Monday, September 25, 2000

A Resounding Thud

"All history is ultimately local and personal. To tell what we remember and keep on telling it is to keep the past alive in the present. Should we not do so, we could not know, in the deepest sense, how to inhibit a place... We own places not because we possess the deeds to them, but because they have entered the continuum of our lives. What is strange to us- unfamiliar- can never be home."
-Paul Gruchow

Growing up, my sister, the law school attending gymnast, admirably endured many hours of having to listen to my brother, my mother, and I discuss Twins baseball. She knew statistics about the game through simple osmosis. If you lived in our house you knew a lot about baseball even if you didn't exactly like the game. So to repay all those years of spontaneous devotion, I decided that though I had little interest in the Olympics (the patriotism thing bothers me) I should watch the gymnastics competition- since that is my sister's favorite sport. It was the very least I could do (and never let it be said I didn't to the very least I could do...)

I gotta say the first few nights weren't exactly favorable. After watching anorexic girl after girl tumble, stumble and fall, some even injuring themselves, I was all but ready to call for the complete ban of gymnastics. When the game's top performers are starved little girls putting themselves through dangerous routines- it was all so hard to watch. Then a feisty Russian gymnast, Svetlana Khorkina, changed my mind.

Though typically weedy thin, Khorkina is gangly tall for a gymnast (5'5"). But it is her spunky attitude that caught my attention. Now 21-years-old (which is ungodly old for this sport) Khorkina realizes this may be her final Olympics. Thus after a lackluster opening by the Russian team she was visibly upset, barking at her teammates who weren't performing up to expectations. They'd better not blow it for her and by the scared looks on their faces they knew it.

Favored to win the gold for all around performance- Khorkina got set for the first of her individual competitions- the vault. She impatiently yelled at her coach to place the mounting board and mats in the proper location. At full sprint she launched her body onto the vaulting board thingy and landed flat on her butt. Getting up she immediately had tears in her eyes as the commentators said that such a tumble insured that no gold was forthcoming. Her next event was the uneven parallel bars. Once again her performance failed as her deteriorating spirit became more and more evident. She missed the top bar on a move and fell. At this point she was clearly just going through the motions- so distraught at the end of a dream. Then a shocking discovery transpired. The pommel horse had been set about two inches too low of international gymnastic standards. Khorkina's original fall (and those of several other gymnasts) had been tainted.

It's an outrage. The three Romanians who eventually won the medals had won a suspect victory. Who knows what would have happened if the equipment had been properly set? My skepticism got the best of me. As admirable as the athleticism and skills of the performers are- the sport itself seems flawed to me. When's the last time you saw a baseball field set up wrong? Or a basket or goal post set too low? And when you have to rely on human judgment to pick the winner- well I for one don't trust human judgment any more than I trust my ability to do a flip on a balance beam. While there are set guidelines from which the judges are supposed to determine their scores, when the winner wins by a tenth of a point- the chance of one judge being biased or just plain wrong seems too great. Give me a round of Jai Alai any day.

The sport is seemingly based on mathematics and precision. The judges are able to spot a flaw in a twist or a turn or a bent elbow. To the untrained eye- such a judgment seems rather arbitrary. But I guess there exist those who can tell a flower from a weed. (Last week I was watching Mr. Max. He sat looking out his favorite window and a dog sauntered within view. He had no reaction, the same applies for rabbits, squirrels and birds. Yet when another cat comes within yards of our yard he gets all worked up. Is it the smell? Is it he actually recognizes different types of animals?)

I must admit I feel bad for Khorkina although I hate the Commies as much as the next guy. She's a star in her fractured country and the Olympics meant the culmination of an inspiring career to her and her homeland. They deserved better. Thus my attempt to further expand my world and my knowledge hit the ground harder than the gymnasts themselves. I gave the sport a chance and ended up even more disillusioned than before. Perhaps I should just stick with the things I know- stay inside my little isolated world. After all I should feel lucky to live in the land of the free where every one in a million placenta previa child can grow up to be a gymnast (specializing in back flips I'm sure) and further defy the odds by in-line skating her heart out in a Duluth marathon with a superlative time of one hour forty four minutes- the third straight year she has improved her time. Wow.

