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

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. 😉

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.

Great Southern Land

Today was Australia Day, which is Australia’s official national day. It’s a public holiday and commemorates the arrival of Captain Phillip and the First Fleet in 1788. For most people it is an opportunity to display our national pride and you’ll often see flags in windows and people wearing green and gold at barbecues and lunches. It’s a patriotic day that brings unity despite our many differences: the one day where we are just Australian.

For me Australia Day holds a slightly different meaning. I am proudly Australian but my parents were originally English; they lived in Australia for more than 15 years before becoming Australian citizens themselves. Witnessing their citizenship ceremony was one of the proudest moments of my life. But perhaps because of that I have always preferred a quieter observation; while other people attend festivals I prefer to take time thinking about what Australia means to me, how far we’ve come and still have to go.

chris by the harbour

Something I always do around this time is to look back through some of our old photographs and I found this one earlier. I can’t believe it but it must be almost 20 years old now; I still remember some of that day, near the harbour and the botanic gardens. We had ice cream afterwards. And yes, that is me in the picture. I was 4 years old. Ugly little bugger, wasn’t I? 😉

Of all the photographs we have this is one of my favourites, not just because it captures the memories I still have of that day but also because it’s like a snapshot of how I see Australia. To me Australia isn’t a nation in the sense that America is; we’re much younger and don’t have the same history and culture behind us. We’re still growing and finding our identity and culture. That’s what I see in the photo: that I would grow, and Australia would as well.

Over the last 20 years Australia has changed a lot and it has been interesting watching those changes unfold. To be frank some of them have disturbed me, particularly as our civil liberties have unravelled, but we’ve also made progress. The apology to Indigenous Australians last year was a watershed moment in our development as a nation and raises the real possibility for reconciliation one day. That indigenous leader Mick Dodson was named Australian of the Year this year is another step towards that.

But we’re not there yet. There are still a lot of obstacles in the way and Australia Day itself is one of them. Some people think the date should be changed from January 26 so it includes all Australians and I agree; many Aboriginal Australians consider it to be “Invasion Day” and to have a national day which isn’t inclusive of the first Australians seems culturally insensitive to me and always has. Federation Day, January 1st, 1901, seems more suitable, the day we gained interdependence from Britain.

But when I think of all we’ve achieved as a young country, though – from the biggest townships to the smallest farms, from the beaches of Gallipoli to the villages of East Timor -, it makes me extremely proud. We’re a country that came about partially by accident; under other circumstances we could have been a Dutch or French settlement and if not for the American Revolution the events of our colonisation by Britain would’ve been very different. As the descendants of convicts, we’ve developed a stable democracy and are slowly moving towards becoming a republic. That is not a bad start for any country.

Today the thing I find myself thinking about the most is our landscape. That’s what I noticed most looking at that photograph, how after 20 years the harbour is still the same… the water the same brilliant blue. I think it’s something a lot of us take for granted; for many of us Australia is just there but how many of us have really seen it, have seen Kakadu or Kings Canyon? I know I hope to at some stage, to see Uluru at sunset and the ancient art in the Abrakurrie caves. I think it’s our landscape which defines our identity and it’s what I’m most grateful for.

There’s one song that always comes to mind when I think of Australia. It’s Icehouse’s Great Southern Land. I couldn’t hope for a better song to post on Australia Day. Hope you enjoy it.

Wherever you are in the world I wish you peace, hope and a Happy Australia Day. Here’s hoping one day it’ll be Happy Republic Day – a day we can all celebrate as one. 😉

An Update and a Quiz

music quiz

What Does Your Taste in Music Say About You?

This is just a quick update as it’s been a while since my last post. I’m still here but I haven’t felt up to blogging recently; I’ve been ill for several weeks and I’m still finding my routine again. I’m looking forward to posting again, though; should have a few new posts finished next week.

On the plus side I’ve had some time to think about my writing. I’ve reached a stalemate with several works and I’ve decided to set them aside for now to explore other ideas. I’ve been working on an early draft of a novel and I want to give that more attention. It’s a social thriller and very different to my other works. Hopefully it will turn out well.

I’m also planning several short stories to finish before the end of the year. I enjoy short fiction; there’s a real art to writing it. Some of my ideas are a little ambitious but I’m looking forward to the challenge… if you don’t want to push yourself, what’s the point of being a writer?

Anyway, I’ll get back to blogging more next week, but in the meantime who’s up for a quiz? I found this one earlier and thought it was fun. My result’s not bad; I enjoy a wide range of music, although I drift toward indie and alternative bands. Not sure about the financially well-off bit, though; I always thought I’d live in poverty, die at 38, and be published after my death. 🙂

I thought I’d post one of my favourite songs as well, to go with the quiz. This is Henry Lee by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, a retelling of Young Hunting. Their relationship ended after this as well, which makes it very haunting.

