Morning Countdown #15 (7/25/09)

July 25, 2009

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The goodbyes and the gifts just keep on coming. Today I had dinner with a girl that I’ve been tutoring for the last five years. She’s going to be starting sixth grade in a few weeks, and it’s crazy to think I met her when she was in kindergarten. Anyhow, she’s a sweetheart, and since I’m not going to see her for quite a while, she, her mom, and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was my treat (for once), as they had been so nice to me over the years. It was a good decision on my part, as they gave me a Samsung digital camera gift. It was much appreciated, and it will come in quite handy in Europe, I’m sure. So all in all, it was a good day. On that note, let’s start the day’s Countdown!:

1) Survivor – Destiny’s Child
2) Philadelphia
3) Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix) – Los Del Rio
4) A New Agenda – Janet Jackson
5) I’m Happy – Lee So-ra

The day’s countdown starts with “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. The group had some smokin’ hits (my personal favorite being “Jumpin’ Jumpin”), but they’ve always inspired mixed feelings from me. Let’s face it, the group was all about Beyonce, Beyonce, and Beyonce, with the other members relegated strictly to the background. Of course, when a couple of the original members tried to rectify the situation, it was Bye-Bye, Talk To You Never. Even the group’s name is rather telling: Destiny’s Child, not Destiny’s Children. Gee, I wonder which member of the group was that particular child. Hmm… Anyhow, “Survivor” is rather catchy, but it’s a bit too shallow and silly to be the female power anthem that it clearly wants to be (lyrics like “I’m not gonna diss you on the Internet” and “I’m not gonna compromise my Christianity” just come off more self-serving than empowering here). Still, it is a notable addition to the group’s catalogue if only for being one of the few songs that gives perennial third wheel member Michelle Williams a solo part.

Today’s Countdown is a bit schizophrenic in mood, as the woo-hoo, girl power vibe switches to the despairing elegy that is Neil Young’s “Philadelphia,” taken from the movie by the same name. I personally didn’t care for the movie and found it rather overwrought, but Tom Hanks’ performance was spot-on, and I was really glad for him when he won the Oscar. I remembered a number of years before when Tom was nominated for “Big,” which was such an awesome movie, and I felt so bad for him when he lost out to Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.” I thought, ‘Oh, man, that sucks, because that’s the best shot he’s ever gonna get.’ Well, my cinematic predictions proved to be just as off the mark as my tennis predictions, that’s for sure. Anyhow, “Philadelphia” the song is all about hopelessness and despair, and it’s awfully touching, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone to listen to it while walking on a bridge, that’s for sure.

Then the mood abruptly changes gears once again to the song that inspired the dance craze known as the Macarena. I actually remember breaking out this dance with my high school friend Pearle in a fashion boutique in Santa Monica where the song started playing, both of us laughing our asses off while people looked at us like we were crazy. Good times. But listening to the song again, I hadn’t realized that the song’s story was so disturbing. Don’t remember? Well, the song is basically about this girl Macarena who has a boyfriend but decides to cheat on him–with TWO guys at once, mind you–simply because they’re “so hot.” Hmm. I bet her poor boyfriend wasn’t doing the Macarena when he found out. Still, the beat is quite irresistible.

After that slut tale, it’s time for Janet–sorry, Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty–with “A New Agenda.” This is a great track and a great reminder of a time when Janet was singing about things other than how much she likes sex. It’s a call against racism in which Janet declares herself an “African-American woman standing tall with pride.” Unfortunately, Janet’s last three or four albums have found her embarrassing herself further and further with her Penthouse oohs and declarations. To get back on track, she needs to do several things: 1) Work on her voice. She’s never been a power singer, but she had a pretty Diana Ross-style coo, which has turned weak and raspy in recent years. 2) Go back to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and regain the hooks that she once had in spades. 3) Again, enough with the whole I’m-a-sexual-creature crap, and write about the world around you. With Michael gone, Janet needs to step up to carry on the legendary Jackson name, and I’m hoping she can do it.

