Princess Muse

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Musings on the Music of Steampunk

Funny how a subculture can be all around you for decades and then, suddenly, it explodes all over all the subcultures.....

Steampunk has done that, lately.

I first became aware of Steampunk about 20 years, when I started playing Space:1889 while I lived in Cary, NC.  Space:  1889, for those of you who don't know, is a RPG (the paper and pencil kind), set in the mid-to-late Victorian Era, with adventures that can take place on Earth, Mars or Venus.  It draws heavily on the stories of Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H. G. Wells.  (Want to read more about Space:  1889?  Read the founder's blog: )

When I moved away from NC, most of my Space:  1889 playing opportunities dwindled, and I regretfully put my Player's Manual away on the shelf.

But lately, Steampunk has, well, gathered steam, and now it seems to be everywhere I look.  At the Maryland Renaissance Festival, there were all sorts of Steampunk cosplayers--a few very clever ones had Renaissance Steampunk costumes.  Over the summer, I got involved in a Kickstarter for a new anthology press, Zombies Needs Brains, which will be publishing a Steampunk anthology (due out in May, 2014), entitled CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE:  STEAMPUNK VS ALIENS. (The Publishers are Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray--check out their books, available in eformat.) I actually paid to be "tuckerized"in a story by Gini Koch (I LOVE her Alien Collective stories--and this short story will combine Steampunk and the Alien Collective, so I'm Especially Excited!!)  (Do yourself a favor and read the Alien Collective--really, they're funny, sexy romps with lots of mayhem and chaos.  These characters feel like some of my best friends.  In that weird, "yes-I-know-they're-fictional-but-I-wish-they-were-real-so-I-could-be-friends-with-them" way.)  

Anyway, Gini and I have been "talking" through the comments on some of her blogs posted over on Goodreads since mid-July, and I started wondering about what kind of music would we be listening to, if Steampunk had been a true reality?  I started thinking about what Steampunk represents, at least to me.  Now, I haven't really looked into Steampunk culture, and I'm sure there are Steampunkers out there who will disagree with me, but this is what I came up with:

1.  Using old things in new ways.  The Victorian Era, was also an Age of Imperialism.  In the Steampunk Era of Invention, I would expect musicians to become excited about traditional Indian, Chinese (and other Asian countries), Arabic, Australian Aboriginal, Venusian and Martian instruments and incorporating them into their Classical and Romantic symphonies, concertos, as well as the more popular pieces of music;

2.  A strong sense of the Traditional, even as it's being used in new ways.  One thing most people think of with the Victorian Era is Tradition--even if those traditions were brand new, like decorating a Christmas tree, exchanging gifts at Christmas, and Valentines.  So, musically, I would expect a strong "folk" or "Celtic" feel to music.

So, looking at the musical landscape today, what do I think would fit into Steampunk?  I'm only going to mention groups that I'm aware of, from the 60's through today.  I'm going to assume that most of the "classical" compositions would stay the same, although orchestras might have added "foreign" instruments.  Feel free to disagree with me (I'm going to put my justifications, so you see where I'm coming from), but if you comment, please keep the language clean.

The Beatles--George Harrison used the sitar a lot in their later music. Also Led Zepplin--just for the name alone! (A couple of years ago, a duo called "E Musiki" played at the Md. Renaissance Festival and did a really cool cover of "Kashmir" with violins and balalaikas.)

Most of the Folk Rock groups, like Simon and Garfunkel (see reason #2 above), as well as new groups like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers.

Gaelic Storm, the Rogues and most of the Celtic Folk Groups like The Chieftans, the Irish Rovers.  Additionally, even though they aren't "traditional" Celtic groups, I think groups like U2 and the Cranberries and Thin Lizzy would still be popular.

Duran Duran and the other "New Romantics" of the Second British Invasion of the early 80s.  Besides writing music that was strong on imagery, some of these groups paved the way for Electronica, with their emphasis on synthetics and drum machines.

Alternative music, because of their experimental sounds (I keep thinking of Art of Noise's song "Close to the Edit").  I also think of Imagine Dragons and Vampire Weekend--again, if nothing else, then because of their names!

