Musical Monday #2: Makin’s of a Song

Happy Musical Monday! This is a totally small series I’m doing where I lean into the discomfort I have around talking about what music I like. Read my first post here, and buckle up for an odd combination of music and introspection.

“Makin’s of a Song” by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson

Lyrics — iTunes

I’m not at all what you’d call a Country Music fan, but both my parents are from Montana, and we’d drive back every summer to visit family for a few weeks, so I guess you could say I built up an immunity. Most country is a little bit too melodramatic and twangy for my taste, and it tends to get associated with a ignorant and hateful mindset, which I’m definitely not about. But there’s something calming about country music.

Ironically, this song didn’t come to me during those summers as a child. My dad didn’t start really listening to Willie Nelson until I was in college, but he eventually stumbled upon the album Clean Shirt by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, and although we were taking far fewer road trips at that point, it quickly became the soundtrack to family adventure. This album may not be one I’m drawn to on the daily (I don’t even own a copy of it), but I’m happy to leave the cd playing whenever I borrow my parents’ car, and the songs have stayed with me.

The album is basically about growing up. Being older and wiser than you used to be, but maybe no less willing to have an adventure. And this song in particular reminds me of how I view experiences. Sometimes things can be horrible, but at least it gives you something to write about later.

“Always send a big guy for the money
Don’t give ’em no excuse to do you wrong
Even when you lose you’re still the winner
At least you’ve got the making’s of a song..”

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Musical Monday #1: Marilyn Hanson

I’ve always felt uncomfortable talking about music. It’s one of those “get to know you” questions a lot of people break out during awkward silences: “what kind of music do you listen to?” I hate that question, because it always seems like my answer is wrong. Too much oldies, too much pop; not enough passion, not enough opinions. But I do love music, I’m just very bad at keeping track of big groups. I know more about 90s pop now then I did when I was at prime listening age back in the 90s, but that’s still not a heck of a lot. And after writing, singing is one of the things I enjoy most.

But I’m not musical. I took a few years of guitar in high school, and before that a smattering of piano/violin/clarinet as my parents and the public school system tried to instill in me musical skills (and the responsibility of practicing regularly). I was in the nerdiest celtic band ever (we specialized in covers of video game music) in high school. I was in choir on and off, but never had any real, proper training, and always froze when auditioning for solos. My music-major roommate has desperately tried to explain music theory to me a number of times, and it just doesn’t sink in.

That is to say, I’m not terribly qualified to talk about music. But I’m going to anyway. I’m going to lean into this discomfort and try to just enjoy talking about the songs I love, so I don’t have to flinch away from that question every time. What kind of music do I listen to? Well, lets find out.

“Marilyn Hanson” by Hank Green & the Perfect Strangers


I’ve liked Hank Green’s music for a long time now. You may recognize him as half of the brother duo that comprises the Vlogbrothers (the other half of which is John Green, of The Fault in Our Stars fame). He does about a million things (including writing a book), but one of them is making and performing music. His song “Accio Deathly Hallows” is one of the early reasons he and his brother gained so much Youtube fame, and he specializes in what I guess I’d call nerdy indy rock? He does some wrock and some punk and a mix of other stuff. Incongruent is his fourth album, and I’d argue his best. It’s certainly my favorite. His solo stuff is charming, but the overall production quality seems so much higher on Incongruent, and he really flourishes with accompaniment. But, what do I know?

I’m mainly here for the lyrics, and although this song has a kind of humorous title, the tone is so…sad. Nostalgic, with that melancholy tug at the heart. I’ve found I really seek out this mood when I’m writing (and in my writing, I tend to pick at the idea of losing something ephemeral that was never really yours to begin with). This song embodies that; it’s all about looking back on a time you shared with someone, that maybe wasn’t perfect or significant, but that you can’t ever really shake the loss of.

When I thought of starting this blog series, this was one of the first songs that occurred to me. I hesitated, because most people won’t have heard of this song–but that’s one of the reasons I want to mention it. There are definitely other songs that embody this feeling, but I can’t stop listening to this one.