leeFinally, we have Korean chanteuse Lee So-ra with her ironic “I’m Happy.” You don’t need to understand Korean to listen to the song and realize that she is not happy at all. Of course, the lyrics do make the point clear. She’s sending her lover away, because she knows she’s not what he needs, and she’s trying to assure him that she’ll be absolutely fine, as she is perfectly happy. Yeah, right. In the end, she finally crumbles, telling him goodbye while confessing that she’ll love him until the day she dies. Heartbreaking stuff, and Lee So-ra’s inimitable voice suits the song perfectly, sending waves of sadness right to the heart. And this emotional tsunami of a song drowns out the catchiness of “Macarena” in the end for the win.

Winner: I'm Happy – Lee So-ra


(Top 101) #83. Luka – Suzanne Vega

July 23, 2009

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Just when I thought Tommyland had entered an era of pacifism and peace, turmoil re-entered in the form of a demonic fourth-grade boy that I’ll call Jack. Now Jack is no mischievous but loveable scamp in the tradition of Huck Finn and Dennis the Menace. I am convinced he is Satan’s spawn.

Jack is a student in my English “camp” class this week, and he has been a thorn in my side from Day One. He is big, loud, and more spoiled than a year-old carton of milk. Fortunately, things were still relatively fine–thankfully, the other students have been angels–but at the end of the class on Wednesday, I caught him red-handed stealing a sticker (I use them as a rewards system, and the students with the most stickers at the end of the week will receive prizes) from my desk when he thought I wasn’t looking (little did he know that I, like most teachers, have eyes in the back of my head). Oh, I was P.I.S.S.E.D. (as Gwen Stefani might put it). But I contained myself, gave a brief lecture on how one shouldn’t steal, and asked him to say, “I’m sorry.” A reasonable request? Well, one wouldn’t think so from Jack’s stone cold refusal. Then the battle was ON (in a responsible-teacher sort of way, of course).

I excused the rest of the class, as it was goodbye time, and I asked Jack to stay. He tried to make a run for it, but fortunately, I got to the door before he did, and I marched him to his chair. Once there, I held him by the shoulder while he writhed, wiggled, and whined, while repeating, “Please say, ‘I’m sorry” every five seconds. Again, no. He just kept trying to escape for a full seven minutes, at the end of which he was banging his sandals against my arms. Finally, he blurted, “I’m sorry,” at which point I replied, “Thank you,” and let him run out. My head was pounding, pounding, and pounding, and the battle weighed on my mind all day, especially before I fell asleep. However, I felt like I had to do it, because as much a lost cause as he probably is, I AM his teacher, and someone’s gotta at least plant the seed that stealing is never acceptable, and that if you make a mistake, the least you can do is apologize (his parents certainly haven’t done so).

I felt quite apprehensive about seeing little Damien–sorry, Jack–again this morning, but what happens? He runs in, and the first thing out of his mouth is, “Tommy Teacher, yesterday, I’m very sorry!” My heart did a little buttery flip kind of thing, and I nodded and said, “That’s okay,” before I got the class started. I’m still convinced Jack is on a path to destruction, but there may be a little hope for him yet.

The thing with kids is that, they are so completely who they are, and they show EXACTLY what it is that they’re feeling. That’s the great thing with kids, their honesty, their innocence. But that’s also the drive-you-crazy, terrible thing about kids, their difficulty in controlling their emotions and their tendency to think only about what THEY want and what THEY feel at that moment. Some people have lamented that children don’t come with instruction manuals for parents to follow. From my personal experience as a teacher, I’d say that the instructions would be fairly simple: 1) Give them love, but don’t spoil them by giving them everything that they want. 2) Make sure they develop a good level of self-confidence; kids soak in compliments like a sponge. 3) Teach them the difference between what’s good and bad. In my opinion, getting kids to read a lot of books will take care of this naturally. 4) Keep them healthy, and try to get them to enjoy at least one physical sport or activity (for me, it was tennis). I think that covers all the major bases.

