Top Superhero Film Themes

With so many superhero and comic book films coming out over the last few years, and more still looming on the horizon, I decided to scroll back through my music library and compile a list of what I consider to be the best superhero “themes” from these films. There may be a few films I haven’t seen, so certain themes might have evaded my notice, but I have witnessed the bulk of them and here are my results!

I’ve linked a Youtube video (not mine) after each selection that contains the theme, as well as the Amazon link for purchase/listening. This isn’t sponsored or anything and I don’t own the rights to these songs; just want to have a bit of fun and spread some good hero themes around!

5.) Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman
Obviously I haven’t seen Tom Holland’s solo spin on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man yet (besides his appearance in Civil War, which was excellent) but I’ll always have a place in my heart for the original Spider-Man films and Toby Maguire’s portrayal of the character. Maybe it’s because they were the first superhero films I got into, but regardless, I love both the original Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 – I actually still consider the second one to be one of the greatest superhero films to date. Not big on the third one, to be honest, but one thing is consistent throughout the three films – the music, and the amazing Spider-Man theme provided by Danny Elfman. In a way, the theme covers an “arc” – it hits different tones, from sweeping and emotional to action-packed and intense, hitting all the notes that combine to make a heroic sound. I honestly can’t even remember the theme from the second series of films; that’s not to say the music is bad, just that Elfman’s theme packed a bigger punch and has come to define the character (for me, at least.)

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

4.) The Avengers (2012) – Alan Silvestri
Though I’ve loved nearly all of the Marvel solo hero films to date, I actually have trouble remembering the theme music for all of the individual characters; they’re all good in the moment, but none of them really “stuck” with me after the films ended. However, when the characters all teamed up for 2012’s The Avengers, they earned a new “team” theme, and it’s pretty great. It’s definitely the kind of song that will encourage you to finish the last strenuous laps of a running session or push you to the end of a difficult workout, and when it plays in the film, it’s easy to get pumped up about seeing a team of heroes take on a dastardly villain. It’s got the right blend of hype-building and morale-boosting, which is perfect for an ensemble film like The Avengers; it helps them sound like a team, instead of just looking like one.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

3.) Doctor Strange (2016) – Michael Giacchino
Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Doctor Strange is the most recent introduction into the MCU, and his theme music is very fitting for him as a character. Doctor Strange is enigmatic, sarcastic, and his ingenuity is as much as strength as his actual powers are; and since he is a “different” sort of hero than most of the other MCU characters, his theme is also a little strange – in the best way.  It’s definitely my favorite theme from the Marvel films, which isn’t much of a surprise, since Giacchino consistently delivers great themes and scores (Rogue One comes to mind as a recent non-superhero standout). I went into this film knowing very little about Doctor Strange, and emerged from the theater humming the theme song under my breath. It’s whimsical and heroic and evokes strength all at once; the perfect sound for a hero who defies the norm.

Here is the LINK(Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

2.) Wonder Woman (2017) – Rupert Gregson-Williams / Junkie XL
One of the major highlights of 2016’s Batman V Superman was the introduction of Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman, and her solo film was released to glowing reception a little over a year later. And her theme music is absolutely BADASS – just like the character herself. The theme was initially created by Junkie XL for BvS but was also included and expanded on in the solo film, and Gregson-Williams does it justice. When this theme starts playing, it’s obviously a pulse-pounding, energetic prelude to some serious action, and it’s the perfect music to serve as the buildup and backdrop to battle. When Wonder Woman made her first appearance in BvS, this theme played to announce her arrival, and I remember sitting in the theater, listening to the music, and thinking “Wow – this is how a hero makes an entrance.” Now, every time it starts playing when Diana is fighting onscreen, I get chills; it’s everything a heroic theme should be and I hope we get to hear it in all Wonder Woman appearances to come.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase from Amazon: LINK! (WW) and LINK! (BvS)

1.) The Dark Knight (2008) Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Though the theme from the original Batman film back in ’89 is pretty excellent as well, I think Zimmer and Howard’s theme for the caped crusader is the most definitive and powerful version thus far. Whenever this theme kicks up, it gets the energy flowing; it’s come to signify Batman as a character and really helped to mold The Dark Knight Trilogy as a whole. Like Elfman’s Spider-Man theme, this one seems to cover an arc – it hits all the notes of Batman’s character; his suffering, his heroism, his experiences, his humanity. None of these films would be what they are without their score, but I’d argue that Zimmer and Howard’s contribution to this trilogy has the biggest overall impact. It’s a theme I won’t forget, even when new incarnations of Batman take the screen; this is a theme that will endure, and whenever I think of Batman, this is the theme I associate him with. I’m still baffled the soundtrack wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar, though that’s probably because I’m biased. The Dark Knight Trilogy really revolutionized the “comic book film” genre with its gritty, dark tone and groundbreaking performances, and the music provides the a fitting, powerful soundtrack to Bale’s incarnation of the much-beloved character.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase from Amazon: LINK! 