 Punk, Rap and Hip Hop would be around, but they may not be as mainstream as they are today.  The Victorian Middle and Upper Classes would not want to acknowledge the realities that Rap and Hip Hop represent.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Musings on Concerts, Rain and New York City

The other day, my Jen and I drove up to Holmdel, NJ to see Gavin DeGraw, The Script and Train.  We left Baltimore around 12 and stopped at the Maryland/Delaware Welcome Center.  It had just started to rain when we went in;  by the time we left, it was a deluge--what my Florida native father calls a "frog strangler."  My rain jacket was soaked through in seconds, and the Jen, using an umbrella, didn't fair much better.

Beachgoers in front of some of the houses
of Ocean Grove, NJ
Needless to say, being a semi-native Floridian (it was my State of Residency, even if I never lived there until 9th grade!), I decided to push on.  While the driving conditions were less than ideal, we were able to cautiously drive forward.  By the time we reached the NJ Turnpike, the rain had cleared up, and we decided to continue on to Ocean Grove, NJ.

While definitely a Northern beach town (as opposed to the Outer Banks, or Myrtle Beach, or Hilton Head, or any of the Florida Atlantic Beach towns), Ocean Grove was utterly charming.  From Baltimore, it doesn't any (or at least much) longer to get to Ocean Grove than it does to get to Ocean City.  I can't say how crowded it gets typically, since we got there about 4:30 on a Sunday, but it wasn't very busy then.  (You do need a "pass" to go on the beach, which to me seems a little odd, but every place has it own little quirks.  We didn't need a pass since we got there after 4:30.)  After walking along the beach for a little while, it was time to find the NJ Garden State Parkway and get to Holmdel!

Great Concert at the PNC Bank Center!  It's a very nice venue, with two or three terraces with food, alcohol (remember, NEVER drink and drive.  Very uncool), and stands for tour merchandise.  The only quibble I have with the venue is that not all the seats are covered by the pavilion; which means that if it rains, you'll get wet.  Guess which seats we had?  Guess what happened as Gavin DeGraw took the stage.  Right on both counts!  It didn't rain very hard during Gavin's set, but just before The Script to the stage, we noticed that there were a few seats a little more covered that were empty, so we scooted over.

Jen and I really like Gavin, and in the past year, we've gone to see him 3 times.  Most of those times, the concerts were in the Baltimore/Washington area, so you can guess how much we like Gavin DeGraw!  

We weren't as familiar with The Script, but we enjoyed their set and I'll probably be going to iTunes and getting more of their music.

Train, of course, was very good, as well.  Jen and I had seen them before at Merriweather Post Pavillon, with Maroon 5, and, oh yeah, Gavin DeGraw.

After the concert (and oh, yeah, it was still raining!), we drove into Brooklyn to Jen's aunt's house.  Her aunt was out of town and graciously let us stay the night there.  The only problem, we had to play "Hunt the Key" at 1 am.  Luckily, we were able to find the key fairly easily--and the fact that it had  finallystopped raining helped a lot!

The next morning, Jen and I got up to start our New York City Adventure.  I got a little bit of a surprise, too.  I was speaking with a pronounced Southern Accent.  Here's the thing:  even though I was raised, more or less, in the South (I did spend a little time in the Midwest, and three years in Germany), my mother is from the Midwest.  I don't normally speak in a pronounce Southern Accent.  I do say "y'all" and "all y'all" and drink "Co-Cola" and I do like a good glass of Sweet Tea, and I will debate the merits of Carolina Bar-be-que vs Memphis Bar-be-que vs Texas Bar-be-que.  I understand the importance of a front porch, and the importance of gracious entertaining,  BUT, I do not normally speak with a Southern Accent.  I reckon it was the stress of being in NYC and the thought of driving (even a short distance) in the Big Bad City--and even worse--having to park!  (How pronounced was my accent?  Well, Jen and I ran into a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses, and the lady of the pair asked where I was from.  Turns out she was from Rocky Mount, NC and I "took her back home."  Jen laughed at me most of the day whenever I opened my mouth.)

