Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lazy Movie Weekend: My brain is a genius

Normally when I sit down for a Lazy Movie Weekend, I watch a movie I've seen so many times I could quote the entire movie to you without having to watch it. I love every movie that I cover in these posts so I've always struggled with the idea of writing one about a movie I'm seeing for the first time. But I also like a challenge and what better way to challenge my movie watching/blogging skills then to let someone else select the movie for me? This weekend's movie was selected by my friend Michael. You might remember him as Bad Shakespeare from a few crossover posts we did previously. Michael is a movie aficionado; he sees all the movies and while we may disagree on Billy Joel, we usually agree on movies. Except La La Land; I'm never going to love La La Land like he does. I'd be the one being interrogated in this SNL sketch because of my feelings towards this movie. I'm a monster.

Regardless of our differing opinions on that movie, I decided to take Michael's suggestion for a LMW post and watch the mockumentary, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. I was not disappointed. I'm not entirely sure what I am when I comes to this movie but disappointed is not involved. I don't know if this movie is for everyone, but I think you should check it out just in case it's exactly for you. It recently premiered on HBO and I hope this will help it become the cult movie it is. With that said, take a walk over to your Aquavision refrigerator, let it play you a song, and grab some carrots (cut into one of nine shapes), join me for Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

  • At it's heart, this is a movie about friendship. Thank goodness it begins with a "before they were famous" friendship montage. If I'm ever famous, I would like there to be a "before they were famous" friendship montage made of me. Everyone needs this kind of montage to remind them of who they truly are.
  • The Style Boyz - I want them to be a real band who goes on tour so I can go to the show and relive my adolescence except with humor and alcohol. Akiva Schaffer is my favorite Lonely Island member and slowly steals this movie from Andy Samberg beginning in the Style Boys videos.
  • So many cameos! If you blink you'll miss every member of the SNL cast from Samberg's years to the present plus all of the musicians: Questlove, Nas, Carrie Underwood, Usher, Mariah Carey. Ringo Starr is in this movie! Genius.
  • Conner4Real is loosely based on Jutin Bieber and it's hard not to think of the Biebs throughout most of the first part of the movie. Samberg nails the narcissistic, clueless pop star perfectly. It's like he's been practicing for this movie his whole life.
  • No thank you Adam Levine cameo. At least he's not wearing a deep V-neck shirt like always. 
  • Mariah Carey talking about the Conner4Real song "Humble" is one of the funniest things Mariah Carey has done in her entire life.
  • Tim Meadows! I told you every SNL cast member is in this movie. Tim Meadows needs to be in more movies. He's a national treasure.
  • Two new job goals: umbrella wrangler and perspective manipulator. I may have had to pause the movie to get myself under control after the perspective manipulator was explained.
  • So the songs. This wouldn't be a movie about a popstar if there weren't songs. The first new single Conner releases ("surprise releasing it on Thursday at noon) is called "Equal Rights Song." It's a parody of the Macklemore song "Same Love" and is so laughingly terrible you can't stop watching. I put the Lonely Island guys up there with Weird Al on their ability to write great parody songs. Pink, on a unicorn at one point, makes a cameo in this song and you can't help but love her more.
  •  Emma Stone! Can she be a popstar for real? "Costco samples like a motherfucker" should be everyone's catchphrase.
  • When we return to Lawrence, now living on a farm, we're basically watching every episode of CSI that involved the origins of a serial killer. So perfect.
  • Aquaspin - this is probably our future. Our appliances will come preloaded with crap music and then eventually try to kill us. It's like a terrible U2 album meets Maximum Overdrive
  • Paula (the great Sarah Silverman): "We'd like to get to the point where Connor is everywhere, like oxygen or gravity or clinical depression."
  •  CMZ! I laughed so hard at these segments. They all nail the TMZ impersonations. At the end, when they get sad about their lives until they can show James Franco at a Denny's? So funny.
  • Joan Cusack as Conner's mom! I love her. She should probably be in every movie.
  • Ditto to Justin Timberlake. Describing his catering business and how Conner likes carrots in nine different shapes. If you don't like Justin Timberlake we probably can't be friends.
  • "Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)" so not my jam but a bizarrely wonderful moment on tour with Conner4Real.
  • "Things in My Jeep" - Lawrence's rap song is the kind of rap song I'd probably write. 
  • "Thirty Seconds to Mars is the name of the band. It's not a fact." - Harry (I snorted when he said this.)
  • And then the story returns to the downfall of Conner, the rise of Hunter the Hungry, and the plan Owen has to "parent trap" Conner and Lawrence to get the Style Boyz back together. There might also be an appearance by Seal, a wolf attack, and a short sequence with Imogen Poots during this chaos.
  • The Donkey Roll! I can totally see this being a thing at middle school dances. 
  • "There's not fun in collating." Harry is the best.
  • Was that Doyle at the turtle funeral? 
  • "We're three Tom Pettys AND the Heartbreakers." Lawrence
  • And then we end at an awards show called the Poppies. It's a song called "Incredible Thoughts" and it features Michael Bolton, a person dressed as a fish, and the kind of stream of consciousness song writing that would probably be called insane if Lawrence had become a serial killer rather than rejoining the pop band he once belonged to. It's amazing. And yes, that was Weird Al.

