Archive for the ‘songwriting’ Category

Best of 2008! The Readers Weigh In

January 2, 2009

ribbonWell, the quantity of responses was a little disappointing, I admit. BUT the quality of the responses was anything but.  Each response I got for the “Best of” categories listed warranted either an immediate “Oh, yeah” or an “Ooh, I have to check that out” from me. So kudos to the respondents who were nice enough to participate.

And now, the list:

Best Fiction:

Bestseller by Keith Latch: A horror novel in e-book form, this was an area of unplumbed depths for me. Thanks for eBookguru for the recommendation.

The A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin: This recommendation for this epic fantasy series also comes from eBookguru.

Best Non-Fiction:

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Although technically published in 2006, reader Jill read it in 2008 and loved it. I also read it in 2008 and was utterly blown away by the story, uncomplicatedly told, of Greg Mortenson’s journey from mountain climber to advocate for promoting girls’ education and literacy through his Central Asia Institute organization.

Best Music:

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – David Byrne and Brian Eno. Reader Pam sums it up when she calls it “some yummy, brainy, infectious popaliciousness!”

Best Movies:

WALL-E (story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon): eBookguru thought this was one of the best films of 2008, and I have to agree. How does a film with so few words qualify as great writing? From the story, which transcended time and genre to transport kids and grown-ups alike.

Rachel Getting Married (screenplay by Jenny Lumet): Reader Jill voted for this film as one of the year’s best, because “I loved the characters who play against type.”

Now, for all you readers who perhaps partook of a little too much eggnog or were busy having family time, and didn’t get the chance to put your two cents worth in, I will still accept your recommendations! It is never too late (unless of course you’re writing about something from 2009, in which case it will have to wait).

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WordHappy Reader “Best of 2008” List: Thinking Caps On

December 24, 2008

j0396070Now, you know and I know that these next few days are going to be a haze of wrapping paper and too much food. And no matter what holiday you celebrate, the fact remains that almost everything will be closed – and if you’re getting hammered with snow like much of the country – you don’t want to go out anyway.

So reflect – ponder, if you will – on your top-of-the-line choices for the best of 2008. What movies did you see that knocked your socks off? What music did you listen to and actually notice the words? What books did you read that made you stay up way past your bedtime? These are the things I want to hear about.

I will be taking your choices in the areas of:

  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Television
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Other

The “Other” category is for anything else that gave you goosebumps that somehow isn’t included in the above. Please post a comment with your recommendations below. I’d love it if you’d forward this post to your friends as well, so we can get even more participation.

I’ll take comments up until December 31st. Then I’ll compile a list of everyone’s choices and make it the first WordHappy post of 2009!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and  Best wishes to you all!

A Colbert Christmas: What Would Santa Think?

December 21, 2008

stephencolbertI watched Stephen Colbert’s A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All last night, and today, every time I think about the show, it still makes me laugh. From start to finish, the show had an inspired lunacy that managed to mock Christmas specials without mocking the holiday itself. And oh, my, is it funny. At one point, I was so helpless with laughter that my spouse asked me if I needed a Heimlich maneuver.

‘Cuz here’s the thing. The show is filled with song, with lyrics to all written by David Javerbaum. And the songs skewer virtually every genre out there. There’s a patriotic country Christmas song, “Have I Got a Present for You,” sung by Toby Keith:

Christmas is as American as apple pie
It’s a late December version of the Fourth of July
And they may go by a different name
But Uncle Sam and Santa Claus are one and the same

Then, Willie Nelson, dressed as a wise man (!), sings a song that is so pretty that, until you hear the chorus, you would swear belongs in the canon of classic Christmas songs. But then you hear the words and you know that it must never be so (except in NORML households):

And like the child born in this manger
This herb is mild yet it is strong
And it brings peace to friend and stranger
Good will to men lies in this bong

There is also a lovely duet between Colbert and Jon Stewart, “Can I Interest You in Hannukah?” But my absolute favorite, the one that prompted the Heimlich offer, is the sexy ode “Nutmeg,” sung by John Legend. Probably not one to sing in front of the wee children:

Girl, I’m going to rock you like a cradle
You lick the nutmeg off my ladle
It’s pure, it’s refined
And it’s ready to grind

Nuttiness this good does not come around often. If you missed this Comedy Central special, don’t be sad. It will show again on Christmas day.

