Category Archives: Thinking

Songs that have defined me, Pt. 2

This post continues from an old one, which dealt with songs that defined me when I was young. Here I will focus on the last 20 years. God, that makes me feel old!

Mid-late 90’s

U2, “One” / “Stay”

Achtung Baby is U2’s last good album, and almost every song on it is great. “One” stands out from the rest of the album because it’s emotionally raw and acoustically pared down, with Bono’s voice stripped bare. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my favorite of the three video versions – the second one, directed by Mark Pellington, with slo-mo buffaloes – so I thought of the next best thing from the same era, the Wim Wenders-inspired video for the achingly beautiful “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” from the otherwise disappointing Zooropa.

Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb”

The Division Bell came out in 1994 and held some amazing songs, such as “High Hopes” and “Keep Talking,” but the real tour de force for me personally was The Wall, which I discovered in 1996. Everything about this album is Roger Waters-masterminded, except for 3 songs which were David Gilmour’s contribution. One of them is “Comfortably Numb,” and if somebody forced my hand I’d probably say it was my favorite song of all time, but I usually refrain from such statements. Whatever else it may be, it’s certainly Gilmour’s best guitar solo.

Shakespeare’s Sister, “Stay”

I need to be taken out on a stretcher after some songs, that’s how much emotion and energy is wrung out of me when I hear them. The fabulous vocal counterpoint of “Stay” does that to me. What a powerful, unique song.

Sting, “Why Should I Cry For You?”

Sting’s definitive 90’s album is Ten Summoner’s Tales, with hauntingly beautiful songs such as “Fields Of Gold” and “Shape Of My Heart.” My personal favorite, however, is 1991’s Soul Cages, a somewhat dark, introspective album about grief and the passage of time. “Mad About You” and “Island Of Souls” are incontrovertible masterpieces here, but the song that defined me was “Why Should I Cry For you?,” which from production down to the lyrics is just utter perfection for me.

Crowded House, “Fall At Your Feet”

This New Zealand/Australian band passed easily under the radar for most people, although the single “Weather With You” received heavy airplay in Europe. My introduction to them was the 1996 compilation album Recurring Dream which showcased the best songs from their decade-long career. I love almost every song on it, none more so than “Fall At Your Feet,” one of the most perfectly composed ballads ever.

The Cure, “Pictures Of You”

This is not one my very favorite Cure songs, but it carries the most emotional significance. I first heard Disintegration in 1998, as a gift and an auditory induction of sorts, from the person who later turned out to be the love of my life.

 

Sisters Of Mercy, “Ribbons”

This is another song that ripped through me right from the opening chords, and although it wasn’t the first Sisters song I’d heard, it was the one that got me into the band.

Depeche Mode, “Home”

This is a song of pure pain, powerfully rendered by the use of violins. The lyrics, too, always struck really close to home – no pun intended. For a band boasting so many excellent songs, this is certainly one of their best.

Edwyn Collins, “A Girl Like You”

This is another song calling for a stretcher afterwards. It’s Edwyn’s voice, it’s the guitars, it’s the percussions, it’s everything.

The Verve, “Bitter Sweet Symphony”

Urban Hymns is hands-down one of the best albums of the 90’s. It contains several songs that will be emotionally relevant in perpetuity, such as “Lucky Man” and “Sonnet,” but the one that I’ve always related to on so many levels is “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” a song of pain, defiance and endurance.

Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”

I remember waking up one morning around 7 o’clock in late spring of 1998, in the sun-drenched room of my host family’s house in Ohio, to this song on my radio-alarm clock. Admittedly, I was more open to soppy love ballads at that point, but it was nevertheless love at first hearing.

2000 – present

Pearl Jam, “Nothingman”

Vitalogy was on heavy rotation for me around 2001, but for some reason, this song struck the deepest chord and stayed with me beyond some others that I loved on this album.