In the great tradition of Christopher Guest movies, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping joins the list of my favorite mockumentaries. It's ridiculous, hilarious, and so over the top. You have to see it to believe it.

Have a movie you want to get the Lazy Movie Weekend treatment? Let me know by posting in the comments. I'll do my best to cover it in a future post.

Popstar poster

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Rise Up! Rock Out!

Back in November, I shared a snippet of conversations I was having with friends and acquaintances who were struggling to make sense of the election and the outcome and the world we were immediately plunged into because of it. I'm not magical so I'm wasn't immune to the same feelings my friends were feeling BUT I felt like I had a strategy in place for moving forward when the election was "done." I would ask my friend "What have you done? What are you willing to do next?" not because I wanted them to feel guilty but because I wanted them to think about how to be part of change in a way that would work for them. And maybe, by being a bit more in the world, the crippling sense of doom would go away bit by bit. That was the plan.

For me, being a "good" citizen is important. I've always believed that being socially and politically active is the point; that's how I define a good citizen. We're supposed to protest and vote and get involved in our communities. We're supposed to care about one another and this country and question our leaders. The Women's March was a powerful reminder of that as have been the countless protests and other movements that have happened since November. Social change isn't easy especially when you're covering ground you should NOT have to repeat but all of these steps are necessary so we don't end up 50 years (or more) in the past.

What's challenging is getting lost in the muck of all of these ideas and the rhetoric and the ridiculousness of a commander in chief who tweets like a teen jacked up on Mountain Dew with equally poor grammar. It's hard sometimes to find the good in the world. I know this. That's why I planned for it (because sometimes I'm a little too Type-A for my own good) and decided to commit myself to more coming off of the natural high the Women's March. I vowed to be more active within my local government (which I am doing in many ways) and to look for a local organization to either donate time or money to (or both). That's how I found Girls Rock! DC.

Celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year, Girls Rock! DC is a summer camp for girls, trans, and non-binary youth which focuses on music, music education, and social justice. The original rock camp was founded in Portland, OR and has spread around the US and the world, with rock camps in most major US cities and in countries like Japan, the UK, and Sweden. During camp week, campers take music classes, learn music history, and form a band. The bands write music together, create their band name, their aesthetic, and a song to be performed at the end of camp Showcase. They also have the opportunity to take workshops on a variety of topics and learn from one another and the camp staff.

Girls Rock! DC (GR!DC) was founded in 2007 by a group of area musicians, teachers, and community organizers to focus on the idea of building community while also rocking out. I heard about Girls Rock! DC from a volunteer at the museum. She and I were discussing getting more involved in local organizations and she mentioned GR!DC. She'd recently gone to a showcase for their adult program, We Rock!, and had thought of me because of my love of rock music and education programs (I'm always surprised by my qualifiers amongst people who know me). I did a little research, saw that they had a call out of for volunteers, and contacted the group. I did a volunteer interview, talked with a member of their leadership team via email about working on the communications team, and showed up at the first training. And then I was hooked completely.

It's rare to walk into a room of people so dedicated to something that you immediately have to tell someone else they need to be involved in this group but that is exactly what happened when I went to my first training (I texted Anita and then made her get up early to come to the showcase). It was awesome to see so many people coming together to make this camp happen. Listening to the various leadership team members talk about the program, the mission, the campers was inspiring. It's a lot of work but it makes a difference for the campers who participate. Many are experiencing not only camp for the first time, but playing a musical instrument for the first time. The camp is very representative of the area, with campers coming from all quadrants of DC, Maryland, and Virginia. It's a supportive, open, and creative space. Girls very rarely get that.

I didn't get to spend the week at camp since I started my new job (this will be remedied next summer) but I did get to spend time working on the showcase program and helping with set up at camp and at the showcase venue, the 9:30 Club. Did I not mention that? The camp showcase is at the 9:30 Club. I know, it's wild. The other volunteers I work with are awesome; I have never met a cooler, more welcoming group of humans in my life. I wasn't sure if my more Type-A personality would work within the group but it seemed to be okay at least for what I was working on throughout the last few weeks. The few campers I got to meet, primarily the members of the Youth Leadership team, were fun to talk to and hear from as they shared their camp experience.

