Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012 - Fergie & Fife Posts

2012 goes down on the record as my most (manageably) turbulent year yet. It was momentous. It was non-stop movement. Even narrowing down this list of my favorite and your favorite posts, the reliving of all that movement surprised even me. So so much happened this year. Some huge stuff never even made this list! I turned 30! We had an amazing Lincoln Center Concert! I started working in film both in the UK and in the US. I spared you any mention of all my run ins with unavailable men. I lived in FOUR DIFFERENT CITIES!! I remember this time last year so distinctly. I never thought I'd be where I am now a year ago. I thought I'd still be in Europe. But I'm in Hollywood. And miraculously, a lot of you are still reading. Thanks for that. And here's hoping we'll stick together in 2013. Happy New Year!

1. Relief

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012 - Books

Yesterday, I mentioned that I thought this year was a strong cultural year... except for books. Normally, it's stressful for me to narrow down to 10 the best books of a given year. Especially when I have to include non-fiction!

This year, I was happy to have some good non-fiction to round out this list. Nevertheless, the end of the year brought a few goodies. 

Honorable Mention: NW - Zadie Smith
Perhaps it was when I chose to read this. Having just moved out of North London myself in as close to defeat as I've ever admitted, reading about it and the various dynamics of that vibrant part of the city felt a little too raw. And maybe I'm just no longer enamored with Zadie Smith. But this book got a lot of attention, and it was easy to get lost in, though a little tender for me. 

Honorable Mention: Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson
Gotta have a memoir on here. I was initially drawn to the book because of its awesome title. And it's an apt title for a wonderful memoir about the life long pursuit of happiness from an adopted, oddball girl in a Pentecostal house in Northern England in the 60s. Jeanette has her own peccadilloes, but anyone who's ever felt weird or alien will find something in this one. 

10. How Music Works - David Byrne
I bought this book for Steven as a gift to say thank you for letting me live in his house for a month in NYC when I first moved back to the US and ended up reading the book myself. First of all, David Byrne is such a cool-ass mofo. He knows, just, everything. And explains the music industry and how music is shaped by time and place. "Acting as historian and anthropologist, raconteur and social scientist, he searches for patterns—and shows how those patterns have affected his own work over the years with Talking Heads and his many collaborators, from Brian Eno to Caetano Veloso. Byrne sees music as part of a larger, almost Darwinian pattern of adaptations and responses to its cultural and physical context. His range is panoptic, taking us from Wagnerian opera houses to African villages, from his earliest high school reel-to-reel recordings to his latest work in a home music studio (and all the big studios in between)." The books has been so popular, it's often out of stock, but, listen, do what you gotta do to get your hands on a copy!

9. This is How You Lose Her - Junot Diaz
Huzzah for Junot Diaz being back. And even bigger huzzah for golden boy Diaz throwing some of his afterglow on the under-appreciated art form that is the short story! This book really got in there with me as I was (and still am) working on more polished edits and looking at the overall picture for my own book of short stories, with one central character at the heart of all of them. There are some similar themes as well. But I love this line from one review: "They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

8. Telegraph Avenue - Michael Chabon
It appears that this was the year for the return of many of my favorites. And Chabon is one of the best examples of my favorites. Every time I even think of Wonder Boys, my heart is filled with a rolling wave of warm joy. Whenever I'm sad, I read some or watch some of the movie. After that, there was the mega-triumph of Cavallier and Klay and the so-so Yiddish Policeman's Union. You know what I loved about Telegraph Avenue? It felt a bit like a cross between High Fidelity and You've Got Mail. It's more complicated than that, of course. But I was like, oh, You've Got Mail with middle aged men and record stores. Bring it. My favorite quote was from Jennifer Egan, who, as per usual is right effing on the money: “Chabon has made a career of routing big, ambitious projects through popular genres, with superlative results….The scale of Telegraph Avenue is no less ambitious….Much of the wit...inheres in Chabon’s astonishing prose. I don’t just mean the showy bits…I mean the offhand brilliance that happens everywhere.”

7. Dear Life - Alice Munro
Speaking of short stories and returns, I was so happy to welcome a new collection from most probably the world's greatest living short story writer. I'm actually not even done with the book (it was my Christmas present to myself from Dena's thoughtful gift card-- thanks!), but in a way, I don't need to be to know already that it belongs on this list. Here's my favorite review of Dear Life, from Alexandra Foster, which tells you what I mean: You half expect a new collection of stories by the beloved Alice Munro to arrive already devoured: pages dog-eared (“I feel exactly the same way! How did she know?”), spine cracked, cover bent from the dozens of times each story deserves to be read.

