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  • Articles, Celebrities,, Music, This and That

    What To Do When All of Your Favorite Musicians are Dead

    Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a fan of many celebrities. Most of those celebrities, however, happen to be dead. There’s Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Prince, the list goes on and on.

    I know of some other people who also share this problem. In this article, I thought I would lay out some of the bad things and some of the gratifying things about being a fan of dead celebrities.

    Many of the people I’m a big fan of are musicians. One of the most obvious downsides to this situation is that my favorite artists can’t make music anymore. Some musicians, though, have music released posthumously. This music is usually comprised of stripped-down demos and unfinished songs. The songs sometimes feel as if they were never meant to be released. The artist clearly has no say in what does and does not get released after their death, so these songs often feel like an invasion of the artist’s privacy, and sometimes even of their minds. This can also happen sometimes with officially unreleased records.

    For example, Jeff Buckley created a song called “All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun” with Elizabeth Fraser, another musician (of the band The Cocteau Twins). This is my all-time favorite song from Jeff Buckley, and arguably my most favorite song ever. It is raw, real and unplugged. You can hear the relationship between the two artists clearly in the recording. The fun they have while making this piece is evident throughout it. It is a beautifully written and recorded song. But it is technically unreleased.

    Elizabeth Fraser has come out since Jeff Buckley’s death and expressed how upset she is that the song has been published on Youtube and other music sharing websites. The recording is a personal moment shared between two friends. When I listen to this song, I sometimes feel selfish in consuming it. Although I love it so much, I can’t help but feel like I’m stealing something from Jeff and Elizabeth. This is the slippery slope you encounter with unfinished songs that end up getting released.

    Prince is another great example of this. All of his posthumous releases are questioned. Throughout his long career, Prince was known as a perfectionist. Every album was carefully crafted and completely his own. He didn’t like his songs to be covered by other artists. Every release seemed so meticulous and perfectly curated to contribute to his overall image as an artist. He is also known for recording many songs and for having an extensive vault of unreleased music. Prince died in April of 2016. There have been five posthumous album releases. Each of them has been met with critical and hesitant eyes. None of the albums have included many new songs from the vault.

    Although many of these songs have been released in the past, either by Prince himself or (in the case of his Originals album) by another artist, it is still a bold and risky choice to release this music. Again, this is another instance where one might feel guilty while listening to these songs. Considering his picky behavior while he was alive, who knows if he would have ever wanted these new albums released to the public.

    Another downside that comes with being a fan of dead musicians is the remembrance and mourning of their death every year. This is really tough for many people. Although this is an obviously sad occasion, it can bring fans closer together. Many fans take to social media to express their thoughts and to remember their favorite artists. You can meet new people this way and relate to them. I’ve met a few people through Twitter this way. 

    So is there anything good about being a fan of a dead musician? It can easily all seem like doom and gloom, but there are some fulfilling parts of this dilemma.

    Like I’ve mentioned, you can find new friends through being a fan of celebrities. This happens with really anyone who is vocal about their interests. There is something really special about relating to strangers through a subject that you’re both passionate about.

    Also, you can spread the message of the creators’ art, as they are no longer allowed to do so. You play a small role in keeping their memory alive. I love talking about and sharing the music of my favorite artists.

    Maybe this article hasn’t made the issue more appealing to anyone, but I’ll leave you with this: like it has been said many times, a true musician never dies.

  • Articles, Fashion, Social, This and That

    Cosplay: Teenagers Dress Up

    Cosplay: Teenagers Dress Up

    by Lily Jacks

    Be it for Halloween, costume parties, or just for fun, many people have taken great joy in childhood dress up. I can remember in my early youth thinking that when I dressed up, I could somehow magically become that character. I would get so into my character that sometimes I would even forget that I was not, in fact, Cinderella or Hermione Granger. Sometimes, I even wore my costumes to school. (For my kindergarten school picture I wore a tiger costume!) This hobby is one that most people grow out of as time moves forward.

    However, I did not want to grow out of dress-up. In sixth grade I heard about cosplay through the internet. Of course I had little to no idea at the time what cosplay was, but I knew that it connected to my childhood hobby. I did a little research and discovered that cosplay is a rather popular activity among teens and young adults. What makes it different from dressing up as a child is the quality and time put into the costumes and the interaction of cosplayers within their community online and at the conventions.

