SOUNDTRACK: AGAINST ME!-New Wave (2007).
I’m not sure why I never listened to these guys before. I’m not crazy about the band’s name: it makes sense, but it’s awkward to work with. And I think I lumped them in with the whole emo scene, which I was pretty well done with. Anyhow, I read a review of New Wave recently and decided they might be worth checking out.
New Wave is an astonishingly refreshing and heartfelt album. It’s fairly short, as the songs are fairly short, and they pack a lot of punch. In fact, I’ve been singing this great, catchy chorus all morning: “Protest Songs in a response to Military Aggression. Protest songs to try and stop the soldier’s gun.”
The songs are great: really diverse for what is essentially a punk album. And the topics are protestations that I haven’t heard in a while (at least not in such a catchy style): Lack of originality in the mainstream. (“New Wave” & “Up the Cuts”), Drug Addiction (“Thrash Unreal,” the latest single that I’ve heard). “Stop” is a change of pace mid-album, with a catchy chorus and an almost dance feel. “Piss and Vinegar” is a plea for honesty. And possibly the strangest item on the disc: the song “The Ocean.” One doesn’t expect a punk band’s verse to start like this: ” If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman. My mother once told me she would have named me Laura” and it continues on in that vein. What a shockingly honest (presumably) lyric in a song.
The only thing I don’t like about the album is…the singer’s voice. I just can’t get past it, and I’m not sure what it is I don’t like about it. He sings on key, his voice is strong and impassioned. There’s just something about it I don’t like. Of course, I also don’t like the singer from Social Distortion either. I guess I’m more of a high, whiny voice than a gruff aggro voice. Despite this, whenever the band does harmonies, they sound great! All of the choruses have nice harmonies somewhere in them, and they really make the songs. Plus, there’s a song called “Borne on the FM, Waves of the Heart” which is a duet with Tegan from Tegan and Sara, and it’s really fantastic. They are a perfect match for each other. Normally, not liking the singer would make you not like a band. (How many people can’t get into Rush because of Geddy Lee’s voice?). And yet, I still think the album is great. I’m certainly going to check out some past records as well. I’m especially intrigued by this album title: Reinventing Axl Rose.
[READ: June 25, 2008] Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
I heard about this book when I was scanning the NPR stations and there was a story about authors/publishers making great websites to accompany books. Two of the ones they mentioned sounded pretty interesting, so I jotted them down and checked them out. This was the first one, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. The site was pretty neat, but I didn’t spend much time there, as I was at work. I checked that we had the book and took it out that day.
And I’m really glad I did. I didn’t read any blurbs or anything, because I was taken immediately with the set-up of the book. The chapter titles are set up like a literature class. Each chapter title is a classic work of fiction (which turns out to be related to the content). The first part of the book is the “Core Curriculum-Required Reading,” which includes chapters called: Othello, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Brave New World, Madame Bovary etc. Part 2 includes A Movable Feast, Women in Love and A Room with a View. Part 3, takes a dark turn: Deliverance, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Things Fall Apart. There’s even a final exam, but more about that soon.
This book was a great read. And it takes a wicked right turn about 1/2 way into the book, veering in a direction I never anticipated (although had I read the jacket, or indeed, remembered the VERY FIRST LINE, duh!–I might have anticipated it).
So the book is about a 16 year old girl, named Blue Van Meer. Her dad is something of a traveling professor. They stay for about a semester in each location and then he finds another guest lecturer position, and they move to that new place. Blue is an excellent student–the result of travelling around with a snobby professor all the time. If it were not for the fact that Blue was cooped up with her dad, in a car, driving for miles, his educational plan may not be unsound: they read books, and he quizzes her on them. Blue has had this most of her life so she doesn’t really question it.
Blue’s mom died when she was 5 years old. She doesn’t remember much about her, so her mom is something of a nonentity. In every city, Blue’s father, Gareth, is courted by “June Bugs,” women who are attracted to him (he’s rather handsome). he explains that he is not interested in anything serious, but they all seem to fall for him and become very upset when, in fact, nothing serious develops.
The book is written from Blue’s point of view. Her father said that when something momentous happens to people, they should write about it (and not before). Since Blue has a momentous experience, she decides to write about it.
