Friday, January 20, 2012

Music Review: Chris Young's Neon

With Chris Young’s third contribution to country music, titled Neon, he leaves the ladies wishing “Tomorrow” will never come. This twenty-six-year-old country singer/song writer is more than a baritone voice, energetic personality and striking stature that makes Wranglers and a Stetson look better than they should.
          Young, the winner of Nashville Star in 2006, struggled to find a look and sound of his own. Mistaken for an unauthentic good ol’ boy, his musical future seemed dim. The gripping emotion that was slightly repressed in Young’s first two albums bursts through with lush and charismatic vigor in Neon; he pours his soul into his lyrics.
Young is no stranger to rowdy drinking songs, but with the aid of his boyish charm, he consistently projects a wholesome image. Ironically in the bouncy “Save Water, Drink Beer”—a track about a small town coping during a drought—he radiates the appearance of the fun-loving boy-next-door.
It’s the sensitive and often sincerely romantic tracks that showcase the Tennessee-born singer’s deep moral code and subsequently penetrate listeners’ radar. “She’s Got This Thing about Her” is one of the most poignant tunes with a simple, yet elegant piano and violin melody embracing magnetic lyrics. Young charmingly attempts to explain how a special someone has captured his heart. With lines describing her as reminding him of “a hymn in a cathedral hall/watching April snowflakes fall”, it’s no wonder he was named country music’s most eligible bachelor.
 Young admirably plays the voice of reason in a smooth ballad titled “Don’t Leave Her if You Can’t Let Her Go”. He implores a wayward buddy to mend a troublesome relationship with lyrics as stirring as “If you can’t stand to see her dancing in someone else’s arms/well that’s all you need to know.” Young claimed four consecutive number one hits with his distinctive voice—as smooth and strong as a dusty bottle of Scotch—paired with hearty, relatable lyrics.
 Even in Young’s upbeat and rather feisty “I Can Take it From There”, lustful lyrics come across tenderly and are never crass. In this hit, he less than subtly pledges that running around town isn’t nearly as enticing as staying in with the promise of other physical pursuits. The playful whining of the steel guitar and toe-tapping percussion harmonized with the cheeky hook, “…baby, while you’re at it, you might as well let down your hair/and I can take it from there”, is lively and will leave you feeling giddy.
The first single released from Neon, a ballad simply, yet fittingly titled “Tomorrow”, has had fans loyally clicking the buy button on iTunes. This lovely melody, paired with emotionally evocative lyrics, will pluck at your heartstrings. Young begins by listing reasons why he should walk away from his current relationship. With provocative prose like these: “We’re like fire and gasoline…we only bring each other tears and sorrow”, he seduces his listeners into thinking he’s halfway out the door, only to soulfully add, “But tonight, I’m gonna love you like there’s no tomorrow.” (500 Words)

Character Review: Sheldon Cooper

“You’re in my spot!” is what Sheldon Cooper, the breakout character of The Big Bang Theory, would accuse if he found you encroaching on the left cushion of the couch. Toting degrees stacked higher than his inspiring comic book collection, Sheldon is a multifaceted blend of a child prodigy turned inflexible scientist—loveable and exasperating. Sheldon eclipses the other characters with obsessive-compulsive ease. He’s socially inept, obscenely, yet innocently lacks humility, and possesses a snazzy collection of superhero t-shirts.
According to Sheldon, romantic relationships are baffling, repulsive and reek of “unnecessary touching.” He’d much rather spend the evening with his label maker, quoting Spock, or playing Klingon Boggle. Knowledgeable about everything but vexing social situations, Sheldon’s unwitting and reluctant journey to understanding sarcasm is brilliant. His sober alterations of misogynistic slang: “male comrades before women who sell their bodies for money” are matchless. Trademarked by his “classic pranks” and his coinage of “Bazinga!”, it’s as if Sheldon exists in a universe all his own.
Ever a creature of habit, Sheldon transforms into a tantrum-wielding toddler when his routine is disrupted (always knock three times, “laundry night” is Saturday at 8:15 and pizza is to be eaten on Thursdays). Labeled “one lab accident away from being a super-villain,” by his roommate, Sheldon excels in his antagonistic glory. His peculiar facial expressions, derisive snorts and over-the-top idiosyncrasies will suck you in and ensure your gravitation toward the next Sheldon-centric episode where someone will inexorably touch his food or sit in his spot. (250 words)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Brother's Favorite Game

“Girls only pretend to know anything about football.” My brother, Mark, complained to the gym junkie moonlighting as a bartender. If his nametag was accurate, his name was Kyle.

