The story of my one true frenemy-ship with life ruiner Josh Groban.
Though I tell you, like before,
that you should wreck his life the way that he wrecked yours,
you want no part of his life anymore.
The 6th Floor Blog: New York Times Magazine
This week, take the NYT Mag Cultural Osmosis Pop Quiz before it’s posted. How much do you know about pop music?
I thought it was time to come out of the closet. I wrote this love letter to Josh Groban’s sense of humor today for Thought Catalog. God help me.
I’m looking for people who know absolutely nothing about modern pop and Top 40 music. Especially if you’re all “Katy Perry…is that like, a cartoon cat?” Along those lines of know-nothing-ness. It’s for a my Cultural Osmosis column.
I also want people who live anywhere outside the Northeast and are not comedians/writers.
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagine a tour bus pulling up outside of a popular rock club.
There are exuberant fans lined up around the block, all geared up for a sold-out show. You’re probably expecting Axl Rose or Robert Plant to step off of the bus. But now imagine that the musicians filing out onto the sidewalk are eleven and twelve years old.
What you’re picturing is the School of Rock’s All Stars summer tour.
The All Stars are a group of kids ages 10 to 18. They’re the best of the best of the regions of 69 Schools of Rock across the United States and Mexico. Student musicians from the area audition to get in and if selected, participate in a summer-long tour around Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. No parents allowed. (Except for four chaperones.) The twenty-odd gifted kids live on the bus, go from venue to venue, and occasionally stay at hotels.
One of the All Stars from the Manhattan School of Rock is a twelve-year-old bespectacled African-American boy named Reef McKeithan.
Reef is the most talented drummer at the Manhattan School of Rock. When I called the school’s General Manager Joanna Erdos to ask if there was any kid at the school she felt fit the definition of “child prodigy,” she was happy to set me up with Reef. His answers to my questions are exactly those of a twelve-year-old boy. He’s a man of few words, let’s say. I don’t know what sort of candy was involved in bribing him to chat with me, a boring, old adult, but I’m glad Reef granted the interview.
Because Reef is a prodigy. He’s a drummer, currently in a band with people mostly five years older than he is. Joanna tells me the guitarist for ‘The Roots’ once came to see Reef play and just kept asking, “How old is he?! How old is he?!” in disbelief.
Raam is leaving for Ecuador later to go on holiday with his parents.
He apologizes profusely because he needs to Skype with them to figure out some logistics for the trip. I tell him it’s cool, that I’ll wait and then I watch him argue with them in Persian for ten minutes. I don’t speak the language at all, but I know they’re fighting because of the tones of voice alone. It ends with Raam saying what I imagine is Persian for “Fine, okay” over and over.
He hangs up and apologizes to me again.
“Were you fighting?” I ask. He says they were, over the choice of hotel. I laugh. Fighting with your parents sounds the same in any language.
Raam looks like the Iranian Buddy Holly, because of his glasses and cropped hair. I joke that Brooklyn, where he lives, has really done him in. It’s a far cry from his home: Tehran, Iran.
Raam is the lead singer and one of the main songwriters of the Iranian punk band, Hypernova. He was born in Iran and moved to Eugene, Oregon when he was young so his father could get his PhD. When Raam was 10, his family moved back to Iran until he was around 18 years old. Then, Raam went to Canada for college and then back to Iran in 2000.
In Iran, Raam’s father is a professor and his mother is a housewife and cooking teacher. They’re also environmental enthusiasts, taking people on treks up the mountains for weeks at a time. His father leads the group and his mother cooks. Raam says his parents support his work 100 percent, despite the inherent dangers of making punk music in Iran.
His girlfriend also calls him during the interview. She and Raam, who never thought he’d sing in his native Persian, collaborated on a song called “The Hunter” for Raam’s new solo project “King Raam.” The song, a beautiful, dark tune that has been tied to the recent Iranian protests, combined her poetry and his music. It became the most popular Persian song of the year.
Before all that: His band Hypernova’s big break came when they were accepted into Texas’s South by Southwest Music Festival in 2007. Because of trouble with their visas, the band members weren’t able to make it to the United States in time.
