Wednesday, September 20, 2006

CD Review: FutureSex/LoveSounds

Last week we bought the new Justin Timberlake CD, "FutureSex/LoveSounds." When I learned several months ago that he was coming out with a new album, I was pretty darn excited. His last release was pretty much the soundtrack to my life, 2002-04, and it helped me come to the realization that, musically speaking, I *am* Justin Timberlake. If I made music, it would be like the music he makes. Now, when I say "I *am* Justin Timberlake," I don't mean that in a creepy way. I just mean that his music says what I would say, in the way I would say it, with approximately the same approach to love and life. I can't be John Mayer, because he has a slight trace of weenie in him and is presumably not much of a dancer. I can't be Eric Benet, because I haven't failed at as many relationships as he has, nor have I spent intimate time with Halle Berry. I can't be Stevie Wonder, because I'm not blind. But, I *am* Justin Timberlake. That's not creepy, right? Right?

Anyways, onto the music. The entire album is a seamless collaboration with Timbaland, music producer extraordinaire and a Virginian to boot. The disc creates this synthetic whorl of beeps and rising scales and pushing bass lines, kind of Prince, kind of Bowie, capped off with Justin singing pretty darn well. He's got a pretty unique voice that is aptly suited for the somewhat robotic and futurey nature of Timbaland's beats - he brings some life to it. There are several interludes on the album that offer extended introductions to some of the tracks, or serve as mini-remixes of others. The constant interactions with Timbaland makes the album kind of like a buddy movie, two guys on the prowl looking for love, and their easy friendship is pretty awesome too. It reminded me of me and my friends when we're in a bar. I'm sure as I listen to the album more I'll figure out some other awesome aspects to it - as it is now, it's just great listening to quality music that I know I will memorize, and quick.

The songs are all fantastic, but the second single, "My Love," is definitely my early favorite. It is simply awesome - it's got me bopping down the street, lip-syncing in the hallways, suppressing a dance face as I strut to school every day. I don't think I've loved a song this much since... I don't know. But it's the kind of song I can hear over and over again, which I am reluctant to do because then I will grow to resent it and hate it, like a friend you meet on the first day of school and then gradually realize you loathe. I don't want to loathe this song.

Anyways, this album is killer. Looking over this post I realize I look a little creepy, but deal with it. It's a great album, it's black music by a white person with talent and a sense of humor and a certain sense of rhythm and style, and that's all you could want. FutureSex/LoveSounds - a great album with kind of a stupid title. Maybe a better one would have been, "Songs by Justin relating to Mike." But not in a creepy way.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years later

It is a rare day that begins in sadness and ends in some state of happiness or satisfaction. I was eager to wake up early today, to be alert and respectful for the moments of silence and to watch all the memorials on tv. So we got up and turned on the telly and watched the spouses of the victims reading names. My throat hitched when one woman lamented the death of her fiance - they never even had a chance. I looked at the photos on the Washington Post site from that horrible, indelible day: people peering out from the windows of one of the towers, trapped above the impact area; people emerging from the dusty caverns of lower Manhattan soaked in feasrsome gray ash; a man tumbling heels over head from his previous perch in the building; people holding candles in vigils across the world.

We are five years removed from that, but the sadness and anger remain. This was horrible on a micro, personal level -- the lives lost, the fear, the last cellphone calls, the decisions to fall from the twin towers rather than be consumed within them. Yet it was also horrible on a larger level, in the bitter fruits it has bestowed on our body politic: a misguided war, cynical manipulations of the truth, the politicization of national tragedy, Orwellian contortions of language: "terrorism," "patriot act," "homeland," to say nothing of the ubiquitous flag lapel pin, now a symbol of jingoism and political ideology. Yet the worst part of all is that there has been no redemptive moment for this entire ordeal; nothing good has emerged, no justice has been done, yet our country has paid a price in its liberty, security, youth, optimism, national character and hope. And we have not yet been redeemed.

Tonight I was walking home, towards the two towers of light jetting upwards from lower Manhattan to commemorate the day. They reached so high above that I felt aware of the curvature of the earth. I considered that five years ago, these streets were filled with ash and billowing smoke and utter confusion, and yet tonight I saunter down these same roads, towards the same ground that witnessed the horror.

People on the sidewalks around me were eating dinner and talking and laughing. They were taking photos of the lights. Everyone was aware of what this day means, but life endures anyway. Pain becomes more bearable, perhaps anger turns into patience and peace. One day New Yorkers are fleeing up from the streets of lower Manhattan with crashing buildings at their backs; another day you walk back down, towards home, after the smoke has dissipated and with a strong light to guide your way.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It always ends like this

It always ends like this: too much wine, not enough of whatever else I am seeking.... why can't there be more time for conversation, why can't there be more wine to drink, more night to explore, more time to endure. L is gone for the weekend, I've had a great evening with Ashesh (dinner, drinks with law school types, SNL and cab savignon) yet it always ends like this. I love my apartment, I love my life, I miss my wife, and the sum total of all is this feeling of bittersweet/wistfulness/nostalgia. Wistfulness -- can I just say wist? Is that a word? It should be.

How about this: Wist - melancholy, the way you feel once the party is done, the feeling you have when you are tired and perhaps drunk (definitely drunk) but when you ardently wish that the party could continue. Wist - knowing happiness and missing it? The emotion you wish you could recapture, the emotion you are too impatient to wait for. Don't end sentences on a preposition, Mr. Dunn, but on the plus side, you used the word "ardently" in a sentence somewhat correctly. Has "ardently" ever popped into your head before? Why, no, actually it hasn't, so good for me.

