Sunday, February 23, 2014

...There Is A Band Called Climax Blues Band. And They Rock.

If ever I had been transported back to the 1970s on a cold, winter morning, I can say it was certainly today, thanks to a band I had never heard of and a 38 year-old song that I knew nothing about.

I had thought that my classic rock band and song discovering days were long behind me, but lo and behold, a rocking classic recently came out of the mist and into this writer's life.  And when I say out of the mist, I mean quite literally, as you'll see in the music video below.

You can't get much more seventies than this music video.  The mystifying mist, the striped pants, and the fuzzy's a seventies music video, through and through.

But the lyrics are seventies, too.  These guys are searching for a sign in the middle of the night (as if that weren't already mysterious enough and as if seventies rock bands weren't already rock gods).  It could be a metaphorical sign I suppose but it is indeed a literal sign.  According to bassist/vocalist Derek Holt, those were the days before the band began using tour buses and when they were traveling on the road in a car late into the night and finally saw an old Holiday Inn sign, it meant they could go to bed (thank you SongFacts and Wikipedia!).  I do love historical significance!

And have you ever seen a lead singer of a rock band who rocked out with...not a microphone, not a guitar, not the drums...but a saxophone.  Very cool, in my opinion.

Not to mention it's just awesomely catchy (I kept on looking for a way to take me through the ni-igh-ight).  Take a listen and be transported back to a wilder time.  If I was searching for a hotel in the middle of the night, this would be the song I would be singing.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

...The Power Of Scent Is Undeniable.

Over time I've learned that the sense of smell is a pretty powerful thing.  If you want to be pulled back into time, then there is nothing quite like scent to do it...unless you have a time machine, of course.

But for the rest of us who have to rely on riding the wings of nostalgia to get to the past, scent is an invaluable tool.  Whether you've just stepped into an old room you haven't seen in a decade and are transported back ten years, or whether you've stepped back into the kitchen where you just made a delicious dinner and are transported back ten minutes, it's all due to some aroma drifting up your nostrils and somewhere into your brain.  Since I'm an English major and not a scientist, I'm going to assume that's how it works.

A week ago I had a scent-y experience myself when I went to visit family in Connecticut.  The last time I had been there it has been the chilly month of January and I had been enamored with Les Misérables.  I had just seen the movie a few weeks prior, I had just finished my first full listen of the International recording earlier that morning, and I had just bought the enormous novel by Victor Hugo later that morning.  My entire world was filled with Les Misérables.  I heard the songs in my head all day and by night, I read the text.

Now, going back to my grandparents' house in July, quite a few things had changed.  It was beastly ninety degree weather, I had a new full time job, and I was in the process of buying a house with my boyfriend.  And while I still loved Les Misérables, it no longer occupied all of my waking thoughts.  I was, in fact, on an Abraham Lincoln learning kick.

Carrying my bags, the flush from the hot weather, and a Mary Todd Lincoln novel, I walked up the carpeted stairs to the third floor guest room I always stay in.  Halfway up the steps, I was hit with a blast of scent so enormous I could have sat on the stairs for the next hour and contemplated January.  Because the wonderful, familiar scent of the guest room where I had so diligently expanded my Les Misérables knowledge brought back roaring memories of January and that beautiful time when I learned of hope, redemption, and a wonderful man named Jean Valjean through Mr. Victor Hugo.

And so, next time you enter a building or room, take a moment to sniff the air.  You never know what moment you'll be brought back to.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

...Paul McCartney Doesn't Need To Be Young.

It started with an hour and a half of seated anticipation, followed by remixes of Paul McCartney songs and Beatles songs.  Next came the smoke and the soft purple lights.  And finally, the man himself!  Paul McCartney walked out onto the stage with his trademark bass guitar, waving to the audience, and immediately he and his band broke into "Eight Days A Week."

I reacted much as I did the first three times I saw Paul McCartney.  I screamed a bit, then couldn't seem to force any more sound from my mouth so I cried a little instead, and felt completely and undeniably happy (if ever there was a feeling where it felt like your heart had literally sprouted wings and flown off somewhere, I believe this would be it).

