October 20, 2009

The Soundtrack to My Life: 1999-2009

Someday, when I'm asked the question "What was the first song you ever downloaded from the Internet?" I will have my answer ready (it's the first track listed below). I remember it the way a mother would remember her toddler's first spoken word.

I first started making mix CDs back in the fall of 1999 from a corner dorm room on the fifth floor of Boston University's Warren Towers. This was during the heyday Napster, before iPods or iAnythings had infiltrated the student body. Thanks to several dormmates whose CD burners I took advantage of, I was able to set aside the tape cassettes containing tunes I'd record off the radio (the 90s, so primitive) and put together improved compilations with better audio quality (MP3s, who knew?) and without snippets from those gabbing radio DJs who would always talk over the opening of a song (so annoying). With the help of my friend Christina, who had always relied on me for new tunage, I named this series of mixes Burnt, usually followed by a subtitle pertaining to whatever theme fit my life at the time.

As of this posting, I'm currently working on Volume 62. Take that, Now That's What I Call Music.

Before, I wasn't able to articulate why I loved making these mixes so much, both for myself and for friends and family. Now, I have realized that I get a genuine joy out of making people happy by introducing them to a new song they'll eventually grow to love, or when it comes to DJing at a party or private event, reminding them of a song they forgot they loved, helping them re-appreciate a song that sparks a special memory of their own (Adina Howard's "Freak Like Me" anyone?) and ultimately inspiring them to create a soundtrack to their own life.

When I had been booked to spin at The Pleasure Chest a few weeks ago, it brought a smile to my face to see employees bumping and grinding behind the counters, to watch them try to reenact the choreography to Janet's "Escapade," to have a woman walk by and say to me "Great song," when I put on a little Jamiroquai, to overhear a customer tell her friend "Oh my God, I love this song!" when Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack" started pumping through the speakers. I like to think that I had a slight effect on someone's life and made their world a better place, even if it was just for one of those three hours.

More of testament to my evolving taste in music than just another greatest hits collection from a decade's worth of mix CDs, the following megalist of tunes also represents certain moments from my life. Consider it the definitive soundtrack to my 20s.

This list starts during the peak of the Teen Pop Boom, back when bubblegum ruled the airwaves -- back when TRL was appointment television -- then it transitions to fit a subsequently darker, post-9/11 mood, guides me through a second coming-of-age, follows me to sunny Los Angeles as a hopeful post-grad, helps me cope with a quarter-life crisis, opens my ears to what European imports have to offer, inspires me as a writer, aggravates my frustration with Top 40 radio, and introduces me to new ideas (and an epiphany or two) as I prepare to embrace a new milestone. Some tracks are laughable, almost embarrassing in retrospect, but most have admirably stood the test of time.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, fellow bloggers and tweeters, I give you my personalized Best of the Aughts, all 70 of 'em (in chronological order, natch). And if you've never heard of a particular song, may I strongly suggest downloading it right away...legally of course.

