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Albums that changed my life.

Happy Humpday, my friends! Ever since I found out I’m seeing the Backstreet Boys (in just a few short weeks), I have been taking a stroll down memory lane via old CDs. Yes, I still have CDs. A lot of them are still in my car, and once I got started, I couldn’t stop digging through my collection to see which ones still worked and what songs I still remembered.

So, I started thinking about the albums that really, really meant something to me – then, and still very much now. I didn’t realize it until I wrote this post, but they’re all female empowerment albums, so I guess you could say I’ve been a feminist from the start! Here are my life-changers:

Jagged Little Pill (1995)

I first heard Alanis Morissette when she released the music video for “Hand in my Pocket”. I thought she looked so cool, and I loved that song. I was in 5th grade, and she was speaking my soul.

Shortly after, she released “Ironic”, and I was hooked. I begged my mom to take me to see her in concert, and we did, and it was AWESOME (even though she’s a bit much in-person). I have no real idea how her lyrics connected with me at such a young age, but they did.

I had never experienced heartbreak, or at least not really, but I felt like an outsider, and she was rebellious and I liked that. And today? I still do. I actually have “Jagged Little Pill” on vinyl, and it is incredible. My favorite song has to be “All I Really Want”, because all I really want, is SOME JUSTICE…AAHHOOWWWOWOWOWOWOWWOOOOWWWW.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

The Fugees’ album “The Score” was one of my first tastes of hip-hop. I loved it, so when Lauryn Hill debuted her solo album, I was all over it. And wow. I would venture to say this album has had the most impact on me, musically, in my life thus far.

This was a popular one, selling 1 million copies in its first month (8 million copies in 4 years), and it remained in the top charts for 81 weeks. At the time, Lauren Hill was an icon, and her album was everywhere – even later being placed on several “Best Album Ever” lists.

But in 2000, Hill basically disappeared from the public eye, and stayed hidden for nearly four years. To this day, anytime I see her on TV, I’m shocked. I know that a lot of artists describe an album release as having a child, and she also had a REAL child, after her album release… and I think that album was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Regardless, I respect her tremendously, and frankly, I don’t know where I’d be without “Ex-Factor”.

Back to Black (2006)

Amy, Amy, Amy… Rest in peace. I had been a long, long time since an album hit me like this one did. I was fresh off a string of bad men, and wow, this chick had something to say. Frankly, I didn’t realize her authenticity, until I read a Rolling Stone article about her life, her drug use, and her eternal love for Blake.

That article still hangs in a frame in my apartment. It was a true loss of innocence, but also a realization that this was an artist who wasn’t just putting on a show. Sadly, she was living every bit of her pain.

While I couldn’t connect with her drug and alcohol addiction, I could very well connect with her willingness to love wholeheartedly, even when it was just wrong. And I still very much love her for putting all of that into words – it healed me in a way I cannot full understand.

The title track is one of my favorites, as is “He Can Only Hold Her”… it all varies depending on my mood.

…There you have it! Notice you don’t see any John Mayer albums here… while all of his albums have meant a lot to me, they have served as “soundtracks” to sections of my life, but not anthems, if that makes sense (still love you, John!). I’d love to know what albums you can’t quit; tell me in the comments!

Fiction Friday: Valerie, part II.

Impressive record collection.

Impressive record collection.

The following is an original piece, written by Holly A. Phillips in 2007. The characters and storyline is based off the song “Valerie,” sung by the great Amy Winehouse. Read part one here

   *     *     *

Kyle laughed. “Damn. It makes me want to address the crowd back at Killian’s. Remember that song we used to sing?”

“Valerie?” Mark asked. “Yeah… ‘stop makin’ a fool outta meeee, why don’t ‘tcha come on over, Valerie.”

Kyle laughed and strung along. “How ironic, right?”

“Well I guess, but I didn’t know any Valeries back then. I’d change the name to some drunk girl in the crowd, remember?” …’Since I’ve come home, well my body’s been a mess, and I miss your ginger hair and the way you like to dress…'”

Hours later, Mark and Kyle had finished a few beers. They’d sung in the garage and jammed for an invisible crowd until the cold air had frozen.

