Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Tag: music (page 1 of 2)

Remembering Aaron Copland, American Composer

Today would have been American composer Aaron Copland’s 114th birthday, which gives me an excuse to finally blog about one of my favorite classical artists of all time. Most people may not realize it, but they already know one of his most famous works, Rodeo, from the “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner” commercial that seemed ubiquitous in the 90s. Remember this?

Copland was born in Brooklyn on November 14, 1900. His story is, in many ways, a strikingly American tale: the son of Jewish immigrants who later became a composer of music that encapsulates the American spirit. He studied music in Paris between 1917 and 1921, part of the larger community of American expatriates including Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. When he returned to the United States, he collaborated with other young composers, and entered Alfred Stieglitz’s community of artists. Copland, like many other artists of his generation, was inspired by Stieglitz’s belief that “the American artist should reflect ‘the ideas of American democracy.'”

"AaronCopland" by Gov - http://memory.loc.gov/music/copland/phot/phot0098v.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AaronCopland.JPG#mediaviewer/File:AaronCopland.JPG

“AaronCopland” by Gov – http://memory.loc.gov/music/copland/phot/phot0098v.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In keeping with that ideal, Copland’s work, particularly between the 1930s and 1940s, was deliberately accessible, written in what he referred to as the “vernacular” style. The landscape of the American West became an inspiration for many of his pieces, including ballet scores Rodeo and Billy the Kid, as well as his Fanfare for the Common Man and the Third Symphony.

Copland wrote an impressive array of music,  from symphonies and ballets to film scores and even an opera. My favorite, however, will always be Appalachian Spring. In it, he draws on the famed Shaker melody, “‘Simple Gifts.” At just over 30 minutes long, it is a slice of heaven. Below is my favorite recording, performed by the San Francisco Symphony and led by composer Michael Tilson Thomas. If you’d like to see footage from the original 1944 production of the ballet, check out this video clip.

One of the coolest things about Appalachian Spring is the way that it has been used and remixed by other artists to give rise to new works, in the same way that Copland himself draws on the Shaker song. Echoes can be heard in Shaker Loops by modern composer John Adams, as seen in this performance from the Ciompi Quartet below.

Likewise, composer John Williams pulled from Appalachian Spring when he wrote”Air and Simple Gifts” for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, where it was performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill and Gabriela Montero.

Copland is remembered for his talents as a composer and conductor, as well as his role as a teacher and mentor for countless young musicians. It was the latter role that led to his nickname as the “Dean of American Composers.”

For me, Copland’s work evokes both nostalgia for the past and unbounded optimism for the future, music that is not only timeless and beautiful, but evokes the dignity of the human spirit. I leave you with his Fanfare for the Common Man, introduced by Leonard Bernstein, and conducted by the composer himself (music starts at 2:02).

Anyone else a fan of Copland’s work? If you’re interested in more information about him, including photos, news clippings, correspondence, and other archival treasures, check out this awesome collection from the Library of Congress.

Okay, folks. It’s Friday, and I think we’re all probably in need of some end-of-the-week funnies. Christina Blanco’s rendition of ’80s classic, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” totally delivers.

There have been some great covers of this song in the past, notably the “Literal Video Version” from Funny or Die (seriously, if you haven’t seen this yet, you are missing out). Here, impressionist and comedian Christina Blanco performs the song in the style of 19 different divas: Adele, Cher, Judy Garland, Patti LuPone, Kristin Chenoweth, Edith Piaf, Bette Midler, Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, Bernadette Peters, Gwen Stefani, Zooey Deschanel, Britney Spears, Shakira, Alanis Morissette, Norah Jones, Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, and Barbra Streisand.

Talk about crazy talent!

(via Shakesville)

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Revisiting the Music of Tell Me No Lies

voicesToday’s post is brought to you by the voices in my head. Yes, my characters not only try to dictate my storylines and plots, but now they are conspiring to stage a coup and take over my blog posts as well. 🙂 Because Tempest Dumont, the main character of my steampunk WIP, TELL ME NO LIES, has demanded it, I’m going to talk about the music behind the story.