But what seemed like a huge disappointment actually skyrocketed Hypernova into music superstardom — and got Raam banned from ever again visiting the country where he was born.
Switching up the format a little. Also, this guy is amazing. Please read this!
Name: Sara Faith Alterman
Hometown: Boston girl living in San Francisco
Q. Where did the idea for Virgin Ears come from?
A. Virgin Ears is a collection of stories about the songs people associate with early physical experiences, from first slow dances to first kisses to first sex. I’ve felt an intense connection to music since I was a child. Both of my parents are musicians, my brother is a musician, I started studying piano when I was 3 and voice when I was 14 — music has always been a huge part of my life, which is why I think that I have so many strong memories that are somehow related to particular songs.
My own story about how I lost my virginity is one of my favorite stories in general to tell, because the punchline involves a Metallica song, and who doesn’t love a good James Hetfield reference? The last time I told it in a group, I started thinking about other songs that evoke strong memories for me, and I realized that I have kind of a soundtrack in my brain for many of those pivotal first moments. I started asking around to see if this was unique to me and, as it turns out, most of my friends had hilarious and heartwarming stories about the musical backdrops to their own first times. I wanted to build a community for others to share their stories.
Q. Where do most of your submissions come from? Can anyone contribute?
A. I’m always looking for contributions! I get a lot of emails from people that say things like, “I have a funny story, but I’m a terrible writer. Can I still send you my story?” The answer is YES. I’m not trying to win some kind of pretentious journalism award, here. Send me bullet points, send me a video or audio recording of you telling your story, send me a comic book. The world wants to laugh with you about the time you made out on the Nordic Track in your parents’ basement while listening to Creed. Readers will be too busy peeing their pants to notice that you’re not Jonathan Franzen. Of course, Jonathan Franzen, if you want to contribute a story, then I might have elevated expectations for you.
I’ve posted a few stories of my own and a few stories from friends, but I do get a lot of submissions from random readers. I tried posting a call for submissions on Craigs List, but apparently any “adult” content is a big no-no for them now. Which is ridiculous. The whole point of Virgin Ears is to create a destination for sex-positive content. I’m not trying to lure information from people so that I can exploit them. (Sorry, Craigs List. I do appreciate your apartment listings.)
What’s important for would-be contributors to remember is that I understand that some people are shy. Just because I’m comfortable heralding every random and gratuitous detail about my personal life (sorry Mom) doesn’t mean that you have to be. Contributors are welcome to be identified however they want to be, whether that means by first name only, or even completely anonymously. Or hell, if you want first and last name and a link to your website, that’s fine too.
Q. Losing your virginity can be a personal and embarrassing topic to share, especially in writing and especially on the Internet. Did you have any qualms or have any writers you’ve approached had qualms? Or is that part of the appeal of writing about virginity?
A. Again, I try to be as supportive of and discreet about my contributors as possible. I’ve sort of built my career on sharing personal details about myself, but I am hyper-aware about protecting the privacy of others. I never use real names, and I’ve historically gotten the permission of people I write about, which includes sending awkward “Hey, um, do you mind if I?…” e-mails to ex-boyfriends. If sharing your own story on Virgin Ears seems compelling, but you’re afraid that someone you know will read it and have a massive freak out, you can contribute anonymously.
Q. How important, in your opinion, is good music to a good first time?
A. I remember feeling much more comfortable with the whole, “Holy shit, I’m about to DO IT!” feeling because we were listening to music that I loved. I think most people will agree that great music has the ability to make you feel happy and powerful and motivated to do amazing things. Who doesn’t want to feel that way when they make out or have sex, particularly for the first time?
Q. What’s the worst song you can think of for a person to lose their virginity to?
A. Right off the bat, I’d say anything by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. For the most part, though, I suppose the musical choices depends on the people, and on the situation. For me, listening to old school Metallica made perfect sense. For people not into metal hair and sweet guitar riffs and songs about the failures of Christian Science, that’s probably not going to create special memories. In general, you want to pick music that makes you feel good, and that won’t ever become a karaoke standard. And won’t make you want to beat your head against the wall five years later. Right after the movie Titanic came out, I was asked to sing “My Heart Will Go On” at a friend’s wedding, for her first dance. I talked her out of it. I’d like to think that she has a better marriage because of it.
