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Archive for April 2015

It’s the showdown between the ubiquitous ’70s country crossover hit versus an indie acoustic ’90s song that you’ve never in your life heard! Which Am(ie)(y) will end up being amazing?

The contenders: “Amie” by Pure Prairie League, and “Amy” by Baby Flamehead (which I would have linked to, but the song doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the internet).

Which song has the better title?

Points off for spelling, Pure Prairie League.
Winner: Amy

Which band has the better name?

Although everyone can sing the song, or at least the chorus, of “Amie”, few of you could probably have named the band without having to look it up. Such is the inevitable the fate of a one-hit wonder, but it’s not like Pure Prairie League just rolls off the tongue.

Additionally, while I’m sure it was intended as a perfectly innocent if slightly nonsensical name back in the day – equivalent to today’s “Florida-Georgia Line,” or “Blake Shelton” – 40 years later there’s something about the name that, while I can’t quite elaborate why, strikes me as vaguely racist, in much the same way that always made me avoid the “Boston Cleansing” laundromat even though it was closest to my house.

Baby Flamehead, on the other hand, is a band I only discovered because of their name, as my friends and I would occasionally buy albums (which is what we called cassettes) by bands we’d never heard of, based only on their names. Sometimes this worked – Voice of the Beehive remains a peppy delight, even to this day; other times it didn’t go so well – you will always be terrible, Lolita Pop.

In addition to an interesting name (which is potentially a reference to something? I always assumed Flamehead was another way of saying Arsonist; I may have always watched too many crime shows), Baby Flamehead’s album had a nun on the cover. You may not know this, but Jewish kids, raised in a Jewish neighborhood, with no idea what the world is like outside their Jewish enclave, find nuns hysterical. Throw in a song with my name, and there was no way I wasn’t going to buy this album.

Winner: Amy

Which song had the greater cultural impact?

“Amie” reached number 27 on the Billboard charts, and can even today be sung by everyone who had any awareness of their surroundings in the ’70s. Which I know because, at one point or another, all of them have sung it to me; people don’t realize how hard it is to get in on the ground floor with the name-based references. You didn’t need to click on that link up there to remember how at least the chorus goes, but I bet you were surprised to find out that the song has a couple of verses, too.

On the other hand “Amy,” as I mentioned above, doesn’t seem to be available anywhere on the internet; the band doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, let alone the song. I’m pretty sure the only people who’ve ever heard it are me, Scott and Stacey, who were with me at the Sam Goody when I bought the album; the members of Baby Flamehead; and possibly their significant others, although I suppose if there were any bad break-ups in there, the others would have made an effort to forget the songs of their exes first thing.

Winner: Amie

Which song presents a more lyrically positive image of Amie/Amy?

Let’s start with “Amie.” As you know, the chorus goes like this:

Amie, what you wanna do?
I think I could stay with you
for a while, maybe longer if I do.

First, though I know that this song was not written about me, having had it sung to me so many times (which we will get to), it’s a little difficult not to interpret it a little personally. Additionally, having heard it so many times, it’s a little difficult not to notice that this is not exactly a flattering sentiment; in essence, you’re weighing the possibility of spending an indeterminate amount of time with me, and even though “for a while, maybe longer,” is certainly more realistic than songs that might promise eternity or span the universe, it’s hard for a girl to get swept up in the notion that she might do for now. Also, she might not; who can say?

As I said, there are also verses to this song, but let’s skip them since no one remembers them anyway, to get to the end the song, which repeats this:

I keep falling in and out of love with you.

Um, thanks? That’s like the Neanderthal to a compliment’s Homo Sapien: people tend to mix them up even though they having nothing at all in common, and one of them literally died out because they sucked so bad.

“Amy,” starts out on a seemingly positive note – Amy is very smart, very pretty, all of the boys like Amy. As we listened in the car on the way home from Sam Goody, Scott commented from the driver’s seat “Oh, this sounds nice!”

To which I, in the back seat, thought “…. No. It doesn’t.” But I didn’t say it, because sometimes you don’t want to be the only one who knows something, and in this particular instance, I didn’t want to be right. But then the chorus kicked in, and I was, because this happened:

Amy can make a sunny day gray.
Amy can make everyone in the whole room leave.
Nobody likes you.
Nobody likes you.
Nobody likes you.

