Saturday, November 27, 2010

Music You've Never Heard - Billie Piper

Hey y'all.  So I was thinking the other day that while this segment tries to show music that you've never heard before, it is under no obligation to have to show you good music.  While I much prefer this, this week I have something else in mind.  This may sound like a harsh criticism of Billie Piper, but honestly, she's not that great as a singer.  She's by far not the worst thing you've ever heard, but still.  I bring Billie up as an example of something I want to address in music today.

If you've heard this name before, it's because Billie Piper played the role of one of the most iconic companions to the Doctor in the television show Doctor Who: Rose Tyler.  Notably, I like her on this show.  I think she did a good job of portraying someone who is a friend and helper to the Doctor.  Her acting was good and consistent.  Rose was more or less a normal British girl who worked in a department store ("the shops", Brits call 'em) who gets swept away into the adventures of an alien who travels in a blue police box that's bigger on the inside.  I highly recommend watching her during seasons 1 and 2 of this show. 

Season three is where everything starts to go to crap as far as writing goes (with a few notable exceptions), so unless Matt Smith is a good doctor (I haven't seen him yet), then it's not really that much worth watching past the first couple of episodes of season three.

But this post is not about Doctor Who, though I expect I'll be writing about that at some point too.  In any case. Billie Piper was a pop star before she was on this show, and I'll be featuring some of her songs on here. 

I have a few questions for you.  What exactly makes a song a "pop" song?  Is pop as a genre good or bad?  What makes a successful pop song?  Is Billie Piper a good pop artist, merely a successful one, or just plain bad?  You should answer these questions for yourself, but for the sake of form I'm going to try to answer them from my perspective.

Okay, so how do I define a pop song?  To me, pop songs are songs that are more or less lighthearted, expressing surface emotions without really going deeper.  These songs are about living life, love (or lack of), or partying.  They have simpler melodies that eat your way into your brain and make you think of them during odd times, and you find yourself a little ashamed (or possibly amused) that you remember some of the words.  These songs are by no means to be taken seriously.  They are for fun and nothing more, other than kpop and possibly jpop.  Those, however, I usually consider a different genre from normal pop; Koreans and Japanese are not like out west pop people.  A lot of the times artists take their work too seriously, like trying to make a song about breaking up with someone intense and "hardcore".  Yeah.

Okay, so pop songs are
1. Shallower than other genres
2. About normal things, possibly taking them too seriously
3. Simple, catchy melodies
4. Potential shame for liking them (depending on you or the crowd you hang with).

Now, is pop a bad genre?  I have to say not necessarily.  I mean, we've had good pop songs over the years, help me here...ooh, Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics.  That's synthpop and not normal pop, but still.  Synthpop is fun stuff.  In any case, pop is like any other genre: it depends on who makes it and how they make it whether or not it is good.  Now, at this point in time pop is very stupid, because it has forsaken love for lust, soul for screeching, talent for notoriety, and effort for bad, emo crooning.  Pop is bad now, but there's no reason why it has to continue being this way.  Most undergrounders throw out pop entirely because of this, but this is too far in my opinion.  Everyone just needs to have fun once in a while.

My definition for a successful pop song is one:
1. that you hear on the radio over and over again.
2. that will not leave your mind unless you drive it out with techno or rave.
3. that makes you listen no matter how much you don't like it.

Feel free to add more to this definition if you feel it lacking.

Okay, so let's get on the topic of Billie.  Two words will describe her singing style: Britney Spears.  No, really.  She's just as silly, bland, and auto-tuned sounding (she may not be, it just sounds like it) as Spears sounds.  The saddest part about this is that Billie is British, and yet in only one of her songs does she display any sort of British accent.  I don't expect her to be a stereotype, but the reason I listen to music from other countries is to hear the styles of those countries.  An artist shouldn't be afraid to represent who they are, and they shouldn't be so drowned in metaphorical pop ketchup that you can't see their individuality. 

That's my opinion, though.  Do you agree?

Let's start with this one song right here, Day and Night.  This is the single most cliched song I have ever heard in my life.  Not unless Weird Al decides he's going to come up with a song where he sings nothing but cliches.  It's a song about love, I guess...maybe?  She needs a dude, apparently.  Maybe I'm just being critical because the most pop I get is Sarit Hadad, but the words of this song are so repetitive and unpoetic that it's hardly worth listening to.  Then again, this follows the idea of making you listen no matter how much you dislike it.  Try and see.

Day and Night:

Next up is Honey to the Bee, and...ugh...ugh, ugh.  It's so bad it gets me talkin' like a caveman.  The other songs of Billie's I've heard are meh at worst, but this one is plain bad.  First of all, it feels touched by country (kryptonite for techno peeps).  It also has bee pun lyrics, shallow ones about...whatever.  The lyrics drag on like the drolling way she sings.  Guh, the bridge of this song just makes me sick.  I haven't once listened to this song to the end.  You won't either.  Don't believe me?

Honey to the Bee:

Okay, okay, enough ragging on Billie.  Let's put up a better song.  This one is actually a lot of fun, and it plays on nostalgia.  I'm not going to pretend it's something important or great, but it accomplishes the pop mission of having fun.  It's called She Wants You, it's a story about a girl noticing another girl trying to steal her man.  The lyrics and the topic aren't that special, and the music video is laughable, but I actually kinda like this song.  It's fun stuff.  It will eat into your brain like one of them critters from Star Trek II.

She Wants You:

I can't say the same for Something Deep Inside.  You kinda think with a title like that that this would be something more heartfelt and deeper.  It's just about bland love.  Blah, boring.  I can't say "meh" enough times so I won't try.  Seriously, Backstreet Boys kick this song's butt.

Something Deep Inside:

There's one more of Billie's songs I like.  It's called Because We Want To, and it's essentially a pop song glorifying youthful independence and self-righteousness (teens think they know crap about crap; you know how they are).  I love the beat.  In  my head I change the lyrics to more violent things, but I tend to do that to cheesy things.  That's what I like about this song.  It's so cheesy that none of the pretentious, bland pop-ness that infects Billie's later songs catches this one.  This is the one where you can actually tell Billie is British if you didn't know otherwise, sort of.  It's fun, but you cannot possibly cheese this cheese.

Because We Want To:

And let's round this out with one last song.  It's called Walk of Life, otherwise known as Meh.  At least to me.  It's just not interesting.  Not the words, beat, or the way Billie sings it.  It's like the musical equivalent of watching paint dry.  Do you seriously like this song?

Walk of Life:

So yeah.  I realize that this is nineties stuff, but at the end of the day you have to look at this stuff if you want to see what happened to music.  Nobody really seems to like music anymore.  Everyone nowadays talks about how all the older music is better than now, and you have to wonder where it all went wrong.  I hardly know.  There are a few generic answers, like artists caring more about good money than actually making good music.  There's narcissim, too.  Maybe people are so impatient for new music that they don't realize good music takes time.  Looking at Billie's songs up there, it seems like her best songs were the ones where she just tried to have fun rather than try to be so serious.  

Also, I'd like to point out that the best songs are not about the artist.  They are about common feelings and thoughts that we share as humans.  When an artist sings to someone out there, not for or to themselves, that song is touching.  It's humble and endearing, and it pulls us in.  It's like I was saying with the Disney songs in the The Princess and the Frog review.  The best songs are either fun as all get out, or are ones that reach out to the audience.  Nobody likes songs where people sing how great they are. 

Now, I'm not saying Billie has no talent, though I personally feel most of it lies in acting rather than singing.  I don't mean to criticize her unduly, as there are worse artists out there.  Tell me what you think of her, and if you think I'm full of it.

