The Best Songs of 2010: The Tommyland Edition

December 27, 2010

2010.  It’s been an interesting year.  On the minus side, I pretty much made no money.  My aunt had health problems (though fortunately not as bad as 2009–shudder).  I think my hairline receded a few inches.  My romantic life is non-existent (well, by choice since I didn’t want to start dating while being unemployed, but still!).  My family has some issues, too; both my mom’s and my brother’s businesses are really slow due to the economy–obviously not alone in that–and I’ve just found out my father has a serious hoarding problem (maybe a Stage 3.5 compared to the Stage 5 showboaters on Hoarders).  Also, as I wrote about already, I fell off a bike, and it sucked.

On the plus side, I finally started building my writing muscle.  I wrote 380 pages of the first draft of my novel-to-be.  I performed in our choir concert without embarrassing myself.  And I managed to land a teaching position at a university with conditions that I’m quite happy with.

And of course, there’s been the music, as always.  I actually think 2010’s been a really great year music-wise.  Sure, if you just look at the Billboard charts, it’s easy to get discouraged, but in the Age of the Downloader, it’s possible to be expose yourself to all kinds of music scenes, whether it be indie or underground or in another language or what have you.  It’s become possible to design a musical palate tailor-made for your exact tastes; there’s no more need to settle for the mainstream stuff anymore.

So in this Golden Age, here are the Top 32 golden nuggests that I found shining the brightest:

32.  Mood Ring – The Howling Owls

31.  The One That Got Away – Katy Perry

30.  Fletta – Bjork & Antony Hegarty

29.  California Run – Neil Nathan

28.  Fuck You – Cee-Lo

27.  Is He Really Coming Home – The School

26.  Get Out of My Way – Kylie Minogue

25.  Kickstarts – Example

24.  Hello – The Cast of “Glee”

23.  Tighten Up – Black Keys

22.  Belinda – Ben Folds

21.  Vanity – Christina Aguilera

20.  Sex and Violence – Scissor Sisters

19.  Without U – 2 PM

18.  Afraid of Everyone – The National

17.  Up to the Mountain (Live) – Crystal Bowersox

16.  Run – Epik High

15.  Female Wrestler (Remix) – Power Animal

14.  Queen of Denmark – John Grant

13.  Lewis Takes Off His Shirt – Owen Pallett

12.  Dance to This Song – WongFu & KevJumba & David Choi

11.  Baby – Justin Bieber & Ludacris

10.  Tightrope – Janelle Monae & Big Boi

9.  Dancing on My Own – Robyn

8.  All the Lovers (Ext. Mix) – Kylie Minogue

7.  Don’t Look Now – Far East Movement & Keri Hilson

6.  The World Is – Matthew Ryan

5.  XXXO – M.I.A.

4.  Nothin’ on You – B.O.B. & Bruno Mars

3.  Spring and Fall to a Child – Natalie Merchant

2.  Acts of Man – Midlake

1.  A Fairytale Ending – The Boy Least Likely To

The Top 17 Songs (for a 2010 Mix CD)


Diva-graphies (Book Reviews)

December 27, 2010

The Ciccione Siblings--Before the Literary Backstabbing

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.  Mine consisted mainly of sitting on the sofa watching the all-day Christmas Story marathon on TBS while my brother and his girlfriend grilled some ribs on the barbeque.  It was kinda dull, kinda awkward, but also awfully comfortable.  And the ribs turned out pretty darn good!

I woke up today (the 26th) and for the first time felt like I had completely gotten over my jetlag.  And with the weather finally California-esque, I hopped on my bike once again to hit the road (though not literally this time, thank God).

I knew I had to do it as soon as my hands were healed enough for me to grab the handlebars.  It’s like when Madonna fell off that horse and broke a zillion bones but got back on that horse the first chance she had.  She was quoted as saying that she knew she had to do it; otherwise, she’d be afraid to do it forever.  I took her words to heart, and fortunately, no more fear here, thank you very much.

It really shows that there is a whole lot one can learn from great divas, whether it be their courage, their style, their travails, or their triumphs.  So in their honor, here are my reviews on the diva biographies I’ve read in the last few months:

LIPS UNSEALED by Belinda Carlisle

You may remember Belinda in her bubbly, chubby Go-go incarnation or from her more sophisticated, redheaded solo days.  Well, it turns out she was high as a kite through it all.  “Mad About You” could’ve been about coke; “Heaven is a Place on Earth” was pretty much what she was thinking when was snorting it.  A particular “Yikes” moment is when she drops off her son at his school and then goes to the school restroom for a quick hit because she can’t even wait to go home first.   Full credit to Belinda for her unflinching honesty and willingness to take full responsibility for all her troubles.  GRADE:  B.