Writing Techniques: Music

When it comes to my own writing projects, I typically construct playlists to listen to while working. I LOVE when I read a great book and the author includes a list of songs they listened to while writing, either on their website or in the back pages. It helps readers get a glimpse into their process, in a way – to peek at their inspiration.

The full playlist I listened to while writing I’m With You can be found here. Now, the playlist is quite long, so for this post, I thought I’d take just a few selections from the list and explain the impact they had on the writing process. No major spoilers, though. If you’d like to read I’m With You and see the results of the playlist for yourself, here is the link to buy from Amazon! It’s available in print and e-book formats, and is also available in print on the Barnes and Noble website.

Dead Hearts by Stars
This song was pivotal in the creation and evolution of Remiel as a character. Not only for the lyrics, but also for the general sound, which I found incredibly unique from the first time I heard it. To me, this song evokes sadness, but it also seems cold and detached, even when exploring something very visceral – which was fitting for Rem’s personality.

If There Was No You by Brandi Carlile
Valkyrie and Ramus were created as characters long before the plot of I’m With You was finalized. Their original roles were quite different (one of them was originally a hit-man, one had two-toned hair, etc) and they have undergone many changes in personality and background as the narrative evolved into the final version, but their relationship (both the good aspects and the problematic) remained largely unchanged throughout development. This song was a partial inspiration in that regard, as without the other, their characters would not be complete.

Light by Sleeping at Last
A major idea I tried to explore in the novel was the idea of “family,” though not always in a typical sense. To me, this song emulates the influence/impact a person can have on another, whether it be via familial connection, friendship, or some other meaningful relationship. Since the main characters forge bonds with one another over the course of the story, weaving themselves together into a makeshift family, and they each come to be important to one another in some way, the content of this song seemed very appropriate. Also, I like how it sounds.

People Help the People by Cherry Ghost/Birdy
I think people are more familiar with Birdy’s cover of this song, which is amazing, but I will always prefer the original. I love all of Cherry Ghost’s work, which is criminally underrated. Overall, this song’s tone and sound is what I derived the most inspiration from, but one line in particular is what stands out to me the most, and that is: “And if you’re homesick, give me your hand and I’ll hold it,” which reminded me of the sibling relationship between Ciarán and Remiel, and how they support one another.

Dead Man’s Suit by Cherry Ghost
This song sort of served a dual purpose – I consider it thematic for the novel, mostly for the unique sound it has, and also because my play count for this song was extraordinarily high when all was said and done. It’s one of those songs that really hit me when I first heard it, and I never skip it when it comes on shuffle. It is also a partial influence for the character of Ernest Morrigan, Rem and Ciarán’s father, due to some particular lines of lyrics.

Six Weeks by Of Monsters and Men
Along with Your Bones, King and Lionheart, and Silhouettes, this song was pivotal during the writing of chapters 17-19, largely for their sound and lyrical content. Six Weeks, in particular, influenced the development of Cinderflynn as a character, and it, along with some of the other Of Monsters and Men songs on this list (from their first album – the second wasn’t out at the time of the first draft) were on repeat as I wrote those portions of the story, and were a definite factor in the development of the narrative and the overall tone. Of Monsters and Men have a very distinct “mountain sound” to their work that I sought to emulate while writing those chapters, and their songs provided a lot of inspiration.

The Story by Brandi Carlile
In addition to being one of my favorite songs of all time (OF ALL TIME, I TELL YOU), this song was also one I listened to for the general feel of the story/themes. If I hit a snag with writer’s block, this song helped drag me out of it. This song was my rock. I think if the main cast had a theme song to tie them together (you know… like the Power Rangers… or the Planeteers… or the Transformers, maybe) then this would be my choice, because the main characters are bound by their own stories, as well as “the story” that brings them together.

