Self-Portraits (Part Two)

I took these last night for a bit of fun. I like to do some festive self-portraits in the lead up to Christmas and after I had a lot of fun doing my some studio-style self-portraits a few week ago, I thought I’d do these in the same style too. I like how they came out and I did some more normal, non-Christmas themed portraits too. Hope you like them.

Photos © CJ Levinson 2018

I Can’t See New York

Seventeen years ~
Feels like a lifetime,
And yesterday ~
We remember

In some ways it’s hard to believe that it’s been seventeen years since September 11. It seems like an age ago – it was more than half my lifetime ago now, in fact. The world has changed so much.

And yet in other ways it barely feels like much time has passed at all. I still remember seeing it so clearly on television; watching the second plane crash, the towers fall. The horror, the shock, the disbelief.

Perhaps that is the way of historic moments though. In searing themselves into our consciousness, they change us, change the world. And so when we think of them it’s almost like time continues to stand still, even after so long.

I wanted to do something to mark the day besides a short poem, so I thought I would share a song as well. Tori Amos is one of my favourite artists and it was actually through this song, I Can’t See New York, that I discovered a lot of her more modern music.

It’s from the 2002 album Scalet’s Walk, which is about a young woman’s journey from one side of America to the other, exploring Native American history and learning about political extremism and American culture, as well as a thousand other things.

The album is a masterpiece and as Amos’s protagonist approaches the end of her journey, she puts her on a plane above New York, circling above ash and dust, confused and terrified as a plane crashes and 9/11 unfolds.

It’s a hauntingly beautiful song and I’ve always thought one of the most powerful songs about that day. So many years later it still captures that awful sense of confusion and sadness so very well.

My thoughts to everyone in the US today.

Haiqua © CJ Levinson 2018

Beautiful Bag End

Bag End.jpg

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. ~ JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

It’s been a year this week since I went to New Zealand and I’ve been going back through some of the photos I took during the trip recently. I found this one today from Hobbiton which I’d always liked but had never really done much with. 

It’s of Bag End, the set of the Hobbit-hole home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. 

Hobbiton is an incredible location and Bag End is definitely one of the highlights. It really is as beautiful as it looks in the films; even more so actually as you can see all of the details that just pass too quickly on screen to take in.

If you ever get the chance to go I’d highly recommend it. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Photo © CJ Levinson 2015

The I Am Blues

Just a quick note. Some of you may remember a poem I wrote a few years ago called I Am. Apparently it’s just been turned into a song.

I didn’t know anything about it and only recently stumbled across it via Google; I had licensed it under a creative commons licence and it looks like someone liked it enough to turn it into a kind of song/audio reading on ccMixter.

It’s actually two samples; an a cappella reading of the poem by Togora and then a remix with music added by Syenta. I think it’s excellent, particularly for what was probably just a quick project, and I really like the bluesy feel to it; suits the poem perfectly.

I’ve embedded it below if anyone wants to listen and the original poem is available here. My thanks to Togora and Syenta for their work; I’m honoured that they liked my poem enough to reinterpret it. Makes me want to write a proper song. 😉

Video: Do You Remember?

Didn’t really get a chance to mention this in my last post but I’m starting a new project I thought a few people might be interested in. I explain more in the video above but basically I’m starting a kind of video diary while I’m writing the novel; hopefully it will show how it all develops over time.

I’ll be doing videos about some other things as well and I’ll also be reading some of my poetry and short stories from time to time. I read one of my poems, Do You Remember?, in the first video.

I’ll be posting most of the videos on the blog but if you want you can subscribe on YouTube, and it’s also on Vimeo as well. Hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think! 😉

Oscar Haiku

I love the Oscars. I’m a big movie buff so watching the Oscars is one of my favourite things each year. It always brings back a lot of memories, particularly of certain films and where I was at that time in my life. I can still remember when Roberto Benigni won; he was so happy and infectious, it made me look for Life is Beautiful, which is now one of my favourite films.

I’ve been looking forward to the Oscars this year. One reason is because I like Steve Martin but it’s also because we’re getting the telecast live this year, which is a bonus. In the past it hasn’t been shown live in Australia, so I’ve usually had to dodge the news and phone calls all day until finally watching a delayed telecast in the evening. This time I’ll be able to watch the whole thing live.

I tend to see most of the nominated films on DVD, so the only one I’ve seen so far is Avatar, and I’ve read the book of Precious (Push). I liked Avatar but to be honest I’m hoping (on reputation) that The Hurt Locker or Up in the Air win. Avatar was fun and it’s a brilliant technical achievement but the script was clichéd and some of the dialogue was terrible. It deserves to win most of the technical awards but I’d rather see The Hurt Locker win Best Picture. And Kathryn Bigelow Best Director. It’s about time a woman won. Finally.

