Beyonce-land

Note: Play this video as you read this post….

The above is the stellar video from Beyonce, called Countdown (a video and song that when I posted on Facebook, it was wildly panned by people who I thought would dig as much as I do.)

Thus sums up the debate that rages about lovely Beyonce.

Yes, I love her.  Yes, she is a celebrity crush of mine.  But, this is besides the point.  She is the real deal.  Meaning, she is in it for the long haul as an artist and entertainer.  I think that this was destined (cough) for her seeing that she has a name like Beyonce, which is now a word common in our vernacular.  Clearly, she got her start in a girl group so that her manager father’s machinations dream of seeing his golden child  break out  and become an entity on her own – would become a reality.  But, no matter what manager/parent thinks or understands, they can’t control the music loving public and Beyonce is someone who truly is THAT talented and that ambitious and interested in evolving as an artist in a mainstream environment.

Finished watching Countdown? Either repeat it again (as I now do on my walks to work) or now listen to this one:

Okay, so this is all stemming from my finally getting the chance to listen to her most recent album entitled 4. It’s her fourth solo album – hence the title.  Anyways, it started off huge in number sales but has tapered off considerably with most people dubbing it a flop (in Beyonce land – in real life land, not too much).  What kind of is really astonishing about this album however is Beyonce is really flexing her creative muscles on this one.  While in previous efforts, there are inklings of her trying to do something different, on 4 each song (heavy on balladry but has songs like Countdown and Party and the fantastic Love On Top to liven it up) has a production level that is “pushing the weird” on a  sonic level.  And while she is a songwriter (she writes her songs damn it!) primarily about love, it’s the production level and her voice (strongest it’s ever been) that elevate this material.

I’m not trying to preach to the haters.  Like every artist, they have their critics.  But I have to say that I am enjoying the evolution of this not so standard R&B singer.  There’s more to her that meets the eye.

Alright, so now I have to include this because Lea loves it and it’s our never fail go to dance song together:

The Hunger Games

It’s taken me a bit to write about Suzanne Collins’ trilogy The Hunger Games.  In a fit of rapid insanity, I read all three books in three weeks (which is a feat for me – I love to read but I am the slowest reader on Earth).  I love them all.  But the first book, from which this trilogy is titled, is the strongest of the three.

What do I love about this story?

I love the dystopian future of it, I love the idea that humans have screwed up the world so that as a mass population, we decided to create districts of varying degrees of poverty and riches in order to make some sense of structure.

I love stories about underdogs – and with that we have our lead character Katniss Everdeen.  She does not take bullshit – experience has made her hard, repressed and afraid to let down her barriers both literally and emotionally.

I love the conflict – that there is a series of games where we have children killing each other in order to survive.  It’s vial and brutally disgusting – but there is something human  about it that as a reader you can connect with that sense of survival.

I love the seeds planted – that clearly Suzanne Collins knew that everything she wanted to say couldn’t be resolved in one book.  She plants seeds of character development that only see full fruition during the last book.

I love that I have hope for the movie version of the first book!  The trailer exceeded my expectations and even seemed to have reached into my brain and visualized the scope of how this world should be.  March can’t come soon enough!

“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead…”

This is what I wrote about Adele’s 21 album when I blogged about it in April:

I bought her CD this past weekend in Montreal ( the first CD I’ve purchased in 3 years).  I listened to the entire album twice driving home to Toronto – and Adele even made me cry with her track Someone Like You.  I do admit, hearing song after song about love gone wrong is a little tiresome, but the standout songs really really do stand out and set her apart from the pack.  She’s a singer songwriter with a set of pipes that overflow with soul and heartache.  Lovely stuff.

Well, here we are in November now, and Adele’s second album is closing in on being the biggest selling album of the year – a feat that genuinely surprises me and makes me glad at the same time.  I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for a great one hit wonder, but I feel that the musical landscape is filled with a myriad of one hit wonders whose lasting career life wouldn’t be plausible in the least.  But then here comes Adele and she proves me wrong about music listeners.  Turns out they’re not all dumb and interested in instant gratification (well at least not all the time).  Adele’s success shows how sometimes a cohesive album can still strike a chord with listeners.  With one listen to this album, you also learn about something else that doesn’t really exist in music too – timelessness.  21 will live forever with people, and it will reach new listeners as time wears on and touch and connect.

