Archive for April, 2013

After my previous 16 songs of the week you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of music I generally listen to. Pop-punk is on high rotation, as are a few other fairly predictable bands that sit within the punk/rock/etc base genres.

This week, I share something so completely different it has even surprised me how much I enjoy it.

Readers, meet Celldweller.

This song, Blackstar, is seriously rocking my world right now. I know that sounds kind of ridiculous, but I love it so much I can never just play it once; it gets repeated two or three times and always a little bit louder each time!

I had to do more research than usual for this post since Celldweller is a new addition to my music library and until today I hardly knew anything about them. Well, him, actually. Here’s the very basic run-down:

Celldweller is Klayton – yep, vocals, instruments and programming is all one guy! (And an incredibly talented guy at that). With three EPs and four albums under his belt, as well as a number of songs featured in movies and tv shows (including One Tree Hill, one of my personal favourites) I think his success speaks for itself.

So why is it surprising that I enjoy this so much?

I have always openly expressed my dislike for almost everything electronic within the music industry. I have never understood how or why people enjoy dubstep and techno and whatever other subgenres fall under ‘electronic music’ when, in my opinion, it all sounds terrible and pretty much the same. I believe in music and artists who play actual instruments – guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, etc – and sing without altering the way their voice sounds with the use of a computer. Music that can be created in so many different forms without the need for all of the bells and whistles, so to speak. It seems absurd, then, that I like Celldweller at all, let alone as much as I do. I can’t explain it, but I’m just going to roll with it!

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friday-night-lights coverFriday Night Lights – A Town, A Team and A Dream is the first non-fiction novel I have read since one of my creative writing classes at University included In Cold Blood by Truman Capote as part of the required reading. I read the newspaper, magazines and the occasional biography, but non-fiction novels have never been something I’ve really taken an interest in. I thoroughly enjoyed In Cold Blood, with all of its twists and turns, but I can’t say it gave me a desire to delve further into the genre. In fact the only other non-fiction novel I have ever found myself really wanting to read, was Friday Night Lights. Now, finally, I have.

Friday Night Lights, written by H.G Bissinger and published in 1990, follows the story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team from Odessa, Texas. Odessa was chosen by Bissinger as a representative of football-crazed, small-town America and he intended for the story to be a chronicle of high school sports holding a small town together. Bissinger moved his family to Odessa and spent the entire 1988 football season with the players, their families, the coaching staff and many of the townspeople in an effort to understand the football culture within the town. What resulted, though, was a very different type of story. The book ended up being critical of life in the town of Odessa – which, no doubt, also reflected many other towns across America – complete with racism and questionable priorities, where academics were ignored for the sake of having the best possible shot at winning championships, and football conquered most aspects of the town. It is a raw and gripping tale of teenagers forced to become men, to make decisions and sacrifices beyond their years, who were treated as royalty and worshipped like gods around town so long as they kept on winning; boys who couldn’t see past high school football, which for some had dire consequences once the season was over and they had to face up to what came next.     

I saw the film adaptation when it came out in 2004 and found the story emotional and fascinating. I knew that it was based on a book but I was 16 and didn’t have a huge interest in reading it. Fast-forward eight years or so when I saw a special on television where they had interviewed some of the key players in the story twenty years later and I knew that it was time to get my hands on the book.
Even though I already knew what the story was about before I read it, it definitely wasn’t an easy read. The film – like all book to film adaptations I suppose – left out a considerable amount of the story, including some of the most emotionally heavy scenes and interviews from that year. I knew there would be more in the book, but I didn’t expect there to be so much more. There were integral parts of what happened during that 1988 season that were left out of the film completely, which actually changed the story a fair amount. But the book to film adaptation argument is for another day.
Back to the book.

Bissinger told the story in a way that really appealed to me: setting it up in the prologue and introducing the central players, then going back to the beginning and outlining the history of Odessa and then telling the story of the 1988 season from start to finish. Chapters and part-chapters were dedicated to different players, focussing on the person or people most relevant to each stage of the story. He wrote in such a way that it reads like fiction and I found it so compelling that it was, at times, hard to believe that it all really happened. I can only imagine how much time and work it took to get into the players (and other prominent people’s) heads and write them as well as characters you would make up in a fictional story.