I will never drink eggnog again with the innocence I once did.

All I Want for Christmas: Nifty Gift Ideas 2008

December 11, 2008

elkaAll I want for Christmas is world peace, an end to homelessness, some cute ankle boots that will fit over my high instep, and a really good 2009 television season.

But if you’re not shopping for me, and you need some tried-and-true gifts for people who know the power of words, I can help you out. Even better: most of these gifts fall in the $25 and under range. Disclaimer: I carry no affiliation with any shopping powerhouse like Amazon or Target or anyone, so I’m not going to include links to these places. You will have to do a little of that work yourself. Sorry.

BODACIOUSLY BRILLIANT BOOKS

The Likeness by Tana French: For mystery lovers, this is the jackpot. This is the book that makes you call in sick to work so you can read more of it. Cassie Maddox, a former undercover cop, gets thrown into the investigation of a woman’s death – a woman who bears the name of her old undercover identity and who could be her own twin. French is an outrageously good writer, and I could not find a false step in the intricate plotting of this novel.

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey: This book is for the armchair traveler with a taste for fabulous writing. The editors assigned writers of reputation with varied styles, such as Ann Patchett, Tony Bourdain, and Sarah Vowell to contribute essays on every state in the union. The result is a smorgasbord of delicious writing that gives a real sense to the place (not all of it complimentary, incidentally). I’m only a third through my copy; it must be read in small doses, like eating flourless chocolate cake. Are you hungry yet?

Run, by Ann Patchett: In a season that revolved around politics, this quiet novel managed to combine politics, family, and race in an enormously moving and engaging way. It may not be as showy as Patchett’s Bel Canto, but it may be her best work yet.

DIVINE DVDs

For the discerning couch potato in your life, you can’t go wrong with these picks:

Mad Men, Season One: Time travel back to the early 60s when advertising was king, and people smoked and patted women on the behind and never had a second thought about it.  It’s a mad trip, almost Shakespearean in its psychology, with Don Draper as its tortured Hamlet. Great writing with an obsession with detail makes this a must-see.

State of Play: This BBC miniseries aired in 2003, but the DVD was just released in 2008, so technically, it counts. And a darn fine thing, too, since this was great drama. The series follows journalists of The Herald as they try to uncover the story behind the death of a young political researcher who may have been involved with a high profile Labour MP. The plot crackles, and the acting by terrific performers like James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, John Simm, and Kelly Macdonald, makes this a drama that doesn’t leave your consciousness easily.

The Wire, The Complete Fifth Season: Since no one apparently watched this other than me and about 10 other people (yes, still bitter about that), what better way to catch up on the best series in the history of television – SERIOUSLY – than by picking up this DVD. Season Four was probably its best, but its fifth and last season still packs a powerful punch. Actually, DVD may be the ideal way to watch this series and really appreciate its attention to story and detail.

SINFULLY STUPENDOUS CDs

Finally, a few picks for the music lover:

Break Up the Concrete, The Pretenders: This CD is filled with songs you would swear that Chrissie Hynde wrote and recorded years ago, they have such a timeless classic feel. Add a driving beat and it’s a keeper.

Rattlin’ Bones, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson: Australian Kasey Chambers has been one of the most distinctive voices to emerge on the folk scene in many years. This latest CD, collaborated on with her husband Shane Nicholson, is an addicting listen.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Flying High for Flight of the Conchords

December 4, 2008

fotcI just saw a commercial last night for the upcoming season of HBO‘s Flight of the Conchords, and I was filled with a glee that has been, sadly, almost entirely absent this television season. This show is a big part of why I still have an HBO subscription, truth be told. It’s that good.

Flight of the Conchords follows New Zealand’s (self-billed) 4th most popular digi-folk parody duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as they try to find success in New York City. Aided by their manager and New Zealand cultural attache Murray (Rhys Darby), adviser Dave (Arj Barker), and single obsessed fan Mel (Kristen Schaal), they achieve what New Zealanders might consider success (one of the running gags of the series addresses the lowered expectations of Kiwis).

I’d first heard Flight of the Conchords on the radio, where I had to pull over while driving because I was laughing so hard at their song “Business Time,” which deals with the nuances of the scheduled Wednesday night intimacies:

Conditions are perfect for making love.
You turn to me and say something sexy like, “I might go to bed. I’ve got work in
the morning.”
I know what you’re trying to say, baby.
You’re trying to say “Aww, yeah. It’s business time.”