A Hairy Story

"I like it. To me it's a really interesting character a guy who can't function well in life but who can only function in art. It's sort of sad in a way but sort of funny. All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it. Only his writing was calm. His writing, which in more ways than one, saved his life."
-Woody Allen in Deconstructing Harry

I'm not the kind of guy who forgets stuff often. In fact it's quite the opposite: I'd do anything to be able to forget more than I ever knew. Years back I took a cross country excursion with the woman with a limp and when we got back home I wrote a short story about the trip as was one of the implied purposes of the whole arrangement. Her reaction wasn't exactly what I was expecting. She said that it made her uncomfortable that I remembered everything down to how much sugar she put in her tea. With the wind knocked out of me I wasn't even able to point out I made that part up (I think the character in the story randomly put two packets of sugar in her Jack in the Box iced tea) all by myself.

With the power that movies have over me it is even more rare that I forget I've seen a movie and rent it twice. But that recently happened when I rented Woody Allen's 1997's Deconstructing Harry and in the very first shot I realized I had already seen the movie.

I'm glad I did slip up because the film reminded me of a thing or two. Perhaps it was meant to be. Call it unconscious fate. What caught my eye about the film and led to me unknowingly re-renting it was this note in the synopsis: "...when Harry Block writes a bestseller about his best friends, his best friends become his worst enemies." The role writing plays in relationships is something that has been lingering in my mind for a while now.

The first time I saw Deconstructing Harry I liked it well enough but it seemed like the same thing we've seen many times before from Woody. The second time around the film really moved me. It's common with his movies to try and figure out how much of the material is autobiographical. While this isn't exactly fair, Allen brings a lot of that on himself by essentially playing the same role in each of his movies- a self absorbed neurotic whiny but witty sad soul. With his personal scandals well publicized it's even more difficult to separate his life from his art.

Deconstructing Harry plays with that theme masterfully. Allen's Harry Block is a sad despicable figure. Three times married, each breakup caused by his cheating ways he alienates those in his life to a point where no one will even accompany him to a ceremony at the college he attended that's honoring his work. He spends the night before with a hooker and she agrees to go with him. They pick up a friend (who Harry had run into at the doctor's office) along the way and the trio kidnap Harry's son to accompany them.

The movie uses quick choppy cuts to create a jittery feel. In a memorable bit Robin Williams plays an actor who is so lacking in focus that he is actually becoming blurry. One of the film's most interesting devices is that most of the characters are played by two different actors/actresses- one representing the "real person" and the other representing Harry's fictional recreation.

For others it's bad enough the way Harry treats them. It's ten times worse that he uses their life situations to make money and entertain others. For Harry the ends justify the means. His life is his art. His decidedly cynical view of life is that most people are OK looking at photographs of themselves even if that medium can be wholly inaccurate. He would rather look at a painting of a person because a painting represents not only interpretation and perspective, but also expression. Harry isn't writing about others nor is he writing for them, he's writing about himself. He may be screwed up in every way possible but he is quite good at expressing himself (no matter how delusional he may be).

Is Woody Allen Harry Block? Is Harry Block Woody Allen and is there a difference? Are we the audience able to separate the two? Is fiction more real than reality? Can a complete jerk be redeemed by his work? If we are to assume we know an artist by his or her work, isn't that artist entitled to use their life as their work?

Monday, September 18, 2000

Fun, Fun, Fun

"I was lying in my room when the news came on TV. A lot of people out there hurtin' and it really scares me. Love and mercy that's what you need tonight. Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight. Love and mercy tonight..."
-Brian Wilson, "Love and Mercy"

Sometime toward the beginning of time a Neanderthal put a little lilt to his or her voice and the first melody of the first music was born (if you don't count the percussive pounding of rocks, sticks and bones as actual music- let's just call that the first drum solo- and if you don't count that chirping done by those dinosaur/birds- let's just call that a precursor to Jewel). Music has undergone several transformations, innovations, and changes since that time but one constant has remained- there isn't anything quite as effective as a good song to elicit and express those electrical synapses we call emotions.

That little history lesson keeps pounding inside my brain as I've become more contrite and humble (believe me there was no other way I could go) and far less trusting in my own opinions, I think back to my grade school days when I considered myself to be smugly superior in every possible way to my friend Jay Benson (who now is an attorney). Perhaps the most significant factor in this determination was that I was a Beatles fan (sophisticated poetic music) and Jay expressed a fondness for the Beach Boys (bubble gum fluff pop).