Now, in all of the times I've seen Sir Paul live, I've written to people about it, spoken about it, and thought about it, but I've never published something about it.  I believe it's time.  I took my literary mindset along for the musical journey and it sat on my shoulder the entire time, enhancing my experience.  Here we go.

First and foremost, Paul McCartney is seventy-one years old.  What do you think of when you think of a seventy-one year old man?  You may think senior citizen, possible owner of a cane, white hair, and frailty.  Paul McCartney looks awfully good for a seventy-one year old man.  Although wrinkles do line his famous face, his thick hair is a light brown and he has the physique of someone much younger.  I think it's completely safe to say he has much more energy than I, in the way he played nonstop for almost three hours, jumping and singing and moving and grooving.

When I first became a Beatles fan in 2003, I couldn't help but feel very sad that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were old.  I had fallen in love with the twenty-something versions of themselves and my thirteen-year old brain could not grasp the fact that they were grandfathers.  I regret to say I often wished them young again.

But on July 9, 2013, as Paul McCartney played and sang and pleased a crowd of thousands at Fenway Park, I forgot about his age.  Or rather, the years fell away from him.  The lines disappeared from his face, his voice sounded better than ever, and when he smiled it reminded me of the younger Paul who I had gotten to know first through CDs, books, and DVDs.  I will never wish Paul or Ringo young again.  While I may often wish myself back into the sixties to see them play then, I've found that I love them both now just as much as my thirteen-year old self loved the younger Liverpool lads.

And so while the years dropped away from Paul as he played, I thought maybe the years dropped away from me, too.  There is something so wonderful when music becomes so familiar to you that you know every word, every guitar lick in that lead guitar solo, and every sounding chord of the bass part.  It's magical to hear a great song for the first time, but even better when you know what's coming; when you know the way Paul's voice will rise an octave on the next chorus or the exact direction that the guitar solo will travel or the part where he will ask the audience to sing along.  They know it by heart, you know it by heart, and everyone just comes together.

At the risk of sounding slightly clique, I must say to see Paul McCartney live is magic.  He puts on such an amazing show and I believe his energy extends to other people.  Even the most shy people in the audience let loose and start to clap or sing or at least lip sync.  I don't sing in front of people and I don't dance in public.  But I do at a Paul McCartney concert.

One of the most memorable things about this specific concert of his "Out There" tour were the songs he played.  He did, of course, play fan favorites and familiar staples.  But there were a few songs that he pulled out that I would have never expected and he breathed new life into them.  For example, "Lovely Rita" and "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite" had never been my favorite songs as a teenager.  Although I still loved those songs and would listen to them, they weren't favorites compared to say, "All My Lovin'" and "And Your Bird Can Sing."  But when Paul suddenly pulled them out of his sleeve that night (or rather, out of his band), I was excited.  They sounded phenomenal live.  They sounded brand new.  They deserved to be played just as much as the others.

Furthermore, Paul did two tribute songs; "Let's hear it for John Lennon!" he said before playing "Here Today," and saying the same before playing "Something" for George Harrison.  It has always made me sad to know I will never see John or George alive and so I cannot thank Paul enough for giving me the opportunity to give them each a standing ovation at his concert, although I will never be able to do so at their own concerts.

In closing, another absolutely amazing show by Paul that I feel so lucky to have attended.  I remember the huge banners welcoming him back to Boston, I remember how we got so close to seeing him get out of his arrival car, and I remember the music and the love.

And so, until next time, Sir Paul...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Victor Hugo-isms: #7

#7: "A faith is a necessity to man.  Woe to him who believes in nothing."

Where: Page 521.

What's Happening: This is another point, like the previous Victor Hugo-ism (#6), where not much is happening plot-wise.  Hugo is still giving us background information on the convent that Jean Valjean and Cosette will seek refuge at and additionally, giving some examples of why faith and work done with the mind is important.

