You Listen To What?

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My taste in music is nothing short of eclectic as I’ll listen to just about anything as long as its good. Like everyone else I have my favorite artists, but there are some names that evoke a few raised eyebrows.  The inevitable question, “You listen to what?” usually follows those contorted brows.  It’s as if I’m not “allowed” to listen to certain types of music because I don’t fit the profile.  To this I say, there is no such thing as boundaries when it comes to enjoying music.  Nerds can love Top 40 bands and happy-go-lucky writers can dig reggae rap.

More than once I’ve written of my love for British artists, indie rock, and NuFolk, but my music collection reaches far beyond those categories.  Here’s a  list of 10 artists I love, despite the glaring disparities in personality.  It just goes to show that music truly does speak across all realms of humanity.

Note: I’ve linked each artist to a site where its possible to listen to samples of their music.  With exception to #9, all links will connect to my favorite album.  Enjoy!

1. Michael Franti & Spearhead

Equal parts rap, reggae, pop, R&B, and rock, Franti is a remarkable songwriter and performer.  His lyrics cry for social justice, peace, and political change with the stomp of a fierce beat.  He’s lightened up a little over the last few years, but he’s never given up his vision for a world without war and corruption.

Favorite Songs: “Everybody Ona Move” and “Life in the City”

Favorite Albums: All Rebel Rockers, Yell Fire, and Everyone Deserves Music.

2. Moby

Okay, so he’s a little weird and very bald,  but he makes some the of the best atmospheric electronica.  He thumbs his nose at convention and does his own thing, which is what I like best about his music.  Tones range from dance floor beats to ethereal synthesizers paired with piano and voice.

Favorite Song: “We Are All Made of Stars”

Favorite Albums: Go – The Very Best of Moby and 18

3. Linkin Park

I love this band because they exude raw emotion and hold nothing back.  No two albums sound alike and I like being surprised every time they come out with something new.  The last album in particular was a stark departure, but in my opinion its their best to date.

Favorite Song: “Waiting For The End”

Favorite Album: A Thousand Suns

4. Muse

It took me a while to catch onto this band, but once I did I never looked back.  Their sound is a cool fusion of hard rock and symphonic melody.  The lead singer has a unique voice that breathes incredible life into clever, bold, and brutally honest lyrics.

Favorite Song: “Starlight”

Favorite Album: Black Holes & Revelations

5. Thievery Corporation

This band found its way into my collection by way of a gift from a good friend.  Their vibe is a combination of soft jazz and electronica with a touch of middle eastern beats.  I’ve never heard anything like it, which makes every song an adventure.

Favorite Song:  “Holographic Universe”

Favorite Album: It Takes A Thief 

6. Mika

My love of Mika defies all logic, but I am hopelessly addicted to his dance beat and fun lyrics.  They guy just sounds like he’s having a blast and his energy is infectious.  Whenever I’m dragging in the middle of a run, Mika gives me a great jolt.

Favorite Song: “Love Today”

Favorite Album: Life in Cartoon Motion

7. Phil Coulter

My grandparents are at fault for my love of new age piano music.  Every night they would play a Phil Coulter album to help me sleep.  It never worked because I was always mesmerized by intricate piano notes and the beautiful flow of music.  Twenty years later, I still listen to him for the same reasons and actively seek out similar artists.

Favorite Song: “Oft’ In The  Stilly Night”

Favorite Album: Sea of Tranquility

8. Twelve Girls Band

Blame public television and my trip to China for bringing this powerhouse orchestra into my collection.  These ladies use traditional Chinese instruments to fuse Western standards with Eastern folk, thus creating something entirely new.  Their music is full of energy, life, and sheer emotion.

Favorite Songs: “Freedom” and “Jasmin”

Favorite Albums:  Shining Energy and Eastern Energy

9. Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass

Try hard not to laugh.  When I was growing up, Herb Albert was played almost daily at my grandparents house during the summer.  Those brass horns and peppy tunes always made me smile and they still do today.

Favorite Album: Greatest Hits 

10. Vladimir Horowitz

No one can play Chopin (or anything else for that matter) with the same passion and skill as Horowitz.  I literally get lost in the music when I listen to any one of his performances.  It’s no wonder he’s often referred to as the best concert pianist of the 20th century.

Favorite Song or Album: There are no favorites when it comes to Horowitz.  Every note is pure genius.  However, one album in particular sticks out in my mind, Horowitz: The Last Recording.

