What Would Morrissey do?

September 29, 2009


What would Morrisey do? Yes, that is the question that I have kept asking myself as I’ve been scampering across the streets of London. It’s mostly served me well. London’s been interesting, to say the least, but it’s also been rather overwhelming. Traveling has filled me with both adrenaline and an exhausting sense of malaise. Let it suffice to say, five days into my trip so far, I have seen a whole lot. Let me do a hurried and a harried rundown:

Day 1 (Fri)
–Slept through most of my flight, but it was still a pain. My forehead started feeling spasms of sharp pain just when we were starting to land. Fortunately, it subsided, with no aneurysm occurring.

–Checked into my hostel, which was a bit disappointing. Of course I knew the 8-bed dorm would be cramped, but I guess it’s easier to accept theoretically as opposed to you actually being there and looking at it. The worst part is the shower. It’s got this weird hiccup where the hot water doesn’t turn on for about five seconds. The problem is, you have to open the glass door to reach in and turn it on, and then pull your arm back out and close the door again as fast as possible. No matter how many times I’ve tried, I have yet to escape the stream of ice-cold water hitting my body before I shut the door. At least, it definitely wakes you up to start the day! Oh, and the promised complimentary breakfast each morning? It’s toast. And cereal. That’s it. The least they could do is to provide some strawberry jam, but no, they only have butter and apricot jam(!?!).

–Do you think just getting off a ten-hour-plus flight transatlantic flight would stop me from a good game of tennis? Ha! I think not, my friend. I went on my pre-arranged visit to a London tennis club, where I played three hours of solid tennis (winning four sets and losing one, not to brag or anything, ha) before calling it a night. It was rather funny to realize how Koreanized I had become in tennis etiquette, as I kept wanting to bow before returning serve and shaking hands before the game like Korean players do. The members were overall very nice and invited me out to dinner, but I hadn’t brought clothes to change into and had to bail out (D’oh!). It was definitely a fun way to start my London experience, but playing on hardcourt didn’t do my back any favors, as the pain still lingers (calling an acupuncturist and a chiropractor, NOW!).

Day 2 (Sat)
–Carrying on the tennis theme, it was rise and shine, then on to WIMBLEDON! Yes, little old me on the hallowed grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. My timing was perfect, as I arrived minutes before a guided tour of the grounds, which turned out to be awesome. It felt surreal to be looking down on Centre Court (and it looked so much smaller than it does on TV!)

–Lunch was fish & chips, which I’m sorry but I found vastly overrated. It’s all just too bland. And why just put vinegar on the “chips” instead of ketchup? Don’t get it.

–I moved on to Notting Hill. I didn’t find Hugh or Julia anywhere, but there was a huge street market going on Portobello Road. Can’t say there was anything all that interesting, but the fruits were very good deals (got a basket of bananas and one of Mandarin oranges, each for one pound; they lasted me three days).

Day 3 (Sun)
–Sick. Fever. Got up, got down, said, “Must. Sleep. More.”

–Finally felt somewhat better in the afternoon. Ate at McDonald’s (pretty much the same as McDonald’s everywhere, which I suppose is the point; people like consistency), then hurried off to Kings Cross Station for a photo op. My cousin had told me there was some sort of a replica of the famous Harry Potter scene where the kids take the train at 9 3/4 Station to go to Hogwarts. Well, there it was on platform 8. Basically, it’s a cart stuck halfway in a brick wall. Got my photo taken; done and done. By the way, EVERY single person I’ve asked to take a picture has been more than obliging. Many of them have answered with “No worries, mate.” I am SO going to start saying that when I get back home.

Mom: “Tommy, are you hungry?”
Me: “No worries, mate. I ate already.”
Mom: ?????

–Tried to visit the Harrods Departement Store, but it was closed. But got to see it lit up and pretty. Then went back near my hostel and hate a dinner of chicken curry. Easily the best thing I’ve eaten so far, and even that was kind of bland-tasting. Seriously, red pepper paste (go-chu-jang in Korean) must be one of the great inventions ever; Brits, you guys are really missing out. Big time.

Day 4 (Mon)
–This turned out to be like 5 days crammed into one. It wasn’t planned to be; in fact, I’ve barely planned at all, kinda doing the whole fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants deal. I just kept going to one place and seeing the sign pointing to another cool-sounding place, so I just kept on walking and walking and walking.