    By seventh grade my sister made a friend who was an active member of the cosplay community. We formed our own cosplay group focusing on Japanese anime characters. Through this group, we became more experienced and finally learned how to improve our cosplays. We went that year to Kami-Con, a local anime and cosplay convention. My sister and I had previously been to one cosplay convention, albeit we didn’t take it as seriously. That year, the amount of time and effort we spent preparing and perfecting our cosplay paled in comparison to the year before. The convention itself was very warm and open. We got to meet a lot of people who shared our common interests and got to dig deeper into this new community. We watched a cosplay contest, in which I learned that a lot of the best cosplayers make their own costumes.

    Last year was my third year to attend Kami-Con. I cosplayed Flying Mint Bunny, a character from an anime called Hetalia. I had already bought a dress and wig that I could wear for the costume, but I did not have some of the essential accessories (bunny ears and wings). I had never made any of my own cosplay before, but decided that I would make these accessories. The ears were felt and stuffing sewn onto a headband, and I made the wings from cardboard and felt. It is still one of my favorite cosplays, in part because of my involvement in the creation of it!

    I enjoy being an active member of the cosplay community with my sister. I am currently taking sewing lessons and finding new ways to become more involved with the making and perfection of my costumes. I love interacting with the cosplay community online and look forward to the conventions! These fantastical experiences both bring me back to the simple pleasures of childhood as well as spring me forward into a community of imaginative and creative young adults.

  • Broadway, This and That, Writing

    The Brilliance of Hamilton

    Dating back to the caveman time period, the theatre has always been a way to express a plotline using song, dance, and acting. It is a form of entertainment that has transformed into a pop culture phenomenon that allows an audience to connect and become attached to 90 minutes of perfectly crafted lyrics and sounds, extravagant scenery, thought-provoking lines, and entrancing dance routines. In every time period, the world had one person that was the ideal playwright and actor. In the Golden Age of Greece, Thespis was the first person to step out of the chorus and become the first actor.

    In Medieval times, a time when the world ceased to do theatre for its entertainment purposes but only for religion, Hrosvitha wrote hundreds of plays depicting Jesus and his life before, during, and after the cross. Then, theatre witnessed the biggest change it had ever had; a man named William Shakespeare took it out of the renaissance period and began including musical elements. He was known as the single greatest writer of the Elizabethan era. It is now 2017, and I believe we have discovered the Shakespeare of our time, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Although he has written and starred in numerous musicals and plays, his masterpiece ‘Hamilton’ has given him a legacy of theatrical brilliancy.

    As a performer and music-enthusiast, I have always loved theatre and music. It is a way to express a story through lyrics, lines, dances, and scenery. It is the easiest way to connect to an audience and evoke emotion all in less than 90 minutes. When I came across all 24 songs from an album called ‘Hamilton’, I was intrigued, to say the least. I was no newbie to Miranda’s work, as I had fangirled over his previous soundtrack In the Heights years prior. But, I never fathomed that Miranda would create another musical with an even better soundtrack! As I listened to the songs nonstop and delved deeper into the background, I realized that Miranda had expertly crafted a musical centered on the least known founding father: Alexander Hamilton. The goal of the musical was to bring the story of an unforsaken orphan from the Caribbean who possessed incomparable determination and work ethic to become George Washington’s right-hand man and the very first treasurer of the United States government.

    The playlist of 46 songs clearly explains the train of events and can get music lovers hooked with just one listen! The musical starts off explaining young Alexander’s life as an intelligent, destitute orphan in the Caribbean. He receives a full scholarship to King’s college (Columbia) in New York, and meets his role model Aaron Burr. Hamilton joins the independence effort and leaves a mark of success and confidence which catches the eye of the leader of the cause, General George Washington. Alexander goes through life successful and envied by many including his so called best companion, Aaron Burr. As the story rolls on, Hamilton marries the wealthy Elizabeth Schuyler and has extramarital relationships with a woman named Maria Reynolds and Elizabeth’s sister, Angelica Schuyler.