While the Beach Boys harmonies were appealing, all those songs about surfing and sun and California girls seemed so mindless and superficial. But as I began reading more and more rock criticism in college I was always surprised to see the group's Pet Sounds listed on so many critics' short list of the all time greatest LPs. And no less an expert than Paul McCartney said it was his favorite album of all time. So I went out and bought a copy.

The LP has had a profound impact on my life- forever altering it like no other. It got me through many an all-nighter in college- trying to find a way to complete an assignment put off until the last moment now due in a matter of hours. It got me through the days of leaving my family and going off on my own. It got me through the stress of job changes and heartbreaks of broken relationships. The wistful lyrics are offset and enhanced by the beautiful and uplifting melodies.

As I became more and more appreciative of the Beach Boys music (the first time an attorney has ever been correct about something?) I also came to see that Pet Sounds is music unlike anything else in their catalog. It was their first LP that didn't immediately go to the top of the charts. While the group's distinctive harmonies are immediately recognizable the overall melancholy introspection is different from most of their earlier songs. So different was the LP that even the group was split over whether or not it was a direction the group wanted to take. Mike Love labeled it Brian Wilson's "mood music." For a while Brian had even considered releasing it as a solo LP.

Above all the music proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that listening and hearing are as distinct activities as thinking and feeling. (Why is it that three of our greatest innovators- Beethoven, Edison and Wilson all were at least partially deaf?) Brian's songs mix his unique alchemy of the sounds inside his mind with the feelings inside his heart.

Pet Sounds is love's lexicon. The songs are all about the many different sides and side effects of love. From the wishful and hopeful opener "Wouldn't It Be Nice" about the energy and dreams one feels when one first falls in love (containing the terrific couplet in the refrain "maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true/maybe then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do.") to the incredibly sad closer "Caroline No" about a love that dies as the singer is left to wonder why things have changed- the LP covers a large amount of territory. It's about faith, loss, and redemption, about trying to find the way back home to listening to one's own heartbeat.

In 1966 Brian was at his creative peak both as a writer and as an arranger. This was music he had to make, the music he alone heard that he so desperately wanted to share with the world. He of course would endure a nervous breakdown shortly afterwards meaning Pet Sounds remains his most inspired and insightful artistic triumph. As Brian was tumbling within, he reached out and boldly shared himself. It's tragically ironic yet somehow both fitting and familiar that just as he was pouring out his heart with such courage, honesty, and breathtaking skill, fewer and fewer people were listening, and less still were paying attention.

Like the film Citizen Kane, another brilliant work of art, Pet Sounds is a complex and dense effort- the more you listen the more you hear. Though the lush sound is rewarding, stripping and peeling away the many layers of instruments and voices reveals more and more. The title accurately portrays the production- this is about Brian's many favorite sounds that he uses to paint a dazzling portrait on a personal canvass. For its many expressions and observations about love, the LP is convincing in its questioning whether or not the exact actual feeling even exists. The word is too simple for the many emotions it may evoke. To say, "I love this or that" (or you) is too restrictive and doesn't begin to portray the delicate intricacies of intimacy. Ultimately that is the journey Pet Sounds takes us on. The cycle of songs convey a multitude of heartfelt expressions and insecurities about love- from the reciprocal to the unrequited; from the nurturing to the acidic; from the supportive to the cathartic; from the trusting to the separation; from the internal to the eternal; from the intuitive to the symbolic; from the patient to the inattentive; from the anticipation to the disappointment; from the personal to the accessible; from the honesty to the betrayal; from the fantasy to the memory; from birth until death.

On his new CD Live at the Roxy, Brian introduces the song "Lay Down Burden" by saying he wrote it for his late brother Carl. His off the cuff words to the audience- "I'm going to dedicate this song to any of you who had a death in your family and to my brother Carl Wilson..." are as naked and inclusive as much of his music is. It's as if he lacks the filters that exist in most people, and his vulnerability leaves him in a shaken condition even though that same demon has also been the life and light behind his music (and muse). Brian is an intriguing testimonial to survival- lacking those defensive filters can make people cringe with uneasiness (are they looking away because of discomfort or indifference?) and yet the very nature of his art is to provide consolation.

Through his struggles and difficult life and shadowy condition Brian continues to mark his way forward by what he shares with us in his music. I am one of the many consoled and converted. When my Mom breathed her last breath the CD I needed to listen to most was Pet Sounds. Not because of trying to work through the grief but to feel some connection in all the despair. Not because any of the songs relate to what I was going through, nor because any of the music is remotely related to what I remembered about my Mom, but because the music on the disc is about being human more than any other I know. This past year with growing heartache the CD has been played even more and provided needed comfort and solace.