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE by Pat Benatar

It’s interesting.  Despite her tough rocker chick persona, it turns out Pat Benatar was first and foremost a smart businesswoman.  There’s no drugs, no scandal to talk of here.  Rather, the conflict in her bio comes from the record industry itself.  She recounts the sexism she had to face through her career, from the execs who demanded she go out and do promos within days of a miscarriage to the radio DJs who’d make comments like “Why don’t you come over and sit on my lap, honey?”  It’s actually pretty interesting to read about, and Pat also gives a very detailed account of the recording process behind her best-known albums and songs.  Things get a bit too cheesy when she goes on (and on and on) about how wonderful her husband is, but ultimately, Pat shows that one can rock without being self-destructive.  GRADE:  B.

LIFE WITH MY SISTER MADONNA by Christopher Ciccione.

Obviously, there’s a moral dilemma here.  I’m not big on someone selling out a family member for a quick buck, which is what Madonna’s little brother is undeniably doing here.  But once you get over that, this is one heck of a fun read on the Material Girl.  Madonna’s life story has been told time and time before, but Christopher, having been a member of her inner circle for much of her career, offers up new, wacky stories for the very first time.  And to Christopher’s credit, he doesn’t do a “Sister Dearest” hatchet job; he gives her ample credit for the good she’s done while also describing the ways in which she’s hurt him (apparently Madonna can be a bit self-absorbed and temperamental at times–you don’t say!).  Ultimately, this book is gossipy, tawdry, sometimes even pathetic (Christopher’s insistence that his drug use–strongly frowned upon by Big Sis–was strictly “recreational” is worth a few eyerolls), but it’s just too much fun to resist in the end.  GRADE:  A.

KATE BUSH:  UNDER THE IVY by Graeme Thompson

With Kate Bush being notoriously private, it’s pretty much a sure thing that we’re never going to get an autobiography out of her.  (Seriously, even a new album seems like it may be asking for too much–we had to wait something like 15 years for Aerial.)  So this unauthorized bio is about as close a look into Kate’s life and work process that we’re probably ever going to get.  Thompson suceeds in presenting a meticulously researched career retrospective, and while clearly a fan, he manages to stay fairly objective throughout the book.  However, Kate Bush has been iron-determined to remain an enigma throughout her career, and Thompson never manages to shed any real light on just what’s been going on in that mysterious head (and heart) of hers.  He presents Kate’s genius, yes, but he doesn’t provide any glimpse into what lies behind it.  GRADE:  C.

OPRAH: A BIOGRAPHY by Kitty Kelley

Oprah may not be a pop star, but if she released a CD tomorrow, is there any doubt that it will go straight to #1 and break all sorts of records?  Oprah is Oprah, which means she can be anything she wants to be, basically.  From what I’ve heard, Kitty Kelley is known to be a “poison pen” biographer, but she actually stays pretty respectful here.  While she does suggest that Oprah isn’t quite as faultless as she seems (really, who could be?) and has exaggerated aspects of her rags-to-riches success story, she never drags Oprah through the mud outright and never tries to undermine Oprah’s philanthropy and achievements.  Similarly to the Kate Bush book, we don’t get a look into Oprah’s innermost thoughts and secrets, but a document on Oprah’s life is interesting enough in itself to deserve a read.  GRADE:  B+.


Tour de Rain…

December 21, 2010

Trust me, you don't want see what's under the bandage

The rain in Spain may fall on a plain, but here in L.A., it’s been raining all around, all day and night.  And it’s been a pain and a drain.  Just insane.  Let me cue the strain.

So there I am, at 5:00 AM this morning, up and wide-eyed, eager to start the new week here in California.  So I get the bike out of the garage and start pedaling away to the local 24 hour fitness, taking little notice of the clouds in the sky.  I go, work out a bit, and continue on to Best Buy, where I look at covers for my just-purchased Sony PRS-950 e-reader (one word review:  AWESOME!!!).  In what will prove to literary foreshadowing, a salesperson asks me if it’s raining outside.  I tell him it was sprinkling a tiny bit when I arrived.

Fifteen minutes or so later, I walk out of the store and find a deluge in progress.  A couple of “Aw, crap”s later, I decide that nothing can stop me (I do what I do, come rain or shine!).  I ride on in the rain to the bank where  the banker lady looks at me with a look of undisguised pity before she hands me my cash.  I’m assuming it was due to me being soaked and dripping and not to my microscopic account balance.

Back outside, I set out on the road again.  I’m about halfway to my destination, the post office, when I see railroad tracks up ahead.  There are metal platforms that lead up to the tracks and gaps in the platforms.  I decide to speed up to be able to go over the gaps, and oopsie daisy, I hit the platforms at an angle, causing my bike to spin and topple right over.  Ow, ow, ow.  I end up lying at the edge of the road on my back, dazed and confused (even more than usual).  “Shit!” I cry to the sky, which just spits back more rain on my face.

I gingerly get back up on my feet and assess the damage.  Both my palms are bleeding, like I’ve been hit with sudden stigmata.  My jeans now have a huge hole over the left knee, which is also bleeding.  I take a few steps, and fortunately, the knee itself seems to hold up.  The biggest damage has been inflicted on my right hand, which has a being chunk of skin hanging from it now.