I think #2 is especially salient, as I believe that most assholes in the world are assholes not by nature but by deficiencies in their upbringings. Overcoddling, abuse, family problems, drugs, what have you, it can all cause major issues that can take much of a lifetime to recover from. And perhaps no song illustrates that better than the #83 song on the Top 101 Countdown: Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.” The song is about a young girl clearly living in a world of violence and abuse who’s asking her neighbor to look the other way. It’s affecting on so many levels, thanks to Suzanne’s sad but never sappy lyrics and her nuanced vocals. It’s a poignant little tour de force.

83. Luka – Suzanne Vega


Pizza vs. Taco?

July 22, 2009

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Well, I must say this week’s been a nice change of pace from the frenzy that was last week. My vacation English “camp” (it’s actually just regular classes, no tents or marshmallows involved) finishes at noon, and once I get materials prepared for the following day’s classes, I’m free to go off at 1 pm. Needless to say, it’s been very, very cool and a chance to unwind a bit. So far this week, I’ve gone shopping (got two shirts for about $13 each; I’m not much of a clotheshound, so that constitutes a major purchase on my part), went in for a sports massage/chiropractic adjustment (my neck let out a WHALE of a crack), and I went to the movies for some French movie called “Let It Rain” (I like a lot of French movies, but this one was as bad as my date).

But I’ve also gotten down to business, too. I’ve finally booked my tickets to Europe. I’ll be in London near the end of September for a week, and then it’s off to Paris for about two weeks. Sadly, I’ve decided to economize a bit by taking Barcelona out of the equation for now (para un otra dia, mi ciudad bella). I did get one bad news after I my reservation; I won’t be able to visit Stonehenge like I wanted, as the Circle Access Tour (where you actually get to step into the ropes and walk among the stones) won’t be happening while I’m there. D’oh!!! Oh, well, it’s perhaps just as well because I’m not really aiming for a touristy-type trip anyhow; I want to live like the denizens do. Sure, I’ll be visiting main sites, too, but more than anything, I want an authentic experience (on the cheap, mind you). One thing that I hope will help will be my tennis racket, which I’ll be bringing along. Hopefully, I’ll meet people to play with.

So in addition to a bit of self-pampering and finalizing details for my bon voyage, I’ve also been listening to a lot of new music this week. What spurred me is that the year is already almost 7/12 over, and there hasn’t been a ton of music that I really, really loved thus far (Pet Shop Boys, Loney Dear, and–blush–Girls’ Generation, and really, there hasn’t been a whole lot more). So I went on a listening rampage, and I’m glad to say that I’ve found quite a few tracks that had escaped my radar. Artists I discovered and really dug include La Roux, Metric, and the Phenomenal Handclap Band. But of all the tracks that I listened to, there was one that really stood out: Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”

First of all, don’t let the group’s name scare you, the two members are minorities, and I think it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek. What is the song about? Well, it’s a phone conversation between two guys who both claim that they’re at a particular combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell (the one on “Jamaica Avenue”) yet cannot see each other. On first listen, I thought the song was kinda catchy but plain out stupid. On second listen, I started thinking, “Hey, this is kind of cool.” Now, I can’t get enough of it. It gets almost existential after a while, like what the hell is going on? How can they not see each other but be in the same place? Is one (or both) of them lying? Are they at the same place but in different times due to a time conundrum? What? I don’t know, but it is one cool, cool song. I hope you like it, too.

Das Racist – Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell (Wallpaper Remix)


Morning Countdown #14 (7/18/09)

July 20, 2009

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Chris Evert played her last U.S. Open in 1989, and I clearly remember watching her lose in the quarterfinals to Zina Garrison. Zina played crafty, smart tennis throughout, using her backhand slice incredibly well to move Chris Evert around without giving her any pace to work with. At match point, Zina served down the middle from the ad court, and Chris’ forehand return found the net. At that moment, the British announcer simply said, “With that, an era has ended.” Well, I wish he was around on Friday when an era in my life came to an end as well.