What the HBO show managed miraculously to do was to take that same sense of low-key absurdity and translate it into a half-hour comedy. Since the show isn’t overpopulated with characters, it can exploit them by letting them play out silly situations extremely seriously, so that the dialogue sounds as if it could come out in one of their songs:

Murray: Be careful with it. Don’t stand next to any big magnets.
Jemaine: Why would I stand next to a big magnet?
Murray: I don’t know what you do in your personal life.

See what I mean? Brilliant.

The new season of Flight of the Conchords starts January 18, 2009 on HBO. If the second season is even half as good as the first season, it’ll be the best show on television.

Slump Days

October 7, 2008

My dear readers, I do apologize for the silence. I have been racking my brain for great writing recently and sadly, coming up empty. The new TV season, while diverting, hasn’t given me anything to shout from the rooftops about. My bedside reading has been a little ho-hum. What’s a maven of good taste to do?

Here’s what. Throw it out to you guys. Someone, somewhere, must be excited about television, film, music, or books. If so, give it up in the Comments section. We need you. I need you.

Guilty Pleasure: Sugarland’s Love on the Inside

September 21, 2008

I have a dirty little secret. I am deeply, deeply in like with a country music album. See, here’s where I alienate any country music fans, for why should I be defensive about this, as well as lose street cred with non-country music listeners who can’t deal with the twang. But let me shoot myself in the foot a little more and see if I can’t convert a few to my way of thinking.

I first read about Sugarland in a profile written by Whitney Pastorek from that magazine chock-full of potential bad influences, Entertainment Weekly. Now, my normal musical taste runs toward folk-rock, 80’s pop (sorry – formative school years – can’t help it), singer-songwriters, and alt-country bluegrass (which is so obscure that it’s totally hip). The last country artist I bought was Mary Chapin Carpenter (who, frankly, never sounded all that country in the first place and really fell into my singer-songwriter category). But this EW article made Sugarland sound as if they’d had some of the same musical influences I’d had, so I had to check them out. And was promptly blown away.

Sugarland is currently led by two musicians – Jennifer Nettles, who sounds like Reba McIntyre on steroids, and Kristian Bush, formerly of the folk rock band Billy Pilgrim. They have an insane amount of energy that practically bursts out of the stereo. But what has kept me coming back to the songs again and again is their lyrics. There’s the rapid fire rant of “It Happens,” (written by Nettles, Bush, and Bobby Pinson) sung without taking a deep breath:

Now it’s poor me, why me, oh me, boring
The same old worn out, blah, blah story
There’s no good explanation for it at all

There are the haunting, poetic images framed in the questions of “Love” (written by Nettles, Bush, and Tim Owens):

Is it the one you call home
Is it the Holy Land
Is it standing right here holding your hand
Is it just like the movies
Is it rice and white lace
Is it the feeling I get when I wake to your face

And there’s the hilarious insanity of a tribute to “Steve Earle”(written by Nettles and Bush):

Steve Earle, Steve Earle, please write a song for me
I promise I won’t take a dime when it comes my time to leave
The others wanted your whole heart
But I just want your sleeve
Steve Earle, Steve Earle, please write a song for me.

If you haven’t taken a listen to them yet, go try it now. I’ll keep your secret.

The Best Medicine: Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog

August 24, 2008

Since, y’know, I’m always right on the pulse of this whole Internet thingy, I actually DID hear about Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, an Internet-only musical film, before the film went live, as it were. After all, it’s a creation of Joss Whedon, genius behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Of course, the date the first episode was released, I had something going on – don’t even remember what – and (shamed head-hanging here), I missed it.

I was prepared to take my lumps and wait for the eventual DVD release, since I don’t have a video iPod, when like angels singing from heaven, a friend told me I could watch the three episodes (or one 42-minute video) on hulu.com for FREE! I gotta say, this project made me happier than anything I’ve seen in a long time. The film is written by Joss Whedon and his brothers Zack and Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, and features the same kind of quirky, enhanced-everyday speak that the residents of Buffy’s Sunnydale spoke so well.