–I started the morning in Hyde Park. Did a lap around it (Speakers’ Corner was rather disappointing, as there were no speakers to speak of), ended up at the round stream made in the memory of Princess Diana. It seemed rather understated, but I loved the quote in my guidebook regarding it: (paraphrasing from memory) “It’s like the life of a princess, going through its ups and downs, before eventually draining away.”

–Went back to Harrods for lunch. I tried Beef Wellington for the first time, since that was something I had heard of but didn’t really know what the heck it was. As it turned out, it’s like a pie with beef in it. Now, I seem to remember Joey on “Friends” coming up with something like that and everyone making fun of him for liking it. Well, in defense of Joey, it was pretty decent, if a little–here we go again–bland. Actually, one corner was actually selling chopped liver; I had no idea that the dish actually existed still; the chopped liver people really should hire a new PR person.

–Visited the Charles Dickens House, where he once lived. Not a whole lot to see, but it was nice to pay my respects. I mean, “Great Expectations.” What a classic.

–Then onto Buckingham Palace. A nice elderly couple who I took a picture for told me than there were tours available where you could actually go inside. Oy??? As it turned out, the State Rooms (where the Queen entertains various guests and dignitaries) are opened to tourists at certain times of the year. That sounded quite cool, so I snapped up a ticket for the following day.

–I walked over to nearby Westminster Abbey, where an Evensong service was just starting. I went in, and even though I’m not exactly religious (my philosophy on God: Love God. Be a good person, both to other people and yourself. Beyond that, why make things overly complicated?), the service was really moving. The kids’ choir can really SING; I found myself hoping their grades weren’t suffering from all the practicing they had to (hey, once a teacher, always a teacher).

–The Phantom of the Opera is there, not just inside my mind, but in front of my very eyes. This is one of the two big-ticket events that I shelled out considerable amounts of money for on my trip (Tori of course is the other one). My seat was in the second row, meaning I could look up right into the nostrils of the performers. The show was cool (“All I Ask of You” is one heck of a song), but the storyline is pretty simple at its core. A young, pretty, but underappreciated and unrecognized heroine becomes the object of obsession by a not-so-conventionally-handsome misfit, and then comes an upper-class lothario to steal her away and break the misfit’s heart. Come on, you tell me how that’s any different from the plot of “Pretty in Pink” (Catherine=Molly Ringwald, the rich guy=the rich guy, the Phantom=Duckie).

Day 5 (Tue & today)
–The fever has returned. I slept in and barely woke up in time to make it back to Buckhingham Palace for the State Room tour. So feverstruck and with no breakfast or water, I crept along some of the most glamorous rooms ever built. Even in my sick stupor, I was pretty damn impressed. The royals sure loved things shiny and gold. I felt my first pangs of homesickness as I gazed at the various dresses the Queen wore on international visits; my mom would have LOVED it. Mom, I miss you!

–I was starving and just about hallucinating by the time I was through. I was looking desperately for somewhere cheap to eat, when praise God, I came into Chinatown. All-you-can-eat-buffet? I’m there! The food wasn’t great, but it was food, and there was plenty of it, and it was pretty cheap, so I was happy.

–After that, I made it back to my hostel for a nap, and that takes me to the here and now as I write this at the Internet Cafe next to my hostel.

–A few final notes. One, a discovery I made several days into my trip. I should have realized this sooner, but really, the thing to do is to go to restaurants/diners for lunches. They’re often cheaper at lunchtime, and you really to fuel up on energy in the middle of the day. For dinner, just go to the supermarket and get some pastries and/or fruit; they’re cheap and should be more than enough.

–The London Underground is very easy to manage, thank God. I’ve gotten an Oyster Card with a one-week Travelpass set on it, and I can pretty much go on and off the system at my will. It’s an excellent bargain, and I highly recommend it. It’s also good for buses, some of which run all night long.

–Not having a language barrier to contend with has made things a whole lot easier, so easy that it’s actually left me a bit apprehensive about Paris. My guidebook tells me that some Metro attendants try not to sell the French version of the Travelcard to foreigners, and you have to argue with them before they give in. Yikes.

–London is one very diverse city. I keep hearing various languages all around me. That being said, I haven’t seen any Korean person around, at least to my knowledge. I was hoping to find maybe at least one Korean restaurant in Chinatown, but no dice.