“That’s not true, I know quite a bit about football,” I countered, swirling the umbrella in my Shirley Temple.

“Oh you do?” Kyle winked at me. “Who’s your team?” he asked.

Mark cleared his throat while trying to hide his smirk. He’d set it up perfectly; it would be a slam dunk.

“Hmm.” I pretended to think for a moment, “Well, who’s your favorite team?” I asked with enthusiasm.

Shot glass in hand and a knowing smile on his face, Kyle leaned forward to say, “I’m a Bears fan.” He clearly expected me to mimic his answer.

 This was too easy.

“Oh, well, then the Packers are my team.” Leaning back and feigning innocence, I watched his face crunch up in confusion at the name of his prized team’s rivals.

It took him a moment, and whether he was just brighter than the other two bartenders who’d been victims of our bored little game or if it was the way Mark was giggling like a school girl, Kyle caught on quickly.

Mark and I had been playing this game since high school. It never got old.

“And if I said I liked the Cowboys?” Kyle squinted his eyes as he spoke.

“Redskins of course.” I shrugged.




“Trick question. That’s college.”

“You’re good.”

“I know.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Forgiveness of a Dying Man

I didn’t want to see him that day, even after I heard that the elevator motor fell on his head while he was at work. Especially after I knew how bad it was. Because I knew I’d feel something for him. How could I not? I’d have to be heartless not to feel sympathetic. But I really didn’t want to feel anything. It was the first job he’d kept for longer than a month and a half and he’d shown up drunk. Again. Besides the extensive head trauma, he also broke his collarbone and right shoulder. And there I was, still so full of hate.

 But when a wet cheeked and red eyed Dean came out of his brother’s hospital room and said “He asked to see you.” My stomach dropped and my face heated up with what I think was embarrassment. I don’t know why I was embarrassed, I just was. Like a spotlight was shining on me and everyone was watching. I pulled Ryan, Dean’s nephew, closer as he was drifting to sleep on my lap. His little fingers stroked the hair framing my face. He knew his father had been in an accident, but he didn’t know his father.

I wanted to say “Why in the Hell would he want to see me?”, but I could see the anguish in Dean’s eyes as he scooped Ryan off of my lap and cradled him in the crook of one arm. So I stood up and reluctantly entered Austen’s room. For everything he’d endured, he was surprisingly alert. I’d expect someone who’d had any part of an elevator crush their skull to be in a coma. But this was worse, I would imagine. Lying there, knowing your brain could be filling with blood or fluid, that you might be brain-dead in days, hours, seconds.

It reminded me of three years ago when Austen came by his parents’ house unexpectedly, strapped two-year-old Ryan in the back seat and disappeared with his current girlfriend riding shotgun. They surfaced three days later when Dean got a phone call about the car accident. Austen had been drunk and hit another vehicle. He and his girlfriend had walked away with a few bruises and cuts. We weren’t sure if Ryan was going to make it; he was so small, and he’d been thrown from the car. Austen had blamed his girlfriend. If she hadn’t liked kids, he’d have never come for Ryan. I believed that part of his mostly convoluted story.

 When Ryan was six months old, his mother met a Marine and moved away. Austen showed no interest in the baby. He left Ryan with his parents and a lot of the responsibility fell on Dean and subsequently on me. But for being twenty, we really didn’t mind. Sure, it took away some of our freedom, at times it felt like a burden. But what we got in return was so much more than the time we invested in dirty diapers, Disney movies and Dr. Seuss books. Ryan loves us, more than we probably ever deserved to be loved.

 And then Austen almost killed him.