1. Waiting for Tonight - Jennifer Lopez
2. Larger Than Life - Backstreet Boys
3. Here With Me - Dido
4. What a Girl Wants - Christina Aguilera
5. Bring it All to Me - Blaque feat. NSYNC
6. My Own Worst Enemy - Lit
7. Bye Bye Bye - NSYNC
8. Back Here - BBMak
9. Case of the Ex - Mya
10. There You Go - Pink
11. Everything You Want - Vertical Horizon
12. Kryptonite - 3 Doors Down
13. No More - Ruff Endz
14. It Wasn't Me - Shaggy
15. He Loves U Not - Dream
16. In My Pocket - Mandy Moore
17. All For You - Janet Jackson
18. Fill Me In - Craig David
19. Lady Marmalade - Pink, Mya, Lil Kim & Christina Aguilera
20. In The End - Linkin Park
21. Wherever You Will Go - The Calling
22. Wish I Didn't Miss You Anymore (Hex Hector Mix) - Angie Stone
23. Rapture - Iio
24. Heaven - DJ Sammy
25. Gangsta Lovin' - Eve & Alicia Keys
26. Dirrty - Christina Aguilera
27. The Game of Love - Santana feat. Michelle Branch
28. Gotta Get Thru This - Daniel Bedingfield
29. Simply Being Loved - BT
30. Morning Star - Cooler Kids
31. Milkshake - Kelis
32. It Takes More - Ms. Dynamite
33. This Love - Maroon 5
34. Crazy in Love - Beyonce feat. Jay-Z
35. Hey Ya - Outkast
36. Toxic - Britney Spears
37. Mr. Brightside - The Killers
38. What You Waiting For - Gwen Stefani
39. Don't Phunk With My Heart - Black Eyed Peas
40. Lose Control - Missy Elliot feat. Ciara
41. Speed of Sound - Coldplay
42. Oh My Gosh - Basement Jaxx
43. Hung Up - Madonna
44. Since U Been Gone - Kelly Clarkson
45. Crazy - Alanis Morissette
46. Hard to Beat - Hard-FI
47. Faster Kill Pussycat - Paul Oakenfold feat. Brittany Murphy
48. Buttons - Pussycat Dolls
49. Mama's Room - Under the Influence of Giants
50. Stars Align - Kaskade
51. Everything's Just Wonderful - Lily Allen
52. Umbrella - Rihanna
53. Rehab - Amy Winehouse
54. The Way I Are - Timbaland feat. Keri Hilson
55. Time to Pretend - MGMT
56. Black and Gold - Sam Sparro
57. Mercy - Duffy
58. Fascination - Alphabeat
59. Just Dance - Lady Gaga
60. Hometown Glory - Adele
61. American Boy - Estelle
62. Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon
63. The Man Who Can't Be Moved - The Script
64. I Did It For Love - Boa
65. When Love Takes Over - David Guetta feat. Kelly Rowland
66. Evacuate the Dancefloor - Cascada
67. Road Trip - Darin
68. We Are The People - Empire of the Sun
69. Million Dollar Bill - Whitney Houston
70. Vacant Heart - Frankmusik

What's on our your soundtrack?


*Above photo courtesy of Forest Casey

October 12, 2009

Random Thought of the Week #12

What is Elisabeth Shue doing right now?

Fun fact: She won the Best Actress Award for Adventures in Babysitting...at the Paris Film Festival in 1987.



October 06, 2009

When Hiko Met Oprah

Much like Kathy Griffin, I have a daydream in which I get booked to be a guest on Oprah in order to promote and talk about my book, The First Echo: Memoirs of a Pop Culture Junkie.

And after reading the foreword in Ms. Griffin's current book, I was slightly disappointed to find out that she opens her memoirs the same way I would begin mine. Hers is a more desperate plea of a love letter to visit those Harpo Studios, sit on that Chicago stage, and shoot the shit with Gayle. My opening would be a more detailed envisioning, from the outfit Oprah would wear (something purple) to the spontaneously combusting housewives in the audience who just can't hold it together because it's Oprah. Muthaf**king. Winfrey. Oh, and then there's the introduction O would give me, announcing my name in her trademark vowel stretching: "Please welcome Hikoooooooo!" We sit, she gushes, and then she tells me to stick around for the surprise celebrity guest who's a fan of my book - and waiting backstage to come out as a segueway for the next portion of the show. After all, it's Live Fridays on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and we got to keep it moving along. And as for that celeb guest, I still haven't gotten that far. I'm thinking it's Drew Barrymore, Kathy Griffin (in an ironic twist) or Jennifer Aniston.