Cinnamon Raisin, with butter and cream cheese
Our first order of Business was to get a real NYC bagel.  We went to this nice little neighborhood bagel place--Bergen Bagels (I was going to post a link, but it doesn't seem to be working).  Oh my!  I may never be able to eat another bagel, due to the superiority of this one.  Chewy, yet crispy, this is my new standard for Bagel Goodness.  I weep because I may never have another "real" bagel.  Truly, this is a tragedy worthy of a Shakespearean drama.

After breakfast came the real test of the day:  driving from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village and finding parking.

Getting to the Village at 10 something in the morning wasn't too bad.  I caused no accidents, which, as far as I'm concerned, is a Victory.  Score:  Missy 1, NYC 0!  Parking, on the other hand, was non-existent.  Score:  Missy 1, NYC 1.  I couldn't find a spot, and after eyeing how close the parallel parking was done, decided that I wanted nothing to do with it.  I found a traffic cop, and he directed me to a parking garage.  I pulled in to the first one, handed the keys to the valet, accepted my ticket and off we went.  (Score, Missy 2, NYC 2).

We walked down towards the High Line (after stopping by Starbuck's--I felt a little bit New Yorker-y with my Starbuck's cup, but still very Southern--yep, still had the accent going on--'cause instead of coffee, I had a sweet tea/lemonade). The High Line, if you're too lazy to click on the link, is an old elevated train line that's been converted into a pedestrian walkway/garden.  You can get glimpses of the river and some nice views of the city--I took lots of pictures, and I would post them here, but then this post will be about 3 times as long. (Really, click on the link if you want to see what it looks like.)

When we got to the end of the 'Line, we had to get back to street level and walked up towards Times Square.  It's big.  It's busy.  It's loud.  It's full of people.  Lots of stores.  The giant electronic billboards. Do I need to say more?

From Times Square, we headed towards the Main Reason Why I Let Jen Talk Me Into a Day in NYC: The New York Public Library.
Me, reading on my Nook by one of the NYPL Lions
 (I don't know why you're so surprised.  My Whole Life revolves around READING.  Where else would I want to go?)  We didn't take a tour--and I missed my chance to see the rare Honus Wagner baseball card-- but we did go to the GIFT SHOP!  I am now the proud owner of NYPL Lion bookends, as well as many other fine things.  All to support the Library.  (I don't use libraries very often, as what I really like to read is not what small, local libraries usually carry, but I am a firm supporter of libraries.  If you don't support your local library, go!  They are so much more than just books anymore!)  If I ever go back to NYC, it will be for the NYPL--and Bergen Bagels!

At this point, it was getting about 2 pm.  Jen pointed out that by the time we got to the car, Rush Hour(s) would be starting, and we'd end up sitting in traffic for hours, so we decided to head over to Rockefeller Center.  We did get a little confused about what direction we were going in, but the Power of the Southern Accent and Friendly Smile was still going strong, so I managed to get a New Yorker (he was wearing a dress shirt, so I figured he couldn't be a tourist) to help me.  He was trying not to get stopped by me--he was staring straight ahead, and tried to keep walking, but there are very few forces equal to the Power of the Southern Accent, and he quickly conceded defeat and helped us out.  He even gave me a smile back, so yes, Mom, the $2000 you spent on my braces all those many years ago was worth it!  (Missy 3, NYC 2)

Rockefeller Center is very nice.  Again, full of people, but very nice looking.  In the non-winter months, the Plaza is full of umbrellas for an outdoor cafĂ©(s), at which we didn't stop, but we did go into the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Gift Shop.  If we had gone to the MoMA, I might've spent some money--I was tempted by a book about The Cloisters--but, I decided that might have to wait for another trip.

Our feet were quickly getting very tired (I think my blisters have blisters!), so we decided this was a good time to head back down towards Chelsea Market and the car.  Thank goodness the High Line has so many benches!  Jen and I took many breaks to rest our feet, and we had a quick dinner of soft tacos from the Taco Wagon (really good tacos.  If you find yourself on the High Line, treat yourself to them. You won't regret it.  Plus, they have Mexican Coca-Cola.  If they had "jugo de sandia" (watermelon juice), I would've felt like I was just back in Taxco.)

