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RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S7E4

After four weeks our order is seriously settling in, with the queens delivering no major surprises (other than the sad one from Trixie).

#1 Violet Chachki (avg 1, was #1, 1, 1)
Violet masters yet another challenge even while backtalking her way through it. In Untucked, Jaidynn tried to explain the issue to Violet as nicely as possible and she just couldn’t hear it. Part of the problem is that her drag is just so damn good, yet she apparently gets no props in her home town of Atlanta. I would have a major attitude too if I went from being a small fish in a big pond to being the hands-down best competitor on Drag Race. Yet, she’s got to soften up to be a winner. I would have dropped her to #2 this week after relying on that body-ody-ody again on the runway, except the judges finally caught on to how strategically she plays things. This will be interesting.

#2 Ginger Minj (avg 3, was #2, 3, 4)
There is no way in heaven or hell that Ginger doesn’t make the top three based on her output so far in this competition, and she is clearly going to be beloved by fans. She’s just a hair out of number one for her slightly average fashion and self-defeating cattiness – she loves to dish to Kennedy, but then dished equally to Max about writing all of Kennedy’s lines. That could hurt her with the queens or the audience if she keeps it up, and it’s just a pity that she’s not a nice girl under all that obvious talent. Yet, she’s by far the smartest strategist here – which is saying a lot in a competition with Violet and Max it.

#3 Max (avg 5, was #3, 4, 9)
Max is holding steady but any number of elements could catapult her into the top spot or drop her from contention for the crown. She’s been a consistent performer, even tonight as the worst in her group. She is an incredible team player and supporter of other queens. She takes direction well. And, despite her messy fashion this week, her editorial sense is unmatched this season by anyone save for Violet (Raja and Raven can’t help but squeal over her fashions on their Fashion Photo RuView). Oh, and she’s mega-likable with obvious star power – even as a boy. Elements leading to her downfall? She overthinks things, and that can lead to a major miss on an important challenge. Plus, can Ru bring herself to re-crown a sweeter, more-professional Sharon Needles? It’ll depend on what Max does with this week’s comment from Michelle to get out of the gray hair.

#4 Kennedy Davenport (avg 4, was #6, 2, 2)
Real talk express: Kennedy is as boring as watching paint that has already dried just sit on a wall and be paint. Her initial air of experience has dissolved into an air of sitting back and whining while other people work harder than her. Yet, given her undeserved win this week and her consistent fashion sense you can’t really have her ranked lower against these other queens with more obvious flaws. So here she sits – ready to strike as soon as any of the top three show a fault. The problem is, at this point she’s about as likable as Violet – maybe less. That’s a hard element to game, since it’s not something you can feel in the room as you just live your life.

#5 Katya (avg 6, was #5, 6, 6)
Finally, Katya’s bug-eyed energy popped out of the interview segments and into a performance in a major way. Everyone loved her delivery, and her fashion was plenty safe. If she can make herself pop some more in another challenge we’re going to have a real competitor on our hands, but I can’t see Ru calling her brand of vague comedy The Next Drag Superstar. She’s going to need some personal growth, too.

Here’s Trixie Mattel with her average of six. She was delightful but a bit self-defeating. Here’s hoping for a comeback later this season – that hasn’t happened for a while!

#6 Mrs. Kasha Davis (avg 9, was #7, 10, 12.)
This is the first week where Kasha’s smarts and sense really paid off, but the panel is already tiring of her middle-of-the-road middle-aged fashions. Yet, I think we could accurately call her one of the most consistent performers, after Ginger. If she can hang on until Snatch Game she might sneak herself into the final four, but she’s going to have a bitch of a time cracking the top three.

#7 Jaidynn Diore Fierce (avg 10, was #11, 12, 10)
Let’s be real: as soon as fashion starts to matter, this girl and her one-piece swimsuit dresses are out. That said, she’s one of the few players to show growth, and it’s been right in front of Ru’s face every time. That’s going to count for a lot when she hits her first lip sync, but she needs something even more drastic to break into the top six.

#8 Ms. Fame (avg 7, was #8, 8, 3)
More like Miss Delusion. Fame is adequate at many things and terrific at none of them except for perhaps accurate reads. Her fashion sense is questionable, her leadership qualities are mushy, and she is always leaving a piece of tape hanging off of her handsome brow. There’s no way for her to win this competition, but she’s marginally more interesting than the two ladies below her.