Not to be too critical, but it did get a little repetitive at times. There were a couple of instances where the same thing was said consecutively in a chapter, just worded differently. It’s something that I noticed, which is why I am mentioning it, but it didn’t take away from the story, or the quality of the writing as a whole, in any way. Considering that it jumped around a bit to include as much relevant and important information as possible, it still flows smoothly from subject to subject and chapter to chapter. For whatever reason there were parts of the story that really resonated with me, particularly chapter seven and every part of the story that brought light to how bad racism still was in Texas at that time and how the people dealt with it. It’s a horrible part of history to be fascinated by, but as someone who has grown up to believe that people are people and that’s that, I am intrigued by how the colour of a person’s skin made society view them differently. Bissinger highlighted the racism only because it was relevant and he wrote it very diplomatically, which can’t have been easy.

As always, I have my favourite quotes, but I’m only going to share two.

“…the solemn ritual that was attached to almost everything, made them seem like boys going off to fight a war for the benefit of someone else, unwitting sacrifices to a strange and powerful god” (prologue, p.11).

“He sat on the bench and felt a coldness swirl through him, as if something sacred inside him was dying, as if every dream in his life was fleeing from him and all he could do was sit there and watch it disappear amid all those roars that had once been for him” (Boobie Miles, p.16).

Dashboard Confessional.

Front man Chris Carrabba is one of the best musicians I have ever had the pleasure of seeing live. Being able to own his albums and listen to them whenever I choose to is an honour and a privilege.

I recently discovered his other band, Further Seems Forever. I think I enjoy them almost as much as Dashboard Confessional. They’re two very different bands, but I think that’s a good thing. Chris is able to show another side of himself and his music with Further Seems Forever. They released an album last year called ‘Penny Black’ that is worth getting your hands on.

Anyway, this song is called Hands Down and it’s not only one of my favourite Dashboard Confessional tunes, but it’s also one of those songs you absolutely have to hear.

This may be the most inappropriate music video I have posted so far, but when it comes to Sydney pop-punkers Heroes For Hire, you would expect nothing less.

The song is called East Coast Blazin’ and while it’s not my favourite HFH song, it’s definitely up there. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and it pretty accurately sums up tour life for bands driving around the countryside in a van, trying to make a name for themselves in the music industry.

Since the release of their second album, “Take One For the Team”, in 2011 – which followed their debut release “Life of the Party” – Heroes For Hire have had a pretty good run. They toured the US alongside Unwritten Law in 2011 and were the first Australian band announced for the Soundwave Festival 2012. Their third album,”No Apologies”, was released in September of last year and I think it’s their best work so far. Most recently they were added to the UK’s Slam Dunk Festival which brings together some of the world’s best pop-punk, punk, hardcore etc. This year’s lineup is particularly awesome – you can check it out here.

Unfortunately, like many bands and artists, HFH have experienced their fair share of drama and controversy. This really came to the fore last month when band members Duane, Gremlin, Potter and Anthony decided that it was in the best interests of the band to continue on without their lead singer and arguably the only remaining founding member, Brad. I have read the official statements from both the band and Brad – as well as many unofficial comments on Twitter and Facebook. While it would be easy to choose to believe one side over the other, to direct hate towards either Brad or the remaining members of HFH, I am choosing instead to wish Brad all the best in whatever comes next for him and to continue to support HFH in their new form. It will be different, of course, but I am eager to see how the band pulls together and carries on without Brad as their front-man.

Heroes For Hire are currently on tour with Brisbane band Nine Sons of Dan and I am hoping to make it their Brisbane All Ages show next month. I’ll be sure to post a review if I manage to get there.

Just a quick post this week since I somehow managed to forget about my song of the week until Friday! No idea how that happened, but I assure you it won’t happen again.

This song is from another of my absolute favourite American pop-punk bands, Yellowcard. It’s called Ocean Avenue and it is probably their biggest hit to date, from their debut album of the same name (2003).  