We did go into Chelsea Market, which is very cool.  Lots of neat little eateries, and, most importantly to me, a bookstall.  I found a copy of William Shakespeare's 'Star Wars:  Verily, a New Hope'  (As much as I enjoy Shakespeare, AND Star Wars, why didn't it occur to me to write this?!?!?!)

By this time, it was nearly 7 pm, which meant that Rush Hour(s) would be pretty much over, and less stressful for me to drive us home.  We got to the Icon Garage (it's a chain, at least in the City), and I paid about $40 for 8 hours--considering I had a minivan, I didn't feel this was unreasonable.

We got out and headed for the Holland Tunnel.  A couple of blocks away, I got to experience NYC Gridlock!  Yes!  I didn't cause it, but traffic moved oh-so-slowly, horns were honking (not too much, and not primarily at me!), so I feel like I got the experience the REAL New York, and it only cost me about a half hour of time.  (Missy 4, NYC 2)

One thing about the NJ Turnpike--I don't know if this is true all over the state, but you are not allowed to pump your own gas at the service area.  Considering how footsore I was, this was a reason to celebrate!  AND the gas was cheaper than in the Baltimore area!  Double SCORE!

So, will I go back to NYC?  I don't know.  Yes, there are things I'd like to see, but I don't know that I'd feel that my Life was Incomplete if I don't see them.  BUT--I had fun.  Jen and I laughed a lot and even she was glad she'd gone to the NYPL.  All in all, it was a good trip.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Musings on Isaac Marion's 'Warm Bodies'

The elementary school I sub at has an annual "Literature Night."  It's really cool--about 15 groups of people get together, and based on the theme, turn classrooms into little oases of books:  there have been rooms based on Pippi Longstockings, Narnia, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland and The Magic Tree House, for example.  The kids can go in and do a couple of craft-y activities based on the book, maybe learn a skill, and listen to stories.  

I remember one year, one of the rooms had a "Mysteries" theme, and they had fingerprinting station.  The kids could learn how to dust for and read fingerprints.  Pretty cool, huh?

Okay, I can hear you saying, "That's great, Missy, but what does this have to do with Warm Bodies?  Well, since I didn't have to take pictures this year, my friend Jen and I decided to go to the movies.  We thought of going to see Safe Haven, but ended up seeing Warm Bodies instead.  (We enjoyed the movie--some great soundtrack/visuals moments, so I would recommend going to see it if it's still playing in your area.  Or, just wait for the DVD or for it to be on Netflix.)  Imagine my happiness when I found out that it was originally a book.  Happy, happy, joy, joy!  (Ren and Stimpy live on)

Some of you may be thinking, "But, Missy, if there's a movie, why should I read the book?"  Hello!  The book is almost always better (I'm sure there a few instances in which the movie is better, but they are rare and far between).  If you can a find the book, always read the book.  Even if it's adapted from the screenplay, read the book.  Sometimes, the script the writer is working from has scenes that were eventually edited out of the movie.  Bonus time, baby!

If the movie is adapted from the book, always read the book.  Sometimes, you find that the only thing the movie and the book has in common is the title and the names of the characters. That can be really irritating, but books can afford to appeal to a smaller audience than movies.  It can cost so much to make a movie that they need to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.  That means that characters have be made older (sometimes younger), more attractive, etc, etc, etc.

This is one time when the changes were not too great.  A very minor character was eliminated; one character was made maybe younger (you'll have to read the book to find out which) and some details were changed or shuffled around, but overall, reading the book was like seeing the movie all over again.

There is one way that makes the movie radically different from the book:  that would be R's inner dialogue.  Inner dialogue can be hard for movies.  You can have the character narrate, but you have to careful with that, otherwise you get a movie that's all talk with no action.  In this case, a lot of the inner dialogue was actually between R and Perry and was philosophical.  Trying to show/narrate this could have been really hard, so I don't blame the director for downplaying it.

