Music Monday: Gangnam Style

I’m late to the party on “Gangnam Style”, but man, I am getting caught up on it. My girls, of course, are fascinated by it, and we heard it redone on a Glee soundtrack, so it refreshed their interest. And finally piqued mine.

Aside: It’s hard to pick music to listen to with my kids. At 6 and 8, they are past the Laurie Berkner stage (no offense to Berkner, but thank goodness). They still like They Might Be Giants’ kid stuff, which is entertaining (I like the 123s best), but they are ready for pop music, and for the most part, pop music blows (and/or has an inappropriate subject matter). Over the Christmas season, I discovered the Glee Christmas albums (I don’t watch the show, know almost nothing about it), and they became favorites. So I turned to their regular albums for their versions of pop songs.

Anyway: Gangnam Style, by Psy, a South Korean artist. You’ve probably heard it by now (and if you haven’t you should check out the video on YouTube — warning, the song, despite being sung in Korean, is catchy as hell.) Apparently, the grade-school rumor is that Psy uses *gasp!* Korean swear words! (None of the articles I’ve read mention anything to this effect.)

But my kids’ interest in the song plus a bit on a Slate podcast put me on the road to learning more about it.

My favorite fact about “Gangnam Style”: It’s satire. And not very subtle satire either. Gangnam is a very tony Korean neighborhood. The singer is bragging that he leads a Gangnam-style life, but the video clearly makes fun of what that means. (You really should check out the video. It’s pretty brilliant.)

My two sources: An Atlantic article dissecting the song, based, to a certain extent, on a blog post from My Dear Korea. (The blogger follows up with her thoughts on the Atlantic piece as well. Incisive.) The My Dear Korea piece is worth a visit for the version of the video that includes English subtitles.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, I become easily obsessed with music. I’m glad I stumbled onto these social commentaries and critiques of Gangnam Style, mostly because, since it’s in a foreign language, there was no way to put my own spin on it (for myself or my kids). It was fun to explain to Flora and Kate what the song was about. And also disabuse them of the notion that Korean swear words were in there.

What’s your current musical obsession?

An Unsolicited Review of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy

When I saw The Casual Vacancy for sale at Target, I didn’t think twice. I threw it in my cart on top of the diapers and Halloween candy.

I love the Harry Potter series. I love J.K. Rowling’s writing, as overblown as it can be. I love her characters, even the bad guys. I love her mythology — English welfare single mom scrapes by and writes novel in cafes, is now richer than The Queen.

And, I really liked The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s quote-unquote adult novel.

In The Casual Vacancy, Rowling creates sympathetic, yet realistic, characters. The Casual Vacancy is chock full of not-so-lovely people, some of whom I found myself rooting for. She tells a story about these people in such a way that I wanted to find out what happened to them.

Our characters, many of whom are teens, are, on the surface, speaking in literary terms, anti-heroes rather than protagonists. The pretentious Fats, the long-suffering Sukhvinder, the trashy Krystal Wheedon, the victimized Andrew. The adults aren’t much more appealing — again, on the surface. As the plot unfolds, and characters develop, they become more (or less) sympathetic, and we start to glimpse the possibility of redemption for some of them.

The thing about the Casual Vacancy that Harry Potter fans may not like is that it’s not a simple story. It’s not good versus evil, love conquers all. At its center is not a poorly-treated orphan boy, The Boy Who Lived. As a matter of fact, at the center of The Casual Vacancy is The Man Who Died, and how his absence reverberates through the small English community of which he was a part.

And that’s the other thing about The Casual Vacancy: It is, to coin a phrase, based in gritty realism. It shows a side of British culture that we, as Americans, may not be accustomed to seeing. Great Britain isn’t all royalty, beefeaters, lovely accents, and Colin Firth. This is the Great Britain that was J.K. Rowling’s world before the success of Harry Potter: poverty and its attendant miseries, small town small-mindedness.

Rowling doesn’t shy away from sex, death, addiction, self-delusion, abuse, pride or prejudice. It’s not sordid gratuitousness; her writing feels, to me, authentic and sincere. Maybe it’s the matter-of-factness of it that keeps it grounded. It reads to me without pretension or exaggeration.