And then there was the showcase. These bands and DJ crews (there were two crews this year) have one week to write and rehearse their song. Many of the campers are learning music for the first time and they range in age from 8-18. What they created for showcase was amazing; the songs were from the heart, timely, and full of spirit and resistance. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Here are a few samples:
from "Freedom and Justice" by Awesome Jamz-P.O.M.S
Yo, my freedom is everything, everything to me
I might even sing in it in four harmony
I got my sisters by my side
You know that they down to ride
They call me up, and they say "hey!"
We fighting for freedom and justice everyday

from Unknown Dawn's song
Don't give up 
Believe in yourself
Change what you want to change
Don't be bothered by anyone else
Try your hardest and love yourself

There was also a song called "Triggered" by Close Open Doors with a chorus that offered the suggestion of being calm and counting to nine to handle a very serious topic that happens all the time. The band handled it with humor and seriousness all at the same time. There was a lot of poetry and defiance wrapped into these songs. One of my favorite songs was from one of the younger band groups, Galaxy Starzz. It was a dreamy nugget of a song and it was about being you who are and making friends and being stars. The DJ crews were also impressive; it added a great vibe to the showcase and they were really supportive of one another on stage.

At the end of the showcase, all the campers, past and present, and the volunteers come on stage to sing the Girls Rock! DC anthem. Here's my favorite verse from the song:

Now I know I can do anything
I can DJ or play drums or sing
Come on, everyone, get up and dance
Cos the future of rock is in our hands!

Groups like Girls Rock! DC give me hope for the future. I'm excited to continue being part of this organization throughout the year and waiting anxiously for camp 2018. Until then, let's all continue to rise up and rock out!

 Photos by me

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Cottage by the Sea, Part Three: In which our heroine begins a new journey

I'm exhausted. I woke up this morning a little after 7 am with a tiny, orange cat staring at me. I believe the look I was given was the "Wake up, human. You are shirking your sole responsibility in life which is to feed me. Get out of bed. Do your job." Pumpkin has a lot of feelings.
To provide some context...
My exhaustion stems from a very exciting development in life: I started back to work this week! This means I've finally moved into phase three of being your resident chick lit heroine. You can revisit phases one and two at your leisure. Phase three, which we'll discuss in more detail shortly, is the phase where things fall into place and the heroine moves forward on a new or new-ish path. I thought I would be stuck in phase two forever; phase two is the waiting phase, the phase where our heroine both begins to give up hope of things going her way and where glimmers of goodness shimmer in the distance. My phase two lasted about six weeks; long enough for it to become stressful but short enough that I know I'm lucky to have moved onto a new gig. Honestly, I could have been in phase two until the end of the summer. That would have been miserable.

I forgot how exhausting it is to start a new job. I haven't been the brand, brand new person at a job in 10 years. I've spent the last 5 years onboarding new employees so I was always exhausted at the end of each new hire week but for completely different reasons. There's so much information to take in during the first few days of a new job; by day three my brain was definitely mushy (which I told my new manager, our VP, and our SVP - super professional on my part) and in need of an information break. This is why I save certain shows on my DVR rather than watch right away. It's not only learning a new organization (I've only scratched the surface of that) but diving right into the programs I'll be managing/assisting with. Then there's remembering everyone's name and what they do. Thankfully, we have to wear badges, the workplace equivalent of name tags. That's made the name game a little easier.

Information overload aside, starting a new job also means starting a new schedule. I have an actual commute for the first time in 15 years so I spent a lot of this week trying to figure out what time to leave in the morning and wondering if leaving at 4:30 would be a good or bad thing (so far, it's a draw). My route happens to take me out 66. If you know anything about DMV traffic, you may have just shuddered a bit. It's a reverse commute for the most part but it still takes me an hour or more to get home. My GPS, Norma, seems to think that going from 66 to 495 to 395 is the best way home. While that may be true from a time in car perspective, it's an absolute lie in a "everyone sucks and you have to get over seven lanes to get to where you need to go in two seconds" perspective. There are a bunch of ways to get home; I have to figure out one that won't make me want to punch other drivers in the throat every day. I'm sure this route exists.

I know it'll all even out in a few months. I'll figure out a new routine, including the best time to go to the gym (either at home or at the office), my volunteering will slow down some, and I'll get into the groove of my new job and organization. That's all part of phase three; journeying down a new path and figuring out all my things. Getting back into being an adult and doing the things adults do like complaining about traffic and packing a healthy lunch. Deciding when to go to the grocery store and not feeling bad when the young women next to me in line spend the exact amount of money I did but they spent it on wine and cheese while I bought sensible things like vegetables and protein packed snacks. My exhaustion will morph into regular tiredness (since I'm old now) and life will return to normal.

