Category Archives: ’80s music

What ’80s Dress Are You?

Train of thought.

Listening to playlists built around travel themes – Texas, California, a Southern road trip – I realize I’ve never done an Australian music playlist. So many good bands I recall, popular, infamous and obscure. INXS, Paul Kelly, Divinyls, Eurogliders, Hoodoo Gurus, Models, The Church…

Now what was the name of the band that had the song in the cocktail party scene in Crocodile Dundee?

Hey there you with the sad face

Come up to my place

And live it up

I have to ask my husband, who answers immediately. Mental As Anything.

Remembrance of the party scene = recognition that the red dress Linda Koslowski (as journalist Sue Charlton) wore was so kick-ass*.Version 2

To have the confidence to wear that.

I did not, in the ‘80s. But if I had, that would be my ‘80s dress. Slinky and surprising.

What Google can do: ‘great dresses from 80s movies’.

7,290,000 results.

All those Pinterest Halloween costume ideas make me feel old. When my kids want to dress up like the ‘80s they usually go with the RUN-DMC look. My Adidas! Then, now, forever.

Brain works back to ‘80s dresses. A Top Five forms:

  1. The downtown dress, Crocodile Dundee (Linda Koslowski)
  2. DIY prom dress, Pretty in Pink (Molly Ringwald)
  3. Like-a-virgin prom dress, Footloose (Lori Singer)
  4. The backless, spaghetti-strap numbers, Scarface (Michelle Pfeiffer)
  5. A-whore-at-the-opera red formal, Pretty Woman (Julia Roberts)

collage-3.jpg

If I wrote for BuzzFeed, I’d tell you what your favorite dress says about the self-image you desire:

  1. Self-assured but desperate for a little artistic cool cred. Attracted to Australians 😉
  2. Strong, crafty and rebellious though drawn to moony, spineless men. Go figure.
  3. You really, really want to be loved for your brain not your body. Good luck with that.
  4. You, however, don’t mind being eye candy and you really don’t mind doing nose candy.
  5. Purely aspirational. You believe in fairy tales and the transformative power of money.

I soundtrack my thoughts with Paul Kelly’s Greatest Hits and INXS’s The Swing.

And then I realize: Ah! I haven’t even gotten to Winona Ryder’s goth gown in Beetlejuice. Or Demi Moore’s trashy strapless pink postage stamp in St. Elmo’s Fire!!!

’80s Dresses!

(Demi wore those attitude glasses so well.)

I send a message

Hope it gets through

 

The train continues on the tracks…

*To something random and related. A man named Mark Kalan, who crewed on Crocodile Dundee, bought the red dress at auction and started a photography project. Calling it The Red Dress Project, Kalan aimed to photograph at least 100 women – of all ages, size 6-8 or under – in the dress for a gallery show and book.

Now where was I when this went down (and I was still a size 6)???

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! 😉

 

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

From Chicago to China and Back Again: Susan Blumberg-Kason

GCW CoverNot long ago I had the pleasure to meet Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the recently-published memoir Good Chinese Wife. The book is a very honest and brave look at Susan’s difficult marriage to a charismatic mainland scholar and musician, Cai. They met in Hong Kong, spent time in China and settled in San Francisco, where their baby boy was born. After the marriage fell apart, Susan returned with her son to her hometown, Chicago. She eventually remarried and had two more children before writing Good Chinese Wife. I found Susan’s writing completely compelling but also very, very personal. It takes guts (!!) to write so candidly. After I heard her speak about the book’s journey, which is an interesting story in itself, I asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for therockmom, about writing, family and of course music!

Q: Let’s start with the memoir, which is a great read! Full of drama and emotion but not in a woe-is-me kind of way. When you were writing was it difficult to sort of re-experience your history or were you able to write in a more detached way? I imagine you’d almost have to look at yourself as a character, that you’d need that distance, to make the narrative work.