#9 Kandy Ho (avg 9, was #10, 11, 7)
Kandy showed her cards in Untucked this week, where she confessed to never having a concept and just planning to be pretty. She’d be a contender in Season 2, but ever since Raja and Sharon the higher concept of your look can be as important as your prettiness. Her serviceable challenge performances have kept her in it so far, but unless she has a secret talent she’s in major danger as soon as Pearl gets gone.

#10 Pearl (avg 8, was #9, 7, 6)
Why did we keep Pearl over Trixie? I have no idea. She’s been drifting downward in ranking each week. Her fashions don’t push the boundaries and sometimes just don’t come together. She’s not a great performer. What’s left, really? There was no reason to keep her rather than Trixie, who despite some self-defeating tendencies had a lot more potential. Now we have to watch Pearl and Kandy wrestle each other for the bottom next week.

RuPaul’s Drag Race, S7E4 Recap: Spoof!

RPDRS7Gentlemen, start your engines! If you want to play along at home, grab a season pass!

Previously on RuPaul’s Drag Race: Jasmine hated everything but could not put her talent where her mouth was and Kennedy just barely sent her home.

After The Elimination

Kennedy saunters into the room looking wiped out with the rest of the girls following. Ginger interviews about Jasmine giving “all that energy,” which makes me immediately distrust her opinion since 2/3 of everyone hated Jasmine. Fame has it right when she interviews, “Jasmine was just the bad seed in the bunch,”

Kandy asked Kennedy how she felt from off-camera so we can maintain our complete ignorance of her as a person. Kennedy interviews that sending Jasmine home was “bittersweet, cuz me and Jasmine are so close.” I don’t believe that for a second. Jasmine was the weird girl who was fawning all over Kennedy three weeks ago, which in production schedule time is just a few days.

Trixie (still looking drop-dead gorgeous in her bearded runway look) asks Pearl if her life flashed before her eyes just before she escaped the bottom two. As she answers “usually I have a blast when I’m in drag,” you can see a certain light in her eyes that has yet to appear. Maybe Ru’s message got through? “It was all about me walking with my eyes half closed – I thought I had bedroom eyes!” Or, at least as close to an explanation point as Pearl can muster. They do this lame bit in the interview where they throw water in her face, as if she really fell asleep interview. She’s not Seattle’s Premiere Jewish Narcoleptic Drag Queen, y’all. Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S7E3

With three weeks of drag behind us, how are the ladies of RuPaul’s School For Girls stacking up? Not too differently, as it turns out – just one big drop and one minor rise. We’ve now seen dancing and acting – will we see a more fashionable challenge next, or an intellectual one?

#1 Violet Chachki (avg 1, was #1, 1)
Yes, I still have Violet in the top spot. Why not? I don’t agree with the judge’s tepid reaction to her acting, nor do I blame her for it after Kennedy’s failed leadership. Her fashion is still impeccable (even when I’m not loving her prints), she can dance, she’s not afraid to learn lines, but nobody likes her. That combo worked fine for Jinx, but she was also a very different queen who was well-liked by the audience – which makes a difference once you arrive in the final three.

#2 Ginger Minj (avg 3, was #3, 4)
Though this runway fashion being not her best ever, Ginger is emerging as the funniest cast member and one of the most solid performers. What matters most is how self-aware she is. It is going to take a lot for her to go wrong in a challenge – it will have the be the case of the judges just not loving her concept, rather than her failing in some way. I don’t love some of her cattiness in this episode, but that just means if Violet missteps for a second she’ll be on her.

#3 Max (avg 5, was #4, 9)
Max continues to shatter the old lady mold each week while still being an old lady, if that makes any sense. And, she turns out to be a professional-caliber performer. I get the sense she has a college degree from her well-trained response to the theatre challenge, which is going to bode well in the intellectual hurdles. I worry slightly about her runways, which so far have been composed of disparate pieces. At some point she will need to deliver straight-up glam. Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race, S7E3 Recap: ShakesQueer

RPDRS7Gentlemen, start your engines! If you want to play along at home, grab a season pass!

Last time on RuPaul’s Drag Race: Lots of lip-syncing, with the entertaining Katya defeating Sasha Belle in lip sync.

After the elimination

The ladies return to the workroom to see that Sasha’s message to them is “Love you, mean it” and then “Ging for the win.” The other queens are NOT pleased with this overt show of support, especially Kennedy. It’s been a long day, and everyone is looking pretty mannish at this point with their five-o’clock shadow. Violet’s cinching via corset is terrifying, she looks like Jessica Rabbit. I don’t understand where she keeps her kidneys and intestines.