I’d like to see Jeff Bridges win an Oscar at last but apart from that, I’m not really bothered about the other main awards. The one category I’d like to see an upset in is the musical score. I just don’t get Giacchino’s work; it all sounds like blaring horns to me. I think Alexandre Desplat deserves to win but it won’t happen.

Anyway, to get into the Oscar spirit I’ve written several haiku of my favourite films. I’ve tried to capture the spirit of each film and it was a lot of fun – although reducing Gone with the Wind to 17 syllables was very difficult!

There are fifteen haiku and each film was nominated for Best Picture. Only 10 of them actually won the Oscar, though. Can you tell me which ones didn’t win? 😉

Hope you enjoy them. Have you seen many of the Oscar nominated films this year?

The Ring of Power:
A burden none can carry
Except one so small

(The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

Torn between
Love and virtue
Rick sends his love away
While Sam plays on

(Casablanca)

Dorothy dreams
Of witches and Oz
Of the Yellow Brick Road
And home

(The Wizard of Oz)

Mrs. Robinson
Seduces a younger man:
He loves her daughter

(The Graduate)

A love unrequited
Burns like the
Southern sun
And Scarlett’s spirit

(Gone with the Wind)

If life’s like
A box of chocolates
Why does love have
A bitter taste?

(Forrest Gump)

Young woman
Teaches children to sing
And finds love
As Nazis descend

(The Sound of Music)

Boy who walks the sky
Meets pirates and a princess:
The Force is with him

(Star Wars)

The underdog
Finally given his chance
To fly
Finds love instead

(Rocky)

A broken soldier
Finds solace among the Sioux
Before war returns

(Dances With Wolves)

The life of one
Reclusive man
Described in a single word:
Rosebud

(Citizen Kane)

Normandy
Blood on the water
Death in the air:
He still remembers

(Saving Private Ryan)

The life of a Don
Brutal and vicious:
Your son becomes you

(The Godfather)

Former boxer
Finds his voice against
The mob
To become a hero

(On the Waterfront)

Doomed voyage
Ends in icy waters
But their love will last
Forever

(Titanic)

Image Credit: Past Projections ~ Dan Duggan

Update: The Oscars finished about an hour ago. I found it disappointing after all that. Steve Martin & Alec Baldwin did quite well but it was too old-fashioned at times. The main problem was it had no momentum. By getting rid of the performances, it just dragged on and on.

Also, did I miss it or was Farrah Fawcett left off the In Memoriam tribute? Very strange. Quite underwhelming overall. But at least Jeff Bridges and Kathryn Bigelow won. About time too.

Aussie Jingle Bells

It’s hard to believe it’s almost Christmas again, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem like that long ago since we were wrapping gifts and singing Christmas songs last year. 2009’s gone by so quickly. Or maybe I’m just getting older.

I enjoy Christmas but for different reasons than I used to. I’m not religious anymore but I still enjoy the spirit of the season and the message of peace and good will. It’s the little things about Christmas I enjoy most; seeing the lights and decorations in the city, spending time with family and friends. That’s what Christmas is about to me.

To help get into the Christmas spirit this year I thought I’d post a fun Christmas song, like I did last year. This is my take on Jingle Bells, one of my favourite Christmas songs. I rewrote it to reflect a typical hot Aussie Christmas. It turned out quite well in the end.

In researching it I actually learnt a lot about the song. Apparently Jingle Bells was actually written in 1857 for Thanksgiving, not Christmas. Which makes sense when you think about it as modern Christmas celebrations didn’t start until later. Also there are actually four verses to Jingle Bells, which I didn’t know; you rarely hear the last two.

In any case, I hope you enjoy it. And have a wonderful festive season. 😉

Aussie Jingle Bells

Dashing through the house
In an old shirt and one shoe
Running late again
And you need the loo
Front door starts to ring
As the guests arrive
Bringing lots of gifts and pressies
Up the front drive

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Now the pressies are unwrapped
We’re sitting by the tree
Lights are all turned on
Looks pretty as can be
We talk about old friends
And have a glass of wine
While the kids play with their toys
Out in the sunshine

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Soon it’s two o’clock
We’re by the barbeque
Eating snags and prawns
And drinking beer too
Grandma’s made the cake
It’s a little dry
We try to eat it with one hand
While we’re busy swatting flies

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

The light is getting dim
It’s almost time to go
We take a family snap
Under the mistletoe
The kids are fast asleep
We’re singing Christmas songs
Don’t you wish Christmas day
Could last all summer long!

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way!

