Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Signature Series

Today I came across a neat series on CBC. I don't listen or watch it, really (my father and paternal grandparents by contrast always listen to it) but it was mentioned in a Wikipedia article when I happened to look up C major.

It's a neat little radio series where each episode - each five minutes long, about - talks about a major or minor scale/chord using famous or notable symphonies and orchestra pieces meshed together throughout to help. It's not an informative series as it is a storytelling one. The narrator ascribes a personality and demeanor to the chord, as well as male or female pronouns, and basically tells a story about those quirks and resulting lifestyle.

It's like how astrology tells you the kind of person you are, to yourself, to other people, and your moods and feelings and quirks. This series takes all that based on the sound of that scale, using the appropriate music to help illustrate it. For example, D major is "bright and likable but constantly striving to do things at all times, business-like, and always successful, and glorious." On the page are random 'facts' about the scale, such as what clothes she'd wear, her strengths and weaknesses - and real-life people who are the same and embody that chord. G major is the "trusty sidekick." People it mentioned (real-life and fictional characters) included Ron Weasley from Harry Potter and Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings. The narrator explains all this in an illustrative voice; he's obviously telling a story with enthusiasm and corresponding his own inflections and character to both the music and what he's describing. Very few pop songs are used - the rest are all famous or notable symphonies, piano, violin, string, whatever.

I haven't finished all of it (I still have six episodes to go) but I've covered most of the general chords/scales. There are certain things I didn't expect him to say at all. The page asks "what's your musical sign?" I immediately tried out B minor and A major & minor, and got a mixture of expectation and surprise. B minor was partly what I expected - the narrator had it labelled as "The Dark Romantic." Fatalistic and pessimistic, but definitely a sensual romantic in "his" own right. I always saw B minor as feminine, as well as B major. I identified with quite a few of the characteristics he gave the scale, however he went a bit too extreme in my mind; I don't want to give up easily, and react by hiding under the covers, feeling like I don't want to exist. I've been pessimistic and wallowing in the past, but not to that extent, and definitely not nearly as much now. To my delight and interest, this was one of the very few episodes a pop song was played for a few seconds - the introduction to 'Hotel California' by The Eagles. I didn't realize it started on B - but when I heard it, it was extremely obvious. I just never paid attention before. The narrator used the intro to describe the romantic side of the chord, which fit perfectly. B major was also masculine, and described as a dreamy artist.

As for A, both major and minor were described as two opposing women. Major was the kind of girl who lived next door, the girl who could catch you and hold you with her eyes - but never be interested, because she's looking for something better. You want to mean something to her. She's always on the move with something, looking for things, etc. You want to care for her, but she's best on her own. Minor by huge contrast was the old counterpart whose life had passed her by, alone and sad and with no more opportunities to find anyone. Perhaps A minor is major in the future, having never found anything 'better' because her expectations always jumped higher and higher. The narrator might as well have described A minor as the kind of woman Gino Vanelli sings about in his hit 'Black Cars (Look Better in the Shade)' - a cougar-type. "The Faded Beauty" is the name for it.

My synesthetic interpretations are completely different, so I'm going to put them here in opposition.

For B minor (the chord), it's feminine to me. Yes, she's a bit dark and negative. Like she sees things with a glass half-empty rather than half-full. The fatalistic sense applies. But she's also deeply endearing, and loyal. She has a lot of love hidden inside and eager to give to the right person. It's just buried deep. She's timid and quiet, but knows what she wants and how to get it. I get a bit of a brownish colour when I hear her, a sound that is appealing and endearing to my ears. Fatalistic definitely matches. But she does have love and trust and a depth to share.

For A major - the chord that I best identify myself with - he's more on the quiet sidelines, but also trusting and endearing. Very green to me, lighter green on major and a much deeper, browner green on minor. The similarities between him and her are their depth and trust in each other. Private and quiet, but also in his own way somewhat adventurous, he is committed and ready to nurture who he cares about at all costs.

The difference between these two chords and their corresponding majors/minors is that for A, its minor is just a more negative version of its major, but still the same person (as if he were having a bad or negative day) whereas B major and minor aren't the same person to me.

It's an interesting application to match-making in my case, though unintentional. As I wrote in a blog post late last year about B, I have this automatic tendency to associate someone I really like or care about or see as a relatively good partner (in my own mind) with that chord, major or minor, or single note. The Cars' song 'You Are The Girl' really made me see myself in the obvious A note during the sections of song proceeding the choruses.

I could talk about all the other chords, but I'm going to leave it there because it's 20 after 1 in the morning and my eyes are sore. I also smashed my head into a fire extinguisher on a metal pillar at work while distracted, so the bridge of my nose is still slightly sore. I was distracted and walked right into it. It was pretty sad; thankfully the fire extinguisher, when it hit the floor, didn't discharge itself down an aisle.

Here's a link to the Signature Series on CBC.

Justin C.

Friday, May 23, 2014


It seems that these are my R.E.M. and B-52 days for music. 'Shiny Happy People' still replays over and over, all while I live my life, go to work, peek at my archived messages on Facebook and see some profile icon of a girl kissing some other happy girl's cheek, and experience van renting. I go through these things. In 2008, for a while it was a song called 'In the City.' Early 2013, I was singing the falsetto "oooh" bits of Genesis' 'Misunderstanding' in the car (and went through a whole Genesis phase).