A: Thank you for the kind words about the book! If I had written it right after my divorce, it would have been an angry, finger-pointing story full of rage. But since I started writing it eight years after that marriage ended, I had enough distance between those events and the new life I had created for myself. I was able to distance myself from the person I was during the years of Good Chinese Wife. And once I started working with independent editors, and later my agent and editor at my publishing house, the book became a collaborative effort and I certainly looked at myself as a character. We would talk about me in the third person as if I was a character!

Q: I’m always curious as to how writers’ families react to their work. You spoke about it a bit at your book talk, but I’m wondering: did you get your current husband to read any early drafts? What did your children think when they saw the actual book, I mean it’s such a fun thing, right? Seeing your name on a book!

A: My husband Tom hasn’t read the book yet! I was worried about family members reading early drafts because I was worried they would try to influence what I wrote (ie, keep me from revealing so much). I guess I didn’t need to worry about that with Tom! He has been so supportive and pushes my book at work like it’s a drug, then proudly reports back to me when a colleague has read and liked it. Now he’s trying to muster up Amazon reviews. Tom at first said he would read it, but I have the feeling he doesn’t care to go back to that part of my life. He knows about the events in the book, and I think that’s good enough for him! As for my kids, my son Jake is sixteen and hasn’t read it, but I’ve placed it on a bookshelf and told him he’s welcome to it anytime. Some of his friends have read it, though. My two younger kids are too young to read it, but they were so excited when my review copies arrived in the mail. We all held a copy like it was a new baby. I also brought my little ones to a bookstore to see it on the shelves for the first time, and that was super thrilling, too.

Q: Going back to the story of you and Cai, you met him in the world of academia, but you know after I’d finished the book I found myself thinking that being married to him sounded a lot like being married to a rock musician! The hours, the lifestyle, the – dare I say – ego. Has anyone ever suggested that before? What are your thoughts?

A: No one ever compared it to being married to a rock star, but Cai himself warned me—after we married. The first time he stayed out until the early hours of the morning, he was recording a CD for a businessman in Singapore with a group of musicians at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music. When he returned home the next morning, he shrugged and said it’s difficult being married to an ethnomusicologist. As it turns out, he wasn’t kidding! His late nights out in California were all music-related outings with friends he had met in the Chinese music community there. I don’t think that lifestyle is impossible for a spouse, but the person who keeps those late hours needs to make sure he (or she) makes up for it when he’s home!

Headshot from Hong Kong 3

Susan stopped in Hong Kong recently for the release of both Good Chinese Wife & the How Does One Dress To Buy Dragonfruit anthology.

Q: You mentioned that while you and Cai were together, you spent a lot of time around Chinese music and musicians. What’s your take on classical Chinese music? It seems to be an acquired taste!

A: I like Chinese classical music! I’m certainly not an expert in it, but I like the different instruments and the sad melodies. Often when we went out with his friends in China to karaoke, they would sing revolutionary songs, which I thought was funny in a kitschy way. I even learned some of them. I know that’s not classical music, but that’s what Cai’s generation grew up on and what they were most familiar with at that time.

Q: You’ve also said that you actually started to learn to play the erhu with Cai – how difficult was that? Are you a musical person? Do you play any other instruments?

A: I am not a musical person, although I took piano lessons for eight years when I was young and can still read music. The erhu was kind of a fluke. I had signed up for a Japanese language class in graduate school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, but the class was taught in Cantonese. So I had to drop it because I only speak a smattering of Cantonese. A friend from Japan was taking erhu lessons at the University, which I thought sounded very cool. So I signed up, too. It was a lot of fun, and Cai tutored me in erhu after we first met. After we got engaged, he stopped. My class was only a semester-long and I didn’t continue. At the end of the course, I could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! I still have the erhu I bought in Hong Kong twenty years ago.

Q: What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager? What artists/bands had the most impact on you growing up?

