Spotifying 2013

I started a project on Spotify last year where I made a playlist of the 12 songs of 2012 that defined my year musically.  Some were songs I listened to on repeat at the gym (hence the inclusion of a Pitbull jam on this list), while others were songs I just associated with memories or people from that 12 month span.  Some were rather old songs, but my rule of thumb was if I discovered them in 2012, then they were up for inclusion, which is how an old John Denver song ended up on my list.

It was a fun exercise and one I finally got around to doing for 2013 just recently.  I didn’t remember the assembly being so difficult last time. This year, I initially dragged over 20 songs into the playlist, then had to slowly cull from there. “No, Jess, you don’t need three Great Big World songs on there,” I told myself. I also cut some of the obvious and ubiquitous songs of 2013 like “Get Lucky” and Bruno Mars’ oeuvre, since it doesn’t exactly feel like the personal experience I am looking for in my selections.  After some cutting, some adding, some deleting, and some adding back, this is what I came up with (alphabetically by title, of course):

“Bellas Finals” by the cast of “Pitch Perfect”

I think Anna Kendrick might be giving Kristen Bell a run for her money as my number one girl crush. I’ve been a fan of hers since I was in college and caught her stealing the show as Fritzi in the delightfully over the top nerdy art kid dream of a movie “Camp”, but for some reason, I never got around to seeing “Pitch Perfect” in theaters. Shortly after the WSOP, I decided to reward myself for surviving the summer with HBO and, rather than dig into “Game of Thrones” straight away, I watched this movie first instead.

It should surprise exactly no one that this movie about arty nerds in college was right up my alley. Picking from the host of quality performances was tough. I almost selected the final performance of the Bellas’ male counterpart, The Treblemakers (I can throw down that rap section in the middle like a beast fwiw), but even though it is 2013, the anthems of 1980s classic films like “The Breakfast Club” (heavily featured here) are going to win me over until at least 2043.

“Catch My Breath” by Kelly Clarkson

In October my friend Elaine and I went to a free Kelly Clarkson taping and we were talking about how strange a role Kelly Clarkson plays in our musical selections. I would never self-identify as a fan of hers, yet when I scroll through Spotify, I have to have at least ten of her songs spread across my playlists. 

Unlike other Clarkson songs, which I enjoy to rock out to on car rides, this particular one stuck with me moreso than the others.  I am not often one to get very self-helpy or aspirational.  I know it works for other people, but that sort of motivational stuff has never done much for me.  But, after a stretch of my year where I felt like I was letting myself be a doormat and feeling pretty stupid about it as a result, this served as my musical pep talk.  And some great running music at the gym.

“Goodnight and Go” by Imogen Heap

One of the good things about attending dance classes regularly is your musical horizons expand along with your range of physical ability. I don’t know if most people realize this, but dancers have great taste in music, so I am always glad to get to non-ballet classes like the contemporary one I took where I was introduced to this song back in the spring.

It also bears mentioning that I am a sucker for a good wistful song.  The kind of song you can listen to when you’ve got a crush.  This one gets a little bit…er…leery?…at points, but I still love so many of the lyrics, particularly the chorus.

“I Want Crazy” – Hunter Hayes

Yes, I like country. Don’t be those people who say it is the worst. You don’t like “everything but country.” If you did, you’re telling me you’ll listen to classical tuba or Native American flute? Enjoy all the polka there is to offer? Didn’t think so.

A lot of people have been hard on the bros of country these days, but I think Hunter Hayes tends to avoid the criticism, in part, because he is that country-lite Taylor Swift-esque country singer and, in part, because the kid is just 22 years old.  I don’t really actively follow the country music scene, but the older the get, the more I find myself defaulting to the country radio station when my phone isn’t an option.  I really don’t know how I became this person. I don’t think I mind being this person as much as I thought I would though.

“Janet” – The Format

I wrote a blog earlier this year about discovering The Format. This is my favorite song from that discovery.

“Just Give Me a Reason” – Pink f. Nate Ruess

Another dance class discovery, this is the song that got me to give fun. more of a chance and, as a result, discover The Format.  While the video of the mattress afloat in the ocean is a little bizarre, Pink, like Kelly Clarkson, keeps sneaking into my music collection without me realizing it.  One thing I learned from dance class? It is surprisingly effective to do crunches to this song.

