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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 Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.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! 😉

 

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Know Your ‘NAKED’! A Guide to Pop Culture Nudity

Hi folks, you may not have noticed it yet, but there are a lot of naked people on the Internet.

Lots and lots! So many naked people! From ‘Whee! Look at me! I’m naked on the Internet!’ to ‘Holy shit! How did I end up naked on the Internet?’ to, of course, ‘My mom sold my soul to the Devil and Yeezus, and now a pervy photographer has my photoshopped ass naked on the Internet!’

When someone asks you for a naked selfie, send the bend of your arm instead! tee hee hee

When someone asks you for a naked selfie, send the bend of your arm instead! tee hee hee

It’s difficult to keep track of ‘em all – all those bodies, all those different kinds of naked. All those thousands and millions of selfies of people who want to show us (and our children) what they, or popular female celebrities they’ve never met, look like with no clothes on.

Whew! Excuse me while I put on a turtleneck sweater.

One funny thing about ‘naked’ is you won’t find many slang terms for it. I know. I’ve looked. We’ve got a whole bunch of ways to say breasts or butt or um, penis but only a few, fairly innocuous, ways to refer to being unclothed: in the raw, in the buff, in your birthday suit. They’re such nice phrases, aren’t they? Kind of sweet and innocent, like old ladies in the changing room who want to chat while they towel off and you try not to focus on the sagging and the stretch marks.

My small discovery about the word itself along with recent naked events on the Internet had me wondering: is there a healthy way to look at naked? I’m not European, so I have to ask this question. After all, naked doesn’t come naturally to (most of) us Americans. Plus I know we can’t really stop the spread of naked, can we? We parents know it’s going to happen – adults seeing nakedness, young people seeing nakedness, pets seeing nakedness when they stay up late with us watching The Sessions – so we’d better prepare ourselves. I mean, my kids are at an age now when we’ll be gathered on the sofa, just enjoying a PG-13 movie together and suddenly, ‘Whoa! That person has no clothes on.’ It can happen so quickly – usually with Hugh Jackman’s butt – that I barely have enough time to cover YO’s eyes and distract her with Skittles.

It made me realize that what I need – and please send me your thoughts on this – is a skill set, maybe some pertinent philosophy, or even a good joke about what it means to be naked.

I started by putting together a list of the different types of naked that one might encounter on a daily basis: online, at the movies, on TV or even in person. Feel free to print out this list and carry it with you – know your naked, I say – so if and when your kids have questions, as they will, you’ll be ready to reply with the correct name and classification of the observed unclothed-ness.

Call it our very own Taxonomy Nudus:

  1. THE NAKED – a state of nudity in which the person is naked both physically and emotionally. Stripped, exposed and vulnerable, often with greasy hair, in a messy bed, but lit well. Commonly spotted in Mike Leigh and Steve McQueen films as well as anything with Isabella Rossellini.
  2. THE NEKKID – the comedic flip side of The Naked. Where the helplessness of being naked + boobies + the specter of damage to one’s private parts is a source of laughter. Reached its apex with The Full Monty then Borat, now most often seen in movies starring a Jason (Segel, Sudeikis, Bateman).
  3. THE NUDE – so-called natural nakedness as seen in fine art, photography and French films. It’s artistic, non? Nudes are known for their body hair, normal breasts and seriousness of purpose. Can be an inspirational celebration of the human form and/or a source of endless, troubling questions i.e. anything by Robert Mapplethorpe.
  4. THE BRUDE – aka The Brag-Nude. Oh, this is a popular one! A posed, often filtered or photoshopped, document of a person at the peak of his or her naked powers. Utilized to show, among other things, how much time one has spent in the gym or at the plastic surgeon’s office. Once upon a time, The Brude was wholly owned and operated by Madonna. (Gee, remember when her book scandalized pop culture?) Now outsourced to anyone with at least 50 followers.
  5. THE NUDEY-JUDY – a carefree state of being that grips small children when they first get out of the bath, often involves running around the house laughing and screaming.
  6. THE STRAKED – the adult version of The Nudey-Judy. A certain celebratory naked, often seen amongst hippies and the British. Commonly spotted at sporting events and rugby dinners. The Straked spends his time thinking, ‘This party would be so much better if I took off my pants!’
  7. THE DISTRAK-ED – aka The Distraction-Naked. A Hollywood archetype. Usually applies to a skinny woman with perfect breasts who appears in a movie, either as a stripper or prostitute, to distract the audience from the fact that they’re watching a terrible movie. See, Robert Rodriguez. If an actress is asked to undress to serve the ‘director’s vision’, then we call that The Manipu-Naked. As seen in the films of Lars von Trier, the later work of Robert Altman and too many music videos and men’s magazines to catalog here.
  8. THE PE-TAKED – an amalgam of PETA+Naked. Can also be called The Protest Nude. A very public form of nakedness when people strip for a cause, and try to ignore the phalanx of photographers that are focusing on their breasts and not their banners. The Pe-taked is very, very popular in Asia.

