Category Archives: Awakenings

“Stranger in Moscow” — Michael Jackson

Whether or not you’re big into MJ is kind of irrelevant.

Any self-respecting music fan can’t deny the talent, skill, and perfectionism of the man who changed music forever. Besides, there’s rarely anything that comes out of the music or entertainment industry these days that doesn’t make a nod toward Michael – so, chances are, if you like any music that has been created within the last thirty years, you have him to thank for it – at least in part. Because he changed everything.

His death affected me profoundly in a way that no artist’s or celebrity’s has or probably ever will again. When I listen to “Stranger In Moscow” – not a big hit of his, though I think it should’ve been – I get a vivid and emotional glimpse not only of his own life, but of his commonality with his fans, with everyone. Here was a man who was troubled, perhaps more than we’ll ever know, and unfortunately it’s that kind of life that often drives genius.

The music video is, in my opinion, a must-view with the song since Michael was, after all, deeply involved in every aspect of his work. Maybe you can’t relate to being a “Stranger In Moscow”, but you’ve been a stranger somewhere, “living lonely”. You can replace the “Kremlin’s shadow” and “Stalin’s tomb” with anything really. You can see yourself within any of the characters in the video – we’ve all been at that place in our lives, at one point or another, where you drop the umbrella and just walk into the rain. Maybe you’re hoping it washes away whatever you’re feeling. I think Michael wanted to wash away the entire world-the world that constantly loved and hated Michael, fiercely and incessantly, for his entire life. For Michael, “abandoned in my fame”, he hoped he could escape like all the other normal people, hoping they would just “take my name and just let me be”.

It’s a sad thing, no? But there’s an uplifting moment, I think, towards the end when everyone is standing out in the rain. The black and white washes over them and suddenly they find an escape, a moment where nothing really matters. Michael probably had precious few of those moments, certainly fewer than most of us have had. Despite the fame and fortune, I think he’s a prime example of the cliché “money can’t buy happiness”. He was one of us, he was a human being and he was the King of Pop, all at once. I think you’ve achieved true musical and artistic perfection when you achieve that balance, that place where people can see you for you, and you for your talent. I only hope his time with his kids and family and the love of his fans brought him some peace before we lost him.

Image courtesy of http://www.hollywoodgo.com.

Rest In peace, Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009).


Find more artists like Michael Jackson at Myspace Music.

“Rhythm Nation” “If” & “I Get Lonely” — Janet Jackson

I was quite moved by metaphoricalgretchasketch‘s discussion in her most recent post about experiencing music, in a rather profound way, via performing it. She was talking about singing which I certainly have no talent for – however, her post resonated with me as I began thinking about all the years I spent in dance classes as a young girl.

I think it’s safe to say that anyone who knows me would not be surprised to hear that I was not an all-star on the athletic field. I didn’t play a sport, per se. However, I don’t think many folks who’ve hung out with me (particularly in college) would be shocked to know that I took dance lessons for several years, because evidence of those lessons resurfaces from time to time when I allow my inner “woo girl” to come out and play. It is also possible that some of my former students might not be surprised by this either, since I may or may not be guilty of allowing them to teach me to crank that “Soulja Boy” or to “Walk it Out”. I plead the fifth.

Dance gets a bad rep sometimes, because you hear a lot about girls coming out of it with lots of body image issues and the like. I can’t say I completely escaped all of that, but in my case, I’d say my self-image problems were largely due to the pressures communicated by the mass mediaadvertising in particular. My dance teachers, on the other hand, were supportive and kind. They challenged us to become the best dancers we could be, but that didn’t mean we had to starve ourselves or whatever. I was fortunate to have had the chance to grow up in those studios under the care of women who were really about helping girls feel good about their accomplishments…even if those accomplishments weren’t going to take us to Broadway.

I was definitely not Broadway-bound, but by the end of my senior year I think I could *bring it* on stage. I’ve always been able to hold my own in a dance club and I could attract attention if I happened to want it (Don’t you judge me! I’m just being honest – and everyone knows that a lot of the time, going out dancing is all about getting attention!). More importantly, though, the experience of studying dance (ballet, jazz, modern, lyrical, hip-hop, and my favorite genre tap) played a huge role in my development as a young girl and onward to womanhood. And I have Janet Jackson to thank for inspiring my interest. It all began with “Rhythm Nation”.

