Posted in 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, holidays, Music

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave songs

To mark DDAD 2019, I decided to showcase ten of my favourite songs. One of the many reasons I’ve been a Duranie for almost eight and a half years is because of the wonderful lyrics. So many of their songs are like poetry.

1: “The Seventh Stranger,” last track on Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983). Where to start! Every line is like pure poetry. I’ve used the line “like splinters of ice” in my own writing, and titled a chapter “Trading in His Shelter for Danger.”

2: “Secret Oktober,” B-side of “Union of the Snake” (1983). It’s like an avant-garde, surrealistic poem. I really want to use some of the lines as part of chapter titles.

3: “My Antarctica,” sixth track on Liberty (1991). While Liberty is one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard (even worse than Extra Texture), this is one of two standout gems. So romantic! I titled one chapter “Heat Beneath His Winter.”

4: “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” third track on Rio (1982). It’s so beautiful and romantic. I have a chapter entitled “Lonely in Their Nightmares,” and called the first part of a book “Angry in His Nightmare.”

5: “Perfect Day,” third track on Thank You (1995), an album of covers. This was originally a Lou Reed song, and one of the album’s standouts. It reached #28 in the U.K. Lou said, “I think Duran Duran’s version of ‘Perfect Day’ is possibly the best rerecording of a song of mine. I’m not sure that I sang it as well as Simon sang it. I think he sings it better than I. If I could’ve sung it the way he did, I would’ve. It wasn’t from lack of trying.”

6: “To the Shore,” fourth track on their eponymous début (1981). More beautiful surrealistic poetry! It’s a shame this lovely song was left off the U.S. repackaging of their first album, replaced with the single “Is There Something I Should Know?”

7: “Out of My Mind,” fourth track on Medazzaland (1997). The video is so deliciously macabre, making the lyrics even better and taking them in such a wonderfully dark direction. It reached #21 in the U.K. and #14 in Italy.

8: “Beautiful Colours,” recorded 2005 but not officially released on an album or as a single. I love the line “Life isn’t standard-issue, it’s customised.” I’ve used riffs on that line a number of times in my writing.

9: “Palomino,” seventh track on Big Thing (1988). Absolutely gorgeous, lush poetry!

10: “Come Undone,” sixth track on The Wedding Album (1993). Officially, it’s their second eponymous album, but just about everyone calls it The Wedding Album because of the cover art with photos of the bandmembers’ parents’ weddings. The song reached #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, and #42 in Belgium and Germany.

This was the song that flipped the switch and made me a Duranie on Valentine’s Day 2011. Someone named it as one of their most romantic songs, and I looked up the video and ended up watching it over and over. This song made me come undone!

Posted in 1990s, Music

A botched swan song

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

Released September 1992 by Curb Records, Hope + Glory was The Four Seasons’ final studio album, and unfortunately failed on every level. Just to start with, the cover makes it look like a New Age record!

As always, songwriter Bob Gaudio’s strategy was to keenly listen to popular sounds of the day and translate that into a winning album full of hits for his band. This was a winning strategy for most of the Sixties, and while it was hit-or-miss during the Seventies, it nevertheless resulted in possibly the band’s best work.

It missed the mark in 1985, but there were still enough touches of the band’s established voice and style to pull it off somewhat decently. (I also admit my nostalgic bias for that trademark Eighties sound!)

In spite of a string of commercial failures, Bob was determined to try yet again to mount a successful comeback and prove his band could still sit comfortably on the Top 100 with a bunch of young whippersnappers who hadn’t even been born when The Four Seasons had their first hit.

What was all the rage in ’92? Hip-hop, new jack swing, soft rock, and adult contemporary. Many of those songs were also full of synths and electronic beats. A far cry from their familiar hits of the Sixties, but they’d constantly proven they weren’t afraid to try new things.

Yet Hope + Glory was also a commercial bomb, with no singles. Why might that have been, beyond the band being long past their heyday and a time when a new generation would’ve eagerly given them a third wind of popularity?

Remember my analogy about the historical fantasy writer who moves into subgenres related to fantasy and historical with a fair bit of success, then tries sci-fi because it’s trendy? Many of her fans eagerly bought her steampunk, alternative history, and contemporary urban fantasy novels, and while her sci-fi attempt was far less successful, it still had enough touches of her established voice and style, albeit buried under copycatting of the latest trends.

Now imagine she hitches her star to YA contemporary. Not only that, her POV and tense are completely different, and she’s trying to sound like someone she’s never been. Every page is full of quickly-dated language like “So I may or may not be doing all the things and having all the feels.”

Longtime fans, by and large, are going to cringe in horror. It’s not that no one can write a popular book like that, but it won’t age well. In fact, it already sounds dated upon its release! Age doesn’t improve it either. It still sounds like a sad attempt to be someone she’s not decades later, with no emotional connection to the story.

Not only did she fail to read the strongest examples of this subgenre and understand what made them stand above the pack, she mindlessly copied instead of translating anything into her long-established unique voice and style. Neither her most devoted fans nor a new generation were having it.

There are some great lyrics on Hope + Glory, but they’re so buried under awful production! This also sounds more like Frankie with any old backing band, not a true Four Seasons record. He even sings two songs with a female vocalist.

Compare this to The Wedding Album, released February ’93. They came out only months apart, yet whereas Hope + Glory sounds super-dated and like a mindless copycat of popular songs anyone in that era could’ve done, The Wedding Album has aged so well and shines with timelessness. One band was true to themselves and earned a huge comeback, while the other cared more about chasing the next big trend and in so doing forgot what made them special.

I also feel really uncomfortable listening to Frankie singing about sex! It’s nowhere near Prince-level explicit, but that’s never been his style! His prior songs with sexual subtexts weren’t that up-front or disturbing.

Track listing:

“Love Has a Mind of Its Own”
“Learn How to Say Goodbye”
“Hope and Glory” (a duet with Frankie and Bob, possibly the standout)
“This Time”
“You and Your Heart So Blue”
“Run for Your Life”
“Help Me to Believe in You” (everything about this song makes me cringe, even the title!)
“State of My Heart”
“The Girl of My Dreams”
“Even Now”
“Just the Way You Make Love”
“The Naked I”

Posted in 1990s, holidays, Music

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.

Posted in 2000s, Aleksey Romanov, Writing

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.

Posted in 1860s, 1990s, Antagonists, Writing

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.