re not going to listen to any of us, at least listen to the dozen songs I included in my previous New Year’s post to help you to find your center for a healthy and enriching life. Once you finish with those I’ve got a new batch for you to sample and help set things right with, and this time it’s a baker’s dozen!

Once again, these jams are mostly rock or from a rock-blended genre because that’s what I predominantly listen to. Furthermore, they are songs that I personally enjoy and have found themes and messages that help me to keep on the proverbial track of life. Some have obvious connotations; others I simply feel the groove with. Hopefully while listening to them, you will too.

One” by U2 – Released on their famous album Acthung Baby, “One” was, and still is, regarded by many as U2’s best song ever, which is really saying something. Written while the band recorded in Berlin in the midst of the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism across the Soviet states, the song reflects the band’s own doubts and near break-up coming together in harmony as much as it does the gluing back together of Germany. I hear it as a reminder that we are all human and need to work with each other to achieve the greatest society we can make. This requires those of us who are in positions of power, or at least those of us who have it a little better, to give back some of our time, money, food, and most importantly love to our fellow humans who are not as lucky. “We get to carry each other/ Carry each other….” I referenced this song and its sentiment back in March with my post “Hoosier Homophobia: The Latest Chapter in the Book of Intolerance“.


I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After – Sometimes, though, it’s hard to know how to best give back, especially when you feel helplessly small compared to everything plaguing the world here, there, and everywhere. It seems easier to just leave it to someone else. There are definitely people who have dedicated their lives to charity and are more well-versed than the common man on what is most helpful, yet we cannot leave everything to them with the sentiment of “I don’t get it; I can’t really make a difference; I’ll let someone else take care of it.” That uneducated apathetic stance on social justice is what Alvin Lee and his band who formed in 1965 (ten years after when they agreed rock and roll was born) were critiquing in their biggest hit. Take a listen and enjoy the incredible guitar solos by Lee while remembering that his lyrics are more representative of 1960s counterculture than what he actually desired. The world was changing because of Vietnam and the staring contest between the U.S. and Soviet Union that was the Cold War, but no one really knew what to make of it all and a search for answers comes up with more questions.


It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. – Sometimes that feeling of being overwhelmed by the world’s problems is too much to handle. That is when I invite you to listen to this fast tempo, seemingly free-written apocalyptic anthem that regurgitates everything rambling through your brain up onto a pile and sets it ablaze to free you from the worry of it all. Sang in a style called “stream of consciousness” made famous by Billy Joel’s more historically based tune “We Didn’t Start the Fire“. Believe it or not, R.E.M. beat him to the punch and released this song two years earlier that his! However it was all started by Bob Dylan with “Subterranean Homesick Blues“. And if we’re going to talk about stream of consciousness ramblings then we cannot leave out Weird Al’s palindromic take dedicated to Dylan simply called “Bob“.


Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin – In case R.E.M. didn’t while away your worries enough, take a dose of Bobby McFerrin’s a capella classic that uses nothing more than his own voice and is often wrongly accredited to Bob Marley who had plenty of life-shaping classics himself, but would have had a hard time writing this song considering he died seven years prior to its release. McFerrin invites us to chillax about our daily doubts and put a smile on. The video for his song features him and two American comics known for their goofy happiness dancing around and having fun. The obvious one is Robin Williams who needs no introduction; the other is Bill Irwin who is more well-known on stage as a both a comedic and serious actor, but he has a few film and TV credits including roles on Elmo’s World, CSI, and as the voice of TARS in Interstellar. Of course, the star of this show is McFerrin, who brings an infectious charm that will have you singing along with your own smile. Just try not of think of Big Mouth Billy Bass too much.


Changes” by David Bowie – Written about his own numerous style changes over the years, Bowie’s “Changes” has also been taken up as a memorandum for elders taken aback by the behavior of youth. This notion was latched onto by filmmaker John Hughes who used the lines

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through…

from the song’s second verse to open his classic film The Breakfast Club.

“Changes” is good reminder that things never stay the same and that that’s not a bad thing. Often it is good to shake things up. Frequently, changes are necessary to make, both in the world and for yourself.


 

Changes” by 2pac – Tupac Shakur sang of different changes than Bowie. Calling for an end to racism and poverty, he realizes full well those things are not just going to go away as is stated in the chorus sampled from Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s song “The Way It Is” that focused on the Civil Rights movement in America. “The Way It Is” may not be as potent today as 2Pac’s version which also uses the music and melody from it, but it is a lesson that simply acknowledging “that’s just the way it is” does not make something right. With both songs the message is that oppression, racism, and hate should not be tolerated, and neither should privileged or ignorant apathy towards them.