A friend of mine once posited that Rowling needs a ruthless editor. The Casual Vacancy will not disabuse her of that notion. The first time we follow Fats Wall on his stroll through Pagford is ample proof of that.

Additionally, as I mentioned, many of the characters in this story are teens — just as in the Harry Potter series. Sukhvinder may be the only sympathetic teen. There is a *ton* of teen angst, and not the amusing sort that Harry Potter characters suffer (maybe the angst was just as annoying, but as the HP characters are more sympathetic, it made it more bearable). I sprained my eyeballs rolling them when I read Fats’ thoughts about authenticity and inauthenticity.

If there’s a fault with the book, it’s that it is so very humorless. Humor in the dark is something that Rowling did successfully in the HP series, and I wish she had invested some of that here.

Ultimately, though, I found The Casual Vacancy to be a compelling read, and I would recommend it.

The Rocker or the Chanteuse

For months now, I’ve been swinging musically between loud, blusey rock and sweet-voiced singers.

For example:

Black Keys, “Gold on the Ceiling”

and

Cat Power, “Ruin” (Okay, this is a bit of rocker for Cat, but the rest of the album is more mellow, and stunningly beautiful.)

Or:

Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”

and

Lovers, “Boxer” (I know, the mustache. If it distracts you, just close your eyes and listen. After hearing this song on a Slate podcast, I went and downloaded their two most recent albums.)

Other rockers I can’t get enough of: Bob Mould (NEW ALBUM! WOO! Get off my lawn!), Green Day, Foo Fighters.

Other female singers I can’t get enough of: Regina Spektor, Kate Bush, Feist.

And it’s not just a listen here or there. I play most of these artists, albums, or songs multiple times in one day. One day, I went back and forth between The Black Keys “Howlin’ for You” and “Gold on the Ceiling”, and another day it was Lovers “Boxer” and “Don’t You Want It”. I’m simply obsessed with them all, all the time. (If I listen to an album four times on Spotify, I pretty much go and buy it.)

On a somewhat related note, I really need to get to another live show. (Last one was Rush, with Dan, last Tuesday. Which, Rush is not one of ‘my’ bands, but I have dragged my husband to more live shows that he has been skeptical about than I can keep track of, including Elliot Smith (RIP), Wilco, Green Day, and X. At the least, I owed him one Rush show. That said, I was very impressed, and simply put: Neil Peart is a stone-faced beast on the drums.)

Who are you listening to these days?

++

If you could create your fantasy summer festival concert, what five bands would be in the line up?

Mine are:

Pearl Jam
Lady Gaga
The Black Keys
Jack White
Regina Spektor

Who would you have?

A Completely Unnecessary and Gratuitous Review of Magic Mike

Disclaimer: I am a very shallow movie goer. I like simply to be entertained. I tend not to see serious, artistic, Academy-award winning films. I like action movies and comedies primarily, or any mix of the two. Oh, and I’ve seen my fair share of animated flicks, too, because of the kids. Next on my to-view list is Brave.

All that said, I found Magic Mike to be very entertaining. Channing Tatum in the titular role was a real charmer, and he has an amazing body. All the male strippers are, not surprisingly, very, very fun to watch. I would have liked to see a little more of Matt Bomer. I know he plays for the other team, but a girl can dream. And Matthew McConaughey was fantastic as the egomaniacal club owner Dallas.

My main criticism of the movie is that instead of leaving well enough alone, the creators of Magic Mike tried to give the movie weight with too many plot lines. They would have done so much better to have simply made the movie about Magic Mike and his arc (so to speak), rather than **SPOILER ALERT** (skip to the next paragraph) throwing in a business relationship gone sour, and drug deals gone bad.

It’s a summer movie, guys. Give us the eye candy.

I also want to commend Magic Mike for not shying away from nuances of female sexuality. Magic Mike is not a romance, it’s not a chick flick (I mean, obviously a lot more women than men are going to see it), if anything, it casts Mike as the one looking for “true love”. In that spirit, I loved Cody Horn’s character Brooke. The scene where she sees Mike (and her little brother Adam, played by Alex Pettyfer) perform is just brilliant — she’s shown in close-up while first Adam, then Mike, do their thing.