I might have to transcribe all further Katya comments because she is so entertaining. “This week I survived by the skin of my fucking fingernails. It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m gonna fucking murder that next challenge, whatever it is.”

Continue reading ›

Ranking Madonna’s Rebel Heart, track-by-track

madonna-rebel-heartAny week that includes the release of a new Madonna album is a national holiday for me, and this past week’s release of Rebel Heart was the most-exciting Madonna holiday of all time.

In its Super Deluxe format, Rebel Heart is a 23-track album – Madge’s longest-yet. By itself, that’s cause for celebration – especially given that her early 00s LPs were just 10-tracks a piece! Plus, due to various pre-release leaks, there are another 16 songs from this album cycle in various stages of completeness floating around the internet.

I’m typically not too interested in leaked albums – whether the LP is finished or not, I know I’ll buy it when it comes out, anyway. However, in this case the first leaked tune was the title track, a curious acoustic and strings composition that really piqued my interest for the album as a whole.

With the album in-hand and digested, I realized the final version of “Rebel Heart” was pretty distinctly different than the outstanding leak, and I sought out all the other demos. That’s what brings me to this best-holiday-ever. Not only does that yield 39 total songs – a triple-album bounty – but it’s a rare chance to appreciate Madonna’s songwriting and production process by comparing demos to the final tracks. And, even more amazing – there’s nothing truly bad out of the 39!

(Before you ask: No, I do not have the demos to share with you. Just Google each track name and “Madonna Rebel Heart Demo” and you will find some means of hearing them.)

You should know a three things about me:

  1. I have been a Madonna fan for as long as I can remember, which happens to be around the time of Like a Virgin’s release.
  2. I have been a musician for considerably less time than I’ve been a Madonna fan, but each influences the other.
  3. I have been known to like some of the odder songs in Madonna’s catalogue. I love I’m Breathless and American Life. I love Love Song and Bedtime Story.

Now that you know what you’re getting into, let’s begin.

Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S7E2

Do two episodes offer enough points to triangulate a potential top three? Last year, Adore was still a train-wreck at this point… well, I mean, she never stopped, but later the train wreck started being the whole point of her.

Which queen might still surprise us by coming from behind? Let’s take a look.

#1 Violet Chachki (avg 1, was #1)
Another week in the top spot? Why not? Despite my dislike of her french fry dress, the judges clearly dig her more outré fashions. Add to that her ability to deliver as a performer and to stay cute even when she’s being a bit annoying in the workroom. It’s her game to lose, but her downfall might be her Visage Venom. Being contrary to Michele never works in the long run. If she eventually takes a Michele suggestion to heart (a la Jinx), she’ll be set.

#2 Kennedy Davenport (avg 2, was #2)
She quietly delivered this week with only a minor fashion misstep. We have still yet to see all she has to offer, and even on her low-intensity setting she’s easy defeating the majority of the other queens. Plus, she seems to have a pretty positive attitude. I have a hard time picturing what’s going to trip her up.

#3 Ginger Minj (avg 3, was #4)
A rightful win, fantastic strategy and leadership, and fashion strong enough to not only survive being off-theme but WIN for it. That’s a fierce queen. If she can deal with her minor shading issues and keep up the comedy this could be our first big-girl winner – and you KNOW Ru was listening to “All About That Bass” when she was shooting this season. Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race, S7E2 Recap: Glamazonian Airways

RPDRS7Gentlemen, start your engines! If you want to play along at home, grab a season pass!

Last time on RuPaul’s Drag Race: Violet rightfully won, Tempest was unjustly sent home.

After the elimination

Max is inexplicably still using her braces to walk around – can we ditch the disabled-face and just keep the old-face, darling? Katya is eating her own hair and being the one to freak out about “someone’s got to go home” in her interview segment. Kandy Ho says she wasn’t nervous about the lip sync against Tempest, but she should have been nervous about that face.

The girls congratulate Violet on her win and ask how how she feels, and she quickly fires back with “I hate Michele Visage … what she said rubbed me the wrong way. To be honest, she probably has a bigger man body than I do without her implants” Sasha Belle and Mrs. Whatshername are shocked, and non-coincidentally will probably be the next two queens to be sent home. Fame calls Violet’s win “valid” which is a terrific way to show she’s “not mad about it” (riiiiiight).

