Oscars 2020: Ready to Roll

I don’t know when I became this person who keeps track of the date and time that Oscar nominations are announced, but since I missed my goal of watching 75% of the nominated movies last year by just three movies (see here), there was no way I was going to let slip any precious time to figure out how and where I could see this year’s movies.

Right now, on the movie page, are all of the nominations and this year’s goal – still at 75%. I was thinking of raising the goal, hoping that being right on top of things would allow for me to see a couple more this year, but frankly, there are a few on the list I’m looking to avoid.

Once – Mini Movie Review

“Falling Slowly” is a good song but I feel like The Civil Wars really improved upon the story concept. If you want to feel bad about musicians not getting to be together, I mean. Just watch a few of their live performances on youtube and let it break your heart that they’re not together and are no longer even a band.

The whole movie feels spun out from the concept of this song and the grip on any actual story with plot feels tenuous. I can definitely see why Once ended up as a play, though. Actors embodying characters fully and feeling it in a live setting is so much more moving than it is through a screen. When all you have is that performance and not a lot else? I didn’t feel anything at all while watching the movie. I wonder if hearing the song for a decade and knowing the basics of the story ruined it for me.

Verdict: It was fine! I’m not mad about it.

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison

Monticello 2010-10-29

Read for the March theme (Non-Fiction) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | Jefferson’s Daughters on Goodreads

History was always my worst subject and while I’m comfortable being ignorant some aspects, like super specific details of wars or dates of…anything, I don’t want to be an idiot. For some reason, and I’m not complaining because it was interesting as hell, a lot of my education – from what I can remember – was about the Egyptians and the Aztecs. So, I am not well-versed in American history at all. This book was me trying.

I downloaded this on a work trip and when I needed something to relax with, this was a terrible pick. It was really interesting and I ended up learning a lot about the education of French girls and the construction of Monticello, but it wasn’t a light, breezy read. This was my own bad decision, which was why it took me until the end of April to finish. 

Unfortunately, there was less than I hoped for about Jefferson’s black daughter, through no fault of the author. It’s clear she did a lot of research and gave several educated guesses about what happened to her, but I wish I had known how little was known going in. But of course I didn’t, because history slides right off my brain! Having personal histories makes it a little easier for me to digest and I definitely feel like I absorbed some actual knowledge.

Recommend? If you’re interested in knowing what life was like for different classes of women in this time period, for sure. You need to know nothing going in, which was really helpful.

The Shangri-Las – “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and “Leader of the Pack”

Ah, writing about music I like. The thing where I open up fifteen tabs and regret never having studied music in any capacity. (I’m sure my week-long stints teaching myself chords every couple of years, then abandoning the guitar before calluses form amounts to absolutely nothing.) 

It’s digital equivalent of this guy and my brain is tired.

Not being hugely into the girl groups of the 50s and 60s, even in a retro kind of way, I thought listening to these two songs were going to be a mild agony. There’s something I don’t love about a clear-as-a-bell voice tone, which is just a taste thing and not a value judgement, but it is what it is. It just happens that those clear, steady voices were popular in those girl groups (also, holy shit they were young, The Shangri-Las were literally a bunch of teenagers, so it’s no wonder they sound like a children’s choir). 

For both of these songs, the subject matter in “Leader of the Pack” and the minor chords in “Remember” serve in opposition to the innocent voices singing the lyrics, which may be why I ended up liking these songs. It’s definitely not how I expected to feel.

“Leader of the Pack” is one of those songs you find on compilations, it’s almost like a novelty. I guess there is a “grand tradition” of teenage tragedy songs, like “Last Kiss” or “Run Joey Run,” to which “Leader” belongs, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less strange. 

This particular song entered my life in high school when one of my friends choreographed a routine for a small group of us to perform as an act break between plays at our community theater. It’s had a special place in my heart since then and I was pleased to dive a little deeper on it for this project. The sing-along quality makes a song that could easily be annoying more fun. 