 Ryan healed, over time. But my hatred of Austen didn’t waver. It might not be my place to care so much for Ryan. I’m not his mother. But when Austen walked out, leaving the responsibility on anyone who’d take it, he made it my place.

“Hey,” Austen said when I didn’t sit in the chair that was pulled up to his bedside. His voice was strained, but I remember thinking it was a miracle he could speak at all.

“Dean said you wanted to see me.” I said, my indifferent facade wavering like I knew it would. It’s easy to loathe someone when they’re away. But when they’re lying helpless in a hospital bed, with tubes and red stained bandages, and looking so much like someone you love, it’s hard to keep other emotions from creeping in.

“I was just,” was what he hoarsely whispered, but then stopped. I thought maybe he was having a hard time remembering what he wanted to say. Then I realized he was trying not to cry.

That was when I sat down. I didn’t take his hand as I would if he were someone else. It would have been forced and he would have known. But he seemed to understand that I was willing to listen to whatever he wanted to say.

 “Thank you,” he finally said. And I nodded slowly, because I knew what he meant.

 “He’s a good kid,” was my only response. I pressed my fingers to my bottom lip to distract myself from the tears that threatened to spill from my eyes.

I should have said more, I think. I should have told him how sorry I was that he was hurt. And I truly am. I wouldn’t want anyone to be in pain. But that didn’t mean I forgave him for what he did to Ryan, for always putting alcohol and a good time before his son. I wasn’t ready to do that, yet.

But later that night, I did say a prayer for him. It wasn’t because I thought I had to. It wasn’t contrived. I meant it. I prayed that he’d get better, in more ways than one. And that maybe one day, I could let go of the hate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

And There’s *Gasp* No Dialog. Haha

This is different than anything I’ve ever written, but I figured it’s good to try something new once in a while.
The contrast between the two girls was stark. As they moved woefully, the petite blonde bowed her head in shameless regret. The solidly built brunette regarded the fog laden cemetery with a hallowed gaze. They gripped one another’s hand, their mouths drawn in sorrowful lines. Two equally dissimilar boys were poised protectively, far enough behind as not to disturb the moment of bereavement.
They were an unexpected congregation of unyielding solidarity.
The blonde’s knees sank to the moist, leaf spotted ground with a voiceless thud. Teardrops slid down pale cheeks as she swept the sodden orange and yellow hues from the common plaque. There were no extravagant headstones in this cemetery near the antiquated school. Her slender fingers quaked as she traced the name of the boy who’d lived just weeks before.
Short, dark curls swirled in the frosty air as the taller girl folded to the ground as well. She reached over, clearing a dank, rust colored leaf from the blonde’s shadowy, knee-length dress.
The boys’ dense steps massacring the already dying foliage intruded upon the otherwise muted moment. They remained standing, but their expressions were no less grim.
Finally the brunette rose. She summoned the watery eyed blonde whose restless palm remained atop the unforgiving slate. In silence the pair hovered above the forlorn resting place; their eyes held no peace. Once again they clasped hands as they glided beneath the watchful trees. The boys followed more closely than before. Leafless limbs swayed bleakly, leaning as if straining to gather whispered pleas beneath the wailing wind for all that had been lost.
 The wrought iron gate settled definitively behind the despondent visitors.              
They wouldn’t return.                               

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perhaps This is a Sign I Should Take Up Drinking.

 It wasn’t my proudest moment when I stormed into that party, swaddled in My Little Pony pajama pants and a Dale Earnhardt Jr. sweatshirt.

But it probably won’t be my worst, either.

A junior, named Topher who looked as if he could leap tall kegs in a single bound, yelled over the ridiculously loud song that was probably about aesthetically pleasing tractors, lost hound dogs, and unfaithful first, second and third wives. “ARE YOU HERE TO PARTY!?”

Dean shot me a pleading look that begged me not to cause a scene in front of his bros.

But alas, it was 2:45 A.M. and I was at a frat party in my pajamas. So, I glowered at Topher and gesture sarcastically toward my baby blue pants. “Do I look like I’m here to party?”