6. Farther Away - Jonathan Franzen 
Honestly, it's a toss up for me as to whether I prefer Franzen's fiction or his essays. Luckily, I don't have to choose because he's as prolific in one as he is the other. This collection has a lot of my favorite recent pieces from Franzy, including his own Kenyon College commencement address, "Pain Won't Kill You," and "Authentic But Horrible" but to be honest, all you need to know for certain is that it contains the amazing mega essay from The New Yorker, "Father Away," about solitude, and bird watching and David Foster Wallace. It was one of the best essays I've ever read. Please do yourself a favor and read it too. 

5. Both Flesh & Not - David Foster Wallace
Only natural that DFW's book of essays-- and, I think we can finally say it-- the last book we're ever likely to get of his work-- gets put next to his pal Franzy's. I thought we'd had our last tastes with the massive, unfinished tome, The Pale King, last year. But no! More! First, we got a pretty comprehensive bio from D.T. Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, which I also recommend, and wrestled with adding to the list, but eventually decided to go with the man himself. Most of these have been published elsewhere-- like his sort of famous essay on Federer-- and many are sort of snippets, but nevertheless, it's nice to have them, to be amongst the man's shorter, more digestible thoughts. He talks about Borges and the prose poem and under-appreciated novels since the 1960's (more of a list, really). But if you only have 5 minutes, just read "Just Asking" about the world in light of post-9/11 ideas and whether or not some things are worth dying for. 

From Book Forum: Both Flesh and Not is David Foster Wallace at his best and his worst, but the thing about Wallace’s best was that it usually contained his worst... If he’s not going to court the reader, he’s going to hold him in contempt. And you’re going to listen to him because his is the most colossal intelligence in the room. —Gideon Lewis-Kraus

4. Bring Up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel
The great Hilary returns in the sequel to her amazing to Wolf Hall. I've heard so many interviews with Hilary and basically just think she's the shit. The tales of the Tudors have been told every way from Sunday, but she manages to make it all new again, compelling again, and rich rich rich. Thomas Cromwell is still riding the tide of his day to be the hero of the story, but in a much more condensed time span of only nine turbulent months. Hilary says you can read it without reading Wolf Hall first, but do yourself a favor and don't. Next up, we'll have the conclusion of the trilogy The Mirror & The Light. I can't wait!

3. Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter
Look, there was basically no way  I was not going to love this book. A dying Hollywood starlet, Rome, Cannes, Richard BURTON!, the set of Cleopatra and Edinburgh. It's like Jess Walter extracted my mind. This book is delicious, so just stop reading about it and start reading it. Just thinking about it, I think I want to read it again. Right now.

2. The Twelve - Justin Cronin
2012 brought another second installment in big time trilogies. This one from my friend/mentor/former professor, Justin Cronin. And I was happy to see him, hear him read, have him sign this newest chapter of he and his daughter's master plan to tell the story of the girl who saves the world. It's fast moving-- one you'll tear through-- and builds more layers on top of The Passage without losing anything from the first book you'd want to hold onto. Curl up in your bed on a cold day with this one and wait for warmer weather. As long as it takes. 

1. Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan
While it's got some Atonement-esque metafictional tricks up its sleeve, Sweet Tooth is a lighter read-- despite its illusion of espionage in Cold War London and MI-5 setting. Talking about timing, I read this book recently and my heart had been given a bit more time to heal from London. The London of the 70s made me a bit drunkenly nostalgic, but I enjoyed the feeling. I even blogged more about it here. I read a lot of reviews of this book and end of the day, I agree with this one from the New York Times. It hasn't been long since I finished it, but man, I miss it. 

1. Battleborn - Claire Vaye Watkins (A tie!!)

What an amazing year for short stories! I experienced such envy over this collection of short stories from fellow Nevada writer Claire Vaye Watkins that I took a whole day to reassess my life and my work. Easily one of the high points of this year was our twitter conversation earlier this fall. If you only read one book on this list, please read Claire's beautiful, haunting set of tales about drifters, loners, and desert people. It's melancholy and cruel and everything a short story collection should be. For more check out my earlier entry here. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best of 2012 - Albums

Truly, I had meant to get these out in a more timely manner (ie: not the THE LAST three days in 2012) and you've probably read about a hundred Best Of lists. Well I hope you saved room for one more. Some people have referred to this year as a weak year for music. I sure don't agree with that. I feel like this year was strong in everything except books. I have lengthy honorable mentions lists for a couple of categories. But, here is my narrowed down list of the best albums of 2012. 

