(Top 101 Countdown) #78. Days Go By – Dirty Vegas

August 27, 2009

renoirHave you ever heard the story of how the human body instantly weighs less right after the moment of death, and this proves the existence of a “soul,” since the weight loss must have come from the soul leaving the body? Personally, I think that’s a bunch of hooey, and the weight loss is more likely to come from the loss of urine and waste (hard to hold stuff in after you’re dead, I figure) or something similar. Still, there’s no denying that there’s a clear, physical divide between the living and the dead, a palatable quality to the warm human body that no mannequin, no matter how well-made, will never be able to possess.

Why am I talking about this? Well, I visited the Seoul City Museum of Art today to check out a Renoir Exhibition (titled “The Promise of Happiness”), and it reminded me of that story. Renoir’s work is all about life and warmth. I don’t know much about art, but I do remember being struck in my college Art History class by how “happy” Renoir’s work seemed to be. And there’s no denying it after today; the man was a genius. Give him some paint and a canvas, and boom, he uses subtle shades of light to create figures with warm blood and glowing skin; not only that, you can actually see INTO their eyes and discern the personalities within. His pictures positively shimmer with life.

Now this is what I’m talking about when I talk about great art; I still don’t get the whole Picasso cubism thing (they just look whacked to me), and don’t even get me started on abstract art and performance art, most of which strike me as hopelessly affected, self-conscious, and–if I may borrow a term from Simon Cowell–hopelessly indulgent. So Monsier Pierre Auguste Renoir, I officially declare you today to be Tommyland’s Number One Painter. Thank you for your greatness.

Dirty VegasNow of course, there is indeed a time and place for coldness instead of warmth. And that leads us right into the #78 song of our All-Time Top 101 countdown: Dirty Vegas’s “Days Go By.” This song is super-danceable (you may remember the car commercial from years back), but it’s got a cold, hard-shelled heart in the middle. The singer has clearly reached a point of numbness in his hopeless obsession, singing over and over, “Days go by, and still I think of you…” There’s no sign of hope; in fact, there’s no discernible sign of any emotion whatsoever. It’s coldness all right, but it’s absolutely hypnotic in its iciness. It beckons you to dance along in despair, until you feel numb, and then… nothing at all.

78. Days Go By – Dirty Vegas

Morning Countdown #20 (8/27/09)

August 27, 2009

**Warning: If you don’t want to risk being grossed out of your mind, you may want to risk this post altogether… Don’t say I didn’t warn you!!!**

notapricotsTake a look at the picture on the right. What do you see? Dried apricots? Raisins? Caramel or candy? Not quite. You see, I’ve gone under the knife.

First, some background. I’m not hopelessly vain, but one aspect of my face has been bugging me for a few years: puffy bags under my eyes. It’s definitely genetic; my mom and my aunts have all had them, although interestingly, my brother doesn’t. Anyhow, those bags have often led people to ask me, “Oh, you look so tired. Are you okay?” (such a question is not considered rude in Korea; rather, it’s considered a show of concern; this also applies to comments about weight, like “Oh, you look like you’ve gained a lot of weight since the last time I saw you!”) In the last couple of years, the bags have become even baggier, and frankly, they’ve started getting on my nerves whenever I looked in the mirror. So with my extended time off, I decided to do something about it.

Several weeks ago, I visited a clinic in Apkujeong (the Beverly Hills of Korea and also a mecca for plastic surgery) for a consultation. There, a pretty young woman very nicely explained the procedure to me. There was only one bum note when she asked me–staring at my face intently, almost hungrily–“Have you ever considered doing anything to your nose?” Now my nose is kinda big and looks like an upside down arrowhead, but I actually like my nose, so I just laughed and said, “Yeah, I know it looks kind of goofy, but I don’t mind.” The woman paused a beat–perhaps to hold in her disappointment–before going back to talking about my puffy eyes.