One last classification to consider is the When-Two-People-Love-Each-Other Naked – such a rare and extraordinary creature. Unfortunately its natural habitat is shrinking rapidly, endangered by porn, reality TV, detective shows, action movies, gaming culture and an online civilization that’s turned its back on privacy, affection and respect.

I wish you luck in finding it.

THEROCKMOM SUPERLATIVES: My Most Commented Post

To continue my five-year anniversary celebrations, and in true music industry fashion, I’m re-releasing a few posts (the deluxe editions!) that stood out amongst the over 90 posts I’ve written. I start with my Most Commented Post – an open letter to Miley Cyrus on the release of her 2010 album, Can’t Be Tamed. I’d like to think I was a little ahead of the curve here in that this post predated the short, spiky haircut, her twerking episodes and all those tongue and ass photos. I was really pleased to see so many people weigh in on what she means, to pop culture, to their children, to the pantheon of women in rock. When my girls were younger, we listened to a lot of Miley – A LOT – and we really liked her. So what pained me most about her recent transformation is that she shifted the focus away (way away) from her singing. She has a lovely, strong voice and it’s a damn shame that she’s made us forget that.
 
So here’s the post, updated with royalty-free images. Comments welcome! 😉
 

Dear Miley,

Please Don’t Let Us Down

I’m writing to you as a mom of two young girls. We watch your show and listen to your music in the car. I ask my youngest daughter, age 7, why she likes you. She says you’re a good singer and you have good friends. She thinks you hang out with Emily Osment after work.

Last week my oldest daughter, age 9, and I went to a Mother-Daughter evening at school. We sat there with her 9, 10 and 11 year-old schoolmates – your devoted audience – as the school nurse explained puberty and all the changes these girls are about to experience. At the end of the talk, they were each given a discreet zippered pouch with a few maxi pads inside. They took away those pouches, slightly embarrassed but smiling, as if they had just joined a secret club. I’m sure you remember what that was like.

Think About These Girls

Your new album, Can’t Be Tamed, comes out this week, and no doubt you’ll be all over the TV, web and radio. The first video, ‘Can’t Be Tamed’ is currently the #4 best-selling video on iTunes and has been viewed on YouTube over 19 million times.

Gee, this looks pretty tame now, doesn't it? Credit: © Lucila De Avila Castilho | http://www.dreamstime.com/

Gee, this looks pretty tame now.
Credit: © Lucila De Avila Castilho | Dreamstime.com

The ‘Official Miley Cyrus Content’ on your website says that on your recent Billboard magazine cover, “Miley wears all black outfit (sic) and displays her new grown-up attitude.”

“I’m just at a certain place where I’ve changed a lot as a person,” you say. “I’ve grown up a lot, which everyone does.”

But Please Consider

I realize that you’re maturing and you want to try new things, but where does it say that grown-up = simulated orgies and faux, porn-style lesbianism, as we can see in your new video? It’s as if a three-way is some new right of passage, like getting your braces off. Is there a pop princess handbook outlining what you need to do when “making the often-murky transition into adult artist” (again, from your website)? And why does it so often include these rather tiresome displays of ‘liberated’ sexuality?

How far will it go, Miley? In her latest video, Christina Aguilera wears an S&M hood and a crystal bit in her mouth. Come on! She’s a lovely woman with a fantastic voice, but today in this ever-crowded pop culture universe, she feels she has to revert to being, as Jon Pareles of the New York Times writes, “… a sexbot: a one-dimensional hot chick chanting come-ons to club beats.”

What Would Justin Do?

