My Belated Admiration For Adele

I’ll be the first to admit, I was definitely not the first person to join the Adele fan club; in fact, I had no idea what her hype and stardom was all about until two months ago, when I listened to her music for the first time.  That’s right, I listened to “Rolling In The Deep”, the song that debuted in November of 2011 and won just about every music award since then, for the first time in June of 2012.  And it’s not like I was not aware of her music or popularity, nor was that possible: her face is always somewhere at the top of the charts section in every music store I go.  Nor have I been purposely avoiding her music.  It’s just one of those occasions where I just never got around to exploring her music until after she’s established herself as an icon.

Can she be called an icon? Well, if she were to retire today and not make another album, she will forever be remembered by her work in “21”, the album that is sure to be viewed as one of the recent greats.

Why is Adele so special? Why did her repertoire of catchy pop songs and power ballads become mega hits, garnered her six Grammys in a year, and propelled her to becoming one of the biggest stars in the world? It wasn’t her singing; judging purely from a vocal standpoint, she is not in the same league as Whitney Houston, Catherine Jenkins, or many other popular female vocalists. What sets Adele apart from other popular female stars is her charm, her down-to-earth personality, and the way in which she delivers her songs.  She radiates a unique kind of  sincere and genuine emotion during her performances that captures the audience and never lets go.

In addition to the first admission of not getting to know her music earlier, I also confess that when I first listened to “Rolling In the Deep,” I was not overly impressed.  To me, it was another simple, bluesy-pop song about a girl who is doing fine without the guy she had just broken up with.  I would go on to love that song later on, though, as its catchy build up to the chorus and the chorus itself always makes me want to dance and sing along when I’m out.

The first Adele song that really struck a chord with me was undoubtedly “Someone Like You.”  It was such a powerful ballad that had me in awe; my eyes were fixated on the computer screen as I watched and listened to this emotional tune of lost and recovery.  In contrast to the original recording, the two live versions that are popular on YouTube, one during her Royal Albert Hall performance and the other at her home, featured less vocal range but somehow retained the emotional force.  The song also serves as a personal inspiration for me; I can relate to it and I want to do a rendition of it myself.

“Set Fire To The Rain” was the second song that impressed me.  Again, the lyrics are nothing extraordinary; even the metaphorical usage of ‘fire’ and ‘burning’ in the aftermath of relationships has been done countless times before, and the song’s outro lyric of ‘let it burn’ reminds me of Usher’s “Burn”.  Having said that, the song is nothing short of epic.  The way in which it builds up to a climax at the end is immensely satisfying.

The rest of “21” is spectacular, as well.  With elements of motown (“Rumor Has it”), blues / gospel / and folk in songs such as “Take it All”, “I’ll Be Waiting”, and “Lovesong”, the album is dynamic in its range but full of soul throughout.

I’m very glad that I finally listened to Adele’s music, because it is such a joy to listen to her voice, her moving lyrics, and she has inspired me to get back into making music myself.

RIP: Neil Armstrong Dead at 82

Read the news and updates at the HuffPost link here .

The one who took the giant step for mankind.

You will be missed, Mr. Armstrong.  Even though I was born long after you took the first step on the moon, your legacy has lived on stronger than ever.  You were an inspiration for so many children and adults alike, and you will always be one.

Rest In Peace.

Tap Water And Starving Kids

This has been a reoccurring sentiment for me for many years.  I haven’t exactly shared it or discussed it in-depth with any of my friends, but it’s something that’s been at the back of my mind since, well, when I started college.

It goes something like this:  Whenever I turn on the tap / faucet and let the water run a  little while longer than I needed it to, I would think “how many lives could I have saved if I saved this water and given it to someone in extreme poverty-stricken Africa, where food is scarce and water is unclean if available at all?”

Of course, I am well aware of the fact that my usage of water does not directly (not to the average eye, anyway) affect the availability of water to hungry children in Africa.  But at a more personal and moral standpoint, I can’t help but think of how lucky I am, as a person living in an advanced city, to have access to water, the most important source of sustainable life.