    The affairs run in secrecy until Mrs. Reynolds husband comes to know, and blackmails Alexander into paying him large sums of money to keep the affair quite. Not knowing what else to do, Alexander agrees and continues the affair for years until his political rivals find out about the money laundering, and assume Hamilton has been funding the British army and is such, a traitor. Although Hamilton sets things straight and explains the true reason for the deposits of money to save his name, news spreads about his affair with Maria and his dreams of becoming president one day are crushed. Miranda paints Hamilton’s political downfall as tragic and unexpected, but the real tragedy of the play lies in the betrayal of Hamilton by his best friend, Burr. Hamilton meets burr as a young, eager man who idolized Burr. But, Hamilton proves to achieve much more than Burr at a much younger age and burr becomes blind with envy. Then, to pour salt in the wound, Burr had been campaigning for the presidency for years but that year, there was no Federalist Party, so there two candidates from the same political party vying for the presidency: Burr and Jefferson. The nation still revered Hamilton as an eco-political genius. They turned to Hamilton and begged him to release his vote. At the time, Hamilton was depressed and isolated because of his son’s death, but he finally told the public his decision on the presidency. Although Hamilton hated Thomas Jefferson as well, he felt that “Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none.”

    After this, Burr felt like Hamilton had set him up his entire life, that Hamilton was the sole reason for his own failure in life. Burr and Hamilton had a teacher-student relationship, which transformed into a best man relationship. (In satisfied, we learn that Burr was Hamilton’s best man in his wedding) and ended as a murder-murdered relationship. The most tragic part of it all was that Hamilton and Burr both thought the other had betrayed them. It shows that revenge and anger can take over a mind, a heart and lead to disillusionment and devastating loss. We see this when Burr sings “When Alexander aimed at the sky, he may have been the first to die, but I’m the one who paid for it.” Burr realizes the true extent of his action of killing Hamilton. He wishes he would have seen Hamilton as a friend not a competitor, he wishes he could have done better in his own life, made his family proud of him, been there more for his daughter. Above all, he wishes he had taken a step back to think about everything he would be losing by pulling that trigger. If he had realized “the world was wide enough” for both of them, he could’ve been a hero not the villain.

    Lin-Manuel Miranda displayed history in lyrics, with each line telling the story of a founding father Americans always put aside. It’s quite unbelievable when you think about Lin walking into a shop, picking up a biography about Alexander Hamilton, and just deciding that he was going to make a musical about this man. Lin goes beyond painting a vivid image but takes us back in time with the sole power of his lyricism. It is quite remarkable that a 22-year-old college student could read about one of the most influential men in American history, and immediately envision making a musical to give this man the legacy he always wanted. Miranda knew that he needed to find a way to take Hamilton off of his pedestal, out of the historical view to be able to show him as a man with qualities both good and bad. This way, Hamilton would become more than a paragraph in a textbook, more than a forgotten name, more than a man who died with unfinished business. He could hold a legacy of the destitute immigrant who became one of the most quintessential men in American history. Miranda displayed all of this in hip-hop and rap, entwining modernity with a two-hundred-year-old plotline.

  • This and That, Tips, Writing

    Writing Tips for Young Adults by Alfred Hitchcock

    Having written three books on Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, I was keen to use his principles of mystery and suspense when writing my Young Adult novel, Ghost Maven, about sixteen-year-old Alice Parker who falls in love with Henry, a 100-year-old ghost in the body of a seventeen-year-old sailor. If you want to write a suspenseful story, here are five tips from Hitchcock himself.

    1. Keep your plot moving.
    Be sure to start your novel with a bang. As Hitchcock said, start with an earthquake, followed by rising tension. Some of his best films start right in the action such as the rooftop chase in Vertigo, or the lunchtime affair in Psycho. I begin Ghost Maven with a kayaking sequence in Monterey Bay, which quickly puts Alice in peril and facing her worst fear – water and the fear of drowning. Passages should never stand still but must carry the action forward.

    2. Use your locations to the fullest.
    Hitchcock was keen to exploit his locations to serve the plot, most famously in North by Northwest when Cary Grant is attacked by a crop-duster plane. I was keen for the setting of Monterey, California, in my novel to evoke the past, from the white Victorian clapboard houses to the old warehouses, which line Cannery Row. The Monterey Peninsula is also rich in supernatural folklore. Point Pinos is the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast and is actually thought to be haunted. When Alice climbs the lighthouse stairs, it twice becomes the setting for her attempted murder, rather like Madeline running up the bell tower in Vertigo.