Coming Home (pt. 2) by Skylar Grey 
I listened to this song (the version sans the rap part) while I wrote the closing chapters of the novel, as it definitely struck me as an “ending theme.” It symbolizes the end of a journey; a determination to see something through to the end, until it is time to return “home.” The final stretch of a laborious journey. Etc, etc.

My Silver LiningFirst Aid Kit
This song wasn’t released until I’m With You was in the editing phase, but it still provided a boost of motivation as I worked through rewrites and tweaks to the manuscript. Because if there is anything the main (and supporting) characters needed during their ventures, it was a “silver lining” to their respective circumstances. Also, it’s a total jam, man.

DemonsImagine Dragons
I liked this song for the overall tone and theme, but also as a partial influence for Kaz’s personality and his mentality. Several characters grapple with their own demons over the course of the narrative, so the song is fitting for the plot, but I listened to this particular tune during chapters 23-24, as I tried to convey that, though someone may be plagued by demons, it is not impossible to overcome them.

Believe by Mumford and Sons
This song didn’t come out until after I found out my manuscript was going to be published, but I added it to my playlist during the editing process. To me, the song explores what happens when belief falters and doubt sets in – but also about overcoming those difficulties, or striving to restore dedication in a cause. And that is the main plight that Ciarán faces in the story; his world gets flipped upside down, and he no longer knows what to believe. Through the course of the novel, he must learn to cope with new circumstances; to find belief again, after his perspective gets utterly rearranged.

B.A.P. Concert in Washington D.C.!

Let it be known, before I launch into this post, that I am not a K-pop aficionado. I do harbor a long-running deep love for J-Pop/J-Rock (Do As Infinity, L’arc-en-Ciel, Ayaka, Ayumi Hamasaki, Every Little Thing, Utada, FLOW, etc) and an appreciation for C-Pop and Mandopop (Jolin Tsai, Jam Hsiao, S.H.E., Mayday, Leehom Wang, etc), and while I enjoy K-Pop, my dedication level hovers somewhere above “knowing what Gangnam Style is” and below “creating K-Pop only blogs/twitters and knowing all the former and present members of Super Junior.” One might say I am a casual.

So a couple of months ago, I got a text from my best friend, which read: “Would you….. possibly hypothetically go with me to see a kpop group in dc?” I thought about it, and ultimately settled on, “Why not?” I may not be a mega-fan, but I figured it would be an interesting experience, regardless.

And it definitely was an experience. Now, bear in mind, the following observations are from someone who is not super-involved in the K-pop fandom, so please forgive any ignorance on my part. No offense is meant by anything said in the following blog post.

I might be a novice, but I am aware of the far-reaching scope of K-pop  – it’s basically a global phenomenon with a massive, dedicated fanbase. I know a handful of bands/artists, but I was more or less clueless about B.A.P. going into the concert. My friend actually made me a Google doc about the band/members to study beforehand, but needless to say, I didn’t retain much. However, no amount of research could have prepared me for what I was going to face at the Warner Theater in D.C on April 9th, 2017.

17862549_10210247446681689_2903302992777542961_nDuring the ride down to D.C, my friend (who is a K-pop expert) briefed me on what to expect, so I felt more or less equipped to handle things. However, more details trickled through over the course of the day, as she would casually mention, “Oh, by the way, there will be whistles,” and “Oh, just so you know, it’s going to start with a D.J.” and “There’s like, sort of a dress code…but don’t worry about it” – I half expected her to tell me the boys would land onstage after descending from the ceiling on trapezes. Outside the theater, we were given posters to wave during a particular number… and since I didn’t know any of the songs, my friend assured me she would alert me in advance. Once we entered the venue and got to our seats (in the balcony), she also mentioned, “It’s good we’re not in the orchestra seats, because it gets crazy down there,” and a girl sitting near us assured me, “Oh, it’ll get crazy up here too.”

And they were not wrong. All thoughts of being prepared were whisked away from me as the buzz began to build. Whistles were going off and fans were screaming well before the opening – and once the D.J. (A performer named D.Shoo, who was awesome!) actually began, the hype was ramped up to about a 1000%. Now, the Warner Theater is the sort of venue built for ballets and – so that sort of atmosphere, colliding with the passionate fervor of K-Pop fans and the colorful, flashing lights and screens, was a bit jarring at first. Folks were jumping up and down, whistles were blaring, everyone was standing and cheering, girls (and maybe some guys) were loudly proclaiming their love for certain members of the group, and the main act hadn’t even begun yet.

