Monday, August 30, 2010

Where were you on August 29th, 2005?

[Disclaimer: Forgive the length and seriousness of this one... I had a hard time editing my thoughts, but wanted to share.]

I was on a plane, headed to Santa Barbara, California.

I always remember my mother telling me stories about where she was when John F. Kennedy was shot (she was in class, and they announced it over the intercom). It was something that everyone in their generation can attest to.

My first memory of "where I was when" is Princess Diana's death (at the beach, walking around Publix). High school was seemingly void of these nationally bonding marks of time. I was a freshman in college on September 11th, and I actually slept through the live footage (but I'll never forget one of the smokers sitting outside of the dorm's "hey did you hear about New York?" as I walked out to class, nor will I forget failing my math quiz and how unapologetic and unsympathetic my teacher was). More recently, I learned of Michael Jackson's death during shift lineup at the restaurant where I worked at this time last year, and Heath Ledger's as I was driving home from class.

It's hard to believe that yesterday marked five years that have passed since one of the most personal defining moments of my life. Though if you did not live near the Gulf or have a connection to New Orleans, chances are you didn't pay much attention as Hurricane Katrina came tearing through South Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. For me, it quite literally hit close to home, as my father hails from St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, a small but quite distinguishable area  right outside of New Orleans. Home of the Yat (short for "where y'at?") dialect, the Battle of New Orleans site and memorial, and enough drive-through daiquiri joints to ensure that no roads are safe to drive on... St. Bernard was also home to my only aunt (Nanny Robin) and her family, a few great aunts and uncles, and many memories of first Mardi Gras parades and Thanksgivings spent with my grandparents (they had passed away several years before this).

I've always had a special connection to New Orleans. Sounds lame, I know, but it's true. I've never really partied there (there was one ill-fated New Year's Eve, but we won't go there today) and shared that connection that so many do. To me, it's home. Another more fragrant and robust version of my first home in Dothan. Where my last name doesn't stand out as it does in Alabama or Tennessee. Where I understand and feel the deep heritage there. I honestly thought I'd move there after college, and a last-minute decision to accept an internship in Birmingham is all that stops this from being a very different set of memories.

I very well remember climbing on a plane that morning, headed to Santa Barbara for work, and calling my aunt to see if they were evacuating. She was annoyed, tired of all the teases of hurricanes and evacuations from the previous years, saying "Yeahh we're on the way to your parents' house. Probably will be back home by Monday." She packed her husband, their children, and their dog, a few days' worth of clothing, a few pictures, and whatever the kids grabbed that they couldn't' live without for the weekend (which at the time were some gaming systems, iPods, and cell phones). Natalie and I are still a bit upset they left our original Nintendo behind. They certainly weren't prepared to stay 6 months in Dothan, Alabama.

In California, no one was all that concerned about what was going on in the Gulf. Most everyone watched the news and kinda said "meh... that's sad for Mardi Gras," going on with their business. And then there were the folks and their "good riddances," not mourning the loss of such a vile, sinful city. I don't blame the former in retrospect (surely I do the same with the wild fires there and such), but at the time... I was a mess. Here I am, across the country from where my second home was being destroyed. My aunt's home for 45 years. I'm seeing images of this place I love in complete devastation... the news was unrelenting... and everyone around me is just going on about their business like it's just another day. Cause it was just another day, just another week for them. While it was one of the most surreal weeks of my life. I'll never forget talking to my 13-year-old cousin Karly, who was beside herself not knowing where her friends were, or whether they even made it out ok. My aunt was glued to message boards and email, searching for friends and other family members. (Everyone was eventually accounted for, though many did not move back from Houston or other places they were displaced to.) St. Bernard, closest to the levees, was in a total nightmare. It was just awful.