–There is just one dilemma I have yet to find an answer for. Laundry. I still don’t know what to do about it. I was expecting to either find washing machines at my hostel or coin laundromats around, but nope and nope. Hmm.

–Important advice for anyone about to sleep in dorm rooms at a hostel. Bring your mp3 player and earphones. Trust me, one of your roommates will snore. And it will not be pretty.

–If you’re riding eastward on the Piccadilly Metro line, you will repeatedly hear, “This is the Piccadilly service headed to Cockfosters.” This may make you want to start giggling like a British schoolgirl, but it’s better that you hold it in. You get used to it after the first few times.

Okay, that’s pretty much about it for now. I’ll write more later (I’ve got the Windsor Castle and the Tower of London left on my checklist). And everyone please remember, “No worries, mate!”

*This stupid computer isn’t letting me upload it, but I’ll upload Morrissey’s “Piccadilly Palare” as soon as I can. That song is running through my head here pretty much all the time.


EDIT: Here’s Morrissey! Piccadilly Palare – Morrissey

(Top 101 Countdown) #76. Don’t Go Away – Oasis

September 24, 2009

Well, tomorrow’s the big day. I’m heading over to the land of Big Ben, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, and the Beckhams. It feels surreal that I’m actually finally going. In a way, it almost feels like a letdown already, like looking forward to it was really the best part, better than actually going on the trip. I think it’s just my way of being nervous. I don’t want to end up hungry, penniless (well, pound-less and Euro-less, to be exact), and completely clueless as to how to get to my hostel. I’m flying into the UNKNOWN–it’s actually pretty cool, now that I think of it.

Anyhow, it’s good timing, as the next song on our Top 101 Countdown comes from the British bad boy-brother duo Oasis. I read on the internet that they’ve finally broken up after years and years of bickering and dwindling relevance, but when they were at their peak, they WERE the story and the morning glory.

The thing about Oasis is that while they had that whiny quality so common to cooler-than-thou alterna-bands, they still resisted the arrogance of irony; they really believed in the music they were making, and Liam sang his heart–whiny as it was–into each and every lyric.

“Don’t Go Away” is in my opinion the very best of Oasis, its plaintative, yearning quality revealing a vulnerability under all of the brothers’ bravado. It’s British brilliance, and I’m going to London to find more of the same. Wish me luck.

76. Don't Go Away – Oasis

Morning Countdown #22: The DIVA Edition (9/19/09)

September 20, 2009

whitney-houston-million-dol_article_story_mainFirst, a couple of notes on books I’ve read this week.

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Huston: Solid African-American love story set in post-slavery time. According to the afterword, Richard Wright (who wrote the awesome “Native Son”) criticized this book for being rather pointless. He’s right in that it doesn’t have political aspirations per se, but sometimes, a good love story can just be a good love story and still be worth reading.

Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life – Brian Raftery: Writers need to write about things they feel passion for, and this book has passion all over it. Raftery doesn’t like karaoke; he LOVES it, and his passion is completely contagious. I swear, one of the first things I’m going to do when I’m back in Korea is to warble some tunes in a karaoke booth.

Okay, now on to Today’s “very special” Countdown:

1) Million Dollar Bill – Whitney Houston
2) I Want to Know What Love Is – Mariah Carey
3) Make Me – Janet Jackson
4) Revolver – Madonna
5) You Belong With Me – Taylor Swift

Anybody notice a pattern? Yes, today’s countdown is an All-Star Diva Edition, as I don’t think there has ever been a time when more pop divas had new songs out bouncing off each other like sequin-covered bumper cars. The only real bonafide diva missing is Kylie Minogue, who’s too busy getting ready for her first U.S. tour (good luck, Kyles!). So it’s a ripe time for a Countdown Catfight, so let’s begin.

We begin with Whitney, whose new album sold more copies in its first week than any of Whitney’s previous albums. Well, I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty well-deserved. Like I’ve said before, Whitney’s voice is no longer the perfect crystal chandelier it once was (the chandelier has chunks missing now), but the songs themselves are among the best Whitney’s been given to handle. It’s kind of the opposite situation from a song like “I Have Nothing” which was featured in a previous Countdown: perfect vocals, but boring-ass song. Now we have a raspy, can’t-handle-high-notes voice, but we have some kick-ass tunes. It’s all about the rhythm now–not the high notes–and “Million Dollar Bill” proves itself to be catchier than the Swine Flu and the common cold combined. Welcome back, Whitney. Now, be sure to release “Call You Tonight” as the next single, and stay off the you-know-what (she seemed a bit too excited when she was telling Oprah just how she prepared the drugs she was taking).