17796405_10210247446841693_3183343088456269860_nNaturally, when the group members – Yongguk, Daehyun, Jongup, Himchan, Youngjae, and Zelo (I only had to google, like, 2 of those – I’m getting better!) – actually emerged onstage and launched into their first number, the crowd totally lost it. I looked down into the orchestra and it was a literal sea of flailing arms, hands waving those little bunny monster wand things (Matokis, I think?) and screaming. A fan up in the balcony had some sort of light-up sign, as well. At some points, it got so loud that I feared I would lose my hearing for the following day, and my friend and I both had to work at 5AM the next morning, so that would have been less than ideal. Luckily, the ear-ringing ceased on the car ride home.

Even though I went into the experience mostly unprepared and unaware of what was about to ensue, I was completely blown away. From the moment the concert began, the crowd never lost their intensity- we were on our feet the entire time, and B.A.P. did a fantastic job keeping the energy level at it’s peak the entire night, even during “slower” numbers. It took me a little while to adjust to the ardent nature of the crowd, but I settled into a zone and found myself having an excellent time. It barely even felt like 2 hours, and even though my friend and I had been walking around D.C. most of the day beforehand, the exhaustion didn’t hit me until the car-ride home. Also, I can say, with 90% certainty, that I was the only person in the audience who didn’t know any of the words. The fans knew exactly when to join in with the next lyrics and didn’t even need any sort of cue – it was seriously awe-inspiring.

17523631_10210247447161701_8871979680167774961_nMy favorite performances from the event were “Wake Me Up,” “Feel So Good,” “B.A.B.Y,” and “Spy” – at least, I’m pretty sure those are the titles. I had to google it. But I enjoyed all of it, and at no point or during any song did I think anything like, “Meh, this one’s just okay.” I also enjoyed the “Baby’s Lounge” segment, where the band members were charismatic and entertaining and got a window to interact with the crowd. I was surprised that they didn’t take more of a break between numbers – there were really only a couple of times where they stopped for a “costume change,” and they performed most of the songs back to back, which has to be exhausting. Regardless, they never lost their momentum and it kept the crowd enthused. I was jamming out to pretty much all of the songs – I’m not the type to really “let loose” and go crazy with the dancing and arm waving, but I did my share of “stand a sway” and moving to the rhythm. I let out a few “Wooo!”s of my own. The members each have their unique talents and voices, and they combine and complement one another in a way that makes a spectacular sound – plus their dancing/choreography is superb and was executed to perfection. “Feels So Good” and “B.A.B.Y,” were on repeat in my head for a couple days after – they are SO catchy. Not a single number or performance fell flat – as someone who knew pretty much nothing going in, I came away from it with a big grin on my face.

17884498_10210247447401707_6298726364486903065_nNow that the concert is over and I have had time to process, I can declare that, while I liked all of them, Himchan is my favorite… or I guess he would be my “bias?” I’m still not entirely clear on the terminology. Like, there’s something about “sons”? Or was it “children”? My friend tried to explain it to me but I was more or less like a well-meaning, yet clueless mom at her kid’s anime convention. The people around us in line and the girls sitting behind us were chattering on about their “biases” and all sorts of things and my friend could follow every word, but I was lost.

Despite my lack of knowledge, I also came away from the event with a new admiration for the dedication and persistence of the K-pop fandom. I can understand why some people think being that level of “fan” is obsessive/unhealthy, and it is a little overwhelming/off-putting at first to an “outsider” who is unfamiliar with the lingo and the customs, but honestly, as long as someone doesn’t let a passion or an avid interest affect their life in a negative manner, or allow it to completely consume their existence, or use it as a means to cause harm to someone else, then I don’t see the issue. Everybody’s got something they love – I’d be the same way at a Lord of the Rings event or something, and once I got used to the atmosphere, I no longer felt out of place. Even though I’m not at that level when it comes to K-Pop (and I likely never will be, though I do intend to broaden my range) I  can’t wait to add B.A.P.’s discography to my mp3 player so I can jam out while I’m at the gym. My interest in K-Pop might not be as off-the-charts as it is for some, but it certainly has been reignited. I wasn’t even upset that we didn’t get home until after midnight and I had to get up at 4 to go to work – the fatigue I felt the following day was worth it.