Here’s how I read that scene: Brooke is conflicted by her own reaction to what’s going on, especially when Mike takes the stage. First, she’s dealing with the fact that her little brother — a ne’er do well character in general — has gotten into stripping. Second, she’s in a crowd of screaming women who are very much enjoying the show. Third, she’s been charmed by Mike, but now she’s witnessing his lifestyle, and she really doesn’t know what to think of him. Lastly, she’s attracted to him, sexually and viscerally. Any straight woman with a pulse is going to react to Mike (and probably a lot of gay men, too). And I don’t think she wants to because of her ambivalence about the scene.

And that’s what I mean about the nuance of female sexuality. The other main female character is played by Olivia Munn, who is pretty much Mike’s booty call. Or maybe he’s hers. But an ultimate revelation about her character, Joanne, starts Mike down the path to his epiphany. In short, it’s clear from what happens between Joanne and Mike, and what happens in the strip club in general, that women are just as able and willing to sexually objectify men. And I’m not making any kind of judgement on that, whether it’s right or wrong. After all, I didn’t go to the movie to see the plot.

All-in-all, I think Magic Mike was worth the price of admission — if you go to a matinee. I’ve obviously thought too much about it because I brought a critique of it to light, but I really enjoyed it despite its faults. It’s got a lot of laughs, and there’s an easy chemistry between Mike and Brooke. It’s not just waxed chests and assless chaps — and maybe it should’ve been.

If nothing else, rent it when it comes out on DVD. After you watch it in its entirely, you can skip to the good scenes.

Lost: Pilot Episode I and II

Before Christmas, Dan bought himself — okay, it’s really for all of us — a flat-screen LED television.

It is very shiny.

It was bundled with a Blu Ray player.

And then, he found the entire series of Lost on Blu Ray for a good price on eBay. I wanted to give it to him for Christmas, but he saw the box, and just couldn’t wait.

Men: grown up children.

Anyhoo, we cracked Season 1 open last night, and I was forcibly reminded how much I loved that series.

It was also a lot of fun going back to the beginning even knowing how it ultimately ends, and all the stuff that happens in between.

Now *that’s* foreshadowing.

I won’t be breaking down the episodes like I did for Seasons 4, 5, and 6 — although that was fun.

Lost became more than just a television show.

First and foremost, it was a date night for Dan and me. We’d get the kids to bed and park ourselves on the couch at 9 p.m. every Tuesday. We’d exclaim and laugh and gasp and generally enjoy an hour of time together sharing something.

Secondly, it generated a community of people online sharing… well, pretty much the same things Dan and I shared. Reactions, guesses as to what would happen next, hypotheses as to what it all meant. Lost went beyond the water cooler. I doubt I’m going to find that as we delve into our blu-ray set now. Although maybe I’ll find people who will enjoy the reminiscing.

I also doubt Dan and I will have the discipline to only watch one episode a week. We watched two eps last night, and if I had to wager on it, I would bet Dan watched the rest of the first disk. I’ll probably try to wait to watch more of the show with him, though. It’s really fun to share that time.

What was the first TV show that became more than just a show for you?

Back to New Music

I don’t know how I used to discover new bands. Boyfriends, probably, and college radio. Now it’s Pandora, Spotify, or NPR First Listen (shoosh, I’m a 40-year-old mother who lives in the suburbs; I don’t listen to anything but NPR on the radio.)

Here’s some of the best stuff I’ve been listening to lately:

If you like Amy Winehouse (RIP), listen to Adele (21). While the latter doesn’t have Winehouse’s black-soul voice, she definitely has VOICE. Girl can wail it. She’ll suck you in with “Rolling in the Deep”, which is getting some radio play right now, but she’ll sock it to you on “Rumour Has It”. Bonus: A cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong”.

Release the Sunbird, Come Back to Us. This is one I discovered through NPR Music’s First Listen feature. It’s breezy summer pop anchored by Zach Rogue’s sweet vocals. The lyrics reveal a serious side to the music, but it’s nice to have the tunes wash over you in all their melodic glory. And if you end up liking this, check out Rogue’s first band, Rogue Wave: more of the same, a little harder instrumentally — for example, the guitar gets a little more fuzzed out on some tracks. All these albums are on my Spotify heavy rotation (so to speak).