So yeah, that's todays rant. Next week I'll get back to posting music I like again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Write Club - Inspiration

Hey y'all.  Let's write stuff.

I was talking with a girl who works with me in the church nursery, and she said that she found it amazing that people could create fictitious worlds out of seemingly thin air.  It never seemed this way to me, but because I'm a more creative person, I might just not know the difference.  I mean, writer people, of which I hope you are one, get their inspiration from anything and everything.  Is there anything we twist into originality?  Well, if it inspires us aside.  Without inspiration, we can't really do it either.

So where does inspiration come from?  None of us writer people know, that's for sure.  That's why somebody invented the metaphorical concept of a muse, a more or less fairy-like being that magically shines creativity on us from time to time.  Thing is, a muse can be rather inefficient when it comes to writing to make money.

In reality, creativity is a muscle, and it needs work too.  This brings me to the point that the only way to become a good writer is to write, and in the meantime you're going to make some rather undelightful choices as you progress.  Don't be ashamed.  There are no writer prodigies.   All of us have to learn a language, and expressing our creativity in that language is a learned thing too.

So, let's go more on inspiration.  Thing of some things that inspire you to write.  Not things that make you happy, necessarily, but things that make you want to open up your computer or journal and start putting words together.  Go ahead.  Think of some.  If you can recall a specific instance, so much the better.

But what if you don't feel inspired?  You've got to practice somehow.  Here's some creative ways to get your brain going.

Inspiration #1: Music.

Honestly, today nothing inspires me more than music.   Sometimes I'll be listening to several different songs, and they seem to cooperate together to make a story influence.  Let's practice.

I find that the best way to go about this is to choose a song with little to no lyrics.  Or lyrics you just don't understand.  It works with lyric songs too, but decide for yourself.

Okay, so clicking this link will bring you to the song "Silence" by Delerium.   It is a very passionate song with only a few lyrics, but since these lyrics are poetic this will still work.  Okay.  Play this song a couple of times to get used to it, or you can skip directly to step two: close your eyes and listen.


Think about this song, and think about how it makes you feel.  Don't look at the video (not that there's much of one, but still), just listen and think about what this song makes you feel.  After that, think of the things that make you feel the same way or similarly.  Does it make you feel like walking through a haunted wood?  Make you feel like you're fading away?  Try to think of places, activities and people.  Think of a character (yourself if you have to) wandering in this environment, doing this thing, or meeting these people.  What would that turn out to be like?  What happens next?  Write it down.

Writing these down will give you the basis of great stories.  In case Silence doesn't work, try one of these songs.  Remember, listen to the music, don't watch the vid.   Well, you can, if it inspires you, but for the sake of this exercise try not to.  Some are serious songs, some are not.  Click at your own risk.  Don't worry, they won't hurt you. :D

Notedly, if you don't like these songs you can just go get an album and check out your own music.  Also, as a way of progressing from this exercise, take a cd that you have, or at least a whole album off of iTunes or something (no skipping songs!) and do this exercise for all of the songs.  Then you should connect all of your inspiration notes into one massive story for that album.  The best albums have united themes, so your album should sound rather like a story when you do this.  Even if you don't like a song, try anyway.  You'd be surprised how inspirational songs you don't like can be.

Inspiration #2: Fabric.

That's right, I said fabric.  Okay, so first of all, go from your computer and pick a fabric out somewhere in your house: a shirt, couch, purse, scarf, whatever.  Anything fabric-y.  Things that have patterns are better, but that's not necessary.

Okay, so there's two ways to go about this.  The first way is to think of how this fabric makes you feel.  Is it a warm sweater that reminds you of your boyfriend?  Is it an antique design that makes you think of the past?  A glamorous design that that makes you feel like you're right in the middle of paparazzi?  Does it make you think of something that doesn't seem logical at all?  When you look at it are you happy?  Sad?  Dramatic?Write it down, then think about the people and places your mind comes up with.  What would you do in those situations?

The second way is to look at the pattern and think of an object that pattern reminds you of.  I once did this exercise with a lady using the pattern on a bag I own, and the pattern reminded her of a chair.  I asked her to describe this chair, and to her it was one of those older fabric chairs that are fancy.  I then asked her to imagine a place where this chair would exist.  After that, what sort of things would happen in this room?

It's really not hard at all.

Inspiration #3: Words

This inspiration is muse-heavy, I like to say, because there are certain words that appeal to certain people, but not others.  Basically this is where you take a word and imagine what that word really describes.  For example, I was staring at the music term "dark house", and after thinking about that for I while, I got the inspiration for a techno-thriller.

How do these words make you feel?  A simpler way to go about it would be to imagine that that word is the title of a movie.  What movie would go with that title?  Use whichever word or phrase on this list you like better.

Free Options
English Translation
Dwelling Place
Quartz Words

If you don't like any of these, you can use words in a book you like, or on the internet, or whatever.  As long as the word speaks to you, that's the one to go with.

After looking at all of these, you'll notice that the basic idea is to look and see how this thing makes you feel.  Bingo.  That's inspiration.  You can take absolutely anything in the world and be inspired by it, as long as you note how it makes you or other people feel.  Getting people to feel what you feel is the point of writing, so if you get these exercises, you're good to go.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Music You've Never Heard -- Sarit Hadad

Hey y'all. Today's artist you've never heard of is named Sarit Hadad. I'm all into Hebrew music, because Middle Eastern languages are pretty. Sarit, like Ofra Haza, was a child prodigy who at eight was already performing piano at dance clubs, all without the parents' permission. Also, she took it upon herself to learn more instruments, like guitar and darbuka. She's pretty popular in the Israeli realm of music, but I don't know how many Americans or others would recognise her name. So, she lands a spot here.

Sarit is one of my favorite singers, despite the fact that she has more of a pop sound. And I am not into pop. That's one of my two negative points about Sarit, the other being that Madonna listens to her. Ugh...Madonna...*gags*. Anyway, it's okay to listen to pop every now and again, because taking music too seriously is a bad thing.

So what kind of stuff does Sarit sing? Mostly fun pop songs. Once you get past the hebrew lyrics, the songs are basically about love and fun and everything else pop singers sing about (except Sarit's songs aren't slutty). For me, not knowing what the lyrics of a song mean somehow makes the song more deep and more interesting. Sometimes the meanings really don't meet my expectations, and I've been burned more than once by liking foreign songs with bad lyrics. Don't worry about Sarit, though. She's not singing about killing people or anything.

Why am I talking about that?

Anyway, let's get into her music. This first song I'm going to post is actually a song I've written about before: Shir Ha'frecha. I love this song, and Ofra Haza's version is marvelous and tragic. Now, I'm usually not a fan of other artists coming in and doing remixes, because most remixes are fail or meh by default. Not so in this case. Sarit actually makes a version that is more party and a lot of fun, actually doing good things with this song rather than just making it a bland imitation.

Shir Ha'frecha (Sarit version):

If you like fun party music, you should check out Bosem Tsarfati (French perfume). It's a song that basically says "don't give me gifts, I just want you near". Yeah, one of those anti-materialism songs. Whatever. It's so much fun, and one of my favorites. Seriously, Sarit has a great voice, and towards the middle this one really cooks.

Bosem Tsarfati:

Man, I love this next song. It's another love song, this one about a girl who is believed to be shallow because her love with a man is going too fast. Sarit sings from the girl's perspective, explaining that this really is love. The chorus is the kind that digs into your brain and never lets go. Don't say I didn't warn ya.


Okay, so what's next? Ah, let's do a slow song. As party as Sarit is, she's got to chill out some time. This song is a very touching one, one that cries out to God for help. There are times in our lives when everything is going wrong, and we don't even know how to fix it, or even if we can. That's what this song is about. "He calls out to his God on the edge of the deep..."