I still hold to my estimation that with the theme of heartbreak, it can sometimes wear a little thin (Come on, Adele! I’m sure you had some happy moments with this guy somewhere along the way!) but there is a truth in all of these songs that drive it home.  (You know that a song like Someone Like You has reached the masses so effectively because there is a truth in that song that is universal and raw.)

I know that I will listen to Someone Like You and Set Fire to the Rain, He Won’t Go, Rumour Has It for years and years to come.  And hello! Making a genius song like The Cure’s Lovesong into a samba?!  🙂

Today is my wife’s birthday!

Yep, as the blog title says – it’s Mara’s birthday today.

That means a couple of things.

1) It represented another year for her evolution as a human being.

2) It’s another year of her turning 28.

There are many things that I love about my wife: her uncanny knowing of what is exactly going on in my head, her big and bursting heart that wants to help and give to people if they need it, her unassuming sheer intelligence when it comes to clarity and common sense.

We’ve been together for over  7 years now.  We’ve seen a lot of pain and heartache, and a lot of joy and happiness as well.   One of the things that I love now is the osmosis that now seems to permeate between us when we’re not even realizing : like I will think of some thought, and she will articulate it.  We’ve had a lot of those moments, and they simultaneously creep me out and comfort me at the same time.

But as many pieces of her that are loving, annoying, maddening and peaceful – the greatest thing that I love about her is her role as a mother.  Watching her makes me see how grateful and lucky I am to co-share in this parenting experience gig with this person.  To see her tickle, talk and rationalize with our daughter (sometimes all at the same time!) teaches me something new about my wife each and every day.   My growth as a human is connected to her growth – she is a part of me whether I like it or not, and for that I am forever grateful.

So, happy birthday to my sexy, generous, sarcastic, loving beauty of a wife today.  I tell you I love you, and though it may come out tired and preoccupied over the course of a given day – I promise to catch myself the next time because you deserve it no other way.

I love you.

Part Two

Well, the last post got me thinking more and more about albums that fell into my lap at just the right time in my life.  Here goes some more:

Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy: My friend Catherine commented on the last post and said she was surprised that this one wasn’t there. This one came to me during my first year in CEGEP in 1993.  I had already loved Sarah during her Solace album, but this was the one that really got to my heart.  Like Tori’s Little Earthquakes, Fumbling‘s songs are poems that draw from sadness and ultimately lead you into the light at the end.  Nowadays, a McLachlan album sounds a little cookie-cutter-ish but this was the one that really set her mark. In 2008, I was able to meet her for a few seconds of my life, and she autographed my worn out copy of this album.

Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life: Now, for this one it lived in my house for years and years, as I remember the record sleeve growing up my whole life.  My sister brought Stevie into my life, but it was only when I was about 23 years old that I actually sat down and listened to this opus.  A double disc of original songs – not a greatest hits!  If one wonders if Stevie Wonder is a genius (and the fact that one has to wonder is the most ridiculous thing ever), listen to this and be amazed by his storytelling capacities and bravery.

Joni Mitchell – Hits: In 1996, I was staying at my friend’s cottage in Vermont.  She had just bought this greatest hits compilation and decided to play it as we were driving up.  Urge for Going began to play, and my brain and heart froze.  Here was yet another storyteller who was writing from a universal place.  As each song played, I found myself loving every track.  When I got back to Montreal, I went to HMV right away and picked it up and also her Misses compilation.  And thus, I was initiated into Joni.  It was a real haphazard way to explore her songs –  I kind of went backwards, from recent compilation all the way back to her actual albums – but it was a journey I recommend to any music fan.