Why does he get to keep his clothes on? Credit: © Featureflash | Dreamstime.com

Why does he get to keep his clothes on?
Credit: © Featureflash | Dreamstime.com

Have you considered a few career lessons from another Disney-alumnus – Justin Timberlake? Here’s a young man who can generate loads of heat just by sitting at a piano and singing, all while wearing long pants, a shirt and tie. He dabbles in music producing, fashion and art, and he leaves the bumping and grinding to Ciara. Heck, he made a video with Madonna and didn’t even take his shirt off!

I know you have it in you because I’ve seen you perform with Taylor Swift on an acoustic version of ‘Fifteen’. I’ve also seen clips of your recent concert performances, and if I may say so, you don’t look or sound terribly authentic wearing a cut-off Cheap Trick t-shirt while singing ‘Cherry Bomb’. Surely you realize that you can’t be punk while wearing black high heels.

So have a think about it – Are you country? Are you punk? Or are you just another sad Madonna-wannabe with the groping, gyrating videos to match?

You’re young, we know, and you may not want the pressure of being a role model. But the fact is you are, and we’re counting on you. The Moms out there trying to raise our daughters in a trashy, corporate sex-fueled reality are counting on you.

Once upon a time... Credit: © Carrienelson1 | Dreamstime.com

Once upon a time…
Credit: © Carrienelson1 | Dreamstime.com

It’s Not Too Late, Miley

It’s not too late to go to college.

It’s not too late to live in Paris.

It’s not too late to sail around the world.

It’s not too late to build schools in Cambodia.

It’s not too late to run a marathon.

It’s not too late to save Louisiana.

It’s not too late to master trigonometry.

It’s not too late to make a difference.

Please don’t let us down.

—–

Thanks for reading! I couldn’t figure out how to re-blog this post to include the comments,
so if you’d like to view the original post, with all of the comments, please click here.

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

 

 

My Madonna is Better Than Your Madonna

I got a little worked up about things and then I had to stop. I had to watch ‘Vogue’ on YouTube and then I had to ask myself: why am I getting so worked up about this? What a colossal waste of my time and energy. By this I mean Miley Cyrus and all her shenanigans and everything that’s been written about her.

But what needs to be said is it doesn’t make a difference how many body parts Miley exposes because there’s a new sheriff in town and her name is Lorde.

When you're tired of throwing your hands in the air.

When you’re tired of throwing your hands in the air.

EO and YO and their friends have moved on, fickle by right. And the new stuff coming from Bieber, Perry, Gaga is just same-old, same-old. So go and listen to the first 30 seconds of ‘Team’ from Lorde’s new album, Pure Heroine, and enjoy the future. It is glorious.

If I can paraphrase Willie Dixon here:

Well, the parents don’t know

But the little girls they understand

So this whole hot mess is just a bunch of adults tsk tsk’ing and/or celebrating whatever message of (dis)empowerment Miley’s laying down. Is she savvy? Is she stupid? Is she high? I’m not sure. But I do know two things: 1. She needs to get far, far away from that pervert disguised as a fashion photographer, Terry Richardson. 2. She will never be Madonna.

If there are any Miley fans reading this, you might disagree with the Madonna bit. But when you can find the following references in any Miley videos – German Expressionism, Catholicism, Racism, French New Wave, Andy Warhol, Busby Berkeley, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Martha Graham, Pro-Choice, Parkour – then we can talk. When Miley references ANYTHING other than porn, I’m happy to have that conversation.

A few years ago, back in the golden, wistful Hannah Montana sunset, I wrote my own open letter to Miley. I was trying to be sympathetic not preachy (but maybe a little full of myself too). I was trying to imagine a young woman who felt she had to go from her age-eight target audience to a sexualized adulthood in one album of pop songs. That can’t be easy. I don’t think Miley ever read my letter, but here it is again:

Dear Miley…

And for good measure, if you need this in your day:

What We Sing About When We Sing About Motherhood

This was my Mother’s Day gift to myself  – spending (wasting?) hours researching and putting together a playlist of songs about being a Mom. It’s my 60TH blog post – whoa & thanks everyone for reading!  And my first playlist on Spotify, which has only recently appeared in Hong Kong. I hope that makes it easy for you to listen to these tunes.

Here’s the Spotify link: Mother’s Day Music. And I’m adding vids for a few songs so you’ll have something to listen to while you’re reading.

