Songs of the Month: July 2015


I cannot get enough of "Body Talk," the new single from Foxes.

Besides posting about this breezy, synth-filled slice of pop perfection all over social media, I've been playing it on repeat for the past week - in the car, at home, at the office, at the gym (the few times I've gone in the past several weeks). Even the neon-tinged (and slightly bizarre) music video is a cool visual treatment of the track. That said, I can't wait to see what her new album will sound like later this year.

Get in on it. Now:


And then there's the latest from another Brit, Jess Glynne, who is delivering some uplifting 90s dancefloor realness on "Don't Be So Hard On Yourself." Her album doesn't hit the U.S. until September, so in the meantime, start brushing up on this fantastic female artist:

@TheFirstEcho


Lucky 13: Why I'm Still in Love with L.A.


I foolishly thought that I was the only one who celebrated his anniversary of living in Los Angeles (or "L.A.nniversary"), but as the years go on, I hear more and more people announce their own milestones.

Perhaps it's because they're constantly surprised by (and proud of) how long they've survived this city. Sure, New York City can chew you up and spit you out, but L.A. does it a little differently. This city tends to take things a little more slowly. First, it woos you with its gorgeous climate and flip-flop-friendly winters, compensating for its god-awful traffic, and then it lulls you into a pleasant buzz with its organic farmers markets, eclectic neighborhoods, and unlimited possibilities. But to make it in this city, to keep your head above the water, you have to be okay with a constantly changing tide -- and a few sharks that want to take a bite out of you -- while remaining focused on the dry, stable land ahead. 

No matter what industry you work in, the city of Los Angeles offer millions of people the chance to reinvent themselves. It's where a financial manager can ditch his job and enlist in several improv classes and take up stand-up comedy. It's where a nurse practictioner can leave her occupation and start her own candy catering company. It's where a novelist can give up on this Great American Novel and establish himself as a successful, award-winning copywriter for an ad agency. It's where a salesman can realize his dream, invest in the proper equipment, and become a locally-known DJ on the nightlife circuit. It's where a child psychologist can drop her case studies and take the plunge into the world of reality-TV production. (*These are real examples of people I know.)

Like many others I know, I arrived in this town with a mental blueprint of how my post-collegiate life would unfold. But in the back of my mind, I knew traveling to the other side of the country was one of the biggest gambles of my life; things could either go well or go miserably. What I didn't have back then was the knowledge and open mind to accept the fact that life, for the most part, will never go as planned. I wasn't fully aware of the changing tide that could pull me in different directions. My 22-year-old self didn't really know that the road to any dream involves unexpected detours and delays -- and that it's okay to let the road take you to places you never considered visiting.

FLASHBACK ALERT!

Let's recap: After my June 27, 2002 move to Los Angeles, I went from being a jobless (and homeless) intern with dreams of becoming a TV writer...to a pee-on in TV production...to the assistant of a showrunner on my first major network TV show...to an unemployed twentysomething experiencing a year-long quarter-life crisis...to an executive assistant and amateur blogger...to an unemployed and freelance writer/entertainment journalist/magazine editor...to a full-time creative manager and copywriter at an award-winning agency...while maintaining my rep as a pop culture and travel writer, now equipped with an agent who believes in my capability to churn out my first novel. (No pressure whatsoever.) And so the journey-struggle-hustle continues...

So why do I continue to love L.A.? Why have I remained committed to this city and continue to stand by its side after 13 years? Let's see...

Because I can find inspiration wherever I go. This city's a ground zero for creative stimuli. It provides a neverending supply of promises. (And depending on how determined you are, it will deliver on some of those promises.)

Because here, folks wear their struggles and ambition on their sleeves, and I'm okay with that. Because I usually do the same.

Because I can try a beach yoga class in the morning, take a selfie with a former teen heartthrob at brunch, squeeze in some shopping, catch a friend's stand-up performance at a downtown comedy festival, and then drive up to the mountains for a ski weekend -- all in the same day. (But it's not like I actually ski.)

Because I live for those moments during which connections are made every day here, some solely based on the silliest, most random reasons.

Because I love that it's the birthplace of movie theater reserved seating. (You're welcome, America.)

Because Los Angeles gets me. It nurtures my obsessions, enables my (mostly healthy) addictions, and satisfies whatever needs I have.

BUT MOST OF ALL, it's the people. It is the hundreds of characters, faces, acquaintances, colleagues, confidants, coworkers, partners-in-crime, fellow fanatics, pop culture geeks, freaks, and friends who have made my entire Los Angeles Experience worthwhile. They are the fuel that keeps me going, that keeps me inspired and determined to go on and face what's next.

They are the Angels for which this city is named.


I make a conscious effort at least once a week to stop and remember how far I've come. I'm proud of the roots I have planted in this crazy city, and I appreciate the history I've created here on the West Coast.

Here's to Year 13.


On June 26, 2015, Love Won in America


You get a marriage! And you get a marriage! And YOU get a marriage! Everyone gets a marriage!

Marriage equality is now the law of the land. What seemed like such a huge uphill battle back in 2008, when Prop 8 passed in California and crushed the hopes of millions, is now a fully realized victory for every single person in this country who just wants their love respected.

But what does this great day in our nation's history also mean?

The eyes of many wedding planners just turned into cartoon dollar signs...

...And as a single person, I will bitterly have to deal with more wedding registries and buy more gifts. Great.

Happy Equality Day y'all.

