Pondering Both Sides

Yesterday the weather changed with Mother Nature’s volatile mood.  Snow fell throughout the country for most of the day.  In a rare weather phenomenon, lightning and thunder crackled while snow fell.  The weather repeatedly grew bright and sunny, then dim and drury, then warm, cold, and frigid.  The snow at times fell soft and friendly, like a snow globe shaken, and at other times it waxed ferociously.  The weather dominated the day, leaving one ever mindful of its awesome presence. 
The weather reminded me of one of my favorite songs, Joni Mitchell’s "Both Sides Now."  I hadn’t heard it for years, but I recalled it again yesterday as I pondered the agitated, electrifying day.  The weather made such an impression on me that I couldn’t resist posting the song’s lyrics for you.  They really sum up the amazing sensation left behind by such a tempestuous day.  Such powerful weather patterns shake one’s very being and reminds one of life and all that it has to offer, from good to bad, happy to sad, frustrating to fulfilling. 

Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, i’ve looked at cloud that way.
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone.
So many things i would have done but clouds got in my way.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions i recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.

Moons and junes and ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real; i’ve looked at love that way.
But now it’s just another show. you leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away.

I’ve looked at love from both sides now,
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions i recall.
I really don’t know love at all.

Tears and fears and feeling proud to say "i love you" right out loud,
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, i’ve looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed. 

Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions i recall.
I really don’t know life at all.

Blog Notes:  Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks for their spectacular, come-from-behind 21-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.  It was a game for the ages, and I’m happy the Seahawks were on the winning end of it.  Fans of "America’s Team" will have to sit and watch from the sidelines along with all those Pittsburgh Steelers fans.  There’s always next year.

Special Note to Tortmaster:  Per your request, I posted the caricature for you on the New Year’s entry.  The artist turned me into a pretty boy.  Don’t laugh too hard!  I can hear it all the way from Texas.  I agree with you on the UT-USC game.

KT Tunstall’s history comes full circle

I don’t often blog about music or musicians, but lately I’ve been fascinated by KT Tunstall, a singer from Scotland whose debut album is a recent hit.  When I heard her first big hit, "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," on the radio, I immediately thought, wow, a pop song.  She’s not a teen idol, country musician, American Idol winner, or hiphop artist.  She is an honest-to-goodness pop-rock singer, the kind who doesn’t come along very often nowadays.  Her music style reminds me of Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, and Michelle Branch.  I’m interested in seeing how her career fluorishes over the next few years.  Of the singers mentioned, all have enjoyed commercial success, although their first couple of albums were inevitably more popular than their follow-on releases.  They are usually best known for one or two hits.  KT Tunstall’s music is refreshing to hear amidst all the clutter on contemporary Top 40 radio.  I was surprised to find out that she grew up in Scotland, because her sound does not conjure images of the Scottish highlands.  Her strong, soulful, folk music style sound more like it originated from Nashville, not Edinburgh, Scotland.
I don’t want to dwell on Tunstall’s music.  You’ll have to listen for yourself to decide whether you like her style.  What I find most interesting is her personal history.  According to Answers.com, KT’s biological mother is of Chinese descent, and her father is Irish.  She was born in Edinburgh and adopted at birth by the Tunstall family.  The fact that her ancestry is partially Chinese in the land of the Scots piqued my interest.  It took a little sleuthing to learn a more about her personal history.  I found the following information on Scotsman.com:
She is quarter-Cantonese. Her grandmother was Chinese, but her mother, a dancer, was born in Edinburgh and has lived there all her life. Seven years ago, Tunstall tracked her down, after having seen Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies. "It’s such an outrageously awful, brilliant film, the story of a black woman who discovers her mother is white. I watched it and thought, ‘I could handle that. And if I could handle that, I could surely handle anything.’"

Her father is Irish and worked in a bar, but despite trying, she has never found him. In any case, it seemed natural to trace her mother first. "Your mother is a woman who could have had a termination and didn’t," she says. "Your father could have been a one-night-stand who hasn’t been seen since."

She is intrigued by the 18 days before she was adopted. "I find it fascinating to think that for two weeks I didn’t have a mother. You have this short time when you have no idea what this baby’s future is going to be."

Did she ever feel abandoned? "No, but there have been moments… I met her seven years ago, and that was a strange process. You go through moments of thinking, ‘Actually, how does that work, and what was she feeling?’ But you just have to keep asking questions. At the end of the day, you are meeting a stranger. I’ve known her seven years, but that’s not long. I have to be slightly protective of the relationship, because we still have a long way to go."