I’m not someone who can have music going when they write, but Incongruent is one of the albums that gets me in the right mood to dive into a story. It also picks me up when I need it, because although there’s this sadness to songs like “Marilyn Hanson,” there’s a sense of hope, too.

“Did you ever wanna go to back where we were before?
Smell that pot smoke wafting out from under your dad’s door
And the steak knives by the bedside
Jokes cracked in the black light
They were maybe not the best times but, well I’ve had worse
And I wouldn’t trade those memories for the whole fucking earth…”

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Dragon Ball Super is Ending, and I’m Not Ok

Alright, logically, I know everything will work out. But I’m still very much in my feels about this.

It’s been confirmed that as of episode 131 in March, Dragon Ball Super will be over…at least for the foreseeable future. Now what this means for the franchise is unclear, but it’s definitely not going away any time soon. There’s a movie slotted for December of this year, and I’m assuming they want all their energy focused on that. Once that’s done, my theory/hope is that they’ll be back with a new tv series, probably under a new name, which will jump past Super, landing on the other side of Z, after Goku’s gone off to train Uub. Super, which started during the ten year gap between the defeat of Buu and the end of Z, has always been working within a deadline.  They could only do so much, only get so far, because everyone has to turn up to see Pan (and yeah yeah, Uub) fight in that World Martial Arts Tournament. Granted, Dragon Ball has always been good at taking it’s time (I’m pretty sure the whole Buu saga pretty much takes place within a matter of weeks), but we’ve been feeling the drag on some characters, specifically the kids. This is a good opportunity to refresh the series, and get it moving forward and reaching new heights. (And finally de-canonizing GT once and for all)

But I really, really don’t want it to end.

Super has had it’s stumbling blocks, but overall, I feel like each arc has been better than the previous one (with the possible exception of the Golden Frieza saga). The Universe 6 saga opened up a lot of doors, probably the best being the introduction of an entirely new planet of Saiyans, and I enjoyed the Future Trunks saga a lot, even if it did stumble at the finish line. The Universe Survival saga has really blown me away–while it’s not been perfect, it’s surprised me at almost every turn, kept me engaged, and made the stakes feel realer than they have in a long, long time; and done this all without a true villain to speak of. I feel like Super has finally hit it’s stride. This is the show I’ve been wanting; in many ways, the show I’ve been chasing since I was a teenager.

And now, it’s ending.

We don’t know what will happen next. We don’t know that whatever magic is making this saga work will still be alive on the other side of the movie. We don’t know that we won’t lose other beloved talents, like we lost Bulma’s Japanese voice actress, Hiromu Tsuru, at the end of last year. Now, it could be for the best. It could be that if Super continued through the production of the new movie, that magic would be lost anyway, as attention and talent got split. But it feels risky to end it when it’s at such a high, and when it’s left so many possibilities still to explore, especially without a return planned. We’ve been promised a tour of Universe 6, and I want to see more of those Saiyans. I want to see more proud Grandpa Piccolo and protective Papa Vegeta. I want to, maybe, finally, see some character development forced out of Goku.

I guess for now, we’ll just have to hold our breath for the next Dragon Ball Z Abridged episode (and pick up a copy of Dragon Ball FighterZ).

I leave you with my favorite ending theme from Super (don’t worry, it’s not spoilery):

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2018 – Media Literacy Goals

A shot of Bruce Willis from Die Hard, with a building exploding behind him. Palette is mostly oranges, blacks, and greys.

Ok, I know February is a little late for New Years resolutions…but this is my blog, I’ll set goals whenever I feel like it!

I do have some general goals like “work out more,” “eat better,” and “update your damn blog every week,” but I wanted to do something a bit more interesting this year.

Like many people, there are a lot of books/movies/tv shows that I’ve somehow just…missed. Despite getting a Film Studies minor, I’ve still never seen Citizen Kane (though I’ve seen Casablanca more times that I can count). Sometimes that makes discussing popular culture difficult. This is a built up language, after all, and it helps if we’re all working with the same background.