Shema Israel:

I love this next song with all my heart. One of the things artists do is describe a certain thing, usually an emotion, without directly saying what it is. Think "Eye of the Tiger" and how bizarre most of its words are. Lamut Me'ahava is one of these songs, and is so poetic and's definitely a favorite. Seriously, you need to go look at the lyrics. Oh yeah, in english the title means "die out of love".

Lamut Me'ahava:

Sarit isn't perfect, and though I like this next song, the music video irritates me. It really makes me wonder about her childhood. I mean, it shows her pretending to be a young girl being bossed around by her mother, then the girl later sneaks off to a club and meets a guy. After telling him all her problems, the guy goes with her to tell off her mom, and then the two drive away.

Does anyone see the problem with this? I mean, crap, if you meet a guy who wants to take you away from your family after knowing him one or two nights, then there is something seriously messed up with this guy, or he's only after one thing from you. He might even sell you into slavery. Seriously, that's a very stupid thing for a girl to do. Also, it's really depressing seeing the mom sitting there alone at the end, all sad. Strict as she was, she was only trying to help her daughter. What the crap is with that, Sarit? The song has nothing to do with the vid, other than being a party song called "celebrate".


I'm not going to lie. I have no clue what this song means. It has something to do with Sarit's father, but that's all I can tell you. That, and this song is beautiful. Check it out.


This next song is another love song, this one surprisingly generic as far as the words go. It's Rak Ata, or "only you". I like the beat and everything, but the music video really misleads in the sense that it makes you think the song is about a more serious topic. Nope. Whatever, I mean it's not like it's a bad song. Check it out.

Rak Ata:

So, you can check out more of Sarit's stuff. Like I said, most of her stuff is too pop for me, and it's begging for a heavy metal remix. Crap, just linking all the songs for this blog really makes me want to go listen to metal. That being said, Sarit Hadad's work is a lot of fun, and it's very good for people just out to have a good time. She has a great voice, and she really should be looked at more by the international community.

That being said, just because a thing is in the same language as the Bible doesn't mean it's as serious or important. Now, if you will excuse me, I must go hunt down some metal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Write Club - Villainy

Hey y'all. This post I wanted to discuss villainy. Villains in stories are in many ways as important as the heros, and they make a clear and specific impact on your story. Let me make it clear that by villain, I don't mean antagonist. An antagonist is the person (or persons) causing the conflict that your lead character has to face. For example, Apollo Creed in Rocky is the antagonist, but he's not evil so he's not a villain. He's just the guy that makes the plot happen, namely that Rocky is being given the one of a kind chance to fight the champion though he's nobody in the boxing realm. So, a villain is a type of antagonist, because they cause conflict, but an antagonist is not always a villain.

So what makes a good villain? Well, let's first put out some of the best and most terrifying villains there are out there, from various genres. I pick Hans Gruber from Die Hard, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, Kerrigan from Starcraft (note that at this point I have not played Starcraft II), and King Edward I from Braveheart. There are other good villains out there, but I'm very familiar with these, and they're also well known. So let's look at what makes these villains the awesome villains they are.

The thing I look for the most in a villain is whether or not they engage the fight or flight response in me, if this particular villainy seems realistic, and if I want to see more of them. These kinds of baddies tantalize you and make you wish that you could join the book and save the lead characters from them, or help the good guys solve the case. I love to see monsters display the absolute worst of humanity in the most delightful of ways. Let's go over the picks and see what exactly is so fun about them.

Let's start with Hans Gruber, the man who held hostages in the Nakatomi building in California, only to find himself stopped by a New York cop wandering in the abandoned areas in the building. The thing that makes Hans distinct from other villains is his intelligence. He might not be the best for beating someone up or hacking a computer, but this guy is a real leader. He constructed a well thought out plan and did his best to keep it going despite the fact that everything was crumbling around him. Despite being surrounded by cops and hassled by John McClaine, he actually got fairly close to succeeding.

Just looking at the guy, we see his distinctive taste in clothes, his love for literature, and his persistent calm in the face of trouble after trouble. He always seemed to be in control, not only of himself, but of the hostages' fears and of his own tempermental men. He calmly probed the crowd for the one man he wanted to discover information from, never once letting this man's refusal to talk bother him. He cleverly faked out McClaine (for a while) by pretending to be a hostage. Even when one of his minions was freaking out because McClaine killed his brother, he kept control of his group's actions.

What made the best part of his character was that at the end, despite all of his cleverness, leadership, and saavy, he was just out to get money. Hans could have done anything with his life, and here he was just stealing paintings and savings bonds. This guy has an actual story arc. Hans' finale is a dramatic fall out of the window, right before he is about to shoot John McClaine in the head.
So the qualities of a good villain we learn from Hans are:
- smarts
- own story arc
- control
- a death deserving of his crimes.

Ursula from The Little Mermaid is a totally different kind of villain. I absolutely loved her villainy as a kid, particularly because she wasn't trying too hard to be an obvious monster, and yet you knew all along that she was only the most evil of octopi. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the story of The Little Mermaid, where Ariel half-fish being decides that she wants to live on land and is madly in love with Prince Eric. So she goes to the sea-witch Ursula to see if she can get legs.

The thing about Ursula is her total vanity. She uses make up, but at the same time she seems perfectly comfortable with her body, creating the image of a self-confident woman who is in control. See there? She and Hans share an aspect of villainy, just in a different way. Ursula's vanity is an additional flaw that the writers exploit to flavor her character and make her distinguished from other Disney villains.

One of the things I loved about Ursula was her more or less admittance to evil. She gives a vague excuse saying that she used to be evil, and now all she does is help "poor, unfortunate souls". This is so clearly a lie that you know Ariel doesn't believe it, and you find yourself shouting at the screen for Ariel to swim away before she does something stupid.

Ursula is someone who enjoys being evil, and who happily delights in her schemes. One of things I feel makes her unique is her love for Flotsam and Jetsam, her minion eels. This love, while more of a master to a slave, is actually somewhat genuine. Other villains might treat their servants like crap, but Ursula actually shows appreciation for her minions. This too fits in with her vanity, as her most intimate servants are like accessories, part of herself. She could no more dislike them than she could dislike her own personality.

What we can do with Ursula that we can't do with other villains is compare her to the villains of other Disney movies. Let's do that! Okay, so first up is the evil witch queen from Snow White. I feel that this villain is okay, but her problem is that she's mad at Snow White for being more beautiful than her. It's not a matter of power or anything big, just sheer jealousy. That's actually kinda sad. Also, her plan to give Snow White a poison apple was overly complex. Couldn't she just shoot Snow White with an arrow or something? I realize that this is a problem with the actual fairy tale than the Disney version, but this still applies.

Cinderella's stepmother was a pretty good villain, I just don't feel like she was used appropriately. The stepmother's anger at Cinderella for being gentler and more lovely than her own daughters should have been more accentuated. Like, she should have been more harsh at Cinderella for the slightest mishaps and proud of each minor achievement of her own girls. All in all, she was still interesting, but she wasn't the greatest villain.

Malificent of Sleeping Beauty was a marvelous stage villain. She was evil, bitter, and full of hate. However, she too misses the mark. It's awesome she can change into a dragon, but I find it weird that simply being snubbed for a christening party alone would cause her to want to ruin Aurora's life. In the book this jealously was explained very well, but here Malificent feels the need to find Aurora for some reason, even though she's already placed the curse on her to die at the age of sixteen. Why does she need to kidnap Aurora? In the fairy tale she placed the curse and left it at that, not to be seen for the rest of the story. I appreciate what Disney did with the story, but all the same, Malificent was just too concerned about it.

