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)


Female Wrestler… (An Ode To GLOW)

July 3, 2010

Do any of these names ring a bell to you?  Tina Ferrari, Colonel Ninotchka, Sally (or Amy or Babe) the Farmer’s Daughter?  How about Hollywood & Vine, or Spike & Chainsaw the Heavy Metal Sisters?  If your answer is “No,” then you missed out on the 80’s camp extravaganza that was GLOW, the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling.  Seriously, you missed out.  As sad as it sounds, it was the highlight of many a Saturday afternoon in my teenage years.

You thought the WWE was ridiculously over-the-top?  They had nothing on the GLOW girls, who had it all.  Of course, by “all,” I mean skimpy outfits, terrible wrestling skills, unrepentantly offensive stereotypes, and who-actually-writes-this-crap storylines.  Somehow, it all added up to must-see TV.  I still remember the first time I ever lay my eyes on GLOW.  Ashley Cartier, the amply-bottomed Beverly Hills beauty, grabbed the mike to deride her opponent, the fiery Latina goddess, Spanish Red, telling her “I hire people like you to clean my toilets” (see what I mean with the stereotypes; and Ashley was supposed to be the GOOD girl!)  This predictably started a slapfest, and after six or seven minutes of amateurish rolling around (the girls pretty much did the same, easy moves in every single match), Spanish Red got in the last word by pinning Ashley.  By then, I was hooked.

Here are some of the most memorable GLOW moments.  

1) Susie Spirit, the brunette cheerleader (she often did a split right on top of her opponents) bungled a Sunset Flip in a match against the tribal Headhunters and broke her arm for real.  GLOW spun the whole incident as the Headhunters cruelly injuring poor Susie (even though it was her own darn fault) and she eventually got “revenge” by beating Manna the Headhunter (who wasn’t even one of the two Headhunters she wrestled in the first match).

2) Jungle Woman, supposedly from the Amazon, always brought a blond, naked-except-for-some-leaves guy called Nature Boy to her matches.  Well, the buff and beautiful Tina Ferrari (who’d later get even buffer and end up on the WWE as Ivory) wanted some of that and kidnapped Nature Boy during a match, eventually giving him a makeover and donning him with shades and fancy threads.  Well, Jungle Woman attacked Tina and claimed back Nature Boy, who responded by howling and stripping down to his leaves.

3) Spike & Chainsaw, the Heavy Metal Sisters.  My God, where to begin.  They showed up to their matches wielding blow torches and chainsaws (or sometimes in strait jackets) and it was a given that they’d lose as they’d be disqualified sooner or later (although they did win one match against Dallas the cowgirl and Olympia the bodybuilder, which was only because it was a No-Disqualification match).  Their many antics included burning Debbie Debutante’s eyes with the blow torch, branding Sally the Farmer’s Daughter’s leg, presenting Ashley with a severed arm for her birthday, and putting on blackface and throwing watermelons around in a match against Ebony the African-American supermodel (yikes).  But they reached their greatest heights against the pretty but hopeless Southern Belles (Scarlet & Tara).  They chainsawed through the belles’ hoop skirts, then set the hoop on fire, before making Tara bark like a dog and then jump through the hoop like a circus animal.  It was absolutely ridiculous and juvenile, but it was also impossible to look away.  The same could be said of GLOW itself.

After the remarkable first season, GLOW started losing steam.  Apparently, they hardly bothered to pay the girls, so the rosters kept changing rapidly, the storylines started getting repetivite, and even while the level of actual wrestling got (somewhat) better, the magic slowly but surely started to disappear.  After three more seasons (and an appearance on Donahue), the show was gone.

So why am I even thinking about GLOW?  It’s due to “Female Wrestler,” the track by Power Animal.  It’s excellent (the singer’s mumbly way of singing is kind of annoying at first but ends up being hypnotic) and brought back some good old memories.   

Female Wrestler (Less Urban Version) – Power Animal

P.S.  Sadly, Mount Fiji (the kind Samoan giant) is apparently in poor health these days.  Very touchingly, a huge group of former GLOW girls got together earlier this year to surprise her (the event was organized by Little Egypt, the girl who always belly danced before she started wrestling).  It’s great to see what the girls look like now (though longtime champion Americana looks exactly the same!), though my all-time favorites Sally and Spanish Red were no-shows.  Thanks for the memories, girls!