I should point out that it's quite a drastic change from the last decade. From at least 2005 to 2011, all I ever listened to, virtually, was Madness. There was a small variety of different stuff I listened to, but they weren't as constant as that 80s British band. If I had a song playing in high rotation in my head, it was a Madness one, just different over time. It started with 'Our House.' Then 'Calling Cards.' Then 'Sunday Morning' at one point, and 'The Sun and the Rain.' 'Not Home Today came around eventually, until I had listened to almost everything and had minor favourites throughout. There were random other stuff I heard that I liked, whether it be 'Freeze Frame' by the J. Geils Band or 'Ah! Leah!' by Donnie Iris, but starting in 2012...there's a variety of Canadian, British, and (even) American stuff that I can't get enough of. It's amazing. And I'm going from genre to genre in the sense that I generally enjoyed something like Alternative rock or New Wave or even electronica (like that 'It Feels so Good' song) but never paid attention to it because I was so obsessed with Madness-sounding stuff, ska and reggae and minor pop.

These days it's the Alternative Rock of the early 90s, just predating grunge, for me. I'm heading here from one Athens-based band to another, The B-52s with their song 'Roam.'

I'd heard it in the background of my life before (like in stores or perhaps on TV or the radio) and knew the general chorus, but never really tried listening to it properly. I did once, and appreciated the easy, bright guitar chords, but disliked the growly tones of the Pierson/Wilson duo during the verses. You know in singing when a woman tries to growl her voice in a sort of deep or forceful way? I personally dislike it. While I enjoy vocals, female or otherwise, in a song, I always cringe at female solo performances because of how high or pointedly inflected their voices can sound, virtually piercing my ears. Once or twice in high school, instead of playing the National Anthem in the morning, they got a girl to sing it. I cringed half of the time due to her powerful, high voice. There wasn't anything wrong with it, it was just sensitive to my ears...and I dislike it as a result.

Those growly tones put me off from listening to it again until recently. Taking my broader musical tastes and interests into account, I decided to re-look up the mogg. files people have placed online of songs. One of the things I love to do with a song is take it apart, literally, and hear how it works, instrument by instrument. You can do that to an effect by turning the volume down, or slowing the song down in Audacity or Audition, or trying the centre channel extractor in either program, which removes certain instruments from the mix. Or, most effectively, you can look up the mogg. files of songs games like Rockband or Guitar Hero have master-tracked into their games, mogg. files that people have uploaded, and download them to hear each original instrument track and mix.

It's amazing when you want to get an acute sense of how a song was recorded (to an extent) as well as how each exact instrument sounds, exactly. Thanks to the mogg. files of certain songs I've looked up that I like, I know how the drums and bass were played, and I'm able to hear each note by ear directly, without the rest of the song to distract me. Did you know that a second drum is hit simultaneously with the snare drum in 'Losing my Religion' except for the chorus? It's like the drummer hit the snare and floor tom at the same time each time, giving the backbeat of the song a deep tone. I didn't even realize that until I heard them directly.

Anyway, getting back to 'Roam,' I saw it listed and decided to try the music again. I could mute the vocals altogether if I wanted. I opened it in Audacity and solo'ed the drum, bass, and guitar tracks.

What I got was something that was sunny, on the move, bright, and always brought down to earth by the end of each musical procession by a beautiful B note or chord.

The song starts on E and always ends on B, whether those notes or chords in between are D or A or whatever. It does sound somewhat similar to R.E.M.'s early 90s stuff, in terms of guitar sound I think - unique on its own to a point, but with similarities in brightness and procession. That B at the end just resolves it perfectly - like it comes back down to earth, returns to sense, whatever. I get two synesthetic spatial directions - East and Southeast. During the chorus it's more of a morning orange, and during the verses, especially after an A note/chord, it's a bright, easy green in a southeast direction. I get likable, easy relating personality. I see myself in it as well, as if I naturally occupy that sound or direction or colour. I could go on and on about that one musical note. The guitar on the E procession after the second chorus gives me a noon light and it's like I'm looking up at an almost sunny-white sky in a slightly west direction, as if I'm looking up out of a convertable or roof window of a car, as we're travelling west on an adventure. The E...D, E (high), and B.

The lyrics aren't that bad...I listened to them again and it's just that one obvious time during the second verse where both of them get growly, like they have a severe cold and their voices are way off. They don't even execute it very well. But the rest of the vocals are well-delivered, especially the hip-to-hip refrain heading into the end, where they just repeat that verse. They harmonize their voices beautifully to that B at the end, with the words "through the wilderness." It's lovely. And I've already said that Kate Pierson's voice is extremely attractive, at least in the 'Shiny Happy People' song. It's kind of proven during that fade away, over the B. Awesome inflections with those last three words...it actually gives me some euphoria when I hear it.

The song generally synesthetically gives me an adventure-based viewpoint, but that's just influence from the lyrics (lyrical influence does apply to synesthesia). That's how I get that sort of 'the world is at your feet' feeling from the music and that aforementioned white-sky on a road trip.

It's quite a good song to listen to, vocals or not. They seem to paint a slightly romantic view of travel, the way they sing about trips starting with kisses and traveling "with the love we feel." It retrospectively reminds me of that girl I was best friends with late last year...travel was her #1 passion. I even sung the chorus in front of her once and she responded that she "knew the song." Good memories.

That song uses B so darn well...

Justin C.

-Oh yes, right...if you apparently have a happy relationship, you don't need to hang about here. I'm the distant past. This place just harms the relationship. Gee.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shiny Happy People

These days, recently, I've been really getting into R.E.M. They were an Athens-based alternative rock band, from Georgia. I like several of their songs - "It's the End of the World as we Know it (And I feel find)," "Losing my Religion," "Stand," "Man on the Moon," and this one - "Shiny Happy People."