Also, her minions are useless. She's got all these goblins and warthog soldiers, but all they ever succeed in doing is kidnapping the Prince the first time. Before that and from then on, they accomplish nothing. They're deliberately idiotic. What kind of a villain keeps these idiots around? Ursula's two eels were more useful than the whole lot of these guys.

Next in line is Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. This guy is actually pretty hilarious as a baddie. My problem with him is that he's kind of a ham, trying way too hard to be a jerk and manipulate Belle. That was probably the point for his character, and it really was enjoyable. Overall he's one of the better Disney baddies, but at the same time he's too simplified. His lack of depth prevents him from being the best.

One of the best Disney movies ever is Aladdin, and it has the villain that I feel is second to Ursula: Jafar. Jafar is the assistant to the Sultan, and he is busily working on a way to steal the power from the Sultan and take his place. I like this guy because he's unashamedly bad, dastardly and always keeping his eye out on Aladdin. He's quick to discover that Aladdin isn't a prince and almost kills him. More than once, actually. He also has a sense of humor, sick as it is.

However, the real downfall of Jafar is two things: his cheat stick and the Sultan. Controlling the Sultan with a scepter is really cheap, and is a gimmick instead of Jafar taking power by cleverness. Also, if Jafar can make the Sultan do whatever he wants, then why does he need to take his place? Can't he just stay by the side and keep pretending to be loyal? When the princess marries, he can just control the guy just like he did the Sultan.

Also, Jasmine's dad is a stupid ruler. He's lame, easily impressed, and totally lacking in sense. As much as heroes are judged by the villains they fight, villains are judged by the heroes that they face and rulers they defeat. Controlling the Sultan wasn't hard by any means, making Jafar unable to beat Ursula in a contest of evil.

Eh, the villain in Pocahontas was lame. I don't even remember what they called the guy, but it was John Smith's leader or whatever. I didn't like that movie much, and the baddie was one reason why: he was shallow, stereotypical, and completely uninteresting. You can compare him to Gaston and Gaston's selfishness, but Gaston was fun to watch and made you laugh. This guy? Eh. Moving on.

Mulan's baddie, Shan Yu, was pretty good. He was evil, greedy, and merciless. He wasn't as distinct as other baddies, but he was someone you could really be afraid of. However, I found his vague beastness to weaken the character. His seemingly superhuman strength made him too cartoonish, like the point where he burst through the ceiling of the emperor's palace to fight Mulan. How in the world is that even possible? I really shouldn't question cartoon physics, but Mulan as a movie tried to be more or less realistic when it came to human ability, and if there was a part of other fighting that was fake, the movie convinced you it was possible. Also, there's this one point where Shan Yu could have gotten away and killed the emperor, but he cries out in...I dunno, beast-like rage or something, and Mulan hears him, causing her to go and stop him.

I say all that, but really this villain wasn't too bad. He wasn't distinct enough to rise to the level of others, but he served the appropriate purpose in Mulan that was required of him. In that, he did a great job. He's not the kind of villain that you'll appreciate well or remember much of, but there's so many other people in this movie to like and have an interest in that it doesn't really matter. That's a thing to remember about baddies, and actually characters in general. Sometimes the plot doesn't focus around them, and you have to decide, as a writer, how much influence you are willing to give to them.

If you don't have a lot of opportunity to talk about a character, then make them as interesting as possible in the short amount of time they have, and that way your readers will want to hear more about them, instead of feeling that your story is bogged down by too much detail (which will be the subject of another posting at some point). You can always do a spin-off story about them, or if you feel like you can just leave them as they are and your fans will write fanfiction to fill in the gaps for you. Leaving gaps for your readers is always a great idea to keep them interested in your story for longer periods of time.

Shadow Man from The Princess and the Frog had so much dang potential. So much! The plot for this movie was clumsily handled by the writers, leaving all of the characters but the firefly severely underdeveloped. Shadow Man was no different. He had so much going for him: his freaky magic, his sentient shadow, and his general entertaining demeanor. This guy was hilarious! However, he suffers from several things. First of all, if you look at this movie, you'll notice that he almost never does something himself. He's got those spirits running around for him and the servant pretending to be Navine. Only three times does he directly antagonize characters: the time he was trying to poke the Big Daddy voodoo doll, the time he stomps on the stupid firefly, and the time he tempts Tiana (his best scene, I think). Villains need to do things for themselves, facing the heroes and intimidating them with all the gall they have.

Also, Shadow Man's motives were unclear. In the opening song, he appears to be motivated by money, particularly as he tricks a man into taking a bad hair potion for coin. However, once he reveals his plan to take over New Orleans, it just feels weird. There was no foreshadowing for this. Then throw in the whole thing where he's trying to keep the spirits from taking him down into his afterlife, and he's scrambling, running around and trying to keep everything together. Where's the confidence and control?

The main thing that bothered me about Shadow Man is that he doesn't even know that Tiana is interfering with his plans until the very end of the movie. He knows she exists because he saw her at a restaurant, and he saw another frog leave with Naveen at the party, but he has no reason to assume that its her. Tiana is the lead of this movie, and Shadow Man is always off dealing with other people. How lame is that mess?

So, at the end of the day, Ursula really is the best Disney villain, from a literary perspective. What do we learn from her?

Villains should:
- be distinct
- have relevant help
- be interesting
- have a set out plan for power that has wiggle room just in case.

The next villain is one of my favorites of all time: Sarah Kerrigan of the Starcraft series. Now, Starcraft has this sequel out now, so I'm going on the original and the Brood War expansion set only. It always pissed me off that Glynnis Campbell wasn't the one voicing Kerri in SCII, and besides, if I ever talk about Star Wars characters, I will have nothing but complete disregard for the prequels, which I refer to as Not Star Wars. I don't think Starcraft II is all that bad, but for now it's just going to have to wait.

Anyway, Sarah is a great villain because of her deep history. The plot of Starcraft basically goes that there are three races out there, the humans, Protoss, and Zerg. These three races are fighting for domination of the galaxy (one not near earth). Sarah is a human fighting under Arcturus Mengsk, a man that once saved her life and is rebelling against the current human ruling faction. She becomes good friends with Jim Raynor, a simple but good man also in on the cause, and you begin to think that their relationship can get so much deeper. That is, until Kerrigan is betrayed by Arcturus in his quest for power. Mengsk abandoned her on a planet, believing that she would be killed by the Zerg, a malevolent race of creatures that take other species and turn them into new forms of Zerg.

The plot goes on without her until it is revealed that the Overmind, the leader of the Zerg, wanted Kerrigan to become his "daughter", and mutates her into a Zerg that is not just a brainless servant, but is a powerful, ferocious enemy of all who oppose the Zerg. Once the Overmind is killed, Kerrigan decides to take over the Zerg for herself and gain revenge against the faction that stole her childhood, Mengsk for betraying her, and Raynor for not saving her. In the end, she tears through all of the Protoss and human factions, making herself the supreme leader of all that exists....and it means nothing.

The reason why Sarah Kerrigan is such a great villain is because she didn't start out that way. She used to be a little naiive, trusting Mengsk even though his actions made it clear he preferred power above all else. She went through so much, being subject to experiments that tested and probed her telepathic powers. After Mengsk saved her, she trusted him not unlike a father. Once infested, the Overmind was like a really sick version of a dad, leaving Kerrigan with even more demented daddy issues.

This poor girl's troubles have risen up in her and filled her with an anger. That anger is hollow. Kerrigan might rule the galaxy in the end, but that was never what she ever wanted. Her entire conquest was to get back at everyone that had ever hurt her. Now that she's won, she doesn't know what to do with herself and her power. All she knows is that she doesn't want to lose control ever again, because she doesn't trust anyone to be an authority over her.