There have been times when I've honestly wondered whether or not I can continue facing all the burdens life presents. There was a time about ten years back when the struggles almost got the best of me. One of the things I remember now is the many things that have happened since that time that I would have missed if I hadn't made it. The most recent example was the chance Thursday night to see Brian perform the entire Pet Sounds album live with at Northrop Auditorium. I recently was talking with another Beach Boys fan and we agreed it's strange that of all three Wilson brothers, Brian is the one that survived longest (Dennis drown in 1983 and Carl died from cancer in 1998). From the late 1960's throughout the 1970's this would have been unthinkable. So to have the opportunity to be in the same room as the voice responsible for the music on Pet Sounds was as mind boggling as it was heartwarming.


My favorite concert I've ever attended was Bananarama in 1988 at the Guthrie Theater. I went with one of my all time favorite former Cheapo employees, Paul Young who had an endless amount of energy and ideas but lacked the attention span to implement any of them. Being our 12" dance music expert at the time, Paul was the perfect person to go with to see the female British trio. I remember watching the three women go through all their many hits. They couldn't play instruments, couldn't really dance, and I think they were lip-synching their parts. But the crowd was REALLY into it- dancing and singing along. Everyone except the girl who sat in front of me. She must have been about 13 or 14 years old and she sat there stone quiet without movement throughout the show, looking at everyone in the room with a WHAT'S UP WITH THEM AND WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE? demeanor. That is until Bananarama broke into "Cruel Summer" (which happened to be my favorite song of theirs). Then this girl got up and danced and sang and did it better than anyone else. That moment made me happy for some odd reason.

I now have to report I have a new favorite concert going experience. Sure Brian Wilson seldom played any instruments (he sat behind an electric piano but hardly touched it, letting it serve as a protective shield), had some vocal troubles, and certainly didn't dance. But it was a wonderful concert. I can't pretend to be objective or analytical or critical about any of this. The music is too personal and close to my heart- more a part of who I am than anything I've ever written myself.

Brian opened the show with the same song he opened with here last year, 1965's "The Little Girl I Once Knew." For the rest of this tour he has been performing with his own 14-piece band augmented by a full 55-piece orchestra. This evening he just had his own band with him. The arrangements were tighter, the playing more focused and the vocals more sure than last year's Minnesota appearance. The band ran through a string of Beach Boys hits including "In My Room," "California Girls," and "I Get Around." They also did a wonderful cover of the Bare Naked Ladies' "Brian Wilson." ("Lying in bed like Brian Wilson did...") My favorite part of the first half of the show were some lesser known songs, 1968's R&B "Darlin," 1965's "Please Let Me Wonder," ("For so long I've thought it and now I can't live without it, this beautiful image I have of you. Please let me wonder..."), and the sublime confessional, "'Til I Die" ("I'm a leaf on windy day. Pretty soon I'll be blown away. How long will the wind blow? How long will the wind blow?").

Bandleader Jeffrey Foskett introduced the second half of the show by saying, "I was 23 when I heard these songs. Brian was 23 when he wrote these songs." What followed next was truly astounding. When Brian strained to hit the opening notes of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" tears flowed down my cheeks (probably not a good sign for a 35-year old man). He had a goofy grin on his face (that remained on his face for most of the set) and he ended the song with a football referee's touchdown signal.

He didn't hit all the notes, he forgot some of the words and the band's sound sometimes drown out his vocals but to witness this, to be in the same room as the composer, the soul, of these songs was a life changing experience.

When listening to the CD it's impossible for me to pick out a favorite song from the cycle- each is as essential as it is different. The same thing goes for the concert renditions. And I can't convey any of this better than Brian's own words did.

Some random observations from the evening:

"Wouldn't It Be Nice"- bittersweet song performed with that goofy grin.

"You Still Believe In Me"- As he did throughout the evening whenever the word "heart" appeared in a song, Brian clutched his chest when he sang the lyrics "I try hard to be more what you want me to be/I can't help how I act when you're not here with me/I try hard to be strong but sometimes I fail myself/And after all I've promised you/so faithfully/you still believe in me."

"That's Not Me"- introduced by Brian with- "Here's a song about a guy who had a dream." ("I could be big in the eyes of the world/but what matters to me is what I could be to just one girl.")