The first time I'd heard of it was simply as its title. I'd never heard the song before, couldn't recall it. Then I heard it on the radio, or at Wal-Mart, and hearing the title sung out loud gave it away.

It's one of those songs currently on high rotation in my head when I'm not listening to it. What drew me in right away was the guitar - and guest vocalist Kate Pierson's attractive voice during the chorus. At first it sounded to me like a twelve year old boy, but the obvious feminine undertone and inflection told me otherwise, and it was simply extremely attractive to my ears, especially when I discovered it was Kate Pierson's voice. Athens produced two notable groups - R.E.M. and the B-52s (probably best known for "Rock Lobster" and "Love Shack"). Both Michael Stipe and Pierson guest-sung on each other's band's songs over the years.

Visually, R.E.M. as a band seem quite simple. Yet I can never remember the drummer's name. Michael Stipe, who kind of looks effeminate and in the music video for "Stand" looks like a shy boy, writes and sings. Pete Buck plays guitar and looks almost identical to the drummer, as if they were twins. Both have bushy eyebrows. Then the bassist, Mills I think his name is, looks small and kind of nerdy with those big spectacles. The way they appear in "Stand," in quick shots as the camera pans from their feet, I wasn't sure if I was looking at two children (Stipe and Mills) and two obviously much older guys who look similar (I reviewed "Stand" on here four years ago and it was one of the first songs of the band I watched a music video of).

They had their largest success around the time I was born, between 1988 and 1994, particularly in 1991 with "Losing My Religion." I don't remember hearing it as a hit on the radio as a newborn, nor do I remember 'Shiny Happy People' either, even though it probably was played at one point (it was released in May, only two months before I was born in contrast with "...My Religion" having been released in February). But I'm hearing it now.

Other than Pierson's voice, a few other things appeal to me in the song. I like the way Buck plays the guitar during the chorus. I like the structure of the verses, how they end up on a catchy E chord. The bass is simply catchy and in a good style.

I've read that the band came to severely dislike the song in retrospect, and that it's been included in all sorts of "worst or" or whatever negative connotation list since. I've also read that few understood the meaning - that the lyrics were rather intended sarcastically. That makes sense. The view of people being "shiny and happy" simply put as a written phrase sounds sarcastic and ridiculous. When I read it as a title before even hearing it I saw the sarcasm. I don't know. Then again, it is kind of unfortunate to have this point of view - to take the very idea of people being happy or shiny in any sense as ridiculous.

In the end, really, I just like the music. I do like that kind of sound - the guitar-led sound - of that period, whether it's this or "Losing my Religion" or "Love Shack" (I really like the guitar in that song) or "Roam" or most other alternative rock stuff. It's got an easy, bright sound to it.

This song starts in B. I didn't know that until I learned how to play the bass to it by ear. The chorus starts on a high B. Its high pitch is probably what helped this uncertainty, as well as the unique context my synesthesia created for the sound itself. Heard in different songs or sounds, there will be a different context for one note no matter what, and unless it's in an obvious pitch - not too high or too-too low - I won't necessarily pick the note out right away until I find it on the neck of my bass or the key on my keyboard. The verses start on F#.

The music video is decidedly...happy, I guess. It seems to accentuate inane positivity, with 'happy' thrown around like crazy. "Love me, love me!" Reading the lyrics online sort of really put that in my face, as if some sort of fuzzy, fawning, loving creatures from a preschool program were bouncing around purring those words out in cute voices. This effect is helped out by a bright, jumpy, silly video where the band and Kate Pierson jump happily and flamboyantly in front of a similarly-themed backdrop rotated by an elderly man on a bicycle located behind.

It's really another one of those inane things from the band in similar fashion to their song 'Stand.' That song had its own share of ridiculous lyrics. "Stand in the place where you live! And face north!" "Your feet are there to move you around..." etc. I remember saying in my review that it sounded like a preschool song written for toddlers on how to stand and begin to walk. This song sounds just the same, except lyrically more ludicrous and infantile. Real sarcasm stretched far I guess. Perhaps Stipe and the band dislike it because they went too obviously purry and happy and campy, etc., over-reached their point.

The video made me realize that bassist Mike Mills begins the chorus, followed by Pierson, and then by Stipe. The bassist's voice really meshes well with Stipe's; I thought it was the same person at first. But no; the camera started the scene on the nerdy one...and ended on Stipe.

I can't forget the introduction and bridge. It's a slow string-led thing that sounds kind of apart from the rest of the song and makes me think of two old ladies sitting on a porch in the country, and everything's slow and right and lovely. Thankfully the elderly man is allowed to stop peddling by that point and is offered water before earnestly watching the enlarged crowd jump about like adult preschoolers, from the background. There actually is a shy boy of preschool age that makes an appearance.

Music: A-
Lyrics: C+
Video: B-

R.E.M.'s a great band and they've come up with some nice, appealing, catchy stuff, including the music of this song, but otherwise it's another one of their unusual preschool-sounding things like Stand was. If it is sarcastic, which is very probably is, then it stretches that to a huge degree. Extremely sarcastic. Particularly unfortunate that they have to be sarcastic of something rather positive and something you'd see normally in a perfect world. Music's great though. And Pierson's vocals are just attractive altogether.

Justin C.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Sunrise

On the radio one afternoon, I heard this:

While I'm not reviewing it, I do like it for its gentle atmosphere and sound. It's a very low-sounding song, which gives me a lot of darker tones synesthetically.