Bonus. The Music of NASHVILLE - The cast of Nashville.
I wish more (all) of country music was more like the songs on this show. Please put T-Bone Burnett and Keefus Greene in charge of all lyric writing and talent rustling in Nashville. Undermine. Bitchin. 

10. Trilogy - The Weeknd
One of the best slow jam concerts I've ever been to. A beautiful fall evening in the Hollywood Bowl with the flag of the state of California flapping in the breeze. The only thing ruining how cool The Weeknd was that night was the pair of screaming fan girls in front of us. Not really the style of music that normally attracts screaming teen fan girls, but okay... nevertheless.  I don't feel cool very often, but when I drive around listening to this album, for a minute, I do. 

9. The Carpenter - Avett Bros
I know, I know, there are now a whole crop of folk-rock-bluegrass edged bands coming up, but I still think the Avett Brothers are the first (ish) and best of them. This album is no diff. And its mood swings are great for road trips. Trust me. I listened to this about 400 times on my SEVERAL trips between LA and Vegas and experienced those peaks and valleys right along with that desert landscape from Cali to Nevada. Road music. Never gets old.  

8. The Lumineers - The Lumineers
Like I said, these bands. But I gotta say, as a musician's kid-- a bluegrass musician's kid-- I feel a bit proud this sound is getting a new golden era. The Lumineers seem to me like a nice third to stabilize and triangulate the scene with the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. At some point, they remind me of Milo Greene (See below.) A more rustic version. I Like their vibe lyrically too. I never mind some sha-na-nas, fa-fa-fas, or, as the case may be here, ho-heys. Also, Stubbon Love. "I can't be told, ah, ah, it can't be done."

7. Lonesome Dreams - Lord Huron
I have NPR to thank for this. One of my favorite late editions to this year's music scene, I jammed this out while moving into my new house in Hollywood. Another ramblin' album, this one felt like I was a traveller who had finally landed somewhere for a while. That feeling sustains. Check it out. 

6. Battle Born - The Killers
What happened to this album? I feel like nobody cared... including me! Until I finally got around to listening to it. And I think it's actually... their best? Don't get me wrong, The Killers have ONE sound. I don't imagine them reinventing that any time...ever. But this is the most consistent vocally, melodically, lyrically encapsulation of that sound.  They rock Vegas imagery like no one. And something about the way they've finally figured on town ambience in relation to storytelling. It's Mellancamp 'Jack & Diane.' It's Springsteen for today. Uh-Mer-i-cah-nah. More

5. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve
You More Than Ropes Will Ever DoFiona Apple  
Oh, Fiona Apple. I listed to this one on a record player in Peter Sheik's house during a weekend of cat sitting  and locking myself out that ended up being sort of life changing-- at least in a mental landscape kind of way. The whole thing is a short story now...and there's basically nothing I can say about this album that hasn't already been said. But I recommend listening to it on vinyl. I don't recommend locking yourself out in Brooklyn with no shoes on or money or phone. 

4. Give You the GhostPoliça
Since we've all just had to accept autotunes as a fixture of music for the times, I appreciate that Channy Leaneagh just leans into it. Polica is, in a way, what I'd like to think Bon Iver might have contributed to music in the long run with all those distorted, refracted vocals (I felt so bad/laughed in truth when LA Weekly called him the sonic equivalent of an empty canvas tote). Taken by a lady and given more shape, more rhythm, less angst, more, well... cool.  More on them here

3. Love This Giant - David Byrne & St. Vincent
It's been a good year for D. Byrne. Not only did he have an insightful and informative book, How Music Works, but he also had one of his best and the best albums I've heard in a long time. People just aren't making albums like this anymore. This sound is just not to be found on the radio or in general musical taste these days. But I sure do love it. God bless the layers and layers horns! And I think St. Vincent is an excellent vocal balance for DB. 

2. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
Is there a Best Of list that Channel Orange didn't make its way onto? All deserved. It has 5 or 6 really solid singles, but more than that, it's one of the few albums I like to listen to in order, straight through. I don't really like to use the word opus, but okay, opus. There. I mean, Pyramids.  And his odd bromance with John Mayer? So weird. I love it. And this is one the albums that greased the wheels on my way out of London. Remember when I lived there? Less than six months ago? Oh, sigh. 

