60 Books In 2019 #30: Sounds Like Me: My Life In Song (So Far) by Sara Bareilles

Sometimes learning about an artist you love distances you from the very visceral way their work hits you. Especially with music.

This was not the case with Sara Bareilles, where learning more about her life just clarified why her music has always spoken to me. Her idyllic childhood spent playing outside with her sisters and cousins. Her obsession with musical theater. (She name checks Chess!) Choosing to change schools for high school because she can’t stand the world she’s been in. (In her case she went the opposite, from Catholic school to public school…) Her battles with depression and anxiety and her search for her voice.

It’s a book of essays, each one centered around a song Bareilles has written, which is one of the more creative ways into a celebrity memoir I’ve seen. (I’ve read a lot of them. Many by people not nearly as notable or talented as Sara Bareilles.)

But that also makes it a hard book to talk about, because the only through line is those songs, which, I was recently reminded of the quote that, “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” It’s really hard to describe how hard I cried the first time I heard “Many The Miles,” or “Vegas,” or God bless the woman, “She Used To Be Mine.” It’s this deeply cathartic feeling that I wasn’t alone, that someone not only felt the things that I was feeling, but could articulate them.

So we’re halfway there you guys! I think I’m going to do this. I’ve managed to only read 2.5 books by white men! (Crisis On Infinite Earths, Heretics Of Dune and Fosse) I’ve opened myself up to a genre I’d always slighted (Contemporary YA) and found some new writers that I like a lot.

Up next is Let The People See: The Story Of Emmett Till, by Elliot J. Gorn, because I guess the news isn’t upsetting enough these days, and I’ve decided to make myself more upset? Frankly, I’m in a bit of  a non fiction space and I haven’t read enough not by white women books in my mission. I’ve broken out of my white man thing, but I still have some work to do to branch out further.

Because I Want To Get Better

Rocketman was billed as “A True Musical Fantasy” in all of it’s marketing. What was not highlighted nearly enough in that was musical. I went in expecting a rock and roll bio pic, in the vein of Ray and Walk The Line and yes, Bohemian Rhapsody. I think most people did.

Rocketman isn’t a rock and roll biopic. Well, technically it is. But it’s mostly a musical. Like a real deal, the characters can’t contain their emotions with dialog so they burst into song musical. It’s a musical that tells the life story of Elton John (well, the first half) with his songs, which is why it’s gotten miscategorized, but from about two minutes in, wehn Elton, in full devil drag, sits in a rehab circle and begins talking about his life, he visualizes preteen Reggie Dwight, and adult Elton and Young Reggie go through a verse of “The Bitch Is Back,” to introduce the stifling middle class suburb where he grew up, I realized, “Ohhhh, this is different.”

It’s different in a way that’s pretty well attuned to my taste. I’m a big Elton John fan, and even at their hackiest I love a rock bio (I think it comes from all those lazy Saturday mornings watching Behind The Music on VH1.) and I of course love musicals. (There were a couple of moments, especially the “Benny And Jets” orgy sequence where I was having trouble not thinking of the Fosse of it all.)

Rocketman is flawed, but even it’s flaws are hugely entertaining. Taran Edgerton is perfect, taking John from a wide eyed wunderkind to a sneering petulant spiraling superstar. It’s a powerhouse performance fueled less by physical resemblance than vocal and pure energy. Richard Madden plays John Reid as a kind of swoony devil on John’s shoulder, but it’s also great, because who could say no to anything let alone rock star decadence, when you have Richard Madden making bedroom eyes at you? (Also, it’s weird that Reid has been played on screen by both Petyr Baelish and Robb Stark in the past 2 years, yeah?) If Reid is John’s devil, then the movie casts Bernie Taupin as the voice of his better angels. Jamie Bell makes Taupin a stalwart figure, really the embodiment of the cinematic cowboys he idolized. It’s telling that the script has Bernie code switch between calling his friend “Reg” and “Elton,” and is the only one to do so. (He’s Reggie to his family for the most part, and Elton to Reid.)

The music numbers really make the whole thing worthwhile. “Honky Cat,” was probably my favorite, for it’s sheer MGM Musical on cocaine audacity, though I mentioned the Fosse feeling of “Benny And The Jets,” and Bernie finally walking away to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” is prettily done as well. I’m listening through the soundtrack now, and I’m not sure many of them work as standalone covers, but that’s not the point. (Also the only bio-pic soundtrack versions that I think do are Walk The Line, because Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were doing something very specific vocally there.)