A: I grew up in the seventies and eighties, so the first music I listened to on the radio was disco. This was the time of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, so the Bee Gees were my favorite when I was eight and nine. I also liked classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, which are my favorite bands to this day. But the ones that had the most impact on me growing up were The Cure, The Clash, Violent Femmes, and anything that would fit in a John Hughes movie. I not only watched his films religiously, but also grew up in the area where they were filmed. Also, my uncle was in a ska band in the ’80s, so I grew up on that. My parents would take us to all-ages concerts at venues that usually didn’t allow kids under 18. My uncle’s band played with Peter Tosh and The English Beat, so it was pretty cool to have a successful musician in the family.

Q: The English Beat! That is so cool. Are you sharing any music with your kids these days? You have a teenager plus younger children, right? Are there any artists that everyone can agree on – or is everyone’s tastes different?

A: We listen to music mainly when we’re in the car. I’m a chronic station-flipper, so I turn the dial until I find a song I like. My little ones are familiar with Top 40 songs, whereas Jake, my teenager, has eclectic taste. My husband Tom and I have taken Jake to see Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, and Lady Gaga! That’s kind of a good representation of what we listen to in the car, and all three kids are fine with that. Jake plays trumpet in his school’s marching band, jazz band, and orchestra. I’m sure he gets his musical abilities from his father!

Q: So, since you’re from Chicago, I’ve got to ask about Windy City music, which is so varied and unique: blues, house, indie rock, etc. Is there one band or singer that you would say is the quintessential sound of Chicago?

A: I would have to say that Buddy Guy is the quintessential sound of Chicago. He has a blues club not too far from where I used to live in the city, before I moved to the suburbs. Buddy Guy’s Legends attracts both locals and tourists. Back before we had a smoking ban, he used to perform several smoke-free concerts every January. Those were always popular. Now Legends has a new venue, with great food, and it’s all smoke-free now. When I meet people new to Chicago or visiting for the first time, I always recommend a concert at Buddy Guy’s, especially if he’s performing.

Thank you Susan for taking the time to chat with therockmom!

For more information, please check out:

Susan’s website

Susan on Twitter

Monday Morning Music – Elbow

Morning all – guess what? Therockmom turns five years old today. Hard to believe but it was exactly five years ago today that I posted my first inarticulate but heartfelt ramblings about music and motherhood. On that day, I wrote about the K-POP band, Super Junior. As you know, I’m slightly obsessed with their dance moves and particular brand of androgyny. I also lamented the fact that the current Hong Kong concert offerings included Dionne Warwick and El Divo. Well, five years later, Super Junior have just released their seventh album. They’re still hugely popular and strangely compelling. The HK concert scene hasn’t changed much either. Nostalgia acts such as the Pet Shop Boys, Tony Hadley and that guy from Westlife are still safe bets, but we have witnessed the rise of Clockenflap and promoters willing to take a gamble on smaller alternative and punk bands (Das Fluff, Japandroids, etc).

To honor therockmom’s birthday, I thought I’d spend the rest of the week looking back at some of my most popular and controversial posts – starting with a band that was one of the inspirations for this blog way back when.

Elbow were already well established in the UK when I discovered their fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid. I literally knew nothing about them, but when the second track, “The Bones of You”, came on, I was dumbstruck. Who are you? Why have I not loved you forever? The shimmering guitars, the vivid lyrics, the chorus of harmonies, all crystallized in to a perfect pop love song.

But it wasn’t just the song, it was the realization that there is so much wonderful music out there, waiting to be discovered and coveted. If I’m hearing this fantastic song now, I said to myself, imagine what else I’m missing! So in a way, starting therockmom was like going on a treasure hunt. The blog has given me a reason to devote a portion of my week to listening to new music, reading about new bands and old favorites and, when the HK concert gods bless me, going out to see a live show. There’s room for nostalgia (yeah the ’80s!) on therockmom, but there’s also the hope that you might like to hear some new tunes too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of this journey and I thank you for your support.

Have a good week!