I wasn’t looking for songs about how great or awful Mom is. So no need for John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Tupac, Kanye or Snoop Dogg. (Nothing personal, boys) I wanted to find songs that spoke to being a Mom, in all of its colors and shapes. Songs that touched on the range of complex emotions that come with motherhood: passion, ambivalence, confusion, heart break, anger, love, ferociousness.

Each of the singers on my list has children. Loretta Lynn tops the group with six kids. She had three by the time she was 19 and was a grandma by the age of 29. Imagine that!

So thanks again for joining me and read on to find out more about these wonderful tunes:

1. “Thumbelina” by Pretenders / Chrissie Hynde (2 daughters).

This song comes from Learning to Crawl, the Pretenders third full-length album and the first one Hynde made after becoming a Mom and after the deaths of band mates James Honeymoon-Scott and Pete Farndon. The whole album is filled with gorgeous, bittersweet tunes about love and loss. “Thumbelina” is about a cross country journey with a young child, and you can feel the lonely southwestern landscape pass you by as you listen.

2. “Tell Mama” by Etta James (2 sons)

Hard livin’ Etta James once said, “The hours before noon have never interested me.” Right on. In this song she’s either addressing a potential lover or a son – not quite sure. But I love the fierce confidence and the horns.

3. “Mother Stands For Comfort” by Kate Bush (1 son)

Is it inspired by Hitchcock? Or about an abortion? Or maybe it’s about how far we’d go to protect the ones we love. I like the mystery. Bush has also written a lovely song about her son called “Bertie” where she uses Renaissance-era musical instruments. (Are you surprised she’d do that? I thought not.) It’s from the beautiful double album, Aerial, A Sea of Honey, A Sky of Honey.

4. “Hormones” by Tracey Thorn (twin daughters & a son)

Your’s are just kicking in / Mine are just checking out

Count on Thorn to capture motherhood with a mixture of wit and wistfulness. Here she sings about her daughters growing up and hitting puberty while she experiences a life change of her own. I hear her recent memoir is fantastic.

5. “What Makes You Happy” by Liz Phair (1 son)

As you may know, I’m a huge Liz Phair fan, and I challenge anyone to match her first three albums for pop songwriting brilliance. Written before she became a mom, this song is just a wonderful conversation between a mother and her grown daughter, filled with love and hope:

I’m sending you this photograph

I swear this one is gonna last

And all those other bastards were only practice…

6. “One’s On The Way” by Loretta Lynn (6 kids)

God Bless Loretta Lynn. The queen of songs about feckless men and the women stuck at home who are fixing to kick ‘em out.

7. “Love Has Come For You” by Edie Brickell (3 kids) & Steve Martin 

Brickell has kept a low profile for the last two decades while raising a family with Paul Simon. But she’s returned this year with a lovely country album where she writes and sings, and Steve Martin plays banjo. So on the bluegrass side of things. This song tells the story of a young girl, in a relationship with a married man, who decides to keep her baby and the lifelong love between (single) mother and son. Martin has said how affected he was by the phrase ‘Love Has Come For You’ with its feeling of hope and its sense of dread. And there are two other songs on the album that tell tragic, often redemptive, stories of mothers. Brickell is a fantastic storyteller – well worth a listen.

8. “Motherless Children” by Roseanne Cash (4 kids)

Not the happiest of songs, obviously. But Cash’s voice is so pained and beautiful, and the spare acoustic guitar so poignant. You feel for those children left behind.

9. “Three Babies” by Sinead O’Connor (4 kids)

Another song with a mysterious meaning – could it be about abortion, miscarriage, abandonment? You never know with the emotional, mercurial O’Connor. What you do know is that it’s about loss:

No longer mad like a horse

I’m still wild but not lost

From the thing that I’ve chosen to be

10 “Little Star” by Madonna (4 kids)

So now let’s move on to something a bit more uplifting: from Ray of Light, Madge’s first album as a Mom. Accompanied by William Orbit’s gorgeous production, she sings a dreamy love song to her daughter. I’ve played this for my girls since they were babies. Celestial.

11. “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” by the Dixie Chicks (7 kids between them)

I’ve always liked this country lullaby because it avoids that treacly greeting card sentiment you hear in so many I-love-my-kid songs. I think it’s because Natalie Maines’ voice stays grounded and strong, not precious. She’s just released her first solo album, called appropriately Mother. It’s a collection of mostly cover tunes, including the famous Pink Floyd song of the title, and I’m just starting to get in to it.