If my friend hadn’t invited and brought me along with her, I likely never would have attended a K-Pop concert of my own volition – so I’m grateful she included me. I consider the experience a valuable one, and can say, without a doubt, that it “feels so good” to have had the chance to witness B.A.P. perform live, and I might even venture out to more K-Pop shows in the future.

Odes for Short Attention Spans

Though I am not a musically-inclined person, as I possess a voice that sounds like a wailing rhinoceros, I am a big fan of music in general. However, I also have the attention span of a hyperactive dog. A hyperactive chihuahua, specifically.

Thus, it is very rare for me to listen to one album in it’s entirety. However, over the years, I have accrued a list of albums from a variety of artists that I am fully capable of listening to from start to finish, without getting bored, and without skipping a single song.

AND HERE THEY ARE…

1.) Viva la Vida or Death and All His FriendsColdplay – 2008
Though I have liked pretty much every Coldplay album, I think their 2008 effort is my favorite of them all, though X&Y is a close second. The titular song, as well as Violet Hill, Cemeteries in London, and Lovers in Japan, are frequent visitors on my iTunes shuffle.

2.) BabelMumford and Sons – 2012
While going through a difficult time during my second year of college, I listened to this album on the way to and from school, and to and from work, every day for several months. It helped me out a lot, but, apart from that, it’s a really freaking great album overall. Particular favorites from this one include The Boxer, Broken Crown and Below My Feet.

3.) The Black ParadeMy Chemical Romance – 2006
I love(d) MCR so much that I wrote my final exam for my English class during freshman year of college about my affection for the song The Sharpest Lives. I also cried when I heard the band was breaking up. Yeah, I was one of those. But I still listen to their stuff on a fairly regular basis, especially most of the hits from this album, including the titular track, This is How I Disappear, Disenchanted, and Dead! All of them, really. It’s impossible to whittle down which ones I like the most.

4.) Thirst for RomanceCherry Ghost – 2007
I’m really astounded that this band doesn’t get more coverage. I had a significant portion of their music on the playlist I listened to while writing my debut novel, including Thirst for Romance, People Help the People, and My God Betrays. Really great stuff, and if you’ve never heard of them before, I definitely recommend them.

5.) My Head is an AnimalOf Monsters and Men – 2011/2012
I have heard Little Talks at least a thousand times because, for some reason, it is ALWAYS playing at the gym while I’m there, but I never tire of it. Same goes for the entire album, but, in particular, I’m fond of King and Lionheart and Your Bones. My play-count for all of the songs on this album is absurdly high.

6.) Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!Panic! At the Disco – 2013
I have distinct memories of listening to this album on the day of release and not stopping or pausing it at all. This is Gospel might be my favorite Panic! song ever, and A Casual Affair and Nicotine are also highlights. Lots of catchy tracks from this one, though I’ll admit, it’s hard to pick between this one and Pretty.Odd (2008). However, this album takes the cake for the simple fact that I’ve listened to it at least a billion times.

7.) Save Rock and RollFall Out Boy – 2013
Though I also really liked their previous album, Folie a Deux, NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE ELSE SAYS, this album is probably my favorite from these guys, and it really sucked me back into their music after their hiatus. Just One Yesterday (feat. Foxes) was probably my most played song of 2013, and not far from it were Alone Together, the titular track from this album, and My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark. Consequently, that last track was the sole redeeming feature of the Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters film adaptation, but that’s neither here nor there…

8.) Random Access MemoriesDaft Punk – 2013
WHILE I LOVE EARLY DAFT PUNK VERY MUCH (so set down your pitchforks, please) I really do love their latest stuff the most as a WHOLE. I could get down to Get Lucky all day, man, and I especially love Instant Crush (feat. Julian Casablancas) and Contact. And, as a side-note, I also really, really love their work on the Tron Legacy soundtrack in 2010, which was absolutely stellar. But their wins at the Grammys in 2014 were utterly deserved.

9.) Do the A-SideDo As Infinity – 2005
Back in my cringe-fest weeaboo days, I was a big fan of the anime InuYasha, and the second ending song, Fukai Mori, introduced me to the J-Pop band Do As Infinity. To this day, over a decade later, I still absolutely love them, and this compilation album hits on some of their best work, especially Fukai Mori, Tangerine Dream, and Week! They broke up for a while, and this album was pretty much their send-off, but you can imagine how pumped I was when they reunited. Fukai Mori is probably my favorite J-Pop song of all time; certainly my favorite from that era.