The thing about this song - as well as a few others - is that it really makes me look into my natural predispositions through the music (not the lyrics) and it provides a good basis for what they are.

Despite almost never waking up during the morning (the closest I get is around or just after 11am) I've always considered myself a morning person. By this I'm referring to a completely different version of the meaning, or rather a different meaning. A normal morning person is up and energetic and bright and happy during the morning. I'm...asleep. And when I get up, I say very little, maintain a sort of silent wall around me, and keep to myself for the first 5-10 minutes of being up.

What I mean rather is being predisposed to that time of the day, largely the direction of the sun, and the dawn and deep calm before that. Just imagine someone like me getting up at 4:30am or so, during the summer. I'd still be quiet and aloof for the first ten minutes, but then I'd be like I am the rest of the day - and I'd enjoy a natural thing that I feel at home in.

Working until 11pm at night at Wal-Mart doesn't help facilitate this, and here I am, minutes to 1 in the morning, typing this.

Songs like the Peter Gabriel one, with its deep bass, deep drums, deep synths, make me think of utter peace before the dawn, coming awake in a room in the predawn and feeling rested and calm, at home. Go out, feel the silent world, breathe it in.

There's another part of this, and it's nature. The music makes me think of trees, of a forest, with its sounds and atmosphere. A pre-dawn forest. Imagine having a bedroom in a cabin within or adjacent to this kind of thing. Waking up feeling warm and calm and at home. The sounds of nature filter in. The music puts me right at home in this. I remember that day, May 2009, the 24th, when I got up extremely early to go volunteer at the Ottawa Marathon. I rode my bike through empty arterials, then took a shortcut through Grenfell Glen, cutting through the trees off Woodroffe. Nature and trees and predawn. That was a great morning and a positive memory.

Someday, maybe I'll be able to live like that. Not just getting up early, but living in that kind of environment. Synesthesia has always given me colours, tones, textures, and images that are morning-lit more than afternoon-lit. For some reason, I've always associated early morning with nature, calm, peace, beauty and sensuality - and afternoon with frustration, sweat, rush hour, city, and other more negative connotations. That's the prelude to the end of the day.

There are a few other songs that give me this deep, proper, 'right' feeling - 'Kiss From a Rose' by Seal (in particular the 'I've been kissed by a rose' refrain in the bridge) - 'Cruel Summer' by Bananarama (the bass and percussion instruments, and drums) and the chorus to 'New Religion' by Duran Duran (the synths, melody, and Simon Le Bon's voice). Often, an aspect that makes the feeling more right is the thought of rain. Raining or just tinkling away in the jungle, early in the morning, before the start of a beautiful morning.

Now if I could only get up early enough. I need a new job. I know it's not the only thing to blame, but I can't just come home from all that physical activity - and immediately go to bed. I need to have my evening after work.


Justin C.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Facebook Love Diary

I've gone through periods of time where I'd over-post on Facebook. As much as three or four times a day, and about really random things too. Probably most of my Facebook posting consists of statuses referring to particular thoughts or things that struck me as outstanding somehow during the day, whether it be a quote or a personal realization or a reflection on or short mentioning on something I'm dealing with - for example, my actual looking forward to Comic-Con last week. I often upload graphic-design-related images, and post YouTube videos of songs I've come across or feel I should share for a usual fun or positive reason. I've likely posted every song I've reviewed on here on Facebook.

I've managed to tone it down somewhat since the end of last summer so that it's only one or two per day, plus a photo or album upload if that's the case, but if there's one thing I've never posted about, it's my feelings towards someone else.

You can tell me that that isn't the case on this blog - and you're right, in terms of referencing people or referring to a long-distance relationship. I wore my feelings on my sleeve on here, or at least, I did three to four years ago. But what I'm referring to is explicit feelings, constantly, with a direct shine on a person, while you're in a relationship, at all times. I did that a couple of times on here. In late 2010. But on Facebook, that's not the case. I quite dislike that, actually.

Let me ask a question: Do you have a Facebook friend who is in the midst of a relationship with someone, and he or she is very happy at the moment, and as a way of expressing it, they're posting at least once a day about how amazing and happy their life is, and their well-being, thanks to their partner? I do.

I have nothing against relationships and romantic expression, but in my opinion there's a time and a place. There's a public display and then there's a private one. Facebook is public. You've got an average 100+ people on there who can see everything you post. A minor reference once in awhile doesn't bother anyone, but constant, every-single-day fawning in front of everyone...isn't that a bit annoying?

This doesn't have to singularly just apply to people who aren't in a relationship, but to everyone. You don't have to be alone to find it annoying. We get it. You're happy. She's amazing. We don't need to know every detail - or rather, be reminded all the time. My friend's alone for a few days. Instead of busying himself with other things, maybe hanging out with some friends perhaps to kill idle time, he's posting on Facebook about how much he misses and isn't happy that his girl is gone. Pictures followed, forlorn ones. Geez. For the first time ever, I actually went and hit 'unfollow.'

I realize that I'm paradoxically doing what my friend's doing right now - referencing him and what he's doing and displaying my annoyed feelings on it. This isn't Facebook. But what I'm also trying to say is that I think, generally, you can get to a point before you annoy your Facebook friends - I can't be the only one who feels the need to roll my eyes. Sure, there are the people who are inanely super-positive and cheerleading those people on, but there are others who just don't like to have this under their noses all the time. We're not negative or cynical or single and bitter; we just don't use Facebook for the primary focus of smiling and 'aawwing' at someone's dreamy, romantic love diary. Keep it to yourself - indulge your feelings now and then online, sure, we'll know you're still happy, but keep the rest of your utterly knocked-over-state of fawning to your private diary or journal. I know I do.