Galaxy Express 999…

May 12, 2010

Whoa, haven’t written in a while.  I’ve had a tough month, actually.  Semi-identiy crisis, my back flaring up, so forth, so forth.  But the weather in Korea has finally become awesome, and so has my mood.  You know how they say ‘Today is the first day of the rest of my life?”  Well, yes, it’s a cliche as hokey as they come, but it also happens to be true.

As for my novel-to-be, it now stands at 265 pages.  I think I’ve crossed the halfway mark.  Sometimes, the writing flows out, sometimes, it sputters.  But overall, it’s chugging alone, just like a train.  And that, my friend, is a segue into today’s post about Galaxy Express 999.

I was eight when my family moved to the U.S. from Korea.  So I can’t say that I have a whole lot of clear memories of my days before I arrived in California dazed and confused.  Still, there are things that I do remember, some nice (playing with my then best-friend Moonsu; whom I’ve been meaning to look up one of these days… for the last ten years), some not (my parents fighting), and some a bit inexplicable.  And that’s where Galaxy Express falls into.  I used to watch this show on Korean TV every Sunday.

As a grown-up, I couldn’t remember the title, not even the exact storyline.  All I could remember was that involved a boy and a blond woman in a black fur coat and square fur hat that were riding on a train every week.  For whatever reason, I was mesmerized by the show, and I remember hating to go to church every week (I wasn’t quite a heathen then) because I never got to find out how any of the episodes ended.

Once I got back to Korea and made some Korean friends, that was one of the first things I asked them about.  “So, do any of you guys know about a cartoon where the characters just kept riding on a train…”  Boom, they filled me in right away.  “Eun-ha-cheol-do-999!” (that’s the title in Korean) Apparently, the show was way popular; almost everyone in my age group had watched it themselves or at least had heard of it.

So I was happy just to know that the show wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.  But since I started writing about certain childhood experiences in my novel-to-be, I got curious about the reasons I could’ve liked the cartoon so much.  So I did some Internet sleuthing, and after a click here, a click there, a cell phone payment here, and boom, I had the first ten (out of about a hundred) episodes downloaded onto my hard drive.

I watched the first three episodes in the last few days, and well, it’s been interesting, that’s for sure.  Trust me, this ain’t no Charlie Brown or Garfield.  Basically, Galaxy Express 999 takes place in a futuristic society where the rich pay to turn themselves into robots so they can live forever and the poor are left to suffer and die.  But apparently, there is a distant planet where even the poor can become the immortal robots if they can just somehow get themselves there.  So a poor mother and her boy–named Cheol-yi in the Korean version) set out to the train station so they can board the train to the distant planet (remember, this is the future we’re talking about).  But on the way there, evil robot guards kill the mother (it’s really, really sad, and may have sparked my attraction to melodrama at a young age), and little Cheol-yi is left to make the journey alone.  

Then the boy somehow meets up with Mattel, a mysterious blond woman dressed all in black (apparently, black is fashionable in any millennium) who takes him under her wing and helps him fight off more evil guards and gets him a ticket on the train.

In the following episodes, they keep riding the train while getting off to make pit stops at various planets, which are all interesting and different but basically pose a danger of some kind or another to our main characters.  The second episodes involves a pit stop on a planet which looks like a ghost town in a Western movie, and it culminates in a lying gunslinger and Cheol-yi fighting in a duel, which ends up with the gunslinger dying and regretting his lying, cheating ways.

In the following episode, Cheol-yi and Mattel visit a planet where everyone can do everything they want except trying to keep other people from doing what they want to do (very philosophical, no?).  Of course, you’d think the boy and Mattel would’ve learned by now just to stay in that train instead of venturing out every time they make a stop, but then we wouldn’t have a show.  So they venture out, and Mattel is promptly whisked off by some bandits, and the boy goes off to rescue her.  He eventually finds her lying in a field in her underwear, shaken but alive.  Then together, they head back to the train, while a narrator’s deep voice talks about how that planet’s freedom is really taking everyone’s freedom away.

