I went to return a DVD to Redbox, and there was this kid waiting in line behind me. His phone rings. He looks down, sees the name, and suddenly looks kind of nervous/shocked/flustered. He answers the phone as he surreptitiously smooths out his shirt.

“Hey, Valerie?” he asks, incredibly nervous…his voice is shaking. “Yeah it’s -” his voice cracks and we can barely hear him say, “it’s Dave.” He clears his throat and tries again, “Sorry it’s -” voice cracks again, and yet again we can’t hear him say “Dave.” Finally, he takes a deep breath and tries and third time, but again fails.

Poor bloke. What a bad time for puberty to set in. Well, Dave, we’re all pulling for you Valerie! #GiveDaveAChance


Okay, what is the point of birds? Seriously. All they seem to do is poop on your car, and wake you up at some ungodly hour by chirping to each other. And if you’re trying to grow grass in your lawn and have put down fresh grass seed (like my parents), they will swoop down and eat the seeds. I guess if you’re a Disney princess, they will help you clean and get dressed, but most of us are not Disney princesses. If you’re Harry Potter, they’re can be used as the postal service, but again how many of us got that letter to Hogwarts when we were eleven (by the way, I’m still waiting for my letter…obviously the owl got lost, and it’s just taking them ten years to deliver it to me…).

If you’re wondering, a bunch of birds of all types are living outside my window, and they decide to gossip around 5:30 a.m….every single morning…and it’s driving me crazy.  And, a bird flew right into my head the other day when I was biking.  So….

Taylor Swift’s “Lucky” #PhillipsSongOfTheDay

I have this weird thing where I will wake up with a song playing in my head.  For the past week or so, it’s been “The Lucky One” by Taylor Swift.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I went back to listen to it, and I’m again blown away by Swift’s incredible songwriting, making it #PhillipsSongOfTheDay.

Taylor Swift is one of the greatest songwriters there is.  Since the release of her self-titled debut album in 2006, Swift has been knocking my socks off with her ability to created incredible melodies, hooks, and stories.  When I first heard her song “Teardrops On My Guitar,” I remember putting it on repeat and just being kind of in awe.  I’ve always had a passion for stories and music, but I never really realized that songwriting was putting them together.  My musical training only dealt with classical music (I’ve been playing the violin and cello since I was five), and my definition of music was pretty much going to orchestra and playing music from the 1600s (or whenever Bach and Mozart were alive).  I didn’t live a sheltered life; my parents were exposing me to all types of music since my birth (I still remember being like two and my mom playing a  Pat Benatar record for me), but I never fully realized that pop/rock/country music was in fact…music.  I know, it sounds incredibly stupid.  But, Taylor Swift is one of the few artists who writes all her music, and every song she writes is it’s own story.  She’s not here to make a political statement or preach to people on how to live their lives (like some other artists); she’s here to speak her truths through music.  Which I think is beautiful.

“The Lucky One” is truly an example of Taylor Swift’s superior songwriting and story-telling ability.  The story starts out describing a character moving out to L.A. in search of fame, and it actually working out.  Fast forward a little bit, and the character isn’t so happy with their new found fame, especially with having to deal with the press and with “feel[ing] used.”  We finally learn at the end that the character escapes fame, and “disappears.”  It has been speculated that this song is about Joni Mitchell, a music goddess and one of Swift’s inspirations.

The intriguing thing about these lyrics is the fact that Swift has this pre-chorus that she modifies throughout the song to magnify the character’s changing attitude.  For example, in the beginning, the character is excited about their success, and Swift sings “Another name goes up in lights, like diamonds in the sky,” (i.e. it’s a beautiful, incredible thing).  Then, in the second verse, the character isn’t so happy, and Swift modifies this lyric to be “Another name goes up in lights, you wonder if you’ll make it out alive.”  Finally, during the bridge, Swift relates to this character and sings, “Because now my name is up in lights, but I think you got it right.”  It’s just cool that she’s keeping the lyrical content consistent but changing ever so slightly.