What has this chick lit heroine journey taught me?
  • Suit jackets are terribly uncomfortable and do literally nothing for me. I'm glad my new company has a more casual approach to dress codes so I can store those bad boys away for hopefully a long, long time.
  • Only surround yourself with people who are going to be good for you. I don't mean people who will tell you're making a smart life choice when in fact, you're about to drive off a cliff, but people who are supportive, cool, and will have those reality check moments with you when needed. 
  • Don't turn your back on the things you love even if you're not 100% feeling it. 
  • While filling my time was exactly what I needed to do, it was also a challenge but the best kind of challenge. This did bite me in the ass last week when I realized I scheduled my life within an inch of itself but it all got done.
  • Focus is incredibly important. I took time to figure out what I did and didn't want in a job and a company which made applying for positions and going through the interview process less stressful (it's still stressful but wasn't as bad). 
  • Pay if forward. I have some amazing people in my life who were awesome these last few months. I hope to be as helpful as they are in the future to the people who need it.
  • Set realistic goals. I said I was going to reorganize my bedroom closet and have yet to do it. However, I did take another trip to Dinosaur Land, saw Wonder Woman, and began the slow process of cleaning out my parents' basement so I did the things that needed to be done.
  • When in doubt, a 90s dance party is the answer. 
  • It is perfectly acceptable to binge watch canceled Gordan Ramsay shows and find comfort in his ability to yell at people and weave a tapestry of obscenities that is still hovering over a crappy bistro in a strip mall in California.
  • If the 90s dance party isn't working, stop what you're doing and bake something, preferably something with chocolate, peanut butter, or a combination of both. 
  • Sometimes, you pass through phases two and three without a meet cute, the intersession of an adorable child, and a coffee mishap. I'm not saying these things won't happen but they didn't happen during my chick lit heroine journey. 
  • Treat yourself.

    As Semisonic, the great poets of 1998, tell us "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Since I didn't get my own meet cute or super spectacular rom-com moment, I leave you with this from the movie Friends with Benefits.
Treat Yo Self image

Sunday, June 18, 2017

I did not invent post-its

"High school hasn’t changed. There’s still that one teacher who marches to her own drummer. Those girls are still there, the ones that, even as you grow up, will remain the most beautiful girls you have ever seen close up. The smart kids, who everyone else knew as ‘the brains,’ but I just knew them as my soul mates, my teachers, my friends. And there’s still that one guy with his mysterious confidence who seems so perfect in every way. The guy you get up and go to school for in the morning. … High school would not have been the same without him. I would not be the same without him."
-Josie Geller, Never Been Kissed

I turned 38 last Sunday. I did what I normally do on my birthday when it falls on a weekend: have pancakes at IHOP (free pancakes on your birthday!) and bought a newspaper to cut out the birthday horoscope. The horoscope lives on my refrigerator for the full year until my next birthday, when I put up the new one and reflect on the previous year's entry. Since my birthday fell on a Sunday, I also got to enjoy the special sections of The Washington Post: Outlook, the Arts, and the Sunday Magazine. I started with Outlook as is my method. After reading a disappointing story about the 45's problem with the truth, I stumbled onto a piece about high school. The writer, Richard Morgan, is the same age as me so he's also facing his 20th high school reunion this year. Unlike me, Morgan's high school is being demolished in order to build a new school. He looked at the demolition of his school as catharsis for the experience of high school; you have to watch it burn (so to speak) to move forward in life. It's like The Washington Post was in my brain or something.

What is it about high school? It has the power to reduce a person to a former version of them self faster than watching The Breakfast Club on repeat. But it's also filled with wonderful memories of friendships, shenanigans, and the type of self discovery that is easily mocked in film but never not needed in real life. If you went to a school like mine, with over 700 people in your graduation class, it can be relatively easy to slip into the shadows of having so many people be involved in this collection memory. You remember exactly who was what: the beautiful people, the brains, the theatre nerds (present and accounted for thank you very much), the stoners, and the jocks. The structure of high school is hardwired into our brains and there's nothing that can stop those groups and cliques from flashing around in your head. It's how high school works.

I didn't go to the 5th or 10th reunion. I don't think I knew that the 5th was happening and the 10th came at a time in my life where I didn't want to hang out with a bunch of people I went to high school with and pretend like A. I really wanted to know what was going on in their lives and B. I wanted to share what was going on in mine. I felt, in 2007, I kept in touch with the people I wanted to either in real life or on the Facebook. I was at a weird place in my life then, having just done the thing I never really planned to do or wanted to do: I moved back to Northern Virginia following Hurricane Katrina. It wasn't like I was admitting defeat or something, but I didn't want to immerse myself back into the world of Burke and Lake Braddock after that. So I stayed away. Then the 20th reunion rolls around and I decided I was going. Interestingly, like 10 years ago, I'm at the beginning of a new part of my life. I'm starting a new job on Monday and refocusing my efforts on continuing to live the best me life I can live. I only hope my classmates are doing the same.