“Kim saw Val at the grocery the other day, said what happened…” Kyle said. “Do you miss her? You haven’t said anything about her.”

“Of course I do. She was here for years, but I guess we just saw things differently.”

“Don’t you want a family? Children are so great, really, you should see Kim with ours.”

“It isn’t that, man. I wanted things to happen in its own time, you know?” Mark said. “Val would just act like everything was cool until I’d step out of line once, then all of the sudden we’d be fighting about marriage.”

Kyle shrugged.

“I better get home,” he said. “Maybe we’ll do this again.”

Mark said goodbye. It was quiet. He furrowed his brow and began to shuffle his sock feet through the house. He went through the living room, where she’d screamed at him nights prior. He walked into the kitchen where he’d left a pile of dishes — Valerie always did those.

He opened the fridge, aiming to kill time. He shuffled down the hall where she’d torn their pictures off the wall on her way out. He passed shelves packed with books he’d only read half of. He climbed into bed, hoping he wouldn’t smell her perfume in the bed. He closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep, but his mind was buzzing.

Mark didn’t have serious girlfriends in college. He had several flings, but was often concentrated on music or schoolwork. Mark could see himself marrying Val, but he wanted her to calm down so he could ask on his own time. He didn’t want to force such an important decision. He loved Val and liked the way he felt when he was with her — the old Val, anyway. He didn’t know if those feelings would come back.

When Val left, it was a shock for Mark. He was emotional, but he generally just wanted her to be happy. So, he thought, if that’s what she wanted then so be it. Her calls were puzzling. Mark figured she was just remembering the past and acting on impulse. After all, they couldn’t build a marriage off a fond memory.

The next morning, Mark was uncovering more instruments in the garage and dusting off record collections. Someone knocked on his front door. He crept to the large door, got on his tip-toes and peered through the rectangle window. There she was, in her usual white coat. Her dark hair was pulled back, her eyes were squinting from the sun, and her red lips were pursed.

He walked through the garage to the foyer, opened the door, and stood.

“Hi,” Valerie said. “I heard loud music coming from the garage when I walked up.”

“Yeah, I was just playing some…” Mark paused. “You okay? Or… did you forget something?”

“Oh, well no, at least I don’t think so,” she said. “Can we talk?”

Mark didn’t know what to say.

She drew her hands across her chest. “It’s cold. Can I come in?”

Mark motioned toward the living room. Valerie stepped inside moving toward the couch. Mark stood in the doorway.

“Right here is fine,” Mark said.

“Okay, well, I’ve really missed you. I know we have different ways of showing how we care.”

Mark was silent.

“I mean maybe I can wait longer, I am only 32, you know?”

Mark smirked.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Val asked, getting annoyed. “Or maybe you could even sing something since that’s what you’ve been doing since I left.”

Mark chuckled.

“Wow, yeah, okay let me sing you something Val. I don’t think you should wait any longer,” he said. “If you want to get married and have children, then I think you should go do it.”

“What?” she asked.

“Yeah, you told me I can’t commit to anything and maybe you’re right. So I can’t finish a book or a television series, but if it’s something I care about, I do commit, but you don’t see it that way.”

Valerie stormed to the door, throwing her polished red nails in the air. Mark followed her and closed the door. He moved back to his record collection singing the cover song.

“Stop makin’ a fool outta me… Valerie…”

Fiction Friday: Valerie, part I.

What will happen to Mark and Valerie?

What will happen to Mark and Valerie?

The following piece is an original written by Holly A. Phillips in 2007. It was based on the song “Valerie,” sung by the one, the only Amy Winehouse. 

    *     *     *

He unfolded a black chair and put the acoustic on his knee; he closed his eyes and ran his fingers across the strings. It was severely out of tune, warped from the weather. He tightened the strings and worked them back to life, the sound becoming sweet.

It was 9pm on a frigid Thursday in November. The cold garage floor awakened him. Old boxes of music he’d just uncovered surrounded Mark.

“Can’t you commit to anything?” she asked four nights ago.