Next, we have Whitney’s old vocal rival and duet partner, Mariah, with her remake of the 80’s Foreigner hit. Now Mariah’s had problems herself with a breaking-down voice, but still, there’s something about the way Mariah Carey handles a ballad that draws you in and hooks your heart; it’s that plaintative quality. And there is also that whistle note; she’s used them in about a hundred songs now, but it still provides a roller coaster thrill just like the first time I heard it. This stands right alongside Mariah’s best covers, “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” and “Against All Odds” (and far above her renditons of “I Still Believe” and “Open Arms” which were clunkers).

Talking of clunkers, we come to Miss Jackson’s new song. But first, let’s discuss Janet’s performance at the MTV Awards. As brief as her performance was, she owned that stage, eclipsing everyone, including Beyonce who later performed. But we have to go back to discussing vocal problems, because Janet’s were almost unlistenable, despite the fact that she was LIP-SYNCING. What the heck? Now, Janet was never a belter, but she still had a sweet, girlish coo that wrapped summer jams in rays of sunshine. But in the last few albums, she’s either sounded like a robot (“Feedback”) or her vocals were so wispy that they were barely there (“Rock Wit U”). The same problems plague “Make Me.” The song itself might have been decent, but her voice has almost no personality, no real energy, and none of the presence that she has on the stage, and as a result, it’s all pretty forgettable, despite the Michael shout-outs in the lyrics.

Now we come to the Queen Diva herself, Madonna, and the second new song off her latest greatest-hits collection. “Revolver” comes from the recent genre that I call “Hook Pop.” What is that, exactly? Well, it’s when a song basically introduces a simple hook (hopefully a catchy one) and basically just repeats it on an endless loop. Examples would include “Hollaback Girl,” “London Bridge,” “Milkshake,” most of Britney Spears’ Blackout album, and pretty much every song the Black-Eyed Peas have ever released. Madonna’s come close to Hook Pop before (“Music,” “Hung Up”), but here, she dives right in, and well, it’s absolutely stupid and addictive at the same time. It works far better than the previous single “Celebration,” which was Madonna retreading familiar ground; here, she sheds all the weight of being Madonna and jumps into a state of goofy bliss, and she takes you there along for the ride.

Now, we go to Taylor Swift. You may well have asked, “What the heck is SHE doing here? Well, you’re right, but it was tough to fill out the fifth spot. Like I said, Kylie doesn’t have a new song out. Beyonce seems to finally have run out of songs to release from her double album (or she wouldn’t have performed “Single Ladies” for the 1,347th time at the VMA’s). Britney did release “Radar” not too long ago, but that song’s been around for YEARS now. Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, and Lady Gaga all have new singles, but they’re not really full-fledged divas (although Lady Gaga is well on her way). So the best choice was clear: Taylor Swift, both because I like her and because I had to comment on the whole Kanye-gate thing.

So let me give my succinct opinion on this. Kanye (who DOES make some great music and will show up on the Top 101 Countdown) acted like a jerk. He is entitled to his opinion, yes, but his opinion is no more important or no more right than anybody else’s (after all, who DOESN’T think their opinion is right???). And he’s actually pulled this kind of crap before, going off on a huge rant when Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” video beat out his “Take to the Sky” video for some award a couple of years ago. So Kanye was wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter whether or not you agree that “Single Ladies” was a better video than “You Belong With Me” (and personally, I absolutely disagree, because I prefer videos with stories, I can relate to misfit loners stuck on the bleachers–though I was a “choir queer” and not a “band geek” myself–and the whole prom scene was heart-tugging in classic John Hughes fashion).

