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“Mean” — Taylor Swift

No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake my love of poppy country music. In that spirit, I present to you: Taylor Swift.

I love this tiny little blonde. She’s absolutely adorable and I could eat her up with a side of ranch enjoy her artistic integrity.

The first time I heard “Mean,” I could not stop the tears. Even with the upbeat tempo and her sparkly awesomeness, the lyrics really struck an old chord to which I suppose we all can relate… the pain inflicted by teenage bullies. Although I cannot speak from experience, I’m pretty sure even the most popular kids felt picked on during their teenage years.

But, who wants to talk about those people!? A little vanity never hurt anyone, so let’s talk about ME.

You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me
You have knocked me off my feet again got me feeling like I’m nothing
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard, calling me out when I’m wounded
You, pickin’ on the weaker man

Well, you can take me down with just one single blow
But you don’t know what you don’t know

Someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Why you gotta be so mean?

Think back to elementary school… Do you remember that one fat kid everyone made fun of? The one that was the last to be picked in P.E.? The kid that came in last during the mile run and had to use an inhaler daily? The one that tried to fit in to every “group,” but ended up embarrassing themselves? The one that hadn’t figured out how to dress or fix their hair?

Surprise! That was me. As a chubby, freckle face ginger kid with no fashion sense or ability to tame my thick red hair, I was the antithesis of cool.

Did I mention I was VERY aware of it? Yeah, I was pretty miserable.

I did have some friends… and I loved them dearly, but even an army of friends cannot save you from bullies making jokes about you. And what’s worse than the jokes they make in front of you? The ones you’re never meant to hear… but you do.

You, with your switching sides and your walk-by lies and your humiliation
You, have pointed out my flaws again as if I don’t already see them
I’ll walk with my head down trying to block you out ’cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again

I’ll bet you got pushed around, somebody made you cold
But the cycle ends right now ’cause you can’t lead me down that road
And you don’t know what you don’t know

And then there was high school. Ahhhhh, high school. Oh, don’t worry. I lost a little weight and figured out how to use a flat iron, but in exchange I found something far worse. BAND. Mattus can back me up on this one! Not only was I a self-proclaimed “Bando,” I was a freaking drum major for two years. For those of you that have been living under a rock for 100+ years, band geeks are not exactly popular. If anything, we lived in that band room to hide from the harsh reality of those high school hallways. I loved our music and formed some wonderful friendships that I still cherish to this day. Even so, we were still the brunt of many jokes.

And FYI, This one time at band camp DID NOT HELP ONE BIT.

One of the most painful omfg-we’re-actually-that-lame memories came from my senior year. I’ll spare you the gritty details (that’s what I pay my therapist for), but here’s the short version. I was in the orchestra and we played for the senior class during an awards ceremony. After playing our little nerdy hearts out, to my great surprise we got a standing ovation! … or so I thought. I looked into the crowd and saw that a lot of people were just standing so they could stretch after sitting so long. Their claps were sarcastic and the were laughing at us. Laughing AT us. It stung.

At that particular moment, I wanted to either pull a Carrie or have the earth open up and swallow me whole. Neither one happened. I simply got to sit back and soak up the reality of our lameness.

And I can see you years from now in a bar, talking over a football game
With that same big loud opinion but nobody’s listening
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing

But all you are is mean
All you are is mean and a liar and pathetic and alone in life
And mean, and mean, and mean, and mean

But someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean, yeah
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Why you gotta be so mean?

This song reminds us of some simple but important truths. High school (thankfully) does end. We do grow up. Bullies are (and probably always will be) assholes. You should ignore them as much as you can and save the rest for your therapist and/or blog (Voila!). Just keep your chin up because it does get better. A lot better.

I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite shows…

The funny thing about growing up is for years and years everyone is desperately afraid to be different in any way and then suddenly, almost overnight, everyone wants to be different… and that’s where we win.” (Mitchell, from Modern Family)


Find more artists like Taylor Swift at Myspace Music.

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“Kyrie” from Lord Nelson Mass — Franz Joseph Haydn & “Daemon Irrepit Callidus” — György Orbán

“Kyrie” from Lord Nelson Mass — Franz Joseph Haydn

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSGa5oJDELE&feature=youtube_gdata_player%5D

“Daemon Irrepit Callidus” — György Orbán

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RNBf3CS9KU&feature=youtube_gdata_player%5D

For me, music attaches most strongly to memory when I perform it. I never learned to play an instrument, although I can strum a few chords on a guitar and pick out a melody on a keyboard. What I did was sing in various choirs throughout my school career. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not extraordinarily talented, nor should I audition for American Idol. Still, my experiences with music will always be colored by performance, by letting music flow not only into but also through my body.

I can clearly remember the dress rehearsal for my first high school concert. We were singing Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. At the time, I sang in the women’s choir, so I was only used to hearing the soprano and alto parts along with the piano accompaniment. At the rehearsal (and in the concert), the advanced choir—complete with tenor and bass—would join us, as would four professional soloists and my school’s orchestra, who had practiced the same piece for a joint concert.