A few (or not-so-few) more swear words later, I put the chain back on my bike and get back on.  I resume riding, this time at a turtle’s pace (well, I guess turtles don’t ride bikes, but you know what I mean).  I approach my house and in an instant choose to pass it by.  Holding the handlebars with my fingertips, I continue on to the post office.  I wipe my bleeding hands on the back of my jeans and then pick up my package.  Fortunately, the postal lady seems to notice nothing.  Then, only then, do I make my way back home.

Cold, bleeding, a bit traumatized, I think about what happened.  Crappy as it was, I decide I’m pretty lucky all around.  I think about all the things that could have happened to me.  I could’ve fallen on to the road and been run over by a truck.  My plane could have crashed and never made it to LAX.  I could have had no parents to return to.  I’ll take bleeding palms and a scraped knee over that any time.

I finally made it back home shortly after eleven.  It had been a long, long day.  A shower, a change of clothes, disinfectant, and a few bandages later, I now feel a lot better.  Due to my mangled palms, I won’t be able to work out or drive for some time, but still, all things being considered, it could’ve been a hell of a lot worse.  Palms heal.  Wounds scab.  And while I won’t be winning Tour de France any time soon, I will come back stronger and hopefully a little wiser.

Ting Tings – Hands


Christmas at McDonald’s –by Yours Truly

December 15, 2010

Well, it’s official.  The contracts are signed, and I will be teaching at K******** University starting next March.  Nobody changed their minds.  Awesome!

With that formality behind me, I’ve been able to write again, and well, to say that it’s brought me joy is an understatement.  Seriously, I may or may not ever be published, but I will forever love the process of writing.  It is such a rush, better than sex, better than pizza, better than soju (though that one’s not saying much), better than just about anything really, because you really have to earn your way to it.  Hard.  But good.  (“That’s what she said!” as Michael Scott would say, HA!) 

The writing group I go to had a Christmas brunch last weekend and a holiday-themed flash fiction writing contest to go with it.  (For those of you not up-to-speed on writer-lingo, “flash fiction” just means fiction that’s really, really short, like a couple of pages or so; I just learned this recently myself.)  So I cranked out a little story called “Christmas at McDonald’s” as my writing-comeback piece.  I didn’t win the contest, and the story is really simple and cheesy as lasagna, but I’m still pretty proud of it.  If not anything else, it’s been a great primer to get me motivated into digging back into my would-be novel after I arrive in the States later this week.

Anyhow, feel free to download the story and give it a read.  It’s really short and (hopefully) painless.  Oh, and of course, have a Merry Christmas, at McDonald’s or elsewhere 🙂

Christmas at McDonald’s (PDF)


Grant Me This Wish…

December 9, 2010

I can’t stop listening to this.  This guy awes me.  John Grant’s entire Queen of Denmark album is incredible (definitely in my Top Three for the year), but it’s the closing title track that reaches out and takes a hold of your heart in an iron grip.

John Grant’s similar to the Lumberjack Rock artists that I naturally gravitate to (Bonnie Prince Billy, William Fitzsimmons, Damien Jurado, etc.), but with one key difference:  resilience.  This is the voice of a guy who’s gone THROUGH a shitstorm and not only lived through it but has also learned from it. 

There’s an underlying strength and self-awareness to Grant’s music.  He’s not pretending that there is no pain in the world; instead, he’s looking it in the eye and  not running away from it.  And if he isn’t living life with fear, he seems to be singing, why should you?  Good question indeed.

Queen Of Denmark – John Grant


(Top 101) #28. Together Again – Janet Jackson

December 9, 2010

I’m headed to the States next Thursday for a month-long stay with my family.  It should be nice.  I’m looking forward to it for the most part, though there’s some trepidation in me as well.  I love my family to death, but the dynamics can be… interesting.  Still, as much as we disappoint, annoy, nag, pressure, and frustrate one another from time to time, we are family, and families are meant to be together.  I’m sure Janet can relate.


Kate Bush: This Amazing Woman’s Work

December 4, 2010

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been sleeping with Kate Bush. Okay, okay, let me clarify. I’ve been putting her music on my CD player each night to listen to while I’m falling asleep.

I was aware of Kate before. I knew and loved “This Woman’s Work” from years back, and I also liked the duet she did with Peter Gabriel. And of course, I heard that she had been an influence on Tori Almighty. But I had ordered her “Whole Story” collection back when I was in high school from the BMG CD Club (remember the “Get 10 CDs for a penny” ads?), and when “Wuthering Heights” started playing, all I could think was “What the hell is with this shrill woman?” I ended up selling the CD to a used CD store and pretty much lay Kate to rest for good, I thought.

But then a few weeks ago, I was watching The Amazing Race where the racers had to plant potatoes in a Russian field while several babooshkas cheered them on. As I was watching, I knew I had heard that word in a song before, so I went tracking it down, and it led me back to the Kate Bush league. Since then, I’ve been digging through her back catalogue, and it’s been like digging my fingers into a treasure box dug up from the bottom of the ocean. Her music: it’s just genius piled on genius piled on genius. I can’t think of better music to sleep with.