(Top 101) #47. The Water Is Wide – Karla Bonoff

April 29, 2010

I was walking to the subway station yesterday when I noticed a huge white tent set up in the park right next to the entrance.  Inside, there were framed photos of about forty young men in navy uniforms.  I realized what this was:  these were the Korean soldiers who died in the shipwreck that occurred recently.  Even I, in my writing coccoon, had heard the story, how a North Korean torpedo was likely responsible.  But until I saw those pictures, it was just another terrible but distant news story, the dead anonymous and unknown.  But my God, those faces, they were so terribly young. 

And right now, I’m watching a news documentary about the incident, and there’s footage of parents and other family members grieving the dead, wailing from the soul.  It’s frightening and heartbreaking to watch; I can’t even imagine–nor do I want to–what they must be going through.   I think it would hurt more than dying itself. 

Ultimately, those young men are victims of war, since North Korea and South Korea are really still in a stand-off that’s only a few rash steps away from a full-out war.  And I think about the war against Iraq, and how people opposed to it were accused of being anti-American and anti-military.  I remember thinking how a part of supporting the military is to make sure their lives are placed at risk only when absolutely necessary.  War is not a sign of bravado; it must only be used as a very last resort–as was the case in World War II.  And I’m sorry, but I do not believe President-at-the-time George Bush thought of it as such.  And yes, I do believe the blood of the casualties–both American and Iraqi–is on his hands.  Just as the blood of these Korean soldiers is–if North Korea was indeed responsible–on Kim Jung-Il’s hands.   Assholes.  Seriously, why must there be so many assholes in positions of power? 

I don’t even know what I’m saying.  It’s just that life is hard much of the time.  I remember reading somewhere that all human sadness ultimately comes from just one thing:  the inability to get what we want.  Well, that may be true.  But I don’t think it makes us petty.  Rather, it just makes us what we are:  human.  As human beings, we want, and we want so desperately.  It’s a part of what makes us alive and sadly, also the reason why we must suffer while we are.  We have to take our comfort where we can, through love, friendships, acts of kindness, and sometimes through song.  So this one goes out to all of us who are in pain now, no matter what the source, no matter where you may be.  Let us be strong.

47. The Water Is Wide – Karla Bonoff


#48. Torn – Natalie Imbruglia

April 25, 2010

There’s actually something about this song that bugs me about this song.  It’s the goofy lyric, “I am cold and ashamed, lying naked on the floor.”  If you’re cold, why wouldn’t you put some clothes on and why would you lie down on a bare floor?

The reason this bugs me is that I’ve done something similar, so I know what it feels like.  A few years ago, I went through something called a Nissen Fundoplication for a medical condition known as GERD.  I’ll spare you the details since I don’t want to relive them; let it suffice to say that it was not a fun time.  For a month after the surgery, I could barely eat or drink anything since my esophagus was left really swollen and sensitive (I ended up losing more than 20 lbs.). 

So I was left dehydrated and pretty much out of it (and most of all, so so so hungry, painfully so) all that time, and one day, it was kind of hot in my room, so I tried to turn the air conditioner on, but somehow I ended up turning the heater on, only that I didn’t know it.  So it just got hotter and hotter, but I was so barely there that I just figured I had a bad fever.  Anyhow to make the long, pathetic story short, I ended up going to the bathroom and lying down on the cold tile floor just to get relief from how hot I was.

Now, would I have done that if I was feeling “cold and ashamed,” like Ms. Imbruglia supposedly did?  Heck, no.  I’m telling you, that lyric just makes no sense!  So it’s a good thing that “Torn” has that killer chorus to make up for it and still land on the Top 101 Countdown.  Who knows how much higher it would’ve been if she had just changed those words to “hot and hungry”?

48. Torn – Natalie Imbruglia


The World Is…

April 16, 2010

Maybe because it’s my brother’s birthday this week and I’m an ocean away, but I’ve been listening to a lot of music that I’m sure many people will find lugubrious.  It’s perhaps strange, but I don’t find it depressing at all.  In fact, I find it uplifting.

This is Matthew Ryan, an incredible indie singer who’s got an awesome new album out called Dear Lover. (buy it here )   His old stuff is great, too (he’ll be showing up on my Top 101 Countdown some time later), but this album is just amazing, full of moody beauty.   And like his fellow brothers of Lumberjack Rock (apparently the correct term is ‘alt-country,’ but I like my name better) Bonnie Prince Billy, Damien Jurado, and William Fitzsimmons, he sings like he’s on the top of a roof cabin singing to the stars. And the world is better off for it.