It was a perfectly suburban moment. That's the best way I can think to describe it. Everyone was on the dressy side of a casual night out (with very notable exceptions of a few dudes wearing suits; nice touch), those with kids were explaining that they were with their grandparents for the night, and we all complained about traffic and the crappy parking at the National Harbor. There were awkward "you remember me but I don't remember you but let's hug anyway because we went to LBSS and graduated in 1997 so we're freaking awesome" moments. Seeing a few of the "mean girls" took me back to when they were meaner girls in high school; some things never change. People drank (a lot in some cases) and shouted over the too loud music to catch up on all these little things. They poured over the class photo I brought, trying to find their group in the mass of humanity on the high school bleachers. The names of those no longer with us were discussed in hushed tones and with sadness.

As I looked out onto the crowd, it wasn't a reunion movie that came to mind but the Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed. In the movie, Drew's character goes back to high school at age 25 as an investigative journalist and finds herself reliving her own high school existence. At first, she falls back to being part of the same group she was in the first time around (the brains) and pining for the cutest guy in school. All of the sudden she becomes one of the pretty people, caught up in the magic of being popular and accepted in a way she never was as a teenager. I saw this play out in small moments throughout the night:
  • Every single women (and a few of the men) giddy that a certain guy, the one they all got out of bed in the morning for in high school, had come to the reunion and was talking to them. And in some cases, posing for photos with them.
  • The pretty girls are still that and they always will be.
  • We somehow managed to find our groups again and stayed that way for most of the night. It's like we're hardwired to form cliques even when not in the school building.
  • People recreating photos from high school because that's what you're supposed to do at reunions. 
  • The group singing along to "Bohemian Rhapsody" as God and Freddie Mercury intended.
  • Most of the women in my class look exactly the same and we all look freaking amazing. I knew most of them without having to look at name tags.
  • The men were a different story: facial hair, losing hair, and the decision to dress exactly the opposite of how they did in high school made it challenging to identify them without a name tag. The facial hair ranged from ironic statement beards to ruggedly handsome dude on his way to being an older gentleman to "it didn't work for you in high school and it doesn't work for you now" so all bases were covered.
  • To my knowledge, no one in my class is an assassin so there was no random assassination by ballpoint pen at the reunion. I mean, I probably wouldn't know if this happened since that's the point of an assassin but I'm 98% sure it didn't occur.   
  • Don't ask dueling piano bar musicians to play a Rage Against the Machine song (I was hoping for "Testify" or "The Battle of Los Angeles."). They won't do it BUT if you're lucky, they'll replace it with your favorite Motley Crue song without being prompted (bonus points if you remember what this song is before I post the video below). This is both weird and awesome.
I'm glad I went and I would encourage others out there to go to their own reunion at least once because it's a good thing to do. Will you love every minute of it? Probably not. Is it worth it to see a few people you never see in person and reminisce about that time when that thing happened that was so great you thought nothing would ever be so great again? Absolutely. Do you have to stay late? Not at're an adult person who can do things so you can leave whenever you want. But go. Remember that time and enjoy it.


Photos by Joey, Katie, and me
Video by me

Friday, June 9, 2017

Lady Parts, Part Deux: Wonder Woman

Scene: A group of small children, ages 7-12, are playing in an enormous backyard. It's the mid-1980s and it's summertime.

Boy: I want to be Princess Leia.
Girl: You can't be Princess Leia; you're a boy. I want to be Princess Leia.
Boy: I can be Princess Leia if I want to be.
Girl: Fine, then I'll be Wonder Woman.
Boy: Wonder Woman doesn't have anything to do with Star Wars.
Girl: I don't care. I'm Wonder Woman and you can't make me change.
Boy: Fine. It's stupid but fine.
Girl: Wonder Woman isn't stupid. Stop being mean. Princesses aren't mean.
Boy: (Grumbles and walks away.)
Girl: (Stands in a defiant Wonder Woman pose.)

End scene.

This particular scene happened a few times when I was growing up. One of my friends always wanted to be Princess Leia when we played Star Wars in the backyard. I would always get mad because he was a boy and in my 7 year old mind, boys couldn't be princesses (Note: boys and girls can be whatever they want. Adult me gets it). Then one day I decided to be Wonder Woman instead and the world felt right. They were both princesses and strong and powerful. If he wanted to be Princess Leia, he could be. I wanted to be an Amazon.

Wonder Woman is my favorite superhero; always has been. Hers was the only comic I read regularly back when I read comics regularly and she was the only reason I watched cartoons like Superfriends and Galactic Guardians. I found Batman and Superman and all the other dudes exhausting in their dark pasts and unnecessary doubt of Wonder Woman's abilities. She's the only DC comic hero I enjoy. I watched the Lynda Carter series in syndication; she is the reason I wanted to be Wonder Woman. She was strong and smart and didn't take crap from anyone. That's who I wanted to be. I was obsessed with Greek mythology at that time and the Amazons were among my favorite characters. All of this was so different than everything else I was presented with: Disney princesses, Barbie, and even She-Ra, Princess of Power. Don't get me wrong; I loved Disney and Barbies too. But they weren't everything and they weren't adventure. Wonder Woman was adventure.

