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.

Books of the 00s

It’s hard to believe it’s almost the end of another decade, isn’t it? The 00s have gone by so quickly and so much has happened in the last ten years. From tsunamis to bushfires; Afghanistan to Iraq; 9/11 to Katrina; the millennium to the GFC. I was still in high school in 1999. It feels like a lifetime ago.

As we’re coming to the end of the year I thought it’d be interesting to look back on the 00s as a whole. Particularly the fiction that has defined the decade.

For me the success of Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code and Twilight will be the enduring memory of this decade. In an age of iPods and YouTube, to see so many people reading again – on buses and trains, in parks and on beaches – has been remarkable. The publishing industry hasn’t seen their success before and it’s already changing the way books are being published and marketed.

Overall I think it’s been a good decade for literature. As you’d expect much of the tone of the decade’s writing has been influenced by 9/11 and there’s been some excellent fiction published, particularly by new and emerging authors. The quality of international fiction has also been excellent. My only disappointment has been with the overall quality of Australian fiction and the bleak direction of mainstream SF, which is becoming dark and depressing.

One of my favourite blogs, The Millions, recently published a list of the best fiction of the 00s. It’s a good list and I thought I’d do my own to mark the end of the decade. This is a list of my favourite books of the 00s, the novels which have had the most impact on me and my writing.

Let me know which you’ve read. Do you have a favourite book of the 00s?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

The Road (2006)
Cormac McCarthy

Few novels have affected me as much as reading The Road. It’s a devastating novel, stark and confronting, and is so intense that at times it’s difficult to read. But it’s also a beautiful, poignant novel, about a father and son struggling to survive, characters that come to life even though you don’t know their names. McCarthy’s prose is restrained and hauntingly beautiful. A magnificent novel; one of the best I’ve ever read.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005)
Stieg Larsson

Larsson’s novel is a remarkable début. It’s an unorthodox thriller that centres on the 36 year disappearance of Harriet Vanger, the grand-niece of former industrialist Henrik Vanger, but soon becomes a story about the family itself and their secrets and corruption. Larsson’s characters are unforgettable and Lisbeth is one of the most memorable female protagonists in years. Larsson died before he became known outside Sweden, leaving this and two sequels as his legacy.

American Gods (2001)
Neil Gaiman
Gaiman is one of my favourite writers and American Gods is an unusual mix of fantasy, reality, myth and Americana that somehow all works. Gaiman’s prose is vivid, bringing to life a twisted version of our world where the gods of old and new religions are preparing for war, and its subtext on the changing nature of religion and the place of technology in modern society is fascinating. It’s also darkly funny and scary.

Magic for Beginners (2005)
Kelly Link
Short fiction has continued a sad decline in the 00s but Kelly Link is a master of the form. Magic for Beginners collects nice stories which mix fantasy with everyday life, the mundane with the majestic. Her stories are unpredictable and dreamlike, none more so than The Faery Handbag, where an entire town takes refuge inside a forgotten handbag. Her prose is evocative yet simple and her stories haunt you long after you’ve finished them.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003)
Mark Haddon

Haddon’s début is an unusual novel. On the surface it’s an unorthodox mystery about Christopher, a teenager who finds the body of his neighbour’s poodle and decides to try and find the killer, but it’s really a careful examination of autism. Haddon’s depiction of Christopher is remarkable; Haddon gives us subtle insights into Christopher’s world, making him sympathetic & likeable, but without ever feeling exploitative. It’s original, funny and compelling.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007)
Michael Chabon
There’s something unsettling about Chabon’s novel. Its style is a throwback to the detective stories of Chandler and Hammett, set in a world where a community of Jewish refugees settled in Alaska after World War II and the State of Israel collapsed. Chabon uses the novel to turn the conflict with Israel and Palestine on its head, asking what it means to be Jewish in the modern world. It’s a brilliant novel; Chabon’s alternate history seems eerily plausible.

Cloud Atlas (2004)
David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is less of a novel than a series of connected themes. It’s told across six stories that span centuries and different genres but each story is incomplete; the second half of each story is revealed in later chapters and it’s not until the end that you realise how they all come together. Each chapter is a mirror image of another and following the plot is almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It’s unusual and beautifully crafted.

Life of Pi (2001)
Yann Martel

Martel’s novel is something of a surreal fable. Pi, a sixteen year old boy from India, the son of a zookeeper, becomes shipwrecked on a voyage to Canada. Finding himself stranded on a lifeboat with a 450-pound tiger, Pi has to use all of his knowledge and imagination to survive. Martel writes effortlessly and despite the unlikely premise, it’s really a clever allegory for the meaning of faith and storytelling in the modern world. An engaging and charming novel.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)
Susanna Clarke

Clarke’s début is one of those unusual works in fantasy that is both superbly written and entirely original. Set in an alternate version of 19th century England where magic has all but left the country except for two magicians, its style feels like a pastiche of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, gothic and darkly beautiful. At its heart it’s as much a story about friendship, obsession and Englishness as magic. It’s a wonderful novel that took Clarke ten years to write.

