Synthesizers, Sentiment and Salt In Old Wounds

I missed the memo about synthesizers, sentiment and salt in old wounds.

Recently, I’ve had the interesting and enjoyable experience of hearing a few new songs, and since I’m kind of stunted and dull when it comes to music, I find it totally extraordinary when I actually clue in to the particular beauty of a new (at least new to me) song.  I suppose what I’ve found really remarkable is that I’ve had a chance to experience different versions of the same songs, and it’s been interesting to reflect on the artistic and emotional punch each version packed.

Here, lemme esplain…

A few weeks ago, I was listening to KCRW, ’cause I’m cool like that, and I heard this Gotye song:

This guy’s voice snapped me out of my commuter coma because when he belted out the chorus, he sounded a bit like Peter Gabriel and I thought was cool.  Coincidentally, that very night, a friend posted a link to this video, Walk Off The Earth‘s  cover of the same song:

A very cool visual gimmick, sure.  But when I compared the two versions of the song, I found that I liked the stripped down acoustic version better.  It just seemed a bit more raw, whereas the version with the electronica, while still really good in my opinion, just doesn’t convey the same emotional intensity.

But consider the following…here’s Bruno Mars‘ impossibly sweet smash hit, Just The Way You Are (not to be confused with the Billy Joel song of the same name, which is also great, but in a different way).

Now take a listen to the Boyce Avenue cover of the same song:

Lovely, but in this instance, I think it’s the beat and the swells of synthesizers that make Bruno’s version better.  The acoustic version just doesn’t have the same energy, and when a guy is just busting at the seams to tell a girl how wonderful she is, I think the song he’d sing  would be kind of peppy.

And one more…check out these three adorable Swedish women making beautiful music with just their voices and empty cottage cheese containers:

And now Robyn’s version…

I like Robyn; she’s fun and energetic and anybody who is that blonde is probably just all kinds of awesome.  But her version of Call Your Girlfriend  leaves me a bit cold, whereas the Erato version, with its simplicity and beautifully apologetic tone, had me holding back an ugly cry.  It had me instantly remembering when I was the girlfriend who got a version of that call a long time ago.

In my case, the conversation came a little too late, as the young man in question had already fallen very hard for another girl, but couldn’t quite summon the courage, or didn’t have the compassion, to let me go.  We languished in limbo for a while and it just got kind of embarrassing.  It sucked being forsaken for another, but there was ultimately a comfort in understanding that the young man who broke my heart had done it for a good reason.  He had found his true love, his soul mate, his life partner. Last I heard, they’ve been married nearly twenty years and have a gazillion babies. This is all water which has long since flowed under the bridge, but I  appreciated the bit of painful nostalgia that this song evoked.  I considered it a bit of emotional scar revision, which can be a good thing.

So there you go.  Sometimes keyboards and a fun beat can elevate a simple song into an anthem, but sometimes the electronic bells and whistles are just distracting.  In any case, I’m glad I got the memo on all these songs…I think I’ll be humming my own versions for some time to come.  Memo received.


I missed the memo about hope.

Here in Los Angeles, Hope is a one way street. I kinda like that.

Call me Pollyanna, call me Candide, just don’t call me late for dinner.  I’ll admit it…I’m a pretty hopeless optimist.  I’ll even go so far as to make the following statement: 

 There is no such thing as false hope; all hope is true.
President Obama and I have the same birthday and apparently the same ineptitude when it comes to cynicism. Perhaps it’s astrological.

When I say that all hope is true, what I mean is that even when your hopes are disappointed, hope in and of itself is still good.  Hope is creative and emotionally productive in ways that make it an end unto itself. 

Let’s consider an example…let’s say you’ve applied for your dream job.  There’s only so much you can do to influence the hiring decision, and once you’ve done what you can do, you’re left alone with your own heart and head to wait for a decision.  And while you wait, you can hope.  You can envision your happiness and fulfillment in your new job and contemplate all the tangible and intangible rewards that might come your way if you get the offer.  Or, you can choose not to hope.  You can operate under the assumption that you are not getting an offer and therefore not entertain any notions of how the new job might change your life for the better.
Some might say a bit pessimism in the job search scenario noted above is just self-preservation.  After all, if rejection does come, the pessimistic person is better prepared, right?  But flip that frown upside down and contemplate that the hopeful person, just by hoping, becomes more prepared for their success.  (And while just hoping for something to happen doesn’t magically make it happen, when you hope, you might be vibrating the molecules of the universe in a particular way which helps to shape a happy outcome, but what the bleep do I know…)
While I generally take the Andy Dufresne approach to the positive power of hope, I did learn one disclaimer this morning when I was (shockingly!) listening to NPR.  I heard this story about a young Libyan man, Hisham Matar, whose father was kidnapped in 1990 and has not been seen or heard from since.  In describing how he has coped with this awful thing that happened he said:
‘Living in hope is a really terrible thing,’ Matar says. ‘People speak about hope most of the time as a very positive thing. … [But] it’s a very dispossessing thing, it’s a very difficult thing to live with. When you’ve been living in hope for a long time as I have, suddenly you realize that certainty is far more desirable than hope.’ 
Damn.  Doesn’t that just break your heart? So hope is awesome when there is a knowable timeline for getting an answer to what you’re hoping about.  But when it’s possible that you’ll never get an answer, then hope can become a bit of a quagmire, I suppose. 
But nonetheless, I hope I never stop hoping. Memo received. 