This song is also classic Swift because she manages to create unique, intriguing lyrics that subtly rhyme.  Read the first verse:

“New to town with a made up name in the angel city,
Chasing fortune and fame.
And the camera flashes, make it look like a dream.
You had it figured out since you were in school.
Everybody loves pretty, everybody loves cool.
So overnight you look like a sixties’ queen.”
Does it appear that Swift is rhyming her words?  Not really.  She is just telling the story the way it needs to be told, and it naturally rhymes; she doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of the story to get it to rhyme.  Some artists, though, painfully make their songs rhyme.  A song that’s a classic example with this flaw is Bruno Mars’ song “Grenade.”  Take the line from that song, “Oh, I would go through all this pain/ Take a bullet straight through my brain.”  Colloquially, we would never say “I take a bullet straight through my brain,” we would say “take a bullet to the head” or perhaps even “chest” or “heart.”  The brain is never really an organ or body part that is referenced in everyday language.  Yet, the writers of “Grenade” (which I think Mars is one of them) chose to make this sacrifice for the song, and it’s just…awkward.  Another example from that song is when Mars sings “I’d catch a grenade for you/Throw my hand on a blade for you.”  Again, who refers to knives or shape objects as blades?  It just seems too forced to me.  Meanwhile, in “The Lucky One,” Swift writes “Now it’s big black cars, and Riviera views/ And your lover in the foyer doesn’t even know you.”  Here is a clever rhyme of “view” and “you;” it’s not forced, it’s natural.  She’s painting a scene of staying a swanky hotel and feeling lonely; she’s using common language, instead of taking liberties and forcing words to work.
As for the music within the song, the guitar strumming and steady drum gives the song a nice thought-provoking, yet real, air to it.  I’m not too thrilled with Jeff Bhasker’s production.  Compared to her other songs, this production quality is “eh, okay.”  I mean, I don’t really understand the ten seconds in the beginning of dead air.  The song, while great, would have been better if Swift worked with her usual co-producer Nathan Chapman, or perhaps co-produced it with Bhasker.  Bhasker’s production just doesn’t really feel like Swift.  Take a listen, let me know what you think:
“The Lucky One,” by Taylor Swift
You don’t need to be a swiftie or a big T. Swift fan to like her music or appreciate good songwriting.  Honestly, just spend an hour with Taylor on any of her albums, and you might find yourself standing in line for one of her concerts.  She’s that good.


When I was in high school, I had teachers who told me I was an awful writer and that I could not write no matter how hard I tried. I also had a guidance counselor who asked me which colleges I was going to apply to, and I told her my plan was to go to this particular university and she told me to reconsider.   Actually, her words were “don’t go there” because I wasn’t “good enough.”

Three years later, I go to that particular university, I work as a writing tutor, and I am a published author and have readers from all around the world.

So, who got it wrong?

Thank you all for reading!!!


Day Road Trip.

My day started with my dad driving down to Cape Cod, my mom in the passenger’s seat, and me sitting behind them in one of the middle bucket seats of our SUV.  “Phillip, can you get me a drink for the cooler?” asks my mom.  I oblige, and climb like a spy into the back to lean over into the trunk.  We’re at a red light, waiting to turn onto the highway, and I’m hanging like a monkey into the trunk, trying to pull out three sodas from the cooler.  It really wasn’t graceful…at all.  I look up, and the guy in the car behind us is staring at me, smirking. Well, this is awkward, I think, but then I climb back to my seat.

We finally make it down to the Cape area (I don’t know the exact name of the town, I wasn’t really paying attention…clearly) and we pull into a McDonalds to use the restroom and regroup.  Then, this EMT guy comes out of McDonalds and holds up the food to the other guy in the ambulance, who shouts, rather aggressively, “AW YEAH!”  And I get the urge to shout “YOU’RE HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS!” like a character did in a scene from Nurse Jackie, but the EMT guys look rather mean and giant…so…I mean, if they were that passionate about McDonalds food, can you imagine what they would do to someone being rude to them?

We continue on our journey until we get to the canal in Bourne/Sagamore on the Cape.  Can I just say, there are a freakin’ ton amount of roundabouts in this area.  Like, every five seconds the GPS would say things like “take the third exit in the roundabout.”  It was crazy.  Anyway, so we’re driving on the road parallel to the canal, and we notice these indentations where you could pull over and look out at the canal.  Because it’s such a beautiful day and because I like taking moments like these to just appreciate how beautiful life and nature really can be, I convince my parents to pull the car over.  I get out of the car and walk up the dirt path that leads to train tracks.  Now, where I’m from, most of the train tracks don’t operate
anymore, and they have either turned them into bike paths or have made path near them; the canal on the Cape has a bike path right next to these train tracks.  So, obviously, my mom and I climb onto the tracks when a guy says “be careful, a train just came by twenty minutes ago.”  Well, there goes my plan to lay down on the tracks to recreate Taylor Swift’s single artwork for “Mean.”  Oh well…I didn’t have rope anyway…