So, all in all, we have a mother dying, a bunch of other killings (including the ones by a child), and an implied sexual assault all in the first three episodes of a cartoon presumably for children.  Yup, it’s Japanese (though dubbed in Korean) anime at its best, and no wonder I remember being so riveted, just as I remain so now (I can’t wait to watch the remaining 97 episodes).  I just knew I never really got around to growing up, and this is just more proof.  Seriously, it’s great, great stuff.  I’m actually going to Japan in mid-June (my first time, very excited), and I’ll definitely be on the look out for some Mattel souvenirs.


And the TMAs Go To…

December 31, 2009

2009 is just minutes away from becoming history, and in my opinion, it was a darn good year in music. It is now time to award the best of the best. So I present to you, the winners of the 2009 Tommyland Music Awards!!!

BEST DEBUT ALBUM: La Roux, La Roux

La Roux showed that a girl didn’t have to act stupid or flauntingly sexy to make great, rhythmic pop music. That mix of brash attitude and killer beats made for a debut to remember.

BEST VIDEO: “Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga

Was there any doubt? Lady Gaga offered one jaw-droppingly surreal image after another, and in the process, became a superstar.

BEST ROCK TRACK: “Heartless (Live Version)” – Kris Allen

Kanye West wrote a very good song. But it was Kris who made it great, infusing it with joy, emotion, and a more-than-capable voice (sorry, Kanye).

BEST DANCE TRACK: “Audacity Of Huge” – Simian Mobile Disco

Have no idea what the heck the song is trying to say. I’m just gonna shake my booty while I try to figure it all out.

BEST COUNTRY(ish) TRACK: “You Belong With Me” – Taylor Swift

Is it pop? Country? An irresistible dose of teen-crush adrenaline? I’ll say all of the above.

BEST HARD ROCK TRACK: “Sliver (Live From Reading Version)” – Nirvana

Kurt came back to slay us all over again. The new kids on the rock block still have ways to go…

BEST RAP TRACK & BEST COLLABORATION TRACK: “Dead And Gone” – T.I. & Justin Timberlake

T.I. lays on the dread and the drama, while Justin delivers the yearning behind the hook. As royal as rap got all year.

BEST KOREAN TRACK: “Gee” – Girls’ Generation

It’s audio Prozac, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Don’t even try to fight it.

BEST TRACK FOR FILM, TV OR STAGE: “Endless Love” – Glee Cast

I know it’s pure cornball, but I’ve always loved this song. And this is the best rendition I’ve ever heard. It positively soars…

BEST R&B TRACK: “Betcha Gon’ Know (The Prologue)” – Mariah Carey

The bad news is that this was one of only three good songs on Mariah’s last album (others being “Angels Cry” and “I Want To Know What Love Is.” The good news is that this is one of her best tracks EVER, with an air of introspection Mariah has rarely shown before.

BEST BALLAD TRACK & BEST COVER TRACK: “If I Can’t Have You” – Adam Lambert

Forget the mascara, forget the theatrics, but don’t forget Adam’s voice, all he needs here to make you absolutely melt.

BEST MALE TRACK: “Airport Surroundings” – Loney Dear

This song is all about momentum. It just builds and builds, never letting you go, until it has you in the palm of its hand. It’s a great place to be.

BEST FEMALE TRACK & BEST POP TRACK: “All I Want” – Sarah Blasko

Ethereal. Light as air, yet achingly beautiful. It’s the perfect song to count stars to…

BEST TRACK OF THE YEAR, BEST GROUP TRACK & BEST ALTERNATIVE TRACK: “The Way It Used To Be” – Pet Shop Boys

This actually isn’t the first time my favorite song of the year was by the PSB. “Being Boring” was in my opinion the greatest song of 1990 (or almost any year, really). Nineteen years later, the Boys are back on top with “The Way It Used To Be,” a song so breath-taking that it stopped me in my tracks as I was crossing the street hearing it for the first time. Yes, it’s so good that it nearly killed me (and I would still have loved it even if it had).

BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Strict Joy, Swell Season

It’s a quiet sleeper of an album–no powerhouse moment, no obvious single–and a much more restrained affair than the soundtrack to “Once.” What it is is one long sigh in lament of love lost, with echoes of heartbreak that expand and build like the ripples a stone makes upon a pond. It is an album designed to slowly grow roots within you and remain. And so it does.