A Perfect Circle, “Rose”

Mer De Noms was the gateway to Tool for me, and it left me in stunned silence the first time I heard it. I always thought “Rose” captured perfectly who I was at the time – this Hamlet-like, torn figure full of fear and doubt and indecision.

 

Tool, “Schism”

I explained the significance to me of “Schism” and Lateralus in an older post, so I won’t go into it again here, but it’s still a great excuse to let you (and me) watch the mind-blowing video for it.

Massive Attack, “Unfinished Sympathy”

There are many songs that remind me of my first great love, but this one explains perfectly how I felt in its aftermath. The title captures the essence of how I still think about it today.

Placebo, “Pure Morning”

I don’t know what I like better, the outlandish lyrics or the aesthetic perfection of the video for this stupendous song. I never really got into Placebo beyond their album Without You I’m Nothing, which contained some really good songs, so to me “Pure Morning” remains the highlight of their opus.

EKV, “Par Godina Za Nas” (A Couple Of Years For Us)

Ekaterina Velika (EKV) is the best band to have come out of ex-Yugoslavia. If they had written their songs in English, they would’ve made it big in the UK and Europe, I’ve no doubt. Penned in the late 80’s, this song turned out to be eerily prescient, both politically and in terms of the fate of the band itself. Beyond that, it’s the bass line that slays me each time.

Santigold, “L.E.S. Artistes”

If there was ever a personal anthem for me, it’s gotta be this song. The lyrics and overall mood of the song have defined almost an entire decade of my life since the song came out in 2008. Fierce and defiant as the woman who wrote it, this is the ultimate song about (female) self-empowerment.

 

What are some of the songs that have defined your life?

Eco Utopia vs. Dystopia: Doomsday Scenarios

⌈WARNING: Post contains spoilers for recent movies, TV series, and books!⌋

2014-2015 has been for me a period of increasing worry and unease over the fate of the planet, intermixed with and further exacerbated by concerns over government/Internet surveillance, growing political extremism and polarization, big pharma and big agribusiness.

It’s not like I ignored all these issues before, but I seem to have for some reason become hyperaware of them, probably in large part due to expanding my daily reading and viewing diet, so to speak, via different, mutually unrelated platforms: whereas before I mostly subsisted on a combo of fiction and locally printed newspapers and magazines, in the last two years I went almost entirely online – from literature and forums on thyroid illness, to documentaries, to mainstream newspaper articles, to independent online art&politics magazines combined with cultural and literary criticism. The only things I read in print now are books, and even that might change soon, as I’ve just received a Kindle for Christmas.

I recognized a similar thread of growing alarm and anxiety over the fate of humanity weaving its way through recent fiction as well as non-fiction, both in TV series/films and in books. Broadly stated, the shared topics of concern seem to be: preoccupation with the looming destruction of the planet through climate change, exhaustion of resources, as well as overpopulation, and the role of science and technology in engineering our future; specifically, the concept of scientists as demigods with power for good and for evil.

Of course, this concern is nothing new, especially not in fiction. Already in the nineteenth century, Mary Shelley gave us Victor Frankenstein as the scientist doubly usurping the roles of mother and god. And H.G.Wells didn’t exactly plot a rosy future of technological advancement, either: over-reliance on technology has rendered us useless and helpless to the point of extinction in The Time Machine, and a technologically advanced alien culture finds it very easy to overpower us in War of the Worlds. Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke later added a further twist to this technological angst – the idea that machines, or artificial intelligence, would be the ultimate end of us (echoed later in Matrix).

Science fiction turned out to be a very natural extension and medium for our growing concerns and speculations regarding our future. It has given us free reign to play out our darkest doomsday scenarios born of unease with the explosion of scientific and technological achievements in the course of a mere 100 years, while at the same time letting us believe in the comfort and safety of our daily lives.

Not all reactions to new science and technology have been doom and gloom, however. A very interesting strain of what Adam Kirsch dubs “childish optimism” runs parallel to the deep anxiety. During the early twentieth century, the Italian Futurists gushed with unbounded enthusiasm over the advent of modern technology in all aspects of life, from art and literature to fashion, design, architecture, and even gastronomy. The same utopian projections were echoed by the relatively obscure German science fiction writer Paul Scheerbart in the same time period.

