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We crave a different kind of buzz: Lorde and PURE HEROINE

So, 17-year-0ld New Zealander Lorde, born Ella Maria Lani Yelick-O-Connor, is hitting the music charts after her Grammy wins this year with “Song of the Year” and “Best Pop Solo Performance” for “Royals”, which she claims shows the feeling her generation has about life, that “our lives are super mundane and we’re basically in this transition period waiting for something to happen to us.” Wow. Super-mundane? Having a mom as a poet? Waiting for something to happen to us? Writing short stories and then songs and then becoming a huge hit in her homeland before conquering the UK and cracking the US?

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Lorde says she’s always written, mostly short stories before she began writing songs, and her influences are as literary — T.S. Eliot, Raymond Chandler, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath — as musical — Drake, Kanye West, James Blake, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Etta James, and Otis Redding. “I’ve always been a big reader,” says Lorde. “My mum’s a poet and we’ve always had so many books, and that’s always been a big thing for me, arguably more so than music.” Her short video, Becoming Lorde, is poetic in itself.

Though lots of people like to trash her on YouTube’s Comments, I find her music haunting, with intelligent, sardonic lyrics. Not like some of the music or books coming out these days. You can tell that this artist actually reads good literature, then writes some coolio music.

In some videos, she doesn’t even sing, which is really unusual for generations of MTV viewers who are used to seeing the musicians play or, at the very least, sing, in their videos. The UK version of “Royals,” for which she won awards, apparently doesn’t show her singing, as this US version of “Royals” does. I guess someone thought the US would want less storytelling and more of her face, I don’t know.

I just know that I found her totally accidentally, roaming around the YouTube listening to music, especially to artists I’d never heard before, and I liked her lyrics from this song so much, I listened to more of her album.

Royals

I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy

[Chorus]
But every song’s like “gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room.”
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like “Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.”
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.

And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

[Verse 2]
My friends and I—we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.

[Chorus]

Her video for “Tennis Court” doesn’t show her actually singing, but it doesn’t tell a story either: she lets her lyrics do that.

I liked the samples I heard from her album Pure Heroine, and love the album. It’s ambitious and dangerous, it’s almost a cappella with a serious bass. I like it. “Funky with a totally intellectual attitude” doesn’t begin to describe it.

No, Lorde doesn’t strike me at all as the type that would have been singing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror when she was a young girl.

What a relief.

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Filed under Books, Documentary/Historical Video, Music Videos, Music/Song

Lions and Tigers and Liebsters, Oh, My!

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award by Seumas Gallacher, a rowdy Scot who loves to wear kilts and annoy his friends, especially authors who are new bloggers, like John Dolan and me. Apparently, the Liebster Award is to introduce interesting blogs to your readers. It has a few rules, however, which follow the photo. I notice the many blogger-nominees are using the green award picture, but I prefer the pink & red. I’m a girl: I like those colors.

Here are the rules:
  • When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you. (Have I received it yet? Perhaps the nomination is the same as receiving it. I’ll bet Hollywood wishes the Oscars operated like that.)
  • Pass the award onto 11 other bloggers with fewer than 200 followers (while making sure you notify the blogger that you nominated them.) If you can’t think of 11, do as many as you can ( or check out Bloggers  for some interesting people. Sign up while you’re they’re, too [no, I didn’t get a kickback for writing that]).
  • You write up 11 NEW questions directed towards YOUR nominees. (Serious, amusing, existential – your choice: they have to answer or no Liebster for them.)
  • You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated your own blog. (That would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?)
  • You paste the award picture into your blog. (You can Google the image, there are plenty of them; I’ve included a selection in this post.)

Eleven Random Facts About Myself

1. I have three tattoos: an OM on my left shoulder, an ALEPH on my right, both done on my 47th birthday; a Star of David within the Buddhist Circle of Chakras is on the back of my left wrist. All three are spiritually significant to me as a writer.