For anyone who’s unaware, TELL ME NO LIES is my crazy steampunk romance murder-myster, set in 1890s San Francisco (the Barbary Coast, to be specific). Tempest is a popular saloon singer who finds herself targeted by a mysterious serial killer who is bent on murdering those scandalous “ladies of the stage,” Jack-the-Ripper-style. The police refuse to believe that the murders are connected, and so she sets off on a one-woman crusade to find the killer and bring him to justice. Along the way, she receives the help of Adam Davenport, the one detective who believes her claims and wants to see justice served. The two of them are like oil and water, and they struggle to set aside their differences (and ignore the growing of attraction between them) to solve the murders.

Tempest is one of those characters who just won’t shut up. She’s incredibly different from my other main characters — loud, brassy, and cynical. She had a rough upbringing, ran away from home when she was 15, and ended up falling in love with a ne’er-do-well airship pirate who eventually broke her heart and tried to frame her for one of his crimes. Now she thinks that she’s heartless and incapable of love… but she just might be wrong.

The playlist has a distinct folk/country feel to it. Even though the tale takes place at the end of the 19th century when San Francisco has become refined and urban, there’s this residual “wild west” vibe that I can’t quite shake.

The first song that I’ll share with you is “Tennessee” by Gillian Welch (Lyrics). In so many ways, this is the definitive Tempest song, just from the first verse alone:

I kissed you ‘cause I’ve never been an angel
I learned to say hosannas on my knees
But they threw me out of Sunday school when I was 9
And the sisters said I did just as I pleased
Even so, I tried to be a good girl
It’s only what I want that makes me weak
I had no desire to be a child of sin
Then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek.

That scandalous, whiskered man? Gillian Welch is of course referring to Jack Davenport, the rakish airship pirate who broke Tempest’s heart and double-crossed her. In all seriousness, however, I love Gillian’s voice, and I am sorta convinced that this song was written for Tempest. It’s the perfect theme.

The second song is “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars (Lyrics).

Tempest is the sort of gal who doesn’t really believe in redemption, and who carries around a lot of baggage when it comes to dealing with her past. The chorus resonates with all those themes:

Ain’t going back to Barton Hollow
Devil’s gonna follow me ‘ever I go
Won’t do me no good, washing in the river
Can’t no preacherman save my soul

The final song isn’t folk or country, but pop — Pink’s “Glitter in the Air” (Lyrics).The entire album, Funhouse, is on the playlist, but this song is my favorite. Incidentally, I’m convinced that this may be the best awards show performance I’ve ever seen. Pink kills it here:

I love this song to the marrow of my bones. It is achingly beautiful, and the last lines of the song move me to tears sometimes:

Have you ever wished for an endless night?
Lassoed the moon and the stars and hold that rope tight
Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself
Will it ever get better than tonight?

This the song that plays in my head whenever I think of Tempest and Adam’s romance. They’re two souls who have been scarred, who are a bit bruised and broken, yet somehow fight their fears and allow themselves to be vulnerable to one another.

So there you have it, the music of TELL ME NO LIES. It’s not a definitive list by any means — I’ve provided that below, courtesy of Spotify — but I think these three songs capture the overall vibe of the novel. Just listening to them makes me want to drop everything and start working on it again — or maybe that’s just Tempest talking. 😉

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ROW80: Some Belated December Goals

Erm… It’s December. Has anyone noticed that? And it’s not just December, but practically mid-December…

I suppose I shouldn’t be completely shocked, but I feel like it was just yesterday I crossed the 50k finish line for NaNoWriMo (a day early, I might add), and got this lovely shiny badge to affix to every possible surface online and off display proudly.