Justin C.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Everything's Out of Control

At some point or another I was going to write a review about 'Safety Dance' by Men Without Hats. It's Canadian, it's 80s, and it's iconic.

When I first heard the song, I didn't expect it to have come from here. In fact, the first time I can recall hearing it is in an episode of That 70s Show when I was a kid, where Eric Foreman has a dream where some sort of guardian angel gives him what his life would be had he not made a move on his girlfriend Donna. In one big scene, the angel says, "we're going into...the 80s..." and that song starts playing. I remember my mother laughing because the song had a funny nature about it.

At the time I assumed it was American, though some time later I would hear from someone or somewhere that it wasn't and was actually British or Australian. I believed this until I actually looked it up, which was a pleasant surprise, because the singer did kind of sound at least slightly accented or differently toned in his voice. That or I just decided his voice was foreign-sounding due to my immediate acceptance of that wrong information.

Only recently have I really been listening to the song more often. It's very simple in terms of its music. It stays in C most of the time, and does the same procession as most popular songs do. C-A#-F. Though this reverses this procession and ends up on G, so it kind of plays with it, which again, most popular songs do. I'm not going to talk much about the music as its the lyrics that get my interest more. It's a keyboard-sounding song. No obvious guitars, just drums, bass, and keyboard. Probably keyboard bass really.

To give a brief history of the band up to that point, the central figure was always Ivan Doroschuk, the vocalist. He started the band with his brother Stefan, and other figures circulated in and out of the outfit over the next few years, including musicians that would perform in other bands, particularly a couple members of The Box. They were affluent kids from Montreal (the same city The Box and Gino Vanelli, among others, came from). They had this hit with 'Safety Dance' among a few others which I haven't listened to, and they produced a later album that had a song called 'Pop Goes the World' which I have heard many times on Boom FM and don't particularly like.

As for the origin of 'Safety Dance,' it came along after Ivan was asked to leave a club when he attempted to pogo dance - basically stand still and fling your limbs about around you, from what I've read, thrash about on your own, and it's a milder, less violent or contacting dance than moshing (which is basically throwing your weight around into the people around you, literally). Annoyed that the bouncers wouldn't let him or others pogo to the New Wave music just coming along, he came up with the lyrics.

It's quite a quirky, silly, but fun lyric, especially on his vocal delivery of some of them. I'm sure most people remember the 'we can leave your friends behind' bit at the beginning, or the random 'everybody look at your hands' line though there's a lot more to it that just amplifies the absurdity of it. Perhaps referring to bouncers prohibiting pogoing, there's a line that goes "We can act if we want to/if we don't nobody will/and you can act real rude and totally removed and I can act like an imbecile."

The thing about lyrics is that if they're well-written and well-delivered, they work perfectly. In a sort of dry, monotone manner, Doroschuk sings, "Everything's out of control." Perhaps being both sarcastic and literally understating as much as possible. It sort of eludes you if you don't listen for it because he sounds so matter-of-fact about it. "As long as we abuse it, never gonna lose it, everything'll work out right." Kind like the opposite of treating a privilege with respect, and stating that the opposite will never lose it. There's a few obvious backwards ironies in there, mixed with dry sarcasm, that his deliveries end up understated, absurd, and maybe even satirical. It's well-worded and advantageous. You notice he doesn't reuse the "we can leave your friends behind" line over and over, he uses it twice - at the beginning and near the end. He's creative and keeps adding different lines to start the verses. "Say, we can go where we want to, the night is young and so am I." "We can dance if we want to, we've got all your life and mine..." etc.

The music is catchy but not over-worked or too complicated, and the lyrics are bouncy, fun, understated and satirical. All you need now is an engaging music video, and he did an okay job there too - setting it in a village green in England, with a dwarf character to bounce around him and a female companion. There's a silly scene where it freezes while they've got their arms in an unusual shape, while the dwarf man sort of kneels at Doroschuk. It concludes with the village dancing together, carefree and happy.

Music: B+
Lyrics: A
Video: B+

There's one more thing that I wonder. The way he begins half his lines with "Say..." it reminds me of French teachers in elementary school, or the music they'd play, where the word 'say' beginning a sentence wasn't unusual. I wonder if it's a French-Canadian thing. They do come from Montreal...their later album credits a "Bonhomme" character which is a French Canadian Snowman mascot originating in Quebec City. It appears in the 'Pop Goes the World' music video, which was weird altogether.

Justin C.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My First (and Likely Last) Comic Con

Having virtually no interest in comic books or fanfare or science fiction, etc., a Comic Con(vention) isn't necessarily a place you'd see me. I'm sure the eleven or so people I recognized there found it a surprised when, dressed in a panama hat, button shirt and jeans, I walked by.

The reason was, a friend of mine invited me, and I took into consideration all the costumes people likely wear at those things, especially girls. There's people. Maybe I can have a sociable time - after all, that's one thing I'm trying to work on. And maybe something of interest would be there.

The likelihood of my going brightened when I looked up the guests. I recognized none of them except for Christopher Lloyd, and a woman named Summer Glau, whom I saw in an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Then there were other "guests" featured such as the DeLorean from the Back to the Future series and the gigantic white car from Ghostbusters. Interesting. And because I wasn't willing to spend fifty dollars considering the lack of money I currently have, my friend was willing to contribute $15 towards my ticket to bring it down to the pre-order online price. So I went.