Oh, Baby Flamehead; you’ll never get invited to the Lilith Fair with that attitude.*

Verdict: Ooof, you guys; this is a doozy. On the one hand, Pure Prairie League clearly does not think that Amie is the worst person in the world; on the other, Baby Flamehead is maybe painfully direct, but at least they’re not playing any kind of mind games with Amy. Of course, Baby Flamehead, as their name suggests, is somewhat adolescent in their belief that because they don’t like Amy no one possibly could, and also their habit of leaving any room she enters. Whereas Pure Prairie League is at least willing to engage in a dialogue with Amie, and recognizes that she has the power to determine what she wants to do.

Winner: Amie

Which song would I rather hear again?

It probably helps that Amy was not a popular song; it could be a fun in-joke with friends, without becoming a song that people would immediately break into upon meeting me, despite the inappropriate content. Which is what happened with Amie. And, while it probably would have been upsetting in high school to have to deal with people singing how nobody liked me, it was definitely creepy, as a six year-old, to have strangers singing me a love song, however lacking in romance it might have been.

And though there was undoubtedly nothing at all untoward intended, it was so uncomfortable to stand there with a wan smile on my face, trying to appreciate the 100th rendition of a song I didn’t like, not anymore, while all other action in the room ground to a halt so everyone else could watch it happen. Sometimes I’d be sitting, sometimes everyone else would join in the song, but constant was the feeling of “Oh, not this again,” every time it started, followed by a strained agreeability for that absolutely unique and not at all awkward experience, so thank you.

Winner: Amy

Final verdict

This is a classic David and Goliath battle. On the one hand, there’s a power hit from the ’70s that, even if it was never followed up by another, has enough staying power that I actually heard it this morning while I was in a coffeehouse writing this. (Really – that happened). On the other hand, there’s a song that you’ve never heard, and apparently can’t even if you wanted to do, and is thus impossible to measure on its own merits.

But, of course, Goliath always loses the battle. Not, in this case, because he underestimated the little guy, but because he underestimated his own strength. The crushing popularity of that song was enough to not only ensure that I would never like it, but occasionally make me wonder if I had only been born a few years later, after the height of Amie’s popularity, the prospect of people talking to me wouldn’t fill me with dread and exhaustion.

Winner: Amy

*Right – I totally forgot that you haven’t heard this song, and are therefore unaware that it’s sung by a very earnest female. But it was, and that’s why the Lilith Fair joke is funny.

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To pass the days while suffering from the flu this winter, I decided to catch up on the show Scandal. Currently in its fourth season, I’d previously stayed away from the show because it seemed like the kind of show that revels in its own intensity, such as which might manifest as a constant stream of shocking twists. And though I am comfortably a person who enjoys  filling my leisure time with television, it turns out I do not enjoy the narrative whiplash that comes from regularly being blown away from my perch at the very edge of my seat; it’s stressful, and, not to put too fine a point on it, if I wanted stress, I wouldn’t spend so much time watching tv.

But then I happened to catch the very first episode of Scandal one night, and even though it was obvious from the very beginning that it would one day be overtaken by its love for its own voice, it was equally clear exactly why the show had become such a hit. Certainly, Quinn’s first day on the job might have been a better audience introduction to this world if Quinn weren’t such nitwit, but the central scandal of the hour and the beginning of the season-long story were briskly told, and the twists came organically enough to make you want to see how things will unfold, rather than roll your eyes at their ludicrousness. All in all, the 8-episode first season is a perfectly serviceable procedural, with just enough momentum of the ongoing story scattered in among the cases of the week.

What surprising, then, is how quickly everything falls apart at the end of the season, when we discover that “Quinn” is actually an alias, a secret identity somehow constructed to hide something terrible from her past. And, while it may seem that I’m picking on Quinn, and I could, fairly, because she’s terrible, the problem isn’t so much which character they chose to focus on, rather, it’s that they chose to focus on a regular character at all. With one plot-twist, the show demonstrated a pretty surprising lack of understanding that the audience should not care about any of these characters beyond their ability to fix convoluted problems.