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: This album came out on my birthday in 1998.  I loved the Fugees to death, and Lauryn’s voice in particular.  When I had heard that she was coming out with a solo album, I knew I would be interested.  I went on the first day of release and snatched it up.  Here’s the funny thing though: when I first listened to it, I didn’t like it at all.  I didn’t “get it”.  I didn’t understand the concept (complete with the classroom interludes) or the songs.  Then, I went on a family road trip and I plugged the CD into my Discman – the listening experience finally changed and I realized the depth with which she was creating.  I don’t think she will ever create something so ahead of its time, so meaningful – not to mention writing songs as though her life depended on it.  A modern-day classic.

Radiohead – OK Computer: All of these critics were hailing this Radiohead album as one of the best recordings EVER.  What?!  I was in my second year of university at the time, and I remember chatting via email with a friend wondering what the fuss was all about with this album.  I got it, and I understood right away.  The lyrics were sad and abstract but the music was from within.  You can hear Thom Yorke’s heart on every track.  This album also kept me company when I had a terrible bout of food poisoning. 🙂

Madonna-Ray of Light: I love Madonna.  But I especially love her when she is pushing her songwriting courageously (a.k.a. weird) and her sound.  With Like A Prayer, it revealed that there was more to this person.  With Bedtime Stories, she showed it a little bit more.  But, with Ray of Light she completely let it be revealed.  She was creating something new, something new sounding, her lyrics were open and honest and her voice showed more range than anyone would give credit for.  When this album came out, I listened to the entire thing in one sitting, while  in front of the cafeteria at Concordia University.  I had thought that I was going to go to the library or walk to my next errand, but the album made me stay still.  I think it’s aged well.

Erykah Badu – Baduizm: This album is drenched in summer 1997 for me.  I remember seeing the video for “On and On” (a retelling of Cinderella) and thinking what a simple voice this woman had.  I bought the album and (like Miseducation), I didn’t get it right away.  It was so quiet, there were enough blasting beats going on.  But, as ears go, a change happened.  It’s quite possibly one of the most sensual albums I’ve ever heard (coming a close second to Sade’s Love Deluxe) and really set the tone for a new wave of R&B talents like D’Angelo, Alicia Keys and others.  This was the first.

Barenaked Ladies – Gordon: Well, it’s 1992 and I had heard about these weird, funny guys from Scarborough, Ontario who had created a mix tape of songs to secure a record deal.  One of the songs was Lovers In A Dangerous Time – a song that I thought was weird by Bruce Cockburn. 🙂 Their first solo album comes out, and as a 15-year-old boy, I am completely in love.  Yes they were funny, but man could they play their instruments…and wait a minute! Some of the songs are actually kind of sad and depressing too, though it wasn’t obvious at first listen.  A group of us went to see them at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal that Fall.  That night proved to me that they were artists.  I don’t know how much they are appreciated these days (one should listen to their Stunt album, which resonates with me as well).

Me’Shell N’Degeocello – Bitter: Have you heard Me’Shell’s stuff before?  She is a rapper – a real lay the shit down, no holds barred rapper.  She is brave, she’s got a killer singing voice and man is she funky.  In 2000, she released Bitter and essentially a complete 180.  This was a neo jazz album.  That ball breaking woman was here, but in her place was a vulnerable, whispery jazz siren.  The album is lush and acoustic and powerful and one of the most vulnerable things I have ever heard in my life.  The album following this one showed Me’Shell back to her old tricks (which are awesome!) but, it was astonishing to see how for one time, she completely threw her audience off and raised the bar.

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black: As I’ve gotten older, music does not hit as it used to.  I don’t buy CDs as much anymore, and while I do pay attention to what is going on – nothing really gets me.  Back in 2007, my friend Emmanuelle was visiting in Toronto and we decided to go to HMV.  She mentioned Amy Winehouse to me (someone I had never heard of at that time) and forced me to go to one of those listening posts and listen.  I heard the first five lines of Rehab and I was stunned.  I bought the album after just hearing those first five lines.  Without sounding maudlin, here was someone fearless and (yet again) we will never hear the likes of again.  There was only one her.