My first taste of the experience was Hunt Club Road. I was in the right-hand lane early so I could make a later right turn, and the traffic stopped. It didn't move. When I pulled out and drove on, I saw a long queue going down the road, turning right onto Uplands - a collector road that goes straight to the convention centre at which the Con is hosted. Geeeeez. The line up was easily a couple of kilometres.

About two hours later, after driving, inching, parking in an endless field rented by the arrangers of the convention due to the full parking lot, walking, and navigating a maze between finding the place to buy the tickets and the open doors to the hall, my friend Brent and I entered.

As any convention, there's not much to do other than walk around and browse the stalls or booths that are set up. With a comic convention, you get multiple comic book stores and dealers in one place, as well as places to buy themed clothing, prints of various kinds, and other related paraphernalia. The DeLorean was indeed parked in its own stand, as well as the Ghostbuster car - apparently named Ecto 1. Makes sense. I've seen the first and second movies, just not in many years.

It was difficult not to walk into somebody's picture. Indeed, there was a constant majority of costumed people, often photographed. None of those people were staff - just enthusiastic young people having fun with their interest or passion. I could simply say I was walking around a sea of nerds and geeks, but that's negative and restricting; rather, I myself was the dull outsider circulating among a sea of people who'd come to a place to be themselves, and comfortable, and happy. Other than a comic book store, there probably aren't many places in which you can walk in dressed as Captain Kirk or Sailer Moon or some other comic book character I don't know. I was the ignorant one. I had no idea what most of the costumes represented. I was the one looking in.

Everyone of almost all ages enjoyed themselves. It wasn't unusual for one person to compliment another's costume or its complexity or faithfulness to the original. People openly asked to take pictures all the time. The atmosphere was positive and and bright. I guess people just felt comfortable and open and happy. That's probably it - most people similar to me would probably turn their nose up at that sort of thing and ridicule the person wearing the most complex or faithful costume, deem it 'pathetic' that they'd devote so much time to such a childish activity. But most people are wrong; what's wrong with having an interest, regardless of what it is?

I've never looked down on those who like that kind of thing, just never been interested, and now that I've actually tried going to one of these things and experienced it, it makes me happy that everyone's just comfortable and open and fun. You can dress up as whoever you want, make the convention a secondary Halloween, and no narrow-minded idiot will judge you.

A secondary area was devoted to artists and autograph panelists. Each one sat as his or her table with an associate that collected money and presented images for choosing to be autographed. A line stood in front of each table at length. I saw that Summer Glau woman at a distance; she was often smiling and appeared likable. I stared for a second, trying to see if seeing an actress I'd seen on TV would stir any fandom in me, any starry-eyed wonder or disbelief. After a few seconds, nothing. Just a woman I'd seen on TV, nothing bigger. Pretty face. Her line was the longest. At one point, I saw her get up and crouch down to hug a little girl.

Eventually, after seeing the prices and determining that if I was going to get anything out of this, this would be it, I joined the line up for Christopher Lloyd. In front of me stood several girls who had that exact starry-eyed wonder about them, leaning out to try to see him, etc. As we got closer and I did see him, none of that disbelief or wonder made it in me. He was just an elderly man, a year younger than my maternal grandmother, with little hair on his head and glasses. He shook the hand of a father of two kids before they left, and we moved forward.

I was determined to be someone who did not want to see him just because he'd been in all the Back to the Future movies. I'd seen him in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest when I was in 12th grade, in English class. I'd seen him in My Favourite Martian when I was a kid. I know I'd severely dislike being known as a one-hit wonder or as a star of one big lasting film that defined my career, so I wished I had more film appearances under my belt for when I met him.

The attendant waved me forward towards the lady at the table next to Lloyd. The cost was $70 - the only money I'd be spending at that entire convention other than parking and the ticket. There was a large selection of promo shots and movie stills, several being from Back to the Future. After a small look-over, and talk with the lady who shared my wish that she'd seen more of his film appearances, I chose a shot of him as Max Taber from the Jack Nicholson hit and moved over, putting the image in front of the man.

"Hey, yeah, kind of wish I saw you in more films, all I've seen is that and My Favourite Martian...hope you're enjoying Ottawa."

"Oh, yeah."

He said that as he wrote his signature, in a deep voice, deeper than I expected.

"Well, you have a great afternoon." I waved, and walked away, a small smile on my face.

The exchange was extremely short - I'm really not good at starting conversations or small-talk with people I don't really know, and I'll end up saying exactly what's on my mind, however blunt or short-sighted it sounds ("All I've seen is that..."). If he said anything else, I didn't hear him and I hardly looked at him properly. All I know for sure is that my good afternoon wish to him was and felt as sincere as possible.

The stardom thing still didn't hit me. Seeing Mr. Lloyd, I saw a man for who he was sitting behind that table, not a guy who'd been on camera since the 1970s, acting with Danny DeVito in Taxi or Michael J. Fox in that time-travel series. Ever since, though, I have felt a bit of tickle of delight considering I did meet him in person. That probably draws upon the simple fact that I did, the memory, and not the actual moment. It's a fact about me now that I have "Christopher Lloyd" written on an image of him. That's the neatness aspect.

