Thoughts From the Kitchen – (#3 Ten-Thousand Voices)

I once heard a story from a musician, in which he was telling a story he heard through a musician buddy, about another musician that likely neither of them knew (assuming the subject of the story is real at all).

In this story, the front man of a popular band was looking over the crowd which gathered for that night’s show.  He was exhausted from months on the road, bitter to the state of the music industry, and overall weary of singing the same songs time and again.  Yet, when he called upon his stage persona, he did so with enthusiasm and purpose. When he presented himself to the thousands of people before him, jumping and hollering along with the words he sang, he did not let his bitterness influence his performance, and for quite a simple reason:

He believed in the message of his song, and every single one of the ten-thousand voices in that sea of faces were singing for a different reason.  A unique and personal reason.

I like this story, because it acknowledges how we internalize narratives and meanings independently from one another.  Even if the overall narrative leaves little to the realm of subjectivity, the experiences we bring to the table will be rife with our own specific purposes and struggles.

“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.”

The sole identifying emotional word in that famous Journey intro is ‘lonely.’  If you fulfill the ‘small town girl’ aspect and feel lonely, this automatically applies to you.  Yet, you could be a small town girl, and be lonely for a completely different reason from the first person who identifies with the track.  Even more, you don’t need to identify as anything, and can simply appreciate the somber tone of the song on the mere grounds of acknowledging that yes, the world is lonely.  So on, ad infinitum, until near-most everyone has a different purpose for lifting their voices in harmony.

Writers have a similar power (yet, entirely different, as music is it’s own beast).  When we write, it’s in the ultimate hope of submerging the head-space of the reader into our world, our rhythm, our timeline.  If we are successful, especially in characterization, then we create a similar effect to the singer on the stage.

Think of your favorite character. The reason they’re your favorite is likely different from why they’re someone else’s favorite. Even if your surface-level reasons are the same, the nuance and personal element behind them can vary infinitely.

This is why we we sing, write, and create. Because art is the only thing capable of this, this relationship between expression and perception.

Kafka Quotes

He might have always been a little more nihilistic than I prefer, but in honor of his birthday this month, here are a handful of my favorite quotes by Franz Kafka.

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

“I am a cage, in search of a bird.”

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” (Longer version of the first quote.)

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”

“Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.”

“I am in chains. Don’t touch my chains.”

“I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.”

 

So yeah, the guy could be a bit of a downer, but he’s my kind of downer. Introspective, honest, and perhaps just a little bit moody.

Review: “All is Vanity” by Christina Grimmie

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We’ve just barely crested over the anniversary of Christina’s death. In the meantime I’ve done a lot of writing either about, or in promise to her. However, I’m keeping those details to myself. This post is going to be a little more forthright, a critical analysis of the post-humus album released by Christina’s family and producer on the day prior to the anniversary. I will analyze with as much technical prowess as I am capable, but please understand I have a limited background with music, so on that front it won’t be particularly detailed.

Also, this is obviously just an opinion.  You’re allowed to disagree, and I know many will because I approach Christina’s music, and indeed, all things I care about most, with harsher expectations than they probably deserve.

Lastly, I am keeping in mind that these were all incomplete items, finished, mixed, and mastered without Christina’s help, so I’ll try to keep a certain level of fairness involved when it comes to those things.

Let’s get started:

Sublime

We kick off the album with an upbeat, electro-pop love song.  The bass line is probably my favorite part of the song in terms of musical appeal.  We are treated to some solid rhyme-game during the bridge, which builds to one of Christina’s classic romps through high notes, all of the musical themes stacking on top of each other to deliver a solid super-chorus (my own term for the last chorus.  I know, I’m the height of technical knowledge).

I honestly don’t have much to say about this song.  It’s good, but not particularly amazing, especially in terms of the lyrics.  The rhyming is good, but there’s not much in way of message.  I understand not every song needs a strong message, especially in pop music, but considering the depth we saw in Christina’s earlier works (a la the “With Love” and “Find Me” collections), it feels a bit lackluster.  Ultimately I enjoy the song, but it’s hardly my favorite Grimmie track.