As pityable as she is, Kerrigan is responsible for many deaths. She kills off several characters that are beloved to the people that play this game, and she torments Zeratul, the most popular Protoss character, by brainwashing his Matriarch and forcing him to kill her. She spared Raynor's life at one point because he was someone that cared about her in the past, but once she murders his friend Fenix, he swears to kill her one day.

Hans and Ursula are valued for their skills and attitudes, but Kerrigan's interest comes from her depth. You can either feel sorry for her or hate her, and whichever you do is up to your perspective. There is no set in stone way to feel about her. Other characters are engineered for you to specifically hate or like them, but Kerrigan is open ended. You either want her to die for all she's done, or somehow become de-infested, or somehow make up for her crimes in the way she dies.  The game doesn't make this choice for you.

So Kerrigan shows that a good villain:
- has depth
- has ties outside of evil
- is still a person with aspirations and fears
- doesn't always realize how evil they are.

Okay, so my last villain is King Edward from Braveheart. I'm gonna be honest: crazy Mel aside, I love all the characters in this movie, especially Steven the Irishman. The real reason I like Edward as a baddie is because he's so hardcore. Okay, well the story goes that Edward is oppressing the Scottish people, and this local man William Wallace has to stop him so that Scotland can be free of British oppression.

Edward is portrayed as a man both harsh and strong, someone you just don't want to mess with, especially head on. In any direct fight, he's sure to win. This guy is smart, cunning, deceptive, and willing to take advantage of the slightest thing he can. Early on in the movie he tricks a bunch of Scots by saying he wanted to negotiate peace, but he slaughters all the people that show up to his meeting. This guy has no mercy in him at all. He firmly believes that the Celtic Islands should all be under one rule. That is, the rule of Britain.

Even in real life, Edward was someone who was hearty and physically strong. Even to his oldest days he was risking his life simply to show off his daring. However, he had one major failing: bad parenting. A lot of people objected to the portrayal of Prince Edward II in this movie, and I understand why, but the fact of the matter is his character in the movie was a natural extension of who Edward II really was. He was simplified for the purposes of the movie, but in real life Edward II was nowhere near as feared as his father. He relied so much on his father's hardcore nature and iron-fisted rule that he never achieved the political wisdom Edward I had. He always was so close with his pal Piers Gaveston that it actually interfered with his political needs. He and Piers made fun of the British Lords without considering that perhaps these men might actually be vital to his rule once his dad died. Notedly, Piers was replaced with Phillip in the movie, and they never showed this mockery (or the Lords much at all), but that is what actually happened.

So that was where Edward failed the most. In both real life and the movie, he never made his son realize that power isn't a static thing and it can slip out of your hands easily when a weak ruler gets the throne. In both, Scotland becomes free shortly after the death of Edward I, and despite all of the political and economic gains Edward did for Britain, Scotland reachieved its independence. Notedly, Scotland belongs to the United Kingdom mostly because of intermarriage, and it ended up that one of the kings of Scotland (James, I think) turned out to be next in line for the English throne through various circumstances.

Edward is a king with strong beliefs and strong greed, and he is unable to be swayed from this path by anyone. He is overcome in the end by sickness and secrecy, the only two things that could directly bring him down.

He shows us that:
- villains are selfish and don't see from others' viewpoints
- the audience wants to enjoy both the evil and the downfall of evil in the villain.
- villians need to be strong to be believable and feared.
- No villain is too strong to have a flaw.

So, who do I feel is the greatest villain of all time? That's hard to answer. There are many different types of villains, and each is enjoyable in different sorts of ways. Hans Gruber is a crafty villain, one that stays in control by using his brain. Ursula is a trickster villain, who uses anything besides physical strength (magic, tricks, servants) to get what she wants. Kerrigan is a damaged villain, who fights for herself and not for money or power. Edward is a hardcore villain, one that has to be worked around, not directly fought. So which type is the best? Isn't it really a matter of taste?

Well, just in case it isn't, I submit that Darth Vader is perhaps a good candidate for the greatest fiction villain of all time, as far as literary appeal goes (I'm sure there are more destructive baddies). He is not only strong in fights, but also in the Force, which enables him to do things that most people can't. Also, his dark costume and heavy breathing make him well known even among those that have never seen Star Wars or don't even like it. He remains one of the most recognized bad guys of all time, whose depth, strength, smarts, and control will ensure that he remains known for many years to come.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Something Annoying

Hey y'all.

Okay, so I work at a bookstore, and a bunch of the time we get these autobiographies with the most pretentious titles ever.  I really can't stand them.  I mean, they're all like "Me", "My Life", "My Story", or "The True Confessions" of someone I don't care about.  Gah!  Okay peeps, if you're going to write a book about yourself, please don't let it sound like you think you're everything.

I know I like to hang out around fiction, but here's a little exercise for you, just to challenge your skills.  Think about your life, and then come up with the title of a biography for yourself.  The only rule is, you can't use these words:


I've come up with a few for myself, but really since I'm so young it's a bit pretentious to have a title for something like this anyway.  Still, I'm pretty much choosing between "Pass the Ducks", "Stupid Melody", and "Always Hardcore".  Basically I'd have to wait and see how my life really turns out to see which is better. 

Pass the Ducks comes from the Nutcracker song Pas de Deux, which is one of my favorite songs ever.  It's very dramatic, and the daring of the song really makes sense (in my head) with the ridiculous title of my book.  I've always been a combination of extremes, so the silliness plus the seriousness works for me.

This is also why I like Stupid Melody.  It's the title of one of my favorite DJ Redlight songs, and while the only lyrics to the song go "it's just a stupid melody" the song actually argues against itself, sounding a lot more powerful than its title gives it credit for.

I'll admit that Always Hardcore is a bit pretentious on my part.  I like it, but I really wouldn't choose it unless I did something amazing like liberate a Communist country, cure cancer, and bake a tasty raspberry chocolate cake all while juggling mugs of hot coffee.  Hey, you never know.

Well, that's my submissions.  What would make a good title for your story?  Remember, you can't use one of the above words, and you have to title your book in such a way that people would want to buy it.  Also, what would you put on the cover?  Let me know!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nitpickery - Darkness in the Mirror.

Hey y'all.  I feel like gettin' a little nitpicky today because I stayed up late last night reading this book called Darkness in the Mirror, and I can feel rant mode going on. 

I have a problem with the library.  This problem is, they have a multiplicity of books written by people who never should have been published.  A while back I checked out this book called Sorry, It's Not for Us (or something to that nature), which dictates the plight of a woman who must choose what books to allow her publishing company to pick up and which to say no to.  She speaks of very high standards, and her reasoning is interesting.  However, the library must disagree with this.  What other reason would they have for publishing the nonsense I've checked out there for the past several months?  It had The Dark Tower by C.S. Lewis, but that was the one good book I've ever checked out from the library.

So Darkness in the Mirror is a story about a family, and one of the genetic traits of this family is schizoaffective disorder.  First one woman gets it, then her daughter Ruth passes it on to her daughter Ondie.  She has another daughter, Serita, who seems to have escaped this fate.  Ondie is trying to get back with her baby's daddy, not knowing that he's having a fling with Serita.

The reason why I picked this book off the shelf was because it was by Erica Lewis, who happened to be near the C.S. Lewis section, sadly small in the library.  Also, the cover is of serious young woman who has just written "I hate you" in lipstick on a mirror, staring coldly at her reflection.  Now, doesn't that sound like a good story?  Think of it, a woman versus herself and torn apart by exciting!


I've come to expect a lot from madness books.  There's so many complex emotions in insanity, and when presented correctly it's perfectly thrilling.  However, this book wasn't about the madness at all.  It was a friggin' soap opera.