WW2 and the subsequent era of nuclear energy and Cold War fears seemed to have quashed much of that optimism, as reflected in the dystopian worlds created by Orwell and Huxley, until the re-emergence of hopeful scenarios in the hippie epicenters of the late 60’s and 70’s. Herbert Spencer’s Dune, an emblematic product of that decade, stands poised between the two opposed strains as it travels from initial eco dystopia to a vision of an eco utopia. As Hari Kunzru puts it, Dune offers an “era-defining vision of personal and cosmic transformation” through its exploration of concerns ranging from ecology to religion to economy and politics. It remains relevant to this day, and a significant portion of current fiction echoes as well as advances its themes, both on the optimistic and the pessimistic end of the spectrum.

Several recent TV series, books and films in the science fiction/dystopia genre have chosen to pick up and continue the strain of profound anxiety over humanity’s future, but keeping it close rather than projecting it as a very distant future. The anxiety generated is either biological in nature (The Walking Dead; World War Z; Under the Skin), technological/societal (Mr. Robot; Black Mirror), or ecological/political (Utopia; InterstellarThe Book of Strange New Things; Mad Max: Fury Road). What I find particularly interesting about some of these works is that they do not limit themselves to merely portraying a not-so-distant, problematic future society that serves as a warning to viewers/readers in the present, but they also offer more or less radical potential solutions for the various problems humanity is actually facing in the here and now.

In the wildly odd but brilliant British TV series Utopia, the very real problem is overpopulation of the planet and the resulting over-exploitation of resources that will culminate in food shortages, starvation, and species extinction. The solution, proposed by a shadowy organization led by top scientists, is to downsize the planet’s population and curb human reproduction through a series of flu virus and vaccine releases under cover of a world-wide conspiracy. The project reeks of eugenics, channeling the Bene Gesserit machinations in Dune.

The drama consists in some characters being able to justify mass murder with a view of ultimately saving the planet, while others cannot condone it even if it dooms humanity. The solution reflects our current fear of a catastrophic outbreak, counterpointed by the anti-vaccine movement. Scientists are depicted as brilliant individuals with little or no moral compass playing god, which inevitably doesn’t end well for anyone.

In Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, humanity is already on the brink of extinction through food shortage, and the only remaining, desperate option is to abandon the planet for a new one. This is to be achieved either by catapulting scientists carrying frozen embryos through a wormhole to look for habitable planets, or by effectively turning the NASA space center into a Noah’s Ark that will use gravity for propulsion into outer space. Whatever the solution, humanity’s survival depends entirely on scientists, who are here shown as deeply flawed but ultimately just human. Perhaps it is this humility that ensures a happy ending in an apparent ecotopia.

Riding on this notion that we will be forced to leave the planet is Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things (which I’ve reviewed extensively here). Here, our future home planet has already been discovered and colonized, ostensibly for the purposes of scientific exploration and advancement. The trouble seems to rest just with the non-human natives, the only source of anxiety initially. The book thus first reads as an eco utopia predicated on successful scientific evolution, but the real reason for the colonization of a new planet is slowly revealed to be the imminent self-destruction of Earth through a political and economic collapse of society triggered by a series of natural catastrophes, which had apparently been foreseen by scientists, causing them to look for another planet to inhabit in the first place.

Scientists are here profiled against the backdrop of an alien planet and alien culture, and their behavior is observed and recorded by a pastor with a checkered past, sent to the planet in a missionary capacity. He doesn’t see them just as scientists, but primarily as human beings, whose previous failings on Earth make them uniquely qualified for a journey with no return ticket (as we find out later), but also haunt them, rendering them unqualified to start a new life and a new society on a new planet. Both religion and science are thus disqualified as solutions for the survival of humanity, and love is proffered, not as the ultimate solution, but rather as an open-ended question shot across the universe.