Note that I employ the term ‘lucky’ here to describe myself as being in a statistical outcome of not being one of the millions of people who do not have access to clean water (check out my earlier post for a focused discussion on the concept of luck).  It was by pure chance that I was  born in an advanced city.  But in a different universe, ‘I’ could have well been born in Somalia or the Nuba Mountains in Sudan.

I hear many parents, mine included, always telling their children not to take things for granted; they would tell them that not every kid gets to enjoy video games, smartphones, and ride in luxury cars.  However, not all of them would list things such as food, water, clothing, as things  their children should be thankful for, often because they themselves take those things for granted.  But for those who do try to make the children aware of their lucky access to the basics of life, many of them fall short in providing a compelling example for the kids to relate to just how lucky they are.

Admittedly, it’s not easy.  I always had a sense of how lucky I was, but the compelling (albeit a bit peculiar and bizzare) example that I experienced from observing the relationship between my usage of water and those in the world who do not have access to water was purely self-discovered.

Sadly, and perhaps strangely, my ‘luck’ realization has not prompted me into any drastic actions to help more people gain access to clean water.  It has, however, made me do the two very least things I can do: use as little water as I could at home, and frown at people who takes lots of baths and long showers.

When To Take People Seriously

In this post, I’m going to discuss some personal experiences in when to and when not take people’s words seriously, specifically in situations where qualifications and credentials matter.

For example, if I were taking golf lessons from a teaching professional, I would listen intently, respect his opinions and criticisms, and obey his instructions, because he is the expert in the discipline.  However, once the lesson is over, and the teaching pro and I are chatting about other things, such as music, then I have to immediately have a completely different mindset in judging what he has to say about music.  Because he is not an expert in music, I have to take what he has to say with a grain of salt.  That is not to say, of course, that I should (or I would) brush off his opinions on music, but it’s as if a music pro is talking to me about golf; I wouldn’t take it in the same way as I would from a golf pro.

Often times I’ve found this transition difficult, especially when interacting with people who speak as if they are very knowledgeable in a discipline but turns out he’s ‘all talk’.  For me personally, this has occurred to me most in sports and music, with golf being the dominant examples.

Golf is a sport that, ultimately, like all sports, takes time and practice in order to improve.  But due to the rocketing rise in popularity of the sport in the past twenty years or so, golf has become accessible to more people than anyone in the industry could have imagined.  As such, the business aspect of golf has taken over, as high-tech equipment are glamorized, and clubs are sold at higher and higher prices to people who just want to ‘show off’, the result of which is a large percentage of the golfing population wielding expensive clubs but haven’t the slightest clue in what determines the quality of golf clubs.

As someone who is in the golf industry, talking to these people requires the uncanny task of taking in whatever ignorant statements they make with a smile and correcting them without making them feel ignorant.  You can’t just tell people “expensive doesn’t mean good,” it’s an art form to have the ability to make them realize they are ignorant without making them feel that way.

The equipment aspect of golf is only half the story.  The even more unbearable part, and this speaks more directly to my topic of when to take people seriously, is the people who likes to teach others while not being good at golf themselves.  This is a general sentiment that applies to anything that one can teach another, but golf epitomizes it there are beginner golfers everywhere and the not-so-beginners are teaching the beginners as if they are themselves professionals.  Yes, most of the times, the idea of teaching comes out of good will, but the standards of humility that golfers possess are much below those of most other disciplines, and as a result, many golfers blow it out their asses in talking as if they are experts in the game.  Everywhere I go, half-decent golfers will teach beginners as if they know everything about golf; it’s sad, because as soon as they take a swing themselves, the folks who actually are knowledgeable in golf, the pros, will know right away if this player is a pretender or the real deal.

Similar things can be said when I hang out with my music enthusiast friends.  I know, for a fact, that they are professional level musicians, so I respect their opinions and criticisms when I share with them my work.  So it’s somewhat a bit strange when we switch topics and we talk about things where I’m more knowledgeable than they are.