How did this book suck?  Let me count the ways.
1. Lackluster plot.
2. Undercutting its own drama.
3. No real characterization.
4. Vastly underdeveloped writing style.
5. Ignoring the specifics of schizoaffective disorder.

There might be other things, but for now we'll stick to these, as they are the main functions of what exactly is wrong with this story.  Yes, I'm going to spoil this story at lot, but since there's nothing to it anyway, you're not losing anything.

Let's start backwards.  Number 5 is the absolute worst thing wrong with this book: ignoring the very thing that makes someone want to read this book in the first place.  It mentions the disorder, shows a couple of mad episodes, but in the end I know nothing more about the disorder, only that it makes people paranoid that other people are scheming against them.  This story seems to be about family drama without any real theme or point to it.  Come on, where's the struggle against madness?

4 is a problem that all writers go through at some point.  No one starts off as a good writer.  We all go through a stage where we think we know crap about writing, but in the end only everyone else can see the noobs that we really, truly are.  Writers can be underdeveloped in many ways.  They can ignore emotion and just write block for block what happens, they can rush through parts they think are uninteresting, they can use all these fancy-schmances words and references that they don't really know how to use effectively, and they can write boring dialogue that no one would actually say in real life. 

This book is guilty of all of the above, hence the "vastly" part.  I mean, holy crap!  Why the crap was this published, other than for cheap relationship fantasy?

Let me show you an example from the book.

"He dashed back inside and grabbed the keys off the counter and sprinted down two fights of concrete steps with no shoes on.  He pressed the button on the keyless remote and the noise halted.  But his was not the only alarm that sounded.  Serita spied her smashed windshield and the brick that laid it to waste.  Ondie zeroed in on her standing there when the clamor from her car ceased.  Serita backed into the apartment like a frightened rabbit."

This is a description of Ondie discovering Serita at Dexter's (her baby's daddy) house.  Aigoo, it's like a dang kid wrote this mess.  They're obviously trying to sound dramatic, but this is a major fail.  I mean, if this were a first draft written during NaNoWriMo to be edited later, that would be one thing, but I am astonished at any publishing company that would put this in print.  Why aren't there any commas?  Why isn't there a description of Ondie that makes her as frightening to the reader as she is to Serita?  Why are they describing flat statuses rather than action?\

Hint, writer peeps.  If something is happening, like a dog is chewing on a bone, say the dog's chewing on a bone.  Don't just say he had a bone in his mouth or something dull like that.  Describe an action like an action, and your words will play like a movie.

Okay, I will attempt to write something a bit better, because I'm an arrogant nerd-girl and I can.

"At the sight of his former love (the woman who'd had his child!) beating up on his Jeep with a branch, Dexter dashed back inside, snatching his keys before he dashed right back out.  He ignored the impact of his bare feet on the concrete as he rushed down the stairs to stop the mad woman.  The first order of business was to get his car alarm off -- he by no means wanted to attract more of his neighbors' attentions to this mess.  As he clicked the panic button on his keys, he realized that his alarm wasn't the only one going off.

Shaking like reed in a storm, Serita peeked her head out the door.  It was every bit as bad as she thought it was: Ondie had taken a break from his jeep to start with her Ford.  A brick appeared in Ondie's hand, tightly gripped.  Serita watched in terror as her sister angrily swung her arm, casting the thing smack into her now shattered windshield. 

As if knowing that she was being watched, Ondie's eyes snapped straight up, focusing solely on baby sister Serita.  She stared into Ondie's bloodshot glare, regretting it instantly.  There was no pain in the older girl's eyes, no betrayal or tears.  There was only hate, a hate married to the worst sort of rage imaginable.  It was then that the younger sibling knew that what she was seeing was not Ondie.  It was the devil."

There, I think that's a bit more dramatic.  That's the way a madman should be portrayed, as someone outside of themselves.  Thing is, a lot of authors have trouble with something I call "dwell".  Dwell is basically where you take an emotion and just dwell on it, expounding it and making the emotion come closer to the reader.  Too much dwell can be bad, but I've found that most often it's the opposite problem that occurs.

Okay, so let's start at the beginning.  This story starts off more or less following Ruth, the mother of these two girls.  Once Ruth's mother dies (in the most cliched way possible), the story sort of goes on to tell, not show (bad, bad, bad!) exactly why Ruth's marriage goes south -- her daugher Ondie shows signs of the disorder and the time this consumes puts a strain on Ruth's marriage to Kenny.  Then it goes on a continuous loop of being focused on Ondie, Serita, and Ruth.  You can really tell that this author is far too feminist for her and her readers' good.  I guess the story sorta runs around Ondie.  At one point the story is told a little bit through Dexter's parents, but since these people have no real plot importance, she really shouldn't have bothered. 

It's okay to have the perspective jump a bit to show what other characters are thinking, but in the end it's best to keep your story being seen through the eyes of one character or two to four characters whose story is interwoven.  I dunno, maybe if this story had some sort of united theme, then the jumpy perspective would be okay.  There's just no themes to this book.  Overall, it's just like coming in to work and listening to your friend gossip about a coworker and her family's mental history, and just about as well told.

Let's get some more into those negative points.  This story had no real characterization mainly because it pretty much refused to make characters reveal anything deep going on in their heads.  You can tell that the author thought of these as 3D people, but she really didn't bring the characters' depth into the story. 

For example, she says that Ondie's doctor, Dr. Mathis, was a nice guy, but you really don't get to see him do anything much of worth for Ondie.  His advice is flat, his descriptions lack emotion, and he doesn't do anything in the plot other than listen to Ondie and say hi to people. 

Maya, Ondie's daughter, is constantly being shuffled from daycare to Grandma Ruth's, to Dexter's, and then back to daycare.  You rarely get to see her do anything that makes her distinctive from other children.  She worked with paints a lot, so the author could have made her a good artist or something.  But no, Maya is merely another under five little girl, cute but only there to die dramatically and cause her mother no end of grief.  She's practically a redshirt.  Yeah, Maya dies in an accident just after Serita discovers that she's pregnant with Dexter's kid.  Harsh, no?

That's also an example of how Lewis really undercuts her own drama.  Maya is barely there and then she dies, leaving behind no impression of herself in the reader's mind other than a vague shadow of a two year old.  Also, one of the dramatic points of the story is that Ondie supposedly wants Dexter back.  However, early on she meets Paul, the hunky Jamaican guy.  In the other book, the one about the woman who rejects badly written novels, she explained that you're supposed to hold back your character's hope/good things/victories until the near end of the story.  I know one person who really should have listened....

Also, Ondie is the dang luckiest person in the world.  Her mom does everything she can to help her, she's got a dang hot Jamaican man to hang on to, Dexter doesn't press charges when she wrecks his jeep and knocks him down his steps, she manages to get out of a 90 day stint in a mental hospital without a hint of trouble, she keeps her job even after that, and Paul still stays with her throughout all her mental breakdowns.   Yawn.  Let me know when something interesting happens.  Well, they did have that small thing where Ondie thought Paul was cheating on her, but that passed quickly and without any real incident.

Honestly, this story could have been really good.  It could have been dramatic and told with intimate detail the plight of a mentally damaged person.  As is, it's a stupid soap opera where we have no clue what anyone is thinking at any time.  Ruth is obsessed with getting her girls to talk and work things out, but once Ondie smashes the cars and Serita has her baby, Serita gets so afraid that she pulls out a restraining order on Ondie.  Even then Ruth doesn't give up, and yet we are never really shown any true emotions about how Ruth feels.  She's just doing it for form's sake.