“Val, three years is a commitment,” he pleaded. “I am committed to you.”

“Make it official,” she said. “We are in our thirties, Mark. I want children, let’s get this show on the road.”

But now, it was too late. Valerie was gone, took her show on the road, but left Mark behind. Mark had, and still did love her. He never noticed any real problems between the two of them, until Valerie would explode over a late night dinner or during a sports program. She always said the same thing:

“Hello, don’t you see I’m here, too?” or “Mark, I worked on this dinner all afternoon, can’t you at least be on time or call me?”

Mark didn’t understand trivial matters, like calling. After all, they lived together.

In the garage, he moved onto the sky blue Fender and plugged in the amp; reveling in its static start. Mark moved about the garage, laughing at the chords he remembered and the songs his fingers had memorized. It was college again, only this time, he was alone in his garage wearing boxers, which were bigger — to compensate the beer he drank in those days.

Valerie was never a music lover like Mark. He’d grown up in a house, always listening to jazz and the blues. He moved through stages of interest, but played some rock in college with three of his buddies. They mainly did open-mic nights and frat parties, but it was some of the most fun Mark had.

The phone rang. Mark listened through the garage door that led into the kitchen to hear the answering machine.

“You’ve reached Mark and Val, leave us a message and we’ll get back to you.”

“Hey… it’s me, again… Mark, if you’re there please answer. I know it was me who left, but please, I really want to talk to you.” Valerie sighed and then hung up.

Mark met Val in college; they had a few classes together. They were never close until after graduation; they kept running into each other at coffee shops. Then, Val was bubbly and spontaneous. She was a dream. She’d show up unannounced with a homemade casserole and a bottle of wine, which they always enjoyed over a game of Scrabble. They fit together. When Mark was out with Valerie, he felt he could take over the city.

The relationship moved quickly, but it was natural, until they moved in together. Valerie was so buttoned-up all the time. She never wanted to relax and was always bringing up lunch conversations she had with her married friends. Those talks ended in Val muttering something about “free milk” and thing she would shake her ring finger in his face. Mark had never lived with a girlfriend before.

Mark got back to his music. He cleared out boxes, finding different pedals he once used. Each one warped the sound in its own way. Occasionally, he would stand up and sing.

There was a knock on the garage door.

“Great,” Mark said to himself. “Someone’s pissed about the noise.”

Mark pulled up on the large door to see his friend and neighbor, Kyle, standing in the driveway, equipped with his black, triangular electric in his hand.

“Hey man! Wow… been awhile,” Mark said.

“I know,” Kyle said. “But it’s alright. I heard some familiar music coming from out here, so I thought I’d join…”

Mark motioned Kyle into the garage and pulled the door down behind him.

“Great, man. I ran into a little extra time on my hands and been digging up our old stuff,” Mark said.

“Yeah,” Kyle said. “I haven’t played this thing since ’95. Kim was a little agitated when she saw me leave the house with it.”

Mark laughed as he walked into the kitchen.

“I bet,” he said. “Women worry, you know. But you don’t have to stay late — although it feels good to hear it all again.”

Mark cracked a few beers and moved back into the garage.

“Man, you kept all our old stuff. I don’t even remember half of it,” Kyle said.

“I know, but once you hear it, it really comes back,” Mark said, smiling. “It’s great.”

Mark plugged his guitar into an amp and started tuning. Mark worked the Fender, plugged in a pedal, and went to it.

Check out “Valerie”, part II, right here, next Friday, August 28. 

Pic of the Week.

I got a record player for my birthday! Wahoo! It’s something I’ve been wanting for years; mainly because I think it’d be really fun to hunt for records. I was always planning on buying a player for myself, but just never could get around to justifying it.

So, I asked for one and my mom got it for me, along with a few of my favorite records — Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.”

I didn’t get a traditional-looking record player; I wanted something different, and something small. I don’t have much room for anything big in my apartment and the last thing I need is more clutter. I got the Sylvania Turntable in blue, with USB coding (see it here).