Friday was my last day of regular classes at my school, and like the rest of the week, it was overwhelming, exhausting, and above all, just plain awesome. I held my tears in check, until the bell rang for my very last class, when I let them go for five, ten seconds tops (causing one disgruntled student to ask why I didn’t cry for her class). But really, it couldn’t have gone better, thanks to the kids more than anything.

One thing about kids is that they need to know that their feelings are just as valid as anybody else’s, and for them to know that, you have to allow them to express what they feel. And boy, did they ever. I got a whole Costco bag-ful of letters (one ingenious class made theirs into paper airplanes and hurled them at my head when I walked into the room, a couple missing my eyes by inches!), two mini photo albums, three glass jars full of origami stars and cranes, countless notebooks, a few pencils and pens, a photo frame, two chess knight pieces (I think they were symbolic of something, I’m not sure what), a homemade cake courtesy of a student’s mom, two bowls of dukbokki, and my favorite strictly from a material point of view, a Guy Laroche bathrobe(!). It was a full, full day, and as bittersweet as it all was, I felt proud more than anything else, both for myself and for the students. At the risk of sounding immodest, I really did try my best and worked my ass off for three years, and the kids more than made it all worthwhile.

Okay, I’m going to make myself vaklempt all over again, so on with the Countdown!:

1) Crazy – Gnarls Barkley
2) Meet Me Halfway – Kenny Loggins
3) Remember the Time (Live) – Kris Allen
4) Hyperballad – Bjork
5) I Believe – Blessed Union of Souls

We start with Gnarls Barkley (brother of Charles?), and “Crazy” is a well-deserved hit, but I’ve just heard it so many times that it doesn’t register like it once did. It will probably start fresh again after another six months or so of not hearing it. Still, I love the voice and the arrangement.

Kenny Loggins is next, and you may know him as the singer of schmaltzy rock soundtrack tunes such as “Footloose,” “Danger Zone,” and well this one, “Meet Me Halfway.” I’m pretty sure this is from a Sylvester Stallone movie that I saw on cable a long time ago. As far as I remember, Stallone is a single dad who tries to support his son by arm wrestling his way to greatness or something like that. Needless to say, the movie was a bunch of nothing, but the song, well, it’s pretty darn good. It’s schmaltzy, yes, but Kenny’s soaring voice suits schmaltz perfectly (a la Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie).

Then it’s–sigh–Kris Allen. Oh, how much I’ve missed thee. It already feels like a lifetime ago that the Kris-Adam duel took place. This is a great live performance with Kris doing what he does best, strumming the guitar and turning a well-known track into his brand new creation. It’s slightly marred by the bum high note near the end, but otherwise, I think Michael Jackson must have liked it (another sigh).

b36c3ddaed4c7978Bjork follows with “Hyperballad.” I have very mixed feelings about Bjork. I know she, Tori Amos (see you in Paris!!!), and PJ Harvey were once to alternative music what Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington were to supermodels at large. But at the risk of alienating all the fans of the Icelandic pixie, I find 90% of her music to be pure gibberish where she programs an electro-factory rhythm arrangement and then just starts wailing nonsense over that with no rhyme and reason. Okay, before you attack me (the way Bjork infamously lunged at a reporter at an airport), let me add that the remaining 10% is well, pretty spectacular, still with little rhyme and reason, but a whole lot of otherwordly magic. “Hyperballad” falls straight into that 10%, thank goodness.

klThe day’s Countdown comes to an end with “I Believe,” and I haven’t heard the song in ages and ages. Well, it may have been better off kept in the vault a little bit longer, because as sweet and earnest the whole thing is, it’s also sappier than a maple forest in Canada. Racism, parental intolerance, forbidden interracial love, these are real, pertinent issues even today. And I’m sorry, just crooning “Love is the answer” and “Love will find a way” over and over isn’t gonna make them go away.