Old Favourites

I didn’t realise it had been a week since I’d posted. Ever since I wrote my letter to Clare I’ve been a little distracted but I’m feeling better now; the emotion that it brought up is starting to settle down and I’m feeling more like myself again.

I’m working on a couple of new posts but for now I thought I’d post some of my favourite songs… some old gems a few people might have forgotten about. I enjoy new music (love Coldplay) but I’ve found myself listening to a lot of old favourites recently. I love the period leading up to the late 70s, particularly for the songwriting… it shows that a good song is timeless.

I stumbled across these videos earlier and hadn’t seen most of them before. What’s amazing is they’re still good quality; most are well over 30 years old and the audio quality in particular is very good. They’re also a wonderful throwback to their time; the hair, the clothes… it’s like looking at a piece of history.

By far my favourite is this video of Jimi Hendrix performing Purple Haze in Atlanta. The video is incredible but not as good quality as the others, so if you don’t mind that, click over to have a look. I hope you enjoy the others. I wonder what some of your old favourites are?

My favourite Fleetwood Mac song is Rhiannon and this is a great version; Stevie Nicks is almost possessed. I also found a live performance of I’m So Afraid; the video quality isn’t as good but it’s well worth watching if you’re a Mac fan.

I think this is from 1970 although I’m not sure which concert. Both Sides Now is a lovely song; it has such beautiful, simple lyrics.

Layla would make any list of my favourite songs. This version is from the ARMS Charity Concert in 1983 and has Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck with Clapton.

I blame MQ for Stairway to Heaven; she’s been a Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page fan for years, I inherited it. I love the song and this is a great live version.

And just to confirm, yes, I am 23. But I feel much older. 🙂

Indy Rides Again

I love Harrison Ford. He’s one of those actors that always feels familiar no matter what he’s in. It’s the same whenever I watch Clint Eastwood or Tom Hanks; they just become their parts and bring their experience to any film. At one time Ford had starred in the top five box office hits of all time but I think his dramatic roles are underrated as well, like Witness and The Mosquito Coast. But of course he’ll always be remembered for Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

The Indy films are some of my favourites. They’re such fun films and I still think Raiders of the Lost Ark is the best adventure film that’s been made, mainly because of the balance between action, character and humour. I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yesterday and enjoyed it. It brought back a lot of memories of the previous films and of my childhood as well. It’s funny how you associate movies with a time in your life, isn’t it?

I saw Raiders when I was eight and loved it. At that time it was like nothing I’d seen before, particularly when the guy’s head exploded! I remember one of the things that really struck me about it was the music. At the time I had no idea it was John Williams who’d scored Star Wars as well but it seemed so light and playful, I loved it. I still get a chill when I hear The Raiders March even now.

I came across this video earlier and thought I’d post it to celebrate the release of the new film. It’s The Raiders March in all its glory, set to the artwork of Drew Struzan. Struzan’s poster artwork for the Indy films is stunning and really helped to define Indy’s style. I love his artwork for Pan’s Labyrinth as well.

So what did I think of the new film? Avoiding spoilers, I enjoyed it. It’s a fun adventure and Ford definitely doesn’t look too old for the role, which was ridiculous anyway; Indy uses his wits and knowledge to defeat his opponents, not brute strength. Karen Allen returns after 27 years and Cate Blanchett is great as a Soviet femme fatale. Shia LaBeouf offers support and some smouldering looks for the camera. The storyline has a few twists and there’s a superb jungle chase sequence that rivals anything from the earlier films.

It’s not Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade but it has the humour that Temple of Doom lacked; I liked it more than that and the last half flies by. The main problem is that it doesn’t follow the same Indy formula as the previous films. It feels much more like a 50s B-movie than a 30s serial and some people will think it’s not an “Indiana Jones” movie because of that. But I quite liked that; you can’t make the same film 19 years later, so if you change the setting to the 50s, why not change the formula too?

The biggest surprise for me was John Williams’ score. His scores have become a little repetitive in recent years but this is one of his most enjoyable scores in a long time. It’s a thrill hearing The Raiders Theme again and the Crystal Skull motif is particularly good, an eerie, three note string piece that builds to a crescendo later in the film. It brings back all those memories of listening to the Raiders score for the first time and I wasn’t expecting that at all!

Overall I thought Crystal Skull was good. It matched my expectations and if you’re a fan of Indy or Harrison Ford I’d definitely say go and see it; it’s fun and that’s what matters. Just don’t expect it to be the same kind of film as the others; it’s different, as it had to be after 19 years. I’d say it’s worth seeing just for Cate Blanchett. She steals the show! But then I might be biased. 😉