SotW: “Square One” by Jay Brannan Monday, Jul 28 2014 

How did I not know that Jay Brannan has released a new album? It came out a couple of weeks ago. “Square One” is his new single/video:

I bought it/downloaded it last week and am really enjoying it!

Quote/Unquote: Early Novelists Wednesday, Jul 23 2014 

As I read Penelope Aubin‘s 1723 novel The Life of Charlotta Du Pont, an English lady; taken from her own memoirs, it’s probably good to remember this quote:

We can’t help it that we are twentieth-century readers, of course, any more than Defoe can help it that he is a figure dyed in Restoration, Puritan, and London wool, but we are better off noting our own presentist limits and admitting the historical prominence of the feature. The didacticism of Aubin, Davys, Richardson, both Fieldings, Rowe, Lennox, MacKenzie, Burney, and even Sterne poses essentially the same problem for us as does that of Defoe. Attempts to rescue writers by making them more urbane, “modern,” or “universal”–Richardson for his clinical interest in feminine consciousness, female sensibility, and the psychopathology of rape and other coercions; Sterne for his wit, humor, and bawdry–seem ultimately a dooming strategy. Their texts are still going to show where they stand, and their heavy hands on our shoulders are not going to go away. To read Sterne or Richardson without the didacticism is to read a deformed novelist, one missing crucial parts. It is easy enough to read any eighteenth-century novelist for something else and find the text palatable in spite of the unfortunate didacticism, but such selective reading is perverse and destines writers to a short life of fashion. Many early novelists traditionally left out of the canon–Jane Barker, for example, or Sarah Scott–would find their rightful place in literary history if critics could suspend their disbelief long enough to embrace the didactic rhetoric in their books and see their accomplishments both as units of discourse and as novelistic wholes. (J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction, p. 56)

Most critics dismiss Aubin’s novels due to their didactic emphasis on morality and virtue, but Hunter reminds us that such didacticism is a cultural product that should be a central part of our study of such works. Rather than dismissing or ignoring it, we should treat it with the same level of respectful analysis that we would give to any other element of an eighteenth-century novel. I’ll try to put that advice to practice as I write about Aubin in the coming months!

SotW: “Queen” by Perfume Genius Tuesday, Jul 22 2014 

Perfume Genius has a new album coming out and has just released its first single: “Queen.”

Can’t wait to hear the rest of the record!

2013 in Review: Favorite Songs/Tracks Thursday, Feb 6 2014 

Finally, I’m ready to list my favorite songs, singles, and tracks from 2013. Since I ended up with 25 again, I will probably only discuss the first few briefly and then list the rest. Basically, I primarily liked two kinds of songs in 2013: ones I heard on Alt-Nation and gay ones!

1. “Royals” by Lorde 

I didn’t anticipate choosing “Royals” as my favorite song of 2013 until just the last week or so. Anyone of my top ten could have been my favorite, but what distinguished this one is that I’m constantly singing it in my head. It’s the one song that has stuck with me the most from last year.

2. “Another Story” by The Head and the Heart 

I’ve loved this song since I first heard it. I’m not totally sure what I think it means, but I enjoy it nevertheless. This acoustic version really foregrounds how beautiful it is.

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2014 in Review: Concerts Wednesday, Feb 5 2014 

PJ and I didn’t go to a lot of concerts in 2014, but we did go to three that are worth remembering.

In May, we attended the annual Nelsonville Music Festival, which is a wonderful local three-day festival of national acts, some of them up and coming, others nearer the end of their careers, and everything in between. Last year featured Lucius, Wilco, Mavis Staples, and lots more! Here’s a video I found on YouTube that samples the three days of music:

We also saw Natalie Merchant in Columbus. She’s been touring for the last couple of years and performing with local orchestras. PJ adores her, and after seeing her repeatedly I have to agree that she’s amazing in concert. Here’s a video from another stop on the same tour:

“Verdi Cries” is my favorite of Merchant’s songs, and it really works well with an orchestra accompanying her.

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2013 in Review: Favorite Covers Tuesday, Feb 4 2014 

2013 was the year of the cover song. Several of the singles and individual tracks that I liked were covers. So, I decided to separate them out and have a list of my favorite covers from the year.

1. “Annie’s Song” by Brett Dennen and Milow 

John Denver was one of my all-time favorite singer songwriters, and this cover of my favorite of his songs is beautiful. It’s from a John Denver tribute album. Two more of the tracks from this album will be on this list.

2. “Wrecking Ball” by Eli Lieb 

This cover of Miley Cyrus’s hit is as — if not more — beautiful as the original. And I wish I had hair like him!

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2013 in Review: Favorite Videos Monday, Feb 3 2014 

While my list of favorite albums from 2013 was heavy on alternative, indy music, my list of favorite videos is a little more diverse–only a couple of the songs play on Alt-Nation!

1. “Tennis Court” by Lorde

My favorite video of 2013 is Lorde’s “Tennis Court”:

I love the song, but what really stands out about this video to me is how smart it is. It takes the standard one take head-shot and turns it on its head by having Lorde only lip sync with the background vocal. I think it’s brilliant.