I don't think I'll ever understand star culture, or fandom, in that regard. Sean Astin of Lord of the Rings was there, as well, but I couldn't muster the interest or the will to spend more money, or the patience to wait. He's just a guy. They're all just men and women of various age. What seems to matter to me, really, is the simple fact that I had met any of them. Yet in the moment, my time with Christopher Lloyd amounted to about 14 seconds of me mumbling direct phrases and him signing with a marker and responding "Oh yeah." What an amazing moment! Nah. Just your average autograph signing with someone who has had a career in front of the camera.

Because it is just a very large room filled to the extreme with people, I didn't hang around all day. Brent and I started at around noon, and we were both gone by four in the afternoon. I would have left sooner, except I was looking for another friend and I wanted to make the long entrance worth it. I saw four people from work, two people from high school, and four people from my recent semester in writing. Plus a teacher from the Fall semester, dressed in a green bikini top of some sort and green garments that I don't know how to describe very much. My other friend, Jim, suggested it was a character named Poison Ivy. Uh-huh. Never heard of them. Never expected to see a teacher dressed like that.

As it says in the title, this is likely my last. This is probably true, due to the hassle to get in and the simple nature of the event - walking around looking at things, avoiding people's poses and photographs, jostling through crowds. It's a massive way to deplete all your money - the thousands of comics, T-shirts, hoodies, being able to sit inside and take a picture in the DeLorean and the Ecto 1 for a price, hanging out with those robot things from Star Wars or Trek or whatever, going to a Q & A with a science-fiction actor, autographs - all of them come at prices, most of them steep. It doesn't help in my case where I'm so dumb and ignorant of what anything is or means, and I have little to no interest in finding out. I respect the culture and I think the people who participate in it are wonderful, I just can't muster up my own interest in participating. Or walking around forever. And not everyone's perfect - when I wondered out loud who Bruce Campbell was, an attendant gave me a look that felt slightly like amazement mixed with condescension.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience and I'm glad I tried it. It made the day interesting. And some of those costumes were quite nice. If there's a big star next year that I've heard of and enjoy, I may go, but I probably won't be starry-eyed or all over the place. I've never been to a Comic-Con before, and I'll just say that for the people who enjoy that kind of thing, I'm glad they have it. It's a positive thing in a world of disinterest and ignorant, unfounded hate.

Justin C.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Life in Some Kind of Context

When How I Met Your Mother came along nine years ago, I watched it only sporadically, and not for long. I only saw a few episodes of the early seasons, and then the random one up to about three years ago. It was something that was on the edge of my subconscious, not really watched but known about to the point I had it listed as a favourite show on Facebook.

Nevertheless, I still read up on the finale on Wikipedia. Up to that point, I'd found it quite one-dimensional that until the final episode, the 'mother' character had only ever been known as just that - no name or personal identity, just that one word. "The Mother."

What I found really interesting was what Wikipedia described as the 'polarized' critical reaction from everyone - either you loved the end or hated it. That seems to be the general reaction to most series finales these days. It seemed the same for other shows I'd not really watched intensely but knew about or admired from a distance. Like Lost, or Dexter, or Breaking Bad. My work colleague, Imad, hated the finales of all three. Me, I'm mostly indifferent or lightly impressed, never one to severely dislike a plot resolution - unless it makes absolutely no sense to the point of insulting my intelligence.

The most important thing I think, really, is to consider the context and the world a series gives you. You see all the exciting or purposeful or defining moments in the main character's lives in an episode, not a slideshow of him or her waking up, going to the bathroom, eating breakfast, washing up or showering, going to work, working, having a lunch break, etc. etc. etc....you're going to see him or her have an unusual day with conflict or discovery or extraordinary affairs that defines an episodic program. As a result, to keep a series going, you get these plot arcs that writers will stretch for too long or make out as way too big a deal. With an ongoing premise in the background to keep people interested.

For the Mother series, I read that fans felt screwed over when Barney and Robin divorced in the finale after such a large amount of time was spent throughout the series having them get together. What a waste of time that was. Well, the truth is, that's how life works. You felt cheated out of something you put a lot of hope into because a couple of writers put too much time and effort making that relationship a big deal over a long period of time. Carter and Bays (the show's writers and creators) made you see that plot arc through a lens that made it seem perfect and hopeful and constant, even drawn out, and then they pulled off a move that's perfectly realistic to reality - in three minutes.

Of course, I never saw the finale nor watched the entire series. I'm probably lacking any credit. But so what? It's amazing how fans of a television show or comic book or novel or whatever work of fiction will develop such strong emotions or hopes for the fictional characters therein. I can understand connection, being able to connect with a character and see yourself in him or her, or feel at home reading or watching, but you can't divorce those characters from their creators, writers who have free will to make that character do whatever he or she wants, virtually on a whim. A showrunner or creator, and the writers, will often try to write or direct in a way that satisfies the viewer, of course, but they aren't perfect; they can't please everyone, and in my opinion, when they make a choice upon a plot line that is realistic and resounding with truth, they're doing a good job. For How I Met Your Mother, Carter and Bays did a pretty good job making a sort of chronicle of a story, as well as creating mystery, but the fans who disliked the ending put too much of their own wants into fictional characters while the writing duo put too much emphasis on a relationship dynamic - Barney and Robin could have still married, but it didn't have to be as big a deal as it was, considering they divorce minutes later in the final episode.

There was another complaint about how "the Mother" was briefly mentioned as passing away, and how that wasn't big enough - but again, that's just another plot element that's logical and makes sense. The ending of How I Met Your Mother isn't about "The Mother's" funeral and Ted grieving, it's about the relationships he has with his friends over that long period of time, with his meeting of "The Mother" the backdrop of the series (and minor premise). People get sick and die prematurely, families lose their loved ones. It's an unfortunate part of life. People get divorced, and in Barney and Robin's case, it made sense considering one was going sky-high with her career and travel, and the other couldn't keep up with that.