1. Milo Greene - Milo Greene
Finally, I feel like people are starting to catch on to my favorite band and my favorite album of 2012. They're an amazing live band-- as was proved to me at El Rey in November (thanks, Kade!)-- and they started off as predominantly that. They didn't even have an album until July. And I was so happy when it finally dropped to discover the whole thing was amazing. With levels, and layers, and all that feeling of rambling that initially drew me to them and to "1957." I'm going to go on record and say that the reason I moved back to California and not anywhere else is this band and this album. One day in London, I posted on facebook that despite it being one of the few sunny days we had in that city, I wanted more. "1957" made me want find the convertible blue Bug of my childhood, buy it, get my driver's license back, and drive that car up Pacific Coast Highway blasting Milo Greene with the top down and my hair flying wild. If you want that feeling too, buy this album. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Melrose Place Flashback Friday Links

While visiting these past few days, my dad asked which part of Melrose Avenue the old 90s soap classic, 'Melrose Place' was supposed to be. I didn't know. I guessed somewhere more in West Hollywood than where I am. Once I we got home from our excursions, I did some digging. And while Melrose Place is obviously somewhere in Hollywood, the Greenwood, where they filmed the complex is in Los Feliz. The rest was filmed in studios

I loved this show so much when it first came out. Probably because I really felt like I was getting away with something by watching it. I mean, it was even more scandalous than Beverly Hills 90210, which I still have no idea how I convinced my mom to let me watch at age 9. I wanted to friends with all my cool neighbors. And wished I could ever pull off Josie Bissett as Jane's adorable pixie cut. Thinking about the show gave me a little urge to rewatch some old Melrose Place courtesy of Netflix. 

What a gas I actually laughed out loud several times during the pilot at how awful it is. I mean, just watch the original intro. To their credit, they changed it immediately after the pilot to the much catchier theme song and graphic look they'd keep for the rest of the show's run. But... man. 

Anyhow, there's your trip down memory lane to kick off your weekend. 
Here are the rest of your links. 

- I've been exploring Melrose from my house west lately. Blu Jam is my favorite breakfast place EVER. Crunchy french toast for every meal, please!

- 6 Places You'll Recognize from the background of every movie ever 
- My favorite eye candy blog these days
- Rejecting Oxbridge
- I came thiiiiiis close to adopting Hazelnut here. But she was gone. :(
- Advice to young writers from Jeffrey Eugenides
- I still like MY review of Les Miserables, but this is my second favorite

Stay tuned! The next three days are my Best of 2012 lists-- albums, books, movies. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas at The Churchill

When it came to Christmas dinner with Dad, I had two plans: 1. cook (rosemary roast chicken and braised Brussels sprouts) or 2. get out and explore of Los Angeles restaurants while I can. Turns out, I might always miss Britain at the holidays, so after some investigating as to what our options were, I chose The Churchill on West Third. The menu and feel just felt a bit British, even in a  very LA hood. 

And even though I had heard it was very 'scene-y' and crowded, we chose the right evening to try it out because it was just the right about of bustling. Reviews of the food range from mediocre and under seasoned to delicious. Being rather fond of food in the British vein though, I quite enjoyed the glazed Christmas ham, carrot, ginger and coriander soup, spiced squash, escarole and-- in a twist-- yuzu persimmon cake for dessert. 

I also broke away from wine to try one of their much-discussed cocktails. I was torn between several. But finally honed in on either the Amelia (Kettle One, lemon, St Germain, violet & blackberries) or The Statesman (Famous Grouse, apricot, lemon, baked apple bitters, sparkling). Being a whisky girl, and missing Scotland, I ordered The Statesman and was quite glad I did. 

One of the true luxuries and true joys of my life is the dinners I have with my dad. I think of all the cities and all the funny Christmases we've had together-- including the one where we were stranded in Yosemite with only cinnamon raisin English muffins, tuna, and packaged apple cider. Though that one goes in the books as the funnest in its own way, this one had decidedly better food. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Home in Hollywood for the Holidays

Many of you have very kindly asked me about my new apartment and its on-going decorating. Well, I'm finally able to show you some of the lovely professional photos taken by Airbnb photographer Alex Staniloff. I'm still not 'done,' but I love my little place! 