2. “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce 

Each of the videos on Beyonce’s new album are interesting and well done. I could easily have filled my top ten list with videos from this album. I was especially torn between “Haunted” and “Pretty Hurts.” The latter ultimately won out since the video for “Haunted” doesn’t see to have been officially released yet.

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2013 in Review: Favorite Albums Sunday, Feb 2 2014 

I bought a lot of music in 2013. Consequently, it’s taken me a while to decide what stood out most to me last year. But I’m finally ready to record my favorite music lists from 2013. This will have to be a relatively quick series of posts. First up: my favorite albums.

My favorite album of 2013 was a no-brainer: one stood out head and shoulders above the rest, and I only liked it more the more I listened to it. My favorite album of 2013 was More Than Just a Dream by Fitz and the Tantrums. I first heard the lead off single on Alt-Nation. Once I sampled the whole album I was hooked and downloaded it immediately! It’s difficult to choose just one track to represent this album–I love the first 7 tracks almost equally–but I’ll feature that first single, also titled “More Than Just a Dream”:

I love this group’s “soul-influenced indie pop” (Source). The whole album is fun to listen to, and one or two other tracks will appear in some of my other music lists this week.

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Twelfth Night: A Review Tuesday, Jan 21 2014 

The second show PJ and I saw in New York a couple of weeks ago was William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, starring Mark Rylance, Samuel Barnett, Paul Chahidi, and Stephen Fry. This production used an all-male cast, and the sets, costumes, and staging approximated what it might have been like to see this play during Shakespeare’s own time.

Twelfth Night is about a young woman, Viola, who is shipwrecked and believes that her twin brother has drowned in the accident. Until she can figure out what to do, she poses as a young male servant and go into service for Count Orsino, who is love-sick for Olivia. Olivia, however, won’t give him the time of day, in part because she is still mourning her brother’s death. Orsino employs Viola (posing as a boy) to woo Olivia for him, but Olivia falls in love with cross-dressed emissary. A subplot involves Olivia’s drunken uncle, suitor, and servants conspiring to play a cruel joke on Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, since he often interferes with their revels. After Viola’s twin brother arrives, mayhem ensues until everyone’s identities and romantic matches are clarified.

This was the one play that I had to see during our visit. We saw a Globe production of Measure for Measure with Rylance years ago, which was great, so I didn’t want to miss this show. It is very well done. Most of the actors get dressed and put on their makeup on stage before the show officially begins. There are Renaissance-style musicians, and the set mimics the Globe Theater. There are even wax candles that drip onto the stage from above throughout the performance.

But this attention to historical authenticity and similitude comes at the price of contemporary relevance. I couldn’t help but feel distanced from the action, and I wonder if the play has anything profound to say about the human condition today. I’m not sure it holds up in an era of gay rights and gender bending.

Even so, Rylance is marvelous as Olivia. And Chahidi almost steals the show as Maria, her conniving servant. Stephen Fry is also excellent as Malvolio. Barnett has the most difficult role: an actor playing a woman playing a man. He does it well, but his part ultimately lacks the zest of Olivia, Maria, and Malvolio.

I definitely recommend this production and am glad we saw it. It didn’t move me in the way that The Glass Menagerie did. But, of course, it wasn’t really trying to, so I don’t hold that against it!

The Glass Menagerie: A Review Monday, Jan 20 2014 

Earlier this month, PJ and I spent a few days in New York City before the spring semester began. We saw four shows in three days, the of which was Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie starring Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Brian J. Smith and directed by John Tiffany.

As PJ and I discussed after seeing it, The Glass Menagerie is a play we each had to read in high school, and neither of us came into this production thinking that this is one of Williams’s best works. This production made us both rethink that position. It is an excellent production, one of the best plays I’ve ever seen on Broadway!

The play is about a woman, who was abandoned by her husband, and her two adult children. Cherry Jones plays the woman, Amanda, whose only goal in life is to see her daughter, Laura, played by Keenan-Bolger, married. Amanda knows that Laura’s only hope for future security is marriage, because she is extremely shy and partially crippled. Amanda enlists her son, Tom, played by Quinto, to arrange for a Gentleman Caller to court Laura. The last act of the play depicts what happens when the Gentleman Caller, played by Smith, arrives. Everything about this production is captivating. The stage design, the use of only minimal props, the staging, the acting, everything grips the audience in these characters’ story.

Cherry Jones is a Broadway legend, and I can now see why. Amanda could easily become a caricature, but Jones  humanizes Amanda and, even though we can see how she’s doing almost everything wrong, we also see that she’s ultimately right. I wasn’t expecting much from Zachary Quinto to be honest. I dismissed him as a TV and movie actor. But he was excellent as the son who longs to escape from his suffocating mother, a stand-in for Williams himself. And Keenan-Bolger is heart-breaking as Laura. I wouldn’t be surprised of all three received Tony nominations this year and would definitely support all three winning.

There’s only a little time left to see this production. I highly recommend it. It’s right up there with The Little Dog Laughed and August: Osage County as one of my favorite Broadway shows I’ve seen. This is everything a night at the theater should be.

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