The cool thing about it is, you can use batteries with it if you aren’t in a situation to plug it in! And, if you buy a record that you don’t have otherwise, you can hook it up to your computer and it will put the digital files there. Neat!

Last Friday night, I got home from work and needed to get some cleaning done, so I decided to take a moment and set up my record player. Now, I’ve never even touched a record, so I actually did follow the provided directions.

It took me a minute to get everything set up, but I put in Jagged Little Pill first. Everything was sounding good, until it just wasn’t. The song slowed down and sounded completely warped. I looked into the other room where the record player was, and… Blanche.

The open-style of the Sylvania had tempted Blanche — think about it, an open-record, spinning — and she had her paw on the record. Nnnoooooo!

It took me 30 minutes of reminding Blanche, NO, we do not touch the record. This was very, very difficult, as Blanche is a kitty who loves two things: 1. Loud music, and 2. anything mysteriously moving.

But by side two, Blanche had distanced herself (1 foot) from the player and was being a decent cat about the situation. I just hope the record isn’t completely ruined.

In other news, being reminded how freaking good Jagged Little Pill was? PRICELESS. There are songs on there I totally forgot about, and as I was listening, and singing along, I was Googling, and found out that this month, the album turns 20. Wow (I actually found a recent article from Elle on the subject).

“One Hand in my Pocket” might still be my jam.

There’s a ton of albums on my wish list right now — John Mayer, of course, David Gray, Lauren Hill, Alicia Keys, Jamie Cullum, Chris Botti, etc. — but what are some you’ve heard that you think I’d like?

“I feel drunk but I’m sober, I’m young and I’m underpaid. I’m tired but I’m working, yeah. I care but I’m restless, I’m here but I’m really gone. I’m wrong and I’m sorry baby.” — One Hand in my Pocket

Me & my bullshit, part two.

Drop the mic, bitch.

Drop the mic, bitch.

Read part one of “Me & my bullshit.” 

I find a tiny bit (okay, a medium bit) of comfort in recognizing the fact that the road many writers, amateur and professional, travel is one that’s alone.

The craft of writing is introspective — even fiction writers often say their stories come from some place real — and looking within isn’t something that happens at a conference table or in a room full of cubicles.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what success means to me — not in terms of money, but in terms of what every day is like for me. I’m still working to get where I want to be.

While Ryan’s words really, really hurt me, I know that I cannot change who I am to please him, or anyone. I have always promised myself and my readers that I will remain honest, even if that means I’m not the most popular person.

I also know that there’s a big, big difference between someone like me who works every single day, chasing my dreams, and someone who sits at a job, letting the days pass them by. Complacency is not for me.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about successful people, and I’ve noticed that many of those people, who are SO successful in business, are also misunderstood in many other aspects of their life. Perhaps that’s just how it goes.

Take Steve Jobs for example. Chances are you’re reading this from a device that he invented. I’m writing it on one. And I’ll Tweet about it on another one later today. In his biography by Walter Isaacson (a genius writer that I’ve been lucky enough to interview), there are many mentions of how Jobs went against the grain in nearly all areas of his life — even in unflattering ways.

At the root of the reality distortion was Jobs’s belief that the rules didn’t apply to him. He had some evidence for this; in his childhood, he had often been able to bend reality to his desires. Rebelliousness and willfulness were ingrained in his character. He had the sense that he was special, a chosen one, an enlightened one.

— Walter Isaacson, “Steve Jobs” [119]

There are other successful creatives I can relate to — Amy Winehouse and her broken heart (and the ability to turn that into beautiful music), John Green in his writing processes, and of course, my love, John Mayer, in his ways of being so, so introspective and insecure, that it gets him in trouble socially.

And while I know (haters, this is for you) I’m not nearly as genius as those people, I do know that I’m not a dumb ass. I’m not the girl who lost her job. I’m not someone wishing to be a writer. I’m someone just trying (and often succeeding) to make it. And by it, I mean my dreams a reality.

My past is littered with guys like Ryan. Guys who tell me how great I am, and then disappear for no valid reason. One of the biggest questions I had when Ryan sent me his douchey text was this: Why are we so quick to cut people off?