“Love on Top” – Beyonce

If you weren’t sure I am completely out of touch with the contemporary music scene, this should seal the deal for you. No songs from the new Beyonce album for me, I am just going to continue to rock out, clean the house, go to the gym, and sing in the car to this tune from her 2012 album, 4. 

A brief aside, but given that 2013 was also the year of her Super Bowl performance, can we briefly talk about how people talk about how Beyonce is this incredible dancer? Go watch those Destiny’s Child videos again. This girl was terrible, worst of the three by a mile, but somehow she managed to both get better at dancing and find choreography that highlights what she is good at when it comes to movement. Still though, I find very few of her songs to be very dance-able. My sister played me “Drunk in Love” today and I let out a yawn or two, but other than that, didn’t have much of a reaction. For every great song like “Single Ladies”, there is a super mediocre one like “Best Thing I Never Had”. More throwbacks like “Love on Top” Bey, please.

“My My Love” – Joshua Radin

Do you guys watch “Parenthood”? Hint: “no” is the wrong answer. This show is amazing and amazingly good at getting me to sob like a child.  This song, which plays in the background of Amber and Ryan’s engagement this season, just destroyed me. Such a beautiful song with phenomenal lyrics. It is the kind of love song that makes you hope someone feels that way about you someday, that makes you hope you can feel that way about someone. But this is coming from a gal who is a sucker for any nerd-voiced emo white boy singing acoustic-type music, so you may not want to take my word for it.

“Neon River” – Keane

When I travel for work, I don’t always get to see much of anything outside the casino. So, I make it a point to do as much walking around as I can. Such was the case for my first trip to Melbourne for WSOP APAC this spring.  Walking along the river, this tune from the most recent Keane album caught my ear.  As someone who is positively obsessed with every single track of Keane’s debut album “Hopes and Fears”, the numerous follow ups have all been pretty disappointing, but I dutifully try to give the album a couple of good listens before discarding all but one or two songs. There are songs here and there that I enjoy, like “The Lovers Are Losing” and “Nothin in My Way”, but their “Strangeland” album is the first one in ten years that has me liking the majority of the tracks.  “Neon River” is my favorite and it reminds me of walking along the waters by the Crown, which was easily my favorite part of the APAC trip.

“Say Something” – A Great Big World

Every year on “So You Think You can Dance”, there is a number that takes my breath away, then takes my time away as I rewatch it 100 times on YouTube.  This year, that number was Amy and Robert’s duet to this song

You make think you’ve heard this song before, but if you’ve heard the version with Christina Aguilera, I highly advise you to check out the original version, which is simplistic, beautiful, and heartbreaking.  I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say I listened to this song 200 or 300 times this year. I cried with it, I sang along, and I just relished in it, knowing this year I found one of those all-time favorite songs that I will listen to several thousand more times before I leave this world.

“Simple Song” – The Shins

Much like “Parenthood”, “How I Met Your Mother” manages to wow me with their musical choices.  This song plays at the end of last season over the final scene where we get to see the Mother for the first time.  That is what got me to give the song a try, but in the fall, when things were getting a bit overwhelming for me on a lot of fronts, this song’s chorus is was what hooked me in. 

That being said though, did anyone watch this week’s HIMYM, which was told entirely from the Mother’s POV? Delightful vintage quality HIMYM—too bad we have to suffer through so much less than ideal stuff to be rewarded with these little glimpses of awesome.

“Stars and the Moon” – Jessica Mulaskey

There has to be a showtune on this list somewhere.  This one barely snuck in to make the list, but this December, I took a day at work and just cued up every Jason Robert Brown penned song I could find.  It all started because my cousin Joel, an accomplished musical theater composer, started blogging about his creative process.  I was reminded how much I love Joel’s work as well as how great the storytelling in showtunes can be, so I turned to Brown, whose musical “The Last Five Years” is currently being adapted into a movie I positively can’t wait to see featuring (we’re coming full circle here) Anna Kendrick.

This is one of those songs I find it impossible to understand how it took me so long to find it. Brown’s “Someone to Fall Back On” is probably my favorite song of all time. I have songs from the same show as “Stars and the Moon”, but for some reason this tune just lived in a blind spot.

I found it though, then listened to this beautiful story unfold several dozen times, grateful that I found it eventually, even though it may have taken longer than I would have liked.

