All posts by Phillip

The Snow Can’t Stop

She opened the back door, stuck the yard stick into the snow, and examined it.  “We’re at eleven inches” my mom said.

If you’ve been following this blog since it’s beginning (hi mom!), you probably have picked up two things: I hate the snow/cold and I live in a magical place where it currently has freezing temperatures and has been snowing like crazy.  Today was weird because the weather reports weren’t too clear what was going to happen.  In fact, my school insisted on staying open, then closed half way through the day realizing the weather was definitely not going to flake out.

While I was working on my homework, I would casually glance out the window and just think the snow was so minimal.  I’ve lived through blizzards and Northeasters where the snow is coming down; this snow just looked like a simple dusting.  So when my mom said it had snowed eleven inches I didn’t think anything of it, for some reason the number meant nothing to me.

Then I actually went outside to shovel.  Well, now is when I was shocked how much it snowed.  The snow was up to my knees.  My freakin’ knees.  It was me and my small shovel versus a sea monster of snow. Gulp.

I’m going to regret saying this, and if you ever mention it I will deny this, but I kind of like shoveling snow (cue gasps).  It’s just a great opportunity to plug the headphones in and jam to music while getting a good workout.  I typically create playlists of songs to jam to while shoveling (check out my post “You’re Snow Shoveling Playlist“), but today I listened to one song: “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus.

I was inspired to listen to this song by the simple fact that it had snowed eleven inches in like an hour and wasn’t stopping.  As I was shoveling, the snow would tumble down upon itself or fly back into my face.  Everywhere I turned, snow was there and not letting up; my efforts were fruitless.  I felt that the snow was literally singing “We Can’t Stop” to me:

“We can’t stop

And we won’t stop

We run things, things don’t run we

Don’t take nothing from nobody

Yeah, yeah”

Mocking me, taunting me, that’s what this snow and winter has been doing to me.  It’s like mother nature knows how much I hate winter that she has decided to make each winter the most painful and annoying.  Well, just a heads up to the snow, in a couple of months it will be summer and you will be melted while I’ll be the one outside celebrating.  So, there.

Why is that Harry Potter Book There?

The other day, my friend and I had a discussion about why Harry Potter is considered a children’s book and not an adult book, given the rather lengthy nature of the prose, the darker themes (Rowling said once in an interview that her mother’s death was “splashed” across all the pages), and the violence (particularly in Deathly Hallows) in the books.  Ultimately we concluded that the magical environment of the Harry Potter books sort of align with fairy tales and could, rather lamely, be considered “childish.”  We did, however, argue with this conclusion given that other fantasy/science fiction books, like The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, were classified as either young adult or adult even though they held magical/fantasy elements.  So what kind of book are the Harry Potter books?

Today I walked into the children’s room at the library where I work and the children’s librarian, as usual, said “So, how are we tonight?”  The children’s librarian is fairly new to our library, but we both happen to work Monday nights (I shelve in children’s where she works) and we have started having rather deep, in-depth conversations.  It’s not uncommon for these conversations to be about Harry Potter, both of us being huge fans and both having been sorted in Hufflepuff in Pottermore, so I said to her “I have an argument I need you to settle.”

The librarian who was half way looking through an older book trying to decide if she should get rid of it looked up startled, “Oh?”

“My friend and I have been having a debate on whether Harry Potter is a children’s book, and, since you’re the children’s librarian, I want to know why,” I boldly stated.

She marked her place in the book, set it aside, and sighed, “Well, part of it comes down to the fact that she intended the books to be written for kids.  A lot of it comes down to the intent of the author and publisher, like Scholastic doesn’t publish adult books.”

“So, for example, The Hunger Games books are young adult books because Suzanne Collins wrote it for young adults, and even though the violence level should make it an adult book?” I asked.

“That would be part of it, but you have to remember that the characters in The Hunger Games are teens, and in Harry Potter they’re kids who face kid problems.  Like, the Harry Potter characters are still in school, they think like kids, and face similar emotions.  It’s not like it’s written as a flashback or told from an adult perspective, the stories are told from the kids’ perspective.” She paused for a moment, shuffled her books, then continued, “Also, adult books tend to have people versus people, young adult books tend to have teen versus society, and children’s books tend to have kids versus some cause.  So, The Hunger Games  have Katniss taking on the Capitol and the revolution, and Harry is facing the usual growing pains while taking on Voldemort.”