12. “The Sweetest Gift” by the Judds (2 kids each)

When EO was born I started singing to her a lot, especially at night. I’m not a singer at all, but I enjoyed having those moments with her: show tunes, pop songs, “On Top of Spaghetti,” you name it. But what worked really well (because I could remember all the lyrics) was the Judds’ “Mama He’s Crazy”.  I sang that to her every time I tucked her in to bed, and she still remembers it. So I’ll finish with this old gospel tune, sung by a mother & daughter, with Emmylou Harris on harmony. About the depths of a mother’s love.

Happy Mother’s Day from therockmom, x

To Beyonce or Not To Beyonce?

That’s the question on my mind this week as I ponder what life has in store for America’s most famous new Mom, Beyonce Knowles Carter. I wonder what kind of nanny she’s going to hire. A drag queen, as suggested by some pseudo-reality-celeb? A reformed thug aka Memphis Poppins, from mediatakeout.com?

It’s a crucial hiring decision – one of the most important she and Jay Z are likely to make this year. So, in the spirit of rockmom solidarity and experience, I’ve drafted a sample want ad. Bee, feel free to use this verbatim. I believe it conveys your Super Couple lifestyle needs and requirements while conveying the aspirational ethos you live by.

Tell me what you think:

I can also help with interviews. Call me!

Much has been written about the low sales figures of Beyonce’s latest album, 4. Some speculate that marriage and pregnancy have been a natural pull on her ambitions, and after fifteen years in the spotlight who can blame her? I’ve never felt that Beyonce was anything more than a professional, and I mean that in the sense that she doesn’t betray any desperate need to be loved (yo, Britney) or to spread the ‘Beyonce’ message a la Madonna or Lady Gaga. You get the feeling she would do a great job at anything she tried – business, politics, teaching – and that the Beyonce we see and hear is nothing more than her public persona, not a window in to a tortured (Je suis une artiste!) soul.

I’m not ragging on her by any means. I’d prefer that my daughters listen to a true vocal talent like Beyonce or Adele, rather than a cartoonish, cynical vamp like Katy Perry or Ke$ha. It’s funny how you can watch Beyonce’s videos, with their full-on displays of sexuality, and yet not be offended by them. To wit:

I wonder why this is so. Is it because she is so physically superior that we can accept her bodaciousness the way we marvel at and appreciate the talents of a great athlete? Maybe it’s related to the lack of scandal in her private life. She works hard. She sings for Obama. She’s a humanitarian in stripper heels! Again, I think the key word here is professionalism. Beyonce covers all the bases: a feminist with an all-girl backing band and girl-power anthems; a woman who honors her roots by sporting afros and playing Etta James in Cadillac Records; yet edgy enough to appear in a weird ol’ Lady Gaga video. Not much there to cause insult or injury. So while we might prefer our rock stars to speak to and for our inner selves – Radiohead seems to fill that role for me these days – we can also swim at the shallow end of the pool and enjoy a good beat and an amazing voice.

Just once I'd like to be this fabulous. Photo courtesy thirstyroots.com

Yet I still can’t answer the question: is Beyonce a good role model? Since my girls reached an age where pop culture is a part of their lives, I feel I have to consider these things, whether the girls understand the lyrics or not. Maybe I’m overestimating the power and influence of Sasha Fierce here. Who knows? My litmus test for tween music has always been: what’s the message and is it a good one? Is it harmless and fun like Camp Rock or spunky and friendly like Taylor Swift? If it’s subversive, is it rebellious in a healthy way (think Pink or Kelly Clarkson)? Are the women on equal footing with the men? Or are they being degraded, exploited or abused in the name of so-called sexual freedom? Rihanna, I’m talking to you! The funny thing with Beyonce is I’m still not sure. Back in the ’80s, Madonna grabbed her crotch, sang out ‘Express Yourself’ and we teens thought: right on! These days, Beyonce grabs her breasts and hollers, ‘Girls! We Run This Mother!’ and I honestly don’t know what to think beyond: well, I can’t put this on our Beyonce playlist because she’s basically saying ‘mofo’ in the chorus.

There was a rock critic named Ellen Willis; she wrote for The New Yorker from 1968-75, covering the heydey of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, etc. I’ve been reading a collection of her writing called Out of The Vinyl Deeps and have been struck by so many of her insights in to rock stars, especially one of her favorite performers, Janis Joplin.