I was nine years old when the video for “Rhythm Nation” was released. I was old enough to appreciate the positive message communicated by the lyrics, but I was more intrigued by the choreography of the video. Even at that early age, I loved thinking about how to interpret music though movement. I hadn’t started taking classes yet, but I knew I wanted to after I heard this song and saw the accompanying routine. Looking back at the video now, I am still taken aback by the brilliant choreography. The dance is militaristic in its movement and if you’ve never studied dance before, I’m not sure you can appreciate the intricacy of the steps or the virtual impossibility of people being able to move in synch with one another to this extent. The result is powerful and the music video is, rightfully so, an important icon of the 90s. For my nine-year-old self, it was a beacon that led to me asking my mom to enroll me in dance classes and it was certainly not the last time Janet Jackson would inspire me to keep dancing.

“If” was released in 1993. I was thirteen years old and I had been in dance classes for a couple of years by this point. And, as pubescent kids are wont to do, I was becoming a little bored. It made me sad that I didn’t feel as excited about dance classes anymore. Luckily, “If” changed my mind.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this video spoke to me at a time when I was just beginning to become aware of my own sexuality. I was starting to realize that I found boys attractive and I was starting to want their attention. And here was Janet Jackson, performing this incredibly provocative (though not too vulgar) dance with her crew and really owning her sexuality. She seemed to explode with confidence and power, and, as per usual, I thought the choreography in the video was amazing. When I had friends over to spend the night, I can remember us jumping up in front of the television set anytime the video was on so that we could try to learn the dance – eventually, I had to make a VHS recording and we wore out that tape within a few weeks. We managed to learn the dance, too, but we didn’t feel half as cool as Janet since we didn’t have any hot guys dancing along with us. Despite that, my love for dance was renewed and I continued with my lessons through the end of high school.

I mentioned earlier that I had some pretty amazing dance teachers. Jennifer, the teacher I had through high school, was the best of the best. I loved her and I loved that she allowed any dancer who was a senior in high school to perform a solo at the spring recital, regardless of her level of ability. I loved Jennifer even more for letting me choreograph mine.

I chose not to go the solo route. Instead, I choreographed a piece for two friends and myself to perform. In homage to the muse who kept inspiring me to go back to dance class, I chose her song “I Get Lonely” for my senior number. I was so proud of the result. The girls that danced along with me were amazing and they didn’t roll their eyes about me being the choreographer – I think that’s probably because they could tell that doing the choreography meant so much to me and because of the culture of mutual support and camaraderie among the students that Jennifer cultivated within her school. After the performance, I left the stage of the Springer Opera House with a full heart. I’m still extremely proud of that accomplishment, and full of gratitude for everyone who helped me achieve my goal of choreographing and performing that dance. It’s one of my most favorite memories from my youth and I count myself lucky for being able to transport myself back to that important night with the touch of a button on my iPod.

Have you ever been inspired by someone’s music or other artwork to pursue a personal goal?
Have you had a life-changing experience while creating or performing something that made you proud?

Tell me all about it in the comments, won’t you? Peace!


Find more artists like Janet Jackson at Myspace Music.

How Drum and Bass Ruined/Saved My Life

I walked into the dark, sweaty, smoky backroom in Loretta’s where Hazeus towered behind the decks bouncing a tangled mess of dreads to the roll of the ragga drums. It was love at first bass drop! (Insert every Hollywood movie cliché.) My heart skipped a beat, I had goose bumps, time froze…I was head over heels. Up until that moment I was very much into the rave scene but I loved the culture more than anything. House DJs were basically interchangeable to me and like most anything else to a 19-year-old boy, it was only a matter of time before I grew tired of it and moved on to the next “greatest thing ever.”

Drum and Bass was a completely different animal. While trance and house concentrated on simple, repetitive drums used to drive inspirational synth patterns and elevate the crowd into a sense of faux-euphoria, DnB took another approach to move the crowd.  It almost completely threw out all the pretty melodies, sped everything up nearly double time and turned its focus to… drums and bass. (duh!)  It was deep, moody, heavy and inspirational in its own way, and it was exactly what I needed in my life.

I felt empowered, important and privileged to be a part of this movement, as nearly every college kid feels about whatever it is that they are passionate about. Drum and bass quickly engulfed every aspect of my life. Nearly every CD in my car was a DJ mix, nearly every outfit in my closet was completely out-of-place anywhere but a nightclub, and every waking moment was spent thinking about the next party. Within a year the music was everything. “How can I go to class?  Tech Itch is playing tonight.” “Dom and Roland is playing Saturday. I never liked that job anyway.” “Family?  My family is at the party already.” Before I knew it I was a college dropout, unemployed and essentially homeless. I floated through life for half a decade like this and I had never been happier.