This time, the protagonist is Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), who, true to the title, blogs about his trials and tribulations and breaks into song every once in a while. But while he is an evil genius, he has dreams just like the rest of us: to have his application accepted by the Evil League of Evil, and to work up the courage to talk to the girl of his dreams, Penny (Felicia Day). If only his nemesis – because there must always be a nemesis – Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) wouldn’t keep interfering.

Did I mention the dialogue? It’s a hoot (and the songwriting is top-notch as well):

Dr. Horrible: A lot of guys ignore the laugh, and that’s about standards. I mean, if you’re gonna get into the Evil League of Evil, you have to have a memorable laugh. What, do you think Bad Horse didn’t work on his whinny? His terrible death-whinny?

or

Captain Hammer: Stand back everyone, nothing here to see. Just imminent danger and in the middle of it me. Yes, Captain Hammer’s here, hair blowing in the breeze. The day needs my saving expertise. Man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Seems destiny ends with me saving you. The only doom that’s looming is in loving me to death. I’ll give you a second to catch your breath.

Great writing, great acting, great songs. This one’s just what the doctor ordered.

Tops for Pops: Best Father’s Day Movie, Book, and Song

June 14, 2008

Field of DreamsFather’s Day snuck up on me this year like a cat in the dark. My cards got off late, the children did not draw a “too cute to live” picture in time, gifts only just got ordered. I do hope this is not proof that Father’s Day is the second-class citizen to Mother’s Day, as I’ve heard bandied about in some quarters. I would rather point to its date falling in the same week that school lets out as a possible defense for additional scatter-brained-ness.

Thus, as penance for my Father’s Day shortcomings, let me offer some bodaciously good Father’s Day offerings in multiple media.

My pick for all-time best movie for Father’s Day, guaran-darn-teed to make men of all ages and macho levels reach surreptitiously for the tissues, is Field of Dreams. Frankly, the Kevin Costner/Sports/Western movie genres (note: no Waterworld or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) could make up a Father’s Day movie bonanza all on their own. But Field of Dreams, based on the book by W.P. Kinsella and adapted for the screen by Phil Alden Robinson (who was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar for his efforts, by the way), is one of the very best. It involves baseball, the grown-up tensions between being “responsible” and following a dream, and the bond between fathers and sons. The final scene, where Ray (Costner) has realized the player John is his dad, and that he is about to walk away, is perfect in its simplicity:

John: Well, good night, Ray.
Ray: Good night, John.
[They shake hands and John begins to walk away.]
Ray: Hey. . . Dad?
[John turns.]
Ray [choked up]: You wanna have a catch?
John: I’d like that.

I’m getting verklempt just typing it.

My second Father’s Day pick showcases the paragon of all good dads, Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird. While the movie is one of the best adaptations of a novel that I can think of, and while I can’t read the book without picturing Gregory Peck in those glasses as Atticus, I still contend that if you haven’t ever read the book, you should; and if you have read it, then you should re-read it, for the simple beauty of Lee’s prose. How perfect a character description is it to paint the pint-sized Dill as “a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.” Now, I can see as how Atticus might be an intimidating choice for a dad, because he’s so darn perfect. But most fathers I know have the same depth of love for their children that Lee’s writing depicts Atticus having for his children, so I would say he’s less of a role model than a tribute to fatherhood at its best.

Finally, for a song that is a gorgeous tribute to a father, take a listen to Ricky Skaggs‘ song, “My Father’s Son“, taken off his CD of the same name (1991). Skaggs has been playing bluegrass for more than 36 years, both as a singer and mandolin player, and his songwriting skills are prodigious. In “My Father’s Son,” Skaggs writes in the chorus:

Well a rich man writes the book of laws
a poor man must defend
But the highest laws are written on the
hearts of honest men
When that cup is passed to me to do what
must be done
Or a chunk of coal just carve these words
I was just my father’s son

So happy Father’s Day, guys! Enjoy the day, and know that you’re second to none.

Interview Update: Justin Roberts Hits the Big Leagues

May 18, 2008

Justin Roberts Pop FlyJust a quick note for the Justin Roberts fans in the crowd: He was the subject of a story for the Major League Baseball website, MLB.com! Written by Doug Miller, the article profiles Roberts and the origins of the title song off his new CD, Pop Fly. While this is justifiably cool for Justin Roberts, I feel compelled to remind you all, we got the scoop before MLB did. Heh heh heh.