2. I pierced my nose myself, with ear-piercing studs, 3 times, for my 48th birthday. I did 3 piercings instead of the traditional 1 because I was always called “Big Nose” as a kid (before my face fit my nose) so I thought I had plenty of “canvas” to work with. I am constantly amazed at the number of people who find my nose-rings sexy.

3. Sometimes, I wear diamond studs in my nose, but they often confuse and stress people who see them and ask “Why are you wearing diamonds in your nose?” because I always tell them, “It’s a political/socio-economic statement.” Their expressions say “Duh?”

4. I had to re-learn how to blow my nose once it was pierced because I kept tearing the nose-rings out. I did not have to learn to blow my nose in a new way after I got my ears pierced at 21.

5. My BF and I have rescued cats during our entire relationship (going on 19 years) and currently we have seven, who are all incredibly spoiled and rule the house like tyrants. They absolutely never listen to me unless I’m saying the word “Breakfast” and they hear plates.

6. We also have SadieDoggie, who was raised with cats and thus believes that she, too, is a cat: in six years, we have never given her a bath. She cleans herself just like a cat, even her paws and her face. She makes vets nervous because she is a cat in a 55-pound doggie body. She is the only dog on the planet that I have ever even liked, let alone loved. Probably because she acts like a cat.

7. I love stilettos, especially red ones, and my favorite pair is a toss-up between the 6-inch python-print (which make me about 6’2″) and the sparkly Dorothy-Wizard-of-Oz with black-and-white-striped heels (to represent the stockings of the Wicked Witch of the East upon whom Dorothy’s house lands).

8. I have a Snow White watch, which I adore, and never wear any other (for reasons posted in an earlier blog of mine).

9. I’m quite a few years older than I look: I’m retired from 30+ years of teaching World Literature and Creative Writing as a University Professor.

10. I write all my books in longhand with fountain pens, in beautiful journals. I grew up learning to write with fountain pens (ballpoints weren’t invented till I was 12) and since the two types of pens are held differently while writing, I simply cannot write comfortably with anything but a fountain pen. I have an entire collection of lovely pens.

11. I would’ve called this award “Liebeleh”, using the Yiddish instead of the German. Because.

My Nominee’s 11 Questions for Me

1. What’s your earliest recollection of anything?

Something too gruesome and horrifying to be revealed in a blog. Sorry. Must take the 5th on this.
2. How old were you when you were informed that Mister Clause may not be for real? and how did you take it?

2 or 3, I’m guessing, since my parents didn’t pull any punches, metaphorically or literally. Since I already didn’t believe in God by then, I don’t remember caring much whether Mr. Clause existed (besides, he never brought me anything I wanted, the Grinch).
3. What was the first book that you absolutely hated?  
I’ve never hated a book. I love books. They saved me. I adore all books simply on principle. Even the ones whose stories bore me to tears.
4. Money or Love?
Depends on what I have to give in return.
5. Fantasy holiday destination?
Paris. Actually, I want to live there.
6. First kiss?
Unremarkable.
7. Favorite funny person?
Christopher Walken.
8. What kind of music, if any, makes you cry?
Anything by Mozart or Beethoven. And some really old folk songs, like “Auld Lang Syne” and “Danny Boy.”
9. If you could remove any three letters from the alphabet, what would they be, and why?
X, because nobody pronounces it right when it’s at the beginning of a word. O because it looks silly. Q, because it’s always dragging U around after it, and nobody knows why, and U’s probably pretty tired of it by now.
10. Favorite animal/pet?
Cats. All of mine.
11. If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?
I already changed it, to Alexandria. I didn’t like the name my parents gave me (and I despised their illiterate Appalachian pronunciation), and I only used a nickname in high school because I wasn’t of the legal age to change my first name. I fell in love with the name “Alexandria” after reading Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet at 17. 
My Eleven Questions for My Nominees 
1. If you could live anywhere in the world you wanted, where would you live and why?
2. If you could be as tall or short as you wanted, how tall or short would you be?
3. Films or books?
4. Men or women?
5. Cats or dogs?
6. If you could be fluent in any language other than your native one, which would it be?
7. Besides blogging, what is your favorite activity?
8. What ethnic food or dish is your favorite?
9. Who is your favorite actor and his/her best role?
10. Who is your favorite artist and his/her best work?
11. Who is your favorite author and his/her best work?
And My Eleven Nominees Are… <Drumroll… Opens Envelope…>
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Filed under Actors, Art, Authors, Blogging, Books, Indie Authors, Memoir, Photography, Reading, Writing