Memory is also a major theme in this movie, and frankly I could write a whole other review just about the ways it deals with memory. I’m going to be thinking about and talking about this movie a lot I think.

  1. Avengers: Endgame
  2. Rocketman
  3. Detective Pikachu

Trailers

21 Bridges: This movie looks so dumb. If I still had cable I’d probably watch it 1000 times on TNT or whatever.

MIB International: SO SOON.

Yesterday: I can’t wait for this. It really does look wholly delightful.

Downton Abbey: SADHFUIFSHGNIRNBHIVNHGIDLSJLFGHIUFHGNRFJNRI. I am so excited for Downton Abbey. It’s embarrassing. No one should be this excited for the fucking Downton Abbey movie, but I AM. I can live with a disappointing GOT finale, I’ll even survive if The Rise Of Skywalker flounders but if Downton Abbey isn’t FAN FREAKING TASTIC, I will be quite put out, and I may even go to the garden to cry silently and miss the dressing gong.

Spring Has Sprung: Let’s Talk About Music

A few weeks ago on my facebook, I mentioned that season changes often put me into the mood for specific music. My Winter into spring music is pretty specific and kind of odd, but I thought it would be fun to talk about here. (We’ll do spring to summer, and summer to fall, probably too, but no promises.)

Anyway, let’s talk about it!

The Eagles

Frankly, I always like listening to The Eagles, which is kind of lame when you reflect on it, because The Eagles are kind of lame, but I also love them very much, so let’s get into it. I think Hotel California is a very good spring album because there’s something about it that feels like you should be driving with a top down while listening to it. I haven’t had a convertible in 10 years, so I settle for the windows down these days, but you know, still. Does the trick.

Death Cab For Cutie 

I actually would listen to Death Cab anytime also, but there’s something about their songs (especially Plans but really all of it…) that feels like waking up, which is very spring. I’m also in love with “I’ll Follow You Into The Dark,” right now, which you know, is kind of depressing, but it’s such a beautiful song. I also started an Amazon station of their music, which lead me down some great roads of their mid 2000s indie rock peers. So much Florence And The Machine, and Mumford And Sons you guys. It’s glorious.

John Williams Scores

OK, again, there’s no bad time to listen to this music, but it’s something that gets me moving, which is important in spring. Listen the “Eight Symphonies,” (Star Wars,) or my favorite score of all time, Jurassic Park and seriously, seriously, the Superman score, which is totally beautiful and lovely and great.

So that’s my spring music, what do you like to listen to this time of year to get things movie, and welcome the pollen that is currently destroying my resperatory system?

Thank You, Jonathan Larson

One of my arbitrary rules for myself is that I don’t seek out Rent on purpose. This isn’t because I don’t like Rent, it’s because I love and obsess about Rent so completely that all other thoughts, interests and delights become moot.

Rent is perfect. Rent is a trashfire. Rent is a phenomenon. Rent is overrated. Rent was a revolution. Rent was a mainstream sanitizing of the queer experience by a straight white dude. The thing that’s infuriating, I think, to non Rent-heads, is that the show is all of these things at once. It’s a mess. But as was made abundantly clear if you were anywhere near social media Sunday night, Rent is our mess, and we’ve all got a lot to say about it.

For me, Rent: Live (which wound up being mostly the taped dress rehearsal due to Brennin Hunt breaking his foot the night before.) was just a reminder of something very visceral, this show tatooed itself on my heart when I was 15, and so I will love it forever. (Not without criticism. It isn’t Les Mis which I refuse to examine critically.) But there’s too much emotion tied into it for me to turn my back completely. There’s too many late night diner renditions of “La Vie Boheme,” with friends. (We were a delight!) Too many karaoke duets to “Take Me Or Leave Me,” and “Another Day.” To many doodled “No Day But Today”‘s scrawled in notebooks. To many hours spent arguing whether OBC Mark and Roger, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal were better than long time mainstays in the roles like Matt Caplan and Jeremy Kushnier. (I actually prefer Matt, who I’ve always called, “My Mark,” to Anthony, I saw Rent on Broadway 4 times, 3 of those, Matt was Mark. I prefer Adam to everyone though.)

