I Have Opinions: Oscars Edition.

Let us acknowledge one universal truth rarely cast into the light: awards shows are boring. Unless you have company and/or alcohol (preferably both), making it to the end of the telecast is the equivalent of walking barefoot over hot coals just to receive a vial of your own tears to wash your heels. It’s basically torture. One of the few ways to get through the needless musical numbers, the bad jokes, and the endless cutoff music is by having an opinion. A tenacious, dogmatic, self-righteous stake in the game.

Do I, personally, care that much? Not really. But I’ve seen a lot of the nominees, and I have feelings. Therefore here are my predictions (and my wishful thinkings) in the major categories.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Look, I love Jennifer Lawrence. She’s my imaginary best friend too, okay? She’s probably going to get the Oscar, and that is quite frankly bullshit. Was she fun in American Hustle? Absolutely. Her weirdo hair dance to “Live and Let Die” actually inspired me to go home and listen to Wings. But she didn’t really have to do much. Plus her accent fluctuated between “I don’t give a fuck” and Howard’s reviled mother (“mutha”) on “The Big Bang Theory.” Lupita Nyong’o? She brought it. Her grief, her despair was palpable. She made me feel. I’ve seen people argue that she shouldn’t win because her character Patsey was always going to garner sympathy, to which I say bullshit. This was her first film role, and she was incredible. To go with the safe choice of the white girl with the smelly nails over a woman throwing herself into the horrors of slavery…well, you get where I’m going with this.

Actor in a Supporting Role

I’ll confess that I haven’t seen Captain Phillips or Wolf of Wall Street, so Barkhad Abdi may be a revelation. I’m not entertained by stories of greed that make a corrupt man richer in the end, so sorry to Jonah Hill’s fake teeth. Michael Fassbender was downright terrifying in 12 Years a Slave, and I believe he hasn’t gotten nearly enough recognition for his efforts, probably because people are too afraid to watch a movie that’s a downer. Still, we all know Jared Leto has this in the bag. I haven’t been a fan of his except in Urban Legend (yeah whatever, haters) and Fight Club, but I saw Dallas Buyers Club twice and cried at different points each time. His portrayal of the doomed Rayon brings light and darkness, and I think this will be the Academy’s token “we acknowledged a trans character, so we don’t have to deal with that slavery thing!” vote.

Actress in a Leading Role

This is tough. I’ve only seen two of these films. Some people have told me that Blue Jasmine is incredible, and others have told me that it’s the most boring thing they’ve gone through in ages. I am not a fan of Sandra Bullock (I’m convinced that she looks like one incarnation of Michael Jackson’s face), but I enjoyed Gravity and could suspend my disbelief. She went through a lot to make that movie, and kudos to her. Bless Amy Adams and her dodgy British accent in American Hustle. I feel like Cate Blanchett will probably win, but if anyone upsets her, it’ll probably be Amy Adams. American Hustle is the safe bet that just keeps on winning.

Actor in a Leading Role

I wish there were an award for Best Accent in a Leading Role, because I would hand that to Christian Bale in a heartbeat for his sleazy New York stylings. He pulled it off better than everyone else in that movie. If there were any justice in this world, Chiwetel Ejiofor would take this home for 12 Years a Slave. I read the book before I saw the movie so I could be emotionally prepared for the violence, which I assure you is not as present as the shitty, white guilt reviews make it out to be. It’s isolated, shocking, and effective. Still, I wept through the last ten minutes of this movie. Not cried, wept. And I’m tearing up a little just typing this. Having said that, if Ejiofor loses, I’m pretty sure it will be to Matthew McConaughey. I have a theory that for the last decade, he was deeply method as a stoner so everyone would underestimate him. That’s how good he is in Dallas Buyers Club. Everyone who saw A Time to Kill knew he was capable of this pedigree of acting, and for the past few years, he’s been playing such diverse, nuanced roles that you can’t deny his talent. I am a believer in the McConaissance, “True Detective” is the best thing on TV right now, and if Leonardo DiCaprio finally gets an Osar for flopping around on drugs over the perils of slavery and AIDS, I will punch a hole through my face.