Books That Changed My Life

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Someone on Twitter asked, “What books have influenced you or made an impact?”

How could any serious reader answer that in 140 characters or fewer?

Influenced me? How? My own writing style? That’s easiest to answer. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises, Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, anything by Alain Robbe-Grillet, anything by Chris Bojhalian, James Joyce’s short stories and the last (Molly) section of Ulysses.

Made an impact on me? Not sure what that means. Books you think about over and over? Books you read over and over? I don’t know. There are so many that I’ve read multiple times, for different reasons. Still, I couldn’t answer that in a Tweet. Or two. Or three.

What books irrevocably changed my life?

Ah, now that question I can answer.

When I was about 6 and T.S. Eliot died, the local newspaper ran a front page story about him, complete with picture and excerpt from his epic (and not always very good) The Wasteland. (When authors die today, they’re lucky if they’re mentioned on CNN’s ticker, momentarily, at the bottom of the screen during the morning news.) At 6, I tried to read The Wasteland excerpt myself, but couldn’t get it all, so I asked my mother who the man in the photo was. After she glanced at it, she said, “Some poet.”

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I asked her to read from the poem. She must’ve been in a really good mood that day because she actually did it. I was standing in the living room, looking up at a tiny window near the ceiling where shafts of sunlight poured in, watching the dust dance in the brilliant light, and listening to the most beautiful language I’d ever heard. I thought to myself, “One day, I’m going to write words like that, words that sound like music.”

My path as an author and life-long reader had just been chosen for me, and it began with poetry, specifically with Eliot’s The Wasteland, which you can read here, free, since it is in the Public Domain.

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When I was 8 and discovered Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales changed my life dramatically (this link will take you to the Prologue, free). My parents were always throwing my books away (after hitting me with them) because they thought the books were a waste of time since “women were supposed to get married and have babies so they didn’t need to read.” When I discovered a funny, dirty, interesting book written in English which they couldn’t understand (because it was in Middle English), it was an incredible epiphany.Unknown-8I was sitting at the kitchen table reading “The Miller’s Tale” and giggling hysterically over the arse-kissing part. My mother demanded to know what I was reading that was so funny. I obediently showed it to her. After a few seconds, she shoved the book back, asking, “WTH is this? It ain’t even in English.” I answered, “Old English” (because that’s what I thought it was). Her response, “You know, men don’t like smart girls. You ain’t never gonna get nobody to marry you if you keep reading crap like this.” (Only, being my mother, she didn’t say it quite so politely.)

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Since I was only 8 but already associated “marriage” with “control”, I thought, “Oh, goodie,” and kept on reading (although I did cover my mouth to laugh more quietly). Since she hadn’t found the book offensive, she hadn’t thrown it away. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English was the first book that gave me some power in my life: if my parents couldn’t understand what I was reading, I could read it without punishment. It also began my lifelong love of learning foreign languages: I’d simply read books in languages my parents couldn’t understand. No “crime”, no punishment. Besides the fact that Chaucer’s writing gave me power and increased my love for language(s), I adored all the characters in The Canterbury Tales, especially the Wife of Bath, looking for her 5th or 6th husband while on a “holy” pilgrimage to St. Thomas à Beckett’s burial shrine. What a riot.