So, to that end, my goal for 2018 is to fill some of these holes in my media literacy! I’m going to keep lists here of media I need to consume, and cross them off once I do. (I’m also cheating and adding a few that I got to in December…because I’m a rebel like that)

On that note, if you can think of something that absolutely everyone should have seen/read/whatever by now, let me know! If I haven’t gotten to it yet, I’ll add it to the list!

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Why Does Everyone Like Vegeta?

This image comes from a reddit thread by xXShatter_ForceXx.

I’ve run into this question a lot, both in trying to explain my love of DBZ to non-fans, and in commiserating with fellow fans. Vegeta is a very popular character. It’s rare to see promotional material without him, and he’s one of the characters that is most recognized by people who aren’t familiar with the show—even among those who don’t watch anime. And there are good reasons for this.

Of course, he has his haters. There are people who legitimately don’t like the character, and those that have been pushed into hating him by his sheer popularity. And they have their reasons. Despite being one of “the good guys” for most of the show at this point, it wasn’t until the later part of Z that he really showed any regard for human life, or even the life of his family and friends. He can get kind of one-note (“defeat Kakarrot!” “My pride!”). Although he’s softened a bit by Super, many feel like that’s been a bit out-of-character. But his popularity definitely isn’t an accident, and if you’re a Vegeta fan, you’re in good company.

First off, if you’re attracted to men, Vegeta checks a lot of boxes as a male character. He has a dark, tortured past. He’s full of machismo surliness, and gives absolutely no fucks (until he does, when your heart breaks). He definitely fits into a type that I myself am guilty of enjoying: reformed baddy who still walks that grey line between good and evil.

I assume these are also the reasons your “typical” Dragon Ball fan (heterosexual boys/men) like him; he’s badass, gives no fucks, and is just generally pretty cool. He’s also written with a lot of snarky one-liners, which always makes for good tv.

These are all perfectly good reasons to like him, whether or not you consider yourself a “fan.” But I don’t think they’re the most interesting reasons, so lets dive right in.

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PodCon 2017 – Thoughts

I was in Seattle this last weekend for PodCon, doing some research for a secret project (and nerding out a great deal, of course). PodCon is the first podcast-specific convention (at least as far as I’m aware), and it was run by big hitters like Hank Green, the McElroy brothers, and the creators of Welcome to Night Vale. It was a small con for sure, but there was plenty to do, and all the panels I went to were stellar.

Conventions are nothing new to me. I’ve been going to some form of a convention at least once a year since I was about fifteen (Anime Expo was my first con, which even in 2002 was still pretty massive). I’ve been to huge cons (Anime Expo, DragonCon, Emerald City Con), and tiny cons (HavenCon most recently, as well as the fledgling years of KumoriCon, just to name a few). I’ve also attended a smattering of more “professional” conferences, mostly book-related. And I have to say, Podcon felt different.

It wasn’t just the people. Podcasts are nerdy enough that I’m pretty sure many of the attendees had been to cross-over nerdfests before. It felt like a special con, even just down to the careful way everything was laid out. So, lets break it down, shall we?

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Turtles All the Way Down

Cover of Turtles All the Way Down, but John Green. A cream background with an orange spiral down the length of the book, with the title and author as overlayed black text.

I feel like I was in a unique position when I read this book, even though that unique position is shared by literally millions of other fans of John Green. There’s this community that has developed around the youtube channel John shares with his brother Hank (we call ourselves Nerdfighters), and as I think happens with a lot of vlog-style personal youtube channels, if you watch the videos often enough, and over enough time, it starts to feel like you really know that person, even if, like me, you only ever met John for approximately 30 seconds at a book signing over 5 years ago.

