Tuesday, April 22, 2008

La Peste

For anyone who knows me, I am not one to bother people I don't actually know. The only exception to this, of course, was when I was doing that whole writing thing. During that time period, I bothered everyone and anyone I needed to; in fact, I even created a little template for it. A friend of mine — and a brilliant writer himself — once mocked my routine rather well. It was just that scripted.

But a few months back, I did, in fact, bother someone I don't know. Over email. A few years back, I became an avid reader of The New Yorker, and one of the first articles that I remember reading was one about Russia and the ice palaces there. It was early summer, and I was still writing — or attempting it — when I stumbled upon this article. Now, in all honesty, I forget the name of it, but I do remember how well it was written and how often I brought it up in conversations for months after I read it. There are some things you just casually read in life that end up sticking in your mind; this article was one of them.

I was quite surprised that, while reading an exceptionally interesting blog, I would discover that the writer of this blog was also the writer of that article. Needless to say, I ended up emailing the writer, Elif Batuman, about that article I read a few years back that still sticks in my mind from time to time.

I was also quite surprised that within an hour of sending my email about how much I appreciated the article, I had the following reply:

Dear Ms. (Name withheld),
Thank you very much for your kind message. I am touched and gratified
to learn that there is at least one reader who now thinks about Anna
Ioannovna's ice palace on a regular basis.
I am sorry to hear about your writer's block/ burn-out. To be honest,
I have felt a bit burned out myself, ever since my dissertation. But
I hear that these things are temporary - and I hope this will turn out
to be the case for you as well.
All best wishes,
Elif Batuman

And that was the first and last time I will do that. But I am certainly glad I did it.

Anyway, in the Mid-Atlantic, it seems that spring has briefly sprung, and now we are in the throws of early summer. And it is lovely. But in another month, I will be cursing the heat, humidity, and sun. It always seems to happen that way.

But maybe this year will be different.

Monday, March 17, 2008


So, today is St. Patrick's Day. I didn't realize this this morning, and I only realized it when I saw that nearly every person was wearing hideous shades of green and talking about drinking beer. Needless to say, I am not celebrating St. Patrick's Day despite my obvious Irish heritage. Whatever. As far as I know, I'm an Irish Protestant so...

In any case, today's post is going to be about something that is decidedly not very Irish: Cher. Yes, that Cher. Like most people my age, I used to only think of Cher as the ridiculous, outlandish, and plastic gay icon she currently is. A friend of mine once remarked that the only thing he remembered about Cher is that video with her ass ("If I Could Turn Back Time" is what I think he was talking about).

But that changed when I started listening to "I Got You Babe" a few days ago on one of my mom's Billboard 1960s compilations. Of course, I had heard the song before, but it wasn't until then that I realized just how good of a song it is. And the best part of the song was actually Cher's voice.

Now, for a little background on Cher: Born "Cherlyn," she had an impoverished childhood and spent some time in foster care. At sixteen, Cher dropped out of high school because of undiagnosed severe dyslexia. She then worked as a backup studio singer, and that is where she met Sonny, who was eleven years her senior. The two fell in love, and because Cher was too nervous to sing alone, the two became singing partners.

I found this really cool video of Sonny and Cher on French television in the 1960s:

I really like the chemistry you can see here between the two of them. Also, her eye makeup is crazy and reminds me of the Chanel show about two or three years ago.

Cher, of course, eventually got over her fear of singing alone and launched a successful solo career. She's had hit songs in almost every decade since the 1960s, but I think 1970s Cher is my favorite. Here she is doing "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" with a great turban on her head:

No one can deny that Cher has had some outlandish outfits, and she wore them all well (most of them were Bob Mackie). I also love that Cher is vaguely ethnic looking, and she became a beauty icon in a time period where blonde-haired-and-blue-eyed was still the norm to be "beautiful."

And here is Cher with David Bowie doing a song medley. I'm not sure what is with her hair, but it's really cool to see two great entertainers and performers on stage together. They interact really well, and I particularly love when they go into the Laura Nyro song:

So, in all honesty, I think Cher is highly underestimated by the general population. She's become a joke, in a sense, and part of that is by her own doing. But in all honesty, she's pretty great.