Post-storm flooding in St. Bernard Parish

A St. Bernard Neighborhood similar to my aunt's and my grandparents'
They had about 13 feet of water in their single story house, and my dad was baffled by what a sheer mess it was. There was a random freaking boat wedged in the carport attached to the side of the house. A dresser from a bedroom on the opposite end of the house blocking the side door. Sludge everywhere. They went back and got all they could salvage after a week or so. Wondered about the health hazards from handling such innocent things as picture frames, jewelry, and books. Much to the dismay of Natalie and I (who are easily creeped out), Nanny Robin creates porcelain dolls as a hobby. There were far too many of them in my parents' house for those six months. (But of course I was happy she was able to salvage as many as she did, for her sake.) :)

There were some funny memories, of course. The kids adjusting to living in Alabama as pre-teens. Going to public school (they were in Catholic schools and not the co-ed ones in New Orleans). They enjoyed spending time with their uncle (Parran Freddy). They went to the Peanut Festival. They wondered at how we survived without much entertainment, and 45 minutes away from any interstate. But they also grew to love it. Even pondered settling there, but in the end, wanted to go home.

Now, five years later, damage from the storm is still seen in St. Bernard, and talked about much with my family. Nanny Robin and Uncle Kenny were blessed to have good insurance and the ability to find a home with very little damage that they could fix up and move into quickly. It's a happy ending for them. There are lots of chronological references made to the effect of "before the storm." My grandparents' house is completely gone. There's an empty space where it once stood, witnessing my dad and Nanny grow up, then Natalie and me, and then Karly and Derek. Seeing that empty space for the first time a few years ago is what really got to me more than anything. St. Bernard was essentially wiped out, but many have moved back and are rebuilding. The parish has about half of its population as "before the storm." But Lord knows those daquiri shops are back in full action. I visited a few months ago and I was happy to see that New Orleans is alive and thriving and truly resembling its old self again.


Laissez le bon temps rouler!  Yeah?
 
"Green" homes built in the Lower 9th Ward by Brad Pitt's Make It Right organization.
Katrina Memorial in Lower 9th Ward
Same ole streets
RRB and Me
French Market Entrance and up Barracks Street
Cooter Brown's in the Garden District

Pretty skies above Jacob and Magazine Street (at Balcony Bar & Cafe)

The Chalmette National Cemetery, adjoining the National Battlefield site
With Nanny Robin at Jackson Square

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A few reasons why I may be neglecting my blog for the next week or so...

I have a bunch of posts on the brain, but these two things are taking up my full attention at the moment:

This arrived yesterday.


And this is arriving tomorrow:


Need I say more?

Reviews to come.

Sweet Home Alabama, Take 2

It has come to my attention that I've left out a few other gems, most notably another from  Huntsville I'd never seen before... let me introduce you to....

STRUTTIN'


The Remix, of course:



And how could I forget "County Law," Montgomery's version of COPS. I'm pretty sure I'm related to this woman somehow.


COUNTY LAW!

When I was in high school, Dothan area police attempted their try at this, dubbing it "Wiregrss Law," and I actually was in attendance at a party that was busted and supposedly taped and aired on the local station. Apparently they shut down operations, but I'm heartbroken that I can't find much evidence or a video from the party in question.

Sweet Home Alabama

Football season is upon us, folks. As many of you know by now, I grew up in the Deeeeeep South. I also grew up "bleeding Orange and Blue," which in the state of Alabama means I was an Auburn Fan. Mom went to Auburn in the 70's, and my sister and I followed suit some 30 years later (I actually lived in the same dorm as she had during my freshman year). While this isn't an ode to my Alma Mater, it suffices to say I adore that place. I had a wonderful undergraduate experience there. I loved the intense Auburn fandom, the traditions, The Creed, the Plains themselves... the orange and blue Tiger Paws drawn on College Street. And I love that I was a student there (from '01 until '05) during years where the football team enjoyed quite a good run (and even an undefeated season and had potential for an unrealized national championship). We aren't bitter at all about that, no way.

But my point is... like in many states in the South, In Alabama you grow up knowing "who you go for" at an early age. And it's all about football, baby. As a wee little one, I certainly knew I didn't like the University of Alabama. I didn't know a thing about the school, the fans, the potential for Saban Nation, the politics, or even football... but I knew I would NEVER be an Alabama fan. I even remember refusing to listen to the band Alabama, just because I thought they were associated with the team (I grew up and began to love those Fort Payne boys by 4th grade or so). The rivalry is strong with this one. I actually attended the Universiteh for my graduate degree... and I was sure to wear Auburn paraphernalia prominently to almost every class. I made a lot of friends there. 