So when I read Turtles All the Way Down, it felt like I was reading a book by a friend. I could see so much of John in every page, more so than in any of his previous books. John Green is one of those writers that wears a lot of themselves on their sleeves when they write. His early books (most notably, in my opinion, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns) feel a lot like stories of his own life, but I didn’t “know” him when he wrote them, so they resonated in different ways for me. The Fault in Our Stars is definitely a testament to the life and death of Ester Earl, which played out in Nerdfighteria, but I was only around for the aftermath. With Turtles, John is really tackling his life-long battle with mental illness, which he’s very honest about in his videos, especially over the last few years.

In a lot of ways, Turtles is a response to TFIOS, but not so much to the book itself as to the explosion around it’s publication and the subsequent movie. I think of those as dark times in Nerdfighteria, not because I didn’t like the book (I did) or because the movie wasn’t a great adaptation (it was), but because if you were paying attention, you could really see the toll that level of stress was taking on John.

Some authors never bounce back from a bestselling book like The Fault in Our Stars. It made “John Green” all but a household name. Most people in my life won’t necessarily recognize his name, but they’ll know who I’m talking about when I mention TFIOS. John Green was already a big name in YA and book communities, but the success of the TFIOS book and movie really propelled him into the rest of the public consciousness. It’s hard to follow up that kind of success.

Perhaps ironically, Turtles doesn’t remind me as much of his previous books as it does Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (one of my favorite books, I might add). Both have characters who suffer from anxiety, although it manifests very differently in both their cases. Both protagonists are struggling to find their way to themselves, while also feeling like a burden to the people around them. They have trouble with romance; they have trouble just functioning in their daily lives, sometimes; and they both fight with this desire to feel or at least act “normal,” which is something that’s easy to relate to even if you’re lucky enough not to be saddled with the extra struggle of having a mental illness. Although both are very targeted in their characters, they’re still easy to relate to, and I think they really add positively to the conversation around mental illness (although I think this without being a part of that conversation, so take that with a grain of salt).

I almost feel like I’m too close to John to be able to adequately judge if this was a good or a bad book (also, what does that really even mean?), but it was an impactful book. It left me thinking, even just between paragraphs, and the ending was satisfying without being too neat, which I always appreciate.

There were a few places where I was left wanting. There were approximately five seconds in which I thought Aza’s best friend, Daisy, might be queer, but she was pretty quickly shuffled into a heterosexual relationship. This wasn’t a problem necessarily, and of course being in a het relationship doesn’t guarantee the character is heterosexual (as opposed to bisexual, pansexual, or some other identity), but since John’s only written queer characters when his co-writer was a gay man, it would have been nice to see him actively incorporate one. And I think Daisy could have been completely unchanged as a character if her love interest had been female. It would have only added to the experience of the book for me, and wouldn’t have negatively effected Aza’s story in any way.

Ok, this next point is about the end, and I’m going to try to do it as non-spoilery as possible, but you have been warned!

I’m not sure how I feel about the last page or so of the book, where John Green does something you’re generally not advised to do in YA books: jumps to the characters later in life. The YA editor in me was screaming, but I see why the choice was made. It’s one of those details that flies when your audience is adults, and is harder to pull off when your audience in teens, but since John Green does have such a varied readership (just look at the cover—this is not being aggressively marketed at teens; it’s being left open to both teen and adult readers, similar to how they marketed TFIOS, which I think speaks volumes about who they’re hoping to grab the attention of—that is, everyone), it can slide by. As an adult reader, I kind of like it; it makes me think of all the ways I’ve changed since I was Teen Lucy. But it did take me out of the book a little. It was one of the parts that felt especially dripping with John’s personal voice, and that’s not a bad thing necessarily, but like I said, I have mixed feelings about it.

Ok, the potentially-spoilery part is over!

Overall, this book was exactly what I was hoping for: a continued distance between current John books and the legacy he started back with Looking for Alaska. I feel like he was stuck for a few years writing the same book over and over again, and I liked all the iterations of it, but I’m happy to see him continuing in the vein of TFIOS and treading new ground. It was also mercifully different from TFIOS in so many ways that I can see him growing and changing as an author. I’m such a proud little fan right now!

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