“Okay, ” I said, trying to catch her off guard, “but don’t forget the books are incredibly long, arguably longer than most adult books.  Even her writing style, word choice, and descriptions are more adult style.  A lot of people think the books progress to be very dark and violent.  Like, why is Game of Thrones considered adult when it takes place in a fantasy world and holds violence like Harry Potter” (if I had long hair, this is where I would flip my hair…also, I haven’t read/seen Game of Thrones, this is just what I heard about it).

“They don’t get long until Goblet of Fire, so the first few are manageable for a kid.  And the themes of Harry Potter are darker, but they’re not like Game of Thrones that holds more violence and, from what I hear, a lot sex.  And people often underestimate what kids can handle in terms of violence in books, I think it goes back to the idea of kids thinking themselves invincible.”

She then paused, reached back for her book, and said “Huh, that’s some good food for thought.”

 

The Juxtaposition of Lana Del Rey

This is how I work: when it’s sunny and warm outside, I’m happy.  When it’s cold and snowing, I’m sad.  Pretty basic.  I don’t care about the research I’ve read at school, the weather affects my mood, because I hate Massachusetts Weather.

It’s currently the most depressing time of the year for me here in arctic: winter.  The past two months literally have had below freezing temperatures.  It’s just been so dark and cold, and so much snow.  Sad face.

Given the fact that I listen to music mostly based on my mood, and that I’ve been so deflated because of this weather, you’d think I’d listen to music from the ever so effervescent Lana Del Rey (sarcasm), especially her album Born to Die.  But the thing is, that’s really a summertime album for me.

I’m not kidding.  Last summer, one of the albums I had on repeat was Born to Die, and had her songs “Born to Die,” “Video Games,” and “Summertime Sadness” (both the standard and Cedric Gervais Remix (which just won a Grammy)) on repeat on my iPod, especially when I was out biking in the beautiful sunshine.  Today, while at work shelving books, I realized I hadn’t listen to the stunning Lana Del Rey’s music in months, so I decided to dedicate an hour to Born to Die.  It didn’t last; the album kept reminding me of summer and I thought “huh, this is a summer album.”

If you’ve heard the album or any of those songs, they’re not upbeat songs; they’re not songs that would provide you much motivation while exercising or songs that would cheer you up.  So why are these slow, somewhat melodramatic, and rather ethereal songs more compatible for my summer?

The somewhat magical thing about Lana Del Rey’s music is that while it’s depressing-sounding, it does not make the listener depressed.  In a weird way, her musical content is rather bold in that she sticks to themes and strong opinions of heartbreak that others stray from; I doubt anyone would tell their boyfriend, even in song form, that they were “born to die,” or that, rather poignantly, “I think I’ll miss you forever/ Like the stars miss the sun in the morning sky.”  From her lyrics and her music, Lana Del Rey’s listeners pick up her darker emotions and either relate to them or simply understand them.  Take her summer hit, “Summertime Sadness,” the lyrics, on the surface, would appear rather optimistic for Del Rey.  With such lines like “I just wanted you to know/That, baby, you’re the best” and “Oh, my God, I feel it in the air/ Telephone wires above are sizzling like a snare/ Honey, I’m on fire, I feel it everywhere/Nothing scares me anymore,” one would expect this love song to be about the height of romance with no depressing undertones.  But when you add swirling strings and ambient tones to Del Rey’s crooning, you get a rather depressing song about heartbreak.  While the song truly is about a breakup in that Del Rey is listing out all the positive/wonderful things about her relationship that she’ll miss like we miss the summer during winter, the production of the song could have been manipulated to create a more positive experience for listeners.  Take Colbie Caillat’s song “Realize” for example.  The song, like all of Caillat’s signature songs, sounds positive and happy like the sun-kissed home she’s from (she’s from California/Malibu/Hawaii type place).  Her vocal performance and the acoustic nature of the song leaves you smiling, wanting to lay out in the sun with your significant other.  But, upon closer examination of the lyrics, it’s rather a heartbreaking story about unrequited love, especially emphasized with lyrics like “If you just realize what I just realized/ Then we’d be perfect for each other/ And we’ll never find another,” and “It’s not the same/ No, it’s never the same/ If you don’t feel it too.” This is a case where the production/performance of the song changes the scope of the song to be more positive for the audience.  Lana Del Rey, however, does the opposite in that she purposely keeps her music in Born to Die on the negative side to emphasize her misfortunes.

I honestly don’t know why I associate Lana Del Rey’s music with the summer.  I do feel like some music is seasonal, and logic and my past experience would sort Lana Del Rey as a winter’s artist, songs not to be listened to during the upbeat summer.  But that’s not the case.  Perhaps it’s just me; perhaps LDR should be listened year round.  Let me know with poll below!