This post is also not an ode to my dislike of my Alma Mater's fiercest rival. What is it, then? An ode to the rivalry itself. And to just how ridiculous people from Alabama are in general. We've been making the news in recent years, and I've gotta say... from the view here in Tennessee, it ain't purdy. But I'm still proudly waving my Alabama flag high, regardless.In theory, at least.

So... here goes. The best of Alabama's infamous.

SABAN NATION
First we have the Bessemer woman who claimed a Nick Saban endorsement for her mayoral candidate run. This is the interview in which she claims bamboozle. She didn't know a thing about it, folks.

I won't even begin to tarnish this blog with more of the Bammer ridiculousness regarding Nick Saban. (ie 2000-Saban, Got Nick?, Did you know Saban walks on Lake Tuscaloosa?) You can Google that and see yourself.


THE HUNTSVILLE INTRUDER
Next we have a news story-turned Autotune sensation. A woman in Huntsville woke up to find a man in the bed with her, supposedly there to rape her, but he scrambled out of the window before anything happened or he was apprehended. Her brother is very upset. Hilarity ensues.

The original news segment:


Hide ya kids. Hide ya wife.

And the now famous Autotune. I have had it in my head for weeks.



THE MOBILE LEPRECHAUN
And let's not forget about the leprechaun let loose in Mobile. "Where da gold at?!" My friend Michael, a Mobile native, gets quite upset every time anyone mentions it.


THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA MISSPELLS MISSISSIPPI

From the 2010 (already-printed-and-shipped-no-going-back-now) ticket book:



And now I'll share my favorite thing to laugh about that hails from Auburn:


THE IRONS BROTHERS

Kenny and David Irons both played for Auburn during my tenure there, providing much the comical fodder. But just as much as they fueled the Bammers' repertoire of AuBARN jokes, the brothers gave their fellow Auburn folks a giggle as well. It helps that they absolutely kicked some major ass on the field and both later went on to be drafted into the NFL.

Over the years, the quotes coming from these two boys are pure ridiculous genius. While I can't find any video footage, I'll provide you with some of my favorite gems:

From a Q&A with Kenny (the rest of the interview is simply fantastic)***:
 Q: What is your most prized possession and something that you could not live without?A: “Candy, I love candy.  I love candy bars and snacks.  If they didn’t make snacks and junk food then I would be lost. I wake up in the morning eating honey buns.  (Strength and Conditioning) Coach Yoxall wants us to gain weight and I tell him that I eat good food and then he asks what I have been eating.  I always tell him that I’ve had two Little Debbie snacks, some brownies, and some cookies.  He always tells me that is not going to help me gain weight, but I love snacks.  I would eat snacks over any kind of healthy food any day.”
Also discussed in this interview are water polo, Shaquille O'Neal's 30-foot bed, and his love of drawing.

And an interview with David (you can subscribe for the full interview with Scout.com, but I grabbed this quote from another site):

Q: Do you and Kenny have any competition with stats?
A: I just tell him to keep running like that and keep on running to the jungle. I told him I'd buy him a seesaw and monkey bars so he can swing around like a banana tree. He's doing real good running to his jungle. I told him the end zone is his zoo and if he runs to the end zone he can be with all of his little animal friends. I just told him to treat the football like a banana. "You treat the football like a banana and you won't let anybody at the zoo take your banana peel." He was like, "Yeah, that's true." And I was like, "Kenny, but it's not yellow, it's brown. Just think of it as an old banana and you've had out for weeks like you did at the house and it's turned brown. Run with it and don't let people strip it." He's been running like a crazy wild child.

***Over the years, this interview has been quoted and misquoted and exaggerated to hilarious extremes between my friends and me. "I'mmmm gonna go with snack. Cheetos... cookies... honeybuns... I always gotta be eatin' on something." No clue how that happened, but in my head, that's how the interview went.


I do love my home state. Although I'm pretty sure I will be happy if I never hear this song again during the remainder of my life:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

blue jean serenade

I was listening to The Killers' Live at Royal Albert Hall on the way to work this morning, and caught myself having an honest-to-God full rock out session to an extent I haven't experienced in quite sometime. At 7:55 am, at least.  I believe at about 1:53 on the following track, I was fist-pumping with reckless abandon. I probably scared some people on the road.