It can be exciting (of course) moving all the time. But it's also melancholy and a little lonely. Nesting is the best part. Sharing it is the best part. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wising You a Joyous Christmas

Merry Christmas! Today, I'm thinking about joy. And thinking about many people coming together to create something, change something, to multiply joy or give one voice strength. In Buddhism, there is a term, itai doshin-- many in body and one in mind. And many speaking with one voice. That's what this Christmas, and this time in the world mean to me. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve - The Half-Hearted Holiday?

What was Christmas Eve like when you were growing up? When I lived with my mom, it was considered just as important as Christmas. We made and put out cookies for Santa. We got to open one present from family before we went to sleep to dream of Santa and his reindeer. It had its own ritual, so much so that I genuinely thought Christmas was a two day holiday. That is, until I moved in with my dad and a step family.

There were absolutely, under no circumstances, no presents one could open on Christmas Eve. This rigidity was apparently as important a ritual to them as mine, it precluded mine, and that was probably when I started to dread Christmas. Instead of being a time to think of what I had, it became a reminder of what had been taken away. There was no place for my Christmas in their Christmas. The way I decorated, the way I wrapped, the way I shopped, the way I celebrated. 

Since then, I've done my own things to forge rituals around the Christmas experience that were a combination and culmination of my years of Christmases-- the ones where I was sick, the golden ones I started spending with my grandparents (I always miss my Grandfather most around now) and the ones I chose to spend alone in my adulthood, or reeling in Scotland, or with the family of my choice-- mostly Emily & Tigerlily.

My bosses have reflected this roller coaster thought process about the importance of Christmas Eve. Today, for example, we're going in for a bit, mostly just to go over our game plan for the new year and eat. Then my dad and I are going to watch Gone with the Wind with Kade & James. But most of my bosses have been like my stepmother (Scrooge). I've spent most of them at work. All day. 

What about you? Do you have a separate/equal Christmas ritual? Do you have to work?

In case you do, here are some other Christmas Eve treats:

-Neil de Grasse Tyson gives us some Science of Santa

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Revisiting Twin Peaks & Sherilyn Fenn

Christmas seemed like an appropriate time to revisit Twin Peaks. In fact, ever since I've moved to LA, I've been revisiting the works of David Lynch. No one understands the deep creepiness of something like Christmas in Hollywood as much as David Lynch.

Not to mention, the odd presence of Sherilyn Fenn has entered my life and I couldn't resist going back to check it out. I'll elaborate. One of the projects I'm editing at one time had her in a starring role. Without saying too much (I'll let her do it) she's no longer associated with the project. But at least we have her blog to keep company. 

Please do yourself a favor and read this. Then go watch Twin Peaks. (Rewatching it, I was struck by how much Sherilyn Fenn resembles serious-face Ginnifer Goodwin. Also, how much more she resembles Liz Taylor than Lindsay Lohan.) Or if you're bored, come over to my house and I'll make you some boozey cider and do a dramatic reading of the piece. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Berndnaut Smilde's Indoor Clouds

Today's meditation is on displaced natural elements. Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde brings the outdoors indoors with these cloud art/experiments. Using an artist's imagination and a scientist's methods, Smilde created Nimbus clouds in abandoned gallery spaces and churches across Amsterdam. The result has a lot of people talking, and me having a daydream riff on the thought of....

For more, click here and here

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Solstice Friday Links

I'm always excited for the winter solstice because it means the shortest days are done and we'll have more and more sunlight from here on out. I get so tired so early in winter and California gets darker earlier than I remembered. (I was really bad in Scotland when it was dark at 2:30.) 

Here's to the end of feeling like I want to go to sleep after work and a speedy end to cold temperatures, which are making my poorly insulated LA apt the temperature of a drafty Scottish castle on the inside-- even with all my heaters going!

Safe travels to the many of you who are embarking on Christmas journeys today!

Your Links:
- Les Miz or Les Mis? You decide.
- "How I Got in Touch with Being 'Too Much.'" Awesome.
- The names of things are poetry. Everything should have a word.
- I love when they put screenplays online. Django Unchained.
- Ghosts of the Hudson Valley. Oh, This House
- Pretty bracelet.
- Instagram backpedals
- This was a really funny interview. And I'm glad it's now a joke that won't die.
- LA gets its own whiskey! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kinetic Edinburgh

Heavens, I miss this beautiful city! From the initial success of professor Walid Salhab's first Kinetic Edinburgh video, featured on BBC, to his latest effort-- a new time-lapse video of Edinburgh in winter-- Salhab shows why Edinburgh is hands down one of the most beautiful cities in the world. He calls the newest video a "Christmas present to Edinburgh's residents and those around the world that love Scotland's capital."