Looking into the history of the song, wikipedia pointed me toward a bunch of weird covers:

The Carpenters with a very playful Karen Carpenter strutting around in a very 70s ensemble.
Bette Midler making some weird tempo and ad lib choices.
Twisted Sister with a version that charted at 53 in the US and 47 in the UK in 1985. What even? (The Shangri-Las version hit #1 in the US but that was in 1964.)

I also found out that Ellie Greenwich, one of the writers and producers credited on “Leader” performed in a jukebox musical based on her own life, called, of course, “Leader of the Pack.” This album cover of hers fills me with joy – a proud multi-hyphenate! She seems to have been a really bad-ass songwriter and a prodigy, so I’m definitely interested in finding out more about her work, both writing for others and music she put out herself. 

As of writing this, I’ve only known this song for a day but something about it is so familiar to me. In 24 hours, I listened to “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” about 21 times in various versions trying to unlock whatever it is that’s so familiar. Searching for some context, I found out that Amy Winehouse mashed up this song with “Back to Black” during some of her live performances. Maybe it’s the similarity of the two songs that makes me feel like there’s something uncanny about “Remember,” especially when I never really got into Amy Winehouse, so her song is only vaguely familiar to me…like the song’s structure was just floating on the edges of my pop-culture consciousness. After discovering the similarities, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to use online remix tools to meld the songs together. I’m sure it would work in more capable hands than mine. 

Like “Leader,” this song is weirdly dark for a group I would have associated with like, sock hops and milkshakes. I’m not sure the lyrics play out logically, the narrator is reminiscing about her guy who’s been overseas for, we find out in the second verse, literally two years and being hurt he found somebody new. Girl. But you can’t let logic ruin a good time, said anyone who ever loved a Max Martin song

I would love to be able to verify the story on wikipedia, which has “Remember” songwriter George Morton going to see his ex-girlfriend, Ellie Greenwich, to break into songwriting and in a pissing match with her new writing partner (who would later become her husband), proclaimed that he wrote “hit songs” despite never having written any before. He hired The Shangri-Las to sing and came back into the studio with “Remember.” Since it made it to the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, his statement ended up being true. However, that story lacks a source and it sounds like Morton told several versions of how he came up with “Remember” over the years, so who knows. 

This is another song that has been covered to death and is still being covered today. Here are a few of the highlights of the versions I came across:

Aerosmith, whose version charted in 1980
The Go-Gos making it sound kind of punk?
Giselle on her album Not Ready to Grow Up from 2017
The Aqua Velvets doing an instrumental that really unlocked the Back to Black connection for me

If you search, you’ll find no shortage of other covers. It’s sort of shocking that I’d never heard it before, considering a) I love a cover and b) it’s still being covered pretty widely – at least for a song so old.

So will this turn me into a 60s music fan? Probably not. I did check out some of The Shangri-Las other songs on their debut album, but none were as good as “Remember” or as silly as “Leader.” Still, I’m glad these songs were part of the Rolling Stone project. And if I ever create a decent mashup of “Remember/Back to Black,” I’ll be sure to let you know.

2019 ONTD Reading Challenge

(Follow the challenge here.)

I don’t know how a gossip blog led me to a book club that actually helps me to accomplish goals and read a decent amount in a year, but here we are. This is my reading list for the rest of the year. (And yes, I know it’s May)

April – Passenger (Currently Reading)
May – The Little Stranger (TBR)
June – My Brilliant Friend (TBR)
July – Pride (TBR)
August – Hide (TBR)
September – Beauty Queens (TBR)
October – Transcription (TBR)
November – How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You (TBR)
December – TBD

I’ve posted what I’m currently reading, as well as what I’ve already done this year on the books page. If anyone wants to coordinate reading any of these books during the same time I’m reading them, maybe we can do something on twitter or in the comments. Or if you want to chime in with your reading goals or plans, go for it. I’d also love to hear what you’re loving or hating.

Yes, I’m super behind in my reading because I got overly ambitious and picked three books to read for the March theme (non-fiction) while I was on a work trip to a place without a television. I’m still also currently reading one of the March books, but I’m nearing the end, which is a good thing because I am not loving it. I also don’t know what I’m going to read for December for the award-winning theme since we’re still in the first half of the year and it’s a little early to pick.