To make a long story short, there are two variations for the surgery. Fortunately, since I was relatively still young, I could opt for the less serious type, which is less invasive with a quicker recovery period. Apparently, there wouldn’t have to be any cuts made with a scalpel, and instead, lasers would somehow be used to get the fat out from under my eyes (if you guessed that’s what’s in the picture above, TA-DA, CONGRATULATIONS!). I was assured that the surgery was quite simple, involving minor, if any, swelling and bruising. The only part that seemed rather scary was when she mentioned some patients do shed “tears of blood” for the first couple of days. That was definitely a “Yikes” moment, although I supposed it would have been cool if I were a statue of Jesus.

So one week ago, I showed up early at the hospital with 1,000,000 won (about $800). I was soon led to the operating table where they hooked me up to an IV and took my blood pressure. Apparently, it was a big high, as the nurse exclaimed, “Oh, you must be nervous!” Damn straight! Then she said, “You’re going to fall asleep soon,” and I closed my eyes and started seeing waves of red. The last thought I remember having was, “I wonder if Michael Jackson’s last moments were like this,” and then I fell asleep.

About 30 minutes later, I woke up, feeling drunk out of my mind. My aunt had shown up to drive me back home, and I just started babbling to her about what I can’t even remember, although I do remember talking about Michael Jackson for some time. Anyhow, it took me a while to kind of get my senses together (I was in no pain; I just felt dizzifyingly drunk), and then I went home.

One Week Post-Op

One Week Post-Op

Since then, I’ve had some swelling, but my recovery has been even faster than I expected. By the 3rd day, you couldn’t even tell I had anything done. My only discomfort was on the night after the surgery when the swelling led the lower eyelashes of my right eye to go up right into the eyeball. That really hurt until I finally said, “Screw this!” and snipped some of the offending lashes with a small pair of scissors. After that, it was smooth sailing, and I’m already quite happy with the results. Even with the minor swelling left, I already look more refreshed and no longer exhausted (though to be fair, my 11 hours of sleep per day this week may have something to with that, too). All in all, I’m a very satisfied customer.

Okay, with that gruesome tale behind us, on with the Countdown!:

1) Semi-charmed Life –Third Eye Blind: Ooh! A rock time warp to the 90’s. I love this song. It rocks; it’s catchy; listening to it on a walk makes you want to break out into a run. The fact that this happy burst of energy of a song is all about the perils of drug abuse makes it even more awesome.

2) Do You Remember –Phil Collins: Yet another goodie from the early 90’s. I’ve gotta say something about Phil Collins here. I’ve seen and heard people slag him and his music so many times, but just because he did a lot of easy listening music doesn’t mean he only came up with crap. Yes, some of his songs were rather embarrassing (“Invisible Touch,” “Sussudio,” and the whole “I Can’t Dance” mess with Genesis), but he not only wrote some of the best ballads of his time (“Separate Lives,” “Against All Odds”), he also showed real edge at times (“In the Air Tonight,” “No Son of Mine”). In fact, according to Randy Tarrabelli’s biography of Michael Jackson, Phil was one of the few white artists that Michael respected for having a genuinely “soulful” voice. Who’s gonna argue with Michael?

3) I Should Be So Lucky –Kylie Minogue: Okay, another time warp, but one maybe not quite as welcome as the previous two. I’m a big Kylie fan, but this is not one of her best moments by any stretch of the imagination. This is from her beginning pretty puppet days, and although it is kind of catchy, but it’s also painfully annoying in its repetitiveness. To make my point, I’m going to go back and count how many times Kylie sings “I should be so lucky”… And the grand total: 22. And the number of times Kylie sounds like she really means it: 0.

4) Can’t We Try –Dan Hill & Vonda Shepard: Now we’re talking. This is one of the great duets of the 80’s, and they just don’t make em like this anymore. It’s basically Dan and Vonda in a public couple’s therapy session, bickering at each other. Dan’s mad, because Vonda’s calling her girlfriends and talking to them about their problems instead of talking to him directly. Vonda basically answers that he never listens to her anyway, and they squabble on and on. Can’t get any more real than that!