I'm not sure about his music choices, but oh, those views! And under the snow! For more click here and here

Photo is by my friend, George Ferns

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Good Idea Files:

Obviously resources for actors and producers (especially the ones who are trying to make their way in the world) are near and dear to my heart. That's why I'm super excited to be working with 

Essentially, it pairs creators of video content (Ad agencies, PR firms, filmmakers, producers, web designers, or brands themselves) with willing "everyday actors".   

It's a great free tool for the agency that allows them to search the database and find exactly who they need (based on union affiliation, location, gender, age, ethnicity, special features and style like "geek chic") and negotiate the gig direct.  The site doesn't take any kind of back-end % or charge a fee, making it really attractive to the agency-side to use this service often.  

For the ACTOR, this is a low-effort way to get fun gigs and make extra cash $$$ on the side, and potentially build-up a reel or make industry contacts.  Actors just have to create a profile, upload some photos or video, and wait to be matched up and contacted! 

For example... Say there's a local L.A. business looking to a shoot a "How it works" video for their new shopping website, and they dont have big budget, but they do have $500 cash for the first sassy young fashionable blonde they can find to play the part. So they enter their search criteria into the site and you come up in the results.  You're on the site because you're new to the city, freelancing, and into making a few extra bucks in your pocket where you can.  Successful match is made.  We're not necessarily talking about actors with hollywood aspirations, but just cool camera-friendly people who are down to take random gigs. 

There is usually a $20 annual subscription fee on the actor side ($1.66/month-- still pretty low cost, when you think about it), designed to ensure the seriousness/willingness and quality of the actors who participate. 

Isn't that a great idea? And they are set up to run in ALL my favorite actor cities and past/present homes: NYC, LA, LONDON! Actor friends-- even ones who are way past this level-- I'm super curious to hear your thoughts. Please let me know if you join too! This is a site I plan on following the trajectory of. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Ah! Christmas is in a week and I haven't shopped for anyone! Just kidding. I don't really do Christmas in that sense and I already bought a few little things for the people I do exchange gifts with. My last Christmas in NYC, in fact, I spent it by myself (like I'll do again this year) in my one bedroom in Astoria. I watched the neighborhood lights blink and read in bed a book I had bought myself as a present. I ordered Chinese food. It was a perfect hybrid of a loner writer and a New York Jewish Christmas. Not that I'm necessarily either of those things. What it really was, for me, was a luxurious Christmas where I answered to no one and spent some time in reflection.

But in the even that you're panicing, here's a place to start.  I think these are safe. I know I'd be happy to find any one of these under the wrapping paper.

- Heart of Gold
- Portable Turn Tables
- Zodiac Calendar cuff
- These City Quilts are the awesomest.
- California Cutting Board... or any of them really.
- Dinner Party in a Box
- How to Find Flower Fairies
- Vintage Book Clocks (We saw some at Melrose Flea)
- Wee Heart Ring in rose gold
- 40% off all sale items today through Thursday at BHLDN
- Anything you order today from Hemingway + Pickett will arrive by Christmas Eve!
(Personally, I'm a big fan of this one.)
(Also, this.)
(Okay, fine, and these.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

ShootMePeter Headshot Special

You've heard me talk about my friend Pete before. Not only is he my super talented musician friend, my friend I made in the subway, and my friend whose wedding to my other awesome friend Suz in May in LA is going to be gorrrrrrgeous, he's also an utter fabulous photographer of people, places and events. 

He did a session with Steven and me back in September where he got just a few of me alone. I posted one, and immediately felt the love. Thanks. Your facebook comments on this photo have made me smile, so thanks! And thanks to Pete! He's a delight to work with and very creative on the shoot. 

The amazing news is that Pete is running a headshot special! All you actor/entertainment people in New York AND Los Angeles. He's in both. Here's your chance.  Here are the deets:

2-hour unlimited shot session
4-fully edited full resolution photos
all pics on DVD

$175 (normally $350)
Just tell him I sent you!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Don't Remember-- Were We Wild and Young?

Here's how adding a song to a movie (This is 40) completely changed what I thought about that song. 

When Ryan Adams's album Ashes & Fire came out last year, it took its place immediately on the shelf with all the other Ryan Adams-- near the end. And it never got all that much deliberate rotation. He's prolific and though he puts out a lot, most of it is wonderful background texture, but not much more. 

Then I heard "Lucky Now" isolated acoustically on the radio and began to notice the lyrics. 