Directing

I always find it funny that the best director didn’t necessarily direct the best picture, which is why I’m including this category. I feel like this is going to be the token award to a film that doesn’t get much love elsewhere. It’ll probably go to Alfonso Cuarón because in spite of all of its flaws, Gravity is a directorial achievement. That long take at the beginning? Breathtaking. The visuals are far better than the script, which can get a bit hokey. Still, Steve McQueen is an auteur of devastation, and if 12 Years a Slave doesn’t get best picture, they may just give him this as the consolation prize.

Best Picture

Let’s get out of the way what it’s not since ten nominees is too much, okay? Captain Phillips, Her, Nebraska, and Philomena can all start drinking the free champagne already. It’s nothing personal. The Wolf of Wall Street will not win this because the Academy doesn’t want to look it’s made of assholes, plus comedies never do well here. American Hustle has won far more awards than I ever thought possible, but again, comedy. This award should go to 12 Years a Slave, but I don’t know if voters will be brave enough to go that route. (Remember when Crash won over Brokeback Mountain and then we didn’t need movies about racism anymore because everyone stopped being racist?) Dallas Buyers Club is also worthy, but with two torturous true stories going up for this, the votes might split in such a way that Gravity could take it.

So, those are my picks. Stay strong, friends, and everyone remember to DVR “True Detective” for some actual entertainment after the ceremony.

Top Ten of 2013: Manic Street Preachers.

4. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film

As a lady with a particularly liberal mindset, I went through a phase of really loving the hell out of Manic Street Preachers. These Welsh rockers were just the right amount of shouty, loud, glamorous rock with abrasive lyrics. Then I got a little mellower, Nicky Wire was a bit too much, and I just stopped paying attention.

Enter Rewind the Film. My God, what a beautiful album! The guest appearances of Lucy Rose, Cate Le Bon, and Richard Hawley accomplish that rare feat of enhancing a record rather than stealing the spotlight. Here these fearless rockers have allowed themselves moments of quiet, nostalgia, and even fear as they assess themselves in their middle age. There’s little aggression to hide behind, and that proves that the Manics have managed to build a legacy that will go beyond their politics. I signed up to review this album, and I am so glad I did. Each listen gives me a new insight and appreciation for my position in life.

This is an album for age. Allow yourself to feel older and wiser. Or less wise. To miss, to love, to lose. To know that there is much more ahead.

Top Ten of 2013: Lissie.

5. Lissie – Back to Forever

I don’t have anything against most pop music, but when it comes to my favorites, I like a bit more honesty. Building on folk and rock roots, Lissie isn’t afraid to take a bit of that pop in through her beats or keyboard embellishments while still staying true to her tequila-drinking, plaid-wearing, guitar-rocking self. Thank all of the gods you can name that there’s someone like her out there just being herself, as the song “Shameless” above so gracefully demonstrates.

Catching a Tiger, her debut album, came out when I was working for Nielsen writing trivia questions about British television ads. (Yes, I got paid for that.) At the time, Lissie was pretty big over there but not so popular here in her native land. Still, those thirty second clips were enough to inspire me to get into her music, and I’m glad I did. Back to Forever feels more cohesive and more about adult life than the nostalgia of her previous album. There are some real rock anthems (“I Don’t Wanna Go to Work” and “Cold Fish,” particularly), but there are also moments of extreme vulnerability. She’s a complex woman, and I think this album is a great demonstration of what that means in the modern age.

Also, on a purely personal level, I am so grateful for the song “Mountaintop Removal.” As a West Virginian by birth, I often feel that people ignore the problems in the state, particularly at the hands of the almighty mining industry. To hear an artist actually express concern in a song is incredible and moving. Rock on, Lissie.

Top Ten of 2013: David Ford.

6. David Ford – Charge

When I had my ill-fated romp through Virgin Megastore, as I described in my last post, I also  bought a record by David Ford. I discovered his music in 2008 after graduating college and becoming a bit depressed because I’d moved back in with my parents and didn’t feel like things were going as they should. Through one song, I felt better.

Since then he’s been putting out great, horrifically underrated music. I recommend him to my friends. I push people to see him live. Have you seen him live? If not, go! He often utilizes a loop pedal that can increase the drama of his songs. On the album, everything is its absolute best version, but to see a song build before your eyes, possibly going wrong, is a transcendent process.

I guess I should describe the music. It’s whatever the hell it wants to be: acoustic, piano, rock, folk, whatever. Earnest, informative, barbed, and clever. This album is a bit less political than his previous output, but where can you go when you’ve already done a sour love ballad to Margaret Thatcher? One of my few gig regrets about 2013 is that I missed out on seeing David play with a full band when he did two shows in New York City. I saw the first and delighted in every minute (as, oddly, I sat next to his lovely parents), but between that night and the next, I managed to acquire a fever over 100 degrees and spent a couple of days in bed, mourning my bad luck. So give this a listen and have many regrets for not seeing him on tour. Unless you did, in which case, I salute you.

Top Ten of 2013: Frightened Rabbit.

7. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I fell in love with Frightened Rabbit sometime in 2008, around the release of The Midnight Organ Fight. During my first or second visit to New York City, I was an excitable tourist who went to the Virgin Megastore in Union Square with rabid hunger for new music. I’d just escaped the wilds of Cleveland, so a record store that was more than one floor was kind of a big deal. Anyway, I picked up Sing the Greys, adored it, and felt proud that I had found a band worthy of my praise.

While The Winter of Mixed Drinks was a good record, I didn’t love it as much as the first two. Scottish bands just do miserable songs better than anyone else. If anyone disagrees, it’s because they just don’t know enough Scottish music. Still, without hesitation I preordered the deluxe version of Pedestrian Verse, and man, am I glad I did. The balance of the band members writing together really gives this album a fuller sound. It’s still sleek like The Winter of Mixed Drinks but not afraid to show the cracks, making for a therapeutic listen.

Plus I won a meet and greet with them back in October, and they were the sweetest guys. Well done, FRabbits.

Top Ten of 2013: CHVRCHES.

8. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

Do you have this ridiculously catchy song stuck in your head yet? Good.

I like embracing music that’s a little weird. I realize that much of my list this year is pretty straight forward rock/acoustic stuff, but electro influences are absolutely delicious to me. In fact, just missing the cut this year was Foals’ Holy Fire (spoiler alert), so if you like them but haven’t yet checked out CHVRCHES, please do. This is one of the later releases on my list, but I’ve found it addicting. These songs pop into my head in the middle of the day, and I feel no reason to exorcise them. They’ve gained proper buzz, and rightfully so. This is a band I want to see everywhere in 2014.

Lauren Mayberry of this band has endured a lot of misogyny online, and she penned a really great article fighting back against the abuse she receives just for daring to be a woman who makes music. I’d only heard “Recover” when I cam across her writing on The Guardian’s website, and that was when I knew that I had to give this band much more of my attention. I’m grateful for her words and, of course, the tunes.

Top Ten of 2013: Gabrielle Aplin.

9. Gabrielle Aplin – English Rain

My friend Suz introduced me to Gabrielle’s music in the middle of last year, back when she was known as more of a YouTube artist whose talent, dedication, and lovely EPs had secured her a record deal with Parlophone. Sometimes her music can be a bit soft and safe for my tastes, but here are a few reasons why she is totally badass:

a) She has a giant tattoo on her arm with a quote from “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot.

b) She has a label to put out other artists’ music now that she’s signed to a major.

c) She loves animals, particularly her pet ferret.

d) She’s supported Ed Sheeran (something of a taste maker) and John Mayer (kind of a big deal) as well as headlined her own tours.

e) Her lyrics can be a hell of a lot darker than her beautiful voice lets on.

So give her a listen. English Rain will be released properly in America next year, and hopefully that will mean that we get to check her out live as well. I’d love to see the grit that follows after singing and playing for over an hour live. Somehow I think she’ll only triumph and become even more endearing.

An Open Letter to Brad “Accidental Racist” Paisley.

Dear Brad (Can I call you “Brad,” Brad?):

You don’t know me, but I know plenty about you. Few of us at John Marshall High School during the early noughties could take a class with Mrs. Brinkman without her gushing about “Brad,” no last name necessary. I know plenty of people who think of you like a Glen Dale version of Elvis in a cowboy hat. Your folksy, po’ Southern boy style is representative of many people from the area, and I won’t pretend differently even though we’re from above the Mason-Dixon line and our state separated from Virginia to remain part of the Union during the Civil War.

But man, you’ve made us all look like idiots with your song “Accidental Racist.”

On the surface of things, I can respect your intentions. You set out to show that your “Southern pride” is not meant to be oppressive to African-Americans, so when you wear the Confederate flag, you are not making a statement about the Civil War. You even have a Yankee rapper on the track to back you up! You hash things out! You can’t be racist because you have at least one token black friend. You can see how this is getting complicated already.

I don’t think that it escaped your attention growing up that our school was extremely white. Being “Southern” and waving that ridiculous flag meant you were anti-establishment and proud of being a redneck, not part of the Navy that briefly used said design for a couple of years during the Civil War. In an insular white community, maybe that makes sense in some distorted fashion. But you draw an international audience now. Maybe you could like “The South” on Facebook or take any other stance besides defending and reclaiming a flag so loaded with negative connotations. That flag doesn’t stand for being a redneck, four-wheeling, hunting, fishing, and having cheap beers with your buddies at the mud bogs. It was used by people engaging in open treason against their country, and the richest were the ones with the most to gain or lose. That “most” includes slaves, people as property. You must realize that symbols hold the meaning ascribed to them by people. For instance, the swastika is a type of cross, but no one would dare defend that as a symbol of peace today. The views on good and evil from the Civil War are not so clear, it would seem, but that flag has a blood-soaked legacy.

But you don’t need a history lesson. Even though you’re a millionaire living the dream, I will pretend that you are defending the “redneck” way of life with pride. You’re “proud of where [you’re] from but not everything we’ve done” (even though West Virginia was in the Union, la la la). The major problem with this song, surprisingly, is when you let LL Cool J enter the discussion. I think everyone can agree that people of all backgrounds can harbor racist tendencies, and we all make unfair shortcuts based on what we see because we can’t be bothered to get to know everyone’s inner secrets. Mr. Cool James defends his right to wear gold chains, saggy pants, and a do-rag without being thought of as a thug, but then he reaches an epiphany that he too is judging you for your white cowboy hat and ridiculous flag t-shirt. “I guess we’re both guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book,” he says. This is absurdly stupid.

Chains, low-slung jeans, and do-rags are not symbols. A cowboy hat is not a symbol. If you look at someone in a cowboy hat and think he’s a racist because of that item of clothing, you’re being a lazy asshole. If you look at someone who wears a do-rag and assume he’s a criminal, then yes, you are a goddamn racist. You don’t get to pick and choose which aspects of Southern history you’re representing with the so-called rebel flag because even though the region is rich with so much culture worth celebrating, you aren’t saying you’re proud of Southerners like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks. Racism has extended far past the abolition of slavery, and that continued prejudice is hardly just paranoia over white dudes just wanting to watch NASCAR and give ‘er dun. Brad, your lyrics indicate that you’re proud of the region, not its role in the Civil War. Why then must LL Cool J, a “black Yankee” of his own admission, actually say the words “RIP Robert E. Lee”? LL forgives you for wearing your shirt, you never meant any harm, and everyone walks away happy. Who wins here?

Between you and me, Brad, here’s a hint: the problem isn’t a grudge we Yankees hold from the Civil War. I appreciate that you want to open a dialogue and help mend fences, but the problem goes much deeper than you being shocked anyone was offended by your clothing. If you want to distance yourself from racist connotations, I’d be more than happy to buy you a new t-shirt.

Yours in Monarch Pride,
Casey Hicks, salutatorian, Class of ’04
(All opinions are my own, and I have no connection to the school beyond my diploma)

P.S. – The flag you celebrate was banned at John Marshall at one point in time. I’m not sure if the policy still stands, but when singing about where you’re from, that’s a valuable bit of information.
P.P.S. – You should listen to more rap/rock. Even Limp Bizkit could balance singing and rapping better than your tune does, and that’s just sad.

Marriage equality: why you should be for it.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing oral arguments on California banning gay marriage. Tomorrow, they will consider the Defense of Marriage Act. I’m a big supporter of gay rights, or what I like to think of as common sense. Why? Because people are people, and love is love. If you consider yourself too “traditional” to support gay marriage, you should look over these ten handy reasons why you should reconsider your stance. If you’re still not convinced, well, then I feel genuinely sorry for you.

1. No one will force you to get gay married. The really awesome thing about gay marriage is that if you’re not gay, it won’t affect you. Nobody will suddenly assume you’re gay. Nobody will propose to you and pressure you into an unsuitable gay marriage. It takes absolutely nothing away from you except maybe availability at your marriage venue of choice.

2. You can’t justify your stance through the Bible. Right, that whole not lying with man as with woman thing? It’s bullshit. Sorry for referring to your sacred text that way, but if you’re going to enforce this bit, you have to go with the whole thing. So you can’t eat certain foods (ham is out, but locusts are in!), get tattoos, shave your beard, gossip, have pre-marital sex, or curse (oops, guilty already). Sure, you can get stoned for a great many things, but one is being a disrespectful child. And don’t even get me started on the laws involved when ladies have that time of the month. Oh, and don’t forget the salt in your sacrifice to God. God really hates it when you forget the salt.

3. It’s not contagious. Why is this so difficult to comprehend? People act like this is opening the way to bestiality. No, animals cannot consent. Likewise, it is not opening the door to pedophilia. Children cannot consent. There are laws on both counts. Why won’t it lead to child brides and grooms? Well, let’s look at our legal system. We have juvenile courts for juvenile offenders, whose  minds may not yet be fully developed. Yes, sometimes they’re tried as adults; some children get married with parental consent. If you’re really so scared for the kids, maybe parent them rather than grown adults who are in love. Also, I live with two lesbians (engaged, by the way) and a gay man, and I am a-okay with that. So are they.

4. It doesn’t “hurt children” or “destroy families.” If you’re a parent, chances are your children will see non-straight people at some time in their lives. This is not a traumatic experience. If they ask you how that couple will get a baby, your life is not over. I’ll admit that I come from a very rural, white area, and when I first saw an African-American man as a child, I was stunned (or so my mom tells me). He was very kind about it, and you know what? I love diversity. He was born that way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a human, just like me. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Sexuality is probably not a choice, and even if it were, why would it be the wrong choice? Personally, I’m of the opinion that sexuality mostly comes from how you’re wired, but the truth is that it really doesn’t matter if it is a choice. For many, it’s about dating, falling in love, having a family. If I met a woman and fell in love with her, I really wouldn’t give a damn what other people thought about that (unless she were a bitch, in which case I’d hope my friends would tell me just as much as they’d judge a really bad dude).

6. Heterosexuals have done a damn fine job destroying the so-called sanctity of marriage on their own. We’re at the point that most marriages end in divorce anyway. How is this the “defense of marriage” by making it about one man and one woman? Because they can biologically have kids? Then the Defense of Marriage Act should ban divorce, separation, and you know what else? Death. It’s very selfish when parents go and die. It should be illegal. It keeps the children from growing up with two parents. That’s not okay.

7. More marriages will boost the economy. Because ridiculous laws and rules often ban same-sex couples from adopting, getting married, or just having equal rights no matter how long they’ve been together, same-sex couples tend to have disposable income that their heterosexual counterparts do not. I’ve read research in the past (sorry, no link) that says this is particularly true of gay men since there’s no glass ceiling in the way. Regardless, these people want to get married. They want you to take their money. TAKE THEIR MONEY.

8. If you don’t like people making a big deal about being gay, shut up about your straight life. Stop putting the “sex” in sexuality. Straight people are so obsessed with their romantic lives that it’s not surprising if maybe people with other orientations want to be open too. I’m perpetually single, and let me tell you, people in relationships? You never shut up about it. Ever. Maybe once they have the same rights as you, LGBQT people will realize how obnoxious you’ve been all along. But they deserve to be obnoxious too.

9. If you think gays are “gross,” turn on some reality television. I’ve had friends say that they like gay people but don’t like to imagine them having sex. That’s fine, as long as you acknowledge that you don’t want to see some straight people having sex too. Two dudes or two ladies going at it may not be your thing, but likewise, Honey Boo Boo’s mom has had plenty of kids, which means she’s had plenty of sex. Bless her for enjoying it and having found someone who loves her the way she is, and I’m all for her confidence, but I’d rather be waterboarded than watch a sex tape of her. See, it goes two ways. Also, straight people can have sex in as many weird and potentially fucked up ways as same-sex couples. Fifty Shades of Grey shows that “the straights” can have very gross sex as well, so your taste is really a moot point.

10. You sound like a fucking idiot if you oppose it. Go on. Come up with one good reason to oppose gay marriage that doesn’t make you sound like a crazy foaming at the mouth. I bet you can’t. “Civil unions!” Create second-class citizens, I retort. “It’s not natural!” Tell that to my flamingly gay dog Turk, I say. “They don’t HAVE to get married!” Neither do you, but you have that right.
People are people. Adults deserve the right to marry someone they love. We have no business separating our citizens into what’s “normal” and what’s “other.” Support equality and love. You know, or else you look like an asshole.

Fanifesto: your end of year list sucks.

Listen up. I know you have an opinion. You’re really keen on expressing it, because you’re enthusiastic about music and movies and everything popular culture. There’s just one small thing that you need to keep in mind: nobody cares about your end of year list.*

It seems impossible, doesn’t it? You’ve spent the last twelve months submerging yourself in the scene, throwing every spare bit of bob toward the box office of your choice, devouring the arts because you are a loyal follower of the Greek muses, particularly Euterpe because she has that sweet retro Aulos. You’ve muttered, “Argo fuck yourself,” and laughed knowingly because you’re reciting this very clever phrase at people who haven’t possibly seen the Ben Affleck docudrama yet. You’ve got more special edition box sets of new releases than you do digital albums. Though you’ve enjoyed all that 2012 has to offer (and hate-watched or hate-listened to some of it, just to confirm your already existing biases), the greatest gift is telling everyone what’s good. Because you’d know, right?

My grandfather one gave me a very sage bit of advice. He said, “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and they all stink.” (He might’ve said buttholes to preserve my virgin ears, but we all know what he really meant.) I’m an ex-journalist stranded in the realm of freelance reviewing (emphasis on free), so I understand the compulsion to slap together a list of really awesome stuff I’ve heard, seen, or read this year. I really adore taking people’s interests and recommending something new to them based on what I already know. Half the time I am riffing on what I know about their tastes, but sometimes I Just like to throw in some dark horse that I genuinely love and want to see succeed.

Therein lies the problem with an end of year list: it’s only for your personal benefit. Most individuals realize that when they are just ranting off into the blogosphere or their social media outlet of choice, but what’s up with the media? The same albums, the same movies, the same books just appear consistently, and I’m sorry, but a bunch of middle class white people can’t possibly be as infatuated with the diverse list of releases that they claim because it’s just a little bit suspicious that there is only one R&B album that appears consistently with no other representation from the genre. Not to name names, but you probably get what I mean if you’ve read, well, any fucking end of year list from any magazine this year. If you’re not saying something about yourself or your audience with your list, then what’s the point of even putting it together? It should be about the love of music, not about whether anybody’s heard of a single artist on your list. (Caveat: don’t just be a hipster and name your friend’s bands because you know nobody’s heard of them and you think that in ten years, they might just sell a hundred records.) Spoiler alert, Nicki Minaj doesn’t really need you to encourage others to sell her records. Why not break the news that there are other people out there who are actually talented and working hard?

A lot of really awesome, huge bands that I adore released albums this year. They don’t need my exposure, and they have publicity campaigns for this sort of thing. So in 2013, you should get off your ass and listen to (in alphabetical order) Bronagh Gallagher, Building Pictures, David Ford, Duke Special, Foy Vance, The Guggenheim Grotto, John Smith, Maria Doyle Kennedy, A Plastic Rose, Rosi Golan, and The Windsor Player. None’s a huge name, and not all of them have put out new music this year. But fuck it, it’s the end of the year, and I want to see them have a good 2013. Should you value my opinion? I don’t know. Why don’t you give things a listen and figure it out for yourself?

*Read with an open mind rather than getting automatically defensive about what I’m suggesting. Also realize that I do understand the irony of all of this. As you were.