Next.

Steady Love

I commend this song for starting at a simple pace with modest, but inventive musical themes.  This one obviously wants to focus on the lyrics.  It’s another love song, but with a different tone from Sublime.  There’s a degree of patience and contrition in the words which makes me appreciate it far more than the first track.

I’m a heavy piano fan, so the bridge of isolated lyrics and minor-key piano already makes this one of my favorite songs on the album just for that alone.  Steady Love also gives Christina an opportunity to show that she can sing outside of a wild adventure of high notes, as demonstrated throughout.  She never leaves register and keeps each fall and rise of her voice under the strict softness which compliments the music so well.

The kick-in after the bridge is just enough, which is another strong point of the song.  You can sense the hit coming, but it’s not overwhelming, and tapers off beautifully into silence, a quaint setup for the next track.

Invisible

I have a particular fondness for “Invisible” as it was the first song released postmortem. It suffers from being part of her completely synthetic music phase, as well as being one of the many aforementioned, obligatory love songs she wrote (and unfortunately is not one of the ‘happier’ ones).

That said, the dominating synth utilizes a punchy melody, making it perfect for just daily travelling, doing random things around the house, driving, and even working out in the gym.  This is a catch-all song, with a mildly futuristic appeal to the music, and a hauntingly ironic message considering the singer is now gone.  It’s something that would have sounded somewhat boastful if viewed outside of context.

You can tell this song was mostly a therapeutic track Christina wrote for herself, to help her recover from some pain she’d endured in an unfortunate relationship.  It was written to empower herself against sadness, but when viewed through the lens of her death and the swell in her legacy after the fact, it carries a sense of having been anticipated, and that even in death she will continue to affect lives all around the world.

“I won’t be another ghost.  No, I won’t be invisible.  See me everywhere you go, no I won’t be invisible.  I won’t be diminished, eclipsed or hidden.  You’re gonna see my light blaze back to life.  Like a phoenix, rise.”

The best part of the song is her over-the-moon maelstrom of notes at the end, which despite having listened to the song over a hundred times, still gives me shivers.  It’s as though she’s performing again, but this time it’s not for us.  It’s to plant a boot on the neck of anything which ever tried to tell her she wasn’t good enough, and her having the audacity to prove them wrong.

Crowded Room

You can’t tell me this song wasn’t at least partly inspired by the soft jazz productions she did for The Matchbreaker film.  It has so much soul and sway, which fills me with joy, because I always liked the atmosphere songs like this bring.  They have a personality matched by no other form of music.

Best part, though?  This song has a superb message.  Christina identifies her own struggles with pride and vanity, two things she was aware enough of, and opposed to so fiercely, as to have the evidence tattooed on her arm for the sake of accountability.  Crowded Room does adopt more of a pop sound to walk alongside the soul and the church organ, but that’s okay.  Christina traverses the feelings of being alone in a sea of faces, trying to maintain your identity and ending up falling short.

“Here in this crowded room, I found everyone but myself.”

This one line captures much of what Christina was dealing with in her final years.  The tours she went on, they challenged her perception of herself, and that will be apparent moving forward.

Everybody Lies

We continue our metanarrative exploring self-identity with this song (a theme throughout the album, which is appropriate, because that’s what Christina was dealing with at the end of her life).  It’s important to actually look at the lyrics of this song, so you understand it is not *condoning* lying, only that it happens.  The fabric of the message is a “you’re not perfect, and neither is anybody else, and that’s okay.”  Christina encourages her listeners not to cast blame on others, because everyone is dealing with things, and that we should work towards more harmony.  At the same time, she maintains realistic expectations, saying you should trust, but don’t do so recklessly or you might get hurt, and don’t glorify people, because they’ll inevitably let you down if your opinion of them is too high.

There’s a secondary message in the song, more tied to the identity aspect I mentioned.  After we can get past accepting that we are flawed, don’t hide from your imperfections.  If you don’t like something in the world, start by changing yourself, becoming better.  She cements this idea in with a loose Bible quote: “Why gain the world if you lose yourself?”

