June 30, 2013

What's Missing from Entertainment Weekly's All-Time Greatest?

Entertainment Weekly just issued its “100 All-Time Greatest” issue, which lists the supposed greatest movies, TV shows, albums, and novels of, well, all time. In the Editor’s Note, Jess Cagle writes that “[w]e would decide what was best, without worrying whether it adhered to or violated conventional wisdom,” which included trying to “honor contemporary work that will endure for centuries to come alongside the classics.”

While I am well aware that music is as subjective as one's taste in the opposite sex (which is why many people look at me funny when I tell them my all-time celebrity crush is Tom Selleck!), as a music fanatic I couldn't help but share a few albums that I think should’ve been included in the “All-Time Greatest issue”, although for whatever reason didn’t make it there.   

So I'm just going to go out and say it.  Why the eff did not one single Steely Dan album make the list?  I realize that some do not like Steely Dan and that some may not have heard of Steely Dan (those who have not are either 12 and/or exclusively listen to whatever the Top 40 station spoon-feeds you, and for that your opinion doesn't really matter in this case.)  Most anyone who loves music, or perhaps more importantly knows music, realizes that Steely Dan is a serious band for the serious music nerd, case in point being Paul Rudd’s character in the movie Knocked Up.  His friends made fun of him for it (because that's what douche-y dudes do, but as a music producer he knew his stuff and made his case for why Steely Dan is one of the greatest bands ever). While my life changed (good art has that effect) when I really discovered Steely Dan at the age of 17 is actually pretty irrelevant here, especially since Katy Lied and Pretzel Logic are both albums that have received wide critical acclaim and beyond that are just really universally great pieces of music.  No disrespect to EW, but for these reasons, at least one of those albums should have made the list.

Whether you like hip hop or not, I was quite appalled that not a single Roots album appeared on EW's list, though I did agree with the inclusion of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The Roots are the kind of band that transcend their genre.  And by this I mean that people who don't even like hip hop happen to appreciate the Roots. But strictly on an album level, their records are the sort that encompass a very distinct mood and theme (of particular importance since EW's listing is based on greatest albums and not bands). Most notable, and missing from the list in my opinion, were Illadelph Halflife (released in 1996) and undun (released in 2011).  Both are the kind of albums that will continue to blow your mind no matter how many times you've played them over.  Listen for yourself, and you'll likely agree.

Finally, how did Al Green's Call Me (which I like, understandably) make the list, but not Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information? That album is disgustingly incredible. Released in 1974, it maintains a consistent laidback, romantic mood, while simultaneously unfolding like a novella.  As a timepiece of the 1970s, it also somehow still manages to transcend the time period. For example, I could play the album in summertime 1970s Greenwich Village or summertime 2010s Greenwich Village and in either era it would hold up as one of the great Greats. And, well, “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Aht Uh Mi Head” are easily five-star tracks, at least they are for me.

And that's all I have to say about that.

June 22, 2013

Why I Like the Big K (Where Image Isn't Everything)

Despite the narrow aisles and low ceilings, constructed for a time of skinnier people and skinnier carts, Kmart feels simultaneously spacious and airy and at the same time, from a different era.  You go there not because the prices are lower (like Walmart) or for its snazzy, trendy wares (like Target); you go there because there will be no lines, no people to run into from work, but also likely no pocket-sized Pizza Hut/Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks (which is neither unfortunate nor fortunate, I suppose).

At Kmart, there happen to be fewer shoppers sporting SpongeBob PJ pants and slippers, screaming kids, and the current common cold du jour than the Walmarts and Dollar Trees of yore, though it is not to say that the store doesn't cater to a humble group of folk.  At my local Kmart, for example, there happens to be a high percentage of Franco-American senior citizen shoppers with their polyester pants and carts stocked with whatever cleaning products that happen to be on sale, which provide a certain familiarity because they happen to remind me of my own late Franco-American grandmother.  
Nevertheless, while I am never particularly jazzed by the stock of goods that Kmart has to offer (things like storage bins and shampoo always seem to be just a little inflated in price and there is no particular flashy gimmick, such as the promise of a nice stash of new Essie nail polish or trendy, one-season-only apparel freshly hung on the clearance rack), there is something warm and fuzzy about the Big K, and what can I say? I am a real sucker for the warm and fuzzy.

Typically, the soundtrack at Kmart brings me straight to the late 1980s or 1990s, playing ballads from Heart or Celine Dion or even Amy Grant (I believe "Baby Baby" happened to be playing the last time I was there), and it makes me want to head straight to the coloring book aisle and pick out a little something for my former 6-year-old self. 
In its glory days, the Kmart I used to go to was a bustling destination complete with a well-stocked music department, not to mention Walkmans galore.  But the especially exciting feature at the Kmart from way back when was its in-house cafeteria, which, if you could get past the cloud of cigarette smoke, lent a delightful little reprieve to the end or middle of the Big K shopping experience.  They had every fatty, processed, nutrient-devoid dreamboat snack you could want: hot dogs, chicken fingers, French fries, various cream pies, your standard stash of handy-sized chips, and a nice selection of fountain sodas (including, I believe, Mello Yellow).  The cafeteria abutted the hair product section, which was next to the cosmetics section, which meant that the Caboodles (remember those?) were somewhere mixed in between.  How I remember this is no matter, but I loved my Caboodles almost as much as I loved my perm. 

