Morning Countdown #19 (8/22/09)

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

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