And it wouldn't stop there. Naturally, my book tour would take me to my native New York where I'd sit on the couch with the ladies of The View. Unfortunately it would have to be on a day when Elisabeth was on maternity leave after giving birth to her eleventh child. Whoopi would be awesome as expected and call me "boy" after flubbing up my last name. Barbara would be grandmotherly and look more frail in person (I think to myself: Someone give this poor woman a can of Ensure). Joy would be a blast as we'd share an inside joke from backstage (pertaining to the book, because she'd be the only one who had read it). And Sherri would crack me up as we both proclaim our love for Costco's All-American Chocolate Cake on national TV. The interview would last for a pleasant eight minutes, and before she forgets, Joy reminds the in-studio and at-home audience that I will be signing copies later that day at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. She then thanks me for coming and tells the studio audience that they'll be getting a copy of my book. Cheers. Applause. Commercial break.

Once I get back to L.A. I'd have to rush over to the westside to fulfill my stint on Chelsea Lately. Sandwiched in between comedians Josh Wolfe and Sarah Colonna on the roundtable, we'd trade quips and jabs at Amy Winehouse, Kate Gosselin and why Renee Zellwegger insists on looking like she just ate a dozen lemons every time she walks a red carpet. Chelsea would say she's impressed by my ability to keep up with the Kardashians and sees a future for me on upcoming roundtables (that is, if my book doesn't take off and outshine Are You There Vodka? It's Me Chelsea). A few koslopus references later, I'm taking pictures with Chuy backstage and later posting them to a Facebook album entitled "Booktourapalooza 2011."

I would be living out one of my dreams as a writer who has managed to turn his bloggage into a bestselling book (See? I knew those headshots would come in handy). And I'd still be blogging from the road, complaining about how exhausting the tour is, how non-stop the schedules are - you know, the usual woe-is-me-but-look-how-fun-it-is routine. Besides, I've always wanted to see the rest of America, even if it's from the third-story window of a hotel suite. And it would be during all of this traveling when I learn the different ways to tell people, "Talk to my publicist."

It would only be a matter of time before cable comes knocking on my door with the option to adapt my memories into a one-hour dramedy. Network execs would throw names at me, stars who never really broke out in film but could translate well on TV. Naturally, I tell them, I would need executive producing credit. Done they say. Show me my parking space I say. What do you think of setting the series in Seattle? they ask. But I grew up in New York I say. But Seattle is hot right now they insist. What is this, Grey's Anatomy? I retort. And then we proceed to go our separate ways, each side quoting the obligatory "creative differences" until an indie shingle over at a major studio wants to develop my story as a feature film. Do I get to write the screenplay? I ask. Sure they respond. Cool I say. We get a director attached, along with a kickass cinematographer, land a few up-and-coming actors whose resumes are sprinkled with guest stints on a couple of Law & Orders and short-lived CW dramas and a lead actor who rocks the industry with his "brave and raw" performance...and suddenly, wham-bam, we got ourselves a movie which makes waves at Sundance, collects an Independent Spirit Award the following year and gets slotted on Entertainment Weekly's Must List.

I picture one of those network execs stuffing his foot in his mouth after seeing my name prominently mentioned in Variety. Perhaps he sends me a congratulatory gift basket filled with processed cheese and dried fruit I'll never eat (or pass along to Martha, the security guard who greets me every morning as I drive to my office on the studio lot).

No bridges are completely burned though, especially when I bump into said network exec two years later while reaching for the same piece of tuna sashimi at an Emmy afterparty on Sunset. We laugh, we congratulate each other on our respective projects and we then bump each other's contacts into our iPhones with the promise to keep in touch...or grab a chai tea on Robertson the following week.

And that, as they say, is just the beginning...


*This message of positive visualization has been brought to you by: a workout at 24-Hour Fitness, scrambled egg whites and two shots of espresso. What do YOU see for yourself?

October 04, 2009

The Love Lives of Others

"But everyone's a vacant heart, when will love move in?
It's in the news that we all lose when love ain't moving in.
I only have these empty rooms, and they're all filled with space,
And I can't seem to find much love in this place,
And the doors that close behind leave me standing cold outside..."