So to say that I was excited when I heard we were finally going to get a Wonder Woman movie would the the understatement of the year. I was excited and cautious; there hasn't been a good DC superhero movie in ages. Would this version of Wonder Woman become one more failure in the DC Universe? If it was, would it mean that we'd never see any of the other wonder female superheroes in their own movies rather than being sidekicks to the boys? This new movie is every discussion/debate/conversation/argument women have ever had about existing.

Which is exactly as the creator of Wonder Woman would want it to be. He'd want us to debate Wonder Woman and her role as a feminist icon because he created her to be one. William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman to make people think about the roles women play in society. I recently finished Jill Lepore's book The Secret Life of Wonder Woman, part biography of Martson and part discussion of how Wonder Woman came to be. He was a psychologist, writer, lawyer, and inventor of the early forms of the lie detector. He was in his teens and early 20s during the suffrage movement in the US, hearing speakers like Alice Paul and Lucy Barnes discuss suffrage and the place of women in society. He knew Margaret Sanger, the mother of the birth control movement, and would marry a member of her family. He had a complex family situation. He believed women were equal to men and should work outside of the home, govern, and lead the lives they wanted to lead. He used his wives (read the book to get this full story) and Sanger as inspiration for his version of an Amazon. I think he would have loved how Wonder Woman was used in the late 1960s as a bridge between second wave feminists and older suffragist sisters in earlier generations. And he would love the new film version of his creation.

Martson would have jumped head first into the discussion around the women-only screenings of the film hosted by Alamo Drafthouse. He would have enjoyed Austin mayor, Steve Adler's, response to criticism that the events are exclusionary to men. I went to one of these screenings, at the Alamon in Ashburn, and it was wonderful. The ticket sales from all of these events went to organizations which support women and women's issues (In Christy's Shoes was the organization for Ashburn). These particular organizations need support more now than ever given the current administration's plan to dismantle anything remotely helpful for women. What I experienced was a fun evening, watching a great movie in a theatre full of wonder women. We did not, as I'm sure some people who complained about these screenings think, sit around and plot the destruction of man. We laughed a bit louder at some of the more adult humor in the film (There are penis jokes!). We sat in hushed awe at the women of this film, living their Amazonian lives. We cheered loudly when Wonder Woman entered No Man's Land. There were women in costume and so many great t-shirts (I wore a classic WW logo shirt). It was a group of women enjoying a great film about a superhero that means so much to all of them. Like when the lady Ghostbusters graced the world with their humor and awesomeness, nothing bad happened to the men of the world because we had some women-only screenings of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman was everything I wanted it to be: origin story, love story, and an opportunity for some really amazing women to kick ass. If you're not impressed by the Amazons, particularly Robin Wright as Antiope, you weren't paying close enough attention to the what you were watching. Gal Gadot is striking as Diana (Wonder Woman). She's also funny, smart, and strong; all the things I wanted to be when I pretended to be Wonder Woman as a child. The rest of the cast is great; Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Lucy Davis as Etta (a favorite of mine from the early comics), Connie Nielson as Hippolyta, and the bad guys, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya. I can't spoil the big bad for you but it's a good one. There's so much to watch and take in along the way. Patty Jenkins, the director, has made a DC superhero movie that is the right combination of dark and light. She and her production have captured what is wonderful about Wonder Woman and her love of mankind. Wonder Woman didn't leave Themyscira to follow a man; she left to help protect mankind from the evils of war. As she says at one point, "It's about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world." 

We need more messages like this from our superheroes, fictional or otherwise.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Summer Mix

I love listening to music in my car. There's something truly wonderful about driving around listening to songs I love, singing along and car dancing. Music sounds better and certain songs sound absolutely magical in my car. I'm sure some of this is a holdover from my childhood when we drove everywhere (like between states when we moved or from Louisiana to Michigan to visit family). My parents were teens/young adults when Motown and muscle car music ruled the airwaves so we listened to a little bit of everything on those car trips. My brother and I are similar; we like a lot of music that spans all sorts of genres and artists although we both have our favorites. I can't go on a road trip without spending a considerable amount of time thinking about and planning my music. When I went to Ocracoke in April, I spent more time deciding which CDs to bring than I did deciding what I wanted to pack clothing-wise. If I didn't plan my road trip music, it would be like not picking up Twizzlers and Doritos for the road...unacceptable.