So yeah, lackluster plot in the sense that there is no real sense of accomplishment.  Only people just sleeping around without thinking about it and no one even bothering to tell anyone to have some moral standards.  It's all just a bunch of selfish people wanting what they want and never really considering how other people feel.  Ruth wants her girls to get along, Serita wants Ondie to leave her alone, Derrick wants to have a normal family, Kenny wants to defend his daughters (he does a terrible job), Derrick's parents want him to stay away from that family, and apparently Ondie wants Serita to suffer. 

Yeah, that's right.  At the end of the book, Serita starts suffering from postpartum depression, and this seems to lead her down a path that could possibly be schizoassociative disorder.  At this point, and only at this point, does Ondie finally calm down.  She had a boyfriend that could only exist in a book, a good job, and she managed to avoid most of the serious consequences of her actions. 

But no, these don't sway her any.  She doesn't calm down at all until Serita is put under mental examination by Derrick.  In fact, this makes her so happy that she tells Dr. Mathis that "the beast that she can't control" is gone.  She finally decides to leave well enough alone and stop aggravating an already bad situation.  If she could have done this before she smashed up Derrick's and Serita's cars, then she would have been spared a lot. 

That is insanely stupid.  That's like saying you can only heal once you get revenge or feel justified.  Was that the dang theme of this book?  A little thing called self-control would have stopped all this nonsense from occuring.  Heck, it's making me thing that this disorder is an emotional disease, caused by stress or something.  I dunno, like the sins of the fathers passing to the the sons...or mothers to daughters, as the case may be. 

In any case, it was not worth staying up late to read this nonsense.  No real madness, no real plot, no real themes, and a seriously underdeveloped writer. Next!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Music You've Probably Never Heard -- Andy Hunter

Hey y'all, it's time for another session of Music You've Probably Never Heard.

Now, I like techno. That should be abundantly clear to anyone who's read my blog. Thing is, a lot of techno seems to be repetitive and all about the artist rather than about making good music. It's a modern thing. Back in the 90s, particularly the first half, is the glory period of the genre. Nowadays everybody's remixing everybody's songs, which is why there's forty million inane remixes of the same classic song, and only rarely are these remixes actually worth it. In all this nonsense and bullcrap, I present to you an artist that's actually making new stuff. And this new stuff is good.

His name is Andy Hunter, and he's a DJ from Britain. This guy was introduced to me by a friend of mine when we were driving in the car to a friend's house. This dude is worth a listen, particularly if you're not into the darkest stuff like I am. He concentrates on making stuff that is artistic and yet listenable, and beautiful with or without lyrics. He's hard to classify, as some of his stuff is more dramatic and others are trancier. Still others are just fun dance stuff. I'd call this guy a producer of modern electro pop or electro dance. General house, at least.

Let's kick this off with a good one, shall we?

Come On:

Come On is a great song. The beginning is very dramatic, but it quickly jumps into a pulsing beat that's highly energizing. This is not a song you can just listen to for five seconds and move on. If you do, you lose out. This song is not static. You really just need to get this music playing as you're going down the road or messing on the computer, or biking. Good stuff, good stuff.

You want a song with lyrics? Pssht, who needs lyrics? What, really? Well, okay then.


Yeah, normally I don't require lyrics in what I listen to (or lyrics that I understand), but heck, these rock. Or they would if they were less chill. Now, this song is very mellow, very poetic, and if you like to relax to music, then this is your tune. It's perfect for being out at night and just cruising in your car. Heck, I think most of Andy's stuff is good car trip material. Better get it on iTunes or somethin', because you won't regret it.


One of the things I really like about Andy Hunter is that he is unapologetically Christian. He's not there to get all up in your face, but at the same time he's not going to fudge about his beliefs. We all really need the things that only God can bring, and that's what this song is about. It starts off kinda mellow, but then it starts jumping and kicking, being all awesome and stuff. This is my favorite, okay, no second favorite Andy Hunter song. It's just so much dang fun.

Open My Eyes:

This song is really pulsing, really awesome. It's not as good as Lifelight, I think, but it's not bad at all. It's fun stuff!


You are legally required to listen to this song. No, really. Sapphire is one of the pwnest things I have ever heard in my life, and it is the pwnest of the pwn. It's a very story-esque piece, telling a story without words. Stop what you're doing right now and click the dang link above. It is your duty! It has this really awesome old-fashioned feel to the music...definitely my favorite.

Let's change up this feel with another favorite of mine.

System Error:

This song doesn't have but two words as its lyrics, and it doesn't need any more. This song just rocks out, is totally weird, and totally uplifting in a weird rock/tech sort of way.

You know what a really good addition to techno is? Or electronic music in general? Black people. EDM and black people is like chocolate and caramel: awesome together. Chicago House is a great genre, for example, because it's all soulful and not pretentious. One of my favorite kinds of songs to hear is black folk songs from like the 1800s (or at least sound like that) done all up in techno. Huh, I really should do an entry about black people in music at some point. Sounds like a good idea for February.

Anyway, for right now, Andy Hunter has done a song sort of in this area, or at least has a really soulful singer. Honestly, it's songs like these that make Andy hard to classify. Check out this song. It really has nothing to do with the others, but it's still good.


Okay, here's another odd one, very meditative and spiritual. This song is deeper than anything I've ever posted, and is really for getting closer to God. Listening to this just makes you want to be quiet and listen. It really feels me with a sense of humility. A lot of trance tries to pretend that it's spiritual, but it's really that cheap knock-off spirit crap that basically lends credence to every spiritual thing out there. Well, I got news for you, peeps: not all spiritual is alike, and not all of it is good. This song, however, is. So listen to it, why don't you? Lift your hands and open your heart, this stuff is for real.


This next song, Technicolor, is another reason why Andy is so dang hard to put in a set musical genre. Andy Hunter just pwns. This song just is weird as crap in the beginning, then gets into a synthpop/black gospel groove. Quintessential party groove right there. Pretentious people, leave your drama behind.


Let's finish this entry off with some weird techno mess, shall we? This next song is some crazy mess that is all out party. It leans a little more towards techno, but technically speaking it's still house music. This is called Radiate. It's all about the party, all about movement. You just have to check this out.


I seriously hope Andy Hunter gets more popular. He deserves it. So much pop crap today sounds all the same like it all came out of a cookie cutter. All the genres are suffering from stagnation these days, mostly because music is being more about the artists than it is about people. Okay PSA to all artists out there, underground or glitzy pop. Music is best when it's all about the person listening, not about how great the artist is. People want songs they can connect to, not crap about how much money the artist has, or the latest boring trite the artist has to say.

So that's why Andy Hunter's line of work is so refreshing. It doesn't sound like all the pop nonsense that's out there, and it doesn't even have to stray into the darker, more industrial side of techno to do so. See, good music can be both relaxing and not boring crooners singing boring things to boring tunes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Crap We Read at School

I was thinking the other day about the people who say we shouldn't read The Adventures of Huck Finn in school because it's racist or something. I don't think it is. I mean, the Jim character, a black guy, is a total weirdo, but that's how I always took it: he was weird and not black people in general. If the book claimed that all black people were like that, then I see what they would mean, but it's not like that. There are plenty of other weirdos besides.

This book wasn't the best thing ever and I preferred The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to it. I didn't like it a lot because it was really depressing at parts. I mean, you have a runaway slave struggling to get away and free his family too, Huck's dad shows up and pretty much kidnaps him in the attempt to steal his money, the "king" and the "duke" try to con a family who has suffered the recent death of important family members, those two get tarred and feathered, Jim gets captured again, and the kindly widow dies. the book ends on a mildly happy note with Jim being free and Huck being taken in by some of Tom's relatives, yet the story isn't over for Jim and Huck doesn't want to be civilized. This just wasn't the fun ride that Tom's story was, which was kind of surprising considering it was about two guys having adventures as they raft down a river.