Smartphones and Dumb People

I missed the memo about smartphones and dumb people.

We've come a long way, baby?

Well, I did it. After resisting for a couple of years, I finally got a smartphone.  I’m slightly techno-phobic so new gadgetry tends to scare me more than entice me. But more and more, I was starting to suspect that I was missing out on this whole world of convenience and connectedness that people with smartphones seemed to be enjoying.  So I got my smartphone, and it was embarrassingly easy to use.  Seriously, my 3-year-old had it figured out in minutes.

I totally get how nifty it is to have internet access in your pocket and all the apps are just ingenious and everything, but I’m not sure I like the side effects of smartphones.  Maybe it was the novelty of it, but the first night I had my new phone, I was answering work e-mails at the dinner table . The idea that I had such easy access to my e-mail made me think for a minute that I actually had to read and respond to them immediately.  But then I remembered that I am neither a workaholic nor an asshole, so I’ve since banished the phone during meals and other sacred family times.

The blessing and curse of smartphones is that they allow for a lot accessibility and spontaneity.  I remember an era that when you called someone, it was always on a phone that was firmly affixed to a wall in their house and if they weren’t home or they were talking to someone else, dem was da berries.  Now, you can call, text, Skype, e-mail, IM, or find them on Twitter or Facebook, or whatever the social media site de jour might be.  Modern people are imminently accessible and consequently we don’t get a moment’s peace, I think.   I find I love movie theatres and airplanes more and more these days because they’re the only places that I feel free from the cell phone tether.

And spontaenity….I suppose it’s a good thing that smartphones allow us to make plans on the fly.  We can coordinate with friends, last-minute, look up restaurants, buy tickets, get directions, etc., etc. But I kinda like planning and certainty, so “playing it by ear” is not my forte.  I like making plans and having all the details and logistics sorted out well in advance, but then again I do need to lighten up.

The thing I think is really funny and just a little tragic about smartphones, or mobile phones more generally, is that even though they’re supposed to ensure that we stay connected, they do seem to alienate people from each other, at least in some instances. Did you hear about this study in which it was determined that lots of people use their phones to actively avoid other people?  I know I’ve done it.  Even though I like talking to strangers, sometimes, if I’m feeling awkward or shy, I’ll just get out my phone and do something useless so I don’t have to engage with the people around me.

On the whole, I have to admit that the advent of smartphone technology is pretty amazing and I am glad I have one now. But I just don’t want to my smartphone to make me dumb….

I’m not sure who this guy is, but I found this video on the interwebs, and to him, I say, PREACH!  and memo received.

Hedging Your Bets

I missed the memo about hedging your bets.

There’s a tiny but very vocal group of people who are going around saying that the world is going to end this Saturday.   Since the beginning of the world, people have been predicting the end, and since none of them have been right, I was pretty content to ignore this latest proclamation.  But then I heard this story, in which the true believers said that it’s somehow an affront to God to have any doubt about when Judgment Day will occur.   According to Harold Camping and his ilk, the end of the world is apparently all spelled out in a mathematical code in the Bible, thus questioning the validity or meaning of this calculation is tantamount to questioning the word of God.  This kind of thinking makes my head hurt really, really bad. 

Thinking that you somehow know the unknowable is one thing, but further pronouncing that doubts are not allowed is quite another.  As a high school kid, I got quite a few memos from reading Paradise Lost and one of the biggies is that God so loved human beings that he did not want to enslave them, but rather gave them free will.  Free to eat the apple.  Free to mess things up.  Free to have doubts and questions.  I think God gets really annoyed when people tell other people not to think. 

I am not what you would call a deeply religious person, but I do believe in God.  On my own trippy path toward my current state of spiritual (mis)understanding, I had to find a way to make room for questions.   In college I got the memo about Pascal’s Wager and I remember feeling a lot of comfort when I thought about it.  For the uninitiated, here’s a visual over-simplification: 

Some might find the idea of betting for or against the existence of God a flippant sort of attitude to take about the fate of one’s immortal soul.  But for me, the comfort came in the idea that I didn’t have to have it all figured out, I didn’t need to know for sure.   I wanted to believe, and Pascal’s reasoning helped to buttress my belief with a bit of rationality.  I dug that.  So I’ll go about my life trying to be the kind of person who’s in God’s good graces, at least most of the time.  And if that gets me into heaven, all the better.  If not, then maybe I did some good on Earth and that’s OK, too.  Either way, I like my odds.