Because, it doesn’t take much in the way of close inspection to see that just about all of the characters on this show are pretty terrible. Quinn goes from skittish nitwit with a secret past to forcing a unofficial government security agency to make her an agent, not because she wants to help anyone, but because she gets a rush out of torturing people. A shadowy security agency that she knows of from when they initially had to force Huck into torturing people by threatening his family, and then eventually spat him out after breaking him mentally, via process that Jake – who has killed a number of people, one them slowly so it wouldn’t look like the work of a professional – also underwent, yet he somehow still manages have conversations and maintain eye contact, rather than breathlessly gawping like a stranded bass that gets 5 o’clock shadow by noon.

It seems unfair to lump Abby in with this murderer’s row simply for being a pill, but my god the woman is unpleasant. Quinn may have killed a man while dressed in a very unflattering outfit that included fishnet stockings, but Abby gleefully calls a woman a whore for having casual sex with a variety of partners in the first episode and does not miss an opportunity as the series continues to revel in another woman’s failings. She’s a grown-up version of a high school mean girl, except one who has simply aged, rather than matured.

Abby, however shrill, does not have a monopoly on lacking maturity. On the contrary, the central romantic relationship of the show, that between Olivia and Fitz, seems like what you’d get if Chuck and Blair from Gossip Girl somehow ended up in the White House. I imagine the show views O. and F. more as Romeo and Juliette, star-crossed lovers destined for tragedy, kept apart not because of bad blood between their houses but because he’s the married President of the United States and she is not his wife. But whether it’s Romeo and Juliette or Chuck and Blair – who were both expert schemers in addition to being star-crossed, which probably accounts for their outlasting their Shakespearean counterparts – the point remains that endless romantic hurdles keeping lovers apart really only makes sense in a story about teenagers, because part of being an adult should mean being able to figure that shit out.

However, the worst part about Fitz & Olivia’s relationship is not the general immaturity of it, but that every one of their romantic encounters – and I mean literally every single one – begins with her saying No and him overriding her. This may not have been so noticeable when viewing an episode one at a time, with a week or sometimes longer between episodes. But one after another after another, it’s unavoidable. And it’s upsetting, to say the least.

Yet, somehow, despite all of these terrible characters, I’m still watching the show. In fact, I’ve gone through 3 and 1/2 episodes while writing this (which is, again, to point out how very long a time it takes me to write one of these things; you’d think that, with all the effort, they’d be a little better), and even though I haven’t enjoyed them, per se, I do plan to keep watching.

Part of that is to see if the ship can be righted, if the show can return to its Season 1 strengths. I think it can, actually. Because, although the characters are primarily terrible, the real problem is that the show is asking us to like them. Mellie, Fitz’s wife, is an ambitious harpy, standing in the way of Fitz and Olivia’s happiness, who wants to be president herself someday and will bravely weather any adversity to achieve her goal, and she is far and away the most likeable character on the show because we’re not supposed to like her. Unlike the other characters – such as her husband, the president, who smothered a Supreme Court Justice because he found out she’d fixed the election that got him the White House and he was so angry no one believed he could have won honestly, but she only had a few months left to live anyway because of cancer – her flaws are not justified; we’re not supposed to overlook them. We’re not being asked to root for Mellie, to ignore the costs of her victory, in part because she almost never wins, but mostly because she’s not a hero.

Scandal needs to stop thinking any of its characters are white hats, and also stop using the term “white hats”; never has a show been more unwilling to kill its darlings. Bring back the, you know, scandals, that the regulars have to fix, rather than having only plots that revolve around covering up their own shady doings. Additionally, recognize that interpersonal drama can only be interesting for so long with a finite cast of characters, and settle the Fitz and Olivia drama once and for all, be it a break-up, a divorce, an abdication of office, an alien abduction, or whatever; it’s time to get off the pot on that particular point.

Finally, the show needs to replace Harrison. I 100% applaud the decision to cut ties with an actor who has numerous arrests for domestic violence, but the character was the only one who remained untouched by all of the drama that surrounded him. Maybe that would have changed if he’d remained on the show for longer; regardless, a character who enjoys his work, who is unburdened by a traumatic past, who has never killed anyone or taken joy in another’s problems, and is a sharp dresser in every situation is what this show needs. Ironically, Harrison was really the only good guy the show had; well, David Rosen has always been a good guy, I guess, but he’s been a dupe too many times. Harrison was the good guy who always came out on top (except when he finally got killed, that is), and the show needs that. The audience needs someone to root for, and we need to be able to root for someone who wins. Right now, we barely have either.


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