I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet but my favorite movie of 2013 was American Hustle.
The casting is flawless; the story is corrupt but uniquely American and irresistible (and less about the con game depicted than the co…n games each of us plays with ourseleves); the acting is mesmerizing; the mood, style, ennui and chutzpah of the period–the 70′s–is captured brilliantly; the writing, dialogue and camerawork make you feel like you are personally sitting in the background of each scene watching old friends; — and then there’s the soundtrack, a soundtrack tied to the core of the characters personalities and storyline as expressed in one of the early scenes as Irving, Christian Bale, realizes he’s falling in love with Sydney, Amy Adams.
“She was unlike anybody I ever knew.
She was smart. She saw through
people in situations. And she knew
how to live with passion and style.
She understood Duke Ellington.”
But my favorite song on the soundtrack isn’t from Duke Ellington but E.L.O.’s Overture which seems perfectly emblematic for this storyline and moment in time.
I watched American Hustle again last night and was amazed that a 22 year old (at the time) young lady from Louisville, KY dominated every scene she was in.
And she is in scenes with Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and many others.
Can we have a shout out for this KY star?
I love the scene when there is the big meeting with the mob bosses and everyone is intimidated by them except Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who sashays toward them and takes over their conversation in a matter of seconds.
That scene is emblematic of what she’s done with Hollywood, too.
You go, girl!
Every generation in modern history has had its cultural, sartorial or entertainment fads ‘du jour’ – in the 1920s, it was flagpole sitting and Charleston contests, in the 1950s it was Davy Crockett caps and bobby soxers squealing for Frank Sinatra, the 70s had lava lamps and David Cassidy. These trends became popularized first by word of mouth, as a few adventurous souls made things look cool. Then it would take weeks or months for a fad to catch on, and months or years before it became so popular it was no longer cool. (I remember the first puka shell necklace I saw – worn by a 13-year-old at summer camp who was rumored to be so fast, she let boys French kiss her. So anything she wore was bound to be cool and a little dangerous – until about a year later when you could buy plastic puka shell necklaces at Woolworth’s . . . .but I digress)
However, these days trends can start, flare up and die out much more quickly, whether it’s a longer-lasting fad, such as Lululemon yoga pants, or a quick meme, like Mitt Romney’s unfortunate choice of the phrase “binders full of women.”
So it’s probably not surprising that the Oscars weren’t even over before someone created a ‘Travoltify-Your-Name’ app, in honor of John Travolta’s now-legendary mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name. Add in a generation of teen girls who feel empowered by the characters Ms. Menzel has played, as well as the tendency of girl-power-anthems to sound alike, and I may have come up with the ultimate trend-driven, flash-in-the pan pop song.
You’re probably familiar with the rather over-used cliche of technology-impaired adults being at the mercy of youth. The pre-teen rolling her eyes as she tries to teach her mother to text, the intern showing the executive yet again how to log in to Outlook. Mind you, there are plenty of us who are quite capable of more sophisticated tasks (especially now that we’ve figured out there’s a youTube tutorial on doing just about anything).
But it is generally true that the younger generation is more comfortable with technology – they don’t know a world without portable computers & smart phones. (It’s hysterical watching toddlers treat a television like a mobile device, trying to change channels by swiping their hands across the screen. And while I’m not sure how I feel about all these devices for young kids, boy, do I appreciate those iPads when I’m on a plane with young kids!)
I have learned quite a bit from my sons, whether it’s the proper use of ‘twitter’ vs. ‘tweet’ (one is a noun, one is a verb), or how to reboot our cable/internet connection when it goes down at least once a day. My 17-year-old son runs his own youTube channel and is pretty savvy (he’d seen Gangnam Style before it hit 100,000 views!); when I was wondering whether my own youTube videos were doing well, he kindly reassured me by saying, “Well, Mom, anything over 100 views is viral for old people.”
My boys were the ones who turned me on to “Cards Against Humanity” (an off-color, totally inappropriate and hysterically funny variation on category games like “Apples To Apples”). This self-described ‘party game for horrible people’ was launched via Kickstarter, a crowd-funding platform. Notice, I can now use terms like ‘crowd-funding’ and ‘platform’ and sort of sound like I know what they mean!, but in case you’re wondering, crowd-funding is basically a cross between layaway, Renaissance art patronage, and PBS pledge week. Artists and inventors finance projects by soliciting backers, who pledge varying amounts of money in return for ‘rewards’, varying from a copy of a CD or game to a custom-designed song, video, or food item. And you can find all sorts of projects – indie films, steampunk-themed cupcake sprinkles, graphic novels, medieval guitar music, and more.
I’m jumping in, producing an album of ‘greatest hits’ from my weekly songs, and hoping to prove that people over 30 can play in this new playground too, including those of us who grew up without computers, who remember the first ‘car-phones’ that were the size of suitcases, and who actually know the meaning of an “E ticket’ ride at Disneyland.