    3. Know the difference between Mystery and Suspense.
    In a novel, it’s important to maintain the mystery and suspense about a character, particularly the love interest, and mirror real life when you are getting to know someone for the first time. Is the mystery an intellectual process like a whodunit? The central mystery of the book for Alice and the reader is who is Henry and where does he come from? Suspense, however, is an emotional process, which comes out of giving the audience information so that they become anxious. For example, if you tell your reader that there’s a bomb under the table and it will go off in five minutes, that’s suspense. Hitchcock’s films are full of suspense like Lila Crane exploring the Bates house in Psycho because the audience knows more than the character.

    4. Use your props to the fullest.
    As well as locations, use your props to build suspense. When Henry writes Alice a love letter it is on old-fashioned scented lilac paper. This is the same kind of paper which Heather the prom queen receives before she mysteriously disappears. I was inspired by Hitchcock’s Frenzy when the potato dust from the fruit market becomes an important clue to catching the murderer. In Rear Window, James Stewart’s character is a professional photographer, and he uses flash bulbs from the camera to temporarily blind his attacker.

    5. Keep things open ended.
    You don’t always have to wrap everything up in a neat bundle at the end of your story. Sometimes it’s better to leave things unresolved, which Alfred Hitchcock called the ‘Icebox syndrome’, referring to the moment when a couple discusses the plot or something troubling them, and they reach into the ‘ice box’ or refrigerator. At the end of Ghost Maven, the mystery is what happens to the central characters and are they still in danger?

    Ghost Maven is the first in a Young Adult series by Tony Lee Moral published by Saturn’s Moons Press, an imprint of Cactus Moon Publications.

  • Health, Home Life, Lifestyle, Relationships, School, This and That, Tips, Writing

    How to Make Someone Feel Special

    Everyone likes to feel listened to, respected, and appreciated. It’s human nature and we like those who make us feel those things. That’s why it is a great skill to be able to make someone feel special. The best thing about it is that it’s so easy!

    1. Listen to them.
    And really listen to them. Listen without thinking about what you’re going to say next, just focus on the person and what they have to say. Sometimes it might feel natural to interrupt someone else’s sentence when you’re excited but try to let whoever you’re talking to completely finish their thought. Besides, you already what you’re going to say but you don’t know how the other person feels about a topic or information they might know. One of Bill Nye’s most famous quotes is: “Everyone knows something you don’t”, and if you approach conversations with this in mind you’ll automatically focus more on what the other person has to say and you’ll seem a lot more interested because, well, you are! Make eye contact, ask questions, give them your undivided attention, and remember what they tell you so you can show them how much you really were tuned in. Those who really listen to us and are interested in what we have to say are the people we love most because they make us feel… special!

    2. Validate them.
    Everyone wants to have their ideas and actions validated, it’s a natural feeling to want to hear those around you compliment what you’re doing. So a sure way to make a person feel good is to compliment them, congratulate their accomplishments, and validate their ideas, goals, and interests. There are so many ways to make a person feel validated, tell them you agree with them on a certain topic, ask for their advice or opinion an issue, compliment their positive traits, or anything else that communicates to them that you recognize a good thing they are doing. Criticism can be common friend to friend but try to be aware of how much and how harshly you criticize a person. If a little validation from someone you trust gives you a feeling of positivity, a little criticism gives a person ten times as much feeling but in a negative way. So be aware of how much disapproval you show someone, it can erase all the validation you give them and then some.

    3. Show your respect.
    So often in life, we are given little to know respect so being the person to give someone the respect they deserve goes a long way. To truly respect someone you must respect all things about them including their time, their reputation, and your relationship with them. That means being honest with them even about difficult matters. That means never talking badly about them behind their back because you respect their reputation that much. If you hear something about them, give them the benefit of the doubt you wish others would give you in similar moments. Try to limit how much you speak negatively of others around them too, because you wouldn’t want to hurt their reputation with other people also. Respect their time by realizing that they might be busy when you’d like to chat and that their whole schedule does not revolve around your needs. You don’t have to aim to be respectful with just authority figures, realize everyone in your life would benefit from feeling respected and would probably return the favor. The feeling of being trusted is a special feeling in our world and it is an easy gift you can give to others.

    Just a reminder that all the feelings listed above are gifts that cost exactly nothing but really affect how a person feels about themselves and their life. So give the gift of respect, attention, validation to anyone who you think deserves to feel special and do so in generous amounts because, after all, no one can ever run out of appreciation and admiration. Give some to your parents, your teachers, even people you don’t necessarily like and see how your life changes! You’ll find that being a person that knows how to make a person feel special is awfully… special!