I’ve always seen music as a soundtrack for my life, so it makes sense to choose music from all different genres to make things more interesting and meaningful.

c.b. 2011

Music For a New Novel

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My second novel began with a single sentence that popped into my head while I was at work.  I hardly know what is real.  I wrote it down and it lead to a notebook filled with an outline, pictures, and sketches, (I will be posting something about my new notebook . . . stay tuned!).  The story materialized in my imagination with such a vibrant presence, it’s as if it was there all along. While an exciting prospect, it’s also overwhelming as the scope of the story is larger than anything I’ve ever been inspired to write.  However, much like Noah haunted me, (See One Photograph Changed Everything), so are two new main characters: Amanda and Ian.  This is a story I must tell, even though the subject matter will require a lot of research.  From what I know of them so far, I think my history degree is going to come in handy!

While writing my first novel, I discovered music can be a powerful element in piecing together a story, (See How Music Help Me Write a Novel).  As I embark on writing my second novel, I am in the midst of creating a brand new playlist that is already giving my main characters more depth and providing loads of inspiration as I work out the storyline.  It’s amazing how one creative avenue lends a hand to another!

When creating a new playlist, I search through my music library to find tracks that will fit characters, shape the story line, and  create an overall tone or ambience for the novel as a whole.  This story is very different from anything I’ve worked on as it carries a deep message, but also has an air of whimsy and fantasy.  Picking out music to fit this odd combination has been nothing short of an odyssey, but I think I’ve finally got a playlist that will take me to the last line.

Story Soundtrack:

Sorry, but the story line is classified information!  Perhaps, this section of the playlist list will pique some curiosity!

From Delerium’s album, Karma

  • Enchanted
  • Twilight
  • Silence
  • Forgotten Worlds
  • Euphoria (Firefly)

From Mysteria’s album, Tempting the Muse

  • Elixir for Sunsets
  • Lift
  • The Loveliest Sin
  • Star Gazer

Time Is Running Out – Muse

Angels – Owl City

Vanilla Twilight -Owl City

At First Sight – Yanni

Rites of Passage – Yanni

On Sacred Ground – Yanni

Midnight Hymn – Yanni

Teardrop – Massive Attack

– – –

Amanda’s Music:

Amanda doesn’t just march to the beat of a different drum, she creates an entirely new beat in her head.  She is a staunch individualist, but finds herself stuck in a situation she can’t escape without a little help.  Indie rock and the revolutionary music of The Beatles truly capture her vibe.

The Beatles – every album, but Yellow Submarine in particular

Death Cab for Cutie’s albums, The Open Door EP, Plans, Transatlanticism, Narrow Stairs

The Morning Benders’ album, Talking Through Tin Cans

Junip’s album, Fields

Freelance Whales’ album, Weathervanes

– – –

Ian’s Music:

Ian is tricky!  I’m still working on him as he is an interesting character that continues to reveal his secrets in small doses.  He isn’t what he seems at first glance and he often resists my attempts to root him out.

Falling Away With You – Muse

Butterflies & Hurricanes – Muse

Lamentation – Delerium

Wisdom – Delerium

Tempting the Muse – Mysteria

– – –

Ian & Amanda’s Soundtrack:

Another work in progress.  These two are a very secretive couple and they only tell me so much at a time.  At the moment Ian is doing most of the talking and I’m waiting for Amanda to jump in and tell her side, (any day now, sweetie.  I’m listening).

Starlight – Muse

Endlessly – Muse

– – –

Tone & Ambience:

Owl City’s albums, All Things Bright and Beautiful and Ocean Eyes

Remembrance – Delerium

Closer to Heaven -Myseria

Awake Inside A Dream – Mysteria

Written on the Wind – Yanni

Nightingale – Yanni

Adiemus – Adiemus

Return to Innocence – Enigma

– – –

Well, I’ve either got a great soundtrack that will serve as an endless source of inspiration or I’ve done nothing more than prove I have one strange collection of music!  Either way, my muse has plenty of juice and I hope she helps me write what I think will be an interesting piece of work.

c.b. 2011

15 Years Brings 15 Changes

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I was listening to my iPod the other day and it shuffled to a song I hadn’t heard in a while.  When “Real World” by Matchbox 20 started playing, it made me smile and reminisce about a time in my life that now feels so far away.  I was 18-years-old and had just begun to taste the real world as an adult.