On different sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Robot and Black Mirror are both cyber dystopias about life in the digital age, played out almost entirely online, and completely controlled and dominated by technology. They tap into the 200-year-old, continuous narrative of fear of technology and its potential for bringing about the end of the world. Mr. Robot delves deeper into current concerns, introducing an unreliable narrator who poses as a cyber vigilante, and asking questions about online vs. offline identity, cyber security, identity theft, cyberstalking and bullying, and hacking. It then goes on to tear right into the fabric of neo-liberal capitalism, critiquing corporate culture, the financial industry, and our heavily indebted way of life.

The suggested way out of corporate/capitalist hell is a radical hack into the information system that brings down the existing structure of society by erasing debt records. The ensuing chaos and anarchy are celebrated on the streets as CEOs commit suicide publicly. Technology, which is still to be feared, now also acts as a moral scourge. The idea obviously recalls the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was also meant to free society from the shackles of debt but did little to shake the financial industry.

Black Mirror, referring to the dark, shiny screens of the various devices we now use to communicate with the world, is an altogether much darker, much bleaker affair. It simply projects one horrible future scenario after another while offering no solutions. What makes it even more unsettling, is that some of the scenarios are already dangerously close to becoming reality. (The first episode has, in fact, already been famously mirrored in reality.) The lack of solutions harks back to the earliest prototypes of science fiction, which served both as criticism of the then actual conditions in society, and as a warning about unintended consequences. It’s also a nod to the original Twilight Zone, which didn’t deal with possible futures, but simply reimagined the present using what was already there.

Back in the non-fictional world, doomsday scenarios are actually given serious thought by scientists in institutes created specifically for this purpose. I just came across an article about it in The New Yorker. It profiles Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher concerned with the probability of artificial intelligence eliminating humans. While I appreciate any text that gives me food for thought, and I like reading about brilliant people, I’m also reminded of how much depends on the decisions of those selfsame scientists that I’ve discussed earlier. I wish we made such quantum leaps in emotional intelligence as we’ve made in science and technology.

Seven years old, stealth, and scared

How brave. How beautiful. How heart-breaking that we live in such a world of cruel contradictions.

gendermom

stealth2Oh friends, I feel like I’ve really screwed up.

I’ve tried so hard to strike a balance in my parenting, attempting to ensure my child’s safety and privacy  without instilling a sense of shame in her trans identity.  And I think I’ve done pretty well.  She has friends of all ages who are transgender and who are healthy and happy and successful. She even got to meet TV star Laverne Cox, and be told by that beautiful trans woman that “transgender is beautiful.”  I think she believed Ms. Cox.  I think she knows she’s beautiful.  I think she even feels kind of proud to be trans, like she’s part of a special club.

But I still think I’ve missed the mark.  I have been so focused on helping her maintain her privacy, on telling her, again and again, that only SHE gets to decide who “knows,” that I think I’ve…

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Songs that have defined me – Pt. 1

I think you’re gonna laugh when you see the list of songs that have been influential in my life. Partly because I’m a child of the 80’s, and the list is heavy on over-the-top music from that period. And partly because of the eclectic, heterogenous nature of the compilation, which reflects the influence of my parents’ musical taste combined with early 90’s MTV. Be that as it may, I love these songs today just as much as I did back when I first heard them, and they still move me just as deeply.

I divided my list in four distinct musical periods because that’s how I always sort them in my head when I think about them. Some of these songs I only discovered a decade (or even two) after they first came out, so that’s where I placed them. In some cases, I had to include more than one song by particular artists because they’re attached to some of my favorite albums where practically every song has special meaning for me. And some artists’ work spans decades, so they correspondingly appear in each.

80’s

Ultravox, “Vienna”

From the first time I heard it on my father’s reel-to-reel tape recorder until now, “Vienna” has filled me with superstitious awe. I was really digging the New Romantic movement at the time, and bands like Spandau Ballet and Human League I still consider to be some of the best things that happened to pop music. Together with its fantastic video, “Vienna” represents the summit of the New Romantic wave.

