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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fitter, Happier, More Productive

The other day, I decided to relax after a long day at school by plonking myself down on the couch to watch some TV. I had homework to do, dinner to make, and a shower to take, but all that stuff could wait. I just needed to turn off my brain and watch some mindless television.

Three hours later, I was in the same spot on the couch.

I wasn't just watching TV. Somewhere over the course of three hours, I had acquired my laptop and left it open on my lap to the Facebook page of someone I didn't even know. I clasped my smart phone in my right hand as I thumbed idly through Twitter updates. I'm pretty sure a strand of drool dripped from my mouth as my glazed eyes took in hour two of the W Network's Love It Or List It marathon.

Who even watches this show? Me, apparently.

My brain had turned off, alright, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to turn it back on.

I remember glancing out the window and thinking what a beautiful day it was for late October. I should go for a walk, I thought. But then another episode started, and the vicious cycle continued.

What have I become?

I only recently got cable. When I first moved out of my parents' house, I decided not to get a TV. I lived TV-free for two and a half years, and I can truthfully say I didn't miss it. I wasn't one of those preachy "Oh, I don't have a TV because I don't need one, that stuff rots your brain" types. My first apartment was simply too small for one, plus I didn't think I could afford any extra bills.

My boyfriend and I moved to a bigger apartment this past summer. And when I started school, I found out I could get a sweet student deal where we could get high-speed internet and cable TV for about the same price we were previously paying for slow-ass internet. We figured, what the heck.

It was also around this time I got my smart phone. This is another thing I lived happily without up until recently, but now I'm not sure how I ever survived without one. How did I live without being able to read Miss Lonelyhearts on the bus every morning, or play a rousing game of spider solitaire while waiting in line at Tim Hortons?

Consuming media is no longer a conscious decision for me, and that makes me sad and disappointed in myself. Watching TV was once a reward for a long, hard day, but it's now automatic. I turn on the TV as soon as I get home, and that's just the way it goes.

I recognize that TV has incredible value, and it is indeed part of the industry I hope to join. But I really need to limit my intake, and maybe watch something more intelligible than hour after hour of home-decorating shows.

All this thought of media consumption made me think of one of my all-time, top five, most favourite bands ever: Radiohead.

Picture from Wikipedia.
My favourite album of theirs is 1996's OK Computer. I feel like it encompasses so much of what I'm feeling about technology, the media, and my own ambivalence therein.

I used to hate track seven, "Fitter Happier." I thought it was gimmicky, and I would always skip over it. I now find it one of their most important songs, though it's still not easy to listen to. Singer Thom Yorke described it as a checklist of slogans for the '90s, though its faux-cheery message is just as applicable today.

Next time I feel the need to unwind, I'm going to try my hardest not to touch the remote control. I'll leave my laptop in its case, and let my phone charge in another room. I'll put OK Computer on the stereo and look at the window.

Maybe I'll even go for a walk.

Wish me luck.

Such a beautiful song. Please listen to it. You'll feel better.

Monday, October 24, 2011

YEAH (feat. Lil John and Ludacris)

 Everyone has guilty pleasures.

This is something I've struggled with over the years. I used to think I could only truly enjoy music that was genuine, pure, outside the mainstream. I scoffed at anything they played on the radio, and turned my nose up at MuchMusic (when they still played music).

I believed real musicians actually wrote all their own lyrics and played their own instruments, and anyone who did less was a pawn set forth by the corporate machine.

Such convictions are hard to shake, and, truthfully, a lot of my favourite bands do write and play their own music. But I also think that if a song is catchy, you can't deny that. No matter how shallow or talentless you may perceive a musician to be, a good song is a good song.

I hated when I liked a pop song. I would deny it and hide my true feelings as long as I could. I'm not sure when it happened, but I eventually realised that no one would hate me if I admitted to liking a popular song. And if they did, they weren't worth the time of day (sorry for the cheesy life-lesson, but it's true).

Usher's 2004 smash hit "Yeah", featuring Lil John and Ludacris, is one such song.  It played on the radio and TV in a seemingly continuous loop when I was an angsty teen. Due in part to its ubiquity, but mostly because it's a fantastic song, I just loved it.

And after repeated viewings of this video, I realised that Usher isn't a talentless doofus - the man can sing and dance like nobody's business. I'm not sure how many of his lyrics he wrote himself, but... I don't care.


Also, if you have ever had the pleasure of seeing me dance, this video is where I got most of my sweet moves. Except, you know, the awkward white girl versions.

What are your guilty pleasures, readers?

Should we even feel guilt about things we enjoy?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Almost Ready

On my morning bus ride to school, I'm usually content to sit back and enjoy the relative silence of the ride. I leave my music device in my bag and absently listen to the murmurs of my fellow commuters and the hum of the bus rumbling along.

Last Friday, however, this early morning solace was disrupted. As I took my seat near the back door, it became apparent that the fellow behind me was blasting music on his personal listening device.

And not just any music. Guns N' freaking Roses.

Now, I'm not totally against Guns N' Roses. I just think there's a time and a place for them. Unfortunately, 7:30 AM on a packed downtown bus is neither that time, nor place.

I decided I had to fight fire with fire. Or in this case, rock with rock.

Dinosaur Jr. was the obvious choice. These guys can rock the pants off Axl and friends, but they do it in such an articulate, melodious way that it's not nearly so jarring first thing in the morning.

I generally try to avoid douchey language when describing music, but J Mascis freaking shreds on the guitar.

I don't even know if that's the proper way of saying "shreds" - do you shred on the guitar, or just in general? Anyway.