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Though I read virtually everything I could get hold of (mostly in secret), the next book that altered my life taught me about espionage and spy-cunning. I was 12 when Zeffirelli’s classic film Romeo and Juliet came out, and, like all the girls my age, I desperately wanted to see it. That wasn’t going to happen: there was nudity in it – OMG! I decided I wanted to do the next best thing. Buy the book. My parents guffawed: “I had to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar once,” said my step- (later adoptive) father, “and couldn’t understand it at all. If I couldn’t understand it, you can’t.” I was actually forbidden to purchase the book, and, furthermore, threatened with bodily harm if I was caught with it.

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That was when I learned to become a spy, an undercover agent, a female James Bond. I cased out my classmates, deciding relatively quickly that my partner-in-crime would most likely be the girl with shoe-polish-dyed-black hair who defiantly wore thick black eye-liner despite constantly getting detention for doing so. She was 2 years older than I, but still in the seventh grade because she’d skipped public school so much, she’d been held back two grades, and then sent to Catholic school after she’d been caught smoking her parents’ stolen cigarettes with a boy behind the family’s garage. Yep, she’d do.

She had an older brother who could drive to the nearest bookstore to buy the book for me. After I laid out my plan, she said she’d ask her brother and get back to me. The next day, in a corner on the playground, while looking in the opposite direction and pretending not to talk to me, she informed me that her brother had agreed but only on the condition that I also pay for his Coca-Cola (which came only in bottles that you had to uncap with metal bottle-openers, and which nobody called “Coke” back then). I was also instructed that I’d have to give her a “gift” for her part in this risky affair. I was specifically told what the “gift” was to be. I agreed to all terms and immediately handed over all my accumulated stash of allowance money (25 cents/week for all household chores, including laundry, cooking, cleaning up, etc.) Oh, by the way, her older brother instructed her to tell me that he got to keep any leftover monies for gas and his time. I had to agree that, since he was the only one with a car, said conditions seemed reasonable.

For over a week, I waited anxiously, worrying constantly that the plot would be discovered, and I’d be tortured into a confession, revealing my accomplices. Finally, one day, Shoe-Polish-Hair-Girl gave me our pre-arranged signal, tapping on her uniform pocket three times, nodding once. How my heart pounded as I watched the classroom clock, how slowly its hands moved until the bell rang for lunch and recess. Outside on the playground, My Girl and I casually passed each other. I dropped one of my mother’s redder-than-red lipsticks (that I’d stolen from her dresser) into my co-conspirator’s coat pocket while she slipped the coveted Romeo and Juliet into mine. I immediately ran the length of the playground, down the steps to the church beside the school (I, too, was sent to Catholic schools, though for a different reason: despite my family’s being Jewish, the schools were supposed to offer “protection” from anti-Semitism). I covertly slipped into one of the confessionals with the contraband book. Even at that age, the irony was obvious to me.

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In the dim silence of that curtained space, I gazed longingly at my treasure for as long as I dared, rapturously and repeatedly kissing the cover — which featured Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in a furtive, soulful embrace — before I began to dismantle the book. I tore off both front and back covers, ripped them to shreds, snuck out of the confessional, and crept around the empty church, depositing the shreds into separate waste-bins. Next I took the book out the opposite side door, away from the school’s playground, dropped it into the dirt, where I then stomped on it, bent it, ripped some of the pages (but carefully, so no words were obscured). I also scraped the spine of the paperback against the rough stone of the church until its print was illegible.

Success. It looked like some raggedy old book without anything to outwardly identify it. I returned to the schoolyard in triumph and immediately began reading. My Girl in the black eye-liner and dark red lipstick nodded once at me in passing. I nodded furtively before returning to my treasure.

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At home, I continued reading. Openly. Defiantly. Because neither my mother nor stepfather could tell what I was reading. I fell in love with Shakespeare’s language and with Romeo and Juliet’s story.

Did I understand it all? Of course not: I was 12 years old.

Have I loved Shakespeare ever since? Absolutely.