In the end, the race comes down to Kenny and Bjork, with Kenny ekeing out the win. What can I say? I’m in a schmaltzy state of mind (another factor is that I know my brother really likes the song, too).

Winner: Meet Me Halfway – Kenny Loggins


(Top 101) #84. Summertime – Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff

July 18, 2009

freshprincepic

While I’ve been in Korea, the thing I’ve missed most about California has been, of course, my family. After that? It’s American McDonald’s (they don’t have Quarter Pounders in Korean McDonalds. D’oh!). But right after that is the beach and the ocean. My family lives in Harbor City, a block away from Torrance, and a 10 minute drive from Redondo Beach. I love it there. The pier. The seafood restaurant with the wooden hammers to crack open the crabs. The sounds of the waves. The sunset in the horizon. The last time I visited, my brother took me bike riding along the beach, and it was, in a word, transcendent.

There is simply something about a summer day on the beach that connects you into something, an energy that’s greater than yourself but a part of yourself at the same time. Call it God, call it Nature, call it Life, call it anything you want, but whatever it is, it is powerful, it is beautiful, it is mythical, and it’s also hella FUN! And that’s what “Summertime” is all about. Just having a great old time, enjoying a bright summer day when everything seems to take on an extra shine. Oh, California, I’m coming home soon; tell the summer days to wait for me.

84. Summertime – Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff


910.99 (as in a heartbeat away from an emergency)

July 16, 2009

Heart

I’m manning up, and I’m holding up, but man, my mind is a whirlwind, and I know I’m feeling a whole lot, but I don’t know what it is I’m feeling or what it all means. Does that make any sense? Do you remember the beginning of “Truth or Dare” when Madonna talks about how she makes peace with difficult situations before they actually happen so that she doesn’t feel anything when they do happen, even though she really knows she really will feel something? Okay, Madonna didn’t really make any more sense than I did.

But anyhow, the good news is that everything is going according to plan now (with only tomorrow remaining). The goodbyes have been poignant but not maudlin, said with smiles not tears. The kids have been getting a kick out of the letters (as well they better, it’s not so easy handwriting more than 350 messages) and their photos. I’ve had the kids go around the classroom and sign each other’s letters and photos yearbook-style. All in all, a great way to finish, I think, and the kids have been responding in kind, showering me with cards and presents (alas no envelopes filled with cash, j/k).

But yeah, I’m basically running on empty at this point, and I’m looking forward to a nice, relaxing collapse on Saturday. Is it all worth it, though? –> (Answer below)

Hell Yeah – Rev Theory


Tommyland Update…

July 15, 2009

The number of sixth grade classes I’ve had to say goodbye to: 1.

The number of sixth grade classes that I ended up crying in front of: 1.

guns rosesObviously, not the best of starts. Everything was rolling alone fine (the Simpsons proved to be a hit, as predicted) until I passed my letters out near the end, and two girls soon started crying, and when I saw that, oh man, that was pretty much it. Then to top it off, the homeroom teacher in a scene from Dead Poets’ Society, has all the students stand up and bow while saying, “Thank you.” That was it. Cue the violins, and let the tear ducts start flowing. Not my proudest moment, but fortunately, the kids took it in stride. That was yesterday, and the kids have been teasing me in the hallway all day today, saying “Tommy Teacher cry, I see, I see!” I’ve been answering with “Never! I have no heart.” Anyhow, my farewell to my 5th grade classes have been much better. Friday’s gonna be the toughest day, it being my last day of regular classes (I’m actually coming back on Monday to start the vacation English “camp”), and with goodbyes to be said to the remaining four 6th grade classes. I’ll man up, Tommyland style… Meanwhile, here’s an oldie but goodie from Axel and crew:

Don't Cry – Guns N' Roses