The Police, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”

I guess ‘superstitious awe’ covers this one, as well. I was 3 years old when I first heard this song, and it simply blew my mind. The Police continue to be one of my favorite bands.

Queen, “Radio Ga Ga”

This song was on the same tape as “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” which means I was the same age (3) when I heard it. I couldn’t for the life of me explain why I like it so much, especially since Queen have made far better songs during their career, but I guess it was their first song to reach my ears so I have an umbilical chord-type of attachment to it.

Madonna, “Like A Virgin”

This was the first Madonna song for me, and the video accompanying it is one of the first ones I ever saw on TV. I remember being exceedingly puzzled by the video’s sexual overtones as represented by the man with a lion’s head. (I still find it vaguely unsettling.) Plus, it’s set in Venice, a city I got entranced with around that same time.

David Bowie, “Magic Dance” (Labyrinth OST)

There are no words to describe my eternal enchantment with Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Either you know what I’m talking about, or you don’t.

Yes, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”

My father’s reel-to-reel tape recorder is to blame for many of my musical intoxications, which often didn’t go beyond one song that I would replay to exhaustion. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” is one of these. I saw the brilliant video for it only much later.

The Cars, “Drive”

In my humble opinion, this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. So haunting. Gotta love New Wave.

Late 80’s / Early 90’s

From 1989 to 1993 there were three albums on heavy rotation in our house, on a newly-acquired Sony CD Player: Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” U2’s “The Joshua Tree,” and Zucchero’s “Oro Incenso & Birra.” I think these were also the very first three CDs my parents ever bought. And I’d say they were probably also the three defining albums of my early teens. As it turned out, they were also seminal albums for the artists in question.

U2, “Where The Streets Have No Name” / “With Or Without You”

To my mind, The Joshua Tree is U2’s best album, and their pinnacle as a band. Selecting the most influential song(s) from an album that has no subpar songs was tough, especially since my appreciation of the album grew over the years, with some songs accruing more meaning later in life. But in the early 90’s, these two songs always gave me goosebumps. The intro on “Where The Streets Have No Name” makes me wanna go to church and pray, as well as showcasing The Edge’s signature frenetic riff.

Zucchero, “Diamante” / “Senza Una Donna”

The stuff that this Italian singer-songwriter churned out in the late 80’s and early 90’s remains his best to date, although his last album from 2010 comes close to matching it. The duet with Paul Young on “Senza Una Donna” received constant air-play and helped propel him to fame outside Italy. 1989’s Oro Incenso & Birra (a pun on gold, frankincense, and myrrh in Italian) is a one-off hybrid of blues rock and classic Italian Sanremo-style songwriting sensibility, brilliantly produced, and with no bad song on it. I’m happy to say it has withstood the test of time.

The Beatles, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” / “Getting Better” / “A Day In The Life”

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was my first Beatles album, and it was a life-altering experience. Along with Revolver and The White Album, I consider it to be one of their best albums, and one of the most important of the 20th century. Choosing just one song off it was impossible.

Aerosmith, “Janie’s Got A Gun”

Aerosmith are a band I have little liking for. Their 90’s output particularly irritates me. I was barely 10 years old, however, when my father brought home “Janie’s Got A Gun” on a reel and played it. As is so often the case with me, it was the intro that blew my mind. For me, it’s still one of the best rock songs ever made.

http://www.vevo.com/watch/aerosmith/janies-got-a-gun/USIV20400186

Guns ‘n’ Roses, “Patience”

The last two years of my elementary school education were really marked by Guns ‘n’ Roses, who were then enjoying their heyday. I loved everything they were putting out in ’93 and ’94. My particular fondness for “Patience” stems from learning to play it on the guitar, and I share that fondness with my father who taught me how to play it. We both have a thing for acoustic guitar songs, and back then we had a slew of them on our repertoire that we rehearsed together. Good times. “Patience” is now a classic, praised be the absent gods.

http://www.myvideo.de/musik/guns-n-roses/guns-n-roses-patience-video-m-5568558

Pearl Jam, “Jeremy”

It was 1992. I was 12 years old and sitting in front of my TV before going to school when the video for “Jeremy” premiered on MTV. Very few songs can boast such an original, perfectly executed intro. When the first couple of chords rang out in the living room, my mind quietly imploded, and I knew that my life, as I then knew it, had somehow irrevocably changed. I went on to learn to really love Vs. and Vitalogy much later, but for me Pearl Jam’s best album is Ten.