 

 

Everybody Hustles to Survive: The Power Struggle of American Hustle

I probably enjoyed American Hustle more than I thought I would, and apparently I’ve been obsessed with it because I can’t stop talking about it.  The thing is, the story line is a bit confusing as it is told in flashbacks and in a non-sequential order.  There were periods when I was watching it and didn’t understand how something was legal or what was going on.  But at the end, it all makes sense and clicks, which perhaps is why I liked it.  Or perhaps it was because they filmed the movie in locations around where I live, so I got a kick seeing my home on the big screen.
The film tells the story of two con artists, played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, who are forced by an FBI agent, played by Bradley Cooper, to basically con or set up to arrest corrupt politicians and mobsters, notably a mayor played by Jeremy Renner.  Bale, Adams, and Cooper’s characters create a rather elaborate and difficult-to-manage sting operation to catch Renner’s character, among other politicians, that almost comes to a crashing end when Bale’s character’s crazy wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, unknowingly starts telling the mobsters and politicians about the sting operation.

The thing that really enthralls me about this movie is the fact that the tag line is “everybody hustles to survive,” and when you watch the movie, you realize everyone really is hustling each other; you really don’t know who is the one who has the power.  At some points you feel Bradley Cooper’s character is controlling everyone, then it seems Amy Adam’s character is in charge, other times you think it really is Christian Bale, or perhaps Jennifer Lawrence.  I’ve been dying to discuss this with people, but everyone I’ve talked to hasn’t seen the film!  So I made a poll  to see  who you think had the power in American Hustle.

Personally, I feel Amy Adams’ character is the one who holds all the cards.  She holds two identities, and flawlessly slides between her usual American accent to a perfect British accent (which is why I think she deserves the Academy Award, but she’ll probably lose to Cate Blanchett because Blanchett has been winning all the other major film awards).  Because she slides in between the two accents and identities, some confusion is caused because you’re not sure if she’s the British woman or the American.  This isn’t done to annoy the audience, it’s done to show how complex a person/con artist Adams’ character really is.  You find out at the end (SPOILER ALERT) that she’s really an American pretending to be British as part of her con with Bale.  However, she keeps up the British act to convince Cooper to like her/fall in love with her.  While Cooper was intending to put Bale and Adams away in jail after using them (I assume, he made it appear like he’d let them go free, but I got the feeling he wasn’t so altruistic), you could tell he was becoming hooked on Adams.  I don’t think the sting operation could’ve ended the way it did if Adams’ character wasn’t in the lead as I think she was; there was a scene towards the beginning where Adams wanted Bale to hustle Cooper and not trust him with the sting (which he didn’t seem too keen on), so Adams said she do it by herself.

If you haven’t seen American Hustle, you really should (it comes out on dvd March 18th!).  I had a friend who saw this movie in theaters before I did and she seemed not to like it as much.  As I was planning on seeing it, I asked her if I should’ve waited until the dvd release and not waste the extra money on the movie ticket.  Her response was simply and effective, “No, there’s a JLaw singalong/dance along number that’s worth the $10,” and she could not be more right.

But it’s not just the JLaw singalong/dance along number that makes the movie.  This is a movie that makes you think about the characters and their situations, and really forces you to make some of your own conclusions.  You have to get involved in the sting operation and hang in when things don’t make sense because they will at the end.  While this movie is categorized as a comedy, it’s kind of like David O. Russell’s last movie, Silver Linings Playbook: while it held some funny moments, it wasn’t roll around on the floor crying type of comedy (although, I felt American Hustle was funnier than Silver Linings Playbook).  All the main actors did incredible work, each deserving an Oscar (especially Adams and Lawrence).  Personally, I felt Jennifer Lawrence stole the show; I couldn’t wait for another one of her scenes because she just left me laughing (honestly, if she doesn’t get the Academy Award for this performance…I won’t be happy).  There was one scene in particular where Lawrence’s “boyfriend” attempts to kill Bale (her character’s husband) and after Bale confronts Lawrence, she ends the scene saying “honestly, why can’t you be happy for me?”

If none of this interests you, you should still see American Hustle just to experience the fact that in one movie all the characters are really and truly hustling each other (and half the time you don’t realize it).