10.) Hopes and FearsKeane – 2004
This is the first album I ever purchased with my own money. I was 12, and obsessed with Somewhere Only We Know, which is still one of my favorite songs to date. The play count for that song, as well as Everybody’s Changing and Bedshaped, is well into triple digits. I’ve loved it for so long, this album will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I will never skip a song from this album if it pops up on iTunes shuffle.

 

All It Takes

Winter used to be my favorite season.

When I was younger, I loved snow, hot chocolate, Christmas specials on TV, getting all bundled up to go out and play, having days off of school… everything about winter, I enjoyed. But winter, I’ve discovered, is more of a child’s season. Because when you become an adult, winter means shoveling, driving in occasionally hazardous conditions, higher bills, stressful seasons at work (depending on what you do), perpetually dry skin, among a myriad of other concerns.

Now that I am no longer a carefree child, I’ve come to hate winter. Part of this hatred can be attributed to the ridiculous snows I experienced while attending college in New England, but regardless, winter has dropped from my favorite season to my absolute least favorite over the span of a few years. So, this time of year, especially in January and February, it doesn’t take much for my mood to take a total nosedive. Winter just really gets me down, man. It sucks.

But sometimes, a flicker of something bright chases the winter gloom away.

There are days when I wake up at 5AM, my room is an icebox (thank you, inconveniently positioned heating vents) and all I want to do is snuggle back beneath my blankets, forget all of my responsibilities, and lay in bed all day reading, sipping coffee, writing, and keeping warm. Alas, life doesn’t quite work that way, so typically, I drag myself out of bed, tug on some fuzzy socks to keep my toes from freezing, and get ready to be a functional adult. Well… semi-functional, really.

This past weekend, I had early shifts at work, so, on Saturday, I hauled myself out of bed, got ready, and departed for work at approximately 5:25AM. En route to work, I munched on a corn muffin (A.K.A, my kryptonite) and decided to turn on the radio to see what early-morning tunes were playing, hoping that something might chase the before-dawn winter glumness away. And it just so happened that, amidst the repetitive drone of Top 40 hits, one bright glimmer of marvelous 90’s nostalgia began to radiate from my speakers…

Hey, now, you’re an All Star, get your game on, go play,
Hey, now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid,
And all that glitters is gold,
Only shooting stars break the mold…

Some may remember Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit “All Star” from the animated film Shrek. Or, in certain circles, from that time they used it in one of the Digimon movies. I know it from both, because I grew up in that era, but that’s not the point… the pint is that it’s not a song that one typically hears on the radio these days, even though it’s excellent.

But for some reason, at 5:30AM on a blustery Saturday in February, one of the local radio stations decided that early morning commuters like myself needed to be told that there’s so much to do, so much to see, and there’s nothing wrong with taking the back streets.

On a cold winter morning, “All Star” is exactly the song that I needed to hear. With the lyrics still ringing in my head, I waltzed into work and proceeded to get my game on, forgetting all about the bitter cold and general unpleasantness of winter. And the next morning, as I was driving to work yet again, I turned on the radio and THEY PLAYED IT AGAIN. I got to jam out to Smash Mouth twice in one weekend! Lightning sometimes DOES strike twice!

Sometimes, all it takes to lift your mood is a little reminder that you can BE an All Star, even if you often don’t feel like it. Because, after all, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming, and life’s too short to dwell on the negative. Look for the bright spots in the darkness, and use that light to pull you up when the shadows try and drag you down…. and remember, you’ll never know if you don’t go, and you’ll never shine if you don’t glow.

Tale As Old As Time

Some stories contain a message so pure – so resoundingly true, and profound, even in their simplicity – that the words withstand the trials of time, and echo in the hearts and minds of dreamers and believers of all ages.

12065860_10156247226845445_4298476504253258090_n
Front balcony seats ftw!

I was never much of a “girly-girl” growing up. My older sister played with Barbie dolls, while my favorite was Scuba-Diving Ken. He lost his head in a tragic snorkeling accident and I didn’t much bother with dolls after that. But a part of me has always had a soft spot for fairy-tales, particularly those re-imagined by Disney.  And Disney’s 1991’s animated masterpiece is one of my favorite films of all time, a timeless tale of love and redemption – so when I had an opportunity to get tickets for the stage show, I dove on it.

