Monday Morning Music – I See Monsters

“Oh, people are screaming, people are screaming

My baby, she’s dreaming

Oh, people are shouting, people are freaking

I’m staring at the ceiling, waiting for the feeling”

Songwriter: Ryan Adams

If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry. If we don’t hug, we’ll rage. If we don’t speak up, we will fall apart.

There’s no need for me to add to the infinite election postmortems. I mean, how can I say anything meaningful when The Pope and Coach Popovich have already weighed in? So HRC should have visited Wisconsin? Would that have made a difference?

I’m devastated. My children are crushed. They don’t want to talk about it, but I can see it on their faces. The shell-shocked realization that the bully won. That everything they’ve ever been taught to cherish – respect, kindness, empathy – doesn’t matter in America.

May you find solace in these dark days. May you find the strength to keep fighting. Question, challenge, call people out, protest, volunteer, lend a hand. Try to be better tomorrow than you are today.

Love, therockmom.

Election Special or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Blue Bloods

TS mosaic

Tom Selleck acts with his mouth.

It’s a subtle but effective talent.

Most actors focus on how and what their eyes convey to the audience. Whether their characters are listening, reacting, retreating or attacking, they project it all through their eyes.

But with Selleck, both his emotions and his authority as NYC Police Commissioner Frank Reagan emanate from the nose down. The dimples appear when he’s caught out asking campus security to watch granddaughter Nicky (Sami Gayle) when she’s at a college party. The lips purse when he’s faced with a fugitive on the run, a potential bomb disaster or a dirty cop. And the mustache – of course the mustache – wiggles ever so slightly when he’s invited back to a woman’s hotel room. (This has happened a few times over 6+ seasons, not that I’m keeping count or anything.)

I never noticed Selleck’s mouth when I was a kid watching Magnum P.I. Back then he often let his eyebrows, his chest and his Ferrari do the talking. I also missed a good deal of his story arc as Monica’s older boyfriend on Friends. But once my 83-year-old aunt introduced me to the Blue Bloods universe (that multi-generational American drama on CBS), I gained a new appreciation for Selleck’s understated charisma and his enduring sex appeal.

Now I know what you’re thinking: rockmom, you watch Blue Bloods? A network drama with a geriatric audience about law and order white folks? Blue Bloods?

Yes, I do. I even purchase seasons on iTunes. Proudly.

While it’s true that Blue Bloods draws the oldest viewers on television – median audience age is 62.5 – and depicts characters who probably lean to the right politically, it’s also a show that I regularly enjoy with my teens. One that always inspires what-would-you-do-in-that-situation conversations and an appreciation for Assistant District Attorney Erin Reagan’s (Bridget Moynahan) tough but tender parenting. So when my kids give me a hard time about curfew times, we can watch the episode where Nicky’s arrested, and I can say: see, it could be worse. Her Mom made her spend a night in jail!

More importantly, in this never-ending, divisive election cycle – Red v Blue, Us v Them, Deplorables v Elites – Blue Bloods is one of the few designated safe conversation zones for me and my far-right, Clinton-hating relatives. There’s also the weather, college football, food and… well, that’s about it.

As an expat living in an international, fairly liberal echo chamber, I always experience a bit of a rude awakening when I return home to Texas for holidays. Mind you, there are a lot of wonderful things I can only enjoy when I’m back: Shiner beer, cheese enchiladas, perfect brisket, old friends and bluebonnets. But then I also have to be around people who tell me, out loud: ‘Blacks are bad tippers’ or ‘Hispanics don’t know how to look after their kids’ or ‘You can’t tell a good Muslim from a bad Muslim’ and of course the iniquitous assertion that ‘Of course, Obama is a Muslim from Kenya.’

It’s wearying. It’s depressing. It makes me wish Frank and his dimples would appear with a bottle of single malt and a couple of glasses.

But what can I do? This is family. I’m sure Father Quinn (Frank’s priest) would counsel: hate the sin, love the sinner.

And just keep watching TV. That great American cure-all.

At this moment in our nation’s unsettled history, I’m sure a lot of other families of mixed political persuasions could benefit from the moral clarity, compassion and generosity that Blue Bloods offers. I’m thinking specifically of Anglo-Saxon families that haven’t forgotten their own religious and immigrant roots. If, like me, you have a Catholic Dad who once bought everyone Christmas presents from the All Things Irish shop then you know exactly what I’m talking about!

With Blue Bloods, I might disagree with Frank’s support for the death penalty, but I can respect his convictions, and admire how good he looks in his sunglasses. I can also enjoy an hour when certain things are reassuringly, crystal clear. For one, according to Detective Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg), there are only two kinds of people in the world: scumbags and not-scumbags. His job is to catch the former and help the latter. Don’t be a scumbag.

Second, there’s no problem so big that it can’t be solved with roasted meat and red wine. A beer and a chat with Grandpa also helps.