“Summer Song” – Matt Duncan

Everybody has their song of the summer. Mine just happens to be written and performed by a high school classmate.  I knew Matt’s first album, Beacon, took off a couple years ago. I have all the songs and enjoy his throwback hipster jam band vibe a lot. Unlike many other friends with artistic pursuits, I didn’t listen out of obligation, I listened because I really dug the music and like to humble brag that we sat next to each other in Calculus.

His new album dropped this year and this song was my WSOP jam, keeping me mellow as I drove to the Rio, giving me around three minutes of summer fun before heading in for another long day at the office.

I would approach my recommendations with a grain of salt.  If these 13 songs are any indication, I am pretty eclectic, far from educated musically, and way too emo-y for my own good.  But it is still nice to see what comes my way each year and think about where it comes from.  Of these, absolutely none came across my radar because I heard it on the radio.  In fact, I’d probably wager that will be the case when it comes time for 14 for ’14 too…

Btw, for those who are curious, this was my 12 for ’12:

“Back in Time” – Pitbull
“Bella Donna” – The Avett Brothers
“Even If It Breaks Your Heart” – Eli Young Band
“Gotta Have You” – The Weepies
“Home” – LCD Soundsystem
“I Wanna Dance with Somebody” – Matt Alber (originally by Whitney Houston)
“Meanstreak” – Matt Duncan
“On Your Porch” – The Format
“Poison & Wine” – The Civil Wars
“Sunshine on My Shoulders” – John Denver
“Teenage Dream (Acoustic)” – Darren Criss (originally by Katie Perry)
“Windmills” – Toad the Wet Sprocket

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But What About My Couscous?

In the almost two decades that my best friend Lindsay and I have been acquainted, we don’t always get to talk much. We haven’t lived in the same place in some time, so we have to get by on phone calls and texting to keep in touch. However, we rarely seem to text about what is going on in our lives. Instead, we text each other random song lyrics or lines from movies, typically designed to make the other one laugh.

Yesterday, I pulled out an old inside joke from our middle school days about “The Chipmunk Adventure”, the 1980s animated movie about Alvin and the Chipmunks as well as the Chipettes, their female counterparts.  Lindsay responded that she tried to explain this classic of our childhood to her European acquaintance and it didn’t go over well.  What follows is us trying to summarize the plot of this film. Be warned, this won’t be amusing unless you are familiar with the film:

Me: “How do you even begin? So there are these prepubescent chipmunks living with a man. And they sing…”

Lynz: “And they have female counterparts who sing about getting lucky…to snakes.”

Me: “And they are left unsupervised and decide to hot air ballooon around the world. It seems innocent enough, but turns out they are inadvertently smuggling diamonds.”

Lynz: “For Russians…”

Me: “Using dolls that look like tiny versions of themselves…”

Lynz: “There’s a really touching scene about the bond between mother and child…”

Me: “Involving penguins.”

Lynz: “Who wear lockets.”

Me: “And the chipmunks singing this song don’t really have a mom, so presumably they’re singing about…Mrs Miller?”

Lynz: “She’s the babysitter…for the prepubescent chipmunks.”

Me: “Who clearly could be doing a better job, as she is blissfully unaware the six of them are romping around the world unsupervised.”

Lynz: “To be fair, the chipmunks did pull off some Ferris Bueller-esque tricks to cover their tracks.”

Me: “Here is a question…do you just not need passports when traveling the world via balloon? Or are there deleted scenes somewhere of them outsmarting customs?”

Lynz: “Wouldn’t some sort of aviation authority have shot them out of the sky?”

Me: “They’d have to have some sort of license at the least. Maybe Claus and Claudia took care of that though?”

Lynz: “Their selection criteria was that the munks could play a hot air balloon video game. Not even a simulator. A game. I don’t think they had their shit together enough to get licenses.”

Me: “I am laughing so hard there are tears. I forgot about the arcade game plot point.”

Lynz: “‘We need an astronaut. Let’s get that kid from Showbiz Pizza who’s kinda good at Galaga.’ What kind of logic is that?”

Me: “But remember they thought no one would find innocent, young, singing chipmunks flying around in hot air balloons suspicious. They were so far above reproach that one tribe veen thought Theodore was a god.”