Then the song was performed live in a key final scene of This Is 40. I can't say that seeing the song in the film changed my opinion of it-- (though the presence of Paul Rudd does cast a magical glow on everything near him) -- no, it was the addition of a simple steel guitar (and played by a lady steel guitarist, no less.) The song is a country song. It lives and breathes there and it is miraculous. 

It does not exist on the internet in video form. So instead, I provide for you there merely meh studio version and a link to the This Is 40 soundtrack-- which I recommend in its entirety, actually-- and where you can get said live version, which I have been listening to on repeat for a week. It's just so damn applicable. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Musician's Response To Violence

This is courtesy of my dad. And courtesy of the wisdom of Leonard Bernstein. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's My Party! Friday Links

Tonight, I'm having a holiday-slash-housewarming party! Angelinos, come on down and celebrate with me. I don't have a tree... just a holiday rosemary topiary, but that's all I feel emotionally capable of pulling off this year and it's festive enough. I'm so looking forward introducing my friends from all the different genres of my  life. My favorite part of the holidays is holiday parties, so let the festivities commence. 

While you eagerly await the start of said fete, here are your Friday links. 

- Hilary!
- More Hilary! This is fascinating.
- The D.Patz is still amazing.
- Artists you should have known in 2012.
- Read. This. 
- Breaking Abbey!
- Frank Ocean, please sing every song. Especially this one.
- Pentatonix + NSync's Greatest Hits
- This. Twitter. Seinfeld Lovers. If the show were on today.
- I have always wanted someone to cast Pippin this way with a female Ben Vereen. Boom.
- I wholeheartedly agree that almost all of these things must end in 2013.
- Amelia Earhart's prenup. Fascinating. The comments are better than the article.
- 12/12/12 One hundred years ago.
- One of my favorite articles each and every year. I <3 font="font" nbsp="nbsp" nyc.="nyc.">
- This one might be the best one though. Oh, how I love Stefon. 
- A harsh, but interesting look at Broadway's Fall Season. I'm no fan of NY Daily News, but...
- I agree with all of Matthew Zoller Seitz's picks. It's no coincidence so many of these best drama episodes are from Mad Men.
- Is it any surprise Mitch McConnell is the least popular senator? Fillibustering himself? Walking farce.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Slipstream, Revisited

Back in April, I was too busy dealing with turning 30 to deal with Bonnie Raitt's newest (19th) release, Slipstream. But as the year when on, the drama piled on, and I sought out more quiet moments, I turned to old friends of my life who've been part of the fabric and on in the background since before I was born. 

Slipstream is everything you want a Bonnie Raitt album to be-- complete with two Bob Dylan covers and some Bonnie Raitt versions of two songs by the album's producer, Joe Henry. Long held up as a critical darling, this North Carolina boy moved to Detroit at a young age and I think his sound has always been a fusion of those two local flavors. He's been married to Madonna's sister since the eighties and has bounced back and forth between Brooklyn and Los Angeles for years working with practically everyone. (Including Loudon Wainwright, also featured as a writer on this album.)

Joe Henry can write a simple, straightforward song like nobody's business. I thought this Thursday could use one. This one's my favorite. It's been picking up a lot of TV time lately-- not to mention, a Grammy Nomination-- and I think it's a perfect winter song. I love Joe Henry's rendition also. But I prefer Bonnie on almost any song almost any day. 

I loved what Rolling Stone says about Slipstream:

"A loose and adventurous reminder of everything she does well... it's mood music with a razor edge, pain fronting as bliss, delivered by a vet who understands that the blues are often about just that."

Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Les Miserables - Extreme Close Up

As a musical theatre lover of the first order, I have to tell you, though I’m always in eager anticipation of the next show-to-movie musical adaptation, I’ve never come out of one and not been a little disappointed. Basically, when you’ve been that close up to musicals, it makes it hard to enjoy-- seeing the places where their seams show. (And they all have seams. Even the classics. Sometimes especially.)

The close up of film normally removes the immediacy of singing. And something is lost. Tom Hooper was essentially always asking for a world of dilemma by taking on one of the world’s most beloved musicals—a show that has always walked a fine line between gut-wrenching and melodrama. (Or as Steven might say, “High, high retro drama. Get ready for it.”) When I saw the revival on Broadway, though I much loved it, and met some of my best friends from that show, I felt it lost something in a smaller house. The barricade didn't intimidate me. It was just a set piece. I was simply too close to believe.

