Christina Aguilera: Star Spangled Style Over Substance

I’m aware that I’m not the only one commenting on the vocal fireworks display put on by Ms. Aguilera at the Super Bowl that ultimately was an equally shining example of style over substance.

Known for her supernatural singing talent and incredible feats of vocal ability, she has perfected melismatic singing (which is the style of singing that so many R&B singers employ – and almost every American Idol wanna be, which is the singing of multiple notes over one syllable). Most people would consider it just “runs” but in fact the style is called melisma  – or what I call it – oversinging.

Not a huge fan of the technique – especially when it’s sooooo overused in pop and R&B – think Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, etc. The trend of  employing melisma by mostly R&B singers emerged with the 1990 release of Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” – which was resplendent in multi-octave runs that dazzled listeners and critics both. I’ve always liked the song – here it is for those who don’t know:

Mariah Carey – Vision of Love

But getting back to the point of this post. Although Ms. Aquilera has sung the anthem countless numbers of times over her career and despite the fact that the Star Spangled Banner is considered one of the hardest songs to sing (lyrically, sonically and performance-wise – which is typically in a large echo-ey stadium/arena) – she so over-delivered on the style while flubbing the essence of the song’s meaning – which is predicated on the lyrics. Had she been trying out during Hollywood Week on Idol (where the standing rule is “don’t forget the words)  – Christina Aguilera move have been kicked-off.

I’m not a die-hard patriot who holds the anthem sacred but it irks me that she’s being paid to deliver the song and what she provided was a wrenchingly over-sung version that transformed the song into a melodically unrecognizable series of vocal runs stitched together into one auditory splurge of sound that was – in the end – sung incorrectly.

A teachable moment… get the basics down first before you try to impress and add your own flourishes. I’m all for originality and bringing one’s own style to anything/everything one does but not at the cost of f**king-up the words.

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Five Kid Friendly Sports Movies

Here’s a short but sweet list of some sports flicks that I’ve seen with my nine year old that are both entertaining for the two of us while also providing a boat-load of positive messaging around hard-work, commitment, team work and all around good sportsmanship. I know there are a ton others out there but here are the five that we’ve seen most recently. If you’ve got any suggestions to add to the list, please submit.

 

Rudy – just saw this again for maybe the 5th time with my son. Despite a few cuss words here and there – it’s a straight-out true story no-brainer for a young kid.  I still get a bit teary-eyed at the end when they carry the young Samwise Gamgee off the field – which is BTW, the last time anyone has ever been carried off the field at Notre Dame.

Express – great entry point for the discussion of racism. The true story of Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. Nice historical view of early ’60s college ball.  and the determination it took for Davis to withstand the hostility, threats and ignorance that ruled the day. Dennis Quaid does a pretty good job as Coach Ben Schwartzwalder of Syracuse University who recruited Davis amid a lot of resistance from his peers and associates.

 

Hoosiers – love, love, love this movie. Always been a big Gene Hackman fan and Barbara Hershey is down-home beautiful in this movie (which is nice to see given her recent performance in Black Swan!). Totally inspiring story of the underdog triumphing through sheer will and determination. Great period piece capturing the spirit of 1950’s era mid-west basketball.

Blind Side – given Sandra Bullock’s Academy Award most everyone has heard of or seen this picture, which is based on Michael Lewis’ book about the true story of Michael Oher, who was a poor, over-sized and under-educated teenager, taken in by a upper middle class family and is supported, encouraged and academically and physically trained to play college-level football and eventually becomes the first-round pick for the Baltimore Ravens in the 2009 NFL draft. Another A+ sports movie with strong messaging.

Miracle – Kurt Russell takes on the role of Herb Brooks, the coach for the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that went on and per the namesake of the movie, seemingly miraculously beat the unbeatable Russian team for the gold. Tons of great hockey action and pretty good capture of Coach Brooks’ highly unconventional, intense but effective training style and methods.

 

If parenting is so hard, why do we keep doing it?

The answer… because we’re addicted to it.

Here’s a great article from Slate with the premise that humans get such a physiological jolt of pleasure from the occasional hug, kiss or snuggle that it makes up for all the blood, sweat and tears that comes from raising children.

To put it another way – if it was so hard – we’d all be one children families. Here’s a passage from the piece:

“Parenting is a grind, and most parents are stressed out much more than they are happy. But when parents think about parenting, they don’t remember the background stress. They remember the cuddle and the kiss. Parenting is a series of intensely high highs, followed by long periods of frustration and stress, during which you go to great lengths to find your way back to that sofa and that kiss.

We have a name for people who pursue rare moments of bliss at the expense of their wallets and their social and professional relationships: addicts.

Children regularly give parents the kind of highs that only narcotics can rival. The unpredictability of those moments of bliss is an important factor in their addictiveness.”