And now we get to why I love to read science fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy.  A lot of these books are pure escapism, with no loftier goal than to give me an adventure that may or may not take place on good ol' Earth, but a lot of these stories have a deeper philosophical meaning:  what if we blur the line between human and god?  If we can do x, does that mean we should? How can we understand the motivations of aliens if we can barely understand our own?

Warm Bodies explores what it means to be Alive.  While it's written within the Zombie Apocalypse framework, with Zombies (Boneys and Fleshies) vs Living, it could have easily been written without this frame.  It wouldn't be as much fun, though.  I really have a lot more that I want to say about this book, but with the movie still out, I'm afraid I might spoil it for you.

Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the movie and I loved the book.  So go....go see the movie.  Enjoy the chemistry between Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer.  Giggle at the musical/visual jokes (I wish the soundtrack had the rock and Sinatra songs. *sigh*)  Then, go read the book and wrestle with the Big Questions.  Decide for yourself what it means to be Alive.  Do you agree with Isaac Marion?  Would this book be as good if it wasn't set against the Zombie Apocalypse?  Most importantly, how would you keep yourself from being turned into a Zombie?  And if you became a Zombie, how long would it take you to become a Boney?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Musings on 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice

Monday (January 28) was the 200th Anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.  Interestingly, an author I follow on FaceBook mentioned that she had never read anything by Jane Austen and was wondering which one she should try.  (She wasn't sure she'd like any because she thought the language was a bit flowery.)  Others in the posting were saying that they had read Jane Austen in school and just didn't care for her.

I have a confession to make:  I never read Jane Austen for a class.  Not in high school; not in college; not in graduate school. Nope, I had to find Jane on my own.  Alright, not totally on my own;  my mother is a retired AP English teacher and she told me to read Jane Austen.  I think I was out of college, but hadn't decided if I wanted to go to grad school or not--or even what I would study in grad school!

So, before I rhapsodize all things Pride and Prejudice, I want to back up a little and share my secret belief on why more people don't read the classics (but why they'll read books that are supposedly modern retellings).

It's an assigned book.  There.  That's the problem.  When I was in high school, I ignored the assigned pages.  I read the book as if I was reading a book for fun.  It usually took me a day or two to read the whole book, and then I'd go back and review the assigned pages so I could remember specifically what happened in a particular chapter so I could get a good grade on the inevitable quiz.   And there had to be a quiz, because if there wasn't a quiz, very few people would read the book.  (I had to take an American Lit class in graduate school because, even though I had taken several English classes, and was very well read, I had nothing on my undergrad transcripts that said "American Lit," and, to become a teacher in Maryland, I had to have an American Lit class.  One of the books we read was Moby Dick.  The professor actually stated that we would be having daily quizzes to make sure students were reading the book.)  There are only two books I have ever read for classes that I only read the assigned pages:  the aforementioned Moby Dick, and The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.  I didn't enjoy either one.  I still won't read anything by Thomas Hardy, despite my mother's assurances that Hardy really is an enjoyable author.  Just Can't Do It.

Plus, there's that whole "I have to do this."  I don't know about you, but I hate having do things just because someone tells me I have to do it.  Or being told I have to do a really big job in a short amount of time.  I drag my feet having to do it.  I'll invent a million things I'd also need to do.  Anything, but do the thing "I have to do."

I'll bet, if teachers could trust students to read an assigned book, there would be fewer quizzes (oh, there'd have to be a few quizzes, because teachers need to have grades because Society insists on it), but the quizzes could be on other things than "In Chapter 6, Elizabeth tells Jane what?".  But, students being students, teachers can't count on them all to read an assigned book within a few days so the Discussions can begin.  