Faith No More, “A Small Victory”

For some reason, I never really got into FNM beyond their greatest hits, although I think they were a great band. But this song has stuck with me ever since I first heard it in 1992, and has been the ringtone on my cell phone for a very long time.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers, “Under The Bridge” / “Breaking The Girl”

I don’t know why RHCP allowed themselves to become so commercialized and bland, and I don’t know how their music went on to stray so far from 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. What I do know is that that album generated some of their best songs. “Under The Bridge” was hugely successful and probably became irritating to many people due to all the airplay it received, but I always found it haunting. My favorite, however, and I dare say their best song ever, is “Breaking The Girl.”

Sophie B. Hawkins, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover”

I need to be taken out on a stretcher when I hear this song. Every. Single. Time.

Madonna feat. Prince, “Love Song”

Like A Prayer represents Madonna at her best, and to me is the highlight of her career, as well as of pop music. There are almost no bad songs on this album. “Love Song” is a hidden gem on it.

 

How to consciously uncouple

As we all know by now thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow, ‘conscious uncoupling’ is just a phrase for breaking up in PretentiousSpeak. Whatever you wanna call it, splitting from your long-term partner is never anything but painful, and the recovery process usually takes a long time. Even if the split was amicable, you have to give yourself time to literally flush the other person from your system. And if the relationship was in any way abusive, or simply underscored by negativity, it’s going to take even more time to rediscover and redefine yourself.

My recipe would be to equip yourself with some relevant music for the duration of the process. Personally, I find that the best kind of rock and pop music is created exactly under such circumstances – in periods of pain, transition, and change. There aren’t that many great songs talking about happiness and satisfaction, nor do musicians produce great songs in a happy, healthy state of mind. The human mind at peace with itself and the world – if such a thing exists – is simply not profoundly creative. (Just look at what happened to Metallica when they sobered up.)

My favorites are songs and albums dealing with dissolving relationships of any kind – a kind of letting go process that some of these artists managed to capture in all its subtle nuances. Although all these songs/albums revolve around the same topic, and convey more or less the same feelings, thoughts and reactions we go through during our various uncouplings, what particularly interests me are the different moments or stages in a relationship that this music references – either dealing with its aftermath and analyzing it in retrospect, or chronicling its decline and eventual dissolution, or addressing  specific moments of clarity when you take stock of the relationship, and realize it’s not going to survive.

The music I’ve chosen here reflects my personal tastes and preferences, and is no way meant to encompass all the good music made on this subject across different genres. This is simply music that speaks to me on a very deep, very personal level.

Albums:

Moloko, Statues

It takes no degree in close reading to realize right away that Moloko’s final, 2003 album is an electronic ode to the couple who fronted the band, Róisín Murphy and Mark Brydon. Both the band and the couple dissolved after touring for the album, and made no secret of the fact that it chronicles the decline and eventual demise of their relationship.  I was just coming out of an intense and troubled relationship myself when this album appeared, and I held onto it for dear life, much as I did with Tool’s Lateralus. I won’t go into a detailed analysis of each song (and there is no subpar song on this album), but just highlight a few of my personal favorites.

The opening track “Familiar Feeling” is a bittersweet remembrance of what brought the couple together in the first place – that feeling of having met the other person somewhere before, all the things they have in common – and also an attempt to reassure themselves that everything is as it should be in the wake of first doubts and misgivings about the relationship. A familiar situation, I daresay, at least in my case.