Because Tunstall’s biological grandmother is Chinese, it is quite likely that her grandfather, a Scot, lived for a time in China, probably in Hong Kong, during the 1920’s and/or 1930’s.  He most likely met her grandmother, fell in love with her in Victoria or Kowloon, married her, and brought her back with him to Edinburgh.  Tunstall’s grandmother did what Pocahontas had done in 1616, when she moved to England with her husband John Wolfe (not John Smith, as is popularly assumed).  Although Tunstall’s grandmother likely experienced British culture in China or Hong Kong, migrating to Scotland must have been an immensely life-changing experience.  She very likely never returned to Asia because of the difficulty traveling before the advent of trans-continental air travel and World War II.  Now, her granddaughter is a famous musician, and her music has found its way to Asia.  Tunstall’s popularity has definitely brought her full circle with her Asian heritage.

Rain’s Coming

Last night my wife and I attended Korean pop megastar Rain’s concert to promote his fourth, soon-to-be-released album, "Rain’s Coming."  One of my coworkers gave me two VIP tickets to Rain’s concert at Olympic Stadium in Jamsil (south Seoul).  About 40,000 fans showed up to cheer the Korean pop star whose vocals and music style are one part Usher, one part Justin Timberlake, and one part Michael Jackson (yes, the King of Pop) minus the crotch grabbing.  Rain is the English translation of his Korean name, "Bi" or "Pi."  Rain has been making waves on both sides of the Pacific, especially after his appearance on MTV‘s Total Recall earlier this year.  His image has shifted somewhat from that of a Korean entertainer to that of an international persona.  My wife, who’s more up on Korean pop (K-pop) than I am, told me that Rain is planning an English language album to break into the U.S. market.  Mainstream pop artists who want to make it big in the U.S. ultimately need to sing in English, although some foreign language songs do become runaway hits (e.g. "Macarena," a Spanish-language song, and "Da Da Da," a German song).  "Rain’s Coming" is Rain’s prelude to hitting the U.S. music scene in full force.
I enjoyed the concert.  The stage show was excellent, although I was a bit perturbed by the opening sequence depicting Rain as a military helicopter pilot shot down during a fire fight.  Recalling the horror my father went through during the Vietnam War when his helicopter was shot down by enemy fire along the DMZ, I was not happy to see Rain incorporate such horror into his show.  He has no idea what hell guys like my father went through when they’re shot down and have to fight for their lives on the ground in a hostile environment.  (For a glimpse of what it’s like to be shot down in a helicopter over enemy territory, try watching "Blackhawk Down.")  I think war is inglorious and should not be part of a concert stage show.  Despite this, the show’s visual effects, particularly Rain’s transformation into an angel, were absolutely stunning.  It is the most professional stage show I’ve seen since my wife and I went to Barenaked Ladies’ "Maroon" concert a few years ago.  My wife thoroughly enjoyed the concert, as did the thousands of screaming fans yelling all around me.  I felt like a middle-aged fuddy duddy in the middle of a crowd of Gen Y youths, and I’m not even that old!  At times, I found my foot tapping to some of the music, and I had to make myself stop.  I’m not supposed to like K-pop ala NSync.  Fortunately, I was sitting next to another coworker in her 50’s.  She is an unabashed Rain fan and loved the concert.  She took some photos of the concert and will send them to me next week.  When she does, I will post them on this blog.  You’ll see them here first.
Perhaps the most tragic moment of the concert happened when we were assigned to new seats because the concert promoters accidentally issued two tickets for each seat in the VIP area.  When the real ticket holders arrived to take their seats, we were in them.  We explained that the ushers put us there, but they refused to move even after the ushers asked them to move.  I felt badly taking their seats, but we had no control over the chaos down on the floor in front of the stage.  If I had my druthers, I would have moved, but our group did not want to move.  After about 20 minutes, the ticket holders we displaced finally gave up and moved to different seats.  It took a lot of cajoling and irrational Korean dialogue to resolve the issue.  I sat quietly and thanked my stars that I can’t argue well in Korean!  They left me alone because I’m a foreigner.
Blog Notes:  I was offline for a couple days because my computer monitor burned out last Thursday.  It’s nigh impossible to use a computer when you can’t see anything!  I went to the store today and bought a beautiful 19-inch Sony monitor.  It’s almost too nice for the computer I’ve been using!  Very easy on the eyes.
As expected, Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was elected by the United Nations to serve as its next Secretary-General.  Congratulations, Korea and Mr. Ban.  Make us all proud.  Also in the news today–traces of radioactivity have apparently been found in the air near the site of the alleged nuclear test in North Korea.  The UN Security Council agreed on a draft of sanctions against North Korea.  Hold on tight.  We could be in for a bumpy ride.