5) And So It Goes –Billy Joel: Whoa. This was THE very first song I ever posted on this blog. That was back on March 1st, so the blog is four days short of its five-month anniversary. That’s pretty cool, considering I’ve always given up on writing diaries in a month or so. Anyhow, a big thank you to people who visit the Tommyland blog!!! (And a big sorry for grossing all of you out with today’s post)

It’s a close, close call today, but in the end I’ve gotta give it to Dan and Vonda’s squabble-love-fest over Billy’s sad lament.

The Winner: Can't We Try – Dan Hill & Vonda Shepard

Morning Countdown #19 (8/22/09)

August 22, 2009

vvWell, I’m not only a bum now, but I’m also a mooch. After a couple days of frantic packing, cleaning, scrubbing, vacuuming, and trash-throwing, I have moved out of my studio apartment and into my aunt’s apartment in Hwajeong, a suburb right outside of Seoul. I thought I was going to feel sentimental on leaving–I really did love my place–but I was just too busy and tired to feel anything beyond busy and tired.

In the last few days, my aunt’s place has been kind of a detox center for me. I’ve been catching up on sleep, finally eating healthy again, and reading books. It’s done me wonders (no more ulcer signs!). Here’s a brief rundown on the books I’ve read recently:

A Mighty Heart – Mariane Pearl : The true story of the woman whose husband got kidnapped and executed by terrorists in Pakistan. It’s a harrowing tale, and I appreciated how Mariane told her story in an almost matter-of-fact kind of way, instead of pandering for sympathy.

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh: Took a while to get going, and it never quite delivered the payoff I was hoping for. The British repression and stuffiness dilute the emotional power of the relationships–I want my love stories with chaos, pain, and fireworks, thank you very much (P.S. A British book that shows repression and emotional devastation CAN go together is “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro. I highly recommend it).

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name – Vendela Vida: A young woman finds out that her father really wasn’t her father, so she goes off to Finland to find out the truth about her family. I don’t want to give anything away, but let me just say that the book is amazing and quietly devastating. The best book I’ve read in a long, long time.

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman: An Italian teenager has a brief affair with a visiting American and it affects him for the rest of life, blah blah blah. It’s all so overwritten, overwrought, and overstylized that it comes off as literary pomposity more than anything that connects to real life.

Okay, that’s the end of our Literary Hour; now on with the Countdown!

1) Sittin’ Up In My Room – Brandy: Ah, Brandy. The Girl Next Door of the 90’s. Her career has had some rough patches since then, but I’ve always liked Brandy. I think it’s because she always came off as a fairly regular young girl, while her Jr. Diva rivals Aaliyah and Monica were busy being sexy and sassy from the teen get-go. This song is a great example, with Miss Brandy unable to fall asleep because of a boy she can’t stop thinking about. So relatable, so catchy, what’s not to like?

2) Karma – Alicia Keys: Alicia pulls out the claws for this one, the “You male piece of scum, you just wait” anthem that’s requisite for pretty much every straight female singer. It’s good to see Alicia attempt some edge, but upbeat numbers are not really her forte, and everything’s all a bit too restrained for the message to really reach the boilig point.

3) The Total Eclipse of the Heart – The Dan Band: I’ve always had a thing for covers that turn the originals upside down. Such is this one here. The Dan Band strips Bonnie Tyler’s classic of all 80’s flourishes and sprinkles in some four-letter words, and voila, you have the perfect barroom song for every pissed-off guy to sing along to.