There’s stuff we can know, and there’s stuff we can’t possibly know.  Being certain and having faith are not the same thing.  These Rapture folks seem awfully certain, and that’s what I just don’t get.   The idea that they’re quitting jobs, divesting themselves of all possessions, basically doing a total life flush….this just doesn’t compute.  I don’t know if one can ever truly be ready to be sublimated into the sky, so I don’t understand how trashing your career and giving away all your stuff could make you better prepared for such an extraordinary occurrence.  If you believe, fine, you believe.  But keep some money in the bank and if you run out of milk and bread today, what the heck, go ahead and buy some more.  Hedge your bets, folks, hedge your bets.   Memo received.

Fear, Choice & Good Dental Health

I missed the memo about fear, choice and good dental health.

As per usual, the other day I was listening to NPR and heard this extraordinary story of the rescue of survivors of a plane crash in New Guinea back in 1945.  When recounting how she felt as they prepared for the complicated, daring, and dangerous rescue attempt, survivor Cpl. Margaret Hastings said something that stopped me in my tracks: 

“When you have no choice, you have no fear. “

Whoah.  This just really got to me for some reason.  I suppose it makes intuitive sense…in desperate situations, people tend not to over think or equivocate; they just do what they need to do to.  

Mercifully, I’ve never been in a plane crash.  While furiously knocking on wood, I’ll tell you that I’ve lived a quiet life that’s been relatively free of genuine peril. Given this good fortune, I think one of the closest things to a “no choice, no fear” situation that I’ve experienced may have occurred this week. 

Last Saturday, I started experiencing a bit of discomfort around one of my lower incisors.   I began swishing fervently with hydrogen peroxide and doing some extra flossing in the vain hope that I could cure my little issue and avoid an extra trip to the dentist.  Alas, as you might expect, my self-care efforts were pure folly.   As the week progressed, the discomfort escalated from just a bit of sensitivity to explosions of pain radiating through the entire right side of my lower jaw.  As pain goes, it seriously rivaled labor and childbirth, so I knew I was in real trouble. 

When it comes to going to the dentist, I’d say I have an average level of anxiety.  But since I had missed a few check-ups, the anxiety started to intensify as I imagined the horrible state of affairs in my mouth and I nearly had a panic attack at the prospect of how much all the dental rehabilitation was going to cost me. 

But when you feel like a baby is about to be born out of your face, you’ve really got no choice but to go to the dentist.  Seriously, I might have been willing to let Sir Laurence Olivier have a go at me with a drill and rusty pair of pliers…it was that bad.

So to the dentist I went.  And because I was pretty desperate for relief, I really had no fear.   My only other option would have been to cut my head off, so really, no choice, no fear. 

And it wasn’t that bad.  I did need a root canal, but I was otherwise in good shape.  I had a pretty gnarly infection, but with a week’s worth of antibiotics and 800 mg of Motrin, I’m already feeling a whole lot better. 

Having no fear is great, but having no choice is really no picnic.  When given the choice, I want choice, even if that means dealing with a bit of anxiety.   And from here on out, I promise I’ll get my check-ups every six months.  Memo received.

The Immortality of Navy Brats

 I missed the memo about the immortality of Navy Brats. 

I went to four different elementary schools, three different junior highs, and mercifully, just one high school.  I’m a Navy brat, plus my mom had a bit of intra-city wanderlust, so we moved a lot.  I was a professional new kid and as a consequence, I learned to cope with change.  I am freakishly serene at the prospect of even cataclysmic upheaval.  I just…go with it.

And thanks to NPR, I recently learned that I may be immortal. See, I probably have what’s called “adaptive competence.”  Adaptive competence is the ability to bounce back when life throws you a curve ball, and it’s apparently a strong predictor of longevity.  When you roll with punches, you get to keep rolling for a long, long time.

Since “nothing is permanent except change” I suppose it’s good to accept or even embrace change.  I remember a couple of years ago when The Adam Carolla Show was signing off after it was announced that their radio home was going from a fun all talk format to really insufferably bad pop music  (and this is coming from me, the chic who loves Duran Duran and Katy Perry…)

As fans were calling to bitterly express their outrage, Adam Carolla said something that was really comforting and really great.  He challenged his listeners to think about some disappointment they had experienced…like losing a job, or getting dumped, and then to take the long view about it.  At the time, it seems like the world is coming to an end, but once you’ve moved on a bit, you can usually appreciate that what seemed like bad change at the time is usually the starting point to some other good change.  You get a new job, a better one.  You fall in love again, and this time, it’s the real thing.   It’s the old saw about closed doors and open windows.   And so it is for Adam Carolla and his crew…successful podcasts, book deals, and all sorts of good things have come to the talented people who were working on that show.

Whenever I encounter a person who lived in the same house from birth to graduation, who went to school with the same group of kids for a dozen years, I do feel a little pang of envy.  After all, stability is safe, change is always a little scary.  But then I’m mostly grateful that I’ve seen a lot of the country and developed lots and lots of adaptive competence…but who wants to live forever?

Memo received.