Last night, my mom, sister, and I went to see the touring production of Beauty & the Beast while it was in York, PA, at the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center. As a fan of both Disney and Broadway musicals, I was extremely excited to see one of my favorite stories brought to life onstage. I’d seen the touring production when it came to Baltimore over a decade ago, but the only thing I remember about that is getting lost on my way back from the bathroom and missing several minutes of the show. Then again, I was seven. I still have my souvenir rose from that production.

Now, I’m twenty-three. I don’t believe in fairy-tales, and don’t particularly want to be a princess. But there’s something inherently magical about a story like Beauty & The Beast that attracts a variety of different people. While I’m not a fan of children, it was pretty cute to see all the little kids there, excited for the show – and there were lots of little girls in Belle / princess costumes. There were a loads of twenty-somethings, older couples, groups of friends, theater kids, and families.

The theater itself is beautiful, with decent acoustics, and we were lucky to get tickets on the front balcony, so I (a dwarfish 5’3″) would not have to crane my neck to see the performance. By the time the lights went out and first notes of the Overture began, I knew I was in for something special.

During the show, my expectations were met, then exceeded. The musical remains true to the heart of the Disney film, retaining many of the songs, lines, and dialogue, while adding several new elements and expanding on certain aspects that were not a major factor in the film version. There are new songs that help convey the emotions of the characters, and expand upon the humorous, egotistical attitude of Gaston (‘Me‘,) the plight of the cursed objects (‘Human Again,’ originally intended for the film,) the turmoil of the Beast (‘If I Can’t Love Her‘ and ‘How Long Must This Go On?‘,) and an altered version of ‘Something There‘ that expands the romantic development between Belle and Beast.

Each actor/actress suited their role, remaining true to the original characterization while adding their own spirit to the already-familiar quirks of each character. For me, the highlights were Belle (Brooke Quintana), who nailed the ‘Belle – Reprise’ and gave me chills during ‘Home‘, Beast (Sam Hartley) who performed a moving rendition of ‘If I Can’t Love Her,’ my favorite song in the show, Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) who balanced humor, narcissism, and villainy while delivering some of the funniest moments (“I’m especially good at expectorating” is my favorite line, not sure why…), Lumiere (Ryan N. Phillips,), Cogsworth (Sam Shurtleff,) Mrs. Potts (Stephanie Gray,) Babette (Melissa Jones) and Madame de la Grand Bouche (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) as the Beast’s often-hilarious “family” and support system as he tries to become a real “gentleman” and prove himself as a worthy match to Belle. The entire cast, every singing plate, dancing carpet, townsperson, and living statue, enhanced the experience and helped bring the magic of the story alive onstage.

The familiar songs were wonderful, especially ‘Gaston’ with a pretty amazing synchronized cup-clinking interlude, and ‘Be Our Guest‘ which ended in an explosion of streamers. Quite the nostalgia trip. We saw what I believe to be a more ‘streamlined’ version of the musical, as ‘No Matter What‘ and ‘Maison Des Lunes‘ were cut, but that didn’t detract from the production, as there were plenty of songs, both new and old, to enjoy. The orchestra was brilliant, the overall set design was impressive, especially the puppets for the wolves/Enchantress and all of the elaborate moving set-pieces, and the costumes (in particular, for the enchanted objects) were incredible. Even with the changes, the message of the story itself, that beauty comes from within, remains at the core – and shines through each aspect of the show. Also, the dancing rug was a major highlight. Could not stop laughing for a solid minute after he came onstage.

Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.
Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.

My sister isn’t as much of a musical buff as me or my mom (though she does like them), but Beauty & the Beast is her favorite Disney film. I looked over at her as the last notes of the finale rang out in the theater. I was a little teary-eyed, as I am during the finale of almost every musical, but that was nothing compared to my sister. She turns to me, tears coursing down her face, and says, “I’M *EXPLETIVE*-ING SOBBING.” I laughed. Heavily. Which helped prevent me from dissolving into a tearful mess myself. Even my mom got a little teary, which just goes to show the power that a story can have.