On the bright side, while searching YouTube for the trailer, I discovered we aren’t the only adults preoccupied with this film.  These guys went so far as to reenact it:

What’s Cooking in the Science Oven?

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It has been about a day since I finally got around to seeing “American Hustle”.  I want to say this is going to be a thoughtful blog post about that film’s message about reinvention or how life is just a series of cons.  Honestly though, all I want to talk about is the science oven.

Those of you who have seen the film know the “science oven” is a term given to a microwave given as a gift to Christian Bale’s character, Irving Rosenfeld.  The movie is set in 1978, so the microwave doesn’t bear much resemblance to the microwaves of the 21st century.  Instead of buttons and digital screens, there are dials and knobs.  Rather than open like a door from the side, the microwave door is pulled down, kind of like a drawbridge.

If you ask me, the comedy of the “science oven” scene featuring Bale, Jennifer Lawrence as his troubled and troubling wife, and a little pyrotechnics is the highlight of the entire movie for me.  I think this is probably true of a lot of people, but for me, the microwave rang so true to life that I was almost in tears.

You see, my mother…dear Dolores Welman…is one of those people who simply refuses to change once she finds something she likes.  It is surprising enough that she agreed to get a microwave in the first place, but my father, being an early adopter his entire life, managed to convince her to get one a few years after they got married.  Mom can’t remember the exact date they acquired their first Amana microwave, but the best estimates put it around 1977.

From the quick glance I got of the movie’s microwave, I am somewhat convinced it is actually the exact same model my parents had. The picture above is the model we had.  The photo doesn’t do the size of this thing justice though. It was the size of a large cooler and had to weigh over 50 pounds. If you ask my mom, the weight served as a testament to its trustworthiness.  "Built to last", you know?

How do I know what kind of microwave my family used in the late 1970s and early 90s? Because it was the exact same microwave used in our household until 2009 or so. That’s right, we used the same Amana microwave for over 30 years.  The only reason we ever abandoned the thing is because my mom eventually moved in with my sister, who had her own microwave, likely manufactured in the last ten years.  Mom fought valiantly to convince Debbie the Amana was the superior machine, but my sister won this particular battle.

As Dolores will gladly explain to you, modern microwaves simply didn’t heat up food like the ole Amana did. I have tried to explain to her it is likely because that machine was using now-banned radiation technology.  It is difficult to describe exactly the kind of noises this microwave made when it was in action.  I know most microwaves produce a hum or a whir while heating things up, but this was different.  It had the cadence of an alarm, as it’s noise would rhythmically wax and wane.  The nature of the sound wasn’t a buzz or a ringing though. Instead, it was like a goat in heat, slowly dying, bleating his last painful thoughts a couple seconds at a time.

The family would joke to Mom that no one should stand in front of the microwave for long stretches without a lead apron, but she refused to give it up.

“The repairman was shocked it was still in such good condition,” she’d brag.  “He said he would fix any problems because of the novelty of getting to work on such a great machine.” We’d debate if he really said “great” and wasn’t instead using an adjective like “old” or “Smithsonian-eligible”.

I would also try to point out to her how difficult it was to follow any sort of timing instructions using our old microwave.  You see, the timer was just a large dial with hash marks.  Every six or seven hash marks, one would be labeled with a number.  I tried numerous times to figure out what these intervals of time represented, as they definitely weren’t minutes.  Putting the timer on the first hash mark yielded around 15 seconds of nuking.  Moving the dial to the “1” amounted to around 90 seconds.  So, if the microwaving instructions included any specific intervals of time, a secondary watch or timing device would need to be brought into the operation.

And God forbid there was a temperature indication for your food.  The temperature was controlled by a lever.  At the top of the lever, the machine read “HIGH”, at the bottom “LOW”. However, these also didn’t jive with the way other microwaves seemed to calibrate temperature.  If you selected the lowest setting, it was almost like a breezy summer night inside that thing.  Lukewarm air circled around your food, effectively accomplishing nothing, imbibing with the general notion of warmth, but not really warming it up at all.

Dolores though, she was the microwave whisperer.  She had her daily snacks down to a science.  She could warm up a biscuit, heat a piece a pizza, or melt butter without having to reset any of the dials.  When we suggested our problems with the machine, she was always ready with an answer.  She never tried to make the microwave be something it wasn’t.