THE ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Lady Gaga

A genius. A freak. A drama queen. A visionary. Whatever label you throw at her, just make sure it’s designer, and she’ll wear it with a pop artist’s pride. Well done, Gaga; see you in 2010.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!


The Iconic Showdown: MJ vs. Madonna

November 14, 2009

mj_victory

Starry, Starry Night


True icons do not come along too often. Jesus was an icon. Paris Hilton wishes she were. When it comes to popular music, I would say that only five artists really make the list no questions asked: Elvis (natch), The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. Cases could be made for Aretha, Joni, the Rolling Stones, Prince, and Mariah, but I don’t know; they’ve all got serious creds, but there’s still wiggle room for doubt, while the first group are unquestionably in like Flynn.

Of that exclusive group, MJ and Madonna stand out; they really were the most famous, the most infamous, the most talked-about, the most publicity-obsessed, the most video-savvy, the most bizarre, the most interesting, the starriest stars pop music has ever seen. At the Video Music Awards, Madonna talked about the things she had in common with the late Michael, bringing up their Midwestern upbringings and their large number of siblings. There’s actually something else of interest that they share: they’ve both had twelve #1 hits on the Billboard charts. So it’s without further adieu that I present you the Battle of Number Ones between these two timeless legends. Twelve rounds to the finish: who will reign supreme? Let’s find out.

ROUND ONE: Ben (1972) vs. Like a Virgin (1984)

Michael’s career of course started with his brothers, and the Jackson 5 actually hit #1 with their first three singles. Michael sporadically recorded solo records on the side, and “Ben” became his first #1 when he was just 13 or 14 years old. On the other hand, Madonna was a full decade older when she scored her first #1 hit with “Like a Virgin.” It really was the record that unleashed the Madonna phenomenon onto the world, much of it thanks to her writhing-on-the-floor rendition at the VMAs. Interestingly, some people have noted the similarities between the beats of “Virgin” and MJ’s earlier smash, “Billie Jean.” Madonna herself emphasized the connection by throwing in a couple of lines from “Billie Jean” when she performed the song during the Virgin Tour.

Winner: Madonna. “Ben” is sweet, but it’s on the edge of being syrupy. “Like a Virgin,” in contrast, was a lioness declaring herself to the world.

ROUND TWO: Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough (1979) vs. Crazy For You (1985)

It was seven years after “Ben” that MJ really came into his own. His Off the Wall album established himself as not only a solo artist but as a man, not a boy. “Don’t Stop” is a disco classic showcasing MJ’s falsetto. For Madonna, “Crazy For You” was just the continuation of Madonnamania, while also surprising many who didn’t think she had the vocals to pull off a slow ballad.

Winner: It’s a close one, but Madonna takes it again. There’s a reason why the disco craze didn’t last. It just doesn’t age well, especially compared to a sexy ballad.

ROUND THREE: Rock With You (1979) vs. Live To Tell (1986)

This is by far the toughest round yet. Both songs are truly amazing. MJ finds a midtempo groove on “Rock With You” and rides it into pop heaven, while Madonna had to reach deeper than she ever had for her darkest song yet.

Winner: Madonna by a hair. “Live To Tell” is arguably the most emotionally affecting song in Madonna’s canon, with probably the best lyrics she’s ever written.

ROUND FOUR: Billie Jean (1983) vs. Papa Don’t Preach (1986)

“Billie Jean” marks the point when Michael undeniably became the King of Pop. He broke down every barrier there was, simply by making music that was too damn good to resist. Meanwhile, Madonna was busy creating a political firestorm over her teen pregnancy saga.

Winner: Michael. I like “Papa” just fine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “Bille Jean.” Even now, the thumping bass kicks in, and the song has you in the palm of its hand.

ROUND FIVE: Beat It (1983) vs. Open Your Heart (1987)

Michael’s grip on the world continued with the anti-violence “Beat It” while Madonna was courting controversy yet again, this time by playing a stripper (I think) and kissing (innocently, I think) a boy on the lips in the video for “Open Your Heart.”

Winner: Two in a row for Michael. I actually find “Open” to be one of the most annoying Madonna singles ever. It’s a bit too repetive, and her vocals come off too bratty (not sexy-bratty, which would be good, but just bratty).