 

Your Snow Shoveling Playlist

With today’s blizzard-like snow here in the arctic, here’s my snow shoveling playlist.  It helps plow through the snow and stay positive that spring is almost here (hopefully):

  1. Closer” – Tegan & Sara
  2. Where Is My Mind?” – Pixies
  3. 10538 Overture” – Electric Light Orchestra
  4. Just Dance” – Lady Gaga
  5. Bad Romance [the Skrillex Remix]” – Lady Gaga
  6. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together  – Taylor Swift
  7. The Monster [feat. Rihanna]” – Eminem
  8. Viva la Vida” – Coldplay
  9. Bass Down Low” – Dev
  10. My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)” – Fall Out Boy

 

Just Don’t Over Think It

I want to change my bio on Twitter (follow: @phillipjspencer), but I just don’t have the balls to do it.  Currently it reads, “Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve – J. K. Rowling,” a quote from a Harry Potter book, and one that I hold dearly because it gives me hope that I may possibly achieve something someday.  But then I was thinking how a quote, while important, does not stand out or grab a potential follower’s attention (which may be the reason I only have fifty-seven followers).  I once read a bio of a Twitter page of a friend of a friend that read “I’m an eighty-year-old woman in a twenty-something-year-old body” and I just thought it was hilarious.  Why can’t I do that?

While in this process of trying to create a new, fantastic bio, I finally thought up “All you have to do is sit back and be amazed.”  I was impressed and inclined to make the big change, but then I started to think about how it may actually be received by audience members.  While I thought it was intriguing and witty, it could potentially come across as conceited or arrogant. I intended it with humor, in an almost sarcastic way.  In a way, the bio was meant as an indicator that my subsequent tweets would be both hilarious and serious (which they are, in my opinion).

However, I did have the fortune of taking a positive psychology class last semester and found that people who are more optimistic in life (and in their writing) tend to be more well liked and more successful.  Since taking that class, I’ve realized how cynical and negative I tend to be – like complaining to acquaintances about school instead of championing a common interest.  So remembering this got me thinking, is my new bio snarky/sarcastic?  Would that win over potential followers?  In a reading for a class I’m taking this semester, I learned that it’s better to be gracious and humble so that people will respect you more and relate to you better.  Again, am I doing this in my new bio?

The answer would honestly be “no,” because while the new bio would represent my wonderful humorous side, it also does hold that deeper, darker passive aggressive side that would deter people, I fear.  So it would appear that the hunt is once again on to create a fantastic new bio.  In the mean time, I could always test out this new bio and see if my fears are actually right.  If they are, then a change is always just a click away.

“White Lies” by Stacy Clark – #PhillipsSongOfTheDay

I have this professor who prides himself on being a musician as well as being a business professor.  Overall he’s a pretty cool guy and great teacher (this is the second class I’m taking with him).  He usually gives us these class activities to do at the beginning of class to use during our discussion, and he will play a random Pandora station to create a “mood.”  Today, a Lady Gaga song came on, and he shook his head and made a crack about “music today.”  Basically, in his opinion (and other kids in the class, who I’m pretty sure where just sucking up to him), music today is a bunch of crap.
I don’t like when people are negative or cut down music without giving it a chance.  I had a friend in high school who literally would hate any music/song that was played on the radio because it was “mainstream.”  He was the kind of guy that would only listen to obscure jazz or blues songs.  I recommended him to listen to Adele’s album 19 because it features that jazzy-blusy sounds he enjoyed.  Just as I did so, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” blew up on the radio, and he refused to listen to her songs.  Like, I don’t get that at all.  I think the level of musicality or whether a song is “good” or not should not be established by who listens to it.  You just need to sit back, relax, and just listen.

Anyway, because my professor made this crack about Lady Gaga and the rest of today’s terrible music, I decided to name a Lady Gaga song #PhillipsSongOfTheDay.  I was going to pick “Just Dance” because I was listening it as I was shoveling snow in this lovely weather we’re having (by the way, I pretty much hate the cold, snow, and will probably blog about that…I’ve written songs about my hatred of winter here in the arctic).  However, I started to listen to Stacy Clark’s song “White Lies” while writing this post, and well, that kind of got stuck in my head/started playing on repeat, and it reminded how much I’m blown away but that song.

There’s something about this song that should not work, like you hear it and think “that’s not a radio single,” which I guess it’s not considering I don’t think it got radio traction (at least, I haven’t heard it on the radio), but the song really works.  I’m not saying that for it to be good it needs to be on the radio, I’m not a hypocrite, it’s just the song has a weird rhythm/beat to it…a weird rhythm/beat I enjoy.  The lyric that stands out for me is “Do you think I’m a fool? Shame on you and shame on me twice, for trusting, trusting you.”

If you haven’t heard this song, you need to.  It’s great.