What I Learned: First and foremost, the second sentence is absolutely beautiful.  "Woe to him who believes in nothing" is musical, it is powerful, it is true.  And although Hugo's thoughts here certainly stem from information and reflection on the convent, I think that this statement can go beyond religious faith.  I do certainly think that religious faith is an important aspect of Hugo's remarks here, because Jean Valjean believed in something; he believed in God and this is one of the things that helped him turn his life completely around to become such a good, loving, philanthropic man.  But I also believe that faith in anything can be a necessity to human beings.  There is faith in your family, in your significant other, and your friends; most definitely a special belief in those closest to you that nurture those relationships.  Furthermore, faith in love, in life, in goodness; these forces aren't human and don't have eyes or ears and can't talk back to you, and yet we put our utmost faith in the hands that we can't see.  Or faith in a favorite band ("Don't stop believing!  Hold on to that feeeee-eeeeeling!"), in an actor, in a superhero; people who are almost larger than life and people who we might quite possibly never meet in person, but whose work touches us in some huge way and instills some kind of faith, no matter how small, in us.  There are so many different kinds of "faith" and I agree with Hugo that it must be horribly sad and truly unfortunate when a man has absolutely nothing in life to believe in.  There is always something, even if it's only tomorrow...and of course, to me, that is one of the biggest triumphs in Les Misérables: tomorrow always comes!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Victor Hugo-isms: #6

#6: "The Unknown is an ocean.  What is conscience?  It is the compass of the Unknown.  Thought, meditation, prayer, these are the great mysterious directions of the needle.  Let us respect them.  Where do these majestic irradiations of the soul go?  Into the shadow, that is, toward the light."

Where: Page 517.

What's Happening: Plot-wise, not a whole lot is happening here.  This is a sort of transitional period in the book where Hugo is giving us a lot of background information on the convent that Jean Valjean and Cosette will eventually begin a new life at.

What I Learned: This passage is obviously very deep.  Although only a mere seven sentences, there is a world of meaning behind the words.  The first sentence is the part that resonates the most with me, because I sincerely agree that the Unknown is one vast, limitless ocean.  I can't tell you how many times I have gazed at an ocean...actually, come to think of it, not many times.  I don't live anywhere near an ocean and so I think I must rephrase and say that I can't tell you how many times I have seen an ocean on TV and thought to myself...what an enormous body of water that is!  How deep is it?  How far does it extend?  We can see straight to the horizon, yes, but how far away is the horizon and where does it go? Limitless.  And the Unknown - all of the mysteries of life, as well as all of the knowledge and information that there is to know about on this Earth - is just as vast and just as difficult to measure.  But although the ocean and the Unknown are immense and we human beings are very small, we can still feel connected, by thinking, meditating, and praying...three activities that bring us closer to a spiritual existence, and thus, harmony with the things that can't  yet be known...and are still there to be discovered.  We are spiritual sailors, navigating on the ocean of life through the waves of knowledge, sailing steadily to the light.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

...There May Be More To Alice In Wonderland Than I Initially Thought.

In the past few days, I have been faced with inner conflict.  No, it’s not very serious inner conflict, like telling someone if they have something in their teeth or not or shall you go to the post office on Monday or Tuesday? when you really don’t want to go at all.  But my inner conflict is still thought-provoking and I have set out on an experiment to sort that out.

The conflict: How do I feel about Alice in Wonderland?

I suppose this is the moment where my mother would dramatically (but good naturedly) roll her eyes and tell me that some people have real problems.  And I agree whole-heartedly.  But this is an issue I’ve been mulling over day after day, sometimes in the car, but mostly when I am traveling along the wooden-floored hallway of my family’s home in Savoy.  Yes, this is a hallway problem.

Like countless numbers of adults across the world, I grew up with and have very fond memories of Disney movies, except perhaps one which always made me feel kind of…odd.  Even now as I think about the 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland, I get an uncomfortable feeling, like something is stuck in my throat or there’s a piece of dust in my eye or something crawling down my back.

I think we need to go back to the beginning first, to where this conflict began.