I am loving Violet’s non-villainous shade, let me tell you. It’s so boring when every mean girl has to be a villain, and I think Bianca disabused us of that idea by being the mean hero last year. Some of the other girls are over Violet’s healthy ego already (Ginger and, surprisingly, Max). Violet gives a bummed lip trill in her interview to show us how she really feels about it.  Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S7E1

Can you effectively read a queen after one episode? I’m not so sure, since the only season I got to watch without knowing the winner first was last season – but, eventual winners do have a way of standing out in their first appearances either in look or personality.

How do these ladies rank after a single engagement? Let’s take a look.

#1 Violet Chachki
This queen’s fashion ranged from simply pretty to avant garde, she’s fishy (i.e., like an actual girl), she dishes great commentary, and she won the first challenge. Welcome to a world with a target on your back, girl. Now we need to see that personality – she could be one who wilts under the lights of the theatrical challenges. If not? Major danger, and a suitable follow-up win for a younger queen after Adore didn’t quite make it.

#2 Kennedy Davenport
This is the experience of a Coco Chanel without the constant self-sabotage, and her fashion sense is impeccable so far. Plus, she’s apparently a dancer? She’s going to be a polished force to be reckoned with (although I have to wonder about her sewing after that circus tent resort wear). Also, clearly there’s a good story to be had in a more-experienced, black, southern, curvy winner. No way she misses the final three if she can stay consistent.

#3 Ms. Fame
So very fishy, but we’ll see if she has the performance chops for the more personality-driven challenges. While I suspect she’s a fierce competitor, I could see her pulling a Trinity Bonet and feeling she’s above one of the challenges or a Courtney Act where she just doesn’t realize she’s not the best. Without Tempest in the ix I get the sense she is going to be the remaining seamstress to reckon with. However, that ridiculous first outfit shows she’s capable of the occasional misstep and bad paint job, which could be her undoing.

(Here’s where I’d have Tempest. So sad.) Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race, S7E1 Recap: Born Naked

RPDRS7One of my biggest life events in 2014 was becoming obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I watched a random episode of its sixth season on a lazy Saturday and got sucked in by watching some of the world’s most-fabulous drag queens competing while also showing some of the behind-the-scenes of their craft. I’ve loved drag and gender-bending culture ever since I was a six year-old wearing a Jem costume for Halloween, so it wasn’t long before I had a season pass plus tickets to see the queens on tour (Ben De La Creme foreva!).

This week the newest season of Drag Race got started. One thing I experienced in my new fandom last year is that there aren’t a ton of sites doing recaps and commentary on the show – I was reading the same few things over and over, in particular, Tom and Lorenzo (now shuttered) and Onion’s AV Club, plus indiewire and l’etoile. So, I figure if I’m going to watch it obsessedly for the next three months, I ought to write a bit about it too!

Let’s be honest – there’s really nothing to recap other than fashion on the first episode when there are 14 queens and four outfits to reckon with. That’s not even a minute per outfit!

Rather than try to make some sort of cohesive narrative out of it, I’m just running down the queens in order of appearance – first in their entrance, then as they debuted spring and fall looks on the catwalk, and finally as they hit the catwalk with resort wear over a nude illusion. I wrote this as I watched, so I didn’t have any spoilers to influence me.

Gentlemen, start your engines! If you want to play along at home, grab a season pass! Continue reading ›

#MusicMonday: “Bang Bang” – Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nikki Minaj

Bang-Bang-Promo-Cover

One of many fan-made “Bang Bang” promo covers with a decidely retro feel.

I have always loved Motown. This post is about Jessie J’, Ariana Grande, and Nikki Minaj’s late-summer hit, “Bang Bang.”

These two statements are closely related, I promise.

I grew up revering Motown music. I was obsessed with “Stop! In The Name of Love,” and listened to Oldies 98.1 WOGL on every car ride with my father. The beauty of the great majority of Motown songs is their disarmingly simplicity. The classic and seemingly complex “I Want You Back” is mostly just one endlessly descending bassline. Smokey Robinson created intricate riffs and harmonies over the simplest of blues progressions. My favorite dance tune – “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” – distills down to just one pair of chords.

As it turns out, simple songs with clearly distilled messages are hard to ignore.

This presents a terrific conundrum when it comes to Motown covers on acoustic guitar. “I Want You Back” translates to plenty action on an acoustic guitar, and Smokey songs can be dressed up or stripped down as you choose. Yet, other songs lose their sing sans arrangement and bassline. Plus, what to do with “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” – so simple in its execution that it hardly holds together on one instrument? There, the power must be in your delivery and interpretation – there’s nothing spare to dress with.

