Saturday, January 29, 2011

There's no suck in success

Are you successful? Do you ever think about it? Do you even have a definition? Do you need a definition? Is it like porn, you'll know it when you see it? I've been discussing this with a friend these past few days, and it's making me ponder.

Obviously, how happy you are with your life is related to how successful you view yourself. But does happiness = success? I don't think it's that simple. There are people I would say are happy but aren't terribly successful and there are some very successful folks who probably could be happier but are choosing to go after a form of success, whether it be money or power. I can't say why I feel that way. It may have to due with my personal definition of success. We can all agree that money alone doesn't equal success but it sure as hell helps one feel more successful.

I think there is an external component to success. I think that might be the difference for me: happiness is more internal and personal, whereas success is partially a reflection from others. The good news is that you get to choose your audience. Maybe you only really care what your friends and family think, maybe you want to be the best in your chosen field, maybe you want to be world-famous! I know writers who would rather have a small, loyal audience who truly gets their work rather than write a "Twilight." This is why a pat on the back at work makes me feel successful while eating a hot fudge sundae makes me happy. Both of these things are good things and I wouldn't take one over the other, but they are different.

There is a certain amount of who-cares to this question. Should you put your life up against some unknown yardstick? Is there a list where you have to check off all those tasks? How much do you need "success" if you feel you are happy? Maybe the minute you start thinking success doesn't matter is when you actually are successful? When you give back the everlasting gobstopper, you get the keys to the whole factory.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shut up, Ryan Murphy

I suppose you've heard about the whole Kings of Leon/Glee/Ryan Murphy thing. If you haven't, the quick story is that Ryan Murphy wanted to use a Kings of Leon song on "Glee," they said no, and Ryan Murphy went off. Ryan Murphy made it all about his needs. Somehow wanting to control your art became about hating on arts education. Because apparently, watching "Glee" is the only way kids would learn about music and want to pick up an instrument or join a glee club (which may be a bit of a shock all those musicians who existed before May of 2009). And Kings of Leon are "assholes" (classy, Ryan, real classy.)

I understand why Kings of Leon aren't just handing over their songs. Isn't this the point of copyright, to give the artist some control, at least for a while? I'm not sure about the actual contract "Glee" puts out there for songs and how much control the artist has once they've signed them over, but I'm guessing that the song comes before the script is completed, before they know who's singing and in what part of the story. I'm also guessing that the amount of control an artist has is proportional to their fame; in other words, if Madonna demands that Rachel sings a certain song, they agree, but Kings of Leon don't have that sort of power. So if "Glee" decides he wants to use the song for Will to sing about his latest trip to the potty, I'm thinking Kings of Leon would just have to suck it up. And maybe they didn't want to take that risk.

Maybe Kings of Leon have a vision for their songs that does not include an arrangement with four-part harmony and a solo by Artie. Maybe the song has some special meaning and they want to hold it tight to them. Maybe they (gasp!) don't like "Glee" (I certainly have had issues with the show.) The bottom line is that Kings of Leon can do whatever they darn well please with their music and their songs. If they want to just play them in the basement with a few friends listening in, guess what, Ryan? They don't need your blessing. And it doesn't make them "assholes" or haters of music education.

(An aside to Ryan: if you're looking to reach out to that 7-year-old kid, lighten up on some of the sex in the show. I'm not a prude but, seriously, if you're going for the early-grade-school audience, a little less pep-rally masturbation might be in order.)

It's not always about how many people hear the song. Most of us can sing the State Farm jingle: it doesn't mean that it's good music. I'm also guessing that the State Farm jingle hasn't inspired a lot of kids to become musicians. Sometimes exposure does not equal inspiration. As Brian Eno once said, "the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band."

Kings of Leon are not telling Ryan Murphy how to run his show. They're just not letting Ryan use a song, that they created and they care about. Ryan needs to shut about about how Kings of Leon run their band. It's not for him to judge.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I gotta stop pretending who we are

Last night we watched "Speak" which was an interesting movie based on the book of the same name. You can look up the details, but, briefly, it's a story of a girl who is date-raped shortly before starting high school and how she deals (or doesn't) with it. What it stirred in me actually surprised me.