Nothing can come close to this familiar feeling
You say it all without ever speaking

The slightly self-pitying “Forever More” with its hypotheticals (“What if I drown in a sea of devotion?”) questions the concept of eternal love and the ability of humans to sustain it, as well as the driving urge to find a partner to share life’s journey. Let’s just say that this song is me personified in late 2003.

Gotta find me somebody
But there’s nobody to love me

With its deceptively cheery rhythm, “Blow X Blow” is the heartbreaker of the album for me, capturing the yearning for your ex-lover while you desperately try to disentangle yourself from the emotion. There is nothing to do in the end but face the pain, although it’s literally-not-figuratively killing you.

Kill me slow
Blow by blow
What a way to go
Hey hey hey
You didn’t mean those things you said
You didn’t mean those things

Tool, Lateralus

Not exactly a break-up album, but definitely one that addresses the issue of letting go, especially of poisonous relationships/notions/ideas. Since I’ve already discussed the album at some length here, and highlighted a few songs, I’ll give more space now to the brilliant “The Grudge,” a mini-study in alchemy, forgiveness, and giving up control:

Give away the stone
Let the oceans take and transmutate
This cold and fated anchor
Give away the stone
Let the waters kiss and transmutate
These leaden grudges into gold
Let go

Adele, 21

When Adele burst onto the music scene with this highly autobiographical album, it wasn’t just her beautiful voice and great songs that captured so many people, but also the deeply-felt lyrics describing the circumstances of her tumultous relationship, and her misery after the break-up. “Someone Like You” simply wouldn’t get off the top of the charts for months, and it’s easy to see why. But my personal favorite from the album is “Turning Tables,” probably because it so eloquently captured some of the feelings I had in my previous relationship.

Under haunted skies I see you
Where love is lost your ghost is found
I braved a hundred storms to leave you
As hard as you try, no, I will never be knocked down
I can’t keep up with your turning tables
Under your thumb I can’t breathe

Songs:

In my book, this remains the best pop/rock song ever written on the subject of relationships, and one of the best music videos ever. Another long-term relationship on the rocks, but in this one Kate is trying to come to terms with the fact that humans hurt those they love, and allow themselves to be hurt in return. Appealing to God is in vain, and getting the other person to put themselves in your shoes (and vice versa) is the hardest thing to do. Basic facts of life, learn them, deal with them as best you can.

You don’t want to hurt me
But see how deep the bullet lies
Unaware, I’m tearing you asunder
There is thunder in our hearts
Is there so much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me we both matter, don’t we?

Close in the footsteps of “Running Up That Hill” is the poignant, dark, desolate treatise on the slow, cold death of love that is Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Nothing parallels the desperation of realizing that two people who used to like each other and shared so much are on different roads that will only continue to diverge.

A relatively recent favorite is Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” a very original song from several different aspects, the most curious one being the late introduction (some 3 minutes into the song) of a female counterpart (Kimbra) who suddenly casts a different light on the man’s story: from his complaints about the way he was treated in the aftermath of the break-up and all the “I guess that I don’t need that, though/Now you’re just somebody that I used to know” the song takes a fork in the path and Kimbra tells us (I always sing this part from the top of my lungs, that’s how much I relate to it):

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And that I wouldn’t catch you hung up on
Somebody that you used to know

Another favorite from a more recent pop batch is Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” which maybe isn’t quite there in the pantheon of Kate Bush and Joy Division and Tool, but the song came out round the time my last relationship was going down the drain, and the lyrics captured my mood perfectly:

White knuckles and sweaty palms from hanging on too tight
Clenched shut jaw, I’ve got another headache again tonight
Eyes on fire, eyes on fire, and they burn from all the tears
I’ve been crying, I’ve been crying, I’ve been dying over you
Tie a knot in the rope, tryin’ to hold, tryin’ to hold
But there’s nothing to grasp so I let go

To end on a slightly different note, the last two are songs from the fringe, and counterpoint Pink quite nicely, seeing as they belong to the metal genre, but when they’re not sacrificing goats during the long dark polar winters, these guys suffer just like the rest of us.