So yeah, a sad book. And that's when I start thinking about all the other crap that they made us read in school. Each title is a work of more or less depressing crap. Huck Finn is literally the best book that we had to read there, unless you count Shakespeare. I'm not surprised that a lot of the kids didn't bother reading this stuff.

Let's see, there's The "Great" Gatsby. UGH. That had to be the worst crap they forced us to get through. Oh man was it ever lame. It was basically a story of how this dude was cheating on his wife with this chick, but it was cool because that chick had her on guy on the side. And apparently it's a mortal sin to be a poor man, or else you just can't ever get married. Seriously, this one woman cheated on her husband because he wasn't rich, and this other chick would only sleep around with the narrator, a middle class guy, and nothing more. In the end the two people who most deserve to be punched in the face get off scot-free. Pardon me sir, but could you spare a Scot or two? There's a couple that needs  punching. Fresh out? Darn.

Another stupid story was The Glass Menagerie, a weird little story about a normal family that for some reason is completely emo. I don't remember much of it, but really, there's no need. It was one of those stories with no real point to it. All I know is that it was sad and the brother broke the girl's glass animals. Yawn.

Let's see, another one was called something like A Doll's House or Doll House or some crap by Henrik Ibsen. This one didn't make me want to shoot myself, but it was still pretty lame. It was basically about a couple who were becoming distant, and then the wife realizes she never really understood her husband so she leaves him. But don't worry, it's okay because the dude is selfish and likes embroidery better than knitting. Sarcasm is so hard to write. I mean, I understand if you leave a jerk husband, but this guy wasn't that bad. What made it worse is that they had children already, and this lady just decides she's going to leave just like that because the children are just dolls she plays with in her doll house. The story ends on her departure, and the husband, a little tipsy, proclaims that he understands something. Depressing. Okay, maybe this book does make me want to shoot myself.

We had to read a couple fiction books set in Africa, and I think now that I prefer nonfiction from Africa, unless they're African legends. Or maybe the schools just pick out meh books and decide that they're classics. Cry, the Beloved Country was okay. Still depressing though. It's about the poverty and such in Johannesburg, and there's this pastor who lives out in the country. He was nice. One of the things he did in Johannesburg was try to rescue this one girl who had become a prostitute, but as he provides a way out, the girl runs away and returns to that life. The pastor goes home and nothing really changes. The story makes no progress, and you're left wondering why you bothered reading it. The best part of it was when they taught some Afrikaans words. That was cool.

On the other hand, Things Fall Apart was just weird. I mean, the story was okay and not disinteresting, but the title threw me off. How can things fall apart when they were never together in the first place? It starts off with this guy, Okonkwo, in an African tribe living the normal tribal life, but he's a total jerk. First, he steals a guy's wife (he has a total of 3 in the book), and then when one of his wives angers him, he shoots at her. He misses, but still. Also, since someone from another tribe murdered one of their tribe's people, Okonkwo takes in a boy from this tribe and practically raises him as his own, until the day when the leaders in the tribe decide to finally kill the boy. This is all the first part of the story. 

The second part is when white people start to arrive, and both good and bad things happen. There's basically no overall change. Things are different, but they don't fall apart. Okonkwo was always worried about his son Nwoye, and in the second part the boy becomes a Christian, further distancing himself from his non-understanding father. Okonkwo ends up hanging himself, but this feels very needless as Okonkwo's stubbornness is the cause of his own death - the suicide was completely unnecessary. If things fell apart for him, it was merely because he was far too proud. But again, it's depressing. Sheesh, can't the good guy win at something? Maybe learn to adapt?

And who can forget Arthur Miller's The Crucible? Me, or so I wish. It's the spiced up version of the Salem witch trials, in which any character we could possibly care about dies, and another guilty party gets away. The worst part about this story is that it was written as a metaphor for the Communist scare in Hollywood. It didn't go anything like the Salem witch trials! There were real Communists in Hollywood, trying to take over and create a Hollywood that hates America (oh wow, their scheme must have worked). They intimidated members of the Screen Actors Guild, and even threatened to throw acid in Ronald Reagan's face, as he was the president of the SAG at the time. I am full of rage at this blatant propaganda. And why don't I have any Scots?!

Another book that was okay and yet depressing was Their Eyes Were Watching God. The title was very misleading. It's about a biracial African American woman's life and misadventures in love. Janie Mae marries a dude on her mother's advice, only he turns out to be a jerk. So she runs off with this wealthy guy, who also turns out to be a jerk. But he dies. So Janie Mae finally finds true love in a poor but loving man, and marries him. And then there's this flood and he gets rabies and has to be shot. Yeah. The only point where they happen to be watching God is when the flood is going on. For the rest of the book, the characters ignore any above influence and do as they please. This is another one of those books where you wonder why you bothered. Unless you like tragic romance, I guess.

So we did learn a bit of Shakespeare, and unfortunately that's really the only classical literature we got into. Did we get to look at any of the comedies? Nope! Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth were the Shakespeare we read. I wish we had done more. I never really could sift through the Shakespearean vocabulary, and reading these in class were a lot of fun, despite that I could never understand them on my own. And I still can't. But that's another two depressing tragedies on the list. Oh wait, I think we did Hamlet too.

So the last I can remember at the moment is Jane Eyre, the story of a girl who was raised for a few years by an abusive aunt and then sent off to an oppressive school only to become a teacher there. She becomes a governness for a man, Rochester, in an estate, who has lived a nuts life and lost to death a lot of his family (as it was with Jane). They finally fall in love, but then Jane find out that he's married to an insane woman, and she's not comfortable marrying him if he's still already married. She runs away and works with this missionary dude and his associates for a while. The missionary wants to marry her before they go off on a missions trip, but Jane objects because she doesn't love him. Feeling that Rochester needs her, Janes goes back and finds out that his crazy wife burned down the house. Rochester now is missing an arm and is blind, but they are able to get married. Yeah. The whole book is soaked in a soggy bog of depression and general state of unhappiness until the very end, when Rochester recovers enough of his sight to see their son. I had intended to read this book again, but after looking at the spark notes, no. Ain't no way.

I'm starting to like Things Fall Apart better. Compared to some of these others...

Look at that. Every single book we were forced to read in school is depressing. Each of them deal with the struggles of people not against a clear enemy, but against things that should be on their side: their parents, other family, religion, their spouse, their culture, whatever. All of their victories are stained by tragedy, and none of the books leave you with a sense of uplifting. They have no delight, no eucatastrophe (but plenty of the opposite), no strength of character, no boldness and no bravery. These books simply cannot be enjoyed (Shakespeare aside) in anything but a literary sense - in that you feel that you are cultured and smarter for having read them.

I like lists! The things these books have in common:
- rebellion against some standard
- lots of sadness
- no clear enemy to fight directly to solve your problems
- self-righteous main characters

Ask yourself: why did the schools choose these books for your children to read? What are they trying to teach your children? To not read, apparently. And it's working.

Please don't take away Huck Finn! It's the best book on this dang list -- there's no way the schools would let you read something as imaginative as Tom Sawyer. Thank God for Shakespeare. He's so classical that he has to be read, and he's a break in the trite "modern literature" age. Ah, I need me a good C.S. Lewis book right about now. Not only is he clever, interesting, and not too afraid of cultural taboos to tell the truth about modernism, but he's plain entertaining. Give me some characters with some flaws. Delicious flaws and bad habits! Not sordid main characters that think they know everything about morality and say "screw you if you disagree"!

So, if you read this, please put down an author or book title that doesn't stink. I'd like to read something good please. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find some Scots now.