If you like Kate Bush or Tori Amos or Regina Spektor, then listen to Florence + The Machine (Lungs, Lungs: The B-Sides). Florence Welch doesn’t sound *exactly* like any of these other female artists, but her music is romantic, baroque, thrillingly rich, and her voice. Oh that voice. It’s… unique. I can’t describe it, really, you just have to hear it. She may be one of those “love her or hate her” artists. I am completely smitten. Bonus: A cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”. Extra special super bonus: A cover of Cold War Kids’ “Hospital Beds”.

If you like the Decemberists, then listen to the damn Decemberists. I finally got around to hearing The King is Dead, and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long. And for missing their last Pittsburgh tour date. Just brilliant stuff here.

I’m always hunting for new music. I’m also enjoying Jill Scott, Eleanor Friedberger (from the Fiery Furnaces), Stephen Malkmus and the Jinks, and Portugal. The Man. (If you like MGMT or Flaming Lips, listen to Portugal. The Man. As Dr. Bro says, “Bad name, really good disc.”)

How do you discover new bands? What are you liking lately?

We’re Going Back!

Coming back to work after a three-day weekend can be rough on re-entry. But Dan, the kids, and I had a fairly low-key weekend, and so Tuesday has not gone too badly. Knock on wood. (I do that a lot, don’t I?)

We did a lot of cleaning over the weekend, and quite a bit of napping (yes, me too, on Sunday! Very exciting stuff.)

The highlight of the weekend (aside from that nap) was our anniversary dinner out at BRiX, a brand-new restaurant on the North Shore (formerly known as the North Side). (Disclaimer: There is no disclaimer. I am not being reimbursed in any way, shape, or form for this post.)

I will say that I did not eat enough at BRiX, a mistake will not make again. The menu as of yet is still fairly limited (they had been open a week when we went on Saturday). The only vegetarian main dish they offered was a margarita flatbread.

Instead of ordering that I tried to make dinner out of the brie appetizer (which was *wonderful* and I had to fight Dan off to get ANY of it), a salad with portobella, and a potato salad side. Not enough food.

At least not for the amount of wine that I drank.

However, Dan had an excellent meal — my food was excellent, I want to make that clear — and the wine list is very impressive. I built a small flight of reds, because BRiX offers a 2 ounce pour. I had the Undone Pinot Noir from Rheinhessen, Germany, the Nero d’Avola blend from Sicily, and another red that I can’t find on the wine menu PDF I have on my computer. I want to say Baldero? Baldano? Anyway: It was excellent.

The Nero d’Avola was a brand new grape for me, and I liked it so much I ordered an 8 oz. pour. (I should’ve stuck with the 4 oz. pour.) It was spicy and large. Just excellent. The Pinot was very nice, lighter than what I was looking for, but refreshing. My third wine was also excellent, with a rounder, smoother taste than the Nero. I haven’t had that many good wines at one sitting in a while.

The best part was talking about the wines with Dan. Between all the crap that we have to talk about (kids, work, schedules, blah) we seldom get to indulge in grown up conversation. Wine brought Dan and me together.

The first time we went out to dinner, he asked me to pick a bottle of wine. I said, “I’m really in the mood for a big tasting Italian, something dry.” He always says that’s when he knew I was The One.

Anyhoo, Dan had a Bombay Sapphire martini and then paired a white wine with his chicken dinner. He says the acidity of the wine offset the rustic flavors of the chicken and orzo with pancetta perfectly.

The service was casual but impeccable. Our server, Cory, when he learned it was our anniversary celebration, presented us each with a flute of sparkling wine: the Brut Rose from Graham Beck, a South African label. It was lovely. We even got a little tour of the space afterwards from Mike!

Because it was such a great experience, we plan to return for more good food, good wine, and good conversation.

What’s something you look forward to doing again with your spouse or SO?

An Unsolicited Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Look, you just can’t equate the Harry Potter books and the Harry Potter movies. If you have read the books as obsessively or repeatedly as I have — which, admit, you have done — you are just bound to be disappointed.