Oh, and she's not half Cherokee; it's more like a quarter.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oscars Revisited

In keeping with the spirit of my last two posts — the one on Disney (pre) teen stars and the Oscars — I am going to discuss both topics again in one brand new post.

This year marked the first time I actually watched the entire Oscars telecast (I normally watch the red carpet). Oddly enough, it was also the lowest rated Oscars telecast in years. But in any case, I watched it, and it was just like I'd imagine it to be: bad jokes, awkward wins and losses, and some accidents. Perhaps what made it enjoyable for me wasn't the actual telecast, but my friend Casey who made snarky comments about the ceremony to me via iChat. His comments were hysterical and could only come from someone with a love for pop culture.

Anyway, one of Casey's jokes was most likely about Miley Cyrus (I don't remember exactly, though). For some reason, the Disney star with more identities than I can understand, attended the Oscars ceremony. Bizarre, right? Well, in any case, like most misguided fifteen-year-olds, Miley Cyrus normally dresses like a twenty-five-year-old barfly. Or a mermaid. Or a combination of both.

I think this photo is from that beacon-of-taste, the Teen Choice Awards. You know, that ceremony that no one watches where people get surfboards instead of little statues? Yeah, that.
Anyway, this dress is too short and too shiny and her hair has far too many extensions. I also don't understand the print of the dress, either. Then again, when I was her age, I wore band t-shirts and was a crazy vegan. In case you care, I now wear a lot of J.Crew and am only a vegetarian.

Now, imagine how surprised I was when Miss Cyrus showed up wearing this:

The dress is Valentino, by the way.

Anyway, aside from the slight awkwardness she shows in wearing it — but nothing as awkward as the six years older, Ellen Page in anything she wears (will she get some grace, finally? As not-feminist as this sounds, send her to finishing school or something) — she looks perfect. Her makeup is young, sophisticated, and tasteful. And the dress is absolutely gorgeous and age-appropriate.

For Oscars, Miley might have been my best dressed. Katherine Heigl, of course, was a very close second.

I feel like this Disney thing won't be going away anytime soon, if Miley Cyrus's presence at the ceremony is any indication. She has gone from Disney star to actual celebrity, and I'm sure others will follow.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

And the winner is...

Tonight is the Oscars, and while the night is normally a huge night of self-congratulations, tonight's ceremony is even more so. Thanks to the writers' strike, the awards season was cut short. However, I think there are a few categories terribly looked over this year.

Hottest Bob Haircut:
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
Keira Knightley in Atonement
Nicole Kidman in The Golden Compass

The winner is: Saoirse Ronan

Best Bones:
Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Keira Knightley in Atonement
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber on Fleet Street

The winner is: Keira Knightley

Most couture moment:
Keira Knightley's green gown in Atonement
Cate Blanchett's gowns in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Marion Cottilliard in La Vie en Rose

The winner is: Keira Knightley's green gown.

It seems that Atonement is the best visual film of the year, which makes up for its horrible, flimsy plot and for suddenly bringing Vanessa Redgrave back from her year of magical thinking or whatever.

I think the winners summed up the entire plot of the film: bobs, bones, and couture.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Magic Kingdom

Disney World is twice the size of Manhattan.

I'm not quite sure where I picked that fact up, but I'm pretty sure it's accurate. In fact, I find the fact to be rather fitting. It seems that Disney owns everything, and the fact that it doubles the size of Manhattan is unsurprising.

The first time I noticed that infiltration of Disney-manufactured (pre)teen entertainment was in the fall, when while browsing the iTunes store, I noticed that the Jonas Brothers had somehow become one of the most — if not the most — downloaded album that week. For those who don't know, the Jonas Brothers are a group of three brothers — as the name suggests — who have a Disney backbone and a Christian background. And since I first noticed that these heartthrobs have somehow come to be a part of pop culture consciousness, I've been a casual observer of this phenomenon.

The immediate comparison for this "band" — the term used lightly because alone, they hardly comprise a full band — is Hanson. And to a certain extent, I understand that. When Hanson first became popular in the late 1990s, I was the right age to be a fan of the band. After all, they had everything a young girl could ask for: catchy songs, pretty hair, and scrubbed-clean good looks.