I've seen The Killers in concert twice, and they're among the cream of the crop of my favorite musicians to see live. And I've seen A LOT of great shows. Of course their songs are consistently good (duh), and while at first I assumed Brandon Flowers's voice wouldn't hold up live since he tends to stay in higher ranges consistently, it was clean and good and boomed through the Grand Ole Opry and Atlanta's Fox Theatre. Plus they play all the songs you hope to hear, switching things up just enough to vary from the recorded tracks. I haven't seen them play any covers or many unreleased tracks, which is the only thing they're lacking (I do love a good surprise). Now I'm jonesin' for them to tour again, though it looks like it'll be a while since they're taking a break as a band. But at least we can all count on Brandon, as he's about to release a solo record. I'm digging the first single (and I like the video... Charlize Theron is so gorgeous, and such a badass.)


Doesn't hurt to mention that I credit him as my first indie rocker crush. Back when they started out and he was rockin' the guyliner... I fell hard. [I'm also just realizing this is not the first time I've mentioned guyliner in my writings.]

So what gets your fists pumping in the morning? And if you're a Killers fan, what do you think of Brandon's solo stuff so far?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Home is wherever I'm with you

I traveled to one of my favorite places a few weekends ago to see an old friend of mine marry her sweetheart at the Biltmore Estate. KK and Doug met in Auburn and have lived several places (Spain and Charlotte, to name a few) and enjoyed tons of adventures, but she calls Asheville her "God Place," and wanted to be married there. She said she feels God there more than in any church. I love that. And I've gotta say, I felt Him there too.

 It was a small, simple ceremony filled with personal touches. And because the bride and I share love for (and tastes in) music, I hoped she would pick something a bit nontraditional. And she didn't disappoint. The string quartet played the following (starting at about 2:26) as Mr. and Mrs. Van Wie walked down the aisle as husband and wife for the first time. And while some folks probably didn't even realize it was something out of the ordinary, I just stood there and watched them run by and listened. And it was awesome. And just about perfect.

Sigur Rós - Hoppípolla from Sigur Rós on Vimeo.

I got to take a few frame-able photos (read "Christmas Presents") with the Sister:

I hung out with some old friends:

And made some new ones:

We danced like idiots:

Sappy Sister and I teared up watching two people so incredibly excited to have just been married:

And then we sent them off with a big WAR EAGLE (plus I got to beef up my supply of Auburn shakers):


All in all, it was a great wedding weekend. My friends and I enjoyed touring the city and Bele Chere (the huge art and music festival going on downtown) during the day, and at night, sampling the local bar scene and taking over the Doubletree... hanging out late-night, and acting like fools in the hallways. I hope we never grow up. I'm also still finding Doubletree cookies in my bags. They are, however, no longer warm nor delicious.

On Sunday, I convinced my sister and our friend Bobby to indulge me and take the scenic route along the Blue Ridge Parkway back home. It was quite the detour at nearly 2 hours, but absolutely worth it. I've said before how much I love this area of the country. It may just be my God Place as well. Isn't it beautiful?

Ha.

As we Natalie drove around the twists and and turns of the road, we listened to the homemade "Love Mix" CD KK and Doug included in the welcome packet for out-of-towners. The CD is headed off by the following song, which I found quite fitting for the occasion, as well as for two people who have traveled all around the world together, never quite settled, and never quite home. And it's been in my head for two weeks now.

"Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros



Home is wherever I'm with you.

That's true happiness right there. And such an original band. Seems they genuinely love singing and performing together. Check out this live performance and watch them hop around if you love the song as much as I do.