ROUND SIX: I Just Can’t Stop Loving You (1987) vs. Who’s That Girl? (1987)

Hey, we’re actually at the same time for both MJ and Madonna! (I was feeling like the guy in the Time Traveler’s Wife for a while) In 1987, we found MJ making sweet love to Siedah Garrett (who would later be Madonna’s back-up singer on tour!) and Madonna singing in Spanglish for the sake of a box office disaster of a film.

Winner: Michael again. “I Just Can’t” is a simple love song, but his vocals are creamy and dreamy, while “Who’s That Girl” is so forgettable that it was actually later left off of her Immaculate Collection CD. (It’s gotta be the first time in history that a #1 hit was left off of a greatest-hits album.)

ROUND SEVEN: Bad (1987) vs. Like a Prayer (1989)

With “Bad,” MJ returned to fighting gang violence with the power of group choreography, while Madonna was busy pissing off the Vatican in “Like a Prayer.”

Winner: Madonna in a no-brainer. “Like a Prayer” was Madonna at her very best, controversial but clear-eyed, sexy but with substance. Meanwhile, “Bad” was so over-the-top both as a song and a video that it came off like a Michael Jackson parody instead of the real thing.

mm2

MJ--Trying Not To Look


ROUND EIGHT: The Way You Make Me Feel (1988) vs. Vogue (1990)

Michael returned to form here with perhaps his sexiest vocals ever. Madonna used an underground dance form to make herself into even more of an icon than she already was.

Winner: Madonna. Two awesome songs here, but how could anyone refuse M’s command to “strike a pose”? Just. Not. Possible. Plus, that whole “Greta Garbo and Monroe” rap is the best Madonna bridge EVER.

ROUND NINE: Man In the Mirror (1988) vs. Justify My Love (1990)

The message of “Man In the Mirror”: Don’t judge others. The message of “Justify My Love”: Don’t f*ck others, just me (and tell me all about how you’re gonna do it).

Winner: Michael. “Man In the Mirror” is one of his best songs, finding him clear-eyed and right on the point. Meanwhile, Madonna begins her sex-crazed downward spiral that will find her publishing a book where she’s sucking on toes, shaving off her eyebrows who-knows-why, humping Willem Dafoe on screen (I don’t really get why scrawny, slightly creepy Willem keeps getting called to do sexually explicit movies), swearing approximately 1,447 times on Letterman, and dating both Vanilla Ice and Dennis Rodman.

ROUND TEN: Dirty Diana (1988) vs. This Used To Be My Playground (1992)

Michael decides to rock out (a la “Beat It”) and scores his fifth(!) #1 from the Bad album. Meanwhile, Madonna releases a sad, delicate ballad from the League of Her Own Soundtrack right before she goes on her rampage and the public and the media both decide they’re sick of her.

Winner: It’s a close call, but I’ll go with Michael on this one. Neither song is all that great, but at least “Dirty Diana” has some life to it. “Playground” seems almost anemic in comparison.

ROUND ELEVEN: Black Or White (1991) vs. Take a Bow (1994)

Michael proves that a call for racial equality can be catchy as all heck (though the original video with the whole crotch rubbing and car smashing was one of Michael’s most baffling moments, which is definitely saying something). Madonna, no doubt sick of getting beat up in the press, tones down the raunch and instead goes for elegant tenderness with “Take a Bow.”

Winner: Yet another epic battle. Dangerous was really the last album when Michael still seemed capable of enjoying his music and his life. “Black Or White,” as political as its message may have been, was marked more by pure joy than anything else. Still, I can’t help thinking that it’s slightly edged out by “Take a Bow,” which is an absolute classic. Madonna’s vocals are perfect in the song, both sad and lush, and the melody is as pretty as they come. “Take a Bow” ended up being Madonna’s most successful single ever and almost single-handedly rescued her career (the artsy video also reportedly convinced Alan Pakula to cast her for “Evita”).

ROUND TWELVE: You Are Not Alone (1995) vs. Music (2000)

The final round, and what a way to finish things off. Michael delivers a classic ballad of his own with “You Are Not Alone” that even an icky video with a semi-clad Michael and his then-wife Lisa Marie Presley couldn’t mar. In “Music,” Madonna returns to doing what she does best, ordering all of us to get on the dance floor and boogie like we mean it.

