The 8 Stages of Puzzle Building

Eisenhower, MacArthur… Dad.

Here’s my latest short film, starring friends, family and one of our cats!

Hope you enjoy it!

 

College Pt 1: the view from Hong Kong

final illu

Conceived by therockmom. Realized by Bonnie Wong.

Kids deserve your high expectations! No, no – they thrive following their own paths! The world needs engineers and doctors. The world needs creative thinkers. If you don’t get in to the Ivy League your life is over. What’s wrong with a state school? Don’t sacrifice Fine Arts in education! Everyone should learn to code!

How are we going to pay for all of this?????

My oldest is two years away from university so we’re already starting down the path: PSAT, IB, ACT, campus visits, personal essays, community service, summer prep work, faultless transcripts, blah, blah, blah.

I waiver from a rebellious ‘Does it really matter?’ attitude to a creeping anxiety that, as a parent, I should be more engaged, more helpful, more ambitious for my kids. Not helped by the fact that I live in Hong Kong, ground zero for Over Achievers Anonymous. A place where you can find a class, workshop or tutor for any and all intellectual, personal or cognitive failings.

It’s easy to say: well, I did this when I was your age and I turned out just fine. Yeah sure – in the ‘80s, when perms were awesome, Cosby was America’s Dad and China was a nation of peasants.

The world is a very different place now.

All I can say is: listen to your kids. And then find a good Physics tutor😉

With many sincere thanks to Hong Kong artist & creative thinker Bonnie Wong for helping me realize the vision above. You can find her at: http://bonnieeewpy.com/

Monday Morning Music – Capsized

Where has the time gone? That’s my typical, yearly response when I realize my kids have only FIVE more weeks of school until summer vacation. So many plans, so much to do, so much undone. I guess you’ve noticed how I’ve neglected the blog these last two months, but I will try to rectify that situation, at least until the actual summer hols roll around.

In the meantime, here’s a so-simple-it’s-brilliant video from my current obsession: Andrew Bird. He’s an eclectic musician from Chicago, vocal-kin to Bill Withers, and this song – this song! – I’m playing it at least a dozen times a day.

Check it out, let me know what you think and enjoy the rest of your week!

 

Monday Morning Music – HBHBHB

“And meanwhile the man was falling from space
And everyday I wore your face
Like an atmosphere around me
A satellite inside me”

How is this song NOT about David Bowie? I wonder every time I listen to it – “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” – the title track from Florence + The Machine’s latest album. I imagine young Florence Welch discovering Bowie as a teenager, sometime in the late ’90s, painting her face with a glittery lightning bolt (everyday I wore your face) and dancing around her bedroom, entranced.

But no, apparently this song is an ode to the California sky, influenced by Florence’s time in the U.S. and her increasing fascination with American music (whether Motown or Laurel Canyon).

The song is stunning, no matter what or who inspired it, and it’s been on constant rotation in my ears. I’m still in a little mourning for the great Starman, and feeling lately like logging on to Twitter or FB is just the daily equivalent of asking: who’s dead now? So songs of comfort and beauty feel quite necessary now.

Here’s a video version of not-quite-the-whole song, filmed (unsurprisingly) under a bright blue sky. The short video was directed by Tabitha Denholm & Vincent Haycock.

Have a good week, x

Madonna, All Hail

This week, in a beautiful generational symmetry, EO and I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert here in Hong Kong. My one and only Madonna show prior to this was a floor seat at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on the Like a Virgin tour, May 1985, a few weeks before I graduated from high school. This spring, EO will attend her first formal dance and ‘graduate’ Y11 before beginning her school’s two-year IB program. Over thirty years between our rites of passage and yet here was Madonna – in fearsome form and wicked wit, middle-aged, twice-divorced, sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed – here was fucking Madonna.

Madonna cage

The Queen, in her cage.*

The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

Madonna.

The most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles charts. Let that sink right in while I say her name one more time.