"Don't Talk"- the heartbeat.

"I'm Waiting for the Day"- Brian's introduction: "Here's a song that starts fast, goes slow, goes fast, goes slow. I hope you like it... I know you'll like it..."

"Sloop John B"- introduced with "This song has goofy lyrics." ("The first mate he got drunk/broke in the captain's trunk/the constable had to come and take him away/Sheriff John Stone, why don't you leave me alone?")- some of my own favorite lyrics of all time though I'm not sure I know what they mean.

"God Only Knows"- Exquisite. Brian said it was his favorite song "we ever wrote."

"Here Today"- Great performance of an under appreciated song. ("Right now you think that she's perfection/this time it's really an exception/well you know I hate to be a downer/but I'm the guy she left before you found her.")

"I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"- with its haunting repetitious refrain- "Sometimes I feel very sad..." sung with the full force backing of the band. This perhaps more than any other song could be Brian's theme song. ("I keep looking for a place to fit in where I can speak my mind/and I've been trying hard to find the people that I won't leave behind... I just wasn't made for these times.)

"Caroline No"- Brian's introduction: "Here's a sad song so I won't smile. It tears my heart out every time I sing it. It's about a girl who cut off her hair..."

What an idyllic evening. The band sent us home with more Beach Boys hits, "Surfer Girl," "Help Me Rhonda," "Surfin USA," and "Fun Fun Fun." Then Brian closed things with a hymn like "Love and Mercy." It not only was a spirited concert it was also somehow spiritual and transcendent. Brian kept asking the crowd if we were happy and for one evening if posed the same question he would seem to be able to echo the crowd's answer.

Monday, September 11, 2000

Why Too Kay?

My friend Alexandra taught me a valuable lesson many moons a yonder. Alex emphasized to me the values of self reliance and self responsibility. My learning process was a bit stressful for both of us but I have remained grateful to her for her patience and honesty. Mercy buckets A. Unfortunately this year the proximity of the lesson's validity has lessened. I suppose that's the convenience of crossing the bridge into a new century. There now is a plausible excuse for all of life's difficulties.

For example I've discovered this year through unexpected but reoccurring health problems that my body is not Y2K compliant. Call it more of a meltdown than a breakdown. I only hope I don't have to call in the geek squad to figure things out for me. I also found out that my garage door wasn't Y2K compliant when it came out of its track and one of the rollers broke off. Thankfully my brother-in-law Dan and my father and I were able to rig it back into place. We'll see if it remains winter compliant.

The new millennium also took its toll on my lawn mower recently when a pin behind the wheel broke thus rendering the propulsion system inoperable. Trying to push the mower through my shin high grass almost gave me a massive coronary (I hope that particular organ unlike my brain, though substantially drained from the recent pouring out and ensuing falling out, remains bug free).

The rabbits in my yard were far from Y2K compliant as they ate their way through my crop of bean plants. (Parenthetically speakin' I hope you enjoyed them you boys and girls.) Mr. Max then followed suit with a lack of compliance as he nearly died from ingesting an Azalea plant. The ensuing vet bills demonstrated that somebody's system (billing) was working just fine and dandy.

My kind elderly next door neighbor also has had some problems in the year 2000 having been diagnosed with cancer. We've said more than a few prayers over in this humble abode over the summer. She's out of chemo and appears on the way to recovery.

Our favorite local lads, the mighty Twins also have had some Y2K issues. It's been a woebegone season for the woeful team with little sign that things might turn around in the near future. Meanwhile the bitter manager remains about the only cynically entertaining part of the team with his ever amusing and increasing caustic comments.

My sentimental coffee machine given to me after the Great Depression by my idol the optimistic capitalist Eric Patterson also has proven non-compliant. While washing out the antique looking pot it cracked thus forcing me to use the cute backup picked up years ago for free but what has ended up costing me substantially over the years as I now have a broom closet full of coffee sent to me by the club who gave me the maker for subscribing.

Even my favorite prize from the summer, my Kent Hrbek bobblehead doll is a bit Y2K stilted. A bobblehead that doesn't bobble isn't much fun. Trust me, I know.

My self invented Y2K invisible man diet has also run into a few snags. Said diet of course consisted of losing all my mass so I could slowly and thoroughly disappear. After weeks of dropping some tonnage I seem to have reached a leveling off point. Guess I can go back to snacking on those sticks of butter.