4) I Believe In Miracles – Whitney Houston: Whitney again! Here, we have a classic Whitney ballad the way it used to be. She starts off classy, building up the melody, and then comes that inevitable beat of silence before she goes for the big Whitney note and then just slays the song with her voice (“And I believe in–(beat)–MIRACLESSSSS”). Her new tune “I Turn To You” has no such moment of vocal reckoning, and as such, it all ends up being rather nice, where the Whitney of yesteryear would have left us simply blown away.

mad5) Into the Groove – Madonna: From one diva to another. And what really needs to be said about “Into the Groove”? You hear it, and you know exactly what the song’s about and what it wants to do to you. Madonna makes her case right in the first line, “You can dance, for inspiration.” After that, it’s all about you and Madonna dancing up a storm no matter where you may be. What’s so great about early Madonna dance hits is that there’s absolutely no irony, nothing tongue-in-cheek whatsoever about her message. She clearly believed that dancing really was the key to your salvation, and she didn’t feel silly telling you so. Like Whitney, Madonna’s changed quite a bit since those glory days. She’s still capable of great pop music, but when you listen to her new single, “Celebration,” that sense of drive, that urgency is no longer there. You get the sense that Madonna’s winking under the song and saying, “This is just a fun little song,” while in “Into the Groove,” you got the feeling that your decision to dance or not was a matter of life and death, both for you and for Madonna.

And it’s that utter belief and iron will that gives Madonna an easy knockout win over the rest of the field. Coming in second is Whitney. Let’s hope both of them still have greatness to offer in the coming years.

Winner: Into the Groove – Madonna

(Top 101) #79. Casablanca – Bertie Higgins

August 22, 2009

bhThere are certain non-Korean musical acts and songs that are just HUGE in Korea but are pretty much unknown anywhere else in the world. I’m not talking about people like Robbie Williams and Westlife, who have huge fan bases in Europe, if not the U.S. I’m referring to acts like Michael Learns To Rock, Carry N’ Ron, Jessica (not the Simpson), Rockwell, and Carole Kidd. Who? My point, exactly!

It can be rather frustrating, because my Korean acquaintances ask me about them, and when I give a blank stare, they become bewildered that I wouldn’t have heard of such “superstars.” I think Korean movies are largely to blame for this phenomenon. Directors pick obscure Western songs to put in soundtracks–probably because they’re cheaper to license–and when the films hit big, voila, those English songs are instantly elevated into “classic” status, despite the fact that maybe 5 people in the U.S. may have ever heard of them.

One good thing to come out of this is that yes, I have to admit that some of these songs are actually pretty darn good. Jessica’s “Goodbye” is a touching ballad (used in some movie where a guy has a terminal illness and has to say–what else?–goodbye to his wife), Carole Kidd’s “When I Dream” (from an awesome Korean spy thriller titled “Shiri”) is a perfect jazz lullaby, Rockwell (Berry Gordy’s son!) not only had that Top 10 stalker song with Michael Jackson on background vocals but also had a killer ballad in “Knife.” But above all, my favorite BIKO (“Big In Korea Only”) song has to be “Casablanca” by Bertie Higgins.

Apparently, Mr. Higgins had a fairly sizable hit with “Key Largo” (guess he really liked his movies), but “Casablanca” trumps it in every way. To listen to the song is to walk into a cinematic time warp, with the opening lines setting the dark, romantic mood from the get-go: “I fell in love with you, watching ‘Casablanca.’ Back row of the drive-in show, in the flickering light” And it never lets up from there, describing a love and a break-up that you really only get in movies (i.e. glamorous and haunting, without any messy, mood-killing real-life details like screaming, swearing, weeping until the snot starts flowing, you know what I mean). The song, like the film, should have been a classic.

79. Casablanca – Bertie Higgins

Morning Countdown #18 (8/16/09)

August 16, 2009

wgMy first week of being unemployed started off feeling awkward and peculiar, but it’s come to a nice end, and I declare myself officially in Vacation Mode. Seriously, I can feel my insides loosening up and starting to exhale for the first time in months (it’s actually hurting a bit when I do this; I hope I haven’t given myself an ulcer).

I played tennis today, and I handled the miserable heat considerably better than last week, which was a good sign. Unfortunately, my backhand still proved to be lost in outer space somewhere (and my forehand wasn’t a whole lot better), so I had to be satisfied losing in the quarterfinals of our league singles tournament (we have one every two months). I know my timing will come back with time, but mistiming shots time and time again didn’t allow me to have that good of a time. Ha!