Music brings back memories

I recently dusted off some old cassette tapes from singers and music groups who were popular in the 1980’s.  Why oh why would he do that?  Dear Reader, you may be asking yourself that question.  Very simply, I am now driving to work in our newly purchased Korean automobile manufactured in the mid-1990’s, and it does not have a CD player, just a lowly tape player and a radio dial.  The radio spectrum in Seoul is middling at best.  It features one Armed Forces Network (AFN) channel that rotates formats every few hours.  In the morning the music is R&B, pop, and hip hop.  In the afternoon, the format changes to country music, and in the evening, hard rock and metal take over the airwave.  The Korean radio channels are decent, although I am not a fan of Korean pop music.  Too many Korean radio stations are inundated with talk radio and long commercial sets–not too different from what you find in the United States. 
With the radio selection a bit meager, I decided to locate my old cassette tapes so I can have something else to listen to on my way to work.  My CD collection dates back to 1990, when CDs first appeared, and my tape collection ends around 1989.  I played a few of the tapes, and they brought back many (mostly good) memories.  Some are still timeless classics, such as Dire Straits’ "Brothers In Arms," and some should be relegated to the trash heap of history, such as Winger.  (Who could forget the scandalous song, "She’s Only Seventeen"?  I hear that Kip Winger has improved a bit as a solo artist.)  My musical tastes have definitely changed since the 1980’s!  I had to laugh at some of the crap I used to listen to when I was younger.  Of course, I didn’t think it wasn’t crap at the time (OK, maybe it’s always been crap).  I blame it on the recording companies, radio stations, and music stores, who all conned naive consumers such as myself into buying terrible albums based on the attraction of one decent song receiving radio airplay.  Maybe I’ve become an old fuddy duddy when it comes to music.  I still haven’t migrated to listening to classical music and opera, although I’m not a big fan of today’s popular music.  I guess I’m stuck in a folksy, music limbo, like a glam rocker who went into retirement, waiting for the day when big hair, spandex, heavy makeup, and drum pads are again fashionable (that would be…never).
When I played some of the songs, I recalled memories that reminded me of times passed.  I played Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s "The Way It Is" album, a classic.  (Bruce Hornsby went on to become keyboardist for The Grateful Dead before Jerry Garcia died, so even if you’re not a Bruce Hornsby fan, you have to admire him for that.  He is now an accomplished jazz musician.)  I played the song "Every Little Kiss," a song that hearkened back to western U.S. expansion in the late 1800’s, and it reminded me of when I would sit in my room with the headphones on, trying to match Bruce Hornsby’s baritone voice, reading a 400-page novel in one sitting, wondering when I would get a kiss of my own (oh, about five years later).  Music by an obscure Canadian band called Frozen Ghost reminded me of my first trip abroad, when I went on a summer relief mission to San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico.  Their song, "Should I See," briefly received airplay on MTV, and I liked it so much I bought the tape.  I wore the tape out listening to it during virtually the entire ride to Mexico.  After that, I put it away and didn’t listen to it again until a few days ago.  (You have to be careful not to overplay albums, or they’ll make you sick.)
I’m sure you have songs that jog your memory when you hear them.  Maybe you hear them piped into an elevator or at a department store, or by happenstance when you move the radio dial.  That’s the joy of music.  It’s not only entertainment.  It’s a part of your life.
Blog Notes:  I was premature when I wrote in my last entry that our community association is close to signing a contract with a new coffee shop vendor.  The potential vendor, a franchiser, found out that the corporate parent is mandating that they remodel the space in the corporate image, which will take a lot of effort and investment.  The vendor is obviously hesitant, and the deal may collapse.  I asked our general manager to encourage them to negotiate with the corporate parent to scale down the remodel and that we would be willing to sign a multi-year deal to help them recoup their investment.  As is far too common with the community association, nothing ever comes easy.  I wrote too soon.
…but, the cafeteria will be opening in January!