Which brings me to “Bang Bang,” a raunchy summer slam from two of the hugest young female voices in pop. I heard it for the first time a few weekends ago while standing in a cell phone store, and my immediate first reaction wasn’t, “Who is singing?” or “Why is the production so huge?”

Nope. My reaction was, “This is so Motown!” I tried to explain it to E later that day, but not being the Hitsville connoisseur that I am she didn’t wholly appreciate the distinction. However, when I confessed it to Ashley in Smash Fantastic rehearsal yesterday, she shrieked, “I know!”

At which point we attempted our first cover of the ridiculous hot weather confection that is “Bang Bang” and discovered its true Motown realness: It’s just one damned chord! C7, over and over again. I thrashed it over and over in rhythm while Ashley annihilated that crazy Jessie J vocal that starts on an Eb. (I claimed Ariana’s verse as my own, as I love belting to her range. We are still negotiating over the Nikki verse.)

The similarity doesn’t stop there. Despite the decidedly unsubtle chorus, the first linee in Grande’s verse is practically cribbed from pint-sized Michael Jackson, “She might’ve let you hold her hand in school. But I’mma show you how to graduate.” Is that so different than the punnish innuendo in “The Love You Save,” where he sings, “When Alexander called you, he said he rang your chimes. Christopher discovered you’re way ahead of your times!”

It remains to be seen if Ashley and I can make our cover interesting enough to hold its own sans all of the arrangement and production on the studio cut, but at least now we understand why the song screamed “Motown!” at us on first contact.

#MusicMonday: “Look At Where We Are” – Hot Chip

hot chip - in our headsWhen you hear these Indie Pop, or Art Pop, or Indietronica, or Electropop, or Synth Pop, or Alternative Dance – or whatever you would label hip wierdball dance bands like Hot Chip and Dirty Projectors with high-voiced male singers  the first thing you almost assuredly notice is their plastic elastic vocals. Just like the skinny-jean culture I loosely associate with their fans, husky(-voiced) boys need not apply.

(I would just call them “Pop” or “Dance” and let them duke it out for attention with Bruno Mars, personally. How they material differ from Paula Abdul I will never understand. But I digress.)

Yet, I don’t trust that we’re always hearing the authentic sound of a real voice singing. It is not just because these are genres that positively glisten with auto-tune. No, it more that as a rule I don’t trust that any vocal that sounds better than George Michael and not as good as Michael Jackson. That’s an uncanny valley that hardly any guy occupies. I’ve heard the subtle stuff you can do with gating and pitch correction and snapping to a click track.

(I actually once questioned Nate from Fun. about that on Twitter, and he swore his own plastic elastic vocals were achieved sans any tuning effects. This was before Some Nights, obvs.)

Then, last week “Look At Where We Are” from Hot Chip’s 2012 record In Our Heads shuffled onto my headphones. It’s such a nude song. A few synth burbles. A two beat kick-snare kick-snare drum loop. Completely unadorned electric guitar, so plaintive you can hear the pick and fingers on the strings. And the voice is right there in your ear. It is not a vacuum-sealed thing in a can. It is silken and easy, and you can hear the air surrounding it.

When all three elements line up, the song turns into some sort of Luther Vandross baby-making jam. Sure, we get some sampled vocals and synths later, but the point has already been made:

Hot Chip can do all of that bippity boopity dance stuff with the best of them, but they don’t need to do it. The best song on the LP is something any kid could do in their bedroom with the most basic instruments out there, yet any kid can’t.

Think it’s an illusion of the studio? Watch this nerdy dude in a sweatshirt who is Hot Chip’s singer deliver a perfect live version complete with the very minor vocal warbles at Coachella:

(Seriously, how freakishly great is his voice?)

Suddenly I find myself liking Hot Chip a lot better, even if they are an indie-art-electronica-indie-synth-pop-dance-indie-alterna-pop band.

Or, you know, A POP BAND, as it was known in 1987.

An Epilogue to The New 52

BATWOMAN_25Here lies the epilogue to my grand experiment of reading DC Comics’ 52 new titles when they launched two years ago this month – and a tiny lesson on customer lifetime value.