Anyways, this was more of a rant than my previous post.  I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, but perhaps I will come back to this topic later and elaborate!

Lucky vs. ‘Lucky’

“You’re so lucky!”  “Wow that was such blind luck.”  You hear these statements all the time, everything from (perhaps in a movie) a person narrowly escaping death by being shot and the bullet misses an artery by an inch, to the poker table, where a player has a mere 2% of hitting his winning hand and gets it.

Luck is also attributed to many mundane daily activities; people would consider themselves ‘lucky’ when it rains just as they arrive at their indoor destination after forgetting to bring an umbrella.

But how does one define ‘luck’? It seems like the term is often used and interpreted in a variety of ways, some are more instinctive while others are more mathematical.  To me, the concept of luck is generally divided into two:

1. Lucky – Good fortune as a result of chance.

2. ‘Lucky’ – The outcome of a series of deliberate, calculated decisions, that has numerous outcomes with different percentages in the chances of each happening attached to each outcome.  In this case, ‘luck’ refers to the minority outcomes.

The important thing to note here is, the two ‘lucks’ are the same, almost all the time.  But while the latter is an admittance to being faced by a minority occurrence (i.e. the opposite of “beating the odds”, or having favorable odds but not turning out the person’s way)  those who declare someone or something got ‘lucky’ in the former are usually clouded by emotions. Note that upon acknowledging the fact that a person was hit by a minority occurrence, he can still call the event ‘luck’, although he would be using it as a labeling tool for said minority occurrence.

This also speaks to the classical philosophical concept that everything is numbers, first developed by the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras.   My take on this is slightly different: I do not liken everything – that is, literally all shapes, objects, existence, and actions – to numbers.  But I do believe that all acts can be related to in a mathematical way.  Everything is chance, even for acts which we usually do not associate chance with.  Everything, from the chances of one inserting a key directly in the lock to the accuracy of the laser in an eye surgery, is chance.

Yet, it seems like the frustrations and anger associated with the first type of luck are experienced by those who cannot or do not come to terms with the randomness of chance.  Perhaps for some it is a spur of the moment outburst of emotion, but there are many who believe in factors other than the randomness of chance that affect their ‘luck’.  Some might believe it is karma, but the majority usually possess a religious belief in divine intervention, a deity that seemingly gives them a purpose in life rather than believing that they exist because of chance.

This religious aspect of ‘luck’ shall be visited another time, during a religion-focused discussion.  Suffice to say that religion provides people with an alternative to believing that they exist solely by chance.

So, next time when you think you got ‘lucky’, give it a quick thought: was it really just ‘blind’ luck? Is it God’s work? Or were you just struck by a small percentage occurrence?

Movie Review: Total Recall

Normally, I generally tend to agree with the consensus at the movie aggregate website, that my opinion on films echo that of the majority of film critics.  This film, however, marks a rare exception.

Not that I’m someone who always cling to what the critics say, but having a 30% rating (and 24% amongst ‘top critics’) didn’t exactly seem too promising as I headed to see “Total Recall”, a remake of the 1990 sci-fi classic and another adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick story “We can Remember for You Wholesale.”  It just so happens I didn’t even watch the trailer for this film before seeing it; the only thing I knew about this film was that it stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, and Kate Beckinsale.

I gotta say: I liked it a lot! I’ve come to realize the importance of a person’s mindset when heading to see a film.  Yes, I am a big fan of Arnold and I have seen the 1990 version and I love it, but for some reason, I made no attempt at comparing the two versions, the result was I found the new “Total Recall’ to be a very entertaining action flick.

It’s directed by Len Wiseman, who also directed “Live Free or Die Hard,” one of my favorite action films.  Since I was familiar with the Total Recall story, I didn’t expect anything new to come out of this version plot-wise, focusing on the visuals and action scenes instead.  I was mesmerized  by the post-apocalyptic world depicted here.  The cinematography and visuals were top-notch, giving a sense of claustrophobia because of overpopulation as a result of only two parts of the world inhabitable by humans (Britain and Australia, chuckles) after a nuclear holocaust.  I also applaud the number of Asians that populated the film (aside from John Cho), adding a bit of realism seeing some of those who were lucky enough to evacuate from other parts of the world.