That being said, I think people are making too much of the situation. taylorSome people have suggested that Kanye’s actions (just like Serena’s the night before) were indicative of society at large, and how everyone’s sense of right and wrong were pretty much going down the toilet. Personally, I actually saw the whole brouhaha in a completely different light. Kanye acted like a jackass (President Obama was absolutely right), but look at all the people who rallied around Taylor and spoke out against what Kanye did. I thought all of those people’s reactions were far more indicative of society than Kanye’s outburst. People realized that he shouldn’t have acted that way; society didn’t want to accept that kind of behavior. So for me, the score is Kanye 0, Values 1. And Beyonce deserves 1,000 points for the classy way she handled the situation, giving up her speech time so Taylor could finally deliver her speech. To me that was the moment that should and will live on in people’s memories far longer than Kanye bitching on stage.

Okay, now let’s go to Taylor’s song. I love it, pure and simple. It’s simple; it’s sweet; it’s pure teenage pop at its blissful best. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Taylor Swift’s career develops over time, because her music is so-of-the-moment right now. What I mean is, she’s a teenager singing about teenage feelings that teenagers (or in my case, people who never really grew up) can wholly relate to. What is she going to sing about as she grows up? Is she going to continue singing about adolescent crushes, and risking the chance of coming off immature and pathetic? Is she going to go on a “I-am-a-WOMAN-now” sexpot rampage (see Spears, B.)? Or is she going to turn into a “mature” artist, at the risk of alienating her original fan base? Who knows? Perhaps, we should just enjoy the present for what it is, just like Taylor does in her love-happy sings.

So in this Diva Catfight, who wins? Well, if I had to pick my favorite song of the bunch, Whitney would edge Taylor out for the win. But the real winner is YOU, faithful reader, as it’s a Diva Giveaway. Here are all of the five songs (even the disappointing Janet one). All of these Divas deserve to be recognized, and so do you.

Million Dollar Bill – Whitney Houston (Winner)

I Want To Know What Love Is – Mariah Carey

Make Me – Janet Jackson

Revolver – Madonna (w/Lil Wayne)

You Belong With Me – Taylor Swift

2009 US Open: The Highs and Lows

September 16, 2009

USREPORT-US-TENNIS-OPEN-WOMENWell, the U.S. Open has come to an end. And I’ve gotta say it was CRAZY!!! It was easily the most bizarre Grand Slam I’ve ever witnessed. So let’s go over the highlights and the low-low-lowlights.

High Points:
1) Juan del Potro: Pretty much no one gave him a chance, except my brother, actually, who picked Juan to win in five. I, on the other hand, had picked Roger in a three-set steamroll. I really should leave any and all predictions to my brother in the future. Anyhow, Juan fought like hell, and when he connected with that thunderbolt forehand, there was really nothing Roger or ANYBODY could do. He’s still got areas to improve–namely his movement–but he’s crashed the Federer-Nadal-Murray-Djokovic Party in a major, major way.

2) Kim Clijsters: I had mixed feelings about Kim winning because it showed how little the women’s level of play has improved in the last couple of years. That being said, Kim clearly put in a heck of a lot of work, and she clearly earned the win. Seeing the joy evident in Kim and her family took the bad taste out of my mouth after what happened in the semifinal–more on that later.

3) Caroline Wozniacki: She obviously benefited from a draw that opened up to her red-carpet-style, and I’m still skeptical that she has a top-level game. But one thing she doesn’t lack is pure star quality–she’s the Taylor Swift of tennis–and her smile lit up Arthur Ashe Stadium. As sexist as it may sounds, the WTA needs its share of pin-ups, and Caroline fits the bill to a T.

4) Tennis itself: This U.S. Open provided roller-coaster drama on almost a daily basis. It was Grand (Slam) Theatre, and I’ve gotta think that many new tennis fans were born during the fortnight.

5) Melanie Oudin: The kid’s goin’ places. She’s got good power, she’s a born fighter, and she hustles with the best of them. If she just stays healthy and keeps on learning, she should be in the Top 15 by this time next year.

Low Points:

1) Serena: Oh, Serena. We all knew she was a diva, with all that implied. But she went over the line (no pun intended) with her actions. Some people have tried to make the issue about gender and race, but they’re really grasping for straws. The bottom line is that Serena did wrong. I was worried that Serena would put on her nothing-ruffles-me mask and refuse to admit wrongdoing, but she has gone on to apologize, and I was very glad to see that. I do think she has learned her lesson, and suspending her–as some have suggested–would just be counter-productive, hurting both Serena AND tennis. Like Venus suggested after she and Serena won the doubles title, “Let’s move on.”