Orpheus Lost (2007)
Janette Turner Hospital

Orpheus Lost is a sad love story inspired by the Orpheus myth. When a series of terrorist attacks strike Boston, Leela is interrogated and told that her lover Mishka may be a terrorist, leading her to try and find the truth and rescue him from the secret prisons and torture chambers of the modern underworld. Hospital focuses on the nature of terrorism and paranoia in the post-9/11 world, but the story is as much about the redemptive power of music; her descriptions of Mishka playing the violin and oud are breathtaking.

Spin (2005)
Robert Charles Wilson

Wilson is one of my favourite SF writers and at its heart Spin is about isolation: when a mysterious event causes a shield to appear around the Earth, humanity is cut off from the universe and reacts with a mixture of fear, panic and awe. Wilson’s prose lingers in your mind and Spin also acts as an allegory for 9/11, an event that changed the world in a moment, but never loses focus of its characters. It’s a remarkable novel; for me the best SF novel of the decade.

Restless (2006)
William Boyd

Restless is a brilliant, subtle novel. On the surface it’s a thriller about Eva Delectorskaya, a half-Russian emigrant who is recruited into the British SIS after her brother’s murder, but it’s really an examination of paranoia and how a lie can take over your life. Boyd writes vividly and his story is as much about nationality and the relationship between Eva (Sally) and her daughter, as Ruth slowly begins to learn the truth about her mother for the first time.

The Corrections (2001)
Jonathan Franzen

Franzen is a master of character portraits and The Corrections is a fascinating study of a seemingly ordinary family. The novel follows the Lamberts as they gather for one last Christmas together, but soon their carefully orchestrated lives begin to unravel around them. It’s a very American novel and a sharp commentary on greed, capitalism and the nature of parenting and family. It’s also eerie how its themes foreshadowed the post-9/11 world. Magnificent.

Never Let Me Go (2005)
Kazuo Ishiguro

At its heart Never Let Me Go is about the preciousness of life. The story is told by Kathy, a carer who looks back on her early life at Hailsham, a boarding school in Britain. The children of Hailsham are special; clones created to provide donor organs for transplants. As Kathy matures into a woman, she slowly begins to accept her sad fate. Ishiguro’s prose is beautifully subtle and Never Let Me Go is a sad, haunting novel that stays with you long after you’ve finished it.

Veniss Underground (2003)
Jeff VanderMeer

Veniss Underground is an unusual hybrid of SF and fantasy. Told in three parts, the main story focuses on Shadrach, who descends into the underground levels of Veniss in search of his love Nicola, travelling through a bizarre cyborg hell. The novel echoes Orpheus and Dante but VanderMeer uses his version of hell to highlight the dangers of human reliance on technology and the pursuit of perfection. It’s an excellent novel, filled with bizarre, dreamlike imagery.

These Are the Voyages…

spock

Click here to take the “Which Star Trek character am I?” quiz

This is just a quick update as it’s been a while since my last post. To be honest I didn’t realise it had been so long; I’ve had a lot on my mind these last few months and haven’t felt up to blogging until now.

I haven’t been feeling well for several months; my health has been very poor and I haven’t been sleeping well again. While I am coping, this last year has been exhausting as it’s just been one thing after another… I’ve had to cut back on the amount of time I spend online to adjust.

We also recently learnt of the death of an old friend. Belinda was like an aunt to me when I was younger and was a dear friend of my mother; it’s brought back a lot of memories and we’re all feeling her loss.

But I’m trying not to dwell too much. I’m feeling a little better now and tomorrow I’m seeing the new Star Trek film with MQ, which is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I grew up with the more recent Star Trek series but it’s always been the relationships between the original characters that made me a fan and have defined Star Trek; to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy again after all these years should be a lot of fun.

Star Trek has needed refreshing for a while now and it looks like they’ve found the right dynamic with a young cast and a new approach. This Trek can have a wide appeal and it reminds me a little of Batman Begins; build word of mouth for a sequel and hopefully that will do even better once people realise that this isn’t the same kind of Trek.

The thing about Star Trek, which a lot of people don’t get if they think it’s geeky and boring, is that what it’s actually about isn’t science but humanity. Star Trek at its best gives us an optimistic view of humanity; it was born out of the 1960s as a counterpoint to issues like racism, sexism, communism, and war, showing us that whatever our differences, we can overcome them and unite in peace, a view that was well ahead of its time.

That’s the message which has always made me a fan; that the future can be better, if we want it to be. It looks different but as long as the new film keeps that message in some way, then I’ll be happy. And I think it will. That message of hope is just as relevant now, in a post-September 11 world, as it was in 1966.

This is one of the few films I’ll probably be able to see this year, but hopefully it will be the beginning of a new era for Trek. So I thought I’d post a fun quiz as well to celebrate the release of the film.