I pulled out the actual CD and marveled at the relic.  Matchobx 20’s debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You was one of my favorite albums and served as my soundtrack during my first year of college.  It’s hard to believe that was fifteen years ago, but here I sit as a 33-year-old woman with an old CD in her hands.  I even checked the copyright date to make sure my math was right. Yup, 1996.

I couldn’t help but load the CD in my car for old time’s sake.  This is the band that turned me into one of those people that sing in the car.  I suppose I can credit Matchbox 20 for giving me the license to say “I don’t care if anyone’s watching.”  I still sing in the car and I still don’t care who sees me doing it. To my surprise, I remember all the words to every song.  Driving down the freeway, I belted out “Long Day” and “Push” as if I was some rock star behind the wheel.  Fifteen years later, its still good music.

My little jaunt down memory lane got me thinking about how much in my life has changed since I was eighteen.  I don’t long to be that young again, nor am I saddened by the passing of time. Rather, I’m in awe of how life brings so many changes in such a short period of time.  Between then and now, I’ve gone from being an adult just starting out to an individual who has found her groove in life.

15 Years Brings 15 Changes:

1. Age
Then: 18 and very naïve.
Now: 33 and hopefully a little wiser

2. Living Situation
Then: Living at home and sharing a room with my sister
Now: Homeowner with a writing room all to myself

3. Mode of Transportation
Then: 1991 Chevy Cavalier.  It was my first car and it broke down all the time!  About a year later, I totaled it by rear-ending an SUV.  The SUV was fine, but my car crinkled like a tin can.
Now: 2006 Mini Cooper.  It’s the cutest thing ever.

4. Occupation
Then: Full-time student and part-time salesgirl at The Body Shop.  I sold lotion and gave make-overs.
Now: Full-time teacher and aspiring writer.  These days I barely wear make-up and I’m allergic to almost all scented lotions.

5. Relationship Status
Then: Single and getting over a break-up.  I was three years away from meeting my husband.
Now: Married to wonderful guy and I can’t imagine life without him.

6. Style
Then: Jeans and Birkenstock wannabes
Now: Jeans and Converse sneakers.  I haven’t changed much in this department!

7. Travel
Then: U.S. and Mexico
Now: I have memories of so many beautiful places: French Polynesia, Great Britain (4 times), Ireland, France, Italy, Czech Republic, and China. To think I’ve only just begun!

8. Technology
Then: I had a CD Walkman and a large PC desktop computer.  The monitor alone took up half my desk!  I was hardwired into thinking Macs were not cool and Windows 95 was the best thing out there.
Now: I can’t live without my iPod and I carry a thin, lightweight laptop everywhere.  I’m a full Mac convert and can’t imagine what I ever saw in a PC.

9. Appointment TV
Then: Reruns of Star Trek: TNG, Wings, Newsradio, and Golden Girls.  Reality TV was not part of the vernacular and talk shows were all the rage.
Now: Fringe, Big Bang Theory, The Office, Project Runway, and reruns Star Trek: TNG if I can find it.

10. Communication
Then: I relied on a pager and snail mail, with a bit of e-mail.
Now: I’m fully connected with a smartphone, e-mail, and social networks.

11. Current Events
Then: 9/11 was just the 11th day in September
Now: 9/11 was the day that changed everything

12. Reading Pattern
Then: Mostly textbooks for all my classes. College gives you very little time to read for fun.
Now: Literary and mainstream fiction, along with a smattering of young adult.

13. Writing
Then: Research papers and random bits of poetry
Now: Fiction, (including novels and short stories), blog posts, and poetry

14. Hangout Spot
Then: Barnes & Noble on the East side of town.
Now: Barnes & Noble on the North side of town.  I can’t help myself. I love B&N and the coffee they serve.

15. Direction In Life
Then: Still questioning my identity and course . . .
Now: I know who I am and where I want go!

I can’t imagine what the next fifteen years will bring, but I’m excited all the same.  Life continues to be an adventure I can’t wait to experience.

Where were you 15 years ago?

c.b. 2011

The Autograph Ninja

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In A Nice Surprise, I stated that I have a knack for getting autographs and it got me thinking about all the signatures I’ve collected over the years.  A friend recently called me a “ninja” and I think she might be right, especially after receiving the latest addition to my collection.

My collection includes a variety of autographs, but not all come from household names. Like everything else I collect (books, rocks, etc), every signature means something to me on one level or another. Gathering autographs is all about connecting to people who have inspired me or have had a positive influence in my life.  They are all attached to memories, beautiful moments, and sometimes life-altering experiences.