Intrigued? Read on:

Tasty Tracks – Ray LaMontagne and Teenage Fanclub

From the Better-Late-Than-Never files, here are two tracks from artists (who have been around quite a while) that I’ve recently come across that are seemingly in constant rotation in the back of my head – and I’m all the better for it.

The first one, from Ray LaMontagne – is from last year’s God Willin’ and The Creek Don’t Rise, his fifth album. The track “Beg Steal or Borrow” is a rolling country song that has special significance as I can’t hear it without thinking of my son and the inevitable trials and challenges he’ll have to face as he grows into an adult. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful song with a delectable use of the pedal steel guitar and melodies so strong it burns into your head. Think Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and you’re good to go:

Beg Steal or Borrow

Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub’s first album was released in 1990 and since then have issued nine albums with the most recent “Shadows” launching last year in 2010. I’ve always been aware of them but for some inexplicable reason, never really listened to their music. “I Need Direction” is off of Howdy! and hit only 48 on the UK Singles Chart and never got traction on the US charts. It’s a piece of pure pop perfection with a 60’s sensibility and verses conjuring The Byrds or The Mama and the Papas.

I Need Direction

Calm Cool and Collected… Parenting

Heard a fantastic NPR segment this morning about how parents can best manage the drama and craziness of their teenage sons and daughters. The premise of the piece was based on a new book called Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens – and from the four or so minutes I caught in the car – it’s an extremely helpful guide for navigating what are for some parents very tumultuous waters and uncovers the drivers for many infuriating aspects of teen’s behaviors. Apparently it’s not just about bad attitudes, being spoiled or disrespectful or carelessness or other commonly thought of drivers but simply an under-developed prefontal cortex.

Here are a few examples of the situations the book address and provides approaches for parents on how to handle:

  • When your teen is rude and sarcastic
  • When your smart teen does something really dumb
  • When teen problems drive a wedge between you and your spouse
  • When your teen is acting like a spoiled brat
  • When you’re worried you’re losing your teen
  • When teens are mean

The book, written by psychologist Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt, is based on years of research so it’s not based on subjective opinions or lifestyle choices. What’s really helpful is that the book actually provides a blueprint on how to handle specific situations. So clearly one that you want to keep on your nightstand for several years.

Kid Friendly Black and White Movies

I’ve written previously about the ever-increasing extremes movies are reaching to blow the audience out of their seats – with the nearly ubiquitous recent appearence of 3D, IMAX screenings and mind-blowing CGI animation.

There’s nothing inherently bad about how Hollywood is bringing more to the movie experience except there’s a risk that our children’s threshold for entertainment will be so amped-up they’ll not be able to appreciate less nuclear-powered eye candy. Ultimately the story has to reign supreme.

That was the big ding on Avatar. Despite the off-the-chart never seen before animation and visual experience – the story itself was nothing but a rehash of Pocahontas – which is a really good story in and of itself.

And there are a lot of amazing unforgettable stories collecting dust in the Classics section of Blockbuster (or virtual dust in the catalogs on NetFlix) that deserve to be watched. So what better way to emphasize the importance of really really good story telling than to see them unfold in glorious black and white. No Dolby or THX. No HD. No spine tingling eye-searing computer generated animation… just simple classic stories told in a simple voice and style. 

Here’s a list of ten classics good for any kid over six or seven. We’ve only been through two of them (Casablanca and Pride of the Yankees – which my eight year old loved – partly because it’s about baseball/Lou Gehrig) but I’m committed to getting through them as part of my son’s education.

Safety Last – 1923 w/ Harold Lloyd
Mr. Deeds goes to Town – 1936 w/ Gary Cooper
You Can’t Take it With You – 1938 w/ James Stewart
Boys Town – 1938 w/ Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – 1939 w/ James Stewart
The Pride of the Yankees – 1942 w/ Gary Cooper
Casablanca – 1942 w/ Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman
Bells of St. Marys – 1945 w/ Bing Crosby
Christmas in Connecticut – 1945 w/ Barbara Stanwyck
It’s a Wonderful Life – 1946 w/ James Stewart

Tasty Track: Lovesick by Lindstrom and Christabelle

They’re a Norwegian collaboration laying down some pretty groovy electro disco that I “discovered” after finally Shazam’ing the track from the 2010 Cadillac CTS-V commercial. I had seen it a few times and the music totally hooked me. The vocals are lazy/hazy female sing/talk pacing that “resembles the half-awake sister of Kim Carnes” – that’s a quote from Andy Kellman’s review on eMusic – which is dead on. Anyway – the album Real Life is No Cool is great if you’re into “mixing Balearic beat, space disco, house and new wave”. Enjoy…

Lovesick