Also, a small caveat: I’m not sure my August book actually qualifies for the theme but I won’t know if it fits until I’ve read it. However, Lisa Gardner books go fast and I should be able to pick up something else if that doesn’t work.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Read for the January theme (Read a Book that is Being Adapted into a Movie or TV Show in 2019) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | The Sun Is Also a Star on Goodreads

If you’re a lover of a David Levithan whirlwind, YA romance, I highly recommend also reading The Sun Is Also a Star. With Nicola Yoon’s previous book, Everything Everything, I watched the movie as soon as I was done with the book. It was such an intense page-turning kind of experience, I couldn’t help wanting to continue to live in the world of it. Then I watched it a second time with Julie. It has one of my favorite tropes, but I don’t want to give away the twist by telling you what that is.

Nicola Yoon did it again and I can’t wait to watch The Sun Is Also a Star when it comes out in May (trailer here). The cast looks interesting and I want to see how they deal with the pacing. It felt like so much was going on all of the time and I think it will have a dizzying but fun effect in the form of a movie.

I’m usually a movie-before-the-book kind of person. There is so much room to be disappointed with a two hour visual experience when it’s based on a much longer cerebral one. With a movie-book-movie sandwich of an experience, you have room to get all of the backstory of the characters and then like the movie all the better for it, provided it’s a half-decent adaptation at all.

Having read this one before the movie doesn’t give me much pause, though, since Everything Everything’s adaptation was so well done and I enjoyed The Sun Is Also a Star so much that even if the move is a little bit of a let-down, it will still be pretty good!

Recommend? If you don’t mind YA that is more romantic than realistic, yes. It may be too whimsical for some.

To Read: Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet – a collection of short stories, Nicola Yoon is one of the contributors. Also, as soon as she releases her next novel, whenever or whatever it is, I’ll read that too.

To watch: The Sun Is Also a Star, coming out May 17, 2019.

The B-52’s – The B-52’s

Raised on the 80’s version of The B-52’s and their Cosmic Thing album, I wasn’t prepared for their debut album to be what it was. As lighthearted as it was lyrically and musically, there wasn’t much that was for me on this album.

In the late 70’s, it sounds like they were doing less traditional, more intentionally wacky music and it’s just…a lot. Sometimes there’s straight-up shrieking or imitation dolphin noises and, though it’s somehow melodic, it’s nothing I would choose to listen to repeatedly if it weren’t part of this project.

The album’s Wikipedia helps to give the style a little more context in better wording than I could come up with. I’m not a surf rock aficionado, so a lot of the nuance here is lost on me. I can’t even make sense of the Rock Lobster video – not that I’m sure that’s even possible or a worthy goal at all. And I’m not down on intentional nonsense as fun! It kind of reminds me of early Nickelodeon interstitials. But I don’t really connect with that style, it’s not something I could peacefully zone out to or conversely, get hyped up on (the music more so than the video style.)

The final track was an adaptation of “Downtown.” It’s listed as a cover but it’s so different from the original as to be almost unrecognizable. I don’t even really know what to say about it, other than it was a fun trivia fact to find out for an album that inspired more confusion than excitement for me.

I dug up a remastered video of Planet Claire which features some fun dancing, some hair…choices. Also, speaking of hair choices, I’m not sure why there are two Rock Lobster videos but this one is a pure live performance and the haircuts alone make it worth checking out.

I have to imagine, if you like jam bands or saw them live, it would be a completely different experience. They sound as fun as they ever have and I’m glad I spent some time with this album to get some weird history on a weird and fun band, but I’m also glad to move onto something else.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Read for the April theme (“Sure, Jan,” Read a Book with an Unreliable Narrator) of the 2018 ONTD Reading Challenge | Rebecca on Goodreads

Rebecca was great. Unfortunately, after attempting to read it last year, the library waitlist grew so long (and I started therapy, got a new job, and moved into a house) that I didn’t finish until March of 2019. Even once I got my waitlisted copy, it took a couple of weeks for me to really get into it. Once I did, it just flowed. Unlike reading A Turn of the Screw, none of the language or phrasing gave me pause. I loved the concept of Turn, but the style was not my favorite. Rebecca, being slightly newer, had less of a stylistic barrier.