’80s Week Continues: A Rock Playlist

So I set two small goals for myself this summer: to read Middlemarch and to watch the FOUR-hour, Peter Bogdanovich-directed Tom Petty documentary: Running Down A Dream. It’s slow going on both fronts, but I am loving each one. Friends had warned me that George Eliot’s writing wasn’t quite as ‘readable’ as say Jane Austen, but the novel doesn’t feel like a chore by any means. It’s got all the hallmarks of a classic English novel: a will is read, feelings are restrained, money’s a problem, love is unrequited and a young man finds out there is a fortune waiting for him. Great stuff.

runningdown-a-dream

I’ve just gotten past the mid ’80s and have reached the Dylan years with the TP and the HBs doc. Fantastic archival footage, performances and loads of interviews, as you would imagine in such an exhaustive documentary. I really enjoyed hearing about their work with Stevie Nicks and how influential their music videos were in the early years of MTV. I mean, seriously, when you look at Tom Petty’s body of work, the sheer number of incredible songs he’s written, he is right up there with the greats.

The doc inspired me to check out his latest release, Hypnotic Eye, as well as all that great early stuff. Just stop to consider his output in the 1980s: Hard Promises (’81), Long After Dark (’82), Southern Accents (’85), Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough (’87), closing out the decade with Full Moon Fever (’89). Come on! The man is a huge talent.

Funny how when we think of ’80s music, we tend to think of every genre – New Wave, Heavy (Hair) Metal, Rap, Punk and Pop –  except Rock. (Not including Bruce Springsteen of course, who was kind of a genre unto himself in the ’80s.) But plenty of rock musicians who’d gotten started in the ’70s were still releasing albums, touring and making interesting music videos that sustained rock radio through the decade. You could call this music kind of boring, MOR stuff but a lot of it is pretty darn good – a blend of blues, rock, jazz, New Wave. And I think these ‘oldies’ acts mix in well with college-radio rock bands such as REM and The Pretenders that went on to huge careers themselves.

So here’s a playlist of ’80s rock to start your weekend. Let me know what you think!

Monday Morning Music: ’80s ALL WEEK

Hi all, how’s your summer going? It’s EIGHTIES WEEK at therockmom as I revisit and revise one of my most popular posts: Can It Really Be Summer Without ’80s Music? New! Improved! Now with Spotify playlists!

maneaterIt’s a funny thing, nostalgia. Recently, I found myself sitting in the way back of my stepmom’s minivan listening to her Best of Hall & Oates CD as we drove to dinner. Now if that’s not a recipe for summertime teen regression I don’t know what is. But there I was, YO sitting next to me, both of us enjoying ‘Maneater’. See a cover version of that track (by Grace Mitchell) was used in the recent Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. YO’s good pal likes the new, cover song while YO is partial to the original. Me too. That groovy rhythm section to begin, then the sneaky guitar line, a hint of sax and… oh oh here she comes. We sang the chorus together – a small but sweet mother-daughter bonding moment – and I wondered: is it weird to be proud of my child’s taste in music?

On a slightly more musi-cophical note, I don’t know why bands/singers/artists insist on covering ’80s songs because it’s extremely difficult to improve on the original. I’m talking specifically about Moby’s recent ‘Rio’ cover as well as London Grammar’s take on the INXS tune, ‘Devil Inside’ – used for a Game of Thrones trailer. While I’m a big fan of both acts, I have to say these cover tunes were overly serious, dreary and well, just plain boring.

Eighties music is supposed to be fun!* So don’t forget the lightness, the slinky-ness, the insouciance. Guys in deconstructed linen blazers on the bow of a sailboat in the tropics!

I’ll leave you with that image as well as the first of FIVE ’80s playlists – all killer, no filler – to get you through the week. Enjoy!

*Unless of course you’re Morrissey.

 

FULL DISCLOSURE

There was a time when I thought ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was an H&O original.