- "Vacant Heart" by Frankmusik

After witnessing the stress, heartache and overall relationship drama several of my closest friends have gone through in the past year (2009, you've been quite the banner year for breakups), it's easy to subscribe to the Why Bother? school of thought. Why bother entering a relationship when it will only end in tears, disappointment and destroyed trust? Why bother being with someone who will eventually let you down and shatter every expectation you had ever had? Why bother taking the risk? Why gamble with your emotions?

All of these questions only imply a sense of hopelessness, which can lead to cynicism, which can only lead to Complete, Bitter Loneliness. And who wants a nasty case of CBL, really? For lack of a more trite sentiment, life is one giant risk, and that should be exciting, inspiring. The choices you make will either lead you to happiness or leave a nice bite mark on your ass. And either way, there's always a lesson to learn hidden within the distracting minutiae (Blogger's note: I really just wanted to write the word "minutiae." I think it's becoming one of my favorite words...but I digress).

Clearly, other people's relationships shouldn't determine or influence the relationships you have with others, or more importantly, the one you have with yourself. The latter is something I've been working on for some time now. What happens in the lives of others usually forces me to reflect on what's happening in my own. And when I reflect, I tend to do so in a non-linear, stream-of-consciousness kind of way. And when I reflect, I tend to be hard on myself, letting insecurities get the best of me and allowing the Bad Voices in my head to crap on my self-esteem when I should really just tell them to Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

I've always been the friend who sits across from his friend, listening to the details behind said friend's relationship drama, offering a Kleenex when the waterworks break out, opening my arms for some solace, reserving my shoulder for a droopy chin. I don't mind being that friend. I appreciate any chance I get to have some one-on-one quality time with a loved one; it's an opportunity to grow closer and learn more about each other. But as one who hasn't had the pleasure of being in a legit, long-term relationship, I feel like I have no substantial advice to offer from personal experience. My advice (or jumbled words of wisdom) tends to come from what I've observed in the relationships of others...or what I've learned from watching countless romantic comedies since the age of 13 (And believe it or not, from what I've noticed thus far, Sex and the City continues to function as a relationship bible for many singles who will still place their trust and faith in the powers of SJP & Co., using the series, subconsciously or not, as a default reference guide for the successes and shitstorms they face while wading through the dating pool...and the show's been off the air for more than five years).

Last time I checked, the framed diploma on my wall didn't license me to play Love Doctor for the heartbroken.

After listening to a friend's wailings and offering as much consolation as I can, I can't help but wonder how I would handle such a crisis if I were in their shoes. In a way, it's as if I've become the designated sidekick/best friend in a much longer-running and warped rom-com...and it's about time I become my own romantic lead.

I take back my earlier comment about 2009 being a banner year for breakups; it's become the Year of the Transition. I don't know whether or not it's because we're getting ready to close the doors on this decade, but many people I know are making life-altering decisions, changing their scenery, redirecting their life paths. Is it just me? Is it the country? Is it this city? After all, Los Angeles -- and I'm sure many of you won't disagree with me -- exists on its own planet. The values in this town aren't the same as they are in Anywhere, USA where raising two kids and securing a three-bedroom on a cul-de-sac with a Volvo wagon parked in the driveway is the main objective. The ambition here most likely involves getting one's name splashed across one of those mega billboards on Sunset Boulevard. And in order to achieve this, one has to keep reinventing oneself, re-prioritizing one's goals.

For me, part of my current transition involves painting my bedroom wall a new color (thanks Restoration Hardware), framing new artwork to hang in the living room, booking my first gig as a DJ, forming a business partnership (more on that later), taking myself out on dates (reserving more Me Time), exploring undiscovered parts of the city, putting a stop on feeling sorry for myself, and making lists...lots of lists. Basically, finding new ways to be inspired.

Here's to clearing out the clutter, both physically and mentally, in all of our lives.


"And when you find someone who loves the you that you love, well, that's just fabulous."

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