The final movie… I could go on and on about what was missing. Dumbledore’s back story, for one. A huge part of the final book, and utterly ignored in the movie. The movie did not do the battle of Hogwarts justice, and it significantly changed the final battle between Voldemort and Harry. Also: Harry’s decision about the Elder Wand. Book: So well done. Movie: *snore*.

However, as a stand-alone series of movies, I think the franchise holds up well. My husband saw every movie, and has yet to read all the books. (He has read bits and pieces, and as a matter of fact, he was reading the last few chapters of book seven when I finally went to bed Sunday night. For the record, honey, that’s cheating.)

The movies had to focus on Harry and Harry’s story. It couldn’t tackle Hermione’s movement to free house elves (S.P.E.W.); it left out characters such as Ludo Bagman and Neville’s parents. The maze at the end of Goblet of Fire was far better in the book than the creepy, mind-altering maze in the movie. These are things that book fans have to resign themselves to when viewing movie adaptations.

For capturing the story and for closing the epic, I give Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 two thumbs up. Do I have criticisms? Sure, but I really enjoyed this movie — like many of the others — for what it was.

Here are just some random thoughts.

Best Scene Not in the Book: Ron and Hermione’s kiss in the Chamber of Secrets. In the movie, Ron and Hermione explain that they want to go get the basilisk fangs to destroy the rest of the Horcruxes. We see them enter the chamber (“Did you notice Harry talks in his sleep?”), and we see Hermione stab the Horcrux. After the resulting Horcrux reaction, Ron and Hermione lock lips, and it was great. I cheered. (In the book, they kiss, but under slightly different circumstances.)

Second Best Scene Not in the Book: Neville taking out the bridge to Hogwarts with an army of Snatchers and Death Eaters at his back. Brilliant!

Best Scene in the Book that was Also in the Movie: Mrs. Weasley’s battle with Bellatrix Lestrange. Awesome.

Scene from the Book the Movie Absolutely Nailed: Harry going through Snape’s memories in the Pensieve. Perfectly, beautifully done. Alan Rickman as Professor Snape has always been my favorite Harry Potter villain  — or maybe I should say ‘anti-hero’.

I will miss having new Harry Potter adventures to revel in. Who knows, maybe J.K. Rowling has plans to write more about Teddy Lupin — another orphaned boy whose parents died fighting Voldemort. I’m not sure how much I will poke around at Pottermore come October because, let’s face it, there are only so many hours in the day, and I’m not sure I can take on another online obsession.

But I look forward to my children being old enough to read the Harry Potter books. At some point, I will let them watch the movies, too, but I know my preference would be for them to read first, watch later. The books are deeper, richer, more complex and immersive. The movies are just good entertainment.

What I Learned From TV Land

Aside from all kinds of forensic science.

Sometimes, you can only take so much children’s television. Even Phineas and Ferb palls after repeated viewings.

At the same time, though, not much I would choose to watch is appropriate for my children.

Enter the DIY Network. This is completely appropriate to watch with your children (or, in my case, watch while your children play with Littlest Pet Shops). It’s educational, even, teaching Flora and Kate about the difference between cork flooring and laminate, for instance.

The downside to watching the DIY Network, for me, was realizing that basically my whole house looks a lot like many of the “before” rooms on the shows. Especially my upstairs bathroom and my kitchen. They need a lot — and I mean A LOT — of work. If my husband or I ever see Matt Muenster or Josh Temple (Bath Crashers and House Crashers hosts, respectively) in our local home improvement store, we will unabashedly tackle him and drag him home with us.

The good part is that I have realized that little things, incremental changes, can be quick fixes that aren’t too expensive. Dan and I watched a Sweat Equity clip about crown molding and a frame shelf that would look great in our front room. And Dan is handy enough that he could do it, given the time. Plus, I think Flora knows how to use power tools now.

Cooking shows are also a safe bet, but they do cook a lot of meat on those shows, and we don’t eat much of that around here.

One show that became a guilty pleasure (and I get to watch it On Demand, too) is TLC’s What Not to Wear. I was a little afraid to tune into this, because I thought Stacy London and Clinton Kelly would be too snarky. I am a firm believer that our society could use less snark and more constructive criticism. I couldn’t even tell you WHY I ended up watching this show for the first time. NCIS must not have been on.