Three songs are particular favorites of mine to listen to in the car: "More Than a Feeling" by Boston, "Low Rider" by War (complete with my Matthew McConaughey impression), and "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass. These songs came out in the 1970s (1974, 1976, and 1972 respectively) and seem designed for peak enjoyment while sitting in your car. Of the three, "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" is my favorite. When I was little I had this image of what I thought Brandy looked like. She was a 70s folk singer type with long red hair who wore peasant blouses and her braided chain made from the finest silver from the North of Spain. I loved the story of the song; it's romantic but not overly sentimental. It doesn't gut me the way so many of the sad songs I love do. It's a perfect summer song.

I haven't listened to "Brandy" in a long time so to say I was pleasantly surprised by its inclusion on the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is an understatement. It's one of my favorite parts of a movie in a movie where I loved many, many things (y'all, Groot is a baby). James Gunn, like Quentin Tarantino, is skilled at using music in his films. The first Guardians movie and its soundtrack were absolutely delightful. They worked together perfectly; I can't imagine the first Guardians without the songs. I loved the idea that Peter's mother would make him mix tapes of songs she loved so he would be able to share them with her even after she's gone. I like Meredith Quill's taste in music a lot. She and I would be music friends given the variety of music she liked. Gunn has described her as an oddball and a music lover in recent interviews about the music. We'd totally be pals.

Anyway, the second Guardians movie opens with a flashback of Meredith as a young woman riding in a convertible with a man we come to find out is Peter's father, Ego. They're listening to "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" exactly in the manner the song's writer, Elliot Lurie, intended it; driving around on a beautiful day with the top down with your best girl/guy, having a great time. That's it. The song never had any heavy meaning as Lurie has shared since the movie's release. There is no story behind it: he wrote some chords, then some lyrics, and used an ex-girlfriend's name as inspiration for Brandy's name. It was the band's one hit and has been featured in a ton of movies and tv shows. It also served as inspiration for the KISS song "Hard Luck Woman."

What's cool about the use of the song in the film is the importance it's given in the plot. Since I don't want to spoil everything for those of you who haven't seen it yet (Seriously? What have you been doing for the last month?), I'll keep it brief. Ego uses the song to explain his relationship with Meredith when he and Peter finally meet. The song becomes this grander metaphor for the choices Ego has made and the ones he wants Peter to help him realize. Peter can opt for the girl (his mother or maybe his Guardians family) or he can opt for the sea (helping his father realize a rather insane plan). Listening to the song, it is the exact same story but without the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. AND the sailor in the song is not nearly as terrible as Ego ends up being (for reasons I can't tell you without spoiling everything).

This is what I love about movies and music. I've written about this before, particularly about the music of David Bowie. When a person writes a song, he or she has a reason for doing so or an inspiration for the story told in the song (usually). When the song gets released into the world and people start to listen to it, they begin to ascribe their own meaning to songs whether the writer likes it or not. Songs take on the personal very quickly. A song fills in when you can't find the words yourself. That's why the soundtracks for the two Guardians movies are so perfect. These song are more than fun to fill in around fight sequences and explosions or background; the soundtracks are a character too. Don't get me started on the use of "Father and Son" (my second favorite Cat Stevens song) in Vol. 2; I'd rather not starting weeping again.

"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" is an oddly beautiful song about love but the kind of love that's never realized in the way that we want it to be. Adult me is happy that the sailor in the story was up front with Brandy about the fact that his life, his lover, and his lady is the sea because not everyone would be that truthful (like Ego). Adult me also wants to shake Brandy and tell her to move on with her life especially since this dude assumes Brandy only wants to be a wife (you know that lyric in the chorus). Maybe Brandy didn't want to be a wife, she only wanted her man to be present and not just bring her fancy gifts from Spain. Hopeless romantic me (she makes an appearance every now and then) totally gets why Brandy continues the life she's living. Adding the Ego/Meredith/Peter story on top of my own feelings about this song makes it even better.

As my birthday is next weekend, I've begun work on my annual birthday mix tape to be listened to for the remainder of the summer. "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" is definitely on there as it should be. If anyone has a convertible I can borrow, let me know.

Next week: We'll talk Wonder Woman and how the men of the world will still be fine even though I'm going to see a women's only screening.

Groot GIF
Mix tape image

Friday, May 26, 2017

Be Alright

I keep all of my concert tickets in a Sex Pistols lunch box. My friend, Mary, bought it for me years ago when she worked at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. I thought it was a smart place to store my concert tickets. I'm missing a few from my earliest concerts but I have the ones that matter most: my first concert (New Kids on the Block), the first Lilith Fair, and the first show I went to as a teenager that involved one of my friends driving us rather than our parents (R.E.M at Nisson Pavilion). Tori, Patti, the White Stripes, Nick Cave, Run-DMC, Metallica - they're all here in this box. I like to flip through the tickets every now and then and relive a little bit of the magic of each show. I can usually remember who I went with (my brother on many, many occasions) and if the opening act was any good (if it was Whirlwind Heat, the answer is an emphatic "hell no"). I don't obsessively write down set lists so I can't recall all of the songs for each show but I'm sure somewhere out there on the interwebs, someone has done this for me. I could look but I'm good for now.