@TheFirstEcho


Why We Need To Keep Up With The Kardashians


I would like to preface this post by saying that I have never watched a single episode of E!'s long-running reality trainwreck juggernaut Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I, like many of you, refused to give it any attention, criticizing the "unscripted" show as an exercise in narcissism, ego, and entitlement, proof of America's further descent into a pit of abysmal capitalist desperation.

But something happened earlier this week that made me see this TV family in a new light. When I caught Caitlyn Jenner's Father's Day photo of her mixed brood (Kim! Kanye! Brandon! Oh my!), I was immediately struck by the powerful image -- not because of what they wore or how they spent the holiday. I was affected by what the group shot represents: simply put, the future of America.

Newsweek once predicted that half of these United States of America will be non-white by the year 2050. That's a mere 35 years away. What does that mean? For the first time in this country's history, there has been a baby boom among its minority population. What does that mean? Chances are, more and more family portraits will resemble the above photo.

We've always prided ourselves on being a multicultural nation (well, so say politicians, certain administrations, and anyone with a progressive bone in their body -- despite recent headlines), but now we're moving quickly towards a mixed-race society at a rate we've never seen before. We're seeing more of a crisscrossing of family roots that our founding fathers couldn't have imagined back on that first 4th of July. And that, quite frankly, is a beautiful thing. (I should know, proudly being of a mixed heritage.)

Call it the Dawn of the Post-Modern Family Era.

Seriously, give that Newsweek article a read and see what you come away with. I like to think there are more pros than cons to this American evolution. Hence why, instead of keeping up with those boring, vanilla Joneses, we should continue to keep up with those kooky Kardashians -- metaphorically speaking, of course. (You still won't find me contributing to their ratings.)

After all, where else are you going to find a transgender woman spending a holiday with her biological children, an Armenian stepdaughter, her African-American husband, and their own adorable, genetically-blended daughter?

@TheFirstEcho


PLAYTIME: The 2015 Summer Playlist, Vol. 3


We're only halfway through June, and I'm already on my third compilation of seasonal tunage. Enjoy the hell out of this one, folks. Particularly tracks 1, 5, 6, 12, and 17 (my faves).

@TheFirstEcho


'Jagged Little Pill' Turns 20, Still Resonates


It was an album that defined a decade, heralded the Grrl Movement, turned female angst into brilliant pop artistry, and sparked an obsession within me that would last throughout most of a decade.

Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill was released in the U.S. on June 9, 1995, but I wasn't introduced to the album until months later, sitting in religion class during my sophomore year at Iona Prep in New Rochelle, NY. In what was clearly a pre-social-media, pre-file-sharing era, I had to find out about it through my friend James. He passed along the CD to me as if it were a handwritten note of major importance. (Texting? What's that?)

"Oh my God, you have to listen to this," he told me.

I brought it home later that day with the intention of popping it into my player and making a tape cassette copy of it. But little did I know how hard I would fall for this dynamic collection of music and lyrics that eventually impacted the soundtrack of my adolescence. This officially marked the end of an era in which my musical pleasures were often derived from hits on the Adult Contemporary charts. (There was only so much Amy Grant I could play. Farewell, Michael Bolton.) I immediately knew I had to run out to Sam Goody (*kids, that's the name of a brick-and-mortar store that sold physical, tangible copies of albums) and buy my own copy of Jagged Little Pill.

I had already heard of "You Oughta Know." To my 15-year-old ears, it was that aggressive song about an angry chick who hated Full House actor Dave Coulier. (Did she really give him a BJ in a theater?) The single was constantly played on New York's Z100, back when it was known for its heavy alt-rock rotation -- before Top 40 turned bubblegum.

But then I discovered Alanis's other offerings on the album. "All I Really Want" was the perfect kick-off, a wish list of things to help her navigate a world full of bullshit and bad lovers. "Hand In My Pocket" was enjoyable for its playful riff on contradictions...and seeing my mother's reaction to the unedited version. (Yep, she said "chicken shit.") "Head Over Feet" was so 90s, simply because of its glorious harmonica solo. "Ironic" was just that: a roll call of un-ironic scenarios designed to screw up your life and teach you a few lessons. "Mary Jane" was a painfully poignant plea for help, an ode to anyone who's ever felt lost and hopeless. "Right You Through" was a jarring, spit-in-your-face response to one of many dudes who done her wrong. ("You didn't think I'd show with my army and this ammunition on my back?") "Not The Doctor" was great for its unflinching stance on women's roles in relationships...and the world. And in the hidden, a capella track "Your House," never has heartbreak and anguish felt so urgent, so real, so palpable.

But then there's my favorite track of the bunch, "You Learn," a self-helpful slice of pop-rock that became my Summer of 1996 anthem:


And best of all? The songs on this album still hold up beautifully. Two decades later, "classic" is an obvious word that belongs to Jagged Little Pill. "Classic" because its messages are timeless, its lyrical structure is still fresh, innovative, and daring, and its impact has yet to be duplicated. (Well, maybe you could make a comparative argument for Adele's 21 from 2011.)

Alanis Morissette was also the first musician whose work punctuated defining chapters of my life, an artist who seemed to be there every challenging step of the way. JLP helped me get through the rest of my high school years. Her follow-up, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, helped me get through my first year of college. Under Rug Swept helped me face the realities of a post-collegiate life. And So-Called Chaos arrived just in time to help me deal with a family crisis: my father's stroke.

Needless to say, this weekend calls for some celebration. If you happen to hear any of the aforementioned tracks being blared on the streets of Los Angeles, you'll most likely find me in my little Scion hatchback, waiting at a red light, lip-syncing for my life, and unapologetically basking in the glow of some 90s nostalgia.

Happy 20th.

@TheFirstEcho