The heart-breaking video about loneliness in old age offers an interesting alternative to the usual esthetics of love song videos, whereas the song deals with the same relationship pattern discussed before: initial passion is slowly substituted by misunderstandings, fights, pain, and eventual loss of interest in trying to make it work.

Each teardrop from your eyes
Makes something inside me die
Each of these days that draws us apart
Takes a piece a from my heart
Kill me kill me kill me again with your love and chase the storm away
Bring me bring me bring me the end with your love
And haunt the demons away

On the other hand, Opeth’s “To Bid You Farewell” offers a  largely instrumental, meditative, quietly despairing perspective on love gone awry. It’s a piece I mostly listen to in the fall because it somehow best belongs to that time of year, and if you give it a try I’m sure you’ll understand why.

Devotion eludes
And in sadness I lumber
In my own ashes
I am standing without a soul

 

 

Who owns ELT? ‘The Halo Effect’ by Nick Michelioudakis

I normally steer clear of my work on this blog, but being a non-native English teacher and currently finding myself in a situation where many employers won’t even consider me for a job because I’m a non-native speaker, makes this issue very close to my heart. It’s not even so much about teaching as it is about issues such as discrimination, misconception and superficiality.

TEFL Equity Advocates

Before you start reading Nick’s post, please watch the video below which explains ‘the halo effect’ Nick refers to in the article, and shows how superficial features shape our opinions about people.

In the EFL world, being a non-Native English Speaker Teacher (NNEST) means you’re Melvin, the short guy.

Nick Michelioudakis “Who owns English? Is it the native speakers (NS) or the non-native ones (NNS)? And who owns ELT? Is it Native English Speaker Teachers (NESTs)s or NNESTs? I would like to argue that in the latter case, we still have a long way to go before we come close to anything resembling a level playing field.

It all boils down to accent of course… It’s such a shibboleth, isn’t it? The problem is its saliency. Research shows that babies as young as 6 months old can detect whether someone is speaking with a foreign accent (and, for good evolutionary…

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May wishlist

Books:

Rebecca Mead, My Life In Middlemarch (2014)

Middlemarch is one of my favorite books, and as such I periodically re-read it. I certainly want to do it again before reading Mead’s book because I want: a) a full immersion experience, and b) I want to remember some of the details from the book so that I can see how my approach to it clashes/agrees with Mead’s. Yes, I’m a nerd. And yes, I’m actually reading two books for a single entry.

The book has been a lifetime companion to Mead, and she’s taken to analyzing it from a subjective, semi-autobiographical viewpoint, which in itself merits a read if you ask me.

J.R.Ward, The King (2014)

In complete contrast to the high-brow reference above, I’m a big fan of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood paranormal romance series (I’d never read romances before), and as such I’m eagerly awaiting the latest installment, which I plan to follow up with a post reviewing the whole series so far. Nerdy in a sexy way, no?

Music: Neneh Cherry, Blank Project (2014)

I’ve always liked Neneh’s work. Back in February I read an interview with her in The Guardian about her upcoming album release (the first one in 18 years) and listened to the album stream, which blew my socks off. I think this could easily be the best album of 2014 for me, and I’m usually not wrong about these things.

Dhafer Youssef, Digital Prophecy (2003)

I really enjoy Middle Eastern music and the oud is one of my favorite instruments. I thought I’d been made aware of pretty much every artist of note from this niche, but it turns out I hadn’t. Dhafer Youssef came recommended on a desert-island-top-10-music-albums list recently compiled by Kenan Malik on his Pandaemonium blog.

Google image search
Google image search

Speaking of oud music, let me use this opportunity to promote the work of a dear friend’s husband, a very talented Croatian oud player, who currently has a new record out:

And just because the word ‘wishlist’ triggered a bunch of memories for me, I’ll let Eddie Vedder do my send-off: