Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top Songs of 2006

It was a great year for music. If 2005 was marked by a resurgence of Coldplay and their signature exquisite agony and remorse, 2006 was marked by my return to the gym, and the house music, thumping bass lines, and shrieking women that came with it. This year's music was a lot faster than last year's. Timbaland was the major force behind most of the songs I loved, and you could find in gym class or on the treadmill to pretty much every one.

10. Ciara, "Get Up" - Your typical Jazze Phe/Ciara classic. Crunky. A great variety of stuff in this song, from the verses to smooth bridge to the chorus to Chamillionaire's great verse. This was the first song of my hip hop class, so maybe it's here for sentimental reasons. "To the city boys she fine and pretty / in the country boys she fine and purdy."

9. Dixie Chicks, "Voice Inside My Head" - I like country songs that tell stories, and this one offers a spare tale of a woman evaluating the choices she has made ("I've got a place, got a husband and a child") and the mistakes that may have followed ("but I'll never forget, what I've given up in you"). It was interesting to hear in the months preceding the wedding, but it's catchy and great, and I love the wurlitzer in the background.

8. TI, "Why You Wanna"
- What I love about rap songs with a great beat is, I get to look forward to learning the words. So when TI jacked Crystal Waters' old music for his song, I was pumped. It's smooth, low-key, and it only took a couple weeks for me to rock out the second verse. This was my favorite song at the time of the wedding, and when my alarm went off on the morning of the big day, the radio started playing, with perfect timing, the start of the verse. A sign from above.

7. Cassie, "Me & You" - I heard this for the first time at The Beach club in Vegas with James, and I turned to him and said, this is kind of awesome. Spare, creepy, with classic r&B adlibs and stylings. The harmonies are almost unpleasant, the overall tone kind of sinister, and I haven't stopped listening to it since May.

6. Beyonce, "Deja Vu" - Most people seemed to disagree, but I thought this song was a great followup to "Crazy in Love." The horns were great, Jay-Z's verse was excellent, and she sang it really well. Did you see her on the BET awards in June? I think it was the sickest live performance I have ever seen. I sort of expected her to drop dead, or physically combust, once she reached the peak of the song.

5. Robin Thicke, "Wanna Love You" - this song became an anthem to me. Another white singer doing R&B, with a classic Neptunes beat. Although the song is sometimes a bit somnolent, Pharrell's rap kicks it back up. The lyrics are good too: "she's the kind of girl you wanna marry / science would say that she's a second sunshine / and now my life is sweeter than berries / I guess if we had sex our love would turn to wine." I love wine!

4. Pussycat Dolls, "Beep" - Usually I hate the Black Eyed Peas, but hit it out of the park with this track. Great use of strings and heavy instrumentation, smart lyrcis, more bantering back and forth. And the video is hot.

3. Unknown, "Evergreen" - I can't find this song on iTunes or anywhere else. It's not the shitty 1970s ballad by Barbra Streisand (an alarming discovery at first), but it's a treacly ballad nonetheless, converted into a heart-pounding, irresistible house beat that is completely unrelenting. This was the first and best song I learned from the gym - it's great and still makes me work a little harder. The ballad version on iTunes is not indicative of the song's quality at all. L laughed derisively when I played it for her.

2. Nelly Furtado, "Promiscuous" - I hated this song the first few times I heard it (in the car in Vegas), but by the end of the weekend I was growing to love it. It's clever, funny, and sexy. The beat is undeniable. I feel like there's this totally basement-level rhythm of the song that I alwasy get hooked into - this syncopated beat that I have to follow every time. Also, this song turned out to be the main dancing highlight of the wedding (the other one being, when we were having our first dance to "Ribbon in the Sky" and I realized everyone was watching us very intently, so instead of having a shared intimate moment we sort of tried to entertain everyone, dancing-wise).

1. Justin Timberlake, "My Love" - This song was preordained to be my all-time favorite of the year the first time I heard it. The first fifteen seconds or so are unbelievable, and it only gets better: eight interwoven vocal tracks announce "Aint another woman that can take your spot my--", and then: dununu dununu dununu dununu, dununu dununu dununu dununu, dununu dununu dununu dununu DUH DUH DUH - DUH - DUH. The lyrics are smart, plaintive, Timbaland's contribution ("So don't give away my") essential, and TI's rap is awesome and good-spirited and fun. You should see me snarling down the street as I mouth the words on the ipod. I love this track, and I have loved loving this track.

This would be one hell of a mixtape. Also, before we put a close on the year, I would also note my favorite albums of the year: JT's, obviously, John Mayer's "Continuum," and Dixie Chicks' "Taking the Long Way." It's been a great year.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Justin's new song

This is one of the highlights from last week's SNL - Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake's awesome new song. I love this on two levels: 1) it's hilarious and 2) it's an actual song I would enjoy if I heard it on the radio.

Let me tell you, 1990s-style R&B is enjoying a real Renaissance right now. Not to mention how foxy Kristin Wiig is looking right here.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I just finished exam # 3 of 4. They have all had moments of gruesomeness, and confusion. Today, for example, the first thing to do was read ten quotations and then identify them and write a couple sentences about each. I started scanning them all, and I recognized....not that one.....huh, what's that.....I don't know what that word means.....shit. I recognized one out of ten. I felt that weird warm prickle across my sides and knew that my body was revving up for fight or flight mode. Three hours later, my brain had impressed me with its depths and I had gotten most of them, although I guess on two.

Haven't been sleeping well this week, either. Six hours, tops, plus a lot of intermittent waking up, lying in bed wondering what time it is. Last night L and I were strolling down the street hand in hand, when we saw a small gaggle of old people crossing the street, against the light. A taxi came blitzing down the road, beeping, and the old people darted in slow motion to the other side. Then they started going off: "That cab was rude! Did you hear him beeping at us! I can't believe that!" Suddenly I found myself yelling at them: "HE HAD THE LIGHT!" Why was I talking? They didn't hear me, thankfully, but my hand was tight on L's. "What are you doing?" she asked. "I don't know," I said. And I didn't know.

I thought this exam period would be easier than last year's, but it really hasn't. I'll be done on Monday. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, so this period of ratty sleep, hysterical laughter, and yelling at pedestrians will end soon.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Best Books of 2006

I was reviewing the list of books I read for pleasure this year, and these are the ones I loved the most. In chronological order:

The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carre
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilentz
Sophie's Choice by William Styron
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

and, the book I am currently reading, which is phenomenal and a great finish to the year:

Look At Me by Jennifer Egan

There's a lot to be said about each of these books. The Budnitz collection has some of the creepiest and most unnerving short fiction I've ever read. The Le Carre helped me get through that godawful pre-marriage Catholic retreat weekend upstate. The Wilentz memoir was my companion through an amazing few days in Utah and Nevada with James. The Smith and Ford novels reminded me of the gifts and power of two of the best people writing today.

All in all, I think Sophie's Choice was the best book I read all year. The scope of this book astounded me: from the Auschwitz to post-war Brooklyn to my beloved Virginia. At times I felt the narrator, a young man, was me. Styron created characters with such depth, so many layers... the book was ambitious and precise and humane, I loved it.

William Styron died this year, a couple of months after I read the book. I read his other big book, The Confessions of Nat Turner, in 2002 and was similarly dazzled. Now I can't wait to read his other work, especially Lie Down in Darkness and Darkness Visible. On to 2007!

Coming soon: top songs of the year. And believe me, I have been thinking about this selection for a long time.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Saul Bellow, I have failed you

Yesterday I reached the 250-page mark in Saul Bellow's novel, "The Adventures of Augie March," and I bailed. The book has never grabbed me; it's a meandering, picaresque plot, which I don't like; there are 300 pages to go; the book was sapping my energy, making me feel guilty; and it's finals time, and I want to read something more fun. Still, when I bought the book the lady at the bookstore really encouraged me and told me to stick with it, so last night when I returned to the bookstore I felt the need to apologize and make amends to her. She clearly didn't care. "That's why they publish more than one book!" she said. Ok, lady. No need to make me feel like an idiot.

Last night at the movie theatre there was a mouse running around, along the aisle and under the seats. Everyone was shrieking and looking around, everyone lifted their legs so they were against the seats rather than on the floor. Every once in a while someone would jump or make a noise and everyone would look around to find the varmint. The great thing was, nobody wigged out and had a fit; everyone laughed, and people said, "Only in New York!" And, it added another level of entertainment for the movie, which was kind of grim and pessimistic, even though I still liked it ("Flannel Pajamas," for those keeping score, a movie that I can't imagine anyone who lives anywhere else but here going to see).

I am in the library now for the day, and will be here all day, just like yesterday, and perhaps like tomorrow. It's finals time! Time to drink a lot of water, eat three cookies ever three hours to perk myself up, exercise as often as possible, use YouTube as my own personal 1990s jukebox, and remember to fidget to burn calories and maintain blood flow. Finaaaaaaals.