If you haven’t heard it before, you should check out the first movement—“Kyrie”—from the Lord Nelson Mass. It’s not exactly a shy, retiring melody. Rather, it’s a wall of sound that hits the audience full-force from the beginning. On the afternoon of that dress rehearsal, I was stunned by the power added by the men’s voices and orchestral accompaniment. Overwhelmed by the beauty and strength of hundreds of voices and instruments combined, I literally forgot to sing . . . until my friend elbowed me, that is. It was the first time I really felt that potent sense of belonging that comes from being part of something much, much greater than oneself.

That sense of belonging took a slightly eerie turn with György Orbán’s “Daemon Irrepit Callidus,” a quick, devilish Latin number used for the All-State tryouts my junior year. I hadn’t tried out before, so I didn’t know what to expect. We met at the high school early one Saturday morning and drove to another school for the auditions. I remember receiving a tryout number and then walking toward the school’s auditorium with my nervous gaggle of classmates. The imposingly thick, heavy wooden doors—you know the type—transmitted only muffled sound. Once heaved open, that sound expanded into the unbearably strong yet irritatingly tinny noise that can only come from accompaniment on cassette tape played too loudly (and on a continuous loop) through the auditorium’s sound system.

The only way I know to describe how it felt is to say I felt like I had entered Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, or any other well-made, religious-themed horror film.

Hundreds of high school students, glassy-eyed with lack of sleep and practically shimmering with nervous energy, perched on the upholstered auditorium seats. They all faced the empty stage with its closed, blood-red curtains. Sheet music in hand, they sang along with the tape, practicing the tryout section over and over again while waiting for their numbers to be called. It was far too loud for conversation, so my friends and I wandered, trance-like, to the first free row of seats, sat down, pulled out our music, and began to sing along, as glassy-eyed and nervous as the others.

There, the sense of belonging was tinged with the strange, cult-like feeling I get whenever I hear (and participate in) groups of people reciting the same thing all at once. It was intense, magical, and somehow just a little bit off—exactly like the music itself.

Don’t get me wrong. I love performing. Whether I’m belting in the shower, mumbling my way through half-understood Spanish-language lyrics in my car, or singing onstage, the act helps me connect to a piece of music in a deeper way. The experience is admittedly hard to define. However, both of these intense experiences epitomize what it is, to me, to be not just a listener but, in fact, part of a song.


Find more artists like Franz Joseph Haydn and György Orbán at Myspace Music.

“Spider Fingers” – Bruce Hornsby

So nice to be here
With all you good people
Is anybody listening
To what we’re doing tonight
Could you give us a chance
While you hit the sauce
Might try a little flash up here
Just to get ourselves across

So sings Bruce Hornsby in the opening track of his 1995 album Hot House. The singer and his colleagues have found themselves in a situation dreaded by all entertainers — performing for a bored and disinterested audience.

I first heard this tune in high school. At the time I had only participated in performances where each of the audiences was mostly interested in what we had to share — symphonic band and jazz band concerts for the parents, siblings and friends of my fellow musically inclined students. I won’t pretend that every audience member attending these concerts was just dying to be there but they were courteous enough to listen to what was going on. So while I enjoyed listening to “Spider Fingers” — both for its narrative and its musical quality — I was unable to relate to the story shared by the singer.

That changed in the summer of 2001. Not more than a week after being graduated from Columbus High, my high school band director invited me to play bass as part of a jazz quartet for a wedding reception in Winder, Georgia. I don’t recall my reaction but I suspect that I was both excited and a little nervous. On one hand, the opportunity to play for money and to gain some performance experience in an ”uncontrolled” environment was one I am certain I would have relished at the time. On the other, I suspect I was anxious about playing for an audience that wouldn’t have told me the performance was great even if it were lousy.

Well we better do something
Before they tell us to get lost
Sometimes you’ve just got to repeat yourself
Just to get your point across

We started playing before the majority of the audience arrived — this turned out to be fortuitous because we wouldn’t have played much at all if we had waited. After the last of the guests floated in, we managed to finish our renditions of “Maiden Voyage” and “Song For My Father” before it was clear that we may as well have engaged in Tuvan throat singing for all the attention we were paid. While it’s not clear if the singer in Hornsby’s tune managed eventually to engage the audience (a la Sussudio), our jazz quartet failed abjectly to generate so much as a spark of interest. Oddly enough, I recall not minding so much that the gig terminated rather earlier than expected — in part because I still got paid the full amount promised and in part because it meant I was able to return to Columbus at a more reasonable hour than originally anticipated.


“Spider Fingers” is a song that never leaves my otherwise dynamic “Top Five Favourite Songs List.” It’s a nickname I earned in an online Star Trek group for my quick reflexes at what we called Scrambler (where the goal was to be the fastest to decipher, for example, RMTTTAEIAN TTNMNNOECIA as ANTIMATTER CONTAINMENT). It’s a tune I heard in Safeway in 2009 (much to the consternation of my fellow shoppers when they realized someone in the store was gleefully singing the lyrics to a tune they had probably never heard). It’s a reminder that I will always be on what is generally perceived as the “wrong side” of public opinion regarding what constitutes good music.

That’s just a list of its significances to me. To Hornsby:

It’s just a little hand trick
A little prestidigitation
Better get out your Hanon
Practice and repetition


Find more artists like Bruce Hornsby at Myspace Music.