Putting multiple rings on it. Photo courtesy musiqueray.org

She writes, “unlike most female performers whose act is intensely erotic, (Janis) never made me feel as if I were crashing an orgy that consisted of her and the men in the audience. When she got it on at a concert, she got it on with everybody.”

Willis wrote those words over thirty years ago. Now how many female performers can you name who are truly like that?

It’s a short list.

UPDATED: Can it really be SUMMER without ’80s music?

It started with Haircut 100.

My search, that is, for summer songs to play in the car with the kids – on the way to the pool, beach, movies. I was looking for clean, happy songs. I thought first of The Go-Go’s, of course. Playful songs with a girl power streak – just what my seven and nine year old daughters need! But then I couldn’t believe it when I realized: I do not own a Go-Go’s CD. How can that be?

All I Ever Wanted…

So I pulled out Haircut 100 (Pelican West – see even the album name sounds fun!) along with The English Beat (Special Beat Service) and put them on heavy rotation in the car. Well, when I could get a break from Disney’s Girlz Rock 2 and Abba Gold – damn you Mamma Mia!

The next night, with my husband on a business trip, I went online to rectify that Go-Go’s omission…

See here’s the problem with iTunes and your husband being away.

FORTY-SIX song purchases later, it’s one a.m. and like a mad musicologist, I’m sitting before the glow of the computer screen creating for my children MY DEFINITIVE ’80s PLAYLISTS!

I’m putting that in all caps because when you’ve grown up in the ’80s it really deserves emphasis. And even though you might call it lame nostalgia I’m labeling it an Important Learning Experience, like the time my mom made us watch Easy Rider on Christmas Eve by explaining, “Kids, this is your history.”

So, now that you are intrigued, what is on these precious playlists?

Talented & oh so stylish

Talented & Oh So Stylish

I’ve created five playlists, each with 20 to 22 songs, each playlist with a different theme (okay wiseguys, go ahead and joke). If you listen to all five lists, you’re introduced to a glorious 100+ of pure ’80s pop and you basically become a diehard OMD, Yaz (aka Yazoo) and/or Talk Talk fan forever.

I consider these tunes quality ’80s music – some were big hits, some more obscure. I like to think of my taste as a bit left of field, so instead of Huey Lewis and The News, you get Colourfield. No Wang Chung or Cyndi Lauper but plenty of The Smithereens and Scritti Politti. And when I do pick the mega stars I like the lesser known tunes like Spandau Ballet’s “Only When You Leave” or “Hazy Shade of Winter,” which is an absolute underrated gem from The Bangles (on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, written by Paul Simon btw).

Theme One – Favs

These are my top picks. Here I’ve got a cross-section of favorite tunes from around the globe, heavy on the British contingent however: Bananarama, ABC, Haircut 100, Human League, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Wham, Spandau Ballet, Talk Talk, The Smiths and rounding out with the classic “Blue Monday” from New Order. To represent the Yanks, I’ve included Madonna and Michael Jackson (“P.Y.T.” not “Beat It!”) as well as Prince and The Revolution and Nenah Cherry (remember her? She’s half-American, I think). And last but not least a couple of Australian bands (no, no, not Men At Work, get serious), namely INXS and The Divinyls. Listen to it again and again – “Pleasure and Pain” is divine.

Theme Two – Brits & a Kiwi

Let’s go deeper in to Brit pop, which had such a strong influence on me. Heck, I was a Texas kid in the suburbs – crazy hair bands from the UK were the exotic and sexy lead characters in my Eurorail-pass escapist dreams.

Here we have more contributions from the bands I listed above as well as Echo and the Bunnymen x 2 (“Rescue” and “The Cutter” kill me), Love and Rockets, Elvis Costello, A Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Yaz, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (“Women III” – check it out!), The Psychedelic Furs, The Style Council and The Colourfield. I sneak in a quirky contribution from Kiwi band Split Enz – “Dirty Creatures” and top off the list with two definitive New Wave tracks: The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” Now we can all do that head-down, asymmetrical hair, mope-y dance.

Unfortunately I couldn’t include the sitar-bop of Blancmange’s “Living on the Ceiling” because it’s unavailable on iTunes! Any thoughts/suggestions on that would be most appreciated.

*UPDATE: since I wrote this, Blancmange has appeared on Spotify – yeah! So we can all now enjoy their exotic cool.