There were plenty of moments in Sunday night’s broadcast that landed like a thud. When you know the show backwards and forwards, changes are jarring. Some of those really soared though. I’m madly in love with the ways, “Will I,” and “Seasons Of Love,” were redone. Especially “Seasons,” which is about remembering the good things in life in the face of imminent death, but has become a kind of treacly, feel good catch all out of context. Jordan Fisher’s Mark was adorable, Vanessa Hudgens continues to remind us all that Kenny Ortega did a really good job picking some top tier musical theater talent back in the day for High School Musical, and of course Brandon Victor Dixon brought the house down as Collins. (They were the MVPs, but also Keala Settle as the “Seasons” soloist and the rest of the cast was uniformly good.)

But the real kicker came with the finale. Finally moving into live mode, after the new cast sang through “Finale B,” (the overlapping of “Without You,” and “Life Support” reaching it’s breathtaking energetic conclusion with a projection of Jonathan Larson’s smiling face blessing the whole enterprise.) the chords of “Seasons Of Love” began anew, and the original Broadway cast ran onstage and my heart burst.

Even that raised my hackles in places. Idina sings the female solo? Why? (I know why! But seriously, world, she’s amazing and I love her, but we need to Let It Go!) Daphne and Fredi got to riff on the final, “measure your life,” but only Jesse got to sing out of the boys.  (Mostly I’d like to see Adam and Anthony, but also Wilson and Taye!) (Also, though, Jesse and Brandon singing together should be illegal. Nothing that beautiful should exist.)

As I meditated on this beautiful, perfect, stupid, problematic mess, I realized, that the thing about Rent, and why theater nerd kids love it so much, is that it is us. It’s an unlikely creature, optimistic and nihilistic, heartbreaking and silly, and refusing to be tamped down and shut up. The universe doesn’t seem to want Rent but we don’t care. Jonathan Larson died before he could really finish it. The movie crackles with possibility despite iffy choices all around. Rent: Live almost didn’t happen because of a star injury. People continue to take it apart and say it’s dated, but it persists.

So, Thank You, Jonathan Larson. Your last breaths have given a couple of generations of kids a way to articulate something that’s inside of them and that’s really worthwhile.

The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation! 

Grown Ups Always Forget

Mary Poppins Returns

There are moments during Mary Poppins Returns where it feels like the whole precarious exercise is about to go off the rails and Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda pull it back from the brink with sheer charm.

Like the very large shoes the pair are stepping into, Blunt and Miranda are just so damn likable, you find yourself fully tapped in to this movie, even when it maybe doesn’t all hang together cleanly.

There are genuine joys in this movie. “Imagine That,” Mary Poppins’s first number with the new generation of Banks children is a technical wonder and Blunt delivers it beautifully. A few of the songs get the music box style quality of The Sherman Brother’s on point, though I’m perhaps a little bit too familiar with Mark Shaiman’s style to not see the seams there.(Hairspray! And also Smash….but mostly Hairspray…) “The Cover Is Not The Book,” uses it’s music hall styling to organically allow Miranda to rap. (I mean, they hired the man, they had to find a way to work it in, right?)

I didn’t quite connect to grown up Michael’s story, which involved losing his wife and giving up his artistic dreams to go to work at Fiduciary Fidelity Bank in order to support his young children. (And taking out a loan on the house. Michael had a lot going on.) But I adored Jane’s story, which has her picking up her mother’s social justice causes (Mrs. Banks was a sufragette you may recall) as a union organizer,  and resuming what must have been a lovely teenage flirtation with Miranda’s Jack.

The new kids, John, Annabelle and Georgie are sweethearts, forced to grow up before their time due to the family’s financial difficulties. Colin Firth is the villainous banker trying to foreclose on the Banks house which is a perfectly fine use of him, I guess. A few other cameos do the hard work of selling that this is the same world, that’s just moved on a bit. Even if it’s very clear that Angela Lansbury’s balloon lady was clearly written with Julie Andrews in mind.

Rankings:

  1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
  2. Aquaman
  3. The Incredibles 2
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody
  5. A Star Is Born
  6. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  7. Creed 2
  8. Mary Poppins Returns
  9. Deadpool 2
  10. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  11. Ocean’s 8
  12. Infinity War
  13. Ant-Man And The Wasp
  14. Venom

Trailers:

Many the same as Spider-Verse, but also The Lion King! Which, I will see. Whether I like it or not is a different conversation, but I’ll see it.