The tale of Beauty & the Beast is a simple one. That love can conquer seemingly unbeatable odds, beauty truly comes from within, and that it is never to late to change for the better. Sometimes, the simplest stories are the most memorable ones – the ones that echo in our hearts for years, like a well-loved song. And that is the reason why Beauty & the Beast, in all its forms, truly is a tale as old as time, and always will be.

Favorite Anime Openings

Music is imperative when I’m working on a writing project. I’m one of those obnoxious people who crafts specific playlists for each story I’m writing, and I listen to them when working on said projects. But sometimes, my well of inspiration runs a bit dry, and I need a different kind of musical inspiration to get the creative waters flowing again.

There is one playlist in my collection that really gets me motivated, and that is a playlist full of anime opening (and some ending) theme songs. I’ve been an anime fan ever since Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, Dragonball, and all those awesome classic 90’s series aired on Cartoon Network and were part of the Saturday Cartoon or Toonami lineups. And lets not forget classic Adult Swim. Those were the days, man.

So when I feel like saving the world, killing massive humanoid monsters, collecting all the shards of a dangerous jewel, becoming a mecha pilot with serious daddy and mommy issues, or learning the cruel lessons of equivalent exchange, I just put my Anime Openings playlist on to get myself pumped up. Sometimes, it makes writing just a bit easier and helps to blast through pesky bouts of writer’s block.

Is there anything more inspiring than a good anime theme song? I think not! So here’s a list of some of my all-time favorite anime themes, in no particular order.

Disclaimer: I do not own the anime or music listed below, nor are the embedded videos mine, they are just posted for reference.

1.) Ready Steady Go!Fullmetal Alchemist – L’arc En Ciel

I preferred FMA: Brotherhood to the original series (no hate, I did like both), but I will always consider the second opening to the first anime as one of the very best I’ve seen and heard. I often listen to this song on the treadmill and it gives me the boost I need to finish my workout.

2.) Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis  – Neon Genesis Evangelion – Yoko Takahashi

Say what you want about the anime itself (it’s one of my favorites, but I understand people who dislike it, especially the last episode which really is a big WTF), this opening might be the greatest anime opening of all time. It makes me want to clap and congratulate somebody, for some reason…weird.

3.) My Soul, Your Beats! – Angel Beats – Lia

*bursts into tears*

4.) SignNaruto Shippuden – FLOW

I watched Naruto for a long time before I eventually got burnt out and gave up on it, and I never made it to Shippuden, but hope to pick it up again. I love FLOW and their songs are always definitive of what an anime intro should do: Get someone hyped to kick some ass. This one in particular makes me feel like going out and fighting ninjas, or rescuing my angsty traitor best friend from a freaky snake guy…

5.) Guren no YumiyaAttack on Titan – Linked Horizon

After disliking Death Note, Bleach, Black Butler, and many other anime that were far too over-hyped, Attack on Titan was the first anime I saw in a really long time that lived up to the buzz that surrounded it. This intro really gets the adrenaline pumping, and the second one, Jiyuu no Tsubasa, is just as awesome.

6.) Kimi ga Inai MiraiInuyasha: The Final Act – Do As Infinity

Inuyasha was one of my first “real” anime (that wasn’t Pokemon) and I actually bought the theme song CDs when I was in junior high. But as much as I love the original series (minus some of the filler, it did drag a bit), this theme might just be my favorite from both the original and the sequel.

7.) Tank! – Cowboy Bebop – Yoko Kanno ft. The Seatbelts

You can’t beat the classics.

8.) Crossing FieldSword Art Online – LiSA

I personally did not like SAO (don’t judge me, it was WAY over-hyped, though I understand why people loved it) but this opening song is pretty amazing.

9.) Cloud Age SymphonyLAST EXILE – Okino, Shuntaro

Last Exile was the first anime I owned myself (and it is the perfect length for an anime, in my opinion) and whenever I rewatch it, I never skip the intro. I like that it has a bit of a different sound, and the visuals are pretty great for an anime that came out in ’03. I have yet to watch the sequel, but I hope the music is just as good!

10.) Taiyou no Mannaka eEureka Seven – Bivattchee

Eureka Seven is one of my all-time favorite anime (great characters, concepts, story, mecha, etc) and I loved all the intros and outros, but this one just struck a chord for me. Though Days by FLOW, the first opening, is great too.

BONUS: Moonlight DensetsuSailor Moon – DALI / Moon Lips

BECAUSE SAILOR MOON IS GREAT, OKAY.