Further to that, it’s okay if Sunday dinners are contentious. Talk it out, disagree, argue, but above all, come back next week. We’ll be serving turducken.

Lastly, let’s not forget about the women on Blue Bloods. Because, you know, if this were a Hollywood movie, Moynahan would be playing Selleck’s love interest and not his daughter. So yay (!) to that casting decision. And yay to the other strong-minded women on the show: Linda (Amy Carlson), Janko (Vanessa Ray), Nicky and detectives Baez (Marisa Ramirez) and Curatola (Jennifer Esposito).

Can I also add that, as we all inch closer to Blue Blood’s median audience age, it should give us hope to see that Frank has very likely seen more action in the bedroom than his two single kids – Jamie (Will Estes) and Erin. (Not that my aunt and I discuss these things, oh no, not us!) I mean I’ve never fired a gun and would rather not dwell on Selleck’s association with the NRA. However, the season 2 episode where Frank buys Melanie (his foreign correspondent/booty call) a custom-made, leather thigh-holster for her concealed carry is, I’m not afraid to admit, incredibly hot.

So you see, Blue Bloods can bring liberals and conservatives together!

Now I know what you’re thinking, because I am too: the GOP chose the wrong ‘80s-era personality to top the ticket.

Vote. Peace.

Tom Selleck photo by Dominick D [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Absolutely Unofficial Angry Hillary Rodham Clinton Playlist

“Sophistafunk, aristocats
Distinguished dogs, clean up your acts
Pull up your pants, ladies and gents
Please, act like you got some sense”*

Don’t stop here if you’re looking for feel-good inspiration. Only one uplifting anthem to be heard today**. I’m not posting about being stronger and braver. Being confident, happy, outstanding fighters with full hearts and the eyes of tigers, together.

2464033947

Don’t worry HRC, we got you. (photo by Keith Kissel***)

I don’t want to roar or rise so much as smash.

And try to convey through song the utter stupidity, venality and ridiculousness of the past 12+ months. Like Luther to Barack, I am here to translate Hillary Rodham’s Clinton’s anger. She’s held her tongue long enough. Her reserves of superhuman patience must be wearing thin. The insults, dismissals, muckraking and lies, lies, lies. It’s time for release. Time to ask Trump, the GOP and all of its supporters: What. The. Fuck?

I have prepared well because hey! HRC would expect that.

I searched, I googled, I listened to a lot of Metallica and Nina Simone. And most importantly, I called my Mom – age 76, lifelong Democrat, family rebel and self-proclaimed bleeding heart liberal. For many years, she lived in small-town, conservative Texas so you can imagine how often she had to hide her true feelings when talk turned to politics. She also likes to play her music real loud and was once front-row with me at a Pretenders’ concert. Helpful. She chose Pink Floyd’s ‘Us and Them’ for this list and suggested some James Taylor and John Lennon for further listening. Then she told me a story about when she’d gone back to college (after having 4 kids), and a young girl, fresh out of high school, came in to class all excited, carrying a new album. She showed it to my mom and said, “Doesn’t he look like Jesus?” The singer on the album cover was Cat Stevens.

Well, it was a Catholic university, a long time ago. But I digress.

Funny thing – as I found out, most angry women songs are about lovers and being scorned, betrayed, spurned, cheated, done wrong.

But what if you’re just tired of dealing with fucking idiots? Under-qualified, over-compensated, hypocritical, heartless bullshit artists who mansplain their way through life. Where’s that playlist?

Here it is.

*Words by Andre 3000 from OutKast’s ‘Behold A Lady’.

**That would be Monica’s ‘Still Standing’ (guest rap by Ludacris).

***Hillary Clinton photo licensed via Creative Commons & Keith Kissel. Find him at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kakissel/

Monday Morning Music – Sneaker Pimps

It’s morning somewhere.

On the ’90s nostalgia train this week: trip hop & Ally McBeal, sundresses & biker boots. Sneaker Pimps’ 6 Underground launched me in to a Bond-esque orbit. It was really just the 405. Driving, driving, driving. Sunroof, Slurpee, Sunset. Imperial Highway, I-10, PCH, Santa Monica Bou-le-vard. K.C.R.W. The bubble of film school, where you could navel gaze, roller blade & delay, delay. I worked for a woman who Fed-Exed her Armani suit from Cannes to LA. Because she had vacation plans in Italy, after. I drove the box up through the Hollywood Hills & left it with her caretaker. Her pool was kidney-shaped.

AIDS was reality’s shadow. A friend of my cousin; he’d come to WeHo from Florida. He played me Mariah Carey for the first time. Vision of Love. And paid me well to sand & spackle the walls of a condo he bought, about a year before. The down payment came from money he’d embezzled from work. He never got caught. He just passed away.

Vision of Love is still my favorite Mariah song.

And 6 Underground is the business.

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!