Friday, February 26, 2010

That picture-covered-wall of mine at the Piano Factory apartment.

Earlier this week when really not succeeding at concentrating on homework, I decided to re-organize my desk a bit. Obviously. Let me tell you, there is nothing I like more when not-concentrating-on-homework than a good re-organizing of crap/spontaneous needless decorating. So when re-organizing my desk I found these artsy postcards we bought at Brookline Booksmith when we visited Boston way back last year: I had been planning on framing them and placing them on some conceptual still-yet-to-be-realized "Boston Wall" in our current Portland apartment. But of course the postcards turned out to be just larger than 4x6, some weird size they don't make frames for without some involved matting which I clearly wasn't prepared for, and so, hence they sat, buried for a year in my desk. When I re-discovered them, I returned to my previous, less sophisticated mode of decoration: I got out some Scotch tape and decided to stick them wherever there was room left. (This time it happened to be the bathroom door.) This in turn made me start to contemplate exactly how much Scotch tape I have probably wasted in my life, which then of course led me to thinking about that wall on my side of the room when Sam and I shared the loft at the Piano Factory.

If you didn't know me in the Piano Factory days, let me tell you about it: This was the nicest apartment I will ever live in. It was one of those old-factory-turned-into-hip-city-lofts places, downtown, huge ceilings, exposed brick, shiny shiny wooden floors. To be honest the fact that we somehow lived here is still somewhat miraculous to me. For quite awhile (before we moved there) the apartments were only available for artists, and for the most part they were still full of adult, artsy type people: every now and then I'd pass some apartment that had their door open and I'd sneak a look in and it would inevitably be like a dream: huge fancy art hanging from the walls, sophisticated-yet-funky furniture and kitchenware, exotic and expensive looking rugs: like all those unrealistic city apartments you see on TV. (Oh, Friends set, you delightful, colorful fantasy, you.) There was an art gallery on the first floor which we never went to, I think because we always felt too awkward about it, like people would look at us and wonder why we were there. The trademark "thing" about the building was that you could paint the front door to your apartment (they were big doors) and some people literally painted masterpieces on them. And then there was us: same beautiful apartment, we just filled it with college crap, because, well, we were college kids: an assortment of random, mismatched furniture, half bought at the Bed Bath and Beyond at Fenway, half stolen from the street. We had a Hawaii themed bathroom; in a random ledge which might have been a wonderful nook to display artwork or something, we displayed Sam's collection of rubber ducks. We strung multi-colored Christmas lights from the loft ladder. And in that loft Sam and I shared, I made a project of covering my wall--and it was a big wall--with a big-yet-organized collage of pictures. Pictures I took, ads from magazines I liked, polaroids, pictures other people took, postcards. Man, do I love me a good postcard. It was epic. It was awesome. It was a lot of Scotch tape.

I feel like with each apartment I live in, I attempt to get a little more grown up, buy a few nicer things, arrange things in a slightly more sophisticated way. But in the end I always throw a little college in there. 'Cause I like college. And I hope I always do.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Madman Across the Water, Elton John

So last week Kathy & I saw Elton John & Billy Joel at the Rose Garden (FACE 2 FACE) and during Elton's solo portion of the evening when he said, "The next three songs are all from my album Madman Across the Water," I kinda squealed like a little girl--well, at least inside my head I did, and I know I pounded Kathy's knee in an excited-perhaps-painful-for-her sort of way--and I knew what those three songs would be, of course: Levon, Tiny Dancer, and the title track. Levon was one of the first Elton John songs I ever knew, and even though I know Tiny Dancer has jumped much higher in popularity post-Almost Famous, and although believe me I love screaming along to Tiny Dancer as much as the next sane person, I still think I like Levon more. Perhaps because it is one of those storytelling songs which I rambled about back in December. Even though the story it tells is very strange and who the hell knows what it really means, but singing along with it is so fun who really cares. And, I also previously stated that Tom Petty's "Oh my my, oh hell yes, honey put on that party dress" were the best lyrics of all time, but I have to say now that a close second is, "And Jesus, he wants to go to Venus." And the way he sings this line! It is glorious!

Then the title track, Madman Across the Water. Okay, listen. This is probably the most badass song Elton John has ever produced, if an Elton John song could be badass. Which, when I listen to this song, I think it can be.

Then there is Holiday Inn, which is another Tiny Dancer-esque rock-and-roll-life-on-the-road-in-the-70s tune, which I love love love really just for the first sprightly sung lines, "Boston at last, and the plane's touching down / The hostess is handing the hot towels around / From a terminal gate to a black limousine, it's a ten minute ride to the Holiday Inn." This is, of course, because I lived in and love(d) Boston, which is perhaps silly and superficial, but it is funny how a good reference in a song can catch you.

The album then ends with a combination of two of the weariest sounding Elton songs ever, All the Nasties and then Goodbye, and when I say weary I of course mean very not Crocodile Rock but very, very great. All the Nasties is particularly epic and almost surprisingly angst-ridden, wherein Elton is giving love to some unknown group saying, "Oh, I'm fond of them, and only them, they would understand," which is a sentiment all of us have felt when we have been lucky enough to know awesome people and the rest of the world is seeming really un-awesome. But then, with 2:15 minutes left in the song, Elton starts a chant of "Oh, my soul," which continues to just get louder and more dramatic over and over - OH MY SOOUUUULL, OH MY SOOOUUULLL, OH MY SOOOUULLLLL - until the end of the song. IT IS AMAZING.

Then Goodbye, which is really just altogether depressing, includes these great lyrics, "I'm sorry I took the time, I am the poem that doesn't rhyme," and the last lines of the album are these cheery words: "Just turn back the page, I'll waste away, I'll waste away." Listening to this song, it is hard to imagine him in sparkly pants and oversized sunglasses, but the combination of the two makes him all the more remarkable a person.

