Happy 25th birthday to The Wedding Album! (Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!)

Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and thus consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

This year, I wanted to spotlight 1993’s The Wedding Album for Duran Duran Appreciation Day. Though it’s actually the band’s second of two eponymous albums, fans widely refer to it as The Wedding Album. Its nickname comes from Nick Egan’s cover art, wedding photographs of the then-four bandmembers’ parents.

Released 11 February 1993 (when I was in seventh grade), this was the band’s seventh studio album and a giant comeback after flagging success. Unfortunately, they didn’t choose the best followup to sustain this great momentum.

The album was recorded and edited from 1991–92, though the band’s new management company, Left Bank, pulled from its release schedule due to less than positive perceived public response. The music industry derided Left Bank for trying to revive the careers of several musical acts seen as outdated. As always, they cared more about the next hot act instead of performers who’d been around past an arbitrary expiration date.

But when this album was released, the music industry had to eat its words. It was #4 in the U.K., #7 in the U.S., #6 in Italy, #8 in Canada, #18 in Finland, #20 in Australia, #21 in Sweden, #22 in Germany, #23 in The Netherlands, and #32 in New Zealand. It was certified Gold in the U.K., and Platinum in the U.S.

Additionally, the album yielded two big hit singles, and a third lesser hit.

This is the track listing:

“Too Much Information” (#35 in the U.K.; #45 in the U.S.; #43 in Canada; #48 in New Zealand)
“Ordinary World” (#1 in Canada; #2 in Italy; #3 in Ireland, the U.S., and New Zealand; #16 in Germany and The Netherlands; #18 in Australia and Finland; #20 in Belgium)
“Love Voodoo”
“Drowning Man”
“Shotgun”
“Come Undone” (the song and music video that flipped the switch and made me into a Duranie on Valentine’s Day 2011!) (#2 in Canada; #6 in Italy; #7 in the U.S.; #9 in Ireland; #13 in the U.K.; #16 in New Zealand; #19 in Finland and Australia; #42 in Belgium and Germany)
“Breath After Breath”
“U.M.F.” (stands for “Ultimate Mind-Fuck”)
“Femme Fatale” (originally done by The Velvet Underground and written by Lou Reed)
“None of the Above”
“Shelter”
“To Whom It May Concern”
“Sin of the City” (about the Happy Land nightclub fire of 25 March 1990 in the Bronx; mistakenly gives the death toll as 89 instead of 87)

It took a couple of listens for me to get fully into this album, but I slowly but surely came to really love it. However, some fans aren’t wild about the experimental tracks “Shotgun” and “Drowning Man,” and others feel the last few songs aren’t as strong as the earlier ones. I kind of agree with that criticism, but the album has such strong material, it helps to cancel out the weaker links.

My favourites are “Too Much Information,” “Breath After Breath,” “Sin of the City” (which I’ve heard as the soundtrack to at least one dream), and, of course, “Come Undone,” the song that made me come undone.

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WeWriWa—How it should’ve ended

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, which released 17 July, on my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary. Once I’ve earned enough money from sales, I’ll use some of it to make donations to the National Hemophilia Foundation and the National Hemophilia Federation, in memory of Aleksey.

This will be the last sample I’ll share from this book for awhile. These are the final lines, from the second section of the short Epilogue. Like the end of the main text of my magnum opus Cinnimin, it’s also based on the wording of Deuteronomy 34, the final chapter of the Torah. Those final paragraphs always give me goosebumps.

The time had come for Aleksey to die.  He was one hundred years old at the time of his death, his eyesight undimmed, his mind as sharp as ever, his intellect unabated, his overwhelming sense of compassion as strong as it’d been throughout his whole life.  He and his belovèd Arkadiya breathed their last breaths together, holding hands.  Just as Arkadiya had always promised, she’d made it to one hundred seven to ensure Aleksey survived a full century.

The Imperial Family bewailed their passing for forty days and forty nights, in keeping with Russian Orthodox tradition, unable to believe the couple who’d led their empire for so many decades was suddenly no more.

The period of mourning for Aleksey and Arkadiya came to an end.  Following the period of mourning, Yarik was coronated.  Now Yarik was filled with the spirit of wisdom and compassion, because of the lifelong example he’d gotten from his parents; and since he was cut from the same cloth as his father, the people of Russia heeded him and did as he said.

Never again did there arise a leader like Tsar Aleksey II, called Tsar Aleksey the Savior, who was the most compassionate, intelligent, humane, enlightened Tsar who ever lived; lived through ten decades of history; survived longer than any other hemophiliac; who was snatched from certain Death the month before his fourteenth birthday by a last-minute miracle; and who demonstrated a powerful harnessing of might and compassion before all the peoples of the world.

An important turning-point in my writing of antagonists

Probably sometime in the spring of ’98, towards the end of the Civil War unit in my American History class, our teacher announced we were going to have a mock funeral for Pres. Lincoln. She was going to pass around a bowl or hat with slips of paper, and we’d have to deliver a speech from the POV of whomever we drew.