It’s that easy, especially hiding behind a fucking phone screen, to write someone a message and cut them out of your life forever, because you don’t feel like dealing with a human. Another question I had? If my behavior was so scary, why didn’t he ask me if I was okay?

And that’s the difference between being selfless and selfish, my friends.

I know I won’t stop writing — let’s be honest here, there’s nothing else I’m really cut out for. And I know it’s not going to be easy. But when the road gets tough, and the guys continue to be assholes, I’ll probably just write more of these posts about my “bullshit.”

You know the greatest thing about that guy at the gym who thinks my column is bullshit?

He read it.

If you’re nice to me I’ll never write anything bad about you. 

—Amy Winehouse

WYSK: Amy Winehouse.

Beautiful & talented, Amy Winehouse

Beautiful & talented, Amy Winehouse

When I heard the song, “Rehab” for the first time, I thought Amy Winehouse was a smart-mouthed, bad ass bitch, just making fun of pop culture and it’s celebulites, of the Lindsay Lohan-sort.

So, I bought “Back to Black,” unaware that it would be an album that changed my world — not unlike Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Having just gone through a breakup at the time, her words struck a chord in my heart. Hell, most of the songs still ring true for me today, and I have a feeling they will for awhile.

I don’t understand, Why do I stress A man, When there’s so many bigger things at hand, We could a never had it all, We had to hit a wall, So this is inevitable withdrawal, Even if I stop wanting you, A Perspective pushes true, I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon.

—Amy Winehouse, Tears Dry On Their Own

I was obsessed with the lyrics on the entire album, the jazz sound, not to mention her cool style — the hair, the eyes — and of course, her signature voice. But I wasn’t the only one who loved what I was hearing: the album won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album (for 2007), it was named UK’s 2nd Bestselling Album of the 21st Century (selling 3.5 copies in the UK alone), and by 2012, it had sold more than 20 million copies around the world.

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Amy’s 2007 RS cover

Shortly after I fell in love with the album, I was so excited to get my hands on a copy of Amy’s cover issue of Rolling Stone. But when I read the story inside, I discovered something I never expected — her substance problems.

I know, I know, call me crazy. But I was naive, and I didn’t really know anything about drugs or terms, and I didn’t know that her songs were referring to actual experience with substance abuse.

“I loved you much, it’s not enough, you love blow, and I love puff…” (Back to Black).

I called my mom in tears — why was such a talented person doing drugs? I was scared she would die before I ever got to see her perform live.

It was a moment I’ll never forget — a loss of innocence from a magazine, happening when I was nearly 22 years old.

I put it in that part of my mind that does myself favors; eventually letting my worries fade. After all, I’ve never let an artist’s personal life deter me from making a decision about their craft. There’s something attractive to me about people who are so, so passionate about what they do, it nearly becomes their demise.

What I love about Ms. Winehouse was her honesty. She sang about her relationships openly, even if they weren’t stereotypically beautiful. Her songs were relatable, and that is priceless.

I continued as a fan, bought her previous album, “Frank,” watched her live performances on YouTube, and turned a cheek when paparazzi took jabs wherever they could, releasing less-than-flattering photos of my favorite cat-eyed chick.

And then, we all know what happened. Her time was cut short. I was in the worst mood when I found out she was gone; I felt silly for being so upset about a celebrity dying, but I was so sad that she was so young, and that we’d never get to hear new material.

But I know my sorrow was selfish.

And as sad as I was, and sometimes still get over our lost legend, I was thrilled when an album was released, “Lioness: Hidden Treasure,” songs by Amy Winehouse that were left unheard, or remixes of songs fans loved — my favorite song on that album is a cover of “Our Day Will Come” (click the picture below to see the video and hear Amy’s version).

Today, Amy Winehouse is remembered by her family, friends, and fans. Donate to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, or buy cool merchandise that supports their efforts to help young talents with substance abuse problems.

The one and only...

The one and only…

Life’s short. Anything could happen, and it usually does, so there is no point in sitting around thinking about all the ifs, ands and buts.

—Amy Winehouse, 1983-2011