Songs of the 00s

Have you seen this video? It was recorded in 2005 at New York University’s annual talent competition, Ultraviolet Live. It’s sung by a young woman called Stefani Germanotta. Or, as she’s now known, Lady Gaga.

Hard to recognise her, isn’t it? It’s a good performance, notably without any of the histrionics she’s become known for. She just sings and it’s the first time I’ve been able to hear her voice before, without the autotuning or other effects.

I’m not a big fan of Gaga or of mainstream pop but some of her songs are catchy. This Gaga, though, I like. If you compare it to her latest single, Bad Romance, it’s hard to believe it’s the same singer.

Watching it, it makes me wonder if the only way artists can become successful these days is through these constructs… if music is so much about personality and persona and controversy now that a good voice just isn’t enough.

I think Gaga is a good representation of music in the 00s. Music has changed so much in the last 10 years. Like Gaga it’s become a mix of styles, autotuned, over-sexed and notable as much for controversy as talent. But there’s been a lot of good music that has continued to push the boundaries as well.

I listen to a lot of music, particularly while I’m writing, and it’s been interesting watching how music has evolved through the decade. There’s really been no one theme to the 00s; it’s been a mix of styles – hip hop, R&B, chillout, dance – and I think that reflects how our attitude towards music and the industry has changed as well.

For me, and I imagine many people, the iPod has become synonymous with the 00s. It’s changed the way we listen to music. But the biggest impact on the industry this decade has been online. Illegal downloads have taken a huge chunk out of the industry and when you consider the influence of sites like YouTube and MySpace as well, you can see how much of an impact the net has had on the 00s.

Personally I think it’s been an interesting decade for music but not a particularly good one. As the decade’s gone by a lot of music has become sterile and repetitive and my taste in music has shifted more towards alternative artists these days. Perhaps I’ve just grown up. But there’s still been a lot of good music in the 00s as well. Protest songs, dance music, and just good pop that gets in your head without your even realising it.

As my last post looked back at my favourite books of the 00s, I thought it’d be fun to list my favourite songs of the 00s as well. To give a bit of a sense of my musical tastes and what I’ve been listening to while I write. So this is a list of my top 30 songs from the 00s, with links to their videos as well.

I hope you enjoy it. Let me know which ones you like (or hate). What are your favourite songs of the 00s?

  • 30) Thank You (2001)
    Dido

    A beautiful song with Dido’s gentle voice. Was everywhere in 2001.
  • 29) Straight Lines (2007)
    Silverchair

    Silverchair’s return after a four year hiatus. Alternative rock at its best.
  • 28) Anyone Else But You (2001)
    The Moldy Peaches

    Best known from the film Juno. Deceptively simple and catchy.
  • 27) Young Folks (2006)
    Peter Bjorn And John

    A charming song with dreamlike tones. It’s become an anthem for Gen Y.
  • 26) Don’t Stop the Music (2007)
    Rihanna

    Rihanna’s transition from pop to dance. Catchy with a great beat.
  • 25) Dear Mr. President (2006)
    P!nk

    A letter to George Bush. One of the best protest songs of the 00s.
  • 24) Cry Me a River (2002)
    Justin Timberlake

    Catchy R&B/pop as Timberlake responds to his split with Britney Spears.
  • 23) It’s My Life (2000)
    Bon Jovi

    A lively, affirming rock song. One of the great anthems of the 00s.
  • 22) The Rising (2002)
    Bruce Springsteen

    Powerful reflection on 9/11. One of Springsteen’s greatest songs.
  • 21) My People (2007)
    The Presets

    An angry electropunk/synthpop hybrid, with an incredible clip.

  • 20) Hey Ya! (2003)
    Outkast

    A rousing mix of funk and hip hop, with one of the best clips of the 00s.
  • 19) Fallin’ (2001)
    Alicia Keys

    An R&B/soul powerhouse with a brilliant vocal. Dominated the charts.
  • 18) One More Time (2000)
    Daft Punk

    One of the first innovative uses of autotune. Very catchy.
  • 17) Idioteque (2000)
    Radiohead

    One of Radiohead’s greatest and most experimental songs.
  • 16) The Blower’s Daughter (2004)
    Damien Rice

    Haunting ballad with an incredible refrain. Featured in the film Closer.
  • 15) Falling Slowly (2006)
    Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

    A beautiful love song written for the film Once. Won an Oscar in 2008.
  • 14) Steer (2007)
    Missy Higgins

    A bubbly, effervescent pop song. Catchy and infectious.
  • 12) Gather to the Chapel (2007)
    Liam Finn

    Beautiful song about saying goodbye. Inspired by Paul Hester.
  • 11) Beautiful Day (2000)
    U2

    One of U2’s most anthemic rock songs. Perfect for the new millennium.