“Jessica, you know that you should never pop popcorn based on the instructions. You know you stand by the microwave the entire time and wait to see when the popping noises start to trail off. Oh God, you aren’t leaving the corn to pop unattended, are you?”

In other words, the problem was her careless daughter, not this mammoth-sized machine from 1977. She knew you can’t make the microwave something it isn’t. Rather than think about what it couldn’t do, she focused on what it could do.  It is a character trait I could certainly stand to possess a little more of in my own life. I’ll even give her this–when I went away to college and started using a microwave that didn’t predate my birth, there was no transcendent moment where I thought, “This! This is what I’ve been missing!”  The timer was nice, but she was right, the center of the food never tasted quite as warm as it should have.

I actually think I can bring this little story full circle. Director David O Russell’s movies as of late have been all about reinvention.  The whole focus of American Hustle is how these characters present versions of what they aren’t, what they want to be. Everyone is trying to change, improve, and be different from what they were before.  This is great, and an endeavor I’ve pursued myself.  However, it is nice to have Dolores around to remind me there is something to be said for being okay with the way things are. Mom isn’t going to fall for the latest fad or be conned into believing something is better just because it is new.  You can remove the knobs and add some buttons, but, at the end of the day, it is still a science oven.

Golden Prognosticating

Figured before the ceremony starts, I’d actually commit to some picks and see how rusty my awards season predictions are. I’m running out of time, so don’t have much commentary to offer, unfortunately. Predicted winners in bold (Thanks LA Times for the info on the nominees):

Motion Picture, Drama
12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Philomena
Rush

Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
American Hustle
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
The Wolf of Wall Street

Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet – Labor Day

Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Idris Elba – Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford – All Is Lost

Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Julie Delpy – Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Enough Said
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf Of Wall Street
Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
Joaquin Phoenix – Her

Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska

Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl – Rush
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Director
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Paul Greengrass – Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
David O. Russell – American Hustle

Screenplay
Spike Jonze – Her
Bob Nelson – Nebraska
Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan – Philomena
John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave
Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell – American Hustle

Foreign Language Film
Blue is the Warmest Color
The Great Beauty

The Hunt
The Past
The Wind Rises

Animated Feature Film
The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Frozen

Original Song
“Atlas” – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
“Let It Go” – Frozen
“Ordinary Love” – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Please Mr. Kennedy” – Inside Llewyn Davis
“Sweeter Than Fiction” – One Chance

Original Score
Alex Ebert – All is Lost
Alex Heffes – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Steven Price – Gravity
John Williams – The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer – 12 Years a Slave

TV Series, Drama
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
The Good Wife
House of Cards
Masters of Sex

TV Series, Comedy
The Big Bang Theory
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Girls
Modern Family
Parks and Recreation

TV Movie or Mini-series
American Horror Story: Coven
Behind the Candelabra
Dancing on the Edge
Top of the Lake
The White Queen

Actress in a TV Series, Drama
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife
Tatiana Maslany – Orphan Black
Taylor Schilling – Orange is the New Black
Kerry Washington – Scandal
Robin Wright – House of Cards

Actor in a TV Series, Drama
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
Liev Schreiber – Ray Donovan
Michael Sheen – Masters of Sex
Kevin Spacey – House of Cards
James Spader – The Blacklist

Actress in a TV Series, Comedy
Zooey Deschanel – New Girl
Lena Dunham – Girls
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

Actor, TV Series Comedy
Jason Bateman – Arrested Development
Don Cheadle – House of Lies
Michael J. Fox – The Michael J. Fox Show
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
Andy Samberg – Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Actress in a Mini-series or TV Movie
Helena Bonham Carter – Burton and Taylor
Rebecca Ferguson – White Queen
Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Coven
Helen Mirren – Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss – Top of the Lake

Actor in a Mini-series or TV Movie
Matt Damon – Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas – Behind the Candelabra
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba – Luther
Al Pacino – Phil Spector

Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-series, or TV Movie
Jacqueline Bisset – Dancing on the Edge
Janet McTeer – White Queen
Hayden Panettiere – Nashville
Monica Potter – Parenthood
Sofia Vergara – Modern Family

Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-series or TV Movie
Josh Charles – The Good Wife
Rob Lowe – Behind the Candelabra
Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad
Corey Stoll – House of Cards
Jon Voight – Ray Donovan