Winner: It’s another tough round, but Michael takes it. “Music” is fun, but it’s really all icing and very little cake, while “You Are Not Alone” is just timeless.

FINAL SCORE: Michael Jackson = 6, Madonna = 6

Whoa. I swear, I did not pre-plan this. I actually predicted Madonna would win this showdown by a fair margin, as I do believe her body of work is superior to Michael’s (and pretty much anyone else’s, aside from my beloved Tori Amos). Still, I can’t help but be glad that it all ended in a draw, as the whole point of this showdown was to remember how plain awesome both Michael and Madonna were, are, and hopefully will be (looking forward to the unreleased vault of material, MJ!).

Michael Jackson Megamix

Madonna Megamix


Tommyland Hall of Fame: Trust

May 6, 2009

Trust

Before Bravo became home to oh-so-polished reality shows like Top Chef and Project Runway (well, not anymore but still), it was once a showcase for independent-minded programming. Don’t remember? It’s true. It’s where I first developed my love for indie films, and I still remember the film that started it all: “Trust” directed by Hal Hartley.

I think I was flipping through the channels when I came across it on Bravo one night; I do remember that it was the opening credits that stopped my trigger-happy, channel-surfing finger, namely the song that was playing. It was a low-key but still rockin’ song I had never heard before.

Then the film started, with a close-up of a pretty, heavily made-up, but unsmiling teenaged girl (that would be Maria, iconically played by the late Adrienne Shelley who also made a great directing debut with Waitress before tragically being murdered; R.I.P.). In a matter of moments, the following happens: she announces she’s pregnant, her parents are shocked, her father calls her a slut, she slaps him and runs out of the house, then the father collapses in shock and dies. Over-the-top melodrama? Hardly. Hal Hartley frames the actors’ dialogue like no one else, every remark is as pointed as a needle, every word filled with cool meaning. In Hartley-land, everyone knows exactly what they’re saying and why; irony is used deftly and with perfect timing; everyone outwardly seems cool and detached until they reach the point of no return. I was riveted.

Maria soon goes on a downward spiral, struggling to remain her detached coolness as she gets blown off by her football jock boyfriend, finds about her father’s death and gets kicked out of the house by her Mother from Hell (a mesmerizing Merritt Nelson), has a brief conversation with a bizarre woman who goes on to kidnap a baby, then barely escapes from a sexual assault-minded shopkeeper by jabbing him in the eye with her cigarette. All in all, she’s not in good shape when she comes across a not-so-mentally-stable-himself Matthew Slaughter.

Matthew is an interesting character indeed. He’s essentially a rebel and a social misfit in the mold of James Dean and Marlon Brando, but he becomes less recognizably stereotypical and more intriguing due to the actor playing him: Martin Donovan, whose Britishness and kinda-handsome-kinda-blobby looks add more meat to the role. Matthew, who we’ve seen jam his supervisor’s head in a vise at work in defense of his ideals, walks into an abandoned house, ostensibly to hang out after getting fired, and sees Maria. They have the following nihilistic exchange:

Maria: What do you want?
Matthew: I don’t want anything.
Maria: Why not?
Matthew: Because I don’t think anything’s going to help.

Soon enough, Maria and Matthew develop a relationship based on trust, if not love, and they help each other deal with the complex evil of their parents (her mom, his dad). The plot continues to develop, revolving around Maria’s pregnancy, Matthew’s uncomfortable search for respectability and health benefits (for Maria’s sake), the aforementoned kidnapped baby, Maria’s mother’s scheme to have Matthew end up with Maria’s older sister, and the grenade Matthew likes to always have around “just in case.” In the end, it’s all about the two main characters’ interactions and dialogues with each other and how their limits and their trust are tested time and time again by the world around them. It’s not exactly a love story, perhaps a little less, but in my opinion, a lot more. In other words, it’s a classic.