And can I just make a career suggestion here – one of you Mileys-Britneys-Demi’s-Selena’s-Ashley’s could kick so much pop ass if you did a Pharrell Williams-produced remake of “Situation” or “Don’t Go”. Think about it. (Katy P and Ke$ha, please don’t bother because we’re just counting the days til you go away.)

So at the risk of this turning in to my senior thesis (we don’t need that much nostalgia), I’ll wrap things up and run through the rest of the lists.

Theme Three – Dance

Think more Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna, Sheila E, George Michael, Rob Base and Eazy E and again with the techno-booty-shaking Yaz.

*UPDATE: I would have preferred to include Scritti Politti’s “Lover to Fall” but alas not on Spotify so we’ll have to enjoy “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin”. Hope you’re all okay with that.

Theme Four – Rock & Pop

This list is reserved for all those pop-rock artists who weren’t necessarily groundbreaking but made some great music in the ’80s: The Police, The Pretenders, The Cars, Midnight Oil, Talking Heads, U2, Lone Justice, The Reivers (Texas band alert!), Paul Kelly (covering Crowded House), etc. plus my beloved R.E.M. and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

*UPDATE: Very limited selection of Lone Justice, Paul Kelly and The Reivers on Spotify, so I’ve had to improvise. But I added some Marshall Crenshaw for good measure.

Theme Five – A Little Edge

These songs close out the education with a slightly edgier look at ’80s rock plus a peek at rap beginnings: early Jane’s Addiction and Guns N’ Roses, Living Colour, Fishbone, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, The Plimsouls, The Sugarcubes (Bjork’s original band), Run DMC and LL Cool J (“Going Back to Cali” makes me think I’m cool), more R.E.M., a little Bowie and one of the GREAT college bands of all time: Guadalcanal Diary.

Oh, and a little Concrete Blonde.

Whew.

Once when I was with my mom, “California Dreaming” by The Mamas and the Papas came on the radio and I sang along. My mom was surprised I knew the words and said, “You must have heard that in the womb!”

Now do I expect my girls to jump up and say, “Mommy this ’80s music is just so awesome, what IS it?”

No.

But the hours I spent buying and organizing, rearranging and previewing were immensely enjoyable. Yes, I am the musical equivalent of a policy wonk. Yes, I indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Who doesn’t?

And maybe one day, I’ll catch my daughter singing, “We are young despite the years, we are concerned, we are hope despite the times.”

Long live the ’80s.

Dear Miley,

Please Don’t Let Us Down

I’m writing to you as a mom of two young girls. We watch your show and listen to your music in the car. I ask my youngest daughter, age 7, why she likes you. She says you’re a good singer and you have good friends. She thinks you hang out with Emily Osment after work.

Last week my oldest daughter, age 9, and I went to a Mother-Daughter evening at school. We sat there with her 9, 10 and 11 year-old schoolmates – your devoted audience – as the school nurse explained puberty and all the changes these girls are about to experience. At the end of the talk, they were each given a discreet zippered pouch with a few maxi pads inside. They took away those pouches, slightly embarrassed but smiling, as if they had just joined a secret club. I’m sure you remember what that was like.

Think About These Girls

Your new album, Can’t Be Tamed comes out this week, and no doubt you’ll be all over the TV, web and radio. The first video, ‘Can’t Be Tamed’ is currently the #4 best-selling video on iTunes and has been viewed on YouTube over 19 million times.

Chrissie Hynde with a six-pack?

The ‘Official Miley Cyrus Content’ on your website says that on your recent Billboard magazine cover, “Miley wears all black outfit (sic) and displays her new grown-up attitude.”

“I’m just at a certain place where I’ve changed a lot as a person,” you say. “I’ve grown up a lot, which everyone does.”

But Please Consider

I realize that you’re maturing and you want to try new things, but where does it say that grown-up = simulated orgies and faux, porn-style lesbianism, as we can see in your new video? It’s as if a three-way is some new right of passage, like getting your braces off. Is there a pop princess handbook outlining what you need to do when “making the often-murky transition into adult artist” (again, from your website)? And why does it so often include these rather tiresome displays of ‘liberated’ sexuality?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it.