Now that I'm older, and this teen culture phenomenon is back again, I am looking at it from a different angle. The Jonas Brothers seem to be similar to Hanson in only a few aspects; that is, they are brothers who are teen heartthrobs creating music. But this time around, the music isn't innocent bubblegum pop that sticks to the soles of our shoes; rather, the music of the Jonas Brothers seems to be only catchy if by catchy, you mean loud, thrashing, and generally confusing. Sure, there are a few hooks here and there, but for the most part, it's like Fall Out Boy-lite.

I'm not going to mock this type of music; after all, it has its place. And for once, I find it nice that there is something out there that younger teens can listen to with their parents without having to buy the censored version of the CD at Wal-Mart. At least this music isn't teaching well-orchestrated misogyny and that a woman's value lies in her body only.

But what scares me the most about the Jonas Brothers phenomenon is that I fall in the same age range as the band. Unlike with Hanson, I am not the young girl who can't relate from a common demographic perspective, but instead, I am at the age as a young woman where I can stand back and gape with fright. The idea of this amount of fame thrust on anyone my age is far beyond frightening.

It's hard not question if the band wants to be making the music that they are making, and it's certainly hard to answer that question with a yes. There are so many musicians who, at their age or slightly older, are making some of the best music in years. And of course, it's hard to ignore how painfully contrived everything about the band seems to be from their straight-from-Urban-Outfitters apparel to their extremely scripted answers.

In all honesty, I feel sorry for them. It can't be easy to lose that much anonymity to something like this at such a young age.

Last week, on Youtube, I found this video:

It's hard to ignore how much it is reminiscent of Vanessa Redgrave in Atonement when she returned from her year of magical thinking or whatever.

History has shown that so many of these teen idols, at the end of their careers, end up in a bad situation. Hanson, fortunately, has survived; the band is married with children and are making extremely successful indie records.

And maybe, just maybe, Disney should stop exploiting young, slightly talented, and good looking teens. This has become a machine that needs to have a wrench thrown it.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fright Fest

Almost everyone knows about Vampire Weekend by now. In recent months, it's been hard to avoid the Columbia grads, and with the release of the band's first official album (on XL), it's going to be even harder to avoid them.

The reason? Well, it seems that by virtue of being themselves, Vampire Weekend may be the most hated band in indie rock right now. Now, keep in mind that I haven't really read any of the reviews yet — nor have I bought the album — but from what I've heard and seen thus far, it seems that the music journalists are getting them right where it hurts: in the Wayfarers.

As a former music journalist who has skewered her fair share of bands, I have to say that Vampire Weekend has all the makings of a negative review. Even though I like the band — hell, I love them — they are just one of those bands whose easy angle happens to be a negative one. It's a lot easier to be witty while kicking them in the seat of their Dockers than it is to wax preppy about the virtues of their riddims.

See? I just did it there, and I wasn't even trying.

But in any case, I like Vampire Weekend because they are the anti-hipster. It's the same reason I like a lot of the bands I do; there's no pretense in liking them. To me, Vampire Weekend is very similar to the Spinto Band in a lot of aspects. Granted, the Spintos have their own little army of (mainly) brothers and make very different music, but the idea is the same.

Like the Spinto Band, Vampire Weekend are just normal guys who dress like the boys next door and who shower more often than once a week. They're educated, and you can probably bring them home to mom. There is no idea of hey-I-found-this-in-the-dumpster-out-back-let's-wear-it-IRONICALLY.

Because frankly, indie rock has lost its edge. And I think that Vampire Weekend is just the start of something that is going to be a change in music.

While I have never met any of them personally, I'm pretty sure they're all nice guys. And it's what we need in music right now.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Blogger? Me?

Now, I've been toying with having a blog for at least a year and a half now, but each time I go to set one up, my insides hurt and I imagine the self-mockery (and regular mockery) that could ensue. In any case, I finally just decided to get one so that I could write about the same four or five things in different contexts.

So here it is. Or something.