Madonna.

Screw the haters. To hell with the ageist TMZ brigade. Go home if her show starts too late for you. I don’t care how old she is or who shares her bed or even what kind of person she is behind the scenes. All that matters is what she brings to the stage, and in that arena Madonna reigns. Unrivaled. Matchless. Supreme.

Madonna supper

Feast your eyes and pass the wafers.

She transported her full show to Hong Kong – not always the case with touring artists in Asia – and played for over two hours, joined by her band, back-up singers and about 20 dancers. The concert was a button-pushing visual feast of multimedia images, lights, poles, ramps, stairs, hydraulics and dance. Lots of dance. Throughout the show, Madonna moved seamlessly from one cultural theme to another: Samurais to start; Catholicism (of course) to heat things up; Matadors, Greasers and Flappers to express love and more sex, sex, sex; and then “Holiday” fun to finish. I expected the button-pushing and restless cultural curiosity; Madonna has always championed the unusual and the underground, the more provocative the better. She’s a human synthesizer, and I say that as a compliment. What surprised me, however, was the lightness and vulnerability she showed. She chatted, joked, queried and proclaimed to the audience: don’t ask questions, there is no answer. She wore the mantle of Queen both proudly and irreverently.

Madonna male dancer

Body by Madonna.

But if I could distill her performance, nay her entire artistic existence, down to one point, I would say very simply that Madonna is about the body. All shaking ass, thrusting bosom, beating heart. Her hand on a thigh and a head in her crotch. As a dancer first and foremost, she understands the visual power of motion, of open legs and intertwined limbs. Or as her concert showcased, the stunning impact of one shirtless, muscular man moving on an empty stage with only a billowing scarf for company.

Her raison d’être, if I dare to speculate, has always been about celebrating the amazing, ecstatic things we can do with our bodies, alone and in company. She made that statement with her very first single, “Everybody”, which was released in 1982. Every / Body / Come on / Dance and Sing. And she continued that manifesto by shining a light on how others try to stop us from said ecstasy, whether it’s an overbearing patriarchy, Catholic constraints on sexuality or our very own hang-ups. Every / Body / Get Up And / Do Your Thing. Madonna’s body electric is both personal and political, and she makes her stand not only with music and lyrics but movement as well. As if Martha Graham were a pop star…

After the show, EO and I speculated as to what Madonna would do between her two shows in Hong Kong. (If you see her hiking The Peak, tell her I said Hi!) I figured after 2+ hours on stage, in heels, she probably needed some serious physio, or at least a massage. The thought made me a little sad. Madonna’s getting older, her knees must be killing her.

I know a lot of people reckon she’s well past her prime, that the best she can do these days is hitch her wagon to Nicki Minaj or Drake. But I disagree. Though I hadn’t seen her in concert for decades, her Rebel Heart show was indisputable proof that her creative vigor and taste for provocation is alive and well. She still owns the stage, whether she’s alone and singing “La Vie En Rose” or leading her dancers down the catwalk in a fantastic rendition of “Deeper and Deeper”, everyone strutting and vogueing. Even EO said she didn’t think Madonna was trying to be a teenager. The Queen was dancing, singing, doing her thing, and we were lucky to be a part of it.

Madonna solo

Kneel, Genuflect, Rise, Repeat.

How many musical icons not only survive but prosper as they head gently in to that good night? How many still have something to say? The list is short. Prince, Jagger, McCartney, Aretha, Bruce? Maybe. Bowie we just lost, Streisand barely sings anymore, Diana Ross has been MIA for years. Sinatra got it right, but then who else? Who changed pop music forever? Who’s left?

Madonna.

 

*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did!😉

 

2015: The Year in Random Thoughts and Obsessions

For my yearly wrap up of 2013, I wrote, “All hail the return of the king – David Bowie – and the art of the music video.” And I included a link to his surreal collaboration with Tilda Swinton for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’. Two years later and RIP, we’re talking and posting about how much we’ll miss Bowie. (My thoughts can be found here.)

