Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Big in Japan.

Recent coverage in The New Yorker of the Japan earthquake and tsunami aftermath included a mention of song requests at Tokyo FM. It got me curious about which pop songs were speaking to the Japanese at this horrible moment in time for them. I remembered that right after Sept. 11, for some reason "Trouble" by Coldplay was the song that kept surfacing in my head, and then I turned on the TV and saw that it also happened to be the No. 1 requested song on MTV.

Yes, Coldplay, lame, haha. You can also laugh at the fact that the Japanese apparently love Cyndi Lauper, and that "True Colors" now sits at no. 29 on the Japan Hot 100 Billboard chart. But I think it's pretty awesome how pop -- however banal, ridiculous or beautiful -- can still unite people in ways that other institutions no longer can.

Here's a survey of what's going on pop-wise in Japan, near as I can tell.

"Samurai Soul," Ulfuls

This song isn't new, but was one of the requested songs mentioned in the New Yorker piece. The first thirty seconds of it is rough, but soldier through. This song is completely radical in every way. It howls triumphantly. The video is hilarious. The lyrics are touching. Listen to this and see if you aren't singing it for at least a day (to the extent that you can).

"Slow," Rumer

This British sensation's single is right behind "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga on the Japan Hot 100. My friend marceltr had already alerted me to her popularity in the U.K. Her other single, "Am I Forgiven," is a nice Burt Bacharach throwback, but "Slow" is the song that really has captured me, as it has Japan. What's fascinating to me about Rumer is that she defies pop convention in the sense that she has a very languid, seemingly mediocre alto voice, and she does not fit the superficial requirements of the pop machine (usually non-slender, average-looking singers only merit success if they are powerhouses like Adele), but she has earned comparisons to Dusty Springfield, Karen Carpenter and (from me, at least) Basia, not to mention a ton of play internationally. But is her voice really that much of a find? It must be, given the response she's getting. Call me a sucker, but I am sold too. Also, the harmony on this song mesmerizes me and I'm trying to nail it down.

"Shock," Beast

I can't really endorse this, but offer it as a sampling of completely ridiculous pan-Asian dance-pop (in the top 10 on the pop charts) and invite you to check out in the YouTube comments how controversial it is.

Other links, per The New Yorker:

"Sunshine Sunshine," Superfly

"Michishirube," Orange Range

"Flowers," Mr. Children (I think??)

And footnotes from TV sound:

Discovered kd lang's cover of "Theme from Valley of the Dolls" via Nurse Jackie. Love it, and Dionne Warwick's original. God, if this hasn't been employed in Mad Men, can it be soon??

Richard Marvin is my new Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Six Feet Under title theme, this), in other words the person who composes quirky and/or haunting pieces of music for my dysfunctional white-people dramas such as "In Treatment" and "Six Feet Under." Thank you Richard Marvin. I want to go sailing on your halcyon river of piano calm.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thank You for Your Blood and Urine.

My new primary care doc conveniently has a lab located right in the basement of his office, which means no annoying, separate trip to a depressing vendor like Quest Diagnostics to get routine bloodwork.

Instead, I could go to a depressing LabCorp (apparently) vendor right down in the basement. In the white, laundry-room-like atmosphere (there was literally a washer and dryer on the way to the bathroom), a fortysomething woman sat in flower-print scrubs with a neon-lime manicure. She barely looked in my direction when I arrived.

"Have a seat in the gray chair," she said, took my labwork sheet from me without eye contact, and rolled back over to her computer to create my file. She thanked me, very properly, for every single thing I did: giving her my birthdate, checking the spelling of my name on the pee cup. I was curious to see if she could get through the whole deal without looking at me at all.

On the wall directly to the right, next to the computer monitor, was a hand-printed version of the Office Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change
The things I cannot accept,
And the wisdom
To hide the bodies of those people I had to kill today
Because they pissed me off.
Help me to be careful of the toes I step on today
As they may be connected to the ass
That I may have to kiss tomorrow.

Handwritten. In print large enough for me to read a few feet away (and my eyesight isn't that good).

A LabCorp-branded centrifuge (at least, I think that's what it was) whirred loudly, like an air conditioner, on the counter. On the cupboards above the counter, three signs hand-drawn with colored marker hung in a row. One of them said, "Thank You for Your Blood and Urine!" and at the bottom had a rudimentary smiley face with the word "smile." A second one said "God Bless You" with the same smiley-face signature. I can't remember what the third one said, because I was too busy trying to also watch the person who was about to stick a needle in my arm.

I instinctively wanted to talk to this woman. It's so great that this office has you right downstairs! Wednesday, huh? Did your kid do those pictures? I like your nails.

But she was On Her Grind and possibly not mentally stable. So I kept quiet.

She finally rolled over to me and (yes!) made brief eye contact with the barest, most perfunctory of smiles. "Make a fist for me." "Thank you." "Release." "Thank you." "Hold this for me." "Thank you."

I held the cotton while she labeled and stored the blood and grabbed tape as quickly as if it were a grocery-store transaction.

She rolled back over to me with the tape to secure the cotton ball over my arm. She was readying to make a plus sign: first, a strip across my elbow, then one vertically.

But before she put down the second piece of tape, she took out a magic marker and made exactly the same sloppy smiley face on the first piece as on the cupboard signs. I gave a little laugh. She gave me the quickest (quickest) of smiles and put the second piece of tape over it.

"Thank you and god bless you," she said as I headed back up the stairs.

"Thank you!!!" I said in a tone that at once relayed "Wow!" "Thanks!" "Godspeed!" and "We're OK right? Don't hurt me."

I really love that she drew a smiley face at my needle site, but unfortunately it is so diffuse (see photo above) that I have startled myself about three times since thinking that I am hemorrhaging from the arm.

Music, in Memory of Nate Dogg: "Regulate"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Rise of "Really?"

This morning I was wondering why the interjection "Really?" has become so prominent in the last couple of years. Most recently, Bachelor host Chris Harrison invoked it to shame women who were piling onto Michelle during the "Women Tell All" installment. His "Guys! Like, really?" moment (visible at around the 6:35 mark in this clip, which is a stunning and revealing document of just how cruel women, or girls, can be to each other) echoes last year's Windows 7 phone ad, the title of a New York Times health column, an SNL Weekend Update sketch, and any number of conversations I've had or overheard lately.

It seems like there is so much over-the-top behavior out there, and so many dubious claims, that we as humans now need a phrase to distinguish the merely commonplace or entertaining craziness from that which crosses into complete disconnect from the rest of humanity. And apparently this line-crossing is happening so much that we often spend our time in sheer disbelief at what we are witnessing. We literally need to ask if things are real.

It's actually perfect that this latest language trend (which, to me, is a successor to "Oh no you di-ent" and "Get out" before that, only with more subtlety and cynicism) is in the form of a question, like so much of our speech now, especially among the kids today.

It's such a dead-on expression of how I feel so much of the time that, naturally, I'm now starting to apply it to all kinds of disappointments. The other salient aspect of our society right now, especially in the United States, is that we want everything to run smoothly and this minute. So when some piece of technology or service acts up on me -- a normally functional application starts delivering errors, or a doctor's office number goes to voicemail multiple times, or Amtrak stalls not once but thrice en route to New York -- my utterance is "Really?"

It's a response that somehow rolls childhood, adolescence and adulthood all into two bitchy syllables. We're incredulous, petulant and jaded all at the same time. We can't believe it. We're amazed all the time, but only in an OMG WTF LOL #fail sort of way, because if we were to react at the full throttle to the sheer volume of shit that demands our reaction on a daily basis each day, we would implode.