Last week the big story in comics was that multiple Eisner Award winner J.H. Williams was walking off DC’s critical hit Batwoman, along with his co-writer W. Haden Blackman. Williams is also the illustrator to DC’s upcoming hotter-the-the-sun Sandman Overture with literary rockstar Neil Gaiman.

Not coincidentally, Batwoman is one of just two DC ongoings I am still reading (the other is Animal Man).

Mmany outlets tried to make the big story of the walkout that DC Comics ordained that we would never get to see the titular character – a lesbian – marry her new fiancee Detective Maggie Sawyer on panel. Given DC’s dalliance earlier this year with anti-gay champion Orson Scott Card writing a Superman story, many (not just comics) news outlets slanted their stories that the Williams walk-out adds more fuel to a fire of DC’s low opinion of GBLT characters and fans.

That may have yielded some extra hits and comments, but that’s not the real story behind the sudden resignation. If you read into Williams & Blackman’s statement, you’ll see the real issue is that DC won’t commit to a story for long enough that they can build up to it – which is exactly why I went from reading 52 title two years ago to 1 as of next month:

Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.

jh_williams_01While the final straw was the fizzled marriage plot, it was the ongoing interference that broke the camel’s back. Hints of this were visible over three months ago, when Williams tweeted his disappointment in his longstanding Killer Croc plans getting co-opted for another writer to write a one-shot of the character for Villains’ Month.

DC relaunched their entire publishing line to try to establish new (or: bigger) buying habits with a wider group of readers, of whom I was one. I read all 52 books in September 2011, and at least 26 of them that October. I was really excited to see so many distinct stories and new characters, and I would have gladly kept up with many of them.

However, one-by-one, my favorites got picked off – Resurrection Man and Frankenstein to low sales, Stormwatch to a complete reboot, Birds of Prey and Demon Knights to creator changes, and Batwing to a new direction. It seemed like the only books I enjoyed were the offbeat ones no one loved, or the books DC was certain needed a big change.

Note the distinct lack of their core superhero IP on that list; I largely disliked the first story of this books, with a few exceptions (Flash, Batgirl, Green Lantern Corps). And, even if I adored them, it wouldn’t matter – hardly a single book has survived past twenty issues with a consistent writer/plotter aside from Scott Snyder directing Batman, Gail Simone on Batgirl, and Brian Azzarello on Wonder Woman. (Superteam Buccellato and Manpul just announced they are leaving Flash.)

The end result is that I went from reading 52 DC comics 24 months ago to just 1 as of next month. DC’s reboot won them my money and attention in the short term, but my lifetime value as a customer grew less and less as I dropped books, and now will continue to accumulate only a measly $2.99 per month. They lost me in the long-game of increasing revenue.

Meanwhile, in that same time period Marvel has grown my readership from just X-books to all but two books in their entire publishing line of main continuity stories. They have me reading characters I am an avowed non-fan of – like Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Captain America – just on the strength of the creators and the bold stories being told. I’m happy to commit to that because even when creators change during a run the story direction tends to be largely preserved. My the slope of my cumulative lifetime value line keeps getting steeper and steeper. I’m about as valuable of a customer as they can have – traditionally known as a Marvel Zombie.

I’m just one customer, but I have to believe there’s a greater trend to be found in that example.

Is there a common moral to be found for DC comics between Williams walk-out and my trailing off? I’d say the stories are one and the same – DC doesn’t have faith in their creators to tell stories. That isn’t about characters getting married – Marvel only boasts one major marriage in their line. It’s about telling interesting stories that evolve but never distinctly end.

#MusicMonday: “We Can’t Stop” – The Postmodern Jukebox

cyrus-we-cant-stopContinuing the theme of “traumatic experiences” from last night, earlier this summer I had the distinct experience of viewing the gloriously random trainwreck that is the video for Miley Cyrus’s comeback single, “Can’t Stop” (which this weekend I had verified to me by an actual beach-going teenager as “the song of the summer, because ‘Blurred Lines’ is so overplayed”).

It was early or late or I was half-watching teevee or something, so I remember having the sound turned very low. My watch was purely for the aesthetics of the piece (or, I suppose, the lack thereof). Yet even a whisper of the song left an imprint on my brain. It only took one more listen to get the “la da dee da dee” refrain irretrievably stuck in my brain, and after watching the second glorious visual trainwreck that was Miley’s MTV Music Video Awards performance I also was stuck with the throaty “we can’t stop” chorus.

We’re talking 24/7 under-the-breath singing here. Constant subconscious replay. Ultimate earworm.