Yes, the last year has been especially tough. I’ve lost friends and heard of marriages dissolving, read helplessly of terrorist attacks in France and the continuing assault on women’s rights in the U.S. Not to mention the masses of refugees desperate for safe havens and the innocent lives struck down by gun violence.

“Day In Day Out

Stay In Fade Out”

Yet, in the midst of everyday upheaval, small glories continue to reveal themselves. Glimmers of hope to remind us that we are not alone, that quite simply, wonders never cease. Here’s a small sampling of some of my favorite things from the world of popular culture:

lady story

Yes please! More stories about strong females. (photo taken at a shopping center in Sha Tin, by therockmom)

  1. Serena Williams tops my list for consistent awesomeness. What a joy to watch her match against Heather Watson at Wimbledon. I was with my daughters and nephews on a sunny summer morning, trying to explain the arcane scoring system. All of us cheered on Williams yet at the same time felt inexplicably proud that Watson could stretch her to three sets. Later in the year, the girls and I watched the marvelous doc, Venus and Serena, and although Williams didn’t get her Grand Slam at the US Open, we still knew: she is the greatest.
  1. In movies and television, we sought out strong girls and women and, even in the midst of the industry’s glaring inequalities, still found a few to shout about, namely: Kate (Emily Blunt/Sicario), Riley and Joy (Inside Out), Alex (Priyanka Chopra/Quantico), Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw/Beyond the Lights), Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska/Ida) and of course Rey (Daisy Ridley/Star Wars Ep VII). Recently I’ve had the pleasure of introducing my kids to The X-Files Season One and the complex relationship between Scully the scientist and Mulder the believer. As the new episodes remind us, the X-Files is just great storytelling.
  1. While I still can’t convince EO and YO of the wonders of Jane Austen, school assignments and various recommendations (not quite me shoving a book in to their hands and saying: read this! but close, lol.) have introduced them to classics by Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Golding along with plenty of Judy Blume.
  1. And in the Department of Obsessions, I still can’t get enough of Castle, Mesut Ozil (COYG!), Maneki Nekos and Justin Beiber’s (lack of) facial hair. Say what you want, go on, I can take it😉

    Imagine Dragons & phones

    The lights! The sounds! The… phones. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. (photo taken at Imagine Dragons’ HK show, by therockmom)

  1. Last but certainly not least, music! Live highlights of the year were Clockenflap in Hong Kong and Taylor Swift in Washington DC. For Swift, it was the girls, Grandma plus me and my dear friend and her daughter. We sat (and stood) in awe at Swift’s seemingly effortless command of the stage. She is a Force, thankfully using her powers for good, not evil. However, due to her dissatisfaction with Spotify, she’s not on my playlist of the year’s best. Instead I’ve included Ryan Adams’ version of ‘Wildest Dreams’, which was my favorite song of hers from 1989. His cover is just okay, kind of standard, sensitive RA. As I listen I realize that his whole take on 1989 has missed the point entirely. The point is that these songs were written by and about a young woman and her very specific experiences with the push and pull of desire. So a guy in his ‘40s? I don’t think he can quite capture what she’s feeling, that moment in time. As much as I love Ryan Adams, he could have given this project a miss.

I’ll finish here with the playlist – 25 songs from fantastic recent releases and a few new-to-me-this-year discoveries (KING, Sun Kil Moon). Interestingly, over half the songs are from female singers/bands and women-fronted bands. Not that I was aiming for that gender balance, it just happened, but I’m pleased nonetheless.

So much good music out there – listen, discover, enjoy!