Perhaps the truest casualty of the Y2K bug was my hall light. For years I left Mr. Max in a dark empty house. This year I decided (more for security purposes than anything else) to leave the hall light on. Soon after biting the bullet and acquiescing to the increased energy bills the light bulb burned out. This happened last winter. I have yet gotten around to replacing it. It would after all entail getting up on a chair to make the change. I figure it's better to continue to live in the dark because you never quite know what you'll see in the light. Enlightened people are bound to give up on all the excuses sooner than later.

Monday, September 4, 2000

Dancin' Fool

I'm nothing if not a people person. Personable and cheerful, I love people. Thus you can imagine my joy at being able to work at the House of Representatives' State Fair booth in the Education Building this year. Yes there I was a smiling simpleton on a hot and humid evening conversing with all those lovely sweaty fried food consuming people who feel that government is just a big intrusion in their lives and how our legislature does nothing but waste tax money.

Those who know me also know that I love nothing more than dancing. You can't keep me off the dance floor girlfriend. Thus when a gaggle of teenage girls stopped by our booth (that may not be the right term for a herd of teenagers but it seems apt) I of course had a wonderful discussion (no sarcasm intended) about what the kids are listening to these days. I'm truly not one to criticize anyone's taste in music. Whether it be country or rap, opera or new age, I've always felt that if music means enough to a person to be a fan, I'm all for it. If the boys from N'Sync changed your life with a song, or Puffy expresses your rage better than you yourself can, hey that's wonderful. I've also over the years tried my best to keep up with the popular groups so I can communicate with the kids (it's all part of my "tough love" program).

Thus tonight I decided it be time for the newsletter to finally do some hard hitting reporting and fulfill its civic duty to finally decide who is better- Brittney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Rock and roll rivalries have a long and colorful history from the Beatles vs. the Stones, to Poison vs. Cinderella, to Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam. With this in mind I purchased both teen sensations' debut CDs. Having never seen either one live (although I have seen both perform on TV) this determination is thus limited to the recorded songs that launched their respective (and respectable) careers.

First of all Brittney. What a cutie!!! Maybe her name should be Cuteney Spears! That come hither yet all American look she gives on the CD cover while clenching her knees together is as appealing as the Barbie doll pink background behind her. The opening song, her first "hit" "Baby One More Time" is somewhat disturbing. The song is essentially about obsession and acquiescing to the traps of physical abuse- mistaking love and lust for pleasure and torture. "My loneliness is killing me/I must confess/I still believe when I'm not with you I lose my mind/Give me a sign/Hit me baby one more time."

For a teenager to be singing these lyrics to a youthful fan base seems more than a tad cynical. It's different when Liz Phair sings "I never met a man who was so pretty inside/He's got diamonds on the bed of his thumbnails/and I never realized I was so dirty and dry/Till he knocked me down, started dragging me around in the back of a convertible car/And I liked it/I liked it more and more." Phair in her song of abuse is at least playing a character and the song is an effective commentary of abusive relationships. Brittney's song displays no similar irony and thus comes across (as others on her disc do) of believing that being in love has to do with soulmates and accepting whatever service that myth requires. Yet her electronic Tasmanian Devil voice she uses to croak out the lyrics is quite fetching.

The weakness of the disc is its indistinguishable tracks. It all pretty much sounds alike. Brittney doesn't exactly exude any special talent (perhaps her greatest appeal- she is the success story any teenager wants to be). She comes across as a boring Madonna.

Christina's disc isn't quite as difficult to get through. Her booming voice is used well on a variety of different songs. From the funky electronic opener "Genie in a Bottle" to the soulful "Reflection" she has the ability to sing the hell out of a song. That's another way to say the disc is at the very least listenable. This one strives to be more like Aretha than Tiffany.

There are similarities to both discs. Themes of how love sets you free and makes you happy (HAH! when has that ever been the case?) abound. Both young women make a point of thanking God in the credits of their CDs (Brittney: "First, I want to thank God for the blessing of song..." Christina: "I must begin by thanking the Lord above for the opportunity to share the gift of music with the world..." Wow it's an eerie reminder of all those supposed "coincidences" between the Lincoln and Kennedy administrations and assassinations: "Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy... Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln..."). So maybe in the end it ultimately isn't about being rivals. Maybe it's about choices and co-existing with those we seem different from but are more alike than we realize.