Now, before you worry, nothing like date-rape happened to me. I had a fairly ordinary high school experience, no major traumas there. Last night, I dreamt about high school. I dreamt about being a freshman again. It was one of those dreams that felt so real you wake up confused for a moment, wondering whether you are in "real life" now, or did you just wake up from the real real life. In my dream, I was a freshman again, walking through the halls, watching my fellow students. Those feelings from back then, they were in that dream, as real as they were back then. The upper classmen seemed so much older than me, so mature, so together. I was still a kid, trying to figure things out. They wore their make-up with confidence, they dressed liked they knew what they were doing, not like their moms had picked their clothes. I know now that this wasn't the case, that they probably weren't as together as they looked to me, but back then, I was in awe of them. They were like rockstars to me. They were more important than celebrities. They had their friends, their cliques, their private jokes. I wondered if I'd ever be like that.

Last night, I was there again. It wasn't any specific incident or real memory, but the feel of that first year of high school, it was there, so pure and real. I felt that electric buzz of tension running through me, a constant, like a buzzing you hardly notice until it stops and you notice the quiet, the void it's left. this tension wasn't a bad thing, but it wasn't exactly pleasant. I suppose back then I thought of it as excitement, but the reality was I was afraid. I was afraid that I would be found out. I was trying to reinvent myself,  I was trying to grow up, most of all, I was trying to shred what I was when I was in seventh grade, and I was afraid that someone would see the truth. That someone would pull me back.

I tell myself we all felt that way, but that can't be true. There had to be some who just knew, who were the real cool kids. The kids who had figured out who they were and where they wanted to be and just accepted it. And I got there, on some level. Yeah, I still get those moments where I'm afraid of being exposed, but don't we all? It's just no longer always there. It's just moments, and I can handle those. And I'm glad I'm awake.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This. Is. American. Idol!

I don't want my "American Idol" kinder and gentler. No sir, I do not. I want it in your face. I want the judges to tell the kids that they just aren't cutting it. I don't care about the crazies who are dressed up for airtime and go on fake rants against Simon (or whatever judge they will chose this year [probably J-Lo, as Steven might actually kick your ass]), practically winking at the camera. I want the judges to go off on those kids who sing for Mom and are told by their best friend, "oh, you totally have the best voice and should go on 'American Idol' and then we'd be rich and tour Europe and maybe Brad will ask you out." They need to be told the truth. That it's not easy. That there are thousands of kids which talent out there and most of them will have to be satisfied with being the lead in their high school musical and that will be their "glory days." That it's not simply about showing up.

There is a group of kids (a much larger group than we see on tv because they're not as funny as the crazies) who just expect this fame to be handed to them. That will never happen. You have to work. You have to take lessons and sign up for that mediocre group and play that coffee house and do whatever it takes. Last season on "Project Runway" one of the contestants said to the others, "This is not a hobby." and it isn't, if you do it right. Check out every one of the winners of American Idol: they all had some sort of a music background before the show. They took lessons, they toured with smaller acts. They weren't singing in the shower and then decided one day, "hey, I could do this as a career! Thank goodness that 'American Idol' audition is next week!" They were in there already, looking for whatever break they could find.

I hope that J-Lo gives it to them. Sure, it's easy to make fun of "Jenny from the Block" but the reality is she worked it: she saved for singing and dance lessons, she was a Fly Girl, she took whatever break she could find. I want the judges to ask the kids who are clearly unprepared what they do. What lessons do they take, what bands are they in, how many gigs they had last year? The kids at home have to see it as well. They have to see that you can have dreams but you also need to work for them.

It's one of the things I like about "So You Think You Can Dance." The judges will tell the kids that they're not ready. They will grill the kids who have obviously been only dancing for fun in their basement: what lessons have you taken, how many hours do you practice? But they will also tell the kids  with obvious talent that they should study more and come back the next year. And then again the next year if they're still not ready. If you watch the audition part of the show, they always show people who didn't make it one year and now this next  year, they got further. It's actually quite inspiring. There will be a street dancer who only knew his style last year, coming back after a year of lessons and kicking it on a tango. Even the judges get teary-eyed.