Musically, Everybody Lies is encouraging, enthusiastic and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There’s a sound which makes me imagine a toy factory while I listen to the song.  I love the honesty and purpose of this song, and it’s arguably one of my favorite Grimmie tracks to date.  I especially love the ending, where they edited in the last few seconds of Christina’s “#DearMe” Youtube video, which is universally considered one of her most beloved uploads.

“You are an extremely unique and individual person.  I’m telling you, don’t let the invalid opinions of others just bring you to the pits, okay?  You’re strong, so own it.

Love,
Me”

Pressure

If Crowded Room was the “wandering” to accept oneself and Everybody Lies was the “growth,” then Pressure is the “acceptance” part of this little trifecta.  A Christina now fully conscious of who she is, actively resists the cultural and professional pressure placed upon a person in her occupation and age group.  I have two outspoken compliments of this otherwise okay song: the music is simple, yet inventive, and there are several vocal cuts injected from Christina’s “Tell My Mama” music video (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. I’m not going to go back and check), which capture a side of Christina which is never seen in her music:

The fact she was a huge nerd.

“It’s like she thinks she’s an anime character,” high-school alpha girl says “She thinks she’s Zelda.”

Firstly, that’s a perfect thing for a popular high school girl to say as a condescension, because Zelda’s original source material is a video game, but you know, whatever.  Christina’s answer in the song is an appropriately confident:

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I’m not.”  Which would be pop-philosophy fluff, if she didn’t actively live that way as much as possible.  At that point, the fluffy words turn into substance, and that substance is the reason why even a year after her death, Christina has more fans than ever.

Maybe I

The vocal stride of this track is perhaps its greatest talking point.  Christina shows her skill as a singer in a different way from the rest of album.  She swings her voice around and hits beats in a fun way which we see in pieces of other songs, but with more emphasis in this one.

This song’s meaning, at least as far as I can see it, is simple.  Having now accepted who she is, what she can do, and who she can be, Christina is now dedicated to being the best.

Musically it is the least interesting song on the album to me.  I’m not really sure of what to say about it which could be outstanding.  I’m coming up short.  I’m sure somebody else with more knowledge of music might see some pattern or quirk in the composition which is neat or cool, but I’m deaf to it, so let’s move on.

Echo

This is the concert song of the album, and is the most aggressive track in terms of lyrics, which might be misleading because of its bright musical overtones.  The chorus in particular has a fist-pump and shout vibe which I can see capturing a crowd.  Similarly to Everybody Lies, this song needs to be viewed carefully or else you risk misinterpreting the character of the girl behind the lyrics.  This song is Christina reinforcing herself against uninvited drama and negative opinions of others.  It reads more of a self-fulfilling promise than somebody with ego problems, though I am not so blind to Christina’s humanity to ignore the fact that she was obviously really indignant during the creation of this track.

Doesn’t matter, because I still enjoy this track.  It has a fun sonic flow vaguely reminiscent of her “With Love” album.  I’m also fond of any song which harmonizes punchy vocals with the bass drum.  It’s an effect I’ve always enjoyed in music.

I Only Miss You When I Breathe

And now we’ve entered the territory of the “Side B” EP, which I, for the most part, did not enjoy.  These songs all captured the brief period of Christina’s life where she was obviously romantically wounded and everything rang of the ensuing emotional backlash.  I’m not going to shred into Christina herself for writing out her feelings about these things.  It would be unhealthy not to do such things, as they are often therapeutic.  But at the tail-end of her life, she had too many of these.

I Only Miss You When I Breathe (besides having a really gaudy name) is probably one of Christina’s weakest songs in terms of lyrics, with many recycled lines and substance which contradicted her overall character.  It talks of directly opposing the wisdom and advice of people Christina usually trusts, because she misses somebody who might not be healthy for her.

Musically the song is fine, if not particularly exciting.  It’s what I dub an “underwater” song, because it feels like you’re floating in the cold depths of the ocean.

I don’t much care for this song at all.