Oh there’s more….but you get the idea.

Music (makes the people come together)

I am obsessed with music.  I have been since I was about 12 years old or so when I realized that music was not just in the background to certain family parties and get togethers.  It’s a love affair that is eternal and reliable.  Music was the religion that I ran to when no one else could understand or describe my brain or my heart.  Comfort and release are the two things that music gives me each and every day of my life.  If I didn’t have it, I would be dead – no joke.  (Although if I didn’t have it to begin with, I guess I would just be a different person and therefore not dead.)

Here are seven albums that set the stage for where I would go in my life in thought:

INXS – Kick: So this was the first “tape” that I ever bought with my own money.  It was Christmas 1988 and I was at my cousins house in Waterloo, Ontario – and this was all they were listening to.  I fell in love right away.  It was pop, it was the first album where the word “shit” was used in a song (and I was giddy about that!) and it was just plain irresistible.  Little did I realize that several months later, one of those songs, “Never Tear Us Apart” would end up being the first real slow dance in high school I would ever had.  Kick means a lot to me.

Depeche Mode- Violator: I devoured this one.  1990. First single was “Personal Jesus” and it scared the shit out of me.  I grew up in a devout Catholic household and to hear a song like that scared me and attracted me at the same time.  Jesus was weirdly desirable in this song.  Songs like “Halo” and “Enjoy The Silence” really set the tone for my attraction to darker sounding songs.

U2 – Achtung Baby: Grades a few years older than me had The Joshua Tree, which I love.  But Achtung Baby was “mine”.  First listen, you could hear that this band was going to take over the whole world.  I can still close my eyes and think of the melodies from “So Cruel” and “Mysterious Ways” and goosebumps will appear on my arms.  They haven’t made me goosebumpy in a really long time. But, in a lot of ways, this one saved me.

Nirvana – Nevermind: So, here I am – Mr. Pop Guy always loving the mainstream sound of the year when along comes this album.  This was unlike anything I had ever heard.  It was pop catchy but wrapped in a voice that someone spoke to the repressed nerdy freak that lived in me.  Hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time…I can still remember that feeling.  One can really take for granted a song like that – but I knew right away that this was something (and Kurt was someone) unlike anything that would ever walk the earth.

Janet Jackson – janet.: So I was obsessed with Janet’s Rhythm Nation album and I wore that one out to death.  4 years later, she released this very sexy, funky, kooky album.  This was May 1993 – my grandmother had just died, and I was graduating high school – two cataclysmic moments in my life.  Every song on that album reminds me of the end of my high school life. I can hear my friends at the time on certain songs like If (which is still one of the best videos I’ve ever seen) and New Agenda.  Janet was also being creative and fun and standing out (and I wish that she still held some of that.  Fingers crossed…)

Alanis Morissette-Jagged Little Pill: Alright, alright…I’ve written about this sucker way too much on this blog.  So, I’ll spare you the details.  Imagine June 1995 when Hootie and the Blowfish was suffocating the radio, and then all of a sudden this girl was screaming the word “fuck” and sounding like a pissed maniac.  It stunned me – and she continues to leave me stunned.  I think this album has only gotten better with age – a lot of people bought it back in the day but I don’t think a lot of people respected what it represented.  I think people do now though.

Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes: Back in 1992, a friend of mine in high school was listening to this album constantly.  I remember wondering “who is this Tori Amos person?”  I didn’t bother.  I discovered this album 4 years later in 1996.  I saw an interview with Alanis back in the day she had said that Little Earthquakes had made her a puddle on the floor.  I didn’t know what that meant until I heard it.  To this day, “Silent All These Years” will make me shed a tear.  Each song is a poem, and definitely prepared me to fully understand the marvel of a singer songwriter…and ultimately led me to the Joni Mitchell catalogue to which I have built an eternal shrine to. 🙂

Of course there are more – I have made my list of favorite albums in life over and over again.  And while some of these reside on that list and some do not, they represent crucial moments of growth in my life where they held me and walked with me – so I am grateful for them.