 

Less Noise, More Clarity

The lights dimmed in the chapel before the musicians stepped on to the altar. No central heat in chilly La Sainte-Chapelle, but we were warm enough in our coats and scarves, sitting close together on red-cushioned chairs. The ornate ceiling soared high above us, and stained-glass windows glowed like dreams, even in the darkness. How many shows have you been to in a sanctuary that was consecrated by the Pope’s legate in 1248? A place built by King Louis IX to house the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of Jesus’s Cross. Holy Relics of the Passion. The devout French ruler acquired the artifacts because he “wished to affirm his devotion to God”. We kept our voices low, as you would.

Sainte Chapelle

Difficult to see faces but here is the quartet (l to r): Gilles Harle, harpsichord; David Braccini, violin; Sophie Pattey, soprano; Charles Limouse, flute (photo by therockmom).

The concert was called “Noel au temps de la renaissance”. Fancy Christmas carols. Performed by a quartet: soprano, violin, harpsichord and flute (the type held vertically not horizontally). The group chose pieces from a variety of composers – Corelli, Bach, Purcell, Monteverdi, Caccini – and also included traditional carols like ‘Greensleeves’, ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘O Christmas Tree’. Half of the songs were instrumentals; the other half sung by a woman named Sophie Pattey. And all of it was beautiful.

At a performance like this in such a hallowed setting, you might expect sternness and gravity, a touch of snobbery. But the musicians were generous and lighthearted. Charles Limouse, who played flute, introduced each song in French and chatted a bit to the crowd. Though I couldn’t understand everything he said, it was clear his mood was warm and playful. The atmosphere felt neither remote nor – here comes that dreaded word for classical music – boring. And at the very end, Ms. Pattey, who had been singing in a variety of European languages, led the audience in two rounds of ‘Jingle Bells’, in English.

There’s nothing like singing carols to get me in the mood for Christmas. My collection of holiday music is extensive, and I look forward to listening to it from mid-December all the way through to New Year’s Day. But this season I experienced something different, something extraordinary.

Towards the end of the concert, Mr. Limouse stepped forward and began playing ‘Silent Night’. Solo flute. The familiar melody floated softly towards us, rising up then down then up again. Due to the chapel’s wonderful acoustics, the notes of the song carried to every corner of the room, clear and strong. Ms. Pattey then joined in, singing the lyrics in German. And in the dim and golden glow, in a place where a king and his family once worshipped in the presence of the reliques de la Passion du Christ, we were a captivated congregation. Motionless. Enthralled. Dare I say, close to holy.

We nourish our bodies with food, exercise, sex, sleep. We fill our ears and eyes with work emails, breaking news, status updates, binge TV, cat videos. For better or worse, I make no judgments, we swim in a stream of constant communication and entertainment. But how often do we get to experience stillness? A singular moment that goes right to our hearts and souls, filling us with a profound sense of possibility, hope, clarity. I believe the yogis and the life coaches and the trendsters call it mindfulness – there might even be an app – and I know the feeling is rare and elusive. I’m a little obsessed with such wonders, I guess, because they are so unexpected. Yet oftentimes these experiences, like a song in a chapel, can be the most nourishing and necessary sensations of all.

May 2016 bring you moments such as these.

Thank you for reading therockmom.

P.S. here’s a playlist, similar to the concert at La Sainte-Chapelle. Enjoy.

The Coolest Weekend in Hong Kong

It’s been a few days but I’m still buzzed from my Clockenflap experience. Kil Sun Moon, Rachael Yamagata, The Skatalites, Clean Bandit, Earth, Wind & Fire Experience, Swervedriver, cold beer, good food, best friends, EO and YO having a blast. And I haven’t even mentioned Sunday night! Oh Lord.

Clockenflap 1

A certain je ne sais quoi and a pocket for your vodka. (photo by therockmom)

But before I get to that thrilling climax, let me tell you about a group of très intéressant folks I met at the festival. I spotted them as soon as I arrived on Saturday. Dressed all in black, they stood looking out at the harbor away from the crowds before wandering over to the Yamagata show. There they sat on the ground, passing around  bottles of Smirnoff and playfully photo-bombing the family snap occurring in front of them. They seemed to inhabit their own little galaxy of urban style, as if they had landed in Hong Kong from another, cooler (and colder) clime: the West Village, Rue Bichat, Shoreditch, a Fellini sound stage?