“The Love Club” by Lorde

The Love Club” by Lorde is #PhillipsSongOfTheDay 

It’s been on repeat for the past hour.  Why?  Because Lorde is an incredible musician/artist, and I’ve been kind of obsessed with her music for the past month.  My sister and I were going to splurge and see her in concert, even though I’m a #brokecollegestudent, but we couldn’t get tickets!  It sold out too fast!

Seriously, though, “The Love Club” has this incredible pulsating/swelling background vocals (I don’t really know how to explain it…you just got to listen to it) that really makes the song.  The producer, I’m assuming Joel Little (he produced/co-produced all or Lorde’s music…I believe), did this thing where he added a crescendo to the fourth beat (I think) when Lorde’s background vocal goes up that makes the note change stand out….pure genius.  This will make more sense if you just listen to the song:

I also want to commend Lorde for the way she sings the chorus, especially the line “Be a part of the love club;” her phrasing is perfect.  The way a person sings just one word really can change my opinion of a song (e.g. the way Lorde sings the word “ruins” in her song “Team” is perfection…part of the reason it’s one of my favorite songs…not kidding).

I read an interpretation of “The Love Club” that said the song is about how if you want to be cool and to be “in the club,” by society’s/the media’s standards, you have to be dating someone or be in a relationship.  Basically, this is Lorde being her usual self of denouncing the media for telling people, particularly youths, how to live their lives.  I kind of admire that about Lorde and her music.  I generally don’t like songs that preach to people and tell people how to run their lives, but I think Lorde knows how to straddle that line.  Her songs stop right before telling people how they should live; she’s telling us how she chooses to live.  I find “The Love Club” to be refreshing, and, at this moment, relatable.

 

Cut Your Teeth

I’m ten years old.  My violin teacher has just approved me to start playing a more advanced book of songs.  I am over the freakin’ moon.  I can’t quite contain myself as I say to her, “I’ve actually taught myself some songs from that book.”

She gives me a skeptical, slightly mortified look and says “Have you?  Which song?”  I open the book to the second song and start playing it.  I get really into it, playing it exactly the way it should, in my opinion, be played, and finish beaming.  “So, we can skip that one, right?” I ask, thinking I know the answer.

“Well, actually, you learned that all wrong,” my teacher says as my heart sinks, “I mean, you made up all these rhythms that are wrong, you made up fingerings, you hit none of the notes right.”  I’m now looking at my feet, feeling embarrassed and rather stupid.

***

“So, it goes G, C, E minor, D,” says my friend Dat, the kid that can play pretty much any instrument you want him to (except banjo, although I suspect it’s because I always tell him to learn it), “You only need to learn those four chords, keep to the beat, and we’ll be fine.”

It was May, and my band and I, all sixteen years old, were rehearsing for my brother’s graduation party, which was taking place the following month.  Our “band” basically consisted of Dat playing guitar, our friend Nicole singing, and me playing cello.  But, when you’re going to play for a celebratory event, like a graduation party, there are not a whole lot of “happy” or upbeat songs you can play with just voice, cello, and guitar.  We needed to add drums (which Dat could play) because most of those “happy” songs all required the use of drums.  Either I was going to learn to play drums, or I was going to have to learn to play guitar (I don’t think it ever occurred to us that Nicole could learn to play guitar, something she did a year later).  I chose the latter, knowing I could never get the hang of the drums in time.

“It’s really not that bad, Phil,” Dat continued exasperatedly, pointing to the many charts and diagrams he drew to teach me the chords, “you can handle this.  After this, you never have to play the guitar ever again.”

“I know,” I said with an edge in my voice.  When people tell me that I don’t have to do something, I tend to do it anyway just to prove them wrong.  So I started practicing those four chords so much that I actually broke a couple guitar strings that week.

But I didn’t stop there; I looked up other chords, and found sheet music for my favorite songs and figured how to play those chords.  Over time, I eventually figured out many different chord progressions, strumming patterns, and how to create different sounds.  I never took any formal guitar lessons, unlike my previous eleven years of being trained classically to play violin and cello.  But once I started playing guitar without any professional guidance, I was not going to stop.

I remember at the beginning of my guitar-playing career thinking “I’m probably doing this all wrong.”  Whenever I practice any of my instruments, I always think back to being ten and feeling the way I did when my teacher berated me for daring not to follow her methods (she actually was not as mean as she sounds).  But I like the fact that I may be holding my guitar the wrong way, that I may not have the right fingers on the right frets, and that my rhythms or strumming patterns could be totally made up.  I like that freedom.  Without any formal guidance, there are no limits to what I can do with my music, which I think has made me more passionate about playing music.  What it comes down to for me is that the music sounds good, and if it does, who cares how you got there.