Here’s the song from the opening credits (not quite as awesome as the movie, but pretty close):

Hub Moore & the Great Outdoors – Walk Away


Tommyland Hall of Fame: Endless Love (the Novel)

April 23, 2009

Endless LoveI’m not much of a cleaner, far from it. I’m the type that lets gather and collect dust before going on manic cleaning episodes periodically. Tonight was one of those times, which explains why I’m still up at 4:30 a.m. I’ve just finished up the main work, which consisted mainly of vacuuming (hair, hair, everywhere hair) and pouring Coke out of bottles (I can’t really drink much soda after my Nissen Fundoplication surgery eight months ago, but Korean delivery guys always bring a Coke bottle with the food) then taking the bottles out to recycling.

Another task was to throw away the things I don’t really need, so I spent a good deal of time dividing my stack of books into the “Keep” pile and the “Sell To the Used Bookstore” pile. Some darn good books ended up on the “Sell” pile, like Kazuro Ishiguro’s “Remains of the Day,” Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” (but I’m holding on to his “Trumpet-Major”), and Jon Krauker’s “Into the Wild,” which I recently read and quite possibly instigated tonight’s clean-up on a subconscious level (Throw away material goods; simplify your life; walk into the wild with nothing that can’t fit in your backpack!). They’re all great books, but they’re not quite at the level of those books that I know I’ll be reading and re-reading for the rest of my life. At the top of that list in Endless Love, written by Scott Spencer.

I read “Endless Love” when I was seventeen (the same age as the protagonist, David Axelrod). I had found a used copy at a thrift store and bought it for 89 cents. And the book changed my life–for better or worse–to the very core.

To describe the book in simple terms, it’s a love story. The teenaged David falls in love with a girl named Jade Butterfield, and they fall into a love so intense that it both inspires and frightens those around them, which finally leads Jade’s parents to try to separate them, if only for a short while. David can’t bear the idea of separation, even one that’s temporary, and he makes a rash decision to bring himself back into the Butterfield’s good graces. The unintended result is disaster, and the book subsequently describes David dealing with the shattered pieces of his life (not very well) and trying at all cost to find where Jade is (he’s more successful here).

“Endless Love” is a love story, but it’s one without fantasy bullshit. It speaks to the power of love, but it also refuses to look away from the very horror of love. Scott Spencer never turns David into an ideal romantic hero or archetype; most readers likely find him both remarkable and grotesteque. There’s a great conversation between David and Jade (one of many) when he frankly admits that his love for her is greatly based on self-absorption, if not downright selfishness:

Jade: Oh, you’re just going to argue. You don’t see what I see. And it’s just as well. I need a nonegotistical man. They’re hard to find, you know.

David: I’m not nonegotistical.

Jade: Pretty much.

David: Not at all. No matter what happened, and no matter what people said about me, I wanted to be with you.

Jade: That’s not egotism.

David: Yes, it is. Because I thought I deserved it. Me and no one else.

Jade: You’re going to make me cry.

David: Why?

Jade: Because you touch me where it’s always tender.

I read “Endless Love” before I had experienced love myself, and it left an imprint on my heart that set in stone what kind of love my heart would be willing to accept for the remainder in my life. Nothing casual. None of “he seems nice; let’s try it and see how this goes.” No, I wanted nothing less than a clashing of destinies that would hurt just as bad as it felt good. I wanted every fiber of my being turned inside out. Is it really a surprise that I’m single now? Not. At. All.

None of the book’s life-changing power made it over to the film version, which is notable for only two things: 1) the painting-like beauty of Brooke Shield’s face & 2) the title song performed by Diana Ross and Lionel richie. “Endless Love” the song had standard love-is-wonderful lyrics, which really had nothing to do with the novel’s story of love leading to insanity and mass destruction. Still, if you take the novel out of the equation, the song works for its sweetness and strong vocals from Diana (thin but very pretty voice) and Lionel (the man can SING).

So if you equate love with Hallmark sentiments as well as flowers and rainbows, feel free to download the song and sing along. But if you want to dig deeper and darker into this thing called love and aren’t afraid to see what’s in your own heart, then go on and read the book. You may never be the same again. I know I wasn’t.

P.S. I’ll upload “Endless Love” (the song) later today. It’s 5:45 A.M., and I’ve gotta get some shut-eye before I do anything… EDIT: Done and done.

Diana Ross & Lionel Richie – Endless Love