At that point I broke down and bought the damn song, and here’s what I realized: it’s actually a pretty interesting song. If you just treat the lyrics like the gibberish they are and listen to the arrangement, it has many interesting little hooks in it – the real performance of the chiming high piano notes, the thrumming fuzz bass, the “la da di” vocal hook, and the way it all evaporates into a brief vacuum at the top of a chorus before it enters on the repeat.

It’s just that the flat, Rihanna-aping vocal production sucks all of the air out of Miley’s performance and makes it joyless and robotic on the whole. (And, note that writing team Rock City actual pitched this to R before Miley sunk her grill into it.)

Enter Scott Bradlee and The Postmodern Jukebox. Yes, I know they are all over the internet already. No, I don’t care. Have some more.

The magic of the Bradlee version of the song is that it strips away all of the obvious differentiators I mentioned above and somehow emerges with an even catchier song.

First off, I am a total sucker for anything Motown, and the raw doo wop blend of unison and harmonies from The Tee Tones is a welcome throwback.

Second, the time signature – Postmodern Jukebox is in 6/8. For the non-musicians among you, just tap along to it. You’ll find you’re tapping in two sets of three – 1-2-3, 1-2-3. You can’t really make the argument that the original song contains this feel, yet after hearing it in the cover I can track that steady pulse in the original as notes in swing time.

Third, the vocal. I’m not just talking about the syrupy swoop of Robyn Adele Anderson’s vocals, which runs a lovely counter towards the trend of all retro-style singers having that taffy catch in their voice like Adele or Duffy. It’s her melody that’s distinct. She hews pretty close to the original on the verse, just adjusting for the time signature and – you know – actual singing. Then she breaks out in the “la da di,” transforming the earwormy sing-song of the original into an actual song-worthy melody that allows her to blossom into a brief crescendo on “doin’ whatever want.”

And, they do all this with the ridiculous lyrics about big butts and lines in the back room intact – the only difference is now we’re dancing with “Miley,” rather than “Molly.”

I’ve always said that a good song can be stripped down bare. This cover of “We Can’t Stop” isn’t exactly bare, but it had to be stripped down to the basics of the chord changes and melody to build it back up to this point. The fact that it’s even more catchy without the trappings of modern studio production just proves what lovely bones the song has.

Not every song on the radio right now would survive the transition – certainly not the tuneless “Blurred Lines.” Buy the Postmodern Jukebox version now!

Crushing On: Bailey the Bee by miYim

On day 41 of EV6′s life there is only one thing, living or animate, that I am positively sure she can identify other than E or I.

It is Mr. Bee.

miyim_bailey_the_beeWe received a small assortment of stuffed and noisemaking creatures from our friends and family. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with them. Even a seemingly tiny bunny or caterpillar is about as big as a newborn baby, give or take. I assumed she would thing all of these grinning creatures were just wildlife showing her a threat display and she would constantly cry and try to army-crawl away from them.

Mr. Bee by miYim was different. He looks so darn friendly. He has a firm body and  exceedingly silly feet attached to his thorax with yarn legs. He has a small velcro cuff for affixing him to a car seat, stroller, or baby. And he makes an extremely pleasant dull jangle when he is shaken. It’s a very quiet, neutral sort of sound that I was willing to commit to hearing over and over again, if necessary.

I forget exactly where he started out, but I quickly migrated Mr. Bee to the changing table, because newborn babies have a complete meltdown every time you change them and I was desperate for anything to distract mine while I desperately wiped away her black tar poop.

I would jingle Mr. Bee once or twice, and then lay him on EV6′s chest or even cuff him to her wrist so she could keep on hearing the jingle while I changed her. Soon, I began announcing him. “It’s Mr. Bee,” I would exclaim, signaling that we were beginning a visit with her insect friend that just happened to coincide with a diaper change.

Eventually, the routine (which, keep in mind, happens 10-12 times a day) extended to include a little jingle to Mr. Bee’s jangle. I sing “Mr. Bee” three times in an ascending triad cued from his dull chiming, and then announce “It’s Mr. Bee!”

A little over a week ago we were having a gibbering freak out about EV6 smiling at us randomly while sitting on the couch. The next time I changed her and sang the Mr. Bee jingle, I noticed she smiled then, too! I was usually just so busy grabbing changing implements and psychologically preparing myself for runny mustard poop that I hadn’t noticed when she started doing it!

I asked E if she had noticed this, and she said she had never witnessed the phenomenon.