Anyhoo, what I like about the show is the amount of constructive criticism that Stacy and Clinton provide. They really encourage the women on their show to find the clothes that let their inner beauty show on the outside. They emphasize sophistication, style, fit, and colors or patterns. It’s fun to see women rediscover their shapes, celebrating curves (or creating them), and finding clothes — well made, stylish clothes — that enhance what the women have. Some of the shows were heartrending (although they had good outcomes), with women confronting their esteem issues or body issues. I couldn’t believe how hard it was for some of these women to use the words “pretty” or “sexy” to describe themselves! I also really enjoyed watching some “tomboys” realize that fashion wasn’t a shallow wasteland of girlie girls. Some of them even bought dresses!

As fun as it was to watch people spend $5000 of someone else’s money on nice clothes, it is sobering to realize that I rock the “mom uniform” (capris, athletic shoes, t-shirt and hoodie) pretty hard, and no one is going to give me $5000 to change that. Otherwise, I think I dress pretty well, and I doubt I would be nominated for this show.

It is striking to me how many moms end up on the show. And they almost all say the same thing: they don’t shop for themselves, they don’t take care of themselves, they don’t think of themselves. This is why fashion and looking good often take a back seat to utility. But I understand it — we mothers don’t have TIME. We don’t have time to put ourselves first and buy nice, well-made clothes that fit us. We are running on the principal of “good enough” where good enough usually means it covers what it’s supposed to. It takes a lot of time to shop for clothes. I mean, hours. Clothes that fit, that mix and match, accessories that go with the clothes. In general, shopping for clothes is not something you want to do with your children in tow. Maybe this will change when the girls are older… although that is conjuring its own shudder-inducing images.

Do you shop with your kids? How do you shop for clothes? What’s your biggest fashion faux pas? Do you think anyone would ever nominate you for What Not to Wear? What’s your guilty viewing pleasure?

Another Unsolicited Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

I’ve heard some critics complain about the fact that Warner Bros. decided to split the final Harry Potter book adaptation into two parts.

I get the idea from their snarky remarks that their inner cynics are getting the best of them. Is Warner Bros. in for a giant payday times two? Hell, yeah. Are they being manipulative of the fans?

This fan says, “NO.”

Look, I will pick a book over a movie any day. But I have really enjoyed the Harry Potter movies. It has been fun to see the actors grow up onscreen (especially hotties Rupert Grint and Tom Felton — I feel dirty even admitting that); it is fun to dissect the way the movies differ from the books; and going to see the movie versions has been something my husband and I make a point of doing together. (No, he STILL has not read the books, something I chide him for often. Honey, take a break from the Scrubs reruns!) (And I think we missed HP & the Goblet of Fire in the theaters. I know we missed one.)

Although in general, I think the screenwriters have done a good job of adapting the dense books for the screen, I was critical of the last movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I had some concerns that they were going to have to stray far afield in these last two movies in order to cover the bases.

I am happy to report that my fears from that last review are unfounded if Part I is any indication. By splitting the last book into two movies, they can fit in more of the story in without rushing along. Part I did away with extraneous (to a movie) details such as having Harry Potter disguised as a Weasley cousin for Bill and Fleur’s wedding, for instance, and still covered ground up until… well, I’ll let you see for yourself. I thought the movie was going to end sooner than it did. I’m glad I was wrong.

As we were filing out of the theater, Dan joked, “Uplifting as always”, and I understand his point. The books and movies have gotten progressively darker, and Part I is no exception. If he had read the books, he would know the payoff, but he hasn’t, and he probably won’t. From a guy who LOVES The Lord of the Rings (“three movies about walking”), and which have some pretty damn dark elements to them, I would think Harry Potter would get a bit more of a pass. (XOXO, honey!)

Anyhoo, if you are enjoying the Harry Potter franchise, this movie will not disappoint. I had to give Dan a couple of clues as to what certain things meant (notably the sliver of mirror Harry carries with him), so non-readers may have a harder time sussing out everything going on. Having read the books, I know what’s going to happen, but I admit that it’s fun to see it up on the big screen.

Can’t wait until July, and Part II.