The final thing I want to say, really, is that despite my not keeping up with the series very well, there was one thing about the ending I did really like. Ted's children realize that he still likes Robin. In the end, he goes to her apartment with some kind of horn - apparently this instrument has meaning, I don't know, sorry for my ignorance - and they immediately connect. I like that because it comes full circle (I do remember Ted trying to date her at the beginning of the series) and it kind of clears things up perfectly for them because Robin seems kind of left out towards the end, on her own, and Ted seems much the same, so their connection speaks to me. The finale aired on March 31st. If I had a favourite character on that show, it was Robin, and I like that they seem to have a good ending; I liked her because she's Canadian and has an attractive personality to me. They once referenced You Can't Do That on Television in one episode - a children's show produced in the very neighbourhood I grew up, on Merivale Road - when Robin's background as a minor Canadian teenage pop personality was a focus of the episode.

Anyway, my general statement is, life has its contexts. All television does is magnify certain situations and paint them in a way that make them seem overly meaningful when they aren't, necessarily. It's like reality television and how it intentionally paints its participants - cut together five shots of one of the women crying on Hell's Kitchen five times in one episode when those shots were recorded over five weeks for different reasons, and you've got a false impression that she's infantile when she isn't. The show created that context. That's what TV does. Don't forget that every fictional character is written. The amount of death threats I've heard of out there that writers or comic book writers gets is absurd. They killed Brian on Family Guy! So what? Dogs get run over in real-life. Cartoons don't have to be immortal. It's a cartoon. Geez.

Justin C.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

It Feels So Good

Recently, I wrote about the time in my life where I'd listen to the radio every night in my childhood, always 'Kool FM' which was current music at the time. There was a song that caught my ear at one point, and it sounded dancy and perhaps 'house.' All I knew was that it was a woman singing and it sounded quite 'feel-good.'

Today, while at work, I heard it again, after fifteen or sixteen years.

I don't know if I would ever expect Wal-Mart to pipe that song in. The store's music has surprised me a few times - particularly if they play something I only discovered on Boom FM (80s and Canadian) and they did play 'Our House' by Madness once as well. The majority of music piped in is boring and unappealing, though they really do strike a good one once in awhile - whether it's 'You Are The Girl' by The Cars, or 'All Eyes on You' by Diego Garcia (something I discovered two months ago and quite like).

I turned up the music in receiving and struggled to hear at least one lyric. The backroom is a loud place to work. Wooden pallets are often dropped on the ground, or electric pump jacks are whurring or screaming, or the wheels on the conveyor belt are rolling as boxes are pushed down it. But I was able to make something out today, and when I got home, I had my reunion.

I never kept track of what I listened to as a child, so anything good I heard then, if it wasn't hugely successful to the point of being almost iconic, just faded to distant memory. It's unfortunate now when I hear something old and I have no idea what it is.

Thankfully, I've got it here:

It really was a reunion. I really liked it when I was eight or nine. That was fourteen-fifteen years ago. It was the backing voices that I liked, as well as the music itself. Now, being an adult and having an ear and a knowledge of music (to an extent) I can easily explain why.

By the way, synesthesia-wise, while the synesthetic memory is almost completely unaltered or changed or forgotten when I recall it from that long time ago, it still re-asserts itself differently when I hear it again now. That's because I'm listening from a different perspective, and seeing it as I do now with my adult mind. The landscape is generally different in terms of spatial direction, though the purple and violet that I see mostly stays the same.

The reason the song works (particularly the chorus) is because it's set in D# (D sharp, or, if you prefer, E flat). The notes D to E (and the sharp/flat in the middle) are the most sunny, brightest notes/major chords you can get in music (put into the right context, this can also include F and F#/Gb as well). Most of the song is in D#. Therefore it's bright and lovely and virtually 'glorious'. The backing vocals that proceed the main vocals also stay in D# by the last lyric in the line. The rest of the song has a sort of urgency to it, a penultimate expectation, that keeps it going. Synesthetically, because this song is in between D and E (D is more of a morning pink, E is a deeper red), the purple/violet I get out of D# is extremely evident. The backing vocals are a soft white tinged with slight purple.

Hearing it now, there are a lot of other elements I like about it as well. The sound of the snare drum, which is kind of soft, and the bass drum. The synthy bass line. Particularly the little chirping string inflections during all the choruses, which make me think of joy and happiness and girls with red hair.

It's quite unusual to read me talking enthusiastically about a dance song, one that's mostly electronic, considering I have virtually no appreciation or interest in that genre at all. Mostly I'm not interested because they don't sound genuine to me; they don't sound like real instruments with sophisticated melodies, they lack character to me, just something a computer could do or generate. But, I guess for the time I first heard it, the time it came out (it was released in 1998) and the general brightness and joy about the song really glue me to it. It sounded comforting to me when I was young, because the voices virtually fawn over in the song. Real female faces of my past come to mind when I hear it now.

As for the artist, her real name is Sonia and she's more of a DJ than a musician, from the U.K., and the song is apparently about her unrequited love for someone in her past, as well as the source of her feelings - they were for the person, not for his success, they were deep and genuine, not superficial and fake.

Music: A
Lyrics: B+

All I can say, other than the nostalgic reunion this gave me after a fifteen year absence, is that this song really does it - it really feels so good.

Justin C.