Exactly a week ago today, a very good friend of mine asked me if one evening during the week, I would like to come visit her and watch Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland.  Absolutely! I said.  Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was wonderful and I loved it immensely and after the first time I saw it, I spent months after thinking of it, researching it, and writing about it.  I saw it in theaters a total of four times.  And that Tuesday evening, we had a fantastic time re-watching the film, accompanied by tall glasses of chocolate milkshakes and great big amounts of Goldfish.

And just like the very first time, three years ago, I began to think about the film again and what I liked so much about it.  I wanted to learn so much more about it and I decided…why not read the original books?

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I think it began with a Wikipedia article on The Mad Hatter.  I saw original illustrations of him and read a synopsis about his role in the original books and it brought roaring memories back of the 1951 film (along with that uncomfortable I-just-stepped-on-a-tack feeling).

I have not seen the animated version of Alice in Wonderland since I was a very young child and yet, I still have strange memories of it.  And suddenly faced with these remembrances, I was forced to compare it to the Tim Burton version that I loved so much.  So, here we go.

What I recalled from the 1951 film was darkness everywhere, Alice crying, the creatures being quite sarcastic towards her, a mean, smoking caterpillar, and walrus babies being eaten.  I never, ever had an urge to visit Wonderland and that was that.  I never envied Alice in the least.

And then there is the 2010 film, so filled with themes of friendship, courage, and hope.  Believing in oneself! That is the Wonderland that I would love to visit.  Everyone welcomed Alice back (at least, they did when they learned she was the “right” Alice), there was nothing foreboding about that land, except maybe the Red Queen and the terrible Jabberwocky, but that was to be expected. 

And of course, there’s the Mad Hatter.  The only similarities that I could see between 1951 animated Mad Hatter and 2010 Mad Hatter played by Johnny Depp was that they both were mad, they were hatters, and they attended tea parties.  The 1951 Mad Hatter was short, with white hair and evil-looking eyebrows and he seemed almost kind of rude to Alice, if I remember right.  He poured tea into his collar and it came out of his sleeve and he had a large, ridiculous three-spout tea pot.  And that "Unbirthday Song!" That has wedged itself somewhere into my subconscious and I was surprised to find I still knew the words to it.

The 2010 Mad Hatter is Alice’s dear friend who believed in her unconditionally.  He is obviously a little crazy, but we are given a back story so that we understand exactly why he is the way he is.  I suppose he is a tad schizophrenic in a way, but he is brave, sweet, and loyal.  And he is played by the phenomenal Johnny Depp and perhaps this is where I’m a bit biased, since it seems I can’t help but unconditionally love any character that Johnny Depp plays.  There is just more to this Mad Hatter.  The animated Mad Hatter creeped me out, while Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter intrigued me.

And there it is, The Inner Conflict.  It dawned on me that Tim Burton’s version suddenly seemed so incredibly different from the Disney movie and Lewis Carroll’s original books that I almost decided not to read them.  And yet…Tim Burton’s inspiration, as well as the inspiration of the screenwriters, had to come from somewhere. 

And so the experiment begins!  I ordered a copy of The Annotated Alice last night, which includes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, as well as many notes and a treasure trove of background information.  I also ordered a book dealing with Alice in Wonderland and philosophy.  I find now that I want to dig deeply into this world, that I’m excited to discover something new and to make connections!

Who knows, maybe I can shed that uncomfortable, itchy sensation I get when I think about the 1951 Alice in Wonderland.  Perhaps I’ll be able to link The Mad Hatters.  What I hope is that I’ll be able to find exactly what everyone else has found when they read the books: an incredible world, child-like wonder, and a tale worth re-telling.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

...Oz Has A Cemetery.

The famous yellow brick road.  Magical ruby read slippers that gleam.  A good witch and a bad witch.  Cute and kindly Munchkins.  Lions and scarecrows and tin men, oh my!  The Wizard of Oz, which first made an appearance in 1939 with Judy Garland as its star, has since become a movie classic.