It’s definitely a story that builds up the dread and I want to read more of du Maurier’s books to see what other worlds she creates. I also want to branch out to the movie and tv-movie versions – the Masterpiece Theatre version has Charles Dance and Diana Rigg, which is definitely intriguing. Also, there’s supposed to be a Netflix remake with Lily James and Armie Hammer attached, but IMDB currently shows it in pre-production without any dates attached.

Back to the book, though – there’s a reason it’s regarded as a classic. I don’t think it breaks new ground in telling truths about the ~human condition or anything, but it’s a really fun, atmospheric mystery. It’s haunting in the best, most realistic way.

Recommend? Yes, definitely.

Discovered while reviewing: Meg & Dia’s “Rebecca

To Read: The Winters by Lisa Gabrielle, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (to which Rebecca has drawn comparisons), Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
To watch: Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Rebecca Mini-Series (1979), Masterpiece’s Rebecca (also available on Netflix DVD)

“Classic” Music

Rolling Stone Lists

Without reposting the entire list in full, I think I’m going to start with the Rolling Stone-curated list of 500 Greatest Albums and 500 Greatest Songs of all Time Lists to conquer the classics I feel like I’ve missed. On the music page, I’ll list my goals and progress, once I have at least one review up.

I know their lists are hardly progressive and there aren’t many genres represented, but I’m using these lists only as a jumping-off point. After selecting the music I was most interested in from both lists, on a giant nerd spreadsheet, I then used a randomizer to pick the albums and singles to explore first. I figured, the less choice I had, the less dithering there would be. Only once I’ve made my way through these lists, then I’ll allow myself to look further into other genres and hopefully more inclusive “best of” lists.

First up will be The B-52’s self-titled debut and The Shangri-La’s singles: “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” which I don’t think I’ve ever heard and “Leader of the Pack,” which I definitely have – a lot.

Grammy Winners & Nominees

Reaching back to the first annual Grammy awards, I discovered the disturbing fact that Ella Fitzgerald and Ross Bagdasarian (the Chipmunk song guy) won the same amount of awards – three each. I’m fully bewildered.

For these, I’ll listen to as many of the nominees as I can bear but honestly, I’m not a huge 50s/60s music fan and I’m not going to force myself through anything I truly hate.

AMA, Brit Awards, and ARIA Winners & Nominees

I never really think about the American Music Awards until they happen and some of their categories are confusing. Are they like the People’s Choice Awards of music? Whenever there are categories for “favorite” instead of “best,” I feel kind of suspicious. Anyway, I’ll be starting following the AMAs by mixing in music from 1974 into the mix.

I’ll also be following the BRITs from 1977 and the ARIAs from 1987. Their nominees are available so, interest and time permitting, I’ll give them a look too. Why not?

Billboard Music Award Winners & Finalists

The Billboard Awards started in the 90s? They’re the last of the big-three awards (with the Grammys and AMAs) so I figured I’d include them rather than going through every weekly top 40 chart and driving myself completely insane. Besides, Billboard updates their own Hot 100 Spotify playlist that I can follow for current music. But this post is about classics!

Since the Billboard Awards are chart, sales, and airplay-based, they have finalists, rather than nominees, so that’s why I’ve made that distinction. However, I can’t find any lists of finalists for the 90s edition, so I’ll pick those up as they become available.

Special Consideration: MTV VMAs and Eurovision

As sketchy as the nominations and winners for the MTV Video Music Awards may be (like the Kids’ Choice Awards, I’m pretty sure they award those willing to show up, right?) the winners of the VMAs have always been a snapshot of the zeitgeist of their time. I’ll be watching the videos as much as I’ll be listening to the songs, so that’s why I’m considering this a special consideration. It won’t be a playlist I can easily throw together. I’ll be starting with the first ones which aired in 1984.