You should have dreams. You should have goals. But no one should expect that you wake up one day with those dreams handed to you, like you just won keys to a car. You have to eat the elephant.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Golden slumbers

Awards season is truly kicking off with the Golden Globes tonight. I like the Globes: you get movies and television and you get that slightly-off European sensibility and the stars get to drink. It's a good mix, pretty much guaranteed to be at least somewhat entertaining. That all said, I'm already exhausted by "Awards Season."

(A side note: it's kind of weird that we watch these, right? We certainly don't watch other industries give themselves prizes. But this is, like, news. We have parties around these shows.)

The problem with the awards season is that it just simply goes on way too long. Oscar nominations aren't even out and I'm already a bit tired of the whole thing. I can only imagine how the actual nominees feel. There's a few groups of nominees: the "of-course-they're-nominated", the group that rounds out the nominations but won't win, the surprise nominee group. Some categories are wide open, which at least makes it interesting, but a lot of the categories have the same group and the same winner. Maybe it might go back and forth between a couple of nominees, but the rest have to sit there, politely clapping and smiling, saying that it's an honor to just be nominated, but knowing that next weekend, it's another dress, another walk down that carpet, another interview that will be forgotten.

It's almost worst for the slamdunk winners. Last year, it was Mo'nique and Jeff Bridges and Christoph Waltz, having to go to every show and pretend that they weren't sure if they'd win or not. They had to be grateful and act a bit surprised and come with another speech that had to be more moving or funnier or deeper than the one they gave at the other ceremony. They had to be sure they didn't forget to thank someone and they had to wear things that wouldn't look awful when their picture was in the papers. And I'm sure there was that dreadful moment where they were just hoping that the big awards wouldn't be when that big upset occurred. "...and the Oscar goes to..." Hold your breath.

I will be watching tonight. I'll be hoping for some upsets and I'll be checking out the dresses. I'll hope for good speeches and interesting winners. But I'll be glad when the Oscars are over and the season is done.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mop and Glower

When I'm upset, I clean. To be clear, it's not the only thing I do when I'm upset, and I don't have to be upset to clean (although, looking around my house, you might think I'm the happiest person in the world.) But I have found that when I'm upset about something, cleaning up is amazing therapy.

I'm not sure how old I was when I discovered this, but I do remember cleaning my closet in my bedroom in Toledo when I got angry as a kid. When I was too frustrated/mad/full of something to do anything productive, but I had to work off some of the adrenaline or whatever I had that was burning inside of me, I could always just start emptying out my closet. It was a pretty good bet that the shoes were in a pile, unmatched; there would be clothes on the floor from poor hanging jobs; my boxes of toys and other paraphernalia, a earlier attempt at organization, had just become a jumble. No matter, I had fury to burn off -- it was all coming OUT of that closet!

It felt great, just pulling things out. No thinking, just doing. When I was most upset, I had the shoes to toss about, which were pretty resistant to any mood, and then I could go from there. I was rarely bothered by my parents during this: what parent is going to stop their kid from cleaning out their closet? This was my time to get it all out, and it seemed like I had so much in there. My closet ran a little ways off to the side behind the wall, so it was alway surprising how much stuff I pulled out. But there it all was, taking over the floorspace in my room.

It always seemed to work out: that burst of angry energy was always just about the right amount to clear that closet out. And then began the task of putting it all back. Putting everything back gave my mind something else to do about rather than ponder the great wrong that had lead to this empty closet. I had shoes to find and match up, boxes to sort, clothes that needed to be re-ironed or handed down to my sister. I had to decide if I wanted an different system of organization. I had to reread all those letters, assess all those treasures.

I can't say that having a clean closet always offset what I was feeling, but it did make me feel better, looking at my latest attempt at organization. I may have been wronged in a way that no other human being in the history of the world has ever known, but, despite it all, my closet was clean. I could face another day.

I suppose it could be worse. That said, don't judge my mood by the amount of clutter on my desk.