Blue’s new school is St Gallway in the Smoky Mountains region. It is a fairly prestigious school, and she immediately gets sucked into a group–whom she calls the Bluebloods–of rich, intellectual kids who hang out with the teacher Hannah Schneider. After reading a few pages of the school and the snotty students, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Gilmore Girls. I’m not suggesting there is any common cause, or that there is any connection between the two, but I kept wanting to imagine one of the girls looking like Paris. (You hear that, future filmmakers?)
Blue has a chance meeting with Hannah at a grocery store the week before school starts. When Blue starts school she is surprised to find that the Bluebloods have invited her to join them. She is suspicious at first, and is even more so when Hannah explains that she encouraged them to invite her along. Hannah has a standing Sunday dinner with all of these kids, where they dine and gossip and even study. Their initial meetings are a disaster, with Blue barely speaking and eventually receiving the nickname “Retch.”
After some time, they begin to form a sort of antisocial bond. (Again, like Rory and Paris, although in this case it is Blue and 5 others). Their bond is formed as they try to piece together the mysterious life of their mentor, Hannah. She is suspiciously silent about her past, and has very few mementos of her present. Rather, she collects strays and second hand items, including, it seems men. She is always welcoming to any questions, she just evades anything personal.
One day, Hannah has a party, to which the kids are not invited. It is a costume party, and they sneak in. At the party, an older gentleman dies. Foul play is eventually ruled out, but after this event, Hannah changes.
After several weeks, Hannah invites the kids on a camping trip. It is at this point that I was utterly shocked. And I debated whether to reveal this secret, until I found out that it isn’t one, since the first line of the book is: “Before I tell you about Hannah Schneider’s death…” So, yes, Hannah dies on the camping trip.
Seeing the promotional material about the book, I realize that this was not meant to be a surprise to the reader; however, it totally blew my mind. I thought this was an interesting story about kids in school, and suddenly it turned into a murder mystery. But the surprises don’t end there.
There is yet another twist coming towards the end of the book. It is toyed around with somewhat, and I figured it out just before it became really obvious, but it was still a good twist. I’m not going to say what it is, but it involves virtually everyone in her life.
Before the twist, however, we see the Bluebloods turn against Blue. Because of some specifics at their hike, Blue and the Bluebloods are separated, and some of them feel that Blue is responsible in some way for Hannah’s death. She is ostracized and stops going to school. Her life only gets weirder and worse and we head towards that twist.
The only other thing to mention is that Blue decided to go to a dance with a boy whom the Bluebloods do not approve. He is a very normal person, from a very nice family. This was the first time that I actively did not like Blue. She was so disdainful of this boy and his family, a family that reminded me of my own. And I felt her superiority was astonishingly unpleasant. She feels some remorse for that later on, but the scene is ugly. The rest of her schoolmates are not mentioned in great detail, although the snippets are quite fun.
As I said, I enjoyed the book very much. It was very captivating. I think I might have enjoyed the story more if it didn’t turn into the mystery; however, having said that, the mystery part was very good, and where would the story have gone otherwise? I’ve no idea.
The final chapter is the Final Exam: a series of multiple choice questions which provide possible reasons for and answers to the things that Blue does or did. It’s a gimmicky way to end the book, but contextually it works very well. It also allows for an interesting way to end the book without hitting us over the head with a resolution.
Two gripes: One: for a really smart girl, Blue was pretty blind to a lot of things around her. It could be that she was somewhat sheltered in her existence, but she had read enough fiction that she could have seen some of the things that happened, especially with her father. It is this reason that I mark her as an unreliable narrator, even if technically she isn’t.
Two: there are visual aids in the book. And they are fun and interesting skectches that Blue has done of various classmates and teachers and such. Unfortunately, there are only about 5 in the book. And most of them come very early on. There are many parts later in the book where a visual would have been interesting, if not very useful. So, why would there be a couple of them but not a follow through with it? There are some extra visual aids on the website, but I would have liked 6 or 7 more in the book.
Speaking of the website, it is pretty cool. The animations on it are excellent, the “Cliff’s Notes” to the book are hilarious, and you’ll find some more interesting things there. I’m excited to read the other book from that radio show (which was Charles Bock’ Beautiful Children.)
The full NPR story is available here as well.