The World Is – Matthew Ryan


#49. Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega (w/ DNA)

April 11, 2010

I’m closing in the 200-page mark in my novel.  I’m not even halfway finished, but it’s moving along, slowly but surely.  The writing workshops that I’ve been attending have been very helpful and interesting, I must say.  The reactions to my work have been diverse, to say the least.  I’ve gotten everything from “lame and cheesy” to “I’d rather buy this than ‘Native Speaker’ (by Kor-Am author Chang-rae Lee).”  Overall, it’s helped me to identify my writing weaknesses.

One weakness is that I am rather terrible at giving descriptions of settings.  If I were to describe a house, I’d say something like, “It was big, white, and had a green roof with a gate around it,” and be happy with that.  It’s not exactly William Faulkner, obviously.  I’m just not good at it.  I look at a house; I see a house.  I look at a tree; I don’t have much to say about it beyond that it’s a tree.

I think my bread-and-butter is dialogue between characters.  It comes out naturally, and I enjoy seeing what happens when my characters collide.  I recently wrote the scene where my main characters meets the girl he’s going to fall in love with for the first time, and everything flowed out so easily and naturally that I was sorry to see the scene end.

A girl at the last workshop made what I thought was really a prescient point about writing.  She said that in a good story, the writer reveals one part of a whole and lets the reader extrapolate the rest instead of just of telling him or her what the story is supposed to be about.  I think she was exactly right.  In so many of my favorite books, there is a poigant quality of something hidden, something missing; a sense of loss and mystery that’s never quite made clear.  As a writer, I believe it’s possible to dig deeper when you have your reader doing the digging right along with you.

It’s not often when you find that elusive quality in pop music, but it CAN happen.  Tori Amos has made a career of digging lyrical mysteries, and even Madonna had the enigmatic masterpiece that was “Live To Tell.”  Another example comes in the form of the #49 song on our Top 101 Countdown:  Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.”  What exactly is happening in this diner?  Who is it that’s watching Suzanne?  And who is it that Suzanne’s thinking of?  What does it all mean?  Well, the answer leaves it all for you to decide.  The song, like almost all great art at its core, works as a mirror, casting different reflections for all of us.

49. Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega & DNA


#50. Riddle (Remix) – En Vogue

April 11, 2010

It’s bizarre how much drama you can find yourself in without barely ever leaving your house.  To make a long (and pathetically boring) story short, I’ve discovered that I’m the object of a (much undeserved) crush by someone who’s a friendly acquaintance at best.  I kinda suspected it for a couple of months now, but I was free to ignore it until the person called me a few days ago and put me on the spot, and well, I had to do what I had to do to put a (hopefully gentle) stop to it.  It’s terrible when you fall for someone, and they don’t like you back.  But it’s no picnic when someone falls for you, and you don’t feel the same way, either.  Anyway, it wasn’t fun, and I’m still feeling guilty and weird about it all.

I’m 34 now (36 in Korean age, groan; I hate it when it’s two years higher instead of just one), and I just want to be a writer and pretty much left alone.  But no, I’m still dealing with the same adolescent problems I had back in high school.  Ugh…  I guess it just goes on to show you, at any age, love can be a riddle without any clear answer.  Tell it, En Vogue.

50. Riddle (Remix) – En Vogue


On Your Porch…

April 1, 2010

Some time ago, I wrote a post where I proclaimed Format’s “On Your Porch” as the best song ever about father-son relationships (https://tommylander.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/my-fathers-son-the-top-10-songs-about-fathers/) . I definitely stand by that, and I’ve just found a student film with it on Youtube. The guy did an excellent job with it, I thought, so I wanted to post it on here, too. As for the song, it remains an absolute killer.

And me, I ran. I couldn’t even look at him
For fear that I’d have to say goodbye
And as I start to leave, he grabs me by the shoulder
And he tells me, “What’s left to lose? You’ve done enough.
And if you fail, well then you fail, but not to us”…

On Your Porch – Format


#51. Runaway Train – Soul Asylum

April 1, 2010


When I was in high school, my accountng teacher–old, crochety Mr. Berens–would leave the classroom a lot, leaving us to calculate debits and credits on our own. People would have loud conversations, and I’d take advantage of the chaos to softly sing to myself (needless to say, I didn’t have many friends). I wasn’t very good; I remember the time the girl that sat next to me–Cathy–asked me to please stop singing Depeche Mode’s “Somebody” because she “loved” that song. I guess my singing was desecrating it for her.

Anyhow, I remember singing “Runaway Train” more than any other song because it was so popular that year and the chorus was on constant repeat in my brain. Cathy apparently didn’t like it too much because she never told me to shut up when I was singing it, but I sure did. And still do.

Everything seems so cut and dry
Day and night, Earth and sky
Somehow I just don’t believe it…

51. Runaway Train – Soul Asylum