2) Roger Federer: He’s still Roger (i.e. the Greatest Ever), and the man’s got nothing else to prove. Still, I can’t help but feel a touch of hubris has crept up into his persona, and that played a part in his loss to del Potro. He had the match in his hands, in absolute control, and he stopped pressing on the gas pedal. At one point, he hit a casual behind-the-back shot, which del Potro easily put away. It was Roger showing off, when he needed to just focus on the task at hand. By the time he regained his full intensity, del Potro had risen like an awakened giant, and the match was out of his control.

3) The Officiating: The umpires and the linespeople put on a bizarre sideshow at times. I actually excuse Serena’s “victim” from this, because I can’t help but think that the woman simply called what she saw: Serena foot-faulting. But the umpire in the men’s final was weak and ineffective (Roger ended up telling him, “Don’t tell me to be quiet. I don’t give a shit…”), and the line-calling in Roger’s semifinal against Novak Djokovic was just terrible.

4) The WTA: Kim hadn’t played a major in two years, but she swept through the field without a whole lot of trouble. It supports the belief that many players at the top of the game are there almost by default, not because they’re true champions. I’ll excuse the Williamses because Venus was clearly suffering with a bum knee, and Serena’s situation was just too out there. But Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and pretty much every other established player–besides Kim–seemed to lack that extra fighting spirit that marks true champions.

Serena – Duncan Sheik

Morning Countdown #21 (9/12/09)

September 12, 2009

dg_film1In true L.A. style, today’s Morning Countdown was conducted as I soaked up the rays poolside. I’m finally over my cold, and I’m feelin’ pretty good, playing tennis, working out, and living it up California-style.

My week here has been a total reminder on the whole American lifestyle. You work 9 to 5 at a tolerable job, bantering with your co-workers, then come home, hang out with family and friends, have fun on the weekends, and repeat. It’s nice, and it’s predictable.

But as much as I’m enjoying my time here, I don’t think it’s for me, at least not yet. As much as Korea drives me crazy at times, there’s still a charge in the air there, a sense that I’m really livin’, a sense that ANYTHING can happen. Living in Seoul is kinda like living in a blender, with a whole lot of thing poppin’, and I think I’m still into being blended, if that makes any sense. Now on with the Countdown:

1) Don’t Cry For Me Argentina (Dance Remix) – Madonna: Solid effort from Madonna, just as you’d expect from a Madonna dance song. So let’s discuss Madonna’s acting career for a moment, shall we? Let’s face it, the lady has not had much luck with the silver screen. In Evita, I though she was decent, but still not great, hampered by the same affected mannerisms that have plagued most of her movies. When the script calls for her character to be angry, you can see the wheels moving behind her eyes, as she grimly sets her jaw, blinking a lot because she’s determined to be SO angry, angrier that anybody has ever been, because she’s Madonna, and she’s gotta do things more than anybody else. Unfortunately, great film performances require a kaleidoscope of shades, with moments of subtlety and holding back. And subtlety has never been Madonna’s strong point, to say the least. Interestingly, Madonna’s most natural film performance came in a little-seen bomb called “Dangerous Game.” The movie was absolutely terrible, but Madonna actually managed to connect organically with a character (as opposed to just playing herself, which she did in “Desperately Seeking Susan” and of course “Truth Or Dare”). In fact, she was far, far more effective than her male co-stars (one of which was critics’ darling Harvey Keitel), who hammed it up and overacted like there was no tomorrow.

2) From Clare To Here – Ralph McTell: I love this song. I’m still not exactly sure what it’s about, if Clare is the name of a woman or a place, or what the heck’s going on. But Ralph sings it like he’s telling you a story for the ages, and it’s that sweeping feeling that gets to you and takes you to a time and place far, far away.

3) The Greatest Love of All – Whitney Houston: A winning ballad from Countdown standby Whitney. It’s really less a song than a showcase for that Voice of hers. It’s crystal clear and absolutely stunning, so much so that you don’t register how corny and cliche the lyrics are. Of course, Whitney’s voice has deteriorated worse than the American economy, but I must say, I really LIKE Whitney’s new album. Whitney has found herself some great beatmeisters to hide her vocal limitations, and the uptempo numbers are irresistibe. Million Dollar Bill and Call You Tonight are two of the best pop songs so far this year.

reamonn4) Tonight – Reamonn: Who? You may not have heard of them–I sure hadn’t–but apparently, they’re big in Europe, especially in their native Germamy. I’m not sure why they haven’t hit it big in the States, because this song is just about perfect. A great melody, understated but effective vocals, moody, introspective, just awesome.