The Game

This song has a similar message as I Only Miss You When I Breathe, and comes from the same well of pain.  It presents more in terms of its rhyming effect and musical presentation though, which is good at least.  Also, Christina hits some killer notes in this song.

I have little to say about the flank of this album in general.  I think it has an incredibly strong front third, and a solid middle as well, but the last couple tracks (the Side B ones, especially) are underwhelming and leave the album, which has an overall strong and empowering meaning, on a distasteful note.

I care a lot about Christina and her music, which is why I am being so harsh.  My criticsm is not exclusive to her.  I am always hardest on things I care about the most, but my high opinion of her does not blind me to the places where she is lacking.  I criticize these things so harshly because I know she can do better.

Or rather, could have, if given the opportunity.  But we’ve talked enough about that.  I do love many of these new songs and will carry them with me into new days.  I will continue to fulfill the promises made a year ago, and thank God for the short time I had to learn about this person of such great compassion and heart.

Until then, God bless.

And as promised, the first one is still for you.

Something Sad, Like Usual – An Original Poem

Half my heart, the dark red part
Took my words when he depart
Senseless creature that I am

I tried to hate him from the start

Our child dear, I lived in fear
Might never know a father here
Yet I reared him all alone

In his face, you’d soon appear

A true man truly, all my life
My husband truly loved his wife
Boy, I know he’d love you, too

Had Death’s clock skipped him August ninth

His love was endless, his strength was not
He sadly left us here to rot
And though it might not be by choice

Every night he’s my final thought

Not yet old, no longer young
Still the words no longer come
My soul now longs for one thing only

The day we pass and you meet our son.

The Puppet Masters (#7 Dedicating a Book to its Character)

So, this is the he flyleaf of the most recent book I’m about to read:
 
“To John. Sorry for putting you through all of this. You did great.”
 
For context, John is the protagonist of a dark thriller franchise known, appropriately, as the John Cleaver series, authored by Dan Wells. John endures some mind-bending emotional turmoil over the course of the series, and this is the final installment.
 
As a writer, this hit hard. Not only does it act as an ominous foreshadowing for the pages to come, but the epistolary approach of the dialogue suggests an intimate and emotional familiarity with the character, referring to him as though he were real. Because in a sense he is, and this nuanced, apologetic way of approaching him shows the fondness and genuine pain the author feels not only about the history of the character, but his ultimate fate. For the author, John has evolved to the point that even as a character of fiction, he is worthy such respect and acknowledgement as is usually reserved for real people.
 
This is how you dedicate a book.

Visiting Tropes #2 (Syndromes & Curses)

In this series we explore various, popular tropes found in media. This is done by tapping that nifty “random trope” button at tvtropes.org, reading the base material of three results, and throwing our thoughts at the wall to see what sticks.

As we do.

 

“Occam’s Razor”

Occam’s Razor is a phrase for which I’ve read the definition at least five separate times and can never remember what it means. Hopefully writing this piece will break that pattern and actually cement the phrase into the wet blob of grey meat between my ears.

Basically Occam’s Razor is believing a theory based on the fewest number of “stretches” or leaps in reason or logic.  It is an anti-conspiratorial guideline (not a rule) which condemns the need for grandiose assumptions.

“When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not unicorns.”

Tvtropes.org has a nifty ladder of concepts to help us understand this on a step-by-step level:

There have been theories that ancient aliens built the Egyptian Pyramids instead of humans. For this to be true, we’d need the following givens:

  1. aliens exist
  2. they are intelligent
  3. they exist contemporaneously with humans
  4. they develop interstellar/intergalactic travel
  5. they know how to find us
  6. they can build pyramids
  7. they would not leave any evidence of their existence
  8. they would waste time building pyramids

The more normal theory only requires that:

  1. humans exist
  2. humans can build pyramids
  3. humans would waste time building pyramids.

 

…and we don’t even need to ask if humans would waste time building pyramids. We have proven time and again that we will go to much greater lengths to sacrifice our most precious resource to the gods of futility and vanity.