It wasn’t easy to find all my autographs, but I did manage to locate the vast majority.  Many autographs are personalized to me, so in order to safeguard my identity I’ve blotted out my real name.  Sorry about the fuzzy areas, but it had to be done!   To save space, a number of photos have been made into thumbnails, but one click will enlarge them to full size.

– – –

This week, I hit what I consider to be the mother lode of autographs because I never thought I could get Stephanie Meyer to sign my books.  She is rather reclusive and her fame is a bit out of my league.  However, through a brilliant stroke of luck I found myself in contact with a link in a chain that lead directly to her.  I sent my Twilight series and The Host down the chain and hoped for the best.  In just a few days, my books came back to me signed!

  

 

Along with the books, I sent a letter to thank her for the pivotal, even if inadvertent, role she played in the completion of my novel.  After failing three times to get a first draft off the ground, I was ready to give up.  I needed a kick in the butt and my mother gave it to me through an aptly timed phone call.  After reading an article on Meyer in the local newspaper, she told me, “If Stephanie Meyer can do it, so can you.”  In a strange twist of fate, that phone call came just as I was about to leave to catch the Twilight movie on opening night.   The next day I started writing my novel (again) and didn’t stop until I finished it.  While I have a village of people to thank for supporting me during the writing process, my mother and Stephanie Meyer both helped to wake up my muse.  Needless to say, these autographs mean the world to me.

Keeping with Twilight, I’ve also stumbled upon a couple more signatures related to the series. Peter Facinelli (left) came to me through a set of collector’s cards for the first Twilight movie.  The autograph was included in a collector edition binder I got through amazon.com (before the craze went haywire).  As for Justin Chon (right), I met him at a Twilight event a week before Eclipse opened in theaters. Both were dumb luck!

 

– – –

During a trip to China, I had the honor of meeting Yu Hua, an author who writes novels that deal with the Cultural Revolution and Chinese culture, (most notably To Live and Chronicles of a Blood Merchant).  His stories are intense journeys in to the human experience and explore complex emotions within families and friendships. In Beijing, I got the rare opportunity to hear him speak in a small group setting.  For two hours, he discussed his writing process, the challenges of writing in a country that censors everything with great scrutiny, and the power of words and creativity.  When I see his autograph, it reminds me how lucky I am to be a writer who has the freedom to write without penalty or restriction.  Despite the obstacles he often faces, he is a true example of how writing can set the soul free.

– – –

Back in 2007, I attended The Office Convention in Scranton, PA.  The stars seemed to align during the whole weekend as I found myself almost constantly in the company of cast members, writers, and producers.  While a fan’s ultimate dream, the convention and the people I encountered had life-altering effects that still impact me today.  Throughout Seasons 3 and 4, I wrote a series of posts on The Office message boards that analyzed each episode and a friend of mine brought them to the attention of one of the producers.  He liked what I wrote so much, he personally presented me with a cast-signed Season 3 DVD set.   Furthermore, he invited me for a one-on-one encounter with the writers of the show.  For close to an hour, I got to rub elbows with some of the most creative and amazing writers in the industry.  During this event, the same producer introduced me as a writer.  It was the first time anyone had ever given me that distinction and it changed my life.  Every time I sit down to write, I try to live up to the title of “Writer.”

The Office is a big reason why I started writing after a very long dry spell, so these autographs serve as a monument not only to fandom, but also as a constant reminder that I must keep writing.  One day I hope to send a published copy of my novel to the producer who gave me such a wonderful gift.

1.Steve Carell 2.Leslie David Baker* 3.Mindy Kaling* 4.Rainn Wilson 5.Oscar Nunez* 6.Paul Lieberstein 7.Brian Baumgartner 8.John Krasinski 9.Angela Kinsey* 10.Jenna Fischer 11.Kate Flannery* 12.B.J. Novak* 13.Ed Helms* 14. Phyllis Smith* 15.Creed Bratton*

*I got a second personalized autograph from these cast members when I met them at the convention.

In addition, many of the writers, other producers, supporting actors, and even the creators of the show were kind enough to sign my autograph scrapbook.

   

Left to right: Gene Stupnitsky, Justin Spitzer and Mindy Kaling / Bobby Ray Shafer / Kent Zbornak / Andy Buckley

  

Left to Right: Craig Robinson / Michael Schur / Greg Daniels, Lester Lewis

When I got home from the convention, I had another little surprise waiting for me in the mailbox.  Jenna Fischer answered my letter and returned an item I asked her to autograph.

