Thursday, February 20, 2014

What's Right in the World: Effort

There's a lot of awesome in this one picture.

The 2014 Olympics are drawing to a close and champions in the five contested disciplines (team, pairs, dance, men and ladies) have all been selected.

But the stories of these athletes has gone far beyond the medalists.

There's the sheer guts of Jeremy Abbott who, battling the memory of a poor showing in the team event, fell hard in the short and lay immobile for 10 seconds before getting up and completing his program. THEN showing up the next day to skate a clean free.

Jason Brown, newcomer to the senior scene, who wasn't going to miss a single experience and was seen everywhere and with everyone. He even got a Valentine from a fellow Olympian who apparently went on a date with him to a hockey game.

Akiko Suzuki, overcoming personal grief to skate once more.

Maxim Trankov lived in poverty to skate, living at the rink, getting food donations from soldiers.

Then there's the skaters who were debuting not only themselves but their countries to the figure skating scene. Welcome to the chaos Phillipines and Brazil!

Speaking as a skater and a judge, I say thank you. Thank you for the early hours, the personal sacrifices, the challenges, the drive to push yourself physically.

But thank you, most of all, for the effort towards artistry. Mae Berenice for daring to be rock and roll in a pantsuit. Tatiana and Maxim for being courtly and otherworldly.  Javier for his whimsy. Daisuke for being transcendent. Zoltan for being ZOLTAN!  Shib sibs for the funk. Andrew and Kaitlyn for the heat. Various dancers for the fringe.

By definition, they say every baby and bride is beautiful. This extends to figure skaters.

Bravo to all the skaters at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why Art Matters: Margaret Atwood

She rocks the curls, rocks the silver, and rocks my imagination.


As long as I have been writing this blog, I am shocked I have not featured my favorite author Margaret Atwood as a WAM while I have referenced her numerous times.

I was introduced to her writings in freshman English composition in college. It was the short story "Dancing Girls," which was the peculiar story of a Canadian grad student in America who, while a foreigner, was not considered "exotic enough" by her college, peers or her landlady, who had invited all her tenants to a party and encouraged them to wear their native costumes. The student, an introvert studying urban planning, was alienated from most aspects of her life and sought a connection to someone or something, wishing life was more Utopian, more exotic, like the dancing girls who attended a wild party next door.

I became a junkie for Atwood after that, consuming books like so many black coffees at a beat poetry reading. It is important to note that during my coming of age with Atwood I was in college and I read her for pleasure, after I studied. She was the anti-romance novel, a perfect antidote for finding the brittle humor in less than ideal breakups, scenarios for which I was becoming quite adept in my late teens/early twenties.

While her short stories were the perfect bed time reading and my favorite genre, her novels are what she is celebrated. My favorites are Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride and The Blind Assassin.

Cat's Eye is the story of a visual artist hosting a retrospective gallery show in her hometown of Toronto, and reliving her relationship with a childhood bully turned best friend.

The Robber Bride dealt with three women united around a common enemy, Zenia, and how each of the women were tormented by her and how they successfully vanquished her from their lives, like so many princess heroines in a fairy tale victorious over an evil queen.

The Blind Assassin is a story within a story, told in flashback, an old heiress recounting the story of the demise of her father's business, a forced marriage, a lost love, and her sister who was a victim in it all. Probably one of the most masterful pieces of storytelling I've ever read. Once I read it straight through, put it down, and picked it back up to read it again. I came thisclose to joining a book club just so I could discuss the book with someone.

All of this fandom came to a head for me when I went to the Fountain Street Church to hear her speak. Arriving later than I wanted, I was "punished" by being ushered to one of the few remaining seats available, in one of the front pews. Oh... my... God... they sat me right next to her, and she had to excuse herself to take her place at the front lectern.

She spoke lively of the indigenous people of Canada, and how she and her daughter went there to live for a few weeks to learn their ways, hear their stories. I recall her telling the story of the women chewing the rough hides from the hunt, a process for making the leather softer, more pliable to work with.

I was a total fangirl.

I attended the meet and greet afterward, standing in a long line that snaked through the reception where I was able to secure a few paltry refreshments: a grape here, a wedge of cheese there, a depressed pastry of some unknown origin. Her minions were efficient, instructing us to present no more than two books, and to have the book open to the page we wished her to sign. I had brought along Blind Assassin, a mint hardcover, and my old, battered Dancing Girls volume of short stories.

She looked weary, a slight woman in her 70s, curls beginning to droop for yes, she too is a curly girl. In my nervousness, I introduced myself and offered Blind Assassin opened to the title page but Dancing Girls slipped through my fingers and landed on the table, causing ripples in her water glass.

She picked up the cover of Dancing Girls, and stroked it lovingly, exclaiming "oh Melissa, you've been reading!" and lingered for a moment when I told her that was my first. She smiled, patted the book, patted my hand and thanked me for reading.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Typing Out Loud: A New Angle

Toller + painting + skating + parrot = winning!

My mother often says the most frustrating thing about me as a teenager was not wild nights, short skirts or other typical debauchery. "I just couldn't get you to see exactly how beautiful you were," she would sigh wistfully, when as an adult, I was still self-consciously picking at my clothes and hair.

I guess I get her frustration, as I am 44 years old and apparently still don't see what she or my husband see. I often joke "Thank God for personality," convinced I wouldn't have landed that awesome man 'o' mine otherwise.

But a few thoughts did suddenly occur to me that has altered my perspective just a little.

One instance is my old figure skating coach Mary Sue, when deciding what music I should skate to, selected The Doors "Riders on the Storm," and convinced it would bring out "your inner Toller Cranston."