Q. What’s the best song you’ve heard someone else (or you yourself) has had as a sexual soundtrack?
A. Just today, I posted a story about a guy who lost his virginity in a car while listening to a techo remix of the Speed Racer theme song. Just based on irony alone, it’s thus far my favorite. It made me want to build a time machine and do the whole thing over again. Not with him. But while listening to that song.
Q. As a writer, do you find what you’re listening to influences what you’re writing about or how inspired you are?
A. Choosing music to work to is like choosing music to have sex to; you have to ask yourself if you want something relaxing and sensual, or if you just want to power through while you’re bobbing your head up and down. I’m sort of a “method” writer, in the way that some actors are “method” actors; when I’m working on a piece, I like to actually experience relevant emotions. If I’m writing about something poignant or nostalgic, I’ll listen to artists like Imogen Heap or The Decemberists or Camera Obscura, whose songs help me get into a particular mind frame. If I’m writing a humor piece, I like to listen to more upbeat and playful music, usually pop. A few years ago, I wrote a piece for The Boston Phoenix about up and coming opera singers, and I must have listened to the Queen of the Night’s aria from The Magic Flute about a hundred times.
And, frankly, nothing wrong with a little Lady Gaga when you’re trying to meet a deadline. It’s helpful to be able to tell myself, “That hot and crazy beast managed to pull off a dress made out of meat. All you have to do is write 300 words in the next 20 minutes.” It’s a nice motivator.
So I’m 24 hours late on this but I just listened to Kanye West’s new Twitter-released song “Monster” featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj.
The song is a good enough jam but people have mostly been freaking out about Minaj’s verse, which is frankly pretty fucking awesome.
Minaj has interested me since she started showing up everywhere without even having an album out. Apparently, she’s faced criticism because she’s a black woman wearing weird outfits and wigs (unlike white ladies doing the same shit — what up, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga?) and also, I guess, because people think she only got a big break because Lil Wayne wanted to fuck her.
I’m skeptical of the first one, for obvious racially charged reasons, but more so of the second one because it seems so petty. What decent-looking woman doing well in her field isn’t going to face allegations of only being there because of her looks, no matter how talented she actually is? It’s such an old, tired, played out argument that it almost doesn’t merit denouncing.
Minaj is a talented woman making her way in an undoubtedly male-dominated game, where she is actually being celebrated. Sure, calling herself “Barbie” sometimes isn’t exactly earning her any favor with feminists but I fail to see how her success is anything but positive for women in the rap world.
So, let’s break down Minaj’s verses in “Monster” with a feminist perspective:
Pull up in the monster, automobile gangster, with a bad bitch that came from Sri Lanka
Can you just picture Minaj rolling up alongside the big guys in the game — Kanye and Jay-Z like she totally belongs there? What other female artist right now can claim this kind of acceptance?
Yeah I’m in that Tonka, color of Willy Wonka, You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer
Does this need further explanation? It’s like a feminist guidebook by verse two. That’s right, male rappers, you could be “king” but bow down, because there’s a new queen in town and she’s not just here to sit beside you on the throne: bitch is here to CONQUER.
Ok first things first I’ll eat your brains, Then I’mma start rocking gold teeth and fangs cause that’s what a muthafucking monster do, Hairdresser from Milan, thats what monster do, Monster Giuseppe heel that’s the monster shoe
I think in this verse, Minaj perfectly compliments fashion and looking her best with keeping her head about her and remaining smart. She’s going to eat your brains (your knowledge, your ability to navigate the industry) but while she’s doing it, she’s also going to keep dressing how she does. She’s a monster, the complete package, and she’s not here to muthafucking compromise shit.
Young money is the roster and the monster crew and I’m all up all up all up in the bank with the funny face and if I’m fake I aint notice cause my money aint, So let me get this straight wait I’m the rookie, But my features and my shows ten times your pay, 50k for a verse no album out! Yeah my money’s so tall that my barbie’s gotta climb it
This is where she starts addressing the haters, as one is supposed to do in any good rap song, but also since she’s got plenty of them, it only seems right. First, she acknowledges her acceptance into the Young Money crew, which for a woman, is a huge step. She’s made some impressive strides for women in the rap game and she’s letting everyone know it. She’s also laughing all the way to the bank.