I sat on the front left-hand side of the room, near the door, so I drew first. Of all the names in that container to draw from, I ended up with the one name probably no one wants to draw.

Who wants to play the assassin? Particularly when that person assassinated one of the most venerated people in American history?

I was loath to give my name up when the teacher was asking us who drew whom. When it finally came out that I’d drawn Booth, the teacher’s body language and involuntary little noise made her own reaction obvious.

In short, she knew what kinds of interests I had, my writing style, how advanced I was in my study of history, and how I wasn’t exactly a typical teen.

Don’t ask how obsessed I used to be with Pres. Lincoln and his sons Willie and Tad. He’s still one of my favoritest presidents and people in American history, though I don’t think he was a demigod who did no wrong ever.

Then I began researching my eulogy, written in Booth’s POV. While I didn’t start seeing him as an unfairly vilified hero, I did gain a deeper understanding of his motivations, background, and beliefs. I even used some language I’d never use myself, like an anti-Polish epithet, in the interest of authentically capturing his voice and the types of things he honestly would’ve said.

The day of the mock funeral, I dressed in my father’s old wedding suit, and may have worn a man’s hat as well. It’s so fun wearing men’s suits. Someday I hope to have a men’s-style suit tailored for a woman’s body. There are a few companies specializing in such clothes.

One of the reasons I love Halloween and Purim so much is because, when you really think about it, all clothing, makeup, and accessories are essentially drag, a costume, an identity you choose to put on to the world. It’s fun to play with an alternate identity a few times a year.

I really, really got into my portrayal of Booth. I had to resist the urge to start interacting with other people in character, or to say something like, “If anyone moves, Mary Todd gets it!”

The teacher said I made a really strong case for Booth. I imagine she may have been surprised I got so into character, both in the written and oral speech. So many other people would’ve taken the easy way out by casting him as a one-dimensionally evil villain who acted out of a vacuum.

This carried through into the way I write my antagonists, like Boris Aleksandrovich Malenkov, Mr. Seward, Misha Godunov, Anastasiya Voroshilova, and Mrs. Troy. All these characters truly believe they’re in the right, and started down that path for a reason. The sympathetic characters are the ones who seem misguided to them.

Even minor or secondary antagonists or villains I’ve created aren’t one-dimensionally evil and cartoonish. They have distinguishing features, and are written like real people.

Antagonists like Urma Smart or Mrs. Green, whose entire purpose is to be antagonistic and unsympathetic, exist to make people’s lives very, very miserable. But there’s still a general concept of the background and motivations which led them to those paths. They also bring a lot of great dark comedy.

Antagonists are fun to write! When the first book you ever read, at three years old, is the adult, uncensored edition of Grimms’ Fairytales, you know early on real life isn’t flowers, puppies, rainbows, and glitter.

As much as I enjoy well-deserved happy endings, I’m naturally drawn to the dark, macabre side of writing.

To Cecilia on her 20th birthday

October 4, 1993, 20., Monday,

On Wendsday [sic] there was this full moon [a blue moon actually], and it was so beautiful. You could see a crater on the bottom, and there [were] these grey clouds on it. It was so nice out you could see the color of the stars. For the next few days it stayed there. And yesterday I washed with a new soap from France. But do you know what it was like at the very dawn of time? Clouds of biting dust, gasses, no true sun, etc. And the soap was once animal fat, ashes, and rose petals. That’s the way my life is. Sometimes so perfect, sometimes Hell.

Those are the opening lines of my third journal Cecilia, who in spite of being “only” a big five-subject college-ruled notebook and a bursting binder of looseleaf paper, has a place in my heart as my favourite and dearest journal. I was so attached to this imaginary friend of sorts I’d created for myself, someone to pour out my heart and soul to, I had a really hard time letting her go and finally moving on to my next journal, Rita. Because of the different kind of dark night of the soul that followed, Rita went on to become my next-dearest journal.

The following is taken from a much-longer piece I wrote on my old Angelfire site, on Cecilia’s 10th birthday:

I created her, I named her, I protected her, I confided in her, I loved her. It’s like the nursery magick in The Velveteen Rabbit—something becomes Real because it’s been loved so damn much, it doesn’t even matter that it’s not alive. She was one of the best friends I ever had. She always listened to me, even though she could never talk back to me and telling me I was just babbling or sounding goofy or ready to be committed to the psych ward. She couldn’t give me a hug or comforting words back or anything that flesh and blood best friends do, but she was there for me when I most desperately needed a true friend.

Her beauty was that she was there to listen to me and never made me shut up and stop talking, put me down, nothing. She didn’t have the worries and depression I had, being abiotic, like I once told her, but she almost assumed a real human identity to me. I even gave her a physical description early on—five foot one, five pounds overweight, long black hair, big green eyes, and long nails. Maybe I held onto her longer than I should’ve, the way I kept her going for a whole other year after the pages just clear ran out, but I was just too attached to the dear friend I called Cecilia to say goodbye.