The most infamous example of abandoning Occam’s Razor I have in my arsenal is the reveal of Obito as the man in the mask in Naruto. There was soooooo much material absent from this reveal, yet the majority of the fans suspected this development, while the minority of us who actually cared to do research knew it couldn’t be him.  The majority were dropping so many “but maybe if”s and it was maddening.

Not as maddening as them actually being right in the end, but still.

 

“Golden Egg Syndrome”

Plot twist! This isn’t actually a trope, but rather a concept related to storytelling and cognition.

I first heard this on the Writing Excuses podcast (check dat crap out, yo. It’s da shiz) and it resonated with me because I was guilty of it.  Have you ever developed a story idea in your head?  Did you become really emotionally and mentally attached to that story?  When time came to write/draw/whatever something other than your story, could you do it?

The Golden Egg Syndrome is what happens when we’ve spent so much time and energy incubating our perfect creative product that we end up being unable to create anything else. You are either intimidated by the prospect of starting from the beginning again, your new creations end up being the Golden Egg with new skin, or you think whatever else you make won’t be as good by comparison.

I managed to break this eventually (thank you fan-fiction, for being close-to, but not entirely worthless), but I have at least one friend who is currently in the throes of this problem.  He’s so far along in his ‘mind-story’ which has been developing for over fifteen years that he wouldn’t even know where to start writing it.  But he doesn’t want to reboot it, or do anything else, so he resigns himself to squeezing out every ounce from a plot and world which should have concluded long ago.

People who’ve never experienced Golden Egg Syndrome might think this is ludicrous, and it is, but it’s also very real and much harder to break than you’d suspect.

 

“So Beautiful, It’s a Curse”

This one’s probably self-explanatory, but lucky for you we get to delve a little bit into nuance.

At its core, this trope orbits the perception of other characters and the feelings it places upon them.  If you have a supermodel walk onto a scene (whether casually or with purpose), it’s likely to inspire some level of jealousy in those nearby.  If not jealousy, then maybe intimidation, suspicion, or other negative emotions.  Because of this, the supermodel becomes open to multiple different avenues of maltreatment, such as being noticed only for their stellar good-looks and not for their character, abilities, or values.

Now, if that sounds absurd, guess what, that’s another part of the maltreatment. After a certain threshold is reached, your feelings become less important because look at you, you’re gorgeous. You can’t be suffering that badly.  And you know it’s true, because you’ve probably heard somebody say it before.  And if you haven’t, then as they say, it might be you.  Beauty can be a blessing, sure, in the right conditions.  Outside of those conditions it’s grounds for dismissal in any serious matter and makes you a lightning rod for disdain.

But wait, there’s more! This trope really has a lot going on, so we’re just going to gatling-gun some points, here.

People cursed by beauty run into the (expected) probably of easily being victimized in the cheap ‘rape as drama’ narrative, and can be further influenced by the culture around the medium.  They also get kidnapped a lot.  Cough, Princess Peach, cough.

Have you ever thought pretty people were, by default, mean people? Of course not, because you’re all decent human beings. But for those of us who don’t shine everywhere we go, there is an occasional gut response to staggering beauty which makes us assume the person is fundamentally unlikable.  This, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to form meaningful friendships.

And then to wrap it up, let’s draw a quote from one of my favorite websites on the internet: Cracked.com.  The following passage is from their article: “5 Things You Think Will Make You Happy (But Won’t)” (I recommend you read the whole thing, bee-tee-dubs):

“…attractive people have the same self-esteem problems the ugly people do. Like money, attractiveness is relative and if you’re hotter than your friends, at that stage you start comparing yourself to people in the media. You know, like the magazine covers we mentioned before, the ones that that have had the living shit Photoshopped out of them.
It gets worse: You know how when the hot girl at the bar tells an unfunny joke, all the guys laugh anyway? Or when the office stud makes a mistake, the female boss laughs it off? Attractive people live in a world where most feedback they get is bullshit. The compliments mean nothing — they’ve learned that’s just the sound people make when they walk by. That’s why studies show they tend to dismiss the genuine compliments they get in other areas (their work, personality, sense of humor, creativity) because it gets lumped in with the same counterfeit flattery they’ve been getting their whole lives.”