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There’s even more after the jump . . .

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It’s All About the Music

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The London music scene has long fascinated me, so it was only natural to set aside a day to load up on CDs. This Saturday, I decided to head to Portobello Road for a good ol’ day at the market and to visit a couple music stores that were in the same area.  I had a mental list of artists I wanted to find, but I was also open to finding new music and taking a few chances.  Much like the book vibe, the same tingle helps me pick out some good music.   It goes without saying that my record it still very much intact!

Classical Music Exchange on Notting Hill Gate

Think of a used bookstore and replace all the books with used CDs and vintage vinyl records.  Everything is marginally alphabetized and you are invited to take as long as you like to sift through every single item.  It was like rummaging through someone’s basement and I loved it!  Instead of putting out the actual CDs, they only put out the paper inserts, which is awesome because you can read through the lyrics and get a good sense of the artist’s personality.  Here’s what I bought:

  • Doves – The Best Of.  I know and love two songs, so why not try a few more?  After giving it a listen, it was worth every penny.  Very cool music with a nice vibe.
  • Johnny Flynn – Been Listening. This is possibly one of my favorite artists of all time.  I have everything he’s ever done, but its all digital. I’ve always wanted a physical CD and the price was right.  Plus, I got a bonus poster!
  • Fifth House – Stanzas for Sail.  I’ve never heard of the band, but the lyrics were very poetic and it was in the same section and genre as Johnny Flynn.  I figured for the price, it was worth the gamble, (and I got a major vibe hit off this one!).  When I got back to my room, I gave it a listen and it was incredible.  The lead singer has a beautiful voice and the melodies are as brilliant as the lyrics.  Click here to listen to some tracks they have loaded on facebook.
  • The View – Hats Off to the Buskers.  This was another mystery band where I decided to take a chance.  Once again, the bet paid off.  I’m on a roll!  These guys have a very retro vibe and a funky beat.  All in all, a fun collection of songs.
  • Glasvegas.  I had seen this band on iTunes and I knew the album got rave reviews, so I picked it up.  Eh.  It’s okay.  A lot of the songs sound the same, but it’s a nice mood album that will fit nicely into a playlist I have on my iPod.  It’s not a loss, but I like the other albums I got a lot better.  For the record, this does not count against my vibe.  It was a choice based on logic, which if anything is an argument for using the vibe instead.

Street Band, between Pembridge and Portobello Road

On the way to Portobello Road, I stopped to listen to some buskers – The Ryan O’Reilly Band.  They were fantastic, so I pulled one of their CDs out of the guitar case and bought it.  I was even lucky enough to get it autographed, (hey, you never know, these guys could hit it big!).  So far, its my favorite purchase of the day.  These guys are incredibly talented songwriters and musicians!  Click here to give them a listen.

Rough Trade

I’ve known about Rough Trade ever since I became a fan of Johnny Flynn a few years ago.  This store carries all the best music London has to offer and pays particular attention to indie artists and the underground, which is why I knew I absolutely had to get to this place at one point or another.  I’ve been after the latest release from a particular artist for a while now and if anyone would have it in stock, its Rough Trade.  The place is small, but its rammed with vintage music posters, vinyl, new and used CDs, and concert ads.  There’s nothing fancy about it, but it feels like a safe haven for fans who dig music that’s just outside of what’s popular.  It took some persistent searching, but I managed to find the last copy they had of Marcus Foster’s most recent EP.  His last batch of songs never made it to States, so I can’t even begin to state how excited I was to get my hands on this CD.

While it was fun to find Marcus Foster, it was even more fun to surprise the guy at the counter.  He didn’t expect an American to know this obscure artist, nor did he expect me to be so knowledgeable about his past work.  I even threw him a curve ball with knowing Foster’s full-length debut had been delayed.  It’s not often I get to talk about my favorite artists with someone who has actually heard of them, so this was seriously cool.  By the way, I highly recommend visiting Marcus Foster online to listen to some of his songs. He is amazing!

– – –

I could have easily gone to one of the major chain stores like HMV to buy music, but there is something almost holistic about visiting music exchange stores.  Bands and artists that might not otherwise have a chance to be heard, line the shelves on an equal playing field as platinum selling artists.  Slick advertising campaigns and radio have nothing to do with my decisions on what to buy . . . its about the music, just as it should be.

c.b. 2011