We grow, we learn…

Talking Rock, Writing & Darius Rucker with Author Suzanne Kamata

So one of the best things about being part of the ‘Dragonfruit’ anthology is getting to know the work of other expatriate women writers. Women such as award-winning author, Suzanne Kamata, who lives in Japan. Her anthology essay, ‘Love and Polka Dots’, tells of a museum trip with her daughter, who is a budding artist herself but disabled, much like the artist they’ve come to see – Yayoi Kusama.

Writer, teacher, rock neighbor

Writer, teacher, rock neighbor

Suzanne’s interested in strength through self-expression and how creativity can be an empowering force, especially for young people. Two of her YA novels – Screaming Divas and Gadget Girl: the art of being invisible – deal directly with this idea. And since the protagonists of Screaming Divas start an all-girl rock band (heck yeah!), I thought it’d be fun to query Suzanne about her musical tastes and influences, and whether or not they intersect with what her kids – two teenagers – are listening to.

Q: Let’s start with your personal experiences with music. As a writer of a rock-oriented book, you must have some seminal music moments in your life. Bands that changed your life and such. Can you share a couple?

A: I remember the first time I heard The Psychedelic Furs. I was in high school, living in Michigan – typical, bored suburban youth. And then I heard this great new band that wasn’t the usual Top 40 or heavy metal, or whatever else we could listen to in that bland town. After that I really got into what we now call “alternative” music. So that was pretty significant.

And I did love The Go-Go’s, and all those girl groups that followed.

I was too shy to get up on stage, so I mostly fantasized about being a rock star. A lot of my male friends were in bands, though. I wasn’t a groupie, but I was a female friend of band members. The band Hootie and the Blowfish used to practice in the house next door to mine, when we were in college. They had keg parties every weekend on the lawn, and they’d invite me over, and we’d drink beer and they’d play until the cops came. When they became famous, I was living in Japan. I took the ferry to Osaka to see them perform live again. Music, in general, has always been very important to me.

Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for rock-n-roll?

A: Hmm. I was never too crazy, but as a straight arrow high school student, I managed to get permission to skip a day of school to be d.j. for a day at an alternative rock radio station in Grand Rapids. I wrote a story about it for the school newspaper – my one moment of rock and roll glory. A slightly crazier moment was when I was on foreign study in Avignon. A friend and I hitchhiked a ride with these two hashish-smoking French guys in a Deux-Chevaux to a Simple Minds concert. (Shhh. Don’t tell my mom.) I remember the car broke down on the way home, but it was a great concert.

Q: As I get older, I’ve found new technology has actually restored my faith in music as it’s so easy to discover fantastic music, both old and new. And now that my kids are older I have a lot more time to listen and explore. How about you? How do you consume music these days? And has living in Japan influenced what you listen to?

Only in Japan, folks. (photo courtesy of www.sequinsandcherryblossom.com)

Don’t change Japan, don’t ever change. (photo courtesy of http://www.sequinsandcherryblossom.com)

A: I totally agree. I love having access to music from all over the world. Sometimes I stream French radio stations, or more often, I download “All Songs Considered” from NPR onto my MP3 player and listen while I’m exercising. I like to check out YouTube videos. I teach college students, and they sometimes cue me in on popular Japanese musicians, such as Bump of Chicken and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Q: Do you often share your music with your kids? How does that go over? They’re teens so are they very receptive to your tastes? Also, and I’m not sure what the music experience is like for your daughter re beats, melody, lyrics etc., but do you play tunes for her?

A: When my son was younger, I drove him to school every day while playing CDs. He developed a taste for Elvis Presley, Darius Rucker, and Bruno Mars. He really likes Lady Gaga, and some other Japanese groups, like one called Exile. I don’t know exactly what he listens to, because he mostly consumes music on his iPod, but I know that he downloaded some of my music, including Diana Ross and the Supremes‘ Greatest Hits. The first time I heard “Baby Love” leaking out his earphones I was secretly delighted. (The band in Screaming Divas does punk versions of Supremes songs.)