  • 10) Where Is the Love? (2003)
    The Black Eyed Peas

    Angry anti-war anthem. The Black Eyed Peas’ breakthrough single.
  • 9) On a Night like This (2000)
    Kylie Minogue

    A seductive pop song that came to represent the Sydney Olympics.
  • 8) Explain (2006)
    Sarah Blasko

    Haunting ballad set to Blasko’s raspy voice, with a beautiful clip.
  • 7) How Far We’ve Come (2007)
    Matchbox Twenty

    Rousing anthem for global warming with a catchy chorus.
  • 6) Seven Nation Army (2003)
    The White Stripes

    One of the best rock songs of the 00s, with an incredible riff and clip.
  • 5) The Scientist (2002)
    Coldplay

    A beautiful piano ballad, driven by Chris Martin’s gentle falsetto.
  • 2) 1234 (2007)
    Feist

    Brilliantly simple, catchy pop song that became the face of the iPod.
  • 1) Crazy (2006)
    Gnarls Barkley

    Refreshing mix of R&B and soul. Sounded like nothing else this decade.

Gone Too Soon

I’m still stunned by the last couple of days. It’s hard to believe we’ve lost two of the most iconic stars of the twentieth century in one day.

I’ve been reading the tributes from around the world for both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett but I think this one by Cathy Babao Guballa captures the feeling beautifully; that their lives, having achieved so much and touched so many people, should remind us of how fragile life really is, and to enjoy what’s important in our lives every day.

Jackson’s death in particular has affected me. These last two days it’s seemed like he has been everywhere; every shop is playing his music and every now and then you see a small crowd gathered in front of a TV, watching a concert or one of his music videos on DVD before moving on. It’s like everyone wants to be a part of it, to share their memories. The last time I can remember that was with Princess Diana’s death.

I was always more of a casual fan but had great respect for what he achieved, particularly in his early career; breaking down racial barriers long before Oprah, Tiger Woods or Obama, and advancing modern dance to another level. At times watching Jackson dance was like watching a ballerino, he was so graceful; other times he was so raw, primal. He always dominated the stage. I doubt we’ll see someone as multidimensional as he was again.

He was also an underrated songwriter, writing many of his best known songs, and I don’t think anyone (except perhaps The Beatles) could have rivalled the quality of his output during his most successful period, with Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, and Destiny, Triumph and Victory with The Jacksons.

If I had to choose a favourite song it would probably be Man in the Mirror. It’s a beautiful song about how making a change in the world has to begin with making a change in your own life first. It’s a different side of Jackson where you’re carried into the song by his voice alone; with the events in Iran at the moment, the message seems just as relevant.

As we all know his later life was plagued by bizarre behaviour, and while I’m not excusing it I always felt most of it was due to his childhood. It inspired his creativity but he always seemed desperate for the childhood he had never had… even trying to recapture the appearance of youth through plastic surgery, until it ended up becoming a form of self-mutilation.

But regardless of that, his music endures and will always be with us. He gave millions of people great joy for so many years and that’s the way I want to remember him: so young and vibrant, like a burning star dancing in the sky.

I think it’s Fawcett’s smile I’ll remember best. The majority of her career was before my time but I remember first seeing her in a small role in Logan’s Run, and then in reruns of Charlie’s Angels in the 90s. The thing which struck me about her then and still does now wasn’t so much her beauty but her charm; some people can be physically beautiful but ugly in other ways, but there was just something genuine about her that seemed to shine through.

I always thought she was a better actress than people gave her credit for as well; she was excellent in The Apostle, opposite Robert Duvall, but of course she was more important as a cultural icon in the 70s and how that affected the roles of women. Charlie’s Angels showed that women could be powerful and successful in traditionally male-oriented roles, something few shows had shown before. She also represented something for America at the time; following a bloody war and the Watergate scandal, for everyday Americans she and Charlie’s Angels presented an empowering image and a distraction from the chaos surrounding them. I think that’s why she was so popular with both men and women, particularly with the poster and her fashion.

My enduring memory of Fawcett, though, is of how she continued to handle herself with grace and dignity right up until the end. Even while the media hounded her, and even when the cancer returned, she never gave up and still had that same beautiful smile on her face.

I feel very sorry for her family; her son is my age. Hopefully through her struggle she’ll help to save many more lives.

I guess there are certain days which will always stand out in my memory; like when Kurt Cobain or Michael Hutchence died, or when Heath Ledger or JFK Jr passed away, or Princess Diana. Now I’ll be adding two more names to the list. They’ve left us too soon. But with memories to last a lifetime.