 

Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson – One of Michael Jackson’s biggest hits commercially and critically, this song is more than just hot pop. Akin to something you might hear from the choir in a Baptist church, “Man in the Mirror” goes further than pretty harmony and rightly pinpoints where the most integral change of all must take place before anything Earth-shattering is to be accomplished.


 

We Gotta Get out of This Place” by The Animals – Sometimes the change you need is a geographic one. Whether it is to boldly blaze your own trail somewhere new, or to escape from a place that holds nothing for you (we’ll talk about that one next), moving on to a different locale can be beneficial and this is the anthem for it. My dad frequently told me this was the unofficial anthem of U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War for obvious reasons. He and his platoon frequently played it and sang it and it’s hard to imagine anyone else truly connecting with a song as they did.


 

Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty – Hopefully you don’t find yourself in an abusive relationship that makes you sing along with The Animals, but a dead-end one isn’t good either. For that matter, being stuck in a bad routine that is draining you in a place that clearly is not what you hoped it would be is far from desirable. Finding the strength to pick up and move on and realize that you’re in control of your life (“The sun is shining, it’s a new morning”) is a significant epiphany that must be made to reclaim your true happiness, and the real you.

Gerry Rafferty was feeling burned out after his band Stealers Wheel (the “Stuck in the Middle With You” guys) broke up in 1975, and constant threats of lawsuits made it so that he could not release any new stuff for three years. Jaded by it all, Rafferty bounced back and forth between his native Scotland and London where he would stay and jam out with a friend who lived on Baker Street. One day he realized it was a “new morning” and he managed to put together his album City to City which featured “Baker Street”. The song is immortally famous for its alto saxophone riff that created the “Baker Street phenomenon” that skyrocketed saxophone sales and the use of the instrument in more songs. It’s one of the first pieces Lisa Simpson ever learned to play, and a favorite of Rick Sanchez’s to gloat with. As long as I’m handing out advice, I might as well say DO NOT combine cesium and water.


 

Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who – Of course, as necessary as change is in all our lives we have to remember to avoid making the same mistakes as we did before. Just as change is required to remedy persecution in society, we have to also keep out of the pitfalls that ruined the previous leadership. Pete Townshend was thinking mostly of the latter when he wrote this iconic rock song. The moral of his story – which almost was an actual story; this was supposed to be the ending song of a rock opera he was writing after the success of Tommy -is that the flurry of revolutions, like the ones in the ’60s and ’70s, do not do anything other than change the man in charge, hence the final line “Meet the new boss/ Same as the old boss”. Meant to highlight the unpredictability of political revolution, the song has lines that come from someone who has seen the wheels turn enough times to know better than those blindly following a cause without really knowing what it’s about or what to do when they overthrow the governing body. He’s just going to collect his things and play his guitar and live his life like he always has. It’s a lesson that while change is often good, too much can be bad, and certain people who have lived long enough know when things are going to go too far like they did before.


 

All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles – The greatest band ever had quite a few of the greatest songs ever and many of them have words to live by. “All You Need Is Love” is actually far from my favorite Beatles song (which does not at all imply I don’t like it), but it bears a superb (and obvious) message that is worth repeating.

With a Little Help from My Friends” by The Beatles – This one also has a terrific (and obvious) message. You are as good as your actions and philosophies, and as good as the friends around you. If you want to be a better person, surround yourself with good people. Furthermore, be there for them and they’ll be there for you. This song highlights how life is made easier and more enjoyable when shared in the company of others.

As a bonus, the video clip I included also has a piece of Paul and Ringo singing “Cosmically Conscious”, another message I like, although I think I look at it in a more scientific manner-Carl Sagan kind of way than what Maharishi Yogi was talking about.


Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed – When I say surround yourself with good people I did not include instructions on how to find good people or what good people look like. This is because you’ll figure it out by getting to know someone by spending time with them. Their appearance can offer clues as to their interests and what they identify with, but it is not an assurance of their character – that you determine by their actions and philosophies (you know, those things I just said). Essentially, this is the song that reminds me to not judge a book by its cover. Everyone is different, and some people look very different. However, that does not predispose them to being bad in any way. They could be, but you never know until you talk to them. Who knows? You might meet your best friend in the last place you’d expect dressed as the strangest thing you’ve ever seen.

This song also serves as my reminder to not be afraid to go out of my comfort zone and try new things, visit new places, partake in new experiences, etc.

 

Thanks for reading! As always I can be contacted at monotrememadness@gmail.com for any feedback you may care to share. Be sure to make like Batman and return. As was the case last year and the year before, I’ll have a new post every Monday. Usually late Monday, but Monday.

Wah nah nanana! Wa na na nanana!

Alex