Anyhow, on that (cheesy) note, on with the Countdown!:

1) Rescue Me – Angela Johnson: I heard this song randomly somewhere a few years back, and then I forgot the singer’s name, and I ended up looking for the song everywhere for a couple of months. I was very, very happy when I found it again. It’s a catchy, laid-back R&B tune that’s very good to bop your head to. Now if anyone can tell me the name of the alternative rock song they used to play on K-ROQ years ago with the chorus, “But you don’t send me messages,” my life will be musically complete.

2) If You Told Me That – Whitney Houston & George Michael: Now THERE’S a couple. Bet they would host some fun parties, at the very least. Okay, kidding aside, both Whitney (who could still hit high notes at this point) and George do the song proud vocally, and the lyrics–about two friends who consider making the transition to lovers–are relatable to many, I’m sure (not me personally, though; friends and lovers are like apples and oranges to me, if that makes any sense).

FF3) Almost Lover – Fine Frenzy: It’s a heartbreaker of a song lamenting a love that never had the chance to even start; what’s not to like? Besides, Fine Frenzy’s (terrible name by the way for such an understated band) vocals are just dreamy.

4) Don’t Say No – Patrick Wolf: Patrick clearly wants to be the male version of Bjork, building up elaborate sonic landscapes filled with beeps, grinding noises, and various other factory sounds. It’s all nice and good, but I wish he’d spend some more time with the meat and potatoes part of the song, namely the melody. Fortunately, “Don’t Say No” is one track where he manages to meld everything together to great effect.

5) All She Wants Is Everything – O.M.D.: You may remember this British duo as the minds behind “If You Leave,” the romantic backgroud music for Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy’s make-out session in “Pretty in Pink” (again, John Hughes, R.I.P.). But they’ve had a number of other standout electro-pop tunes (think early Depeche Mode), and this one’s a good example. As in “If You Leave,” the lead singer does a commendable job of 80’s pining and whining (this time about one selfish wench of a girl).

In the end, it’s another tough Countdown decision, but Fine Frenzy’s dreamy lament edges out Patrick Wolf’s industrial command for the win.

Winner: Almost Lover – Fine Frenzy

(Top 101) #80: Kiss Off – The Violent Femmes

August 16, 2009


“The Blister In the Sun” and “Add It Up” get all the press, and they are definitely great songs. However, my favorite Violent Femmes song is undoubtedly “Kiss Off.” It has one of the most awesome bridges in the history of rock music: “I take one, one, one cause you left me; two, two, two for my family…” The song is just all about angst, angst, angst, sung by a rebel without a cause howling at the world. It’s the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of its time. And oh, how should I say this? It. Kicks. Ass.

Kiss Off – Violent Femmes

The Kween is Back…

August 16, 2009

Michelle Kwan is now once again officially a skater. She skated two programs at the Ice All Stars Show, and it was just surreal seeing her (even if it was hours after the fact, and I was watching on the computer monitor, not a TV screen). First off, she has lost none of her Kweenly presence. And her jumps–two double axels, two triple toes–were clean and secure. I was actually even more moved by the delicate, artistic moves that she performed, the falling leaf, the Charlotte, and above all, that lingering spiral which is still just glorious.

It was an excellent comeback by Michelle, but now the question turns to what she’s going to do next. We know she’s not going to compete in the Olympic-division side of skating this year. But is she going to keep training hard for professional shows? As good of a start as this obviously was, her fans have come to expect so much from her, and with Michelle’s own high standards for herself, she’ll likely want to continue to up the difficulty level, especially with her jumps. Will she be able to do that while attending graduate school? What’s next for her?

Of course, only Michelle can decide her course from here on now. Until she makes her next move, her fans will have Friday night’s programs to relish for quite some time. Thank you, Michelle, and welcome back.