Toller Cranston was a moody, overly dramatic diva on the ice.

By that definition, I determined I had no inner Toller Cranston.

Flashing forward to today my current coach Michelle, in admiration for the job I was doing to perform a new program, commented "you are my most versatile student. You do everything you can to explore your art on the ice."

Suddenly, Mary Sue's assessment that I discover my inner Toller made sense. Toller was as one of the most artistic skaters of his era, pushing the envelope of theater in his skating, from his performances to his choices of costuming and music. Nothing about him was typical.

As a skater, I can see no higher compliment.

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UPDATE: One of my musings came true! This week is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles debuting in America on the Ed Sullivan show. At the tribute concert, Dave Grohl played Hey Bulldog, a suggestion I made in 8/12 for the Beatles Tribute Band list. Sweet!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

February Playlist: You're All I Got Tonight

You gotta love the music because they aren't exactly dreamy.

Oh, what to say about The Cars!? They were one of the bands I just LOVED when I was a tween. Back before MTV, Nickelodeon's "Nick at Nite" would show stuff for older kids and I recall vividly watching a concert video of the band on a teeny stage where a sawed off sports car took up half the space.

A recent facebook conversation revealed that while Dave and I have the band on our bucket list to see in concert, those that have recommend not wasting our time, as they are moving twice as fast in the still picture above than they do in real life. That's the whole joke behind their last album being called "Move Like This" after all.

As a band, they get lumped into the classic rock genre, the debut album routinely showing up on "best" lists. But their pop stuff gets them radio play on soft rock stations as well as 80s stations, and even some of the edgier stuff gets them airplay on the college radio "wayback playback" shows.

What other band successfully balances having two lead singers?!

And big props to drummer David Robinson, artistic director of the band. His choice of art for the album covers have become iconic, from Candy-o's Vargas to the use of the 1972 Peter Phillips "Art-o-matic Loop de Loop" for Heartbeat City. His own work for the debut album, Panorama and Shake it Up are strong visuals that most any rock enthusiast can pinpoint immediately.

Good Times Roll - The Classic Rock blog routinely does their own top 10 feature on an artist and for The Cars, they said, "you could list every track from the debut album and call it good. It's just that solid." GTR opens that album, and this 1978 introduction sounds fresh in 2014.

Best Friend's Girl - That sly bas riff with the hand claps open a joyful bit of noise about a gal who has moved on. The subject matter sounds like it should be sadder, but Ric is pretty "oh well" about the whole thing. Here she comes again...

You're All I've Got Tonight - This is one cleverly orchestrated song that uses all the band members oh so awesomely. You can love me just 'bout anywhere.

Moving in Stereo - Badass. Most boys coming of age who are also fans of the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High would agree, albeit for different reasons.

Let's Go - Listening puts me so distinctly in 1979, it's scary. Our next door neighbor's grandson Andy was my buddy, and we LOVED The Cars. We made it our goal in life (we were 10 after all) to go to the concert together when we were old enough. *sigh* It never happened, although it almost did in 1985.

Candy-O - Cold and creepy, new wave leanings with amazing drum fills and guitar solos from Elliott Easton. At that time in popular music, no one sounded like them.

Panorama - Diving even deeper into the new wave sound, this song is confusing, erratic and oddly awesome.

Touch and Go - I placed this song on their Heartbeat City album, and was totally wrong. They were ahead of even themselves. Listening to this now, I can see where they were the blueprint for all those bands with a singer and a keyboard.

Shake it Up - Oh hello classic days of MTV. This video in hindsight was awful, but the song was everywhere in '81 and '82. I asked for and received the vinyl for my birthday. Anyone reading will see a pattern when it comes to my birthday. (I think I got Freeze Frame too...)

Since You're Gone - The video was otherworldly and cool, starting a pattern of lead singer Ric stalking beautiful women. Does anyone remember the rubbery fried egg suddenly disappearing? Yuck. I just loved this song.

Cruiser - Heavy guitar riffs, heavy hand claps, it's a great tune. I like to think of this song and Flamethrower by J. Geils Band as complimentary bookends to 1982.

Hello Again - part of the soundtrack to adolescence for me. Video directed by Andy Warhol. Well played David Robinson.

Magic - Oh this song always makes me smile, and I would say it is my favorite Cars song. I used it as my "background" music sophomore year in high school when I had to give a presentation in speech class on how to make iced tea in a sun jar. I wore cut off jeans and a pink camp shirt and a couple of boys looked at me different after that day. The video is funny but seriously? We could all see the platform in the pool.

Drive - the song most everyone else would say is their favorite Cars song. Ben's sadness, Paulina losing her marbles.

Why Can't I Have You? - Good breakup song. I recall listening to it a little too much back in the day. To paraphrase a thought by Margaret Atwood, adolescents love angst, and at the time, I'm sure I had yet to exhaust the possibilities.

Strangers Eyes - it is SO 80s it hurts. You beat the hell outta that keyboard Greg Hawkes!

You Might Think - first video to win Video of the Year at the MTV Awards. Ric frolicking with a model through a series of scenarios. The band playing on a bar of soap! Ric as a tube of lipstick! A case for the medium becoming almost, if not more, important than the music.

You Are the Girl - The band was starting to get a little *too* soft at this point, and the accompanying video was a retread of You Might Think. Still cute.

Door to Door - This song contradicts the entire direction of the Door to Door album, and is an intense sonic rock blast.

Sad Song - Many miles later, The Cars reunited (minus Ben Orr, who died in 2000) to release an album that sounded straight out of the 80s. And for many critics, that was a welcomed change from the current state of music. It earned them a spot as a headliner at Lalapalooza. Missed opportunities...