1+1=3

There’s a moment towards the end of Springsteen On Broadway where The Boss, after talking about the darkness of our times, the difficulties of absorbing the world as it is right now after making a study of the American soul over the course of his life, and his hope in the youth of our country, plays the mournful Grapes Of Wrath themed masterpiece of a ballad “The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” and the lights go out, as he finishes, and they turn blue as they switch back on, and he plays, “The Rising.” It’s a moment of art and wonder, symbolising the fall and rebirth of the American dream, the inevitability of each generation. It’s a beautifully artistic moment bringing you into the end of an evening where things that were infinitely familiar to me, were stripped down, re contextualized and elevated.

I was born, and I was a Bruce Springsteen fan. I was baptized twice, once with water and Chrism and once in the surf of The Jersey Shore (which, Bruce assures us, he invented, pretty much.) (He also assures us, several times throughout the evening that he’s full of shit.) At fifteen I stood before a bishop and took a new name, confirming my place as an adult in the church, but the year before I’d heard Clarence whale the sax on “Thunder Road,” confirming my life long love of this music.

Springsteen On Broadway is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and that includes the ten or so times I’ve seen the man perform live before. The stripped down arrangements of the music, the sheer raw intimacy of the thing, is beyond compare. It’s uplifting and emotionally exhausting, and a singularly illuminating look into a mind of artist, who’s work has meant so much to me.

Anyway, the show goes onto Netflix in 10 days, and I’m immensely grateful for the chance to see it live. (Even if my credit card company isn’t.) I’m sure I’ll watch it many more times, because it’s deeply moving and truly special, an essential entry for any Springsteen fan.

Any Way The Wind Blows

Bohemian Rhapsody.jpg

Like many people my age, I first came to the incredible power of the music of Queen in the movies. I was born in 1987. I fell for “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” during The Mighty Ducks, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” during Wayne’s World.

Which is why sitting as the lights when down in Bohemian Rhapsody  yesterday, it felt, right, to be hearing it there.

Bohemian Rhapsody is getting dinged for being a by the numbers biopic. It definitely is, which also makes me kind of a sucker for it, since along with “heists,” and “lady with a fancy job,” “musician biopic,” is one of my favorite genres of movie.

Here are some things that I didn’t expect in this movie, to cry during the recording of “We Will Rock You,” to cry pretty much the whole back half of the movie, and for Gwylim Lee to possibly have shapeshifted into Brian May…

Obviously the story of Freddie Mercury has the beats of many many rock star stories. Reinvention, desperation, loneliness, debauchery, redemption. This is the myth arc of these men. (And Stevie Nicks) His diverges a bit, of course, because of his cultural background (Farsi Zoroastrian), his sexuality, (One of the greatest queer icons of all time) and his tragic death from AIDS.

The movie is also a tough pill, because of it’s director, who is one of those men who’s name we no longer speak after this year, although, being very familiar with that man’s previous work, this feels nothing like it. Which supports the narrative that he didn’t really direct the movie at all, pretty much excepted at this point.

Rami Malek’s performance is moving in the extreme, and the cast around him, a bevy of British TV actors who’s faces I’m always glad to see. (Aiden Gillan is going to go a long way playing smiling men who you’re not sure if you should trust or not. I despised Paul Prenter so much by the end that I had to watch like six episodes of Downton Abby to remind myself I once loved Allen Leech so…)

But overall, this music what it got into me again. Not that this is hard, it’s music that’s always with me. Leading crowds at football and baseball games with foot stomps and claps for “We Will Rock You,” as a cheerleader, singing Freddie’s part in “Under Pressure” with my sister at karaoke. (Mary is always Bowie. ALWAYS) Arms wrapped around my cast mates at parties swaying to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” twirling and laughing to “Don’t Stop Me,” with my college friends at parties.

Maybe it’s the theater kid in me, but seeing something that’s inside of you dramatized feels incredibly powerful.

Rankings

  1. The Incredibles 2
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody
  3. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  4. Deadpool 2
  5. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  6. Ocean’s 8
  7. Infinity War
  8. Ant-Man And The Wasp

Trailers:

The Mule – “I reject everything about this movie” – Aless (I’ll probably wind up watching it when it hits HBO, because I find Clint Eastwood’s directing fascinating)

Rocket Man – Ooohh, bring on the sparkles Elton. BRING THEM ON!

Widows –Oh, sure, yeah, gritty heist movie starring Viola Davis, I’m gonna skip that. (/s)