My first concert was a New Kids on the Block show at the Superdome in 1990. I was eleven years old and my dad went with me. Two years later we had relocated to Northern Virginia and my dad, not learning his lesson the first time, took me to see Def Leppard at the USAir Arena (remember that place?). It would be years before my dad and I would go to a concert together again (Santana and Rod Stewart at the Verizon Center for his 66th birthday). I assume it took him that long to get over the agony of listening to preteen girls scream and sing along with NKOTB. I'm surprised his ears didn't bleed that day. My dad is a great dad.

In 1990, the New Kids on the Block were my favorite band. I think I had a NKOTB themed birthday party the year before; the tickets were definitely a birthday present but I don't think the themed party was the same year. Each ticket cost $20 for seats in the 600 level of the Superdome. I don't think you can buy a bottle of water for $20 at a concert today. Jonathan was my favorite member of the band followed closely by Jordan and Donnie. I thought Joey was annoying and Danny was an afterthought. I knew all the words and the choreography and was probably wearing at least two items of NKOTB clothing at the show. I may also have been wearing my Debbie Gibson hat because I was freaking fearless when it came to fashion back then.

I don't remember the order of the songs they played or what "witty" banter happened but I remember being in love with being at a concert. I've been to a lot of concerts and shows since NKOTB and while they're each special in their own way, none of them will ever be my first concert. First concerts are the only truly pure experience that exist (probably). It was exciting and overwhelming and frenetic. Every teen girl there was so excited to see the band and sing along (and scream a lot). I'm sure I made my dad buy me a t-shirt (which I no longer have and did not need). I know I stayed up way past my bedtime and was exhausted the next day but it was summer so it didn't really matter. I couldn't wait to go to the next concert (I believe it was Huey Lewis & the News with my brother in Detroit). That first show hooked me in and I've never looked back. I have not gone to see NKOTB again even though they've done reunion tours over the years. My dad won't go with me again (yes, I've asked) so what's the point really? I don't think it would be as much fun to see the band today; it would be fun but a more adult, alcohol influenced kind of way rather than the pure fun of going to my first concert.

Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do. I love going to any type of venue and I'll go see bands or musicians I don't know just to go. The show might not be great but I always enjoy the experience of being surrounded by other music fans enjoying themselves. That's the beauty of concerts; you get to hang out with a few hundred or thousand (or ten) music fans. A concert is a little community of souls, coming together over their shared love of what this person or group has created. How beautiful is that? I happen to like a lot of bands who appeal to multi-generational audiences so the crowd is always fascinating to be part of. My favorite example of this was the Green Day show at the 9:30 Club last October; it's shows like that one that make me happy to be a rock fan.

As I've been reading about the bombing at the Ariana Grande show in Manchester, I can't help but think about all those kids going to see their favorite singer live, possibly for the first time. I know the excitement they must have felt in the lead up to the concert, thinking about what to wear (is it a high ponytail or cat ears kind of night?) and planning with their friends, taking selfies throughout and singing along to each song. To have such a horrible tragedy take place at the end of what was a magical night for those who attended is heartbreaking. The loss of so many young lives is devastating.

For the most part, people have been responding to this tragedy in the way you would hope people would respond to tragedy, with respect and remorse and most importantly, sentiments of community and coming together. However, there are some notable exceptions including journalists who have made disdainful remarks about Grande's music as they cover the bombing. It makes me angry how some have felt the need to cover this story in a way that dismisses the things teen girls like as if it somehow makes them less important and this bombing less of a serious threat. Emma Gray wrote a great piece on this exact topic for Huffington Post; if anything, the fact that a concert audience made up almost entirely of young women, their mothers, and LGBTQ youth was targeted should tell you a lot about the world we live in and what hate looks like.

My hope is that these fans don't stop going to concerts. I want every single one of them to go to another show and another one after that and keep going. I want them to keep being part of the amazing community that is a live music audience. I don't want any of them to ever lose that feeling or be fearful enjoying what they love. I want them all to feel the magic that happens when the lights go down and there's that one second before the show begins where the entire audience takes in a collective breath before losing it when their musical idols walk onstage. That is magic.

I don't know many of Ariana Grande's songs but one of my friends posted this video on Facebook the morning after the bombing; it's fitting in a lot of ways.

Next week: A discussion of my summer music list, "Brandy", and why I need to borrow someone's convertible for a day or two. If you haven't seen the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie, take the time to do so before next week; there will be some discussion of the movie although I will try to refrain from spoilers as much as possible.