And, the Discussions can be where a lot of the fun of an assigned book is.  Why did Jane Austen title her book Pride and Prejudice? (Most people will tell you that Mr. Darcy is "too proud" and Elizabeth Bennet is "prejudiced against Mr. Darcy because of his pride," but I believe that both of them are proud and full of prejudice.)  Discuss the Aspects of Love (Mr. Darcy) and Lust (Mr. Wickham).  You have to understand a little bit of history (Why was it so scandalous for Lydia and Wickham to elope to Gretna Green?  Why did people run off to Gretna Green anyway?  Heck, where is Gretna Green?)  What would be an equivalent scandal if this book were written today?  (Oh, I don't know....maybe the fact that Lydia was 16 and Wickham was in his mid-to-upper 20s?)  How do you know that Mr. Darcy is falling in love with Elizabeth?  When does Elizabeth start to fall in love with Mr. Darcy.  Do you think Charlotte Lucas ever regretted marrying Mr. Collins?  Was she wrong to marry Mr. Collins for the reasons she did?

Heck, let's face it, Book Clubs are just English classes without the Daily Quizzes.  After all, this is why people form book clubs:  so they can discuss the books that they've read--even if they didn't like the book.

So, why do I like Pride and Prejudice so much?  I think it's the characters.  We still see them in books everyday.  Mr. Darcy is the smart, rich guy.  He's not always nice--but he'll give a lot of money to charity and thinks this makes him nice. To his friends, he'll do anything he can to help them--even if it is a bit interfering.  To the people he considers his inferiors (and I think this means his intellectual inferiors, not so much his socio-economic inferiors), he has little patience.  He will make snap judgements, and sometimes won't re-examine his judgements.  Elizabeth Bennet is our feisty girl, in someways very democratic (she sees no social difference between herself, the daughter of a gentleman who probably has an income of about £1,000 per annum, and a gentleman who has an income of £10,000 per annum--and, to be honest, the difference isn't so much economically as it is about class.  Mr. Bennett is not a peer, and, if he has relative who are peers, they are probably only Barons--the lowest peer rank, and still considered "gentry";  whereas Mr. Darcy is the grandson of a peer (his mother was Lady Anne, which implies that his maternal grandfather was probably at least a Viscount).   She's also very loyal to her friends, but Stupid People irritate her, although she's maybe a little more tolerant of them than Mr. Darcy is.  Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley are the cute, sweet couple that everybody loves (but I think are a little too apt to give up when the going gets a little tough).  Lydia Bennet is the classic Self-Absorbed Mean Girl.  Mr. Bingley's sisters are the Rich Mean Girls.  Mr. Wickham is the Ne'er-Do-Well (I'd call him a Rake, but in Romance Novels, the Rake is almost always redeemable, and I'm not sure Mr. Wickham is).

I read a blog (but I can't remember where I found it!) about the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice (the one starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfayden), specifically about Matthew Macfayden's portrayal of Mr. Darcy.  She said that it wasn't so much that Mr. Darcy was proud, as he was socially awkward.  She said that the reason why Mr. Darcy didn't want to dance with Elizabeth was more that he wasn't a good dancer, and then tried to cover it up by stating that there was no one there who could "tempt" him to dance.  His first proposal to Elizabeth was awkward because he doesn't know how to talk to women.  As I re-read Pride and Prejudice on Monday, I kept that in mind.  Yes, Mr. Darcy does acknowledge that he doesn't make friends easily, especially when compared to Mr. Wickham, but I don't think it's because he's socially awkward, but because he really doesn't care if he makes friends or not.  He's rich, he's socially connected and people are going to listen to him because he's rich and socially connected, so he doesn't have to care about what you think of him.  But then, he realizes that the woman he thought was quite pretty enough, who's family is an embarrassment, is everything he really wants in a woman.  Oohh...but he's already insulted her--how to overcome this?  And his first proposal to her shows that hasn't quite figured out that Elizabeth isn't overawed by his social position and money like everybody else is.  Then Elizabeth, after insulting Mr. Darcy's proposal, finds out how her prejudice is going to stand in the way of her happiness.  By the end of the book, both Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have unbent their pride, let go of some of their prejudices and find their Happily Ever After.

So, if you haven't read it before, or even if you have, go and celebrate 200 years of Pride and Prejudice.    Read.  Watch the movie(I prefer the A&E/BBC 1995 miniseries--there are some alterations from the book, but, on the whole, a very faithful adaptation).  Enjoy the Romance.