Maybe I don’t get out much (truth: I don’t), but this foursome exuded a confidence and panache I don’t see very often in HK. Yet they didn’t strike me as posers. Who were they?

So I asked.

Ashley, Anthony, Carmen and their shy friend all grew up in Hong Kong and range in age from mid-20s to early 30s. The chatty ones were best friends Anthony and Ashley who met at Clockenflap two years. Anthony runs his own clothing store specializing in Korean and European fashion while Ashley is a graphic designer interested in branding and typography. The duo said their coordinated look was not actually inspired by Paris but it was designed for impact. As Anthony explained, “Maybe it’s too hot and no one will wear a long coat today so you think we will look more outstanding.”

When I asked what’s been the reaction so far to their collective chic, Anthony laughed and said people wonder, “Do you feel hot today?”

Style knows no pain (or heatstroke).

In a town where business dress rules, you’ve got to admire the modish quartet – celebrating, enjoying and perpetuating the long relationship between music and fashion. And by the way, Yamagata was also dressed in all black so they were in good company.

Clockenflap 2

Ashley & Anthony in solidarity with Rachael Yamagata, a singer-songwriter who ROCKS on stage. (photo by therockmom)

I saw a lot of great bands over the weekend, and judging by their comments, they had a fun time here too. Many acts were Hong Kong newbies, and they seemed a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the dramatic setting as well as the enthusiastic crowds. The festival was incredibly well-organized, and the staff super friendly. I mean, if the beer sellers are still smiling at 9pm on Sunday night then you know some positive vibes are permeating the Clockenflap grounds. My only complaint was that I couldn’t be in two places at once!

But as the sun set on Sunday evening, there was only one place I wanted to be: as close to the front as possible at the Harbourflap stage. That’s where Nile Rodgers and his talented, airtight band were tearing through dozens (and I do mean dozens) of songs that he wrote, co-wrote, produced, played on and/or infused with his magic disco touch. A collection of hits and acts that span four decades: CHIC, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Daft Punk. Rodgers spoke of surviving cancer and realizing every day is a gift, and he was generous in praising his bandmates. When he introduced the last song, ‘Good Times’, he said the tune always inspired a disco party on stage. And then he brought out Unsung Heroes, a Hong Kong domestic worker choir, to dance, sing and take selfies with him and his band. It was a party, absolutely.

I had a half hour to grab a beer and a box of Vietnamese noodles before the last act of the weekend, New Order, took the stage. My day had started at 5:30 in the morning, and my knees were aching from a.m. hiking on DB and p.m. dancing to CHIC. But I didn’t want to go home early because hey! how many times will I get to see New Order? My hardcore-fan friends made their way to the front, but I moved over to the left with another friend, strategically close to the exit, and on a set of stairs where I could rest my weary legs. The location afforded us a view of the stage, the crowd and the entire HK Island skyline across the harbor. The pano function on my phone camera just couldn’t do justice to the surreal and wondrous night.

When New Order gifted us with an encore of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Blue Monday’, we ascended to another plane of existence – somewhere between the suburban innocence of the ‘80s and the vibrant metropolis that is Hong Kong, 2015.

I haven’t witnessed this much ecstatic mopey-head dancing since prom night.

Thanks Clockenflap and see you again next year!

Clockenflap 3

Okay, this photo is crap but if you were there you’ll remember the awesome scene. Thank You and Good Night! (photo by therockmom)

Guys & Concerts: An Education

Red stage lights

Randy from Baton Rouge

Randy from Baton Rouge who was a great dancer not so great kisser took me to the Propaganda concert Fall semester which I thought was a date but asked me after to reimburse him for the ticket not that I would have minded if the evening had been prefaced by this request and if the band had blown my mind instead I resisted paying for weeks and was relieved we weren’t running in to each other on campus until I heard he’d taken medical leave before finals due to emotional issues which my roommate said was despair at being outed by a Classics major who’d broken his heart and he ended up transferring anyway so that I never did pay him back and we truly stopped running in to each other, Randy from Baton Rouge I’m sorry.