Sidenote: Since originally writing this post last week and now, I've found myself obsessed with this band and am dying to see one of their lively "revival-like" performances. Plus I love the fact that Alex Ebert (aka Edward Sharpe) and Jade Castrinos, one of the band's cofounders singing along with those killer vocals, wrote this together, about each other. Whether they're in love now or once one, there's no denying a great dynamic and genuine affection there.  The band's story is pretty cool, but that's a whole other post altogether. I'm a bit behind, but glad i found this band now. Better late than never.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Little Bee

Little Bee by Chris Cleave



Little Bee is impossible to describe. I can tell you it is the brutal but beautiful story of an African refugee (to the UK) and a British woman who she comes to live with. They met years ago on a beach, and what happened there steered the course of their lives, truly interwove their lives, indefinitely. I said in my summer reading preview that my friend Laurel told me she literally was so overcome with emotion when reading it that she slung her book across the room and forced herself to go to sleep. I believe I know the exact moment that her book hit the fan. I found myself going "NO. No no no.. No way?! NO!" Aloud. To myself. Like a crazy person.

Be warned that Little Bee will make you think. It's a book about social injustice. But then it isn't. It's about friendship and relationships, and character development... but also it's so much more than that. And as the author says in the endnotes, "The characters in it are imagined, although the action takes place in a reality which is intended to call to mind our own". You'll think about your relationships, and what is worth saving. And Who is worth saving? Why is it that a child dressed as Batman, fighting the "baddies," and a 16-year-old African refugee were the only two people in this story who acted truly unselfishly without prodding or without guilt as motive?

It's a phenomenal story with truly beautiful writing. Just gorgeous. I am not one to notice prose as often as others, nor do I care, especially if I'm distracted by the story by having to re-read and re-construct sentences (or the opposite, when I'm distracted by terribly bad writing). But his writing is clear and carries the story, but I also found myself rereading sentences just because they flowed so nicely and described his intended thought so uniquely, that I reread and thought Damn that was nice.

It's heavy, but you won't be sorry. Pick. It. Up.

(And now, after all that seriousness, I'm back to YA fantasy.)

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Paperback - Simon & Schuster, 2010 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Excuse me, but can I be you for a while?

I've come across something recently that has changed the way I've thought about cover songs. I can't stop listening to this:

The Bird and the Bee's "I Can't Go For That"
from Interpreting the Masters Volume I: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates

My friend Jacob introduced me to the album a few months ago, but I took a hot minute to pick it up. I mean, who doesn't like Hall & Oates? But enough to listen to a whole album of someone else singing their songs? I didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I wrong. Though they didn't vary much from the original tunes, The Bird and the Bee somehow still truly "interpret" the song and make it theirs. They took a song that was already smooth and velvety awesome, with just a bit of spunk to it, and turned it into something else. Like their dark chocolate crunch version to H&O's classic Reese Cup. Variant, but not completely different. I love it. The whole album is truly great, and her vocals were meant for Hall &Oates songs. I'm eager to see what Volume II will bring.

So.

I'll admit I love a good cover of a song. (Note use of the word good.) I love when a musician takes a song and truly makes it his or her own, and sometimes makes it better. Cases in point would be Jimi's cover of Dylan's "Watchtowner," Ryan's cover of Oasis's "Wonderwall," and Johnny's version of NIN's "Hurt." These are three widely popular and well-received versions of already beloved songs, by the Grammy folks (what do they know?), fans, and even by the original artists. [Noel Gallagher has been quoted as saying that Ryan Adams was the only person to get his song right, while Trent Reznor likened listening to "Hurt" for the first time as losing a girlfriend, as the song wasn't his anymore.]

But it's hard when you truly love a song, to think about someone else remaking it. People attach themselves to songs. Get personally defensive over them. So it's scary to think that someone might ruin your favorite song (or perhaps the fear is they might make it better and make you question  your loyalty?) Even if when the inspired musician in question is one you actually like. Sometimes you get gems like the Dixie Chicks's version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." Other times, you get this hot mess:



Tim, you were one of my first true musical loves, but this makes me want to drive down to Franklin and punch you in the face a little bit. (Whoa, killer. See... that just came out of nowhere. Defensive much?)

Regardless, I'm always amused by how many of my beloved songs are actually covers in the first place. What? "Silent All These Years" wasn't an original from my hometown punk rock heroes Hadji and the Turbans?

I wish the sound were better on this, but I assure you the cover was amazing when they recorded it more than 10 years ago. And I'm still digging it, love Tori Amos as I do.

What are your favorite or least favorite covers?