5) Heaven – Bryan Adams: I like Bryan Adams. He’s this blue-collar figure singing for the working classes, kind of a Canadian Bruce Springsteen–uh, okay, maybe he’s not THAT talented; let’s make it a Canadian Richard Marx. Yeah, that sounds about right. Unfortunately, upon this listen, “Heaven” isn’t really his best moment (that would be “Summer of ’69”). It’s a bit too repetitive, a bit too juvenile. Still, it’s better than that “The Only Thing That Looks Good On You Is Me” crap he later came out with, all decked out in mascara and glam rock threads. Not too surprisingly, that was the last I ever heard of Bryan, I believe.

An interesting mix of songs this week, I think, with a mix of superstars and relative unknowns. And in an upset, I’ve gotta go with the underdogs this time, just because their songs are the best ones. “From Clare To Here” is a close second, but the ultimate win goes out to Reamonn’s “Tonight.” Of course, most Americans have probably never heard this song. It’s time to remedy that.

Winner: Tonight – Reamonn

Book Review: Sputnik Sweetheart

September 10, 2009

SputnikStill sick. Throat is better, though, at least. If the fever went away, all would be well.

Sick or not, I plowed through the first of my library books: Haruki Murakami’s “Sputnik Sweetheart.” I love Murakami. He has a dry, matter-of-fact style of writing that somehow goes together with plots that delve into the unknown. Somehow, he manages to make things that aren’t supposed to be real feel real.

“Sputnik Sweetheart” actually starts out fairly standard in terms of plot and characters. The narrator is pretty much the same character as in “Norweigan Wood” (one of my all-time favorite books), a nice but melancholy guy who gets through life as best as he can without expecting too much from it. He’s in love with a high-strung young woman named Sumire who wants desperately to be a writer, but he knows it would never work, as she only sees him as a friend.

Then one day, Sumire meets and falls in love with a mysterious older woman (Korean, incidentally) called Miu. But Miu has a secret past and keeps the enthralled Sumire at a distance. So far, it’s all very Carson McCullers, in the whole no-way-is-this-love-gonna-end-up-well vein. Then during a trip to Europe, Sumire disappears, and things take the not unexpected turn into surreality Murakami-style.

Does it all work? Well, yes and no. I’m not sure if I LIKED the book, per se, but I’ve been thinking about it all day. It’s driving me crazy in a way, especially the ending, which could really have happened or may just have been a delusion or just an expression of hope. The book draws you completely in and then just ends, no clear answers offered, have a nice day.

Of course, Murakami’s done this before, with “After Dark” (more like a trailer than a complete book) and even with the otherwise brilliant “Kafka On the Shore.” It’s kind of like someone spilling milk on the table and refusing to clean it up; instead, saying, “Look at the interesting shapes the milk makes.”

My cousin, who’s also a huge Murakami fan, has told me that Murakami has a new book out titled IQ84 (a play on the novel, 1984), so I’ll definitely be waiting for that one. Murakami, frustrating as he can be, the man’s a genius.

And he’s obviously a big music fan. So I dedicated this song–my favorite song in Japanese–to him. The title apparently means something like “Cool,” which Murakami definitely is in my book, no pun intended, ha ha ha.

Suteki da Ne – Rikki

(Top 101 Countdown) #77. Respect – Aretha Franklin

September 7, 2009

Aretha_Franklin1I’m sick. Fever. Sore throat. Tired, tired, tired. Maybe it’s the swine flu that every one of my Korean friends warned me about. I wonder if one can get it from having too much sam-gyup-sal (Korean roasted pork, yum, yum, yum). Anyhow, I’m sick, so I’ll make this short.

From my experience, love without respect is like eating ice cream without a cone (or a cup, if that’s what you prefer). It may taste good; it may feel good. But it leaves a big old sticky mess that’s hard to wash off.

That didn’t register? Okay, how about this one? Love without respect is like a credit card without a driver’s license. You really need one for the other to be truly accepted and verified…

Okay, forget it. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t work, at least not for the long haul. Let me just have Aretha explain it:

77. Respect – Aretha Franklin