After hitting some Christmas Tree Shops (they have a lot of them on the Cape…) and visiting different sites, we make our way home.  Every road trip I take, I make a special playlist.  A lot of them tend to be interactive where I ask my audience (i.e. my family) to listen to original songs and then covers or remixes, and I try to start a spirited conversation about who did it better, etc.  Anyway, my parents and I really got into in on the way home because we started a segment we like to call “Backseat Karaoke,” (something Jimmy Fallon should pick up for the Tonight Show), meaning I sing along to the track from the backseat.  The song I get?  “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain.  Now, if you’re a guy and ever in this situation, you have two options: you either sing this song with passion, especially the line “the best thing about being a woman,” or you just kind of lamely sing along and change it to “I feel like a man.”  So, I went for it, and I had my parents laughing their butts off.  So yeah, backseat karaoke is a thing.  Because I say so.


The Problem with “Problem”

Today I ran some errands, and I managed to listen to “Problem” by Ariana Grande featuring Iggy Azalea the whole time because every radio station was playing it.  And I do have to admit it’s a pretty catchy song, despite a few…um, problems with it.  Regardless, let’s call it #PhillipsSongOfTheDay.

The synthed-saxophone beats and Iggy Azalea really make this song POP; both give the song a very spirited effervescence.  They make you shake your head (or booty…if that’s your thing), and make you want to throw your hands up in the air and forget about your cares.  After all, it causes you to “realize [you’ve] got one less problem” after listening to the song.  Iggy Azalea especially has this great confidence and attitude in her rap; she seems like a cool chick to hang out with (you should check out her new album, The New Classic).  The sax really pushes the song through, giving it a good beat and rhythm to dance to.

“Problem,” by Ariana Grande featuring Iggy Azalea


However, I do have two main critiques for this song.  First, we absolutely have no idea what Ariana Grande is singing.  I mean, this may not be a big deal, given the fact this is a song more meant for the beat, not the lyrics.  However, it does become a problem for me because when you look up the lyrics, you realize she is singing words that you couldn’t even imagine her saying.  For example, in the prechorus/hook she sings at 0:29, I thought she was saying “heaven is a place where [blah blah, something I couldn’t understand],” and she’s actually saying:

Head in the clouds
Got no weight on my shoulders
I should be wiser
And realize that I’ve got

Like, when I googled those lyrics I was like, “Damn, really?  That’s what’s going on?  Okay…”  Ariana Grande really needs to work on her diction.  I mean, we can understand Iggy Azalea, which somewhat allows for Iggy Azalea to upstage Grande.

The other issue I have with this song is a simple production decision point.  While Max Martin and Shellback are like music gods (they co-wrote/produced hits like Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.,” Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok,” P!nk’s “So What” and “Who Knew,” etc.), I have to say I disagree with what they did in the ten seconds after Iggy Azalea’s rap (2:20-2:30).  They pull back after Iggy Azalea raps “I’ve got 99 problems but you won’t be one, like what!” to an almost complete stop.  It’s rather an unfortunate 180, because they got their audience dancing along, jamming out for two and half minutes, then we’re left in an awkward dead space.  They should have just gone right into the prechorus/hook of “head in the clouds.”  That would have really kept the pace of the song, and let us continue on with our dance party.  Other than that, the production is pretty much phenomenal; as I said before, the sax really drives the song and the beats make you want to get up and forget about your problems.

Pure Genius: Lana Del Rey’s Cover of “Once Upon a Dream”

Whoever decided to have Lana Del Rey cover “Once Upon a Dream” for the upcoming film Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie, is a genius.  Del Rey’s spooky performance is a perfect match to echo the darker themes of Maleficent.