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His Romeo and Juliet taught me that love was tragic but beautifully written. Sigh. Again, with the beautiful language. Getting hold of Romeo and Juliet also taught me how to become a covert operative in order to deceive my parents so that I could read (almost) as many books as I wanted. It also taught me that, sometimes, the people you can trust most in the world dye their hair black with shoe-polish (until they can afford the real hair dye in a box like my mother used).

Although this first meeting scene is not as touching as the version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, it has a special place in my heart because it was this film which made me want to read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the first place.

The love song, played in this video, was a top hit on the radio that year, and I adored the film when I finally got to see it. It’s Romeo’s and Juliet’s first meeting, from Zeferelli’s 1968 film. Since the play is in the Public Domain, you can read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet free of charge.

Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist was my next life-changing book. And I  mean the book, not the movie. At fifteen, making plenty of money with all my baby-sitting jobs every night of the week and every single weekend, I’d bought the hardcover copy myself from another student who’d finished it. I removed the cover from the black hardback, and kept the spine lowered whenever I read.

One day, when I was about halfway through the book, my mother hung up the phone with my aunt, marched into the living room, and yanked the book from my hands. I protested vociferously. She claimed that my aunt had just read the book, or part of it, at least, and stopped, horrified by the scene where the satanically possessed daughter masturbates with a crucifix. Did I even know what masturbation was? she demanded loudly. I had to admit that I did not (my dictionary, also forbidden, was hidden under my mattress: I’d have to look the word up later).

My step-father then volunteered himself for the “awful task” of determining if I could finish reading the book I’d bought (though I’d already passed the crucifix-masturbation scene) by “bravely and unselfishly” reading it himself. After three weeks of annoyed but helpless waiting, I learned my sentence. My step-father announced that The Exorcist was, indeed, unfit for me to read. I was outraged. Not only had I bought the book myself but the very man who’d forced me to learn the actions (though not the words) for rape, incest, sodomy, and forced fellatio, was now deciding that I couldn’t read a book. My book. I crossed my arms over my chest, narrowed my eyes, and gave him, as they say, a look that could kill… (It never occurred to me to wonder when or how my parents realized I was reading a book called The Exorcist, I was so outraged by their taking it away.)

Though I’d never had study-halls before (too boring), I suddenly decided that I needed not one but two. The first in the morning and the second during lunch-period (I didn’t eat anyway). Both were granted because I was such a good, well-behaved, obedient student. I immediately purchased a new copy of Blatty’s book from another student and read it during my two study-halls, keeping the novel stored in my locker at school, never taking it home.

(Though we were technically too young to see the film version of Blatty’s novel when it came out, theater managers weren’t as strict as they are now about letting you into R-rated films as long as you looked like you were at least 17 (I was 15): we went with a friend’s older sister, who showed her ID, said she was our sister, too, and that we were all allowed to see the movie. The film version of one of the scenes that my stepfather objected to in the novel, though my parents themselves freely used such obscenities (and worse) was more horrifying that I’d imagined.

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Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist taught me that “a room of one’s own” — despite Virginia Woolf’s insistence — isn’t always sufficient: what one really needs is an off-home hiding/storage area to which no one else has access or keys.

After I turned 16 and purchased a ’68 VW Beetle with over 100,000 miles on it — so I could get to work without paying one of my friends for a ride — that VW’s massive front-end trunk, which locked, became the new “room of my own”- the storage facility for all my books. The keys never left my body, even when I slept. One does what one must to survive. And blossom, even in the intellectual desert that was my family.

Other books have changed my life, and me, but those are a few that I remember most vividly, and which I’ve read (and taught) countless times over the years. Though I do not have the original Romeo and Juliet, having replaced it with The Complete Works of Shakespeare, I do have my first copy of The Canterbury Tales and of The Exorcist. These books are some that are dearest to my heart: not just because of their beautiful writing or their stories, but because they, literally, changed me, my view of life, and my ideas of what I could accomplish if I was determined enough (and it my accomplices-in-crime didn’t confess under torture).

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What books have dramatically and irrevocably changed your life?
How?
I’d really like to know.

Use as many characters as you need.

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