So I invite you to try out Kickstarter, or IndieGoGo or other similar sites, to see work by inventive people of all ages. (Or at least by a bunch of youngsters plus one feisty 55-year-old who can’t lie about her age because her kids will rat her out.) The project pitches themselves are often very entertaining, and at least in the case of mine, you can amuse yourself by imagining the double dose of hate mail I’m likely to get from my title.
Check it out here.
The Oscars weren’t even over before the internet was buzzing with critical comments about celebrities’ appearance & wardrobe, and with critical comments about those critical comments. Can’t they just enjoy their intimate little industry awards ceremony (televised to millions and millions of watchers) in peace?
When celebrities and politicians put themselves in the public eye, they’re fair game, since they achieved their status through public attention. I do agree that it’s not nice to hit below the belt (although when Joan Rivers does it, it’s pretty entertaining). But it is perfectly appropriate to criticize public figures for the choices they make, whether it’s to dress like a swan, complete with an egg purse (no one will ever top Bjork’s outfit!), or to disregard the one name you’re supposed to introduce (which has already launched apps that will ‘John Travolta’ your name into something unintelligible).
Likewise, when politicians say or do ridiculous things, it is understandable when we mock them, whether it’s John Oliver’s iconic ‘Carlos Danger’ dance when he was subbing on The Daily Show, or all the humor that was prompted by Sarah Palin’s insistence that she could see Russia from her house. (Although even Ms. Palin could be overshadowed by some neighborhoods – during the ’08 election, I had been a runner-up in a Palin impersonation contest, and thus was invited to come in costume to the Castro, San Francisco’s colorful gay neighborhood, to introduce a local news feature on Halloween. I walked several blocks in a red suit & her signature hairstyle and glasses, carrying a larger-than-lifesized stuffed fake moosehead, and no one even stopped to look at me. But I digress . . . )
So sure, sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt at making fun of politicians in these weekly songs. But hey, I can take it as well as dish it out – I know that by posting my videos on youTube, I will get insulted and called a variety of names (which are usually spelled wrong). And if politicians like Ted Cruz do things like urging their supporters to pray for more anti-gay discrimination laws, or insist that if people listen to Ted Nugent, it’s Obama’s fault, then they can’t expect me to resist material like that!
You know you are 50 when….
Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” pops up to play on your iPod and instead of proudly displaying the album image and secretly believing it is your way of warning others that you, deep down, have a ferrel and dangerous side that they should be wary of—you instead flip quickly to the next song because you know, deep down, that others have nothing to be wary about in your presence.
And others know that, too.
And when the next song that pops up us Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel you proudly display the album image for others to see and secretly believe it is your way of saying, “I may not be wild today but back in the 70′s I had a very sensitive side and loved Simon and Garfunkel’s melodic Scarborough Fair no matter what other people thought.
And that’s how I still roll today.”
If you’re as old as I am, or a devotee of topical comedy songs, you might be familiar with Tom Lehrer’s song, “Pollution,” in which tourists were advised, when visiting the US, “don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air.” Which was making fun of the traditional advice to American tourists visiting other countries, advice which is still given regarding many destinations. (And rightly so in some cases – apparently journalists covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi received notes in their hotel rooms warning them not to drink the tap water or put it on their faces because it ‘contained something bad’ and was a dark yellow color. Some news anchors compared it to the color of beer, although as Jon Stewart pointed it, it looked more like ‘the result of beer.’ But I digress . . . )
No matter what we experience overseas, we expect safe water here in the US, so when it turns into gray sludge (like in North Carolina’s recent coal-ash spill) or smells like licorice (West Virginia’s chemical spill), it attracts quite a bit of attention. We are used to trusting our senses – if it looks or smells funny, we aren’t reassured by public health officials saying the water is fine (just not for pregnant women). Apparently regulations in those areas were so lax, no one had any idea that the pipes or storage tanks were going to fail. Sure, we can have a civilized debate over the best ways to regulate toxic chemical storage – but when several counties in two different states have either gray sludge or licorice water coming out of their faucets, we know something is definitely wrong! So I guess it’s time for a new song about tainted water . . .
When Shirley Temple Black passed away last week, it reminded us how important entertainment had been to American during the Depression. It’s easy to mock statements about that impact – “Gosh, I have no job, no food, and I’m about to get evicted from my tenement, but I don’t care as long as I can watch a curly-haired moppet sing & dance!” – but good songwriting does have the power to connect with our emotions. (Which are not always positive – after my boyfriend dumped me on my 22nd birthday, I wrote a country revenge ballad titled “You Broke My Heart, So Now I Want To Break Your Legs” . . . but I digress.)
There does seem to be a correlation between economic woes and music. The Depression was the heyday of big silly musicals, but it also led to classic songs like “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” and even the dippy cheerfulness of “We’re In The Money” starts with an incredibly ironic celebration of finding – gasp – a quarter! During the uproar of the 60s, the folk revival turned to protest songs (as embodied by Pete Seeger, another recent loss to the music world). That was also the birth of tongue-in-cheek comedy, including The Smothers Brothers. (If you haven’t heard their rendition of “John Henry” or “Streets of Laredo,” you’re in for a treat!, thanks to youTube.)