Hotter than a middle eastern climate, find it 20 mataran dutty whine it, while it, Nicki on a pit while I sign it, how these niggas so one-track minded but really really I don’t give a F-U-C-K
This is where she talks about what I mentioned in my intro to this piece: yes, if you’re a hot successful woman, obviously the men around you in your field are going to try and objectify you. They’re going to want to reduce you to being “hot” because they are “one-track minded” but if you stay focused, you can wade through all of that and earn respect as an artist.
Forget Barbie, fuck Nicki she’s fake, she’s on a diet but my pockets eating cheese cake and I’ll say boy the Chucky is Child’s play, just killed another career it’s a mild day
Sadly, even the dudes who want to fuck you on your way to the top can be jealous haters once you surpass them.
Besides ‘Ye they can’t stand besides me, I think me, you and Minaj Friday, Pink wig thick ass give ‘em whip lash I think big get cash make em blink fast
To be a woman who wants to get to the top of her field and needs to bust through a glass ceiling to do so, Minaj is saying you don’t have to compromise your individuality or appearance. Because she wears pink and has a thick ass, her raps aren’t to be taken seriously? She stands her ground as a talented rapper, not just as a talented woman and in the end, she “thinks big” and “gets cash.”
Now look at what you just saw I think this is what you live for, Aaahhhh, I’m a muthafucking monster!
So is Nicki Minaj a new feminist icon? Probably not. But I remain impressed with her skills as a rapper, her ability to stand independently as a female hip-hop artist next to her male peers and her potential to open the door for other lady rappers in the future.
Addendum: Just talked to comic and good bud Josh Gondelman and I wanted to clarify that Nicki is definitely not the first female rapper to try and break into the male-dominated rap game and that she also borrows/is influenced heavily by those who came before her (Eve, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, etc). Then this happened:
3:29 pm Me
its interesting to me because she’s really the newest female rapper to have across the board acceptance from her male peers and she’s not anyone’s girlfriend and says she never fucked wayne or diddy etc to get her break plus she is legit talented
3:31 pm Josh
Would you say that she’s the Maria Bamford of this rap game?
So yes. Maria Bamford is to The Comedians of Comedy as Nicki Minaj is to Young Money. CASE CLOSED.
At the beginning of this summer, I ranted about how there were no bisexual male pop stars. I understand that it’s a marketing issue and that generally women are not as interested in bisexual men as men are in bisexual women. (Girl, that is a mistake but your loss, lady population.)
Barring all of that, I wrote then, even straight female pop stars play around with bisexual imagery in their music videos in a way straight male pop stars could never do.
Ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between, I have been proven wrong!
It seems it’s just the US that’s hung up on the concept of two straight male singers playing lovers in a music video.
UK boy band Take That has been broken up for years but two of its members, Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow, reunited recently on a duet titled “Shame.” The music video for the song, which sounds a bit country and a bit like the theme music from 'Brokeback Mountain,' fittingly pays (cheesy and wonderful) homage to the controversial film.
Williams and Barlow, both straight, play forbidden cowboy lovers in the video who cruise each other in a parking lot, then again at a bar while dancing with their respective girlfriends. The pair then meet up for drinks and exchange longing glances on a fishing/camping trip, which ends with them undressing in front of each other.
That’s right, Americans. You’ve been beaten on this one by England. England! You know, that uptight country where everyone wears petticoats and sits down for tea and courtesies at their monarchical leader? ENGLAND.
The tension and love between the two men is incredibly well-acted in the video and fits the song beautifully. I keep re-watching it and the fact that Virgin Records and both singers decided this was doable is sincerely blowing my mind in the best way possible.
In America, even gay musicians have to make music videos with vague or outsider love interests to avoid angering the public or being too outright gay. Now imagine Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez reuniting for a duet where they play lovers. It would never happen in a million years.
But look! Barlow and Williams pull it off and the world didn’t end, children didn’t immediately become pregnant/gay/vehicles for Satan, the music industry didn’t implode and both their careers remain intact.
The real “shame” in Barlow and Williams’ video is that it took until now to figure this out.