All great highs are followed by devastating lows and mine hit like a ton a bricks. I woke up one day to realize that somehow I had enlisted in the military, gotten married and become a father. What? When did I become so utterly normal? Wasn’t I special? I should’ve been someone by now. Why was I not a famous producer/DJ or at least running a record label? That was my path in life, right? I mean, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a rock star as far back as I could remember. While most boys were dreaming about being fighter pilots or firefighters, all I could picture was a stage in my future. But there I was in my mid 20s…aging early, overweight and nursing what had to be an undiagnosed case of clinical depression. I gave Drum and Bass my heart and she gave me nothing in return.

I look back now at that angry, ungrateful “man” with overwhelming embarrassment. If anything I am lucky to be alive, let alone a father to two beautiful children and a husband to a wonderful wife who stuck with me for better or WORSE. I can’t pinpoint the turning point when maturity knocked at my door. I’m just glad that it finally joined the party. It brought with it a peacefulness that I had never felt and a realization that I am anything but normal. I have seen half the world and I am nowhere near the end of my travels. I have never tucked a Hawaiian-style shirt into a pair of bermuda shorts. I have never owned sandals with Velcro straps and most importantly, I do not listen to Nickelback. I can’t be angry at DnB. In fact, I thank her for shaping me into who I am today. I really like this guy.

Drum and Bass, and more recently its offspring Dubstep, is still a huge part of who I am. I exercise to it, I dream to it, I drink to it. It is the soundtrack to a heaving handful of meaningful memories. It’s where I fell in love with the mother of my children and my partner in life. It’s playing as I write this. It will forever be a part of who I am. About a year ago I saw Dieselboy in San Diego and it was nothing short of amazing! After the show, out of nowhere, I actually shed a tear. The next morning it became clear to me that for the first time in a decade, I felt the magic again. I caught the dragon I had spent the last third of my life chasing. The music never left me out to dry and it certainly didn’t owe me anything. It has always been there — growing and evolving with me.


Find more artists like Roni Size at Myspace Music.

“The Only Exception” — Paramore

This past spring, I had the painstaking task of picking ONE song for my soon-to-be-husband and me to use as our first dance at our wedding reception. Do not underestimate the gravity of this task. For a bride, this is huge. I struggled. Between his interest in indie and my love for good ol’ pop, it was proving to be more than difficult. It felt impossible.

And then I found Paramore‘s “The Only Exception”.

Okay… Soooooooooo, maybe I didn’t find Paramore… It was more like I was watching Glee. Yes. That’s what I said. GLEE.

Hi, my name is Kim. (Hi, Kim.) I’m a grown adult and I freaking.love.Glee.

Don’t hate. That show is awesome and we might as well put on our boxing gloves right now because I have sworn allegiance to Mr. Schuester and all things Glee. Sacrifice the body! VIVA LA GLEE!! 

Where was I… Oh yes, Paramore. This song stole my heart from the first few lines…

When I was younger I saw my daddy cry
and curse at the wind.
He broke his own heart and I watched
as he tried to reassemble it.

And my momma swore
that she would never let herself forget.
And that was the day that I promised
I’d never sing of love if it does not exist.

But darling,
You are the only exception.

My now husband and I both come from divorced families. Some say broken homes, we say *modern American families*. Although we have come to terms with (and truly love) our step parents and step/half siblings, there has been some residual damage to our faith in traditional love and marriage. We dated for five years before we decided to get engaged. We lived together for four for those years. Leading up to the engagement, we struggled with the *need* for marriage… what does it *mean* to be married… can we do it better than our own parents or are we doomed the same divorced fate… is it worth even trying… do we want to risk putting our future hypothetical offspring through a possible divorce…?

Maybe I know somewhere
deep in my soul
that love never lasts.
And we’ve got to find other ways
to make it alone.
Or keep a straight face.
And I’ve always lived like this
keeping a comfortable distance.
And up until now I’ve sworn to myself
that I’m content with loneliness.

Because none of it was ever worth the risk.

Well you are the only exception.

Well, we did get married and are happy little newlyweds. Due to years of therapy on both sides we are probably more prepared for the reality of marriage than our parents ever were. The goal is to learn from our parents’ mistakes… And in the unfortunate event we do decide to split, we’ll handle ourselves in a way that causes minimal damage to our little ones. Besides, having us as parents will give them PLENTY to tell their therapists without having to witness a nasty divorce.

I’ve got a tight grip on reality,
but I can’t let go of what’s in front of me here.
I know you’re leaving in the morning
when you wake up.
Leave me with some kind of proof it’s not a dream.