Action scenes were plentiful, almost too much, but all were immensely well executed and entertaining.  One scene in particular, a hand-to-hand fight in an elevator involving Farrell, Biel, Beckinsale, and a robot, reminded me of how shocked and let down I was by the very badly choreographed, slow-paced, and anti-climatic showdown between Batman and Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

All three of the leads did what they could with a script that clearly lacked character development.  Beckinsale, who plays Lori, outshines her co-stars, portraying a sexy and lethal assassin with conviction.

I didn’t expect much out of the new “Total Recall.”  And it never occurred to me to compare it with the 1990 classic.  So what would you get if you do what I did? You’d get a well-made, well-executed, thoroughly entertaining action flick from start to finish.  You’ll get to see three beautiful people fight like Jason Bourne for around two hours.  Don’t expect too much, and enjoy!

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (I Tried to Love It, I Did…)

So it’s been a while since the final installment of the Dark Knight trilogy hit the theaters, and it has been raking in the millions and millions that it was supposed to rake in.  I saw the film on opening weekend, and the reason that took me so long to finally write this review only became clear to me recently, and that’s because from the moment I walked out of the theater, I tried to like the film more than I actually did.  The disappointment came as a shock, and I wanted to find a balance between my (as well as everyone else’s) ultra high expectations and the actual quality of the film.

Before fans of the Dark Knight films start screaming all kinds of vulgarities at me, let me be clear:  I liked the film a lot.  It was excellently made, in typical Christopher Nolan fashion.  I especially applaud the tone and atmosphere achieved by the filmmakers, creating a grand scale that felt majestic but not campy.

Ultimately, the grandeur of the film is done in by weaknesses in the plot, the pacing, character development, and minor frustrations with the action sequences.  The story itself is simple enough:  Batman is forced to come out of an eight-year hiatus to save Gotham City from the wrath of Bane, the film’s hulking masked villain.  New characters are introduced, such as Selina Kyle, played spectacularly by Anne Hathaway.  She provided important dashes of charm and humor to a film that otherwise drowned in darkness and despair.

Other characters though, were not so developed, or interesting.  The always-handsome Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t have a lot to work with playing the good cop John Blake.  The other “Inception” alumni, Marion Cotillard, has an even less-developed one-dimensional role, although she still portrays a specific archetype for Nolan.

What makes this film incomparable to its immediate predecessor, “The Dark Knight”, is that the film never progressed smoothly; at times, the film felt clunky and bloated, relying on flashbacks and a really, really intense score by Hans Zimmer to keep it going.  Even the emotional sequences involving Alfred seemed sudden and contrived.

Film’s villain, Bane, is just not in the same league as The Joker, in every aspect.  It is an extremely difficult task to be really scared of someone when you can only see his eyes.  I only occasionally felt the terror that Bane was supposed to embody, at other times he seemed beatable, even vulnerable.   Also, what makes the Joker such a compelling and engrossing character (kudos again to the late Heath Ledger) is because he had no agenda.  One could argue that not even anarchy was his agenda.  It was this mystique that made The Joker such a fascinating character and a formidable villain.

The action sequences in this film were grand in scale and mostly fantastic.  From an elaborate airplane hijacking to the final act, most of the actions were well staged and executed.  The scenes involving physical combat though, were almost laughable.  It has been twelve years since Keanu Reeves kicked some serious agent butt in “The Matrix” with martial arts, and here we are, with Bane using punches that reminds me of Indiana Jones.  People have described Bane’s fighting tactics as ‘brutal’.  That surely wasn’t how I viewed it.

Add to that a few minor but noticeable glitches in the plot, and I found ‘The Dark Knight Rises” is the weakest installment of the trilogy by far.  Once again, I want to say that it’s extremely well made, as is any film by Nolan.  But, all things considered, I’d even go so far as saying this film is one of his weakest to date.