Now, almost 75 years after the land of Oz was epitomized in the 1939 Victor Fleming-directed film, another movie has come out in theaters, ready to whisk viewers away to the magical land once more.  Oz the Great and Powerful, starring James Franco as Oz, stays very true to the beloved 1939 film.  It is a different story altogether, transporting viewers back many years before the events of Dorothy's adventure, and with all of the new movie technology and CG effects, it looks much sharper and fantastical.

But it is, without a doubt, the same land of Oz, and this new film parallels the old.  In 1939's The Wizard of Oz, beginning events of the film are shot in black and white and color is only introduced when Dorothy reaches Oz.  In 2013's Oz the Great and Powerful, the beginning of the movie is also shot in black and white and doesn't become colorful until Oz lands in the land of Oz, via hotair balloon.  In the older film, characters of Oz represent people in Dorothy's life back in Kansas (Miss Gulch is the Wicked Witch of the West, Hunk is the Scarecrow, Hickory is the Tin Man, and Zeke is the Cowardly Lion).  In the new film, characters from Oz also represent the people Oz left behind in his reality (his love interest Annie is the good witch Glinda, his assistant Frank is the faithful monkey Finley, and the girl in the wheelchair he cannot cure is the China Girl who he can fix with glue).  The Munchkins return and when Theodora transforms into the Wicked Witch, her sharp, green features mirror that of Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch from 1939. 

Two totally separate films with two entirely different directors and two absolutely unconnected casts...but the concept is shared and linked.  Yet there is one difference...or rather, addition...that completley floored me.

The land of Oz has a cemetery.

I suppose this fact shouldn't be as suprising as I find it.  In our world, there are cemeteries in every town of every state of the United States and that's not even mentioning the numerous, uncountable graveyards in other parts of the globe.  People die and they must rest somewhere and I guess magical lands are no different.  But to see the tombstones, the various shades of darkness, a witch about to enter through the wiry gates that surround the entire cemetery...I think this discovery could be added to the list of Things That Set Nicole's Imagination On Fire.

Who is buried in this Oz cemetery and is it the only cemetery in Oz?  Maybe it's the main cemetery, the one that is the most occupied and the most crowded.  Perhaps, like the town of Savoy where I live, there are other small graveyards sprinkled throughout the land in the most obscure places; on hillsides, deep in the woods, in backyards, in posion ivy patches.  For certain, we only know one Oz individual who is definitely buried in this cemetery and that is Glinda's father, the king.  We know this because she visits him in the film, along with Oz, Finley, and the China Girl.

But who else?  Perhaps this is where Munchkins and Winkies are laid to rest and kings of past ages and good witches, too.  I have not yet read the books by L. Frank Baum and I know there are many other inhabitants of Oz and so there really are endless possibilities of who occupies this cemetery.  As for wicked witches and evil flying monkeys, they might have one of those hidden graveyards deep in the trees...or no resting place at all.

Now people might think to themselves...okay, Nicole, Oz has a cemetery.  So what?

It is fascinating to me that Oz, with it's Emerald City, Munchkin Country, and yellow brick road, has something as eerie, as necessary, as normal as a cemetery.  The power of creation is adamant here; authors and filmmakers can create all sorts of different worlds with fascinating individuals who have fantastic adventures and still place within their magical boundries things that are ordinary.

I, as a reader and writer and dreamer, love Other Worlds.  I am a proud American, but I love lands that aren't this land, worlds that hold characters who don't dwell anywhere in our world, places where things happen that will never happen here.  Oz is one of those lands, somewhere vastly far away and unreachable, unless you either have a tornado in your near future or a vivid imagination.  Anything that makes lands like these appear more real makes me a happy and fascinated individual.

So, to get to the gist of things, cemeteries are a fact of life and a common occurence on Earth and if a land like Oz has a cemetery, then it is just another link we have to that magical place.  And the more links there are, the more of a connection there is.  The more of a connection we have, the more magic there can be in daily life.

And plus, the cemetery was eerie and beautiful and wonderful.  The perfect place to get chased by evil, flying monkeys.