You are the only exception.

And I’m on my way to believing.
Oh, and I’m on my way to believing.

Of course, our parents didn’t go into their wedding saying, “He’ll be a great first husband.” It’s all unicorns and rainbows to start… So who knows? All we can do is take it one day at a time and keep the friendship aspect strong through the ups and downs. Today, like most newlyweds, our future is full of sunshine, babies, building our dream home outside of the city, family trips around the world, and watching each other wrinkle up and go grey.

We shall see…

Either way this song was perfect for our first dance. It’s honest in its immediate declaration of the effect our parents’ divorces had on our faith in love. It expresses the hesitation we both have to trust in the institute of marriage. But, most importantly, it sings a song for two jaded people who are deeply in love that are giving it a valiant effort.


Find more artists like Paramore at Myspace Music.

“At Seventeen” — Janis Ian

I don’t remember why I bought the soundtrack to Teaching Mrs. Tingle; I certainly hadn’t yet seen the movie. The disc was probably on sale at Hastings and as I knew of the movie as something daring, risqué and above all, popular, I decided to purchase it. In it, I found my home.

“At Seventeen” was originally performed by Janis Ian, but the soundtrack featured a cover by Tara MacLean. I prefer the original but both women sing with a haunting, ethereal elegance. It’s the lyrics, though, that held—and still hold—me under their spell.

I learned the truth at seventeen

That love was meant for beauty queens

And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles

Who married young and then retired”

This became my anthem. I can still see myself, literally at seventeen, ripped from the relative comfort of my hometown (where, if not exactly universally loved by the boys in my class, I was at least universally known as “that smart girl”) and placed into an overcrowded dorm hall teeming with the impossibly beautiful. To me, they seemed unapproachably perfect, leaders of lives I could only dream. It’s no accident that my Meyers-Briggs score shifted from extrovert to introvert during that first year of college. Faced with other women who appeared so much more confident, happy and special than I, I retreated into my shell. While my roommate partied, I hunched over textbooks and listened to this song on repeat.

“The valentines I never knew

The Friday-night charades of youth

Were spent on one more beautiful

At seventeen I learned the truth”

The rhetorician in me appreciates the antimetabole in lines 1 and 8. It’s a subtler form of repetition than I encounter in current songs (Justin Bieber’s sixty-four—yes, I counted, and you would too if you had to listen to it twice while chaperoning an eighth-grade dance—repetitions of the word “baby” come to mind).

“And those of us with ravaged faces

Lacking in the social graces

Desperately remained at home

Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say come dance with me

And murmured vague obscenities

It isn’t all it seems

At seventeen”

It’s easy to look back with nostalgia, isn’t it? Sometimes I long for those days, at seventeen, when the world was wide open, its realities undiscovered, a place where “vague obscenities” were all I knew to imagine because my reality was wholly innocent. This song reminds me that time has dulled the edges of my teenage angst as it has swept away the all-too-real pain, leaving only fond memories behind.

“To those of us who knew the pain

Of valentines that never came

And those whose names were never called

When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away

The world was younger than today

And dreams were all they gave for free

To ugly-duckling girls like me”

No one in my generation had to experience the first pain. After all, we were required to bring valentines to every member of the class. Remember trying to choose the non-sappy pre-printed messages for the people you simply didn’t know? I do. Besides, I’d have been absolutely grateful if my name hadn’t been called during a basketball game. Still, “The world was younger than today” because I was younger, unacquainted with the paralyzing complexities of life.

“We all play the game

When we dare

To cheat ourselves at solitaire

Inventing lovers on the phone

Repenting other lives unknown

They call and say

Come dance with me

And murmur vague obscenities

At ugly girls like me

At seventeen

At seventeen”

Isn’t that a powerful image? Cheating oneself at a game of solitaire. How utterly fruitless. You still lose, don’t you? But it’s the line “Repenting other lives unknown” that speaks to me now. Countless times, I’ve frantically reviewed every event in my life to try to pinpoint that one moment, that one decision that would have changed everything. Maybe, if I’d done it differently, I’d have become a completely different person—thinner, perhaps; happier; deserving of (and possessing) love . . .

In a little over four months, I’ll be twenty-seven. And ten years later, I’ll admit that this song still speaks to me. After all, I am single, and not exactly by choice. I miss myself at seventeen—the innocence, the earnest desire to help others, the hunger for new experiences. To me, this song is about embracing that time in my life . . . and, perhaps, leaving it behind.


Find more artists like Janis Ian at Myspace Music.

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