And then I let her go when the time was right, her sides splitting with pages, after I had finished quoting from a hundred songs. [For years I had the habit of starting each journal entry with a song lyric, and used many songs multiple times.]

*********************

I can’t believe I’m now old enough to easily remember 20 years ago, though two decades still seems like a vast stretch of time. Everything was so different in 1993.

Since 1989, I’ve had the following journals, and yes, from Cecilia on, they’ve all been named for songs:

Journal #1 (the only one I never named), September 1989-February 1993

Helena, February 1993-September 1993

Cecilia, October 1993-January 1996

Rita, January 1996-June 1998 (ended on the anniversary of Tiananmen Square)

Prudence, June 1998-December 2000

Rael, 8 December 2000 (John Lennon’s 20th Jahrzeit)-February 2002

Athena, 1 March 2002-October 2003

Emily, October 2003-May 2005

Zelda, 1 June 2005-November 2007

Eloise, 29 November 2007 (George Harrison’s 6th Jahrzeit)-September 2008

Current journal, begun September 2008, abandoned 1 March 2009, picked up a few times in 2012 and 2013, finally permanently resumed my longtime daily journaling habit September 2013, hopefully never to be stopped for so long ever again. She needs a name!

But there can only ever be one Cecilia.

In defence of contemporary historical fiction

My great writing love is historical, and for about 20 years now, I’ve written exclusively 20th century historical. Since I tend towards series and family/town sagas, odds are a story will inevitably end up in the modern era, close to the present day but never quite contemporary. Since recent decades aren’t quite classical historical fiction, but not quite contemporary yet, they’ve been given the label contemporary historical fiction. And within that genre, more recent past history, like the 1990s, would be considered late contemporary historical.

While some people stop considering something historical after World War I, I think most people consider up to World War II historical, and probably the immediate postwar era. But a lot of historical events happened in the decades afterwards, even if some people aren’t comfortable with labeling them as historical. Let’s face it, the world of even 20 years ago now seems like the stuff of history, since technology and society have evolved so much. And to a young person in particular, a book set in a year like 1968, 1974, or 1980 is about ancient history they never lived through.

I was born in 1979. The world I was born into now seems like history, even to me, as much as I hate admitting I’m getting old. The world I grew up in included rotary phones, black and white computers, disks, VCRs, less cable, TVs you still had to get up to change the channel on, typewriters, record players, cassette tapes, boxy cars, and living World War I vets and Titanic survivors. And the world of even 10-20 years before my birth seems like history now, with things like sex-segregated help wanted ads, twilight sleep, no women’s lib, and gas-guzzling boat-sized cars.

If you’re choosing to set your story in the Sixties or beyond, or if it starts earlier and gradually comes into the present, don’t overdo it with the historical references. This should be true of any historical. It’s kind of obnoxious and breaking the fourth wall to show off your research and constantly call attention to the fact that it’s taking place in a given year or decade. Loving any decade or historical event isn’t reason enough to write a book set then if that’s the only reason you did it.

If you’re only writing about this decade to indulge your nostalgia and waltz down memory lane, you should reconsider why this story needs to be set then. No one wants to read a book that’s little more than a recitation of popular songs, fashions, news stories, inventions, tv shows, and movies. That’s actually what badly dates a lot of once-contemporary books, too much of a period feel rather than being a story for all time that just happens to be set in a certain decade.

Things like bell bottoms, beehive hairdos, muscle cars, New Wave music, mood rings, rotary phones, big hair, and classic Nickelodeon (from the Eighties, NOT the Nineties, no matter what my younger university friends think!) should just be seasoning for a greater historical story. A reason to set a story in a given decade would be like a brother or husband being drafted to Vietnam, a family active in women’s lib, dealing with an AIDS diagnosis during the early days of stigma, a father in Desert Storm, a family going through the energy crisis, or the L.A. Riots.

No book should ever feel like it’s just a contemporary dressed up in historical clothes, set in a year or decade with no special significance to the characters or story. You can incorporate things you love about the recent past, like classic rock or old tv shows, without constantly name-dropping. That kind of smacks of mental masturbation, which I’ve been guilty of myself in the past.

I feel so old when I tell kids that when I was their age, computers were black and white and that I never had a damn booster seat. That was reality in my childhood, but it seems like a distant, foreign mystery to a child growing up now. Society changes so much more quickly now than it did in the past. It’s for this reason that reincarnation researchers have suggested that the time between lives is much shorter now than hundreds of years ago.  Someone who lived in the 8th century wouldn’t feel discombobulated at being thrust into the 11th or 14th century, whereas someone from the 18th century would feel lost at even the early 20th century, and someone from 1920 would feel like s/he were in a sci-fi story come to life even in 1950, 1975, or 1990.