So with partisanship and income inequality at all-time highs today, you’d think we’d see yet another form of hard-times-inspired entertainment. Of course, trends are hard to see from within, so it will be a few years before we know whether this era is defined by bubbly escapism (“Gangnam Style,” anyone?), innocuous boy bands like One Direction, or a series of revenge songs penned by Taylor Swift about her various celebrity breakups. However, in the meantime I’ll offer my own contribution to protest songs, 2014-style . . . “The $10.10 Blues.”
My father loved to give advice in pithy brief sound-bites, like “Neither a borrower or a lender be,” “If you break your leg, don’t come running to me,” and “Moderation in all things, including moderation.” One of our favorites was when he helped us do story problems in math, and we could count on him to say RTFQ (for “Read the F-ing Question”). And of course, he frequently admonished us to stick to the facts and refrain from exaggerating, particularly when it came to why we couldn’t help with the dishes (“I have 9 hours of homework!”) or what a fight was about (“she’s been bugging me for 3 days straight!”)
Adults are supposed to be role models for kids, so one would assume that grownups with a public platform would be very careful about exaggerating (particularly since the internet makes it way too easy to blow holes in tall tales). But in the latest media frenzy, another of my dad’s aphorisms would come in handy, which is the PT Barnum quote, “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” That’s right, Fox News has joined in the latest ludicrous attack on Girl Scouts.
In case you missed it, the Girl Scouts national office recently tweeted a link to an article about nominees for Woman Of The Year,” and the long list of accomplished women included Wendy Davis and Kathleen Sibelius. Conservative news-ish site Breitbart seized on the story, which prompted pro-life groups to erupt in outrage, leading Fox News ancor Megyn Kelly to convene a panel on why the Girl Scouts would endorse known abortionist Wendy Davis. Before you could say “Trefoil Shortbread,” conservative organizations had launched “Cookie-cott 2014,” a national boycott based on the idea that cookie sales would fund an evil agenda to turn every girl into a lesbian vegan homicidal atheist.
Okay, I’m exaggerating too – but just a little. (And exaggeration in the service of humor is at least more entertaining!) This tempest in a cookie-box has prompted some ridiculous accusations and hysterical over-reactions, which just make the boycotters look silly. Fortunately the backlash may even increase cookie sales – I know I’m buying a few extra boxes (although I don’t need much excuse – disclaimer, I was a Girl Scout for 5 years and have always struggled with my Thin Mints addiction!)
Sure, I envy rich people – most of us do, if we’re honest. But usually I don’t begrudge them their wealth – I can admire their accomplishments, aspire to be like them, or just enjoy the fact that if it weren’t for rich people giving parties & hiring bands, most musicians I know would be even more under-employed. (What’s the difference between a musician and a savings bond? The savings bond eventually matures and makes money. Cue rim-shot.)
Of course, there have always been those hideous examples of gross over-consumption or bad behavior that can give wealth a bad rap. (You know, the CEOs with gold-plated toilet seats in their private bathrooms, the jewel-encrusted socialite who owes her maid back pay, the wealth congresspeople who vote to pay themselves hundreds of thousands in farm subsidies.) Other rich people can be counted on to put them in their place with a throaty “How vulgar,” like Cyd Charisse’s character’s reaction to seeing a ‘talking picture’ at a party in Singing In The Rain. (I once played at a very expensive country club, where one of the drunken members was trying to make suggestive remarks to me – at least as far as one could understand his slurring. I was trying to put him off politely, not wanting to be rude to a client, but a lovely silver-haired dowager heard him and told him in no uncertain terms to do something anatomically impossible to himself. That’s the kind of rich person I want to be! . . . but I digress)
These days, of course, income inequality is all the rage – probably because income inequality is at levels not seen since the Gilded Age. Naturally, one might expect the very richest people to feel a bit under siege, but they don’t help themselves when they make public comments about unemployment insurance just encouraging people to be lazy, or feeling just like Jews in Nazi Germany. (Note of advice to Tom Perkins – unless you’re Jewish and have relatives who are Holocaust survivors, that is not a very good idea. Nor is it smart to defend your remarks while bragging about a $380,000 watch that is ‘worth a 6-pack of Rolexes.)
But I’m not jealous of Tom Perkins – in fact, I’m grateful to him for inspiring my next song (which is my way of saying to him what that kind dowager said to the boor who was bothering me . . . )
Most of these wristbands are proactive and preventive in that they urge us to ask ourselves What would a certain person do “before” action is taken.
But let’s be real. We don’t always remember to ask ourselves before we do something and sometimes still make mistakes.
I have a solution. I also wear a second wristband for just such instances. When I screw up, I look at my wrist and ask myself “What Would Kayne West Have Done?”
The question is past tense. And what Kayne would have done is always something much worse and crazier than what I did. And that makes me feel better.
And will make you feel better too!