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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!



RIO OST: Kids’ music you can actually listen to

It’s heartening to see the animated movie, RIO, still in the Top Ten at the US box office. A whole bunch of kids’ movies came our way over the Easter school holidays: Gnomeo and Juliet we missed, Rango was a day out with Gran (hallelujah) and Hop I fell asleep in. (I have low blood sugar!) The 3D glasses hid my snooze as I dozily realized that I don’t care for Russell Brand, as a rabbit or a human.

But RIO I liked. And we’ve found that the soundtrack is equally enjoyable. For where else can you introduce your children to the joys of Sergio Mendes and Jermaine Clement* with the same album?

Mr Mendes and John Powell are the album producers and, as you probably know, the musical numbers are integral to both the story – bird meets bird, bird loses bird, bird learns to fly – and the setting, Brazil.

Btw, does anyone know of a movie set in Brazil that doesn’t include Carnival? Just wondering.

The soundtrack is heavy on the party music with a couple sweet love songs thrown in. One of the things that most impressed me was that out of 14 tunes there is very little soundtrack filler. Okay, my girls got a little bored with the last few numbers, which are all sung in Portuguese. But really, the first eight tunes are stand-alone strong. They’ve even reworked the classic “Mas Que Nada,” and how cool is that to hear YO doing her best Gracinha and singing along in the backseat. Now I know what my Dad felt like when we asked him to play his Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass records.

The big production numbers are sung by voices you know – Will I Am, Anne Hathaway and Jamie Foxx – and voices you don’t, namely Ester Dean who sounds almost exactly like Rihanna. The music will make you move while the lyrics, well, the lyrics are hopelessly silly: “Let me take you to Rio, Rio / Fly on the ocean like an eagle, eagle / Then we can chill in my gazebo” Gazebo? Someone get that writer a rhyming dictionary, stat! And I haven’t even gotten to ‘Funky Monkey’.

But you know it’s kid’s music. It’s clean and it’s fun and of a much higher standard than the tunes in so many of these animated flicks. Why do these producers insist on reworking ‘80s tunes. Is that to amuse us parents – a sign of your ironic sense of humor – or are you just lazy? If I wanted my girls to hear ‘I Want Candy’ I’d play the original Bow Wow Wow version, not a lukewarm rehash by some wannabe Justin Beiber.

But back to RIO. The film’s director, Carlos Saldanha, says the RIO soundtrack “represents a dream come true”. If you’re a fan of Brazilian music – and you like to move your monkey feet – it probably is.

*from Flight of the Conchords! Here’s some more of him: