Monday, July 15, 2013

"Put on Your Red Shoes and Dance the Blues"

I had never really thought about just how influential British music was to American music. I was brought up listening to '70s prog rock--Pink Floyd, Yes, Moody Blues, Cream, all the good ones--and both of my sisters have always been really into Bowie, but I never really thought much about the importance of any of it. I just always thought it was cool music to listen to.

Of course I knew about the British Invasion, but that always just meant The Beatles to me. The '60s, to me, always seemed to belong to America. Apparently, though, the British music scene was where it all really came from in the '60s and '70s.

The British Music Experience was a really interesting way to put my life-long history of listening to British music into perspective. Having everything compiled in one place like that was astounding, just because there was so much influence there in that one compact space. With everything in chronological order it was easy to see how each band, each sound, influenced the next, and the next, and so on, into the future.

It was kind of surprising to see which bands were shown more than others. I was very surprised how little Pink Floyd there was, because I had always thought that they were one of the more influential bands of the time and even of today. I don't remember seeing any Pink Floyd artifacts at all; they were only shown on videos or on the big wall at the ends of the rooms. There was also very little about Elton John, which surprised me, because of his popularity, for one thing, and because of how important he was to piano rock/pop, which wasn't really a thing until Elton John came along. Despite that, though, it was absolutely amazing to see so much influence all contained in that space.

I went to the Bowie exhibit at the Victoria & Albert, too. Again, Bowie was always music that I had listened to growing up and it wasn't ever that significant to me. From what I understand, though, Bowie is much bigger here in the UK than in the US. I don't know how influential he was to American pop through the '70s, but, especially highlighted by the V&A exhibit, it's obvious that there are few individuals in British music history as important as David Bowie. He did things that no one had ever seen before, and he made it okay for other people to do the same.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

In Every Blog, There is a Post That Goes Like This

^This makes sense if you've seen Spamalot. Which you should do.
I grew up watching Monty Python. I loved the hilarious ridiculousness of it. But it wasn’t until I took a class called “The Films of Terry Gilliam” last semester (I know. Be jealous) that I really understood the significance of Python and what they set out to do.

Python is always kind of what I think of when people talk about “English humor.” I guess even here it’s a little more of a niche thing than entirely popular culture, but I think the irreverence of it is quintessentially English. A lot of new movements came from the anti-establishment sentiments of Python, and, especially in a place that is so astoundingly old, it made it okay to make fun of…well, everything. Gilliam’s animations—taking classics like the Mona Lisa and the Statue of David and cutting them apart and making them do stupid things—made sure that nothing was sacred anymore, not even God. I think Americans are a lot of times too afraid to offend anyone to really catch onto humor like that in Monty Python, and I think that’s the one of the biggest differences between us and the UK and also why Monty Python is popular with a smaller, cult crowd in the States. I think the fact that there is so much history here is why the English are okay with making fun of it. It’s nothing to them that a building is 800 years old. I guess Americans still feel that they have to prove themselves, because we’re relatively new on the block, while the English are long established and can just sit back and revel in that.

Okay. To the point. Finally. I had always wanted to see Spamalot, and it seemed perfect that we were going to see it, having grown up believing in its English-ness.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I loved it. What made it so wonderful was the fact that turning it into a musical gave Eric Idle a whole new layer of societal norms to make fun of. There are new cultural things that couldn’t have been taken on in the movie because of the format and the time period. Musicals just can’t be left alone—there are so many things to latch onto with them. I was a little hesitant just because it’s so hard to beat the original cast members, but once Eric Idle appeared as God it was made for me. I mean, Eric Idle is like Monty Python God, and he wrote the play, so it was just too perfect. The play was so current, too; I imagine that the song with all the pop culture references is constantly rewritten to keep up, which is very smart.

I loved when the actors broke character and the fourth wall, because it really continued the tradition of tearing things apart. In any other circumstance it would be very unprofessional, but when Python does it it makes a fantastic statement about the structure of musicals and how we so willingly suspend our disbelief over these silly, formulaic shows. The songs, the dancing, the sets, the lights, are always the same, and it takes something like Monty Python to so publicly point it out. The movie poked fun at musicals a little bit with the scene with the Prince who just wanted to sing, but Spamalot did it to the point that it was overdone, which was on purpose, of course, and was perfect.

It was interesting watching the show with other Americans, especially Americans who may not have seen or liked Monty Python. A few people I talked to before the show didn’t really want to go and weren’t particularly excited about it, but the impression I got afterward was that everyone seemed to really like it. Even if people don’t get the deeper anti-establishment meaning they can still enjoy the silliness.

"Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."

^Samuel Ullman
Guys, I'm Twenty. Venti. Zwanzig. Vignt. And all the other languages that have a word for twenty.


Please don't give me that But-I'm-X-years-older-than-you-you-are-so-not-old thing. I know that 20 isn't old at all. But it feels old. It's weird to be 20. There's no more "teen" in my age, which implies real adulthood.

Which is absolutely terrifying.

I found that as I got closer to turning 20 I was (and still am) caught in this weird contradictory place between nostalgia and anticipation. On one hand, I want time to stop, go backwards, even, so I can keep being a kid. But on the other hand, I am so terribly excited for what is to come in my future.

As a whole, I'm proud of where I've come as a person in my twenty years. And I think the last couple of years have made a huge difference. The year between graduating from high school and starting sophomore year in college is evidently the most important year for these kinds of things, because when I started sophomore year and watched the new freshmen coming in, it made me wonder, "Was I like that a year ago??" I find I'm more compassionate, more understanding, more well-rounded, generally more mature than I was just two years ago. I've still got loads of work to do, but, hey, so does everyone.

I guess that's all I have to say about it. Just that it's weird. I don't know if this is a thing that happens every decade, but for now I think I can safely say that 20 is the strangest birthday to date.

I have two decades of amazing things behind me. I can't wait to see what kinds of things are ahead.

~Snooty Crumb

I went to Belgium for my birthday. This was my first taste, and it just kept getting cooler.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"First impressions are often the truest"

^William Hazlitt
First impressions are weird things. Some people say there's nothing more important, some people say they should never be trusted. As for me, I usually find that my first impressions are reasonably accurate, but I'm not sure I've made up my mind. Surprising, I know.

My first impressions of the United Kingdom came on the airplane, I suppose, where my brain made up its mind about what I would find on the ground the other side of the Atlantic. I should have been sleeping, of course, but you know how plane sleep is. I hunched myself into a semi-comfortable position with my head on the tray table while the lady in front of me repeatedly sat roughly back into her seat, smashing the tray lock into my skull. Comfy. I let my thoughts of tea and rain join with the turbulence in lulling (maybe "lulling" isn't the right word. More like "I-didn't-have-much-choice-but-to-go-with-it-ing") me into awkward plane sleep.

How right was I? I guess I could be considered something of an Anglophile. I suppose I know a fair bit more about England than the average American. So I guess this is the time I get to find out, once and for all, whether all those things I've seen on TV my entire life are actually what Americans (or TV Brits) say they are.

Here's a list of interesting things I've run into since the plane hit the ground a week and a half ago. Oh, a list. I'm just full of surprises today.

  • I am SO excited to find out that people actually do say "Cheers" and that Scottish people actually say "wee." I was entirely convinced that we had just made that up in the US.
  • What on earth is the deal with having 800 doors to everything? It's a good thing I'm not claustrophobic is all I have to say.
  • The Tube is pretty awesome. And they do actually say "Mind the Gap."
  • British coins are confusing. I hate to be that person who's like, "I don't understand the money!" But really. Why are 10p coins so enormous?
  • Apparently the UK has yet to figure out plumbing.
  • Another astoundingly American observation: IT'S SO OLD. Seriously. I already made this discovery in other continental countries, but I'm living in the middle of a city that was started 1000 years ago. I mean, really, I have a hard time even imagining that much time passing consecutively. It's insane. 17th century is new here, instead of being the absolute oldest thing possible like in the US.
  • Scooters are totally a thing here. Especially little plastic ones for little kids.
  • Wine Gums. They are candies labelled with different kinds of wine. They're candies. Of wine.
  • TV is definitely not a central thing here. There's pretty much nothing on most of the time except news, particularly during the afternoon. A lot of channels (even BBC4!) don't have anything on them until certain times of the day.
  • The drinking schedule makes a lot more sense here. Start drinking early, after work, and then everything's closed by 11. Normal nights' sleep, right? I'm not much of a drinker, but the pub life is wonderful. Bumming with friends (or friendly strangers, maybe) over a pint at 8pm is way better to my mind than doing shots and getting sloshed at 1 in the morning.
Maybe this list turned into something more of a "things I noticed" than first impressions. But you know what? It's not that important, is it?

~Snooty Crumb

P.S. I have to write blogs (or make vlogs) for class, so if I end up writing some of them, they'll be here. Feel free to read them if you'd like.