How far will it go, Miley? In her latest video, Christina Aguilera wears an S&M hood and a crystal bit in her mouth. Come on! She’s a lovely woman with a fantastic voice, but today in this ever-crowded pop culture universe, she feels she has to revert to being, as Jon Pareles of the New York Times writes, “… a sexbot: a one-dimensional hot chick chanting come-ons to club beats.”

What Would Justin Do?

Have you considered a few career lessons from another Disney-alumnus – Justin Timberlake? Here’s a young man who can generate loads of heat just by sitting at a piano and singing, all while wearing long pants, a shirt and tie. He dabbles in music producing, fashion and art, and he leaves the bumping and grinding to Ciara. Heck, he made a video with Madonna and didn’t even take his shirt off!

Have you ever seen this man pole dancing? I didn\’t think so.

I know you have it in you because I’ve seen you perform with Taylor Swift on an acoustic version of ‘Fifteen’. I’ve also seen clips of your recent concert performances, and if I may say so, you don’t look or sound terribly authentic wearing a cut-off Cheap Trick t-shirt while singing ‘Cherry Bomb’. Surely you realize that you can’t be punk while wearing black high heels.

So have a think about it – Are you country? Are you punk? Or are you just another sad Madonna-wannabe with the groping, gyrating videos to match?

You’re young, we know, and you may not want the pressure of being a role model. But the fact is you are, and we’re counting on you. The Moms out there trying to raise our daughters in a trashy, corporate sex-fueled reality are counting on you.

It’s Not Too Late, Miley

It’s not too late to go to college.

It’s not too late to live in Paris.

It’s not too late to sail around the world.

It’s not too late to build schools in Cambodia.

It’s not too late to run a marathon.

It’s not too late to save Louisiana.

It’s not too late to master trigonometry.

It’s not too late to make a difference.

Please don’t let us down

Be young for a while.

Should I Be Worried About Lady Gaga?

By now you may have read, heard and/or seen the latest Lady Gaga video, ‘Telephone’, starring Lady Gaga, Beyonce, various female prison skanks and a couple of transvestites.

You know, this used to be a helluva good country.

I’ve seen the uncut as well as the edited versions (pixilated thongs = Asians aren’t allowed to see butt cheeks!), and I have to say I felt embarrassed. It’s the same feeling as when I first watched Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” back in high school. I was home by myself, worried my Dad would walk through the door; I was blushing and laughing and thinking, “Can he really say that on TV?”

But that was the early days of cable. Now you’ve got Lady Gaga shaking her scrawny nekkidness all over YouTube for all to see.

So should I be worried my daughters might see this? What is Lady Gaga trying to say anyway, and does it have anything to do with girl power?

I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace.

Thankfully, music videos – unless they involve a Jonas brother – aren’t on my girls’ radar yet. They enjoy Miley, Selena, Demi and especially “Grease” though they haven’t figured out all of the lyrics to ‘Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee’. Whew.

And you know I never thought I’d use the words ‘classy’ and ‘Madonna’ in the same sentence, but LG could certainly learn a thing or two from Madge about how to craft a video.

Madonna’s video oeuvre borrows from artists like film director Fritz Lang and movie icon Marilyn Monroe, and she’s got enough religious imagery in her vids to fill a Catholic school. What influences do we see in ‘Telephone’? Why that would be Quentin Tarantino (often hailed as a feminist director – NOT), bimbo photographer David LaChapelle and… porn movies.

But it’s not the silly Tarantino references, the Natural Born Killers scenario and such. What’s troubling to me is this neo-feminist attitude that, if I choose to take off my clothes – if it’s my choice, however dubious – then I’m asserting my girl power and taking control of my sexuality.

Beyonce, grab your baton, the marching band is waiting!

On a hippie commune or the beaches of St Tropez, maybe. But in the real world, it still comes down to guys oogling your tits. Let’s be honest here, Lady Gaga. You can talk all you want about girl power and close your video with a feminist symbol, but once you shake your bare ass at the camera you’re no different than Pamela Anderson or any other Playmate of the month. You’re a product. Just like the blatant product placements in your video.

I’m so sick and tired of (female) entertainers trading in this porn commodity and calling it liberating. Wake up young women! Tell us what it’s really all about: selling music and selling yourself! Anything else is just so much self-deluded bullsh*t!

Lady Gaga might be hailed as a new pop icon, but her latest video shows she’s really just a skank with a canny agenda.

FYI: photo captions 1 and 2 are from Easy Rider.