Maleficent tells the story of the villainess, Maleficent, from the classic Disney film, Sleeping Beauty.  In the original story of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent places a curse on Princess Aurora because she was not invited to her christening or something, and says that Aurora will die on her sixteenth birthday.  In all honesty, I know the gist of the story, but I’ve never seen Sleeping Beauty.  Seriously.  I was doing some quick research to understand the plot so I could sound informed when I wrote this, but it got so complicated that I was like “gosh, it’s just easier to watch the dang movie,” then I realize I don’t have a copy of Sleepy Beauty handy, which means I would need to go to the library even though tomorrow is my day off (I work at a library), then I rounded the whole fiasco out by just thinking “eh, who’s got the time. ”

Anyway, I digress.  My understanding is that Maleficent is like Sleeping Beauty as it involves the same characters and setting, but it is more focused on the dark villainess, not the bright, cheery heroine.  The original version of “Once Upon a Dream” is rather optimistic and, well, darling.  Take a listen:

The original version of “Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty:

Now, Lana Del Rey’s version, like Maleficent, takes a new spin on the old classic, making it darker and more suspicious.  When I first heard Del Rey’s version, I thought “Once Upon a Dream” was originally intended to be this brooding, haunting song; the production and performance in Del Rey’s version is so striking that it colors the song to have a different meaning.  It’s exquisite.  Take a listen to Lana Del Rey’s version:

“Once Upon a Dream” performed by Lana Del Rey:

Disney made the right choice in picking Lana Del Rey to cover “Once Upon a Dream” because it’s such an iconic song that needed to be transformed to fit this new, darker telling of Sleeping Beauty.  Lana Del Rey’s music has the subtle, nuanced way about it that makes it appear to be dark and somewhat depressing.  Even by the deep timbre that Del Rey sang “Once Upon a Dream” with gives me the chills.  I don’t think Disney could have found a better person to give a classic a dark twist, and do it so well.


If you're on the struggle bus this week, here's a clip that you may relate to (I know I did):


“I Can’t Make You Love Me” #PhillipsSongOfTheDay

Have you ever heard a song that just fits so perfectly with your life?  Like every single word and beat of that song echoes your heart’s truth to where you feel like you wrote the song.  This happened to me the other day when I discovered Bonnie Raitt’s song “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” making it #PhillipsSongOfTheDay.

The song, written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin – Shamblin also co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s Grammy-winning hit “The House That Built Me” – tells the story of a person trying to get over heartache.  The narrator finds herself in love with someone, realizing that, for whatever reason, that person will never love her.  It’s a rather depressive song, but it’s a song of reality, of recognizing the truth of a situation and starting the struggle of moving on.

The start of the song is a bit slow; the organ/piano and soft drums creates this rather bluesy/jazzy feel that may put you to sleep.  But once you get a minute into the song and reach the chorus, that’s where the magic starts. Raitt sings:

‘Cuz I can’t make you love me
If you don’t.
You can’t make your heart feel
Something it won’t.

It’s the harsh truth, and it’s bittersweet; we want to get better, get over heartbreak, but it’s hard.  I also think it’s at this chorus where Raitt’s vocals just shine and pulls at your heartstrings.  It’s magic.

Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” (chorus at 1:13).

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” has, in fact, been covered by a lot of people.  The most famous might be Adele’s cover in her iTunes Session and her CD/DVD combo Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall.  I’ve heard of this song precisely because I saw people covering it, and it never made an impression with me until I heard the original, Raitt version.  There’s just something very special and raw about Bonnie Raitt and her performance, and it’s one of those songs that shouldn’t be covered by people.  Kind of like Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes: people try to cover them, but nothing will compare to the original.


There I was.  Eating lunch in the kitchen, watching an episode of VEEP when I looked out the backdoor window and saw the groundhog.  Eating in my mom’s garden [insert gasps].

I jumped up, kicked off my sandals, and ran to get my bow and arrow shouting “RALLY THE TROOPS!” (I don’t really know why…it just kind of came out).  I snuck out of the front door of my house barefoot, and snuck around to the back.  My neighbor was outside and saw me, and was about to shout something over to me when I waved at him, miming for him to shut up.  I could not talk, I could not let my enemy get away!  (Although, in all fairness, I must’ve looked rather strange…a grown man with a manic expression, standing barefoot with a child’s bow and arrow…)

I crept around the house and made it to the driveway that runs parallel to the garden, with the groundhog about fifty feet away.  I had an arrow in place, I took aim, and shot.  And I hit him!  From fifty feet away!  I am Katniss.

Again, this is a kids bow and arrow, so it didn’t kill him, it just hit him and made him jump in shock.  He scampered away, and  I followed, loading another arrow.  I saw him, hiding behind a tree next to our shed.  I took aim again, and I think I hit him again…it was hard to tell because there are a lot of bushes there… I  heard him scramble away, under the fence and away.

The enemy may have gotten away, but I hit him.  Twice….ish.  My neighbors cat has just come out and is again patrolling the garden. #WeMeanBusiness.


Related Stories:

“The Groundhog War”