“Well, are you doing the routine?”

“Um, I show her the Bee, if that’s what you mean.”

“No, you sort of have to announce him.”

“I suppose I do say, ‘It’s Mr. Bee.’”

“No, no, no,” I responded, and escorted her upstairs to the changing table to show her my specific Mr. Bee salutation.

As it turns out, my strategy worked entirely. EV6 has not cried during a diaper change for weeks as long as they are preceded by Mr. Bee. We have even extended his good will to a goodbye ceremony where he gives her a little bop on the nose and then flies back to the shelf.

As far as she is concerned, diaper changes are Mr. Bee Variety Showtime, a feature of which is one of the big humans doing a lot of wiping and patting of her behind.

(Epilogue: E tracked down the friend who bought Mr. Bee for us, and she said she purchased him at a Whole Foods because he made the least offensive noise of all the various baby toys. Also, his name is Bailey, he is $10, and we’ve already purchased a backup.)

let Facts be submitted to a candid world

Pursuant to that Wednesday post about reading to baby, here’s a somewhat chronological list of what we’ve been reading to EV6 in the first month of her life.

I know that over time it’s going to be important for her to hear short, digestible stories with small, distinguishable words – and we’ve got plenty of those lying about. However, an adorable 20-page book that I can read in four minutes really isn’t serving me to well in the “reading to baby” segment of my day right now. The point is more for her to hear one of our voices, steady and ongoing, until she calms down, gets bored, or falls asleep, depending on the situation.

ultimate-hitchhikers-guide

Honestly, we could just be doing a mic check for twenty minutes. “Baby, one two. Baby, hey hey hey. Baby, chic-ah, shhh, chic-ah, one two.”

I’ve also gotten in the habit of reading Wikipedia’s pages aloud whenever I hit a concept in my constant monologuing to her that I can’t explain, like why a living room is called a parlor. I see this as preemptively equipping myself for the litany of whys we’ll be experiencing in a few years.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

We actually started this one in the womb. E had read that reading to a baby in utero in a calm, quiet environment was a good way for it to learn your voices. She also read that the fetus could track light sources at a certain point, which lead to a hilarious sequence of me shining a flashlight on E’s pregnant belly while I read Vogon poetry. Now that EV6 is an actual baby, she doesn’t like this as much, despite my switching to the illustrated version. Generally, she doesn’t prefer things interrupted by too much dialog, especially given the fact that I cannot help but do crazy character voices throughout.

The Tempest

As noted on Wednesday.

Dante’s Inferno (John Ciardi translation)

EV6 doesn’t always latch on to this when I start, but when she does she’s hooked for an entire canto. My reading is complete with my personal cliff notes on every canto. E thought I was reading them from somewhere! Nope, just used to be really obsessed with Dante in a sort of defense about how hating Shakespeare did not make me stupid.

Where The Wild Things Are

Sendak never fails. Also, I do some narrating of the pictures.

Pierre-Sendak

Time Life’s Illustrated History of Photojournalism

In week two I was freaking out that we didn’t have enough high-contrast black and white images available to develop EV6′s vision. E has this huge set of Time Life photography books, so she picked the one packed with the most images for us to page through and read excerpts from. Some of the photos were pretty depressing, but EV6 did pay attention almost the entire time.

The Declaration of Independence

A surprisingly nationalistic choice, for me. I’m not sure why I selected it, but E said my reading was “unexpectedly moving.”

Sendak’s Nutshell Library

I have these committed to memory on some subconscious level such that I kind of skim the words on the page and just recite the story. That makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose, since that is how toddlers “read” books, and these are books I heard A LOT when I was a toddler.

Also, I unfailingly cry whenever I read (or sing) Pierre.

Yellow-Wallpaper-Gilman

Edna St. Vincent Millay poems (from the illustrated versions in Graphic Canon, Vol. 3)

She loved these! Millay is a little more mirthful than Plath.

Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl

Short and cloying, but so wonderfully positive that I can hardly fault it. (Also, this was written for Tori Amos’s daughter, and I quite clearly recall when she was born during my sophomore of college, so it tends to make me feel old.)

W.B. Yeats Selected Poems

An E pick, and an EV6 fav, so far.

The Yellow Wallpaper

This held EV6 at rapt attention for it’s entire duration. I always marvel at how modern and terrifying it is for something published in 1899.

Yeats’s Irish Fairy and Folk Tales

E just started reading these to her.