1984

Consider seriously if I really wanted to get back together or did I say yes because he had sixth-row seats to David Lee Roth’s first solo tour and I was curious to see if Diamond Dave was going to be better or worse than the Sammy Hagar-led Van Halen which I’d seen less than two weeks prior with my best friends not that either of those bands were my absolute favorites not even top ten but it was almost summer and I missed having a boyfriend and I thought maybe just maybe those old feelings would return but in the end what I realized was obvious, nothing could ever be as good as Van Halen circa 1984.

That Velvet Jacket

You try going to a Bryan Ferry concert where the theater is Art Deco and the cocktails are strong and Bryan’s singing in a maroon velvet jacket and not feel something for your date who happens to be the consensus best-looking guy in the graduate film program what with his dark ponytail and the way he wears a tool belt and gloves when he’s gaffing though you know you shouldn’t even call him your date because he has a girlfriend and you’re practically engaged and you’re just going together because you both love Roxy Music and no one else can afford tickets or wants to skip that night’s seminar on Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, did I mention how strong the drinks were?

A little flash (absolutely) fiction on a Friday night.

© Jennifer S. Deayton

Slaying the Dragons of Sarcasm

Take a ride on a sea of light (photo by therockmom).

Check your cynicism at the door and take a ride on a sea of light: Imagine Dragons in Hong Kong. (photo by therockmom)

You are merely auditing this class. You are not in control. You are here for the ride.

This is not your party.

You know that going in. You barely know any Imagine Dragons songs. They’re a young folks’ band. But so what. There’s no need to criticize the band name (which is kind of kids’ cartoon silly) or get all snarky about their connection to the Transformers movies. They work hard and deserve to earn a living, don’t they?

However, try as you might, the atmosphere at their concert makes you feel old and cynical and angry – angry mostly about the lack of anger. A rock band with songs called ‘Tip Toes’ and ‘I’m So Sorry’? Whose lead singer never utters a four-letter word? Where’s the edge? Your memory takes you back to a scrawny, strung-out Guns N’ Roses opening for The Cult. Now that – that felt dangerous.

You grump about the sea of smart phones and the ADHD tension this creates. Documenting is not experiencing. But then you find your own self, posting a snap, and you vow to put away your phone and enjoy the show. Let the music wash over you – close your eyes, come on. They’re a tight band, and their live experience and skill shows. They’re not bad. Yet you can’t quite relax and embrace the spectacle due to the random thoughts in your head, such as:

  1. Did he just sing: Dream maker / Heart breaker*? Because that would be a total crib from Pat Benatar.
  2. I blame Coldplay for this aggressive earnestness. They’re all so sweet! Jeez, for all their higher power positivity, at least U2 wrote ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’.
  3. Rock guys don’t take off their shirts anymore, do they?
  4. All this man-bun lead singer needs is an indie film girlfriend and vegan cookbook tie-in.
  5. ‘Forever Young’ is a truly lame cover tune.

What’s happening? Have you really become some misanthropic music snob? Let go, let go, let go. Lose the sarcasm. Swim with the spirit of the band’s 2.5 million Spotify followers, the 300 million plays of ‘Demons’.

Behind you, six true believers bring hope. They wave their glow sticks in solidarity and sing the words to every song. They are sweet, undaunted, and they’re having the time of their lives.

So is your youngest one, who hip bumps you and hugs you and stands arm in arm with you during the slow songs.

It’s then you realize why you’re here. This is her party.

But you’re still invited.

*The line is actually: Dream maker / Life taker from ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. I heard what I wanted to hear. A little imagination😉
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