But back to 2013.  I found myself wandering the aisles this past Saturday, well, because I needed some laundry detergent stat and because Kmart happened to be next to the record store where I picked up some Seals & Crofts (summer is when I crave the smooth '70s tunes).  And while I was there it occurred to me how grateful I was to be able to have the freedom to aimlessly wander the aisles of Kmart on a Saturday, but also how grateful I am that there is such a place in 2013 that is neither flashy, nor hipster, nor bottom-barrel cheap, nor particularly relevant, which is, quite honestly, really refreshing.  
With its underwhelming aesthetic and lack of identity, Kmart is a kind of unassuming and safe haven, much like Empty Nest (that everyone used to watch but everyone apparently forgot about besides me, it seems), or maybe it’s just where I like to spend a random hour on a random Saturday afternoon, simultaneously out in the world while also away from it.  We all need a little of that in our lives, I think.

Image credit: Pinterest

June 11, 2013

From Impure Thoughts to Thoughts of Self-Acceptance

Growing up Catholic, going to confession was a regular ritual in my family.  Once a month, my mom would drag my siblings and me to a church three towns away so we could tell a priest our sins.  Truth be told, it was equal parts humiliating, cathartic, and simply a task that was part of my Catholic upbringing.  Nevertheless, I always felt better afterward, because (a) I felt that for the 15 seconds while I did my penance in the church pew I was devoid of all human sin; and/or (b) the whole thing was over until the next month; and/or (c) we typically went out to eat afterward.

The problem with confession as I saw it was that I typically wound up confessing the same slew of sins each month, particularly the personal biggie: "impure thoughts."  When I was old enough to realize that having such impure thoughts was even a sin, I asked my mother how to confess such a thing.  My mother, being the cradle Catholic/enlightened woman that she was, had the apropos response for her precocious child:  "In that case, you say that you've had 'impure thoughts.'"  I was thankful to her for giving me the perfect catch-all for such a complex-to-me-at-the-time-kind-of-sin.

Now that I'm all grown up, I know that these "impure thoughts" are simply a fact of life that can't be erased from my mind no matter how much I try.  After all, I'm a human being with a fully functioning brain and body that are intended for making babies but which serve so many other purposes.   Now I'm not ashamed for such impure thoughts that enter my mind because it reminds me that I'm alive and thriving, and that my body is as engaged as my mind, which is a beautiful, biological thing.  

Furthermore, trying to erase thoughts of any kind only increases the potential for such thoughts to squirm back in, because that's just how the mind works.  We have an uncanny way of rebelling against ourselves, don't we?  (Well, at least I do.)  While I've evolved to know that impure thoughts are natural and acceptable, there are always other things I'm working on or striving to improve, different spiritual philosophies have taught me that self-judgment does not an enlightened mind make (a Buddhist philosphy instead of a Catholic one), which in my adulthood seem so much more logical and practicable. 

Only until we accept ourselves for our various shortcomings, weaknesses, and transgressions, et al. are we more likely to find success in changing and overcoming them, because it is upon self-acceptance that achievement in overcoming shortcomings suddenly becomes wholly and truly attainable. 

Feeling guilty about our weaknesses or failings only consumes energy that could be applied to more positive areas of our life that could by default reshape our focus away from our weak areas.  Since our bodies and minds only have so much energy, as it releases from the negative to the positive these thoughts/actions happen less often or, if you're truly a saint, not at all.  (Though who wants to have no "impure thoughts" at all?  Isn't that what makes us perhaps a little more interesting and endearing? I like to think so.)

June 4, 2013

Finding Home

Why I've only gotten into the Dexter series now that it is in its final season is beyond me, but in picking Season 7 up (via Netflix) midstream I have belatedly realized all that I've been missing out on for the past seven years.  Oh, well.  Better late than never, right? 

What distinguishes the show from others is that it is both plot AND character driven, revealing a complicated protagonist, Dexter, who happens to be a symphathetic killer, since he "only" kills the bad guys.  One of my favorite aspects of the show is that we get to hear Dexter's inner monologue, at times wry and sadistic, and other times tender and thought-provoking.  According to those in the know, Dexter's emotional capacity has evolved throughout the seasons, with him revealing in Season 7 the ability to experience the depth of love in a way that he never has before.

In "Argentina," the show's aptly titled Episode 8 of Season 7, Dexter makes a poignant declaration at the end of the show about the idea of finding your own version of home in the world, where he says:

          No matter where we go, we take ourselves and our damage with us. So is
          home the place we run to or is it the place we run from? Only to hide out
          in places where we are accepted unconditionally, places that feel more like
          home to us. Because we can finally be who we are.

The statement struck a chord in me because it was not only beautifully stated, but because it rings so true.  Whether we have it, had it, or are continually searching for it, we are all always longing for that place -- whether physically or mentally -- that we can call home, that place where we can just be. 

It's a place where we are not always understood, perhaps, but where we are completely accepted, where we are free to be our sometimes silly, oddball selves, so much so that our quirks -- those so-called issues/isms/little things that we may be ashamed to share with some people -- are not only openly received, but are cherished, nurtured, and loved.  Sadly, for some, that place may never be found, but for those who've stumbled upon it, it is truly the ultimate of all places to find and to be, if you are so lucky.

And that's all for tonight.