My personal attachment to the show, coupled with my long standing reservations about it, made my viewing of Les Miserables full of anxiety. (“Almost NO Broadway people. Only Aaron. All London people. On principle, this felt like another snobby British moment. And would it prove to be too stunt cast-y? Remember that minute when Taylor Swift was almost going to be Eponine? Yeah.)

But Tom Hooper—who pointed out in conversation after the film that this was technically ‘low budget’--  made several huge, game-changing, instinct-driven decisions. First is the much-discussed live singing. I won’t go into that in much detail, because everyone else has, but I will say this. We should never make movie musicals any other way ever again. Ever.

Second-- and in some ways, I think this one might be more important-- is a decision about perspective. The camera is always somewhere I didn’t expect it to be. It holds longer than you’d think. It never cuts when you think it will. It zooms in and stays there. This movie is unflinching.

Tom Hooper chose to shoot all the solos in extreme close up. Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” plays without cuts, and in a single take. You’ve probably heard whispers or grumblings of this, but it’s true: throw everything you’ve ever thought about Anne Hathaway out the window. She’s fine-to-good in everything leading up that song—one of the best in musical theatre history. But, while no vocal power house, I assure you, you will not care. It’s the rawest thing I’ve ever seen filmed.

A close second is “Look Down.” The images of that opener are still with me. And it’s where Hugh Jackman won me over completely which helped as the movie went on. Because, for me, Jackman gets less compelling as the film goes on, until his death scene. (Spoiler. Jean Valjean dies.) The biggest let down of the film for me was his "Bring Him Home."

But the Hugh Jackman of “Look Down” is arresting. All bloodshot eyes and soaking wet and patchy hair with visible scalp scars.  From that song into the convent section where he experiences a redemption at the mercy of the priest and prays at the alter to his own transformation, it's a juggernaut. And then, the scene is immediately transformed in the way that shows Jean Valjean’s vision of the world and his place in it. When he leaves the convent--a place we had previously a bleak, tight scope on-- to reveal the full world, and Valjean casts his ripped up convict papers and scatters them to the wind... that shot is…. Magnificent.

And here's the real and deeply satisfying revelation of choosing to shoot the film this way. Not only does it trust the actor to tell the story plainly, it trusts the song. Just typing those words, I well up a little, because isn't that the point? Isn't that what every musical theatre writer hopes for? A trust that the song is enough. That the song is the ultimate expression. And I smile, thanking Tom Hooper for knowing that it is. 

My only concerns with the film are the concerns I have about Les Mis as a stage show as well. Namely, its pacing in the second act and the very nature of a sung through show. For the record, I think that device works better in a film adaptation than a stage show.  In the medium of the close up, it’s harder to justify the intense emotion that necessitates only one method of release: song. That’s why they sing on the stage. But in film, you have the close up. That much emotion close up…. it can be overwhelming. It can backfire and make you uncomfortable.

My issue with an entirely sung through show—particularly this show—is that it becomes too sing-song, that it feels naked and not in a good way, was largely washed away when I heard director Tom Hooper explain it.

Rather than make a deal with the audience that asks us to forgive or understand why sometimes the characters sing and sometimes they speak, (sometimes a contradiction that’s easy to forgive and sometimes not) or a trope like fantasy (Chicago) or the confines of a performative group of people (Dream Girls) instead you create an alternate reality where singing is essentially the only way that people communicate.

Other takeaways for me: Eddie Redmayne was exactly what Marius should be (though watch out, they’ve cut the instrum intro to ‘Empty Chairs.’) but nevertheless, Enjolras is the more compelling character, and I think Aaron steals the scenes away from Eddie a lot. Maybe I’m bias. Samantha Barks was just okay. BLESS Anne Dudley and Stephen Metcalfe for giving us a Les Mis with red-blooded orchestrations. I need never hear those synths again. Gavroche has always been the coolest kid to ever run Paris, but this Gavroche is so blued-eyed and vivid and alive that he's almost too real. Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers seemed like they were from another movie, but I nevvvvver cared. Bonus points for Colm Wilkinson's cameo. 

The packed theatre was audibly sobbing at multiple moments. Even the men. Normally, when I recommend a movie musical, I do so for the people who don’t love musicals, thinking: oh, this is removed enough. Maybe it will give them a way in. But it is with pleasure that today I say, I’m not sure what non musical theatre people will think of this movie and I don’t care. But we geeky musis of the world, this is a film for us. And a film we can be proud of. Go see it. Though I know I don’t have to tell you that. 

Why Stop Now?

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