How about this for wist: the pleasure, the deep and painful and irrepressible and addictive pleasure of missing the happiness you've known and the people you've loved. How about this: L, come home, baby, I miss you. James, come back so we can eat burritos and drink and watch tv and laugh at this life. Russell, Patrick, Trish, Kateri, come back and let us live our young days again. (You know, one time my 2nd year of school I was walking with Russell to the Treehouse from Dobie, to get a late night snack, and there was a wounded bird or insect on the sidewalk, and Russell took the time to move the injured and dying thing off the sidewalk and into the relative safety of the shrubbery and underbrush, and that's when I knew we would be friends.) And how about this: Mom Dad Kels Grandma Pap Pap Grammy Grampy, come here and let me redeem the love and pride you've invested in me...

Sometimes I feel that I am too weak a vessel to contain everything within me: good intentions in a paper grocery bag. Indefatigable. Nonsensical. Does anyone even read this shit any more?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Stop being polite

I was running today, thinking about my marriage and the life choices I've made, and the bright future that lies ahead of me, and I had a realization: I can't be on "The Real World" anymore. I know, I know, I aged out of the "RW" demographic about a year and a half ago, but my main concern today was that they never cast married people on the show. How would that even work, anyway? I guess L could come to visit for a weekend, the way other Real Worlders' significant others do, but I think she might be a little angry that I was leaving for four months to live in some Ikea-furnished loft and work in some menial yet trendy capacity (tanning salon, sailboat minion, drug mule). I bet our visit would actually be not that fun, now that I think about it.

I think I would have had a lot to contribute. I would have been a moderating force in the house, and my narrative interviews would have been witty, insightful, and humorous. I would have helped people be on time to work and I always would have pitched in with household chores. I could have made a chore wheel, if my roommates thought that would be useful. And maybe I would have learned something from them, too, about my own latent racism or sexism or homophobia. I would have taught my roommates about reading for pleasure.

So I guess that boat has passed. I always hoped I would have had the "This is the true story" line of the opening credits. The glory days of the show are well behind it -- I wouldn't want to participate in its current iteration of booze + hot tub + STI outbreak -- but it would have been fun. I've been watching that show since I was too young to be on it, I relished the golden era when the roommates were truly my peers, and now I offer them a wistful look back as an older brother figure, a mentor. Do they need an RA on that show? Because I could definitely do that.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Family conversation

L and I spent the weekend in Virginia, attending a big party my mom organized to introduce L to the extended family. Since a lot of my mom's cousins and aunts and uncles weren't invited to the big show, she wanted to organize a family party to make sure there were no hard feelings. It was her first effort at a big multigenerational gathering, and she did quite well, so I was happy for her.

It has been a weird summer for the family. There were three big events: my mom's uncle had a major, $270-million dollar water treatment plant named after him (you know, standard stuff, really), so there was a big reception and party for that; then, my 40-year old cousin died after a long and horrible battle with cancer; and then I got married. I went home at the end of July for my cousin's funeral, but hadn't seen most of the attendees at my mom's party since then.

People were passing around a photo album with pictures from the water treatment plant party. There was one skinny, dark-skinned guy there who I didn't recognize; he had a mustache and was sitting in a large armchair for most of the shots, with people wrapping an arm around him or holding his hand. "Who's dating the Indian guy," is what I thought. Of course, this was my cousin -- I didn't recognize him with a mustache, and much more profoundly, his kidney failure (?) had lent a horrible yellowish tint to his skin color. He looked awful.

Well, this scenario provided the scene for a perfect storm of conversational awkwardness in our kitchen. My grandma was looking at the photo album, and chatting with someone about that, while a cousin of mine, balancing a toddler on her hip who was trying to clamber all over her, spoke about her kids. This is how it went down:

Grandma: These photos are hard to look at.

Cousin Whoever (with the kid): I tell you, this little guy loves food.

Grandma: I just can't believe anyone could look this awful. It's just awful.

Cousin Whoever: At Christmas, he dragged a chair in front of the food - he didn't even want to open presents!

Grandma: I think they should just keep these photos separate. You just with there was something you could do for him.

Cousin Whoever: I mean, take him to Old Country Buffet, or Sizzler! He just wants something to eat! Come on! [rueful laughter]

At this point, thankfully, the conversations veered away from each other, and the horrible conflation of cancer and hungry toddlers. But at this point I was also trying to figure out how I could unobtrusively light my mom's tablecloth on fire so that everyone would switch to a new topic.

As people were leaving, everyone was happy to meet L and glad that they family had reunited so often this last year. They all looked forward to seeing people more often, as the new generation (mine) started getting married, having kids, etc. Later that night we were opening gifts that people weren't supposed to bring, and the mother of my cousin who passed away had given us a Christmas ornament of his -- "a special delivery from Heaven," as the card said. Apparently she is spreading his belongings throughout the family, so that no one will forget him. But his absence this weekend was a current underlying the entire event, and there is no chance we would or could forget him.

I don't know, this is a rough topic. When this was all happening over the summer I thought about reflecting on everything here, but it was too much to get into, and I don't think now is the time either. Family is a whole mess o' stuff, though, ain't it?