My daughter, who is deaf, has an interest in music, but her experience of it is different, of course. It’s still a little mysterious to me. I think she likes to see outrageously dressed singers. They do a lot of drumming at her school in music class. I think she enjoys the rhythm section. She’s been bugging us (her parents) to take her to karaoke, so maybe we’ll try that sometime soon.

Reflections of... four girls who rock!

Reflections of… four girls who rock!

Q: Can you name three artists you’d really like your kids to know (and hopefully appreciate)?

A: Just to have a solid base in Western music, I think they need to be familiar with David Bowie, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. And maybe Nirvana.

Q: I haven’t read Screaming Divas but I get the impression from the synopsis that rock music is both refuge and springboard for the four band members. What inspired that?

A: That’s pretty much how it turned out, but mainly I wanted to write a novel about an all-girl group. I was inspired by the Riot Grrl movement, which involved many different forms of expression, including ‘zines and art. I think any kind of creative activity can be incredibly empowering. (My previous book was about a girl with a disability who finds strength through drawing manga.) You can create a world for yourself through music or writing or art.

And as a refuge – yeah, music is something that you can just kind of get lost in. I used to spend hours in my room listening to music.

Q: Looking at YA literature as a whole, this seems to be a golden time for gutsy, independent female protagonists. How do you see it? Is the YA heroine the real deal? And what’s so big about dystopian literature – why is it so popular? (this last question is just my personal query 🙂

A: There are certainly a lot of strong heroines, which is a very good thing. Some that come to mind are the main character Jet Black in Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, and Katniss in The Hunger Games. Maybe its popularity has something to do with hard times in real life such as the ongoing wars, bad economy, concerns about global warming. I think that dystopian literature may have reached its saturation point, however. More realistic books are moving into the limelight. My fingers are crossed.

Thanks Suzanne! And thanks everyone for reading!

If you’d like to know more about the work of Suzanne Kamata, find her at:

www.suzannekamata.com

 

 

Monday Morning Music – YAZ

You do realize that the ’80s are to our children what the ’60s were to us? A fascinating period of ancient history that produced a lot of good music, and fashion that was both embarrassing and strangely inspiring. I don’t know how many Hong Kong boys I see around town these days dressed in their porkpie hats, capri jeans and plimsouls+no socks and I think: you probably don’t even know Dexy’s Midnight Runners!

I hear overalls are making a comeback btw.

My sister and I leaned more to the cocktail era of the late ’50s, early ’60s, not so much the hippie/Hendrix upheaval later in the decade. We wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn and sip drinks with a Cary Grant type to the music of Henry Mancini. Swap Audrey for Ann Margaret and you basically have ’80s era Belinda Carlisle. Of course there were tons of ’60s influences on ’80s music, from the beatnik pop of The (English) Beat to the typefaces on many a Go Go’s album cover to the entire oeuvre of The Style Council.

Now that EO is discovering ’80s music, I’ve enjoyed introducing her and YO to some key dance tracks, most notably “Situation” by Yaz. Or Yazoo if you like. I don’t know why this song hasn’t been covered, redone, remixed – celebrated!!! – by one of these dance-pop princesses. It’d be perfect for a young girl with a big voice. Over the years it’s shown up on a couple of midrange movie soundtracks, along with Yaz’s other big hit, “Don’t Go” (in which Teri Hatcher strips/dances to said song for a mullet-wearing Kurt Russell in the movie Tango & Cash. Cringe-worthy on so many levels.) However it doesn’t have the pop culture pervasiveness of a Simple Minds or Tears for Fears tune. It’s a shame really, since it has such a great groove and still sounds so fresh. Not bad for a song that came out in 1982.

The only ‘music’ video I could find is this bit of DIY moviemaking. Must be the YouTube equivalent of fan fiction. But enjoy the tune and tell your kids: “Situation” is an underrated gem.

Have a good week!