It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon here in Seoul, and I like it. I’ve missed the rain. I’ve been crazy-haggard busy, teaching of course but also dealing with various issues related to my leaving which have turned out to be a lot more complicated than they needed to be. Ugh. It ain’t easy, it ain’t pretty, but like everyone on Project Runway always says, it is what it is. And I’ll deal. There’s no way I’m letting the petty people turning me into one of them. Now onto the Countdown!
1) New Year’s Day – U2
2) A Girl Like You – Bertine Zetlitz
3) Echo – Cyndi Lauper
4) What It Feels Like For a Girl – Madonna
5) You’re Missing – Bruce Springsteen
It’s a star-studded list this week, and it starts off with U2, or as I once liked to call them, The Most Overrated Band In Music History. I’ve since come around for the most part. There’s no denying they’ve had some banging tracks (one of which figures quite prominently on the Top 101), and you gotta give them points for longetivity. But the second coming of Christ they are not, and Bono’s ego puts me off much of the time. And their last CD gets my vote for the Biggest Musical Disappointment of 2009 thus far (Eminem’s CD was terrible, too, but it at least one great song in “Beautiful”). Still, “New Year’s Day” is one of my favorite U2 songs, and it still packs a mean punch after all these years, enough to land it in second place on this Countdown.
Bertine Zetlitz is obviously the least-known of this bunch, but “A Girl Like You” is just irresistible. It’s also helped by what I call the European Girl Power Syndrome. Basically, a great pop song sounds even better when sung by a girl that has at least a hint of a European accent. It’s benefited everyone from ABBA to TATU to Lykke Li. I don’t think it does a whole lot of good for guys with European accents, unless they’re pure novelty acts like Falco.
Now we have the reprise of THE Musical Catfight of All-Time: Cyndi Lauper vs. Madonna. I was exposed to both soon after I immigrated to the U.S. in 1984. I still vividly remember watching the “Material Girl” video on MTV when my dad happened to walk in and said in clear astonishment, “Wow, she looks EXACTLY like Marilyn Monroe!” Well, Dad was clearly impressed, but I quickly chose to align myself with the Cyndi wannabes as opposed to Madonna-bes. She and the Culture Club were my first musical infatuations, no doubt about it. I think I was drawn to Cyndi more because she seemed so out there and yet seemed like a nice person at the same time. And being a kid, I loved the animation she incorporated into her “She Bop” video (little did I know then that it was all about self-gratification). In contrast, Madonna was all about gimme, gimme, gimme, and it was clear she couldn’t care less about kids.
Their songs for this countdown were both recorded decades after their rivalry ended (TKO by Madonna), but they’re both solid additions to their careers. “Echo” is the first Cyndi Lauper song I listened to repeatedly in ages, and Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For a Girl” is one of the stronger tracks from Music, which I consider to be her very best album (edging out Ray of Light, which was great but lacked the sense of Madonna-esque fun she retained in Music). If I had to choose between them, I would have to go with Madonna (the victor yet again!), but if it’s any consolation to Cyndi, she places higher than the Material Girl on the Top 101.
The final song on the countdown is Bruce Springsteen’s ode to 9/11, and hearing the song brought the memories right back. It was early morning in Korea when my mom called me and said that I needed to turn on the TV right away. I did, and I absolutely could not believe what I was seeing. I had to be still dreaming. It was surreal and unreal, everything but real, which it of course was. I went in to work to my hagwon, and the teachers could barely talk, and Sophia Teacher, from New York, just kept crying and crying. The kids were all abuzz, having seen all the images on TV but unable to really comprehend what any of it all meant (not that the adults could either). I remember starting each class that day with a prayer, and the kids, bless their hearts, all followed the prayers with complete silence and closed eyes, even the smart alecks and class clowns that usually never shut up. “Amen,” I said, which the kids repeated together, and I felt my heart in my throat. Listening to “You’re Missing” today, I found myself remembering. And praying again. Amen. Amen.
The Winner: Bruce Springsteen – You're Missing