In general, this album is in my Top 10 Albums of All Time. This is a list I haven't actually compiled, although I may just naturally compile it throughout this blog, but I know it would be there. You may think you don't like Elton John all that much because of all that Don't Go Breakin' My Heart type stuff, and although I personally think most of his collection is pure pop genius I still wouldn't quite blame you, but I'll tell you, listen to this album. And then maybe Honky Chateau, but first this one. You won't be disappointed. Or, if you are, just don't tell me about it and we can still be friends.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it.

Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.

I read this book about a year ago, but it's also one of the books I have to read for a course I'm taking this semester, K-12 Multicultural Lit. Although I didn't re-read it because I am already incredibly strapped for time recently, I sifted through it again for quotes for some homework I was writing on it, and it made me remember how much I really liked this book. Like, I really liked it. Like, it totally deserved the National Book Award it won. Like, I think it's my favorite book I've read over the last year.

After the past few years where I've read primarily contemporary children's & young adult lit with only a very occasional "adult" book thrown in, I've determined that there are two popular styles of writing for J/Y (juvenile/young adult as classified by the library, and which I find easier to say and so which I will use from now on, especially since the distinction between a "children's" and a "young adult" book can be kind of annoying anyway) books: the classic, often Newbery Award type style of classic storytelling, a la E.L. Konigsburg, or Lois Lowry, or Richard Peck. Then there is the style where the author attempts to write like a teenager actually thinks, full of cynicism and "like"s, like a sassier version of Holden Caufield. I tend to think that if I were to write J/Y books this would be the way I would write, and when it is done really well, I love it, but when it is not done really well, it is just kind of annoying and unnatural. Sherman Alexie in this book is an example of doing it awesomely. The text, loosely based on Alexie's own childhood, is made even better by brilliant illustrations/comics by Ellen Forney. The combination makes it one of the most authentic sounding, depressing, funny, touching depictions of being a teenager - and an Indian teenager - ever.

The story is especially interesting to me as, being that Alexie is from Washington, it is a somewhat "local" story, and ever since moving here I have been really interested in the American Indian culture here. On the East Coast I feel like the Indian culture is somewhat nonexistent, except if you go to Foxwoods or something, or learn the history of the names of stuff. I grew up on Lake Wallenpaupack, for instance, a Leni Lenape word, and although we learned some stuff about the Leni Lenape growing up it was all in a historical context, in terms of sepia colored photos. Then you go out west and there are all these reservations and you're forced to remember what we did to these people. There are often articles in the Oregonian about the different tribes and reservations in Oregon: the Warm Springs Nation, the Umatilla, the Coquille, and I always love reading about them. I read about them when there's an article about salmon, about powwows they still do, about how their level of unemployment in the recession is unparalleled to any other group. There were falls on the Columbia River, Celilo Falls, which were spiritually and economically important to lots of tribes and which our government smartly decided to obliterate with a dam in the 50's, and people are still mad about it, and rightly so. Everything about it fascinates me. A whole bunch of really depressing things happen to the protagonist Junior in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, and it's because a whole bunch of really depressing things happen to American Indians these days. Every time I pass a huge ridiculous casino out here on tribal lands, even though Kathy & I have gambled in one, I don't know how to feel about it. I hope this doesn't make me sound like I am exoticizing them like an offensive white outsider ("My, these people are so interesting!") which I very well may be, but it's just very, well, interesting to me, and in short I would love read all of Alexie's other books.

You probably think I've completely fallen in love with white people and that I don't see anything good in Indians. Well, that's false.

I'm friends with some white kids, and I've never met their fathers.

That's absolutely freaky.

On the rez, you know every kid's father, mother, grandparents, dog, cat, and shoe size. I mean, yeah, Indians are screwed up, but we're really close to each other. We KNOW each other. Everybody knows everybody.

I've learned that white people, especially fathers, are good at hiding in plain sight.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This Is It.

So as soon as we started watching this movie, Kathy and I asked each other, "Why didn't we see this in theaters??" because within minutes we knew it was going to be AMAZING. Fools, fools are we. And okay, so here's the thing. Here is the general view of MJ and his life: Successful yet simultaneously tragic childhood; amazingly talented, influential and prolific career in the 80's and early 90's; descent into personal weirdness any time after that. Yet, although I know the personal weirdness was still there, this film shows him SO ON TOP OF HIS GAME. It was almost shocking. Just before his death, when we all probably assumed he was on various drugs in a general decaying sense of health, he was good. He could sing, he could dance - his moonwalk was exactly the freaking same! - and he still seemed to care passionately about every little thing he was doing. Half of the stuff he was planning for this concert made me chuckle, but in a kind of amazed way, because it was so very typically MJ: Completely, utterly over the top. Crazy, ridiculous, dramatic. Yet the reason why it worked and why he is such a legend is because he did everything over the top in such a meticulous, genuine way. He was involved in every aspect and needed everything to be PERFECT. On a personal level, I feel like the film showed everything I have previously voiced about him: Did he live in a somewhat distorted bubble? Yes. Did he have an evil bone in his body? Nah. On a professional level, the man was a genius - like, a real class act - up until the end and there is something so comforting about that. That even after the life Michael Jackson had, you can still LOVE WHAT YOU DO, and NEED TO DO IT REALLY WELL. I don't doubt it probably would have been the world's greatest concert ever. I couldn't make myself dwell too much while I watched on the reality that this of course would all end up never-to-be, not just for Michael but for all the dancers and producers and artists involved who were so thrilled and involved and just in it, because if I did I knew it would just make me too sad.