The poor boy just gave me a sad, befuddled look as if I’d spilled his beer, kicked his puppy and pushed his grandma down a flight of stairs.

Walk away.

Luckily the reason for which this hellish night had come to fruition was not difficult to locate. My cousin, Kristin, had called a half hour before—wasted out of her mind—requesting a ride home. She probably called because I’m the only person she knows who doesn’t drink and would be sober enough to drive. She was perched on a coffee table singing along in a pitch only a recently skinned cat could appreciate. She began fighting us when Dean offered a hand to help her down and I yanked on her rumpled jean skirt to cover the secrets even Victoria wouldn’t have shared.

Kristin exclaimed that she wasn’t finished partying—stopped, looked me up and down—and said, “What are you wearing?”

I probably would have thought of some witty retort about how “this is what all the designated drivers are wearing.” but she cut me off by announcing that she was being kidnapped.

Of course no one noticed her Jerry Springer worthy Karaoke show, but the word kidnapped had all the drunkards staring as if I—My Little Pony, for goodness sake—had hatched a plan to abduct my cousin.

When we finally escorted her out to the car, she less than gracefully flopped onto the passenger seat and then gave me the strangest look.

Before I could ask her what the problem was, she vomited all over the dashboard and floor.

Sheepishly, she said “I don’t think this is my car."

Perhaps this is a sign I should take up drinking.

Monday, October 31, 2011

And Then Someone Surprises Me.

Most days I wonder if we’ve lost all sense of compassion for one another. Specifically, I ponder this sort of thing while driving. You know those days when you just want to pull over on the shoulder and call a cab to take you home?

 Have you met the little old lady in the VW Bug? She flies around you, honking her horn, shaking her fist and displaying that one finger grandmas should never wag around in public? Or the pretty blonde who can’t seem to pick a lane because she’s too busy yelling at her cheating boyfriend via text message (probably in all caps), applying lip gloss, sipping her soy latte, and  fumbling around for the map quest directions she just knows she remembered to bring with her.  What about the boy who can’t be a day over sixteen in the lifted pick-up? He travels ten miles under the speed limit, black smoke billows out of his modified—to the point of being obnoxious—smoke stacks which seem to be at just the right height to asphyxiate you on your journey through the harbor tunnel. There’s usually a street racer somewhere behind you, too, but he’s so close and his car is so tiny that you can’t see him in your mirrors. And as if you haven't had enough fun for one day, he’s about to play chicken on the double yellow lines.

A few days ago I had the privilege of sharing the road with all of these people. But just about the point I was ready to tuck and roll into oncoming traffic or call that cab, I got stuck in a long line of traffic that inched toward the toll of the Key Bridge. If anything makes already frustrated drivers even more erratic and nonsensical, it’s being forced to sit still.

After about two hours and forty minutes of people honking and getting out of their vehicles to throw their arms in the air (as if that gesture would provide them with the knowledge of what was causing the holdup), I was next in line to go through the toll. There was a tractor trailer in front of me, so I couldn’t pull all the way up. When I glanced over to my left, there was a pickup truck sitting next to me, with his blinker on trying to merge in my lane. He was in the E-Z Pass lane and I assume he didn’t realize his mistake until it was nearly too late. When the truck in front of me moved, there was enough space to let the guy over. So, I wound down my window and waved to let him know it was okay to switch lanes. As the guy pulled over a round of horns sounded. The people behind me were not thrilled that I’d set them back another vehicle.

It was then that I really wondered about our society. Is everyone really so stressed out that helping someone who accidently got in the wrong lane will send them into an uproar? It saddened me to think that doing something nice for someone isn’t second nature, but tearing each other down seems almost automatic. I understand that everyone is in a hurry, but at what cost?

I was pleasantly surprised when it was my turn to go through the toll and the woman in the booth wouldn’t accept my two dollars. At first I thought she was merely signaling that she wasn’t ready yet. But as I sat there, still patiently holding my bills, she gave me an annoyed expression.

“That guy in front already paid for you.” She said loudly, waving me to pull forward.

Most days I wonder if we’ve lost all compassion for one another…

 And then someone surprises me.