And now it’s holiday season! Decorations are going up around town, the local radio station is playing festive carols, and I am staying far, far away from all shopping centers, because mall parking lots during December must be a tenth circle of hell that Dante forgot to write about. However, I have been playing this video clip non-stop for the last few days, and it is giving me all the feels. Mariah Carey, Jimmy Fallon, the Roots, and a bunch of random little kids? Perfection.

Now that NaNo is through, and December is most definitely here, I figure it’s time for some amended goals for the remainder of this round of ROW80. Here’s what I have on the list…

  • Revise and submit my 25-page dissertation proposal to my committee by the end of December. The “official” proposal will be done by mid-January, and I will hopefully be able to amend that for a grant proposal due mid-February. This week’s mini-goal: Continue archive research, read sociological journal articles, start hammering out guiding dissertation questions and a theoretical framework.
  • Suspend fiction-writing till 2013, when the “Year of Edits” will begin in earnest. Aim for writing at least 3 poems each week, just to keep those skills sharp. This week’s mini-goal: Revise 1 poem, write 2 more. 
  • Use my daily sprints over at the #ROW80 hashtag (11 am Pacific Time) for generating blog content, including posts for December and some for January. This week’s mini-goal: Complete 3 blog posts, not counting ROW80 check-ins. 

There are still a million other thing I need to be doing–Twitter and Facebook? Reading other people’s blogs? Commenting on those blogs? Remembering to wash my hair?–but these are my biggest priorities at the moment. It’s all about baby steps, right?

How many of you have decided to alter your goals to accomodate the holiday season? 

Beating Back the Monday Blues with Dancing Alan Rickman

Oh boy, folks, it’s one of those Mondays. You know, the one where you just want a perpetual snooze button on the alarm clock. Or, even better, a timeturner a la Harry Potter, so that you can rewind back to the start of the weekend and have ALL the leisure time.

Sadly, neither of those are in the cards for me to day. In an attempt to beat back the Monday blues, I’m offering up one surefire solution: dancing Alan Rickman.

Best. Gif. Ever. From the film, "The Search for John Gissing," via watson-obliviate.tumblr.com

While Mr. Rickman’s current viral video involves his ability to make tea-drinking epic, I am a sucker for this oldie but goodie. His cameo appearance in Texas’ video for “In Demand” (one of my favorite songs) is nothing short of glorious.  However, if you are in the mood for something amazingly cracktastic, I highly recommend “Too Sexy” Snape. 😛

Why are they dancing in a petrol station? I have absolutely no clue, but I never look a gift horse in the mouth. Enjoy, friends!

UPDATE: The awesome Lauren Garafalo asked me if there was an extended clip of the gif shown above, so I did a little digging and found this absolute gem. Again, it is from the closing credits of The Search for John Gissing, an indie film starring Alan Rickman, Mike Binder, and Janeane Garafalo. If you haven’t seen it, get yourself to Netflix and rent it.

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Classical Meets Bluegrass in the Goat Rodeo Sessions

I’ve got this thing for fiddles. My friends and family don’t really understand it — what’s a city gal doing listening to bluegrass and country music? Sure, they’re pretty broad-minded with their music. They listen to rock and pop, classical and jazz, but down-home, folksy, Americana music with fiddles and banjos? Definitely not their cup of tea.

So when the whole hipster thing started up, I was delighted. I can do without all the ironic facial hair and lumberjack plaid, but the hipster penchant for folk music is right up my alley.  From Mumford and Sons to The Civil Wars, the twang of the banjo and toe-tapping sounds of the fiddle have gone mainstream.

The musicians of the "Goat Rodeo Sessions" (Source: Classical Archives)

Recently, I stumbled upon an amazing collaboration between Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Stuart Duncan (fiddle, banjo, mandolin), Edgar Meyer (bass, piano, gamba), and Chris Thile (mandolin, guitar, gamba). The collaboration is known as “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” and has become one of my favorite albums to date. According to Wikipedia, “The term