I won’t give you all of the background and whatnot on these guys this time around (no doubt they will feature a song of the week again in the future) so I’ll just leave you a link to their website HERE and my insistence that you give them a chance because they are pretty special.

Have a good weekend everybody!

When my Mum asked me if I would like to join her on a 10-day tour of Vietnam, I did hesitate. I had never really had any interest in visiting the country – or any Asian country at all actually, other than Japan – but a number of friends had been, some multiple times, and said that it was beautiful. So, I decided to go.

We toured with Wendy Wu – who are a fantastic company, if anyone was wondering – joining our guide Tom and 18 fellow travellers in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for the trek. The leg of the trip from Australia to Saigon was probably the worst international travelling experience I have ever had, topped only by the trip home. But I won’t bore you with those little details.

As I said, our tour started in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We weren’t sure which we were supposed to call it, but our guide seemed to favour calling it Saigon so we went with that. If you don’t know the story of why it is technically called Ho Chi Minh City these days, look it up because it’s quite interesting. My first impressions of Saigon were that it was dirty, there were millions of motorbikes and it kind of smelt weird. As the tour went on I came to discover that those three descriptions basically summed up the entire country, or at least, all of the parts that we visited.

While in Saigon we visited the Reunification Palace which was an absolutely beautiful old building. This was the scene for the final stages of the American War in Vietnam when a North Vietnamese tank bulldozed through the gates and the commander ran to raise a North Vietnamese flag from the rooftop. From there we drove to the War Remnants Museum. The outside was interesting as they have quite a large collection of American tanks, planes and helicopters left behind from the war. The inside, however, was awful. We had been warned that it would be confronting but we lasted only minutes inside before deciding we didn’t want or need to see anymore.

At the Reunification Palace in Saigon.

At the Reunification Palace in Saigon.

I found it particularly interesting to hear about the war from a Vietnamese perspective. Here we are raised to call it the Vietnam War – while the Vietnamese call it the American War of Vietnam because there had been a huge war with the French prior to this war – and to, for the most part, mindlessly accept that America was doing the right thing. Now I find myself wondering if Vietnam would have been much better off if everyone else had stayed out of it. Something to think about.

After lunch we went to the famous (although I had never actually heard of it) Ben Thanh Market. It was huge, loud, stinky and very overwhelming. It would have been nice to have a casual wander around and check everything out, but that wasn’t an option. You couldn’t look at anything outside of a stall without the salesperson thrusting things at you, grabbing at you, or trying to force you to stay there until you bought something from them. And if you did buy something they’d try and look in your wallet or convince you to give them more money. Bartering was a must and we did get a couple of good bargains, but it was exhausting and we didn’t stay very long.

The following day we drove down to Ben Tre, a southern province located in the Mekong Delta. The drive through the countryside was quite lovely; much nicer than inner-city Saigon. Everything was green and you could see families out working on their farms. In Ben Tre we were paddled in sampans (the worst possible mode of river transportation, I was absolutely freaking out the entire time) through a maze of small canals until we reached the place where we would board a larger boat to take us down the river to Turtle Island for lunch. Between boat rides we passed through a family home where they run their own business making coconut candy. I found the process quite fascinating and the end product was delicious. I even brought some home with me!

A family-run coconut candy business in Ben Tre, Mekong Delta.

A family-run coconut candy business in Ben Tre, Mekong Delta.

The Cu Chi Tunnels were definitely one of my highlights of the trip. We had the opportunity to hear a first-hand account of what it was like to live in the tunnels during the American War while being led around the site by a Cu Chi Veteran. For those who don’t know, the tunnel network was hundreds of kilometres long and extremely well-hidden. So much so, that even once opposing troops became aware of them they were only able to destroy approximately 10 kilometres in total. In some parts the tunnels are several storeys deep and they include trapdoors, living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens. We were able to see how they hid the entrances, the traps they used in fake entrances to maim or kill the enemy and what the insides of some of the bunkers and tunnels looked like. I took the opportunity to crawl through part of a tunnel. It wasn’t very long, but it was hot and the air was quite thin even though that particular tunnel wasn’t very deep. I couldn’t even imagine having to live underground with little to no ventilation the way they did.

Where I entered the tunnel...

Where I entered the tunnel…

...and where I came out!

…and where I came out!

The following day we flew to Danang and made our way south to Hoi An. We visited China Beach, where the American Marines had a huge R&R base during the 1960s and 70s. We could easily have stayed there for the remainder of the trip. The weather was beautiful, the beach was beautiful and it was a very peaceful place. On the way to Hoi An we also went to Marble Mountain, where there was a fantastic view of China Beach and surrounds. We also climbed up a bit further from the lookout and went into a cave that had been turned into some kind of temple. It was quite beautiful with the slivers of light coming in through spaces in the natural ceiling.

The view of China Beach from Marble Mountain.

The view of China Beach from Marble Mountain.

Hoi An is probably the tourist capital of Vietnam. It is very tourist-friendly and much more pleasant in general compared to Saigon. It was still dirty and it still smelt awful, but the shopkeepers were friendlier and far less pushy and we felt quite comfortable wandering around the streets on our own, where in Saigon we had felt very unsafe and unsure the entire time. If shopping is your thing, Hoi An is the place to visit. Every, single person on our tour bought clothes or shoes in Hoi An, with most of us getting things tailor-made. My Mum and I bought pants, matching sandals that took only hours to be made to fit our feet perfectly and were then delivered to our hotel for us, and we each got a dress made by two lovely ladies just down from our hotel. Mum’s is a lovely blue and white sundress, while mine is a bit more formal in black chiffon with little red bows all over it. Now I just need somewhere to wear it!

We drove from Hoi An to Hue and this was again an area we could easily have spent more time in. Even though Hue is quite a large city, it wasn’t anywhere near as dirty or unpleasant as Saigon. We visited the Imperial Citadel and the Forbidden Purple City where we enjoyed a cyclo ride (like a tuk tuk for those that have been to Thailand etc). Most of the cyclo drivers were older men, but of course I ended up the passenger of the only young one. He was trying to teach me to say ‘thank you’ in Vietnamese but kept laughing when I got it wrong so I gave up. He was very friendly though and pointed things out to me as we went along. That afternoon we took a cruise on the Perfume River and our boat driver fell asleep! We almost ran-aground but he woke up just in time. It definitely make for an entertaining afternoon!

From Hue we made our way north to Hanoi, which was the hometown of our guide Tom. It was nicer than Saigon, but we still didn’t particularly like it there. We visited Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum which was an interesting experience. He’s actually in there, frozen or preserved somehow, which we didn’t expect. And the security! Wow! We had to go through metal detectors and once you were inside there were guards with guns making sure you didn’t make any noise or break out of the line. All very strange. There would have been thousands of people there too, all wanting to visit Ho Chi Minh. We learnt a bit about exactly who he was and what he did, and he was far from the most upstanding guy. He changed his identity countless times and made a lot of enemies. But when he returned to Vietnam after his worldly travels he changed the country in ways nobody else has ever been able to.  

On the final day of the tour we went to Halong Bay. It was a good end to the tour to spend the day on a relaxing cruise around the bay. There are said to be over 3000 islands (or giant rocks for the most part) within the bay. We saw floating villages – houses all joined together near the islands where people live and fish and sell their catch to the mainland. It would have been interesting to be able to get off the boat and see what the houses were like, but we didn’t get that opportunity.

Relaxing on our cruise around Halong Bay.

Relaxing on our cruise around Halong Bay.

Everyone always raves about how amazing the food is in Vietnam, but I didn’t find it particularly delicious at all. We did get to try a few things that stood out, but for the most part it was all the same. That may have had something to do with the fact we were on a tour and didn’t get to choose our meals, but I can’t be certain.

I am glad that I went with my Mum to Vietnam. It was a very interesting and educational experience like nothing I had ever done before. But there is absolutely no way I would ever go back. I really can’t understand why people do. But to each their own I suppose.