I saw Dinosaur Jr. at the Pyramid a couple years ago, and it was quite possibly the loudest show I've ever been to. I mean, there's only three guys in the band, but the stage was completely crammed with gear - their amps were pretty much the size of redwoods.

And just because they're that awesome, here's another video:

Needless to say, Dinosaur Jr. significantly improved my day last Friday.

Actually, it's safe to say they've significantly improved my life. Thanks, guys.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Say It Ain't So

When I was 13, I was an unfortunate combination of raging hormones, debilitating social anxiety, and terrible fashion sense. I was terrified of boys and spent most of my lunch hours in the school library.

Not much has changed since then, but I digress.

When we were growing up, my big brother was always my idol. He started playing the bass guitar as a teenager, and I thought this was just about the coolest thing ever (don't tell him that).

His music school celebrated the end of the year with a big concert, where students would join together and form one-night-only bands to showcase their prowess on their instrument of choice.

I would sit in the audience with my parents, jealous I wasn't on stage rocking out with all the cool kids.

I decided I had to change. I could be a cool kid too, and my instrument of choice was the drums.

It was so simple! The drums would be my ticket to popularity. With each pound on the skins, I would shed my awkwardness, my loneliness, my braces, and quickly become the coolest girl in school.

Unlike many of my harebrained schemes, I actually stuck to this one. Within a year I had a cheap set of drums and was taking lessons (little did I know it was fundamentally uncool to take lessons. It was hipper to be self-taught, but I just didn't have the discipline).

My drum teacher had me practice by playing along to things like Britney Spears, as the beats were so basic it was easy to keep up and add my own flair where the studio musician lacked.

After some time, my teacher encouraged me to play along to music I actually listened to. I was intimidated at first, as I could never see myself going crazy on a set of drums like Stewart Copeland of the Police.

Like many awkward teens, one of my favourite bands was Weezer. One day, I decided to plunk the Blue Album into my discman and try my best to play along.

The first song I ever taught myself was Say It Ain't So.

Even though I listened to it about fifty thousand times when I was learning it, it's still one of my favourite songs.

And no, as you can probably guess, my drumming didn't magically transform me into Mr. Cool. Not even Mrs. Cool.

I'm still a huge dweeb, just a dweeb that can play the drums.

But look at Rivers Cuomo. He's king of the dorks, but in the best possible way. He's made a lucrative career out of being a nerd.

Maybe I can too.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'll miss you, Bert Jansch.

One of my favourite folk heroes died yesterday after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 67 years old.
Picture from the Guardian.

Bert Jansch was a huge inspiration to generations of musicians. Artists such as Nick Drake, Led Zeppelin, and Devendra Banhart wouldn't be who they are/were without the influence of his work.

Jansch was one of the leaders of the British folk music revival of the 1960s, and he released 23 albums in his lifetime. His virtuosity at the guitar made him stand alone in a sea of wannabe folkies.

I was lucky enough to see Bert Jansch play when he opened for Neil Young last year at the Centennial Concert Hall. I hate to be melodramatic, but I had tears in my eyes as he commanded a room full of rowdy Neil Young fans with his soft voice and gentle yet impressive strumming.

One of my favourite Bert Jansch songs is his cover of "Black Waterside", a traditional folk tune that many artists have recorded.

I remember hearing it on the radio a few years ago. The announcer mistakenly introduced it as "Bert Jansch's laid-back version of a classic Led Zeppelin song." I was so enraged I tried phoning in to correct her, only to discover it was a pre-recorded broadcast.

During intermission at the Neil Young show, my brother told me he thought Bert Jansch sounded like Jimmy Page. I promptly replied, "No, no, no - Jimmy Page sounds like Bert Jansch."

Rest in peace, Bert.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'm So Tired

This song was playing in my head all day as I dragged my sorry self from class to class.

My classmates and I had an assignment to write last night that was due today at the crack of dawn. As soon as I handed it in, I collapsed on a couch in the hallway and willed myself to stay awake even though my body was shutting down.


Hopefully I survive my shift at work tonight, so that when I get home, this will be my theme song instead:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Eli the Barrow Boy

My street. September 30, 2011.
I love this season.

Though the weather has been all over the place lately, fall can be put off no longer. In the span of one week, the leaves outside my living room window have gone from green to yellow to, well, gone.

There are certain artists that I can only listen to during a specific time of year. And despite their name, the Decemberists are strictly an autumn band for me.

This is probably because I discovered them when I was starting my first year of university; that magical time when I was meeting new people, learning new things, and perhaps most importantly, hearing new music.

I remember listening to the Decemberists on my discman while walking home from my evening class (Intro to Astronomy. I'd been so excited about that class, thinking I would learn about constellations, and aurora borealis, and maybe Zeus or something. Unfortunately, it was pretty much all physics and math. Though the many Carl Sagan videos we watched certainly sweetened the deal).

Wolseley Avenue. Some time ago.
This song always reminds me of crunching through the fallen leaves on a dark, cool evening. I loved walking home from school. I didn't have to worry about anything except putting one foot in front of the other. No matter how much reading I had to do or how many essays were due the next day, all I had to do at that exact moment was walk.

It was nice.

I don't listen to the Decemberists much anymore, but they sure helped me during that weird transition phase from kid to slightly-bigger-kid.

This song has been going through my head all week. The stress of school and work and trying to find money when there is none to be found has been getting to me. Listening to this song makes me feel better. It reminds me of walking up my old street, to my old home, where I knew my parents and cat and a warm meal were waiting for me.