Along those same lines, I’ll be delving into the Eurovision Song Contest. Ever since I became aware of it, I’ve loved it. Often cheesy, weird and fun, the show is the best part of the experience. As I did with the lead up to the Oscars, I will be delving into each category, or country in this case, and watching as many of the finalist competitions as I can. In the lead-up to the ceremony in May, I’ll be posting links as I find them. I may start to look into the past awards, but all of the fun is really in watching the performances, much more than enjoying the music itself. It all depends on what old broadcasts and videos are readily available. I’m not going to go crazy tracking these down.

To sum up:

This feels like a sprawling mess of a start, but it’s a start nonetheless. I’m sure it was really sexy and fun reading about my methodology, but I had to get my thoughts together about this. Plus, this post is a great, albeit verbose, link-dump so I can easily reference all of the awards and “classic” music categories I’ve identified.

I’ve already started listening to The B-52’s album mentioned all the way at the beginning (and not having the time of my life), so I’ll be posting about them relatively soon!

Falling – Jane Green

Read for the February theme (Love is Lit! / “fuck them both for thinking they could be happy”) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | Falling on Goodreads

As part of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge, I was supposed to pick up a romance (or break-up) novel for February. Nothing anyone was recommended was available from the library, so I went back to Jane Green after not having read any of her books in ten or fifteen years. I’m not sure whether she changed or I have but I struggled incredibly hard to finish Falling.

I had a conversation with a couple coworkers last week about abandoning books when they’re frustrating. Both of them mentioned giving up relatively quickly. I definitely don’t think suffering through a book (or show or movie) when you’re not having a good time is a good thing, exactly, but I can’t help myself. It’s so hard to give up when I have already invested time and interest. I hate, hate, hate to quit. It’s not a great way to be, when there are so many great books out there and limited time to read them. (Or like, anything else in the whole world to do!) And yet…it’s been a long time since I’ve refused to finish a book. Usually, I continue on long past the point where I’ve stopped enjoying it. I hope that things will turn around or there will be something redeeming – maybe I’ll even learn something? Even if the lesson is “what not to do in your writing,” I think that’s a good reason to continue. More than that, I don’t want it to “beat me” and petty as that is, that urge to conquer the book usually outweighs my displeasure and boredom.

So I finished Falling, despite the lack of emotional continuity or logic I could relate to, despite not particularly enjoying any of the characters, simply because I had a goal to read a romance I needed to accomplish. I don’t mind a fluffy romance, the pattern of “oh no I can’t date them, oh no, we’re dating, oh no we’re in looooove!” doesn’t bother me at all. This book hit some of those stops but something was hollow for me. Something didn’t resonate. There was even a twist I never saw coming and still, I didn’t find any renewed interest in the story.

The writing style itself bothered me – it felt clunky and illogical. Far be it for me to question anyone’s anxieties, but some of the thought processes of the main character felt like they were totally out of the blue sometimes, fears suddenly drummed up out of nothing to introduce conflict. Even the B plot of the main character’s new job suddenly blossoming up out of something she was passionate about (though her taste in interior design I am seriously confused by) was so rote, of course her passion translated to success, of course the first idea of a job she landed on after leaving her job in finance was perfect and everything she imagined and so introducing this as a storyline at all felt pointless. Falling in love with a person, a career, and a new role in your life should feel like something and it added up to nothing at all for me.

Not to mention, none of it felt fun. Isn’t that the point of reading a romance? That it’s light and fun or dramatic and fun or unpredictable and fun? It was a complete disappointment.

Now that I’m older – it might be interesting going back to older Jane Green books to see what I’d enjoyed in the past but just from reading descriptions, I can’t even remember the ones I have, ages and ages ago. With this experience, though…maybe those books are best left in the past.

-Melanie

Recommend? Maybe on an airplane.

To Read: Try some of the more-recommended Romance/Anti-Romance books recommended by ONTD: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne