Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous Sunday, Feb 10 2008 

I fell for Rilo Kiley when I heard More Adventurous – a record that comprising a wonderful mix of musical styles, lyrical subjects and emotional tones; by turns dramatic, passionate, musing, amused. It isn’t perfect, but just about everything is catchy, aesthetically gorgeous, tuneful, richly and carefully detailed, and lyrically interesting, so that it gets even better with repeat listens. I dropped it for a while and recently returned fairly obsessively to it, amidst renewed appreciation for Rilo Kiley’s newest album Under the Blacklight… but that’s another blog entry for another day.

Lead guitarist Blake Sennett is due tremendous credit for the lovely guitar-playing – including all sorts of beautiful effects, whether crunching electric riffs, folkish acoustic, shimmering picking, legato phrases, layered lead lines, rhythmic plucking, harpsichord-like tinkling. Then there is Jason Boesel’s light, intuitively agile, warm and superbly detailed drumming. And of course, Jenny Lewis’ remarkable voice: a clean, bright, warm mezzo-soprano, capable of shading from sweet to ferocious; delicate to strong; spare to full-blown and back again… But the main strength of More Adventurous is the amazing songwriting.

I was rather surprised to recognise ‘I Never’ – which I’d first encountered in the film Must Love Dogs – since I’d never (haha) knowingly heard Rilo Kiley before. It was used quite appropriately in the film: Diane Lane’s character haplessly falls for a charming cad to Jenny Lewis’s confession that ‘I’m only a woman/ Of flesh and bone’. (Yes, I’ve watched this film quite a few times – it’s got John Cusack in it.) This is a seemingly straightforward soul number, complete with big voice, organ chords, strings and even a male chorus going ‘ah-ooh’; but with structural and lyrical tricks. Jenny declares – no less than 50 times – that

I never … loved somebody

The way that I loved you.

And what a triumphant declaration it is, followed as it is by a dramatic coda of electric riffs that sweep you along to the song’s conclusion.

‘Does He Love You?’ was the next song to strike me: an indelible, emotionally-wrought adultery song, with a musical and lyrical narrative twist of the knife at the end. Lewis’ envy of her friend’s perfect marriage suddenly becomes entirely too personal:

Late at night, I get the phone

You’re at the shop sobbin’ all alone

Your confession is coming out

You only married him, you felt your time was running out

But now you love him, and your baby

At last you are complete

But he’s distant and you found him on the phone pleading

Saying ‘Baby I love you and I’ll leave her and I’m comin’ out to California’

Let’s not forget ourselves, good friend

I am flawed if I’m not free

And your husband will never leave you

He will never leave you for me

In quite a different vein is ‘Portions for Foxes’, where Lewis sweetly and blithely admits ‘Baby, I’m bad news/I’m just bad news, bad news, bad news’. The song is a veritable showcase for various guitar tricks. Swirling bell-like notes alternate with drum-led crunching chords, mandolin-like vibrato, percussive plucking, and pulsing legato harmonies… The lyrics are solidly pessimistic, but are sung with an endearing air of cheerful unrepentance:

I know I’m alone if I’m with or without you

But just being around you offers me another form of relief

When the loneliness leads to bad dreams

And the bad dreams lead me to calling you

And I call you and say… ‘C’mere!’

‘It’s a Hit’ was Robert Christgau’s Song of the Year for 2004. Not hard to see why: it is smart, verbose, reflective, political, philosophical, and… funny. To a catchy tune and cheery instrumental accompaniments (including Christmas-time type jingling bells), Lewis observes wryly that

Any chimp can play human for a day

Use his opposable thumbs to iron his uniform

And run for office on election day

Fancy himself a real decision maker

And deploy more troops than salt in a shaker

But it’s a jungle when war is made

And you’ll panic and throw your own shit at the enemy

The camera pulls back to reveal your true identity

Look, it’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing

A smoking gun-holding ape


Any fool can play executioner for a day

And say with fingers pointed in both directions ‘He went that-away’

It’s only a switch or syringe, ah-huh

Exempt from eternal sins

But you still wear a cross

And you think you’re gonna get in

Ah, but the pardons never come from upstairs

They’re always a moment too late

But it’s entertainment, keep the crowd on their toes

It’s justice, we’re safe

It’s not a hit, it’s a holiday

Shoo-bop shoo-bop, my baby

The title tune describes one girl’s breathtakingly total and complete submission to love, set to a sweet country melody, with beautifully tuneful steel guitar and harmonica. Would that we were all as brave and articulate and witty.

I read, with every broken heart

We should become more adventurous

And if you banish me from your profits

And if I get banished from the kingdom up above

I’d sacrifice money and heaven all for love

Let me be loved, let me be loved


And maybe ours is the cause of all mankind:

Get loved, make more, try to stay alive.


Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle Sunday, May 27 2007 

During this long hiatus, engendered by huge work events, I have listened to any amount of music and comforted myself by re-reading favourite Terry Pratchetts on the weekends. But the mere thought of writing about them was too draining, till today. The impetus: a wonderful novel by the enchanting albeit obscure title of I Capture the Castle, the first novel of one Dodie (short for Dorothy) Smith, more famously known for children’s novel The Hundred and One Dalmations. But I had picked up I Capture the Castle not because of the Dalmations connection (of which I was unaware).

In June of 2003, while on my (Singapore Airlines) flight back home after my first year in Oxford, I casually picked an in-flight movie – you guessed it – I Capture the Castle. That was one of the most delightful, quietly funny, subtle, intelligent, and evocative films I’d seen in ages, with all the gorgeousness of writing and cinematography associated with the English period (specifically 1930s) film. More importantly, it had real depth and warmth, and somehow managed to leave me with an intense feeling of nostalgia – for what, I’m still not quite sure. I subsequently acquired both the DVD and the original novel that the film was based on.

The cast of I Capture the Castle was astounding, but I’d never seen or heard of any of them before. Most striking were the luminous and phenomenal lead actress Romola Garai, who plays the intelligent young girl and sharply observant narrator/writer Cassandra Mortmain; character actor Bill Nighy as Cassandra’s (ex-?)genius of a writer-father whose persistent inability to turn out any successor to his well-received first novel has landed the family in deep but genteel poverty; and Australian actress Rose Byrne as Cassandra’s elder sister, Rose, who as the beauty of the family is determined to marry well and pull them all out of their poverty. The Mortmain family is rounded off by geekily clever younger brother Thomas; Stephen the family ‘hired boy’; and kind-hearted, kooky, self-consciously arty nude model and stepmother Topaz.

Now, this might sound like a bit of an English eccentricity-overload, especially when the film opens with Topaz running out of the family’s crumbling castle-home – they have it on 40-year lease from the owner – to ‘commune with nature’ on a rainy night. Naked, naturally. This eccentricity shows up quite strongly, especially in contrast with the American characters – brothers Simon and Neil Cotton, the owners to the castle who come to England to see it after inheriting it, and cause quite a stirring up in the Mortmains’ lives. But all the characters are genuine in spite of their quirks, their motivations and passions are real and relatable, and their story is absorbing and told not just with pathos but also well-leavened with that rarity, a great sense of humour. The film does a fine job of translating seemingly untranslatable tones and moods onto the screen; all credit to director Tim Fywell. But no film can ever be quite as good as one’s own imagination while reading the novel.

This scene wasn’t in the film, so my imagination of it is original. Miss Marcy, the village librarian, has come by the castle to drop off some detective books for Mr. Mortmain and be a little bit of a well-meaning kaypoh, helping to conduct an ‘Enquiry into the Finances of the Mortmain Family’. Mr. Mortmain has just come into the room in the middle of the enquiry. As recorded in Cassandra’s journal (slightly edited for length):

‘Well, don’t let me interrupt the game,’ said Father. ‘What is it?’ And before I could think of any way of distracting him, he had leaned over Miss Marcy’s shoulder to look at the list in front of her. As it then stood, it read:

Earning Capacity for Present Year
Mrs Mortmain – nil.
Cassandra Mortmain – nil.
Thomas Mortmain – nil.
Rose Mortmain – nil.
Mr Mortmain – nil.
Stephen Colly – 25s. a week.

Father’s expression didn’t change as he read, he went on smiling; but I could feel something happening to him. When he had finished, he said quite lightly: ‘And is Stephen giving us his wages?’

‘I ought to pay for my board and lodging, Mr Mortmain, sir,’ said Stephen, ‘and for – for past favours; all the books you’ve lent me –’

‘I’m sure you’ll make a very good head of the family,’ said Father. Then he thanked Miss Marcy again for bringing him such a good book, and said good night to her very courteously.

Miss Marcy made no remark about the incident, which shows what a tactful person she is; but she looked embarrassed and said she must be getting along. I went out to see her off. As we crossed the courtyard, she glanced up at the gatehouse window and asked if I thought Father would be offended if she brought him a little tin of biscuits to keep there. I said I didn’t think any food could give offence in our house and she said: ‘Oh, dear!’

The rest of this blog entry will consist of particularly memorable and/or characteristic bits from the novel that reflect just what I love so much about it. I suppose this is the modern-day equivalent of Cassandra copying letters into her journal. None of them actually made it into the film that I recall, but perhaps that is to be expected given the constraints of plot, running time and filming costs.

Rose is asleep – on her back, with her mouth wide open. Even like that she looks nice. I hope she is having a beautiful dream about a rich young man proposing to her. […]

I could easily go on writing all night but I can’t really see and it’s extravagant on paper, so I shall merely think. Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing.


Father came from the bathroom and went through to his bedroom. The next second I heard him shout:

‘Good God, what have you done to yourself?’

He sounded so horrified that I thought Topaz had some accident. I dashed into Buffer State but stopped myself outside their bedroom door; I could see her from there. She was wearing a black evening dress that she has never liked herself in, a very conventional dress. Her hair was done up in a bun and she had makeup on – not much, just a little rouge and lipstick. The result was astounding. She looked quite ordinary – just vaguely pretty but not worth a second glance.

Neither of them saw me. I heard her say:

‘Oh, Mortmain, this is Rose’s night. I want all the attention to be focused on her –’

I tiptoed back to the bedroom. I was bewildered at such unselfishness, particularly as she had spent hours mending her best evening dress. I knew what she meant, of course – at her most striking she can make Rose’s beauty look like mere prettiness. Suddenly I remembered that first night the Cottons came here, how she tried to efface herself. Oh, noble Topaz!

I heard Father shout:

‘To hell with that. God knows I’ve very little left to be proud of. At least let me be proud of my wife.’

There was a throaty gasp from Topaz: ‘Oh, my darling!’ – and then I hastily went downstairs and kept Rose talking in the drawing room. I felt this was something we oughtn’t to be in on. And I felt embarrassed – I always do when I really think of Father and Topaz being married.

When they came down Topaz was as white as usual and her silvery hair, which was at its very cleanest, was hanging down her back. She had her best dress on which is Grecian in shape, like a clinging grey cloud, with a great grey scarf which she had draped round her head and shoulders. She looked most beautiful – and just how I imagine the Angel of Death. […]

Of course I have always realized that she is kind, but I should never have thought her capable of making that noble sacrifice for Rose. And just as I was feeling ashamed of ever having thought her bogus, she said in a voice like plum-cake:

‘Look, Mortmain, look! Oh, don’t you long to be an old, old man in a lamp-lit inn?’

‘Yes, particularly one with rheumatism,’ said Father. ‘My dear, you’re an ass.’


When Neil was getting me my second glass of cherry brandy I took a good look at Rose. She was wearing her very oldest dress, a washed-out blue cotton, but it looked exactly right for sitting outside an inn. One branch of the chestnut came down behind her head and, while I was watching, a strand of her bright hair got caught across a leaf.

‘Is that branch worrying you?’ Simon asked her. ‘Would you like to change places? I hope you wouldn’t because your hair looks so nice against the leaves.’

I was glad he had been noticing.

Rose said the branch wasn’t worrying her in the least.

When Neil came back with my second cherry brandy, she said: ‘Well, now that we’ve finished lunch, I’ll have one, too.’ I knew very well she had been envying mine. Then she called after him: ‘No, I won’t – I’ll have crème de menthe.’ I was surprised, because we both tasted that at Aunt Millicent’s once and hated it heartily; but I saw what she was after when she got it – she kept holding it up so that the green looked beautifully against her hair, though of course it clashed quite dreadfully with the chestnut leaves. I must say she was being more affected than I ever saw her, but Simon appeared to be enchanted. Neil didn’t – he winked at me once and said: ‘Your sister will be wearing that drink as a hat any minute.’

A bit that quite sums up the famous British reserve (which I think I have, too, despite being Singaporean):

Neil had driven coming out, so Simon drove going home, with Rose at the front beside him. It was fun at the back with Neil. He told me lots of interesting things about life in America – they do seem to have a good time there, especially the girls.

‘Do Rose and I seem very formal and conventional, compared with American girls?’ I asked.

‘Well, hardly conventional,’ he said, laughing, ‘even madam with her airs isn’t that’ – he jerked his head towards Rose. ‘No, I’d never call any of your family conventional, but – oh, I guess there’s formality in the air here, even the villagers are formal; even you are, in spite of being so cute.’

I asked him just what he meant by ‘formality’. He found difficulty in putting it into words, but I gather it includes reserve and ‘a sort of tightness’.

‘Not that it matters, of course,’ he added, hastily. ‘English people are swell.’

That was so like Neil – he will joke about England, but he is always most anxious not really to hurt English feelings.

A particularly funny (and true) description of some of J S Bach, although I adore Bach:

‘Well, Debussy’s certainly made a hit with you,’ said Simon, ‘though I’m not sure you wouldn’t outgrow him. You’re the kind of child who might develop a passion for Bach.’

I told him I hadn’t at school. The one Bach piece I learnt made me feel I was being repeatedly hit on the head with a teaspoon.

An interesting conversation between Cassandra and the village Vicar which presents one aspect of ‘finding religion’ in a new light to me:

We got started on religion, which surprised me rather, as the Vicar so seldom mentions it – I mean, to our family; naturally it must come up in his daily life.

‘You ought to try it, one of these days,’ he said. ‘I believe you’d like it.’

I said: ‘But I have tried it, haven’t I? I’ve been to church. It never seems to take.’

He laughed and said he knew I’d exposed myself to infection occasionally.

‘But catching things depends so much on one’s state of health. You should look in on the church if ever you’re mentally run down.’

I remembered my thoughts on the way to the village. ‘Oh, it wouldn’t be fair to rush to church because one was miserable,’ I said – taking care to look particularly cheerful.

‘It’d be most unfair not to – you’d be doing religion out of its very best chance.’

‘You mean “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity”?’

‘Exactly. Of course, there are extremities at either end; extreme happiness invites religion almost as much as extreme misery.’

I told him I’d never thought of that.

Once & Again: The Mystery Dance Tuesday, Feb 20 2007 

No single television series has ever spoken to me as much as Once & Again did – and does. No, I’ve never experienced divorce, either directly or indirectly, which is the basis of the basic storyline. Neither am I American, WASP or Jewish. None of the characters is my age. But Once & Again is perhaps one of the best-written, best-acted, and loveliest shows ever made; the best example for the case that TV can be educational, edifying, eye-opening. (My So-Called Life, the other series by creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, is pretty outstanding, but Once & Again is the very pinnacle of television.)

And it is moving. Today, as I re-watched the first season episode ‘The Mystery Dance’, a poem, read in turns by two characters at a crossroads in their lives, leapt out at me. It had never made the same impression before; its relevance had been confined to the characters’ situations. I suppose I’m at the point in my life that makes me ripe for it. This is my first Chinese New Year holiday since 2002, my first as a working person, at the start of the rest of my life.

‘George Gray’ is part of a collection of poems, each of which is a posthumous, autobiographical epitaph, by the American poet/biographer/dramatist Edward Lee Masters. It was originally published in 1915 in his Spoon River Anthology, which is proof positive that some things are universal. ‘George’ contemplates his headstone and his life-that-wasn’t – a sharp nudge in the ribs, a painfully sad reminder to those of us, still living, to live.

George Gray

I have studied many times

The marble which was chiseled for me –

A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.

In truth it pictures not my destination

But my life.

For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;

Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;

Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.

Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.

And now I know that we must lift the sail

And catch the winds of destiny

Wherever they drive the boat.

To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,

But life without meaning is the torture

Of restlessness and vague desire –

It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

Edgar Lee Masters

A. S. Byatt – Possession Monday, Feb 5 2007 

Sometimes I think that A. S. Byatt’s greatest appeal to me as a writer is the gorgeousness of her descriptions and her (related) ability to supply all the materials required for the reader to imagine a scene of great natural beauty. Consider, for example, this lavish and perhaps extraneous but – for an urbanite who has always hankered to revel in the Prince Edward Island described by L. M. Montgomery – wholly enjoyable paragraph, which was in the Postscript to Possession, no less:

There was a meadow full of young hay, and all the summer flowers in great abundance Blue cornflowers, scarlet poppies, gold buttercups, a veil of speedwells, an intricate carpet of daisies where the grass was shorter, scabious, yellow snapdragons, bacon and egg plant, pale milkmaids, purple heartsease, scarlet pimpernel and white shepherd’s purse, and round this field a high bordering hedge of Queen Anne’s lace and foxgloves, and above that dogroses, palely shining in a thorny hedge, honeysuckle all creamy and sweet0smelling, rambling threads of bryony and the dark stars of deadly nightly. It was abundant, it seemed as though it must go on shining forever. The grasses had an enamelled gloss and were connected by diamond-threads of light. The larks sang, and the thrushes, and the blackbirds, sweet and clear, and there were butterflies everywhere, blue, sulphur, copper, and fragile white, dipping from flower to flower, from clover to vetch to larkspur, seeing their own guiding visions of invisible violet pentagrams and spiralling coils of petal-light.

But it’s not fair to suggest that Dame Byatt is good for lovely prose and nothing else, since she is also full of intelligent and perspicacious observations on numerous favourite themes of hers, including literature and the academia. Possession exhibits this, and manages to cover plenty of other subjects big and small even while the story develops through the masterful use of all sorts of narrative methods. People who are impatient to find out ‘what happens next’ might skip the chapter that comprises solely an extended correspondence between two Victorian poets, to their peril. They’d be missing out on a whole lot of interesting ideas, not to mention the delightful repartee and growing fascination between (a) man and (a) woman. (They can skip the poetry without much loss, though.)

Excerpt from a letter from Randolph Henry Ash to Christabel LaMotte:

… I must tell you that I have been in some distress to think that my poem had occasioned doubt in you. A secure faith – a true prayerfulness – is a beautiful and a true thing – however we must nowadays construe it – and not to be disturbed by the meanderings and queryings of the finite brain of R. H. Ash or any other puzzled student of our Century. Ragnarök was written in all honesty in the days when I did not myself question Biblical certainties – or the faith handed down by my fathers and theirs before them. It was read differently by some […] and I was at the time startled and surprised that my Poem should have been construed as any kind of infidelity – for I meant it rather as a reassertion of the Universal Truth of the living presence of Allfather (under whatever Name) and of the hope of Resurrection from whatever whelming disaster in whatever form. When Odin, disguised as the Wanderer, Gangrader, in my Poem, asks the Giant Wafthrudnir what was the word whispered by the Father of the gods in the ear of his dead son, Baldur on his funeral pyre – the young man I was – most devoutly – meant the word to be – Resurrection. And he, that young poet, who is and is not myself, saw no difficulty in supposing that the dead Norse God of Light might prefigure – or figure – the dead Son of the God Who is the Father of Christendom. But, as you perceived, this is a two-handed engine, a slicing weapon that cuts both ways, this of figuration – to say that the Truth of the Tale is in the meaning, that the Tale but symbolizes an eternal verity, is one step on the road to the parity of all tales… And the existence of the same Truths in all Religions is a great argument both for and against the paramount Truthfulness of One.

Excerpt from a letter from C. LaMotte to R. H. Ash:

I do not say but there must be – and is – some essential difference between the Scope and Power of men and [women’s] own limited consciousness and possibly weaker apprehension. But I do maintain, as stoutly, that the delimitations are at present, all wrongly drawn – We are not mere candleholders to virtuous thoughts – mere chalices of Purity – we think and feel, aye and read – which seems not to shock you in us, in me, though I have concealed from many the extent of my – vicarious – knowledge of human vagaries.

That last bit about female self-censorship of opinions/knowledge is, sadly, all too familiar. Even today!!

Gosh, what long excerpts. (I’m guessing that the only place in which quotation at such length is appropriate is literary criticism; if this was meant to be a book review, it would surely have met with the instruction to edit.) And certainly the entire novel has quite substantial heft. However, this is one of the joys of Possession: the leisureliness and narrative manner of Byatt’s prose allows for some pretty tough ideas and characterization to be contained in an altogether relaxing read. It’s plenty impressive too as a post-modernist achievement, and probably quite deserving of its 1990 Booker Prize.

Still, it is because I don’t share her favourite themes that I don’t consider Byatt one of my favourite authors. I’ve always been unconsciously and consciously concerned about the exploration of ethics, and more recently have become very fond of humour in the stuff that I read/watch; as far as I can tell these are limited in Byatt’s novels. They are, at the least, quite limited in Possession. Nevertheless, it’s excellent fun to read and reread: literate (duh), awash with beauty, and completely escapist.

I watched the film adaptation too: as a fan, I felt compelled to, although I know quite well that the film can never quite live up to the book. But the storyline on the literary detectives was distorted by the very unfortunate decision to change the originally working-class Brit Roland into a hunky-but-nice-and-intelligent American played by Aaron Eckhart (the better to contrast, I suppose, with the classic chilly Englishwoman Maud played by ironically-not-English-at-all Gwyneth Paltrow). And Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle (both of whom being actors I like and respect tremendously) simply weren’t given much to work with in their roles as the Victorian pair. In short: while the main plot was preserved, the focus and tone of the film was completely divergent from that of the book. (Isn’t it always the case? See Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, shudder.) Which sort of misses the whole point of Possession.

List: Pop Music on Gilmore girls Saturday, Jan 27 2007 

The Gilmore girls (© 2006 The WB Television Network)

I’ve been watching Gilmore girls [sic] since its first season – that is, since 2000 – and never caught any of the popular music references. And there are a lot of references, partly because Lorelai and her daughter Lorelai (Rory) Gilmore, the girls in question, are deeply steeped in pop culture, and partly because Rory’s best friend Lane is a complete audiophile and plays drums in a rock band. There was even one episode in which the Bangles made an appearance (the girls were attending a Bangles concert in New York City) and we were treated to a bracing dose of the classic ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ as well as footage of the band ‘performing’ ‘Eternal Flame’, ‘Hero Takes a Fall’, &c.

But in the time that I’ve started exploring popular music, I’ve been rewatching old episodes and find that I get a lot more of the music-related jokes, am capable of identifying songs played on the show, and have (re-)discovered good music too.

A few of the memorable jokes and references:

  1. Rory, in an effort to persuade her boyfriend to go to her formal coming-out (into society) that requires correspondingly formal wear, makes him watch Neil Young’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction because ‘doesn’t Neil Young look cool?… If you’ll notice, he’s wearing a tux.’ Her boyfriend’s rejoinder: ‘Neil Young looks cool because he’s Neil Young, not because he’s wearing a tux.’ How true.
  2. Grumpy diner owner Luke warning his ne’er-do-well nephew Jess to knuckle down and pay attention to his studies: ‘If you’re not careful you’ll wind up like that loner at the back of the class who repeats every year and listens to Steely Dan.’ Retorts Jess sarcastically: ‘Steely Dan? Nice topical reference.’ Luke, unabashed: ‘The band may change, the guy never does.’
  3. The guitarist of Lane’s band, threatening the hapless asthmatic bass player to shape up or else: The Who bassist ‘John Entwistle’s nails were still growing when they found his replacement.’
  4. Lorelai’s immediate reaction to the lounge pianist hired by her stuffy parents for a posh Thanksgiving party – ‘He can play anything’ – was the shouted request ‘Free Bird!’, the Lynyrd Skynyrd song that is a staple request at rock concerts
  5. Taylor Doose, Stars Hollow’s town selectman, making things difficult for Lorelai when she attempts to acquire the requisite permit to set up her own inn, insists that the inn’s 18 parking spaces won’t be enough for the potentially 20 guests occupying its rooms. Lorelai argues that ‘if the parking’s not enough, we can always add more.’ Rejoins Taylor, quoting Joni Mitchell’s delightful ‘Big Yellow Taxi’: ‘So, pave paradise and put up a parking lot?’
  6. An excerpt from Rory’s high-school valedictorian speech: ‘My mother never gave me any idea that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be. She filled our house with love and fun and books and music, unflagging in her efforts to give me role models from Jane Austen to Eudora Welty to Patti Smith. As she guided me through these incredible eighteen years, I don’t know if she ever realized that the person I most wanted to be was her.’

Songs I hadn’t known in my previous (unexposed to popular music) life, but which I actually recognized this time when played (either by the original band or by Lane’s band) on the show:

The Clash – ‘London Calling’, ‘White Riot’
The Ramones – ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’
Siouxsie and the Banshees – ‘Cities of Dust’
Pixies – ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’

Songs that Gilmore girls introduced to me:

The B-52’s – ‘52 Girls’, ‘Dance this Mess Around’
Joey Ramone – ‘What a Wonderful World’
Blondie – ‘Heart of Glass’
David Bowie – ‘Suffragette City’
XTC – ‘Then She Appeared’
Bananarama – ‘Shy Boy’
Yo La Tengo – ‘My Little Corner of the World’
Ella Fitzgerald – ‘I Can’t Get Started’

Say Anything… Friday, Nov 24 2006 

I’ve been putting off writing about Say Anything…, because it’s tough to describe the film experience that set off a slow explosion (oxymoron be damned) of sorts. (Yes, the ellipsis is part of the title.) I’d decided to watch the film on a whim, largely because of the high rating on its IMDB page. (I don’t rely slavishly on the ratings – lots of films I love have not been similarly loved by IMDB users, and vice versa. But it is probably worthwhile checking something out when lots of people think that it’s good. And I found out subsequently that Roger Ebert – a film critic I respect enormously simply because his opinion is always a considered one, though I do disagree with him on occasion – considered Say Anything… a Great Movie.) Funny how such a casual decision led, gradually, to discoveries substantial enough to change my life. For the better. Not a lot, but enough.

Reaction on first viewing of Say Anything…: ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good’. Could not get more specific than that, which is unusual. I generally find it easy to size up most films after one viewing, so when I can’t articulate much more than ‘this is good’, then repeat viewings are in order, for me to fully appreciate the thing.

Reactions from many, many viewings: Amazingly nuanced story-telling and characters. Realistic dialogue realistically delivered, with a surprising number of memorable lines. Endlessly amusing, packed with jokes of all kinds; but the humour is gentle and empathetic. Life-affirming in subtle but important ways, right down to the ending. And, most salient for the purpose of my anecdote, with staggering acting by John Cusack. I supposed that his personality had to be exactly like Lloyd Dobler’s in real life – so gut level-convincing was his performance as Lloyd – that it came as quite a shock to watch Mr. Cusack coming across just as real when playing Walter Gibson, a vastly different character, in The Sure Thing.

John Cusack was one of those actors I’d never really heard of, and not just because he didn’t usually take on blockbusters. In fact, I had seen him in action (no pun intended) in the one blockbuster he’s done, Con Air, but ironically didn’t even remember that he was in it despite him having a substantial role. Say Anything… was a revelation, because it introduced me to some of the most realistic, intelligent, emotionally sophisticated acting I’d ever seen. Suffice it to say I became a real admirer, and set about watching a whole lot of films in his back catalogue. Along the way I started finding him extremely interesting as a person as well, insofar as it is possible to know what an actor is like in real life. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, Say Anything… led to John Cusack, who led me to a whole lot of his films including Grosse Pointe Blank, the watching of which triggered my first real interest in popular music. Voila. (Incidentally I am very fond of the Replacements song used in Say Anything…, ‘Within Your Reach’, which Mr. Cusack has described as being completely apposite as a soundtrack to his own teenage years.)

Anyway. I was only six years old when Say Anything… came out in theatres in 1989, which meant that I missed it along with all the other ‘80s teen films. Comparisons are odious and all that, but it’s hard not to feel that Say Anything was in a league of its own in this genre, even including the really famous John Hughes/Brat Pack ones, those that I have watched. Though the label ‘teen film’ is a mischaracterisation in this case and doesn’t do Say Anything… justice: I’m pretty sure adults would get just as much, if not more, enjoyment out of the film, and romance, while a part of the story, isn’t the be-all and end-all.

It is almost impossible to summarise the plot of Say Anything… without making it sound, yup, like a teen film, so I shan’t try, especially since I don’t pretend to be writing a review. Besides, the plot really isn’t the point. Acting-wise, Mr. Cusack aside, John Mahoney and Ione Skye deliver similarly strong performances as the other two main characters, and even those in bit parts are memorable. But a whole lot of credit must go to the brilliantly incisive and funny yet economical script, written by Cameron Crowe (he of Almost Famous fame), and unobtrusive yet sympathetic direction, done by the same, all the more remarkable for the fact that he was directing for the first time. (It must be tough to have somehow produced a master-work on your first outing: it’d be hanging over your head for the rest of your career.)

Till today, Say Anything… remains one of my favourite John Cusack films, and I’ve watched quite a lot of them. It’s right up there with High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank. What is more, it is one of my favourite films, period.