I wonder which character you are? Apparently I’m most like Spock. I guess that makes sense; I do tend to be quite logical. Not sure about the ears, though. I don’t think they’d suit me. 😉

Update: Just found a fun website that can change your photo into a Star Trek character. Mine is here. As I said, the Vulcan ears definitely don’t suit me!

Update #2: Just got back from seeing it a few hours ago. It was excellent. Even better than the hype, actually, which was a surprise. I’ll post a review on my other blog tomorrow but it’s very different and probably the best Star Trek film so far. Highly recommended.

One Week Later

vic_bushfire

Image: Fire in Upper Ferntree Gully ~ jsarcadia

This is a follow up to the poem I posted earlier about Black Saturday and the bushfires in Victoria. I wrote the poem as a way of trying to move through the horror I felt in the days following the tragedy. There were so many images, so many stories, it was overwhelming and this felt like the only way I could make sense of it. Writing has always been cathartic for me and while I would have liked to have done more with it, I think the simplicity suits the poem… the starkness seems to capture the devastation of what happened.

It’s one week later now and in many ways I still don’t know what to make of it all. I have lived through several bushfires before but none as ferocious as this; it was like the entire southern coast of Australia was on fire and there was smoke around Sydney for days, as well as the overwhelming scents of various native plants, which will always remind me of the fires now.

The tolls keep increasing; 1,800 homes have been destroyed and 181 people have lost their lives so far – that may go as high as 300. As someone who respects the Australian landscape so much, to see it so devastated is awful; some parts of Victoria resemble craters more than bushland and over a million animals may have perished. Many fires are believed to have been caused by arson as well. For that terrible day, it truly was hell on Earth.

Am I angry? I’m more sad than anything else. Sad at the loss of life and property; sad that in many cases the warning signs weren’t heeded. Sad that it’s taken another tragedy for us to realise how fragile life can be. I’m also very grateful for the amount of good that people are doing, the way they’re helping and coming together; the donations and support, making quilts and toys, auctions for charities, giving blood. The way people have responded, here and overseas, has been incredible and filled me with a lot of hope.

I do understand the anger, though. When so many lives have been lost and homes destroyed, you feel helpless and anger is a natural response. I think we need to be careful not to deflect blame, though. There’ll be time for a closer examination of what went wrong but right now it seems like arson is all the media cares about. Arson is awful but we shouldn’t be so fast to deflect all of our anger onto it – there’ll be many factors contributing to this tragedy and what we really want is to make sure this never happens again, rather than to strike out in vengeance. Right now we need time to grieve.

APTOPIX Australia Wildfires

Sam the koala and firefighter David Tree

For me I think this photo is going to be the main image that stays with me from these fires. It’s amazing; the koala almost looks like a baby being fed from a bottle, and the fireman is being so gentle. There’s been some confusion about when exactly it was taken but it’s still an image that shows you how devastating fire can be and the compassion it can bring out in people. It shows that even in the darkest of situations you can find some hope, which I wanted to reflect in my writing as well.

Sam and her rescuer seem to have become the global face of the bushfires; I know the photo has been featured in a lot of blogs and newspapers around the world. That’s largely because there has been so little good news coming out of these fires and something like this really raises all of our spirits, which is what we need right now.

That’s why I was disappointed when TMZ mocked the photo recently. I detest TMZ anyway but mocking a selfless gesture – twice – when people have died and lost their homes seems very tasteless. How about some sensitivity for what people are going through? That’s TMZ for you, I guess.

At least we know Sam is being cared for now and hopefully will recover. Sadly many other animals haven’t been as lucky. They are the forgotten victims in this tragedy, in many ways.

In any case, I wanted to post this and my poem today to mark the week since the tragedy. I’ve not been able to concentrate on much else; everything else seems rather trivial at the moment, particularly when you think about the amount of money spent on Valentine’s Day when people have nothing.

I hope my poem is respectful; I wanted to try and work through that day in my mind and to be evocative of the landscape. I hope in some small way it speaks for what we’re all feeling at the moment.

I don’t think any of us can ever really understand what it must have been like on that day but I found this video by someone who filmed the Churchill fire; it killed 21 people, 1 near where she was filming at Jeeralang. It really brings the impact home, particularly when you hear the wind howling.

It really was hell on Earth.

Hell on Earth

bushfire_sunset

Image: Smoke Clouds ~ Jety

Red sunrise burning
Wind howling among the trees:
Nature is unleashed

The beauty of fire:
An unstoppable fury
Dancing on the wind

Eucalypt forest:
Ancient trees of memory
Scorched by angry flames

Smoke clouding the sky:
Embers falling like raindrops
In the darkest light

Twenty years of life
Reduced to rubble and ash:
We have each other

A fallen tree trunk:
Cars abandoned by the road
Toys scattered inside

Amidst the burnt grass
A single flower remains:
A lone miracle

The sadness of night:
Survivors gather to pray
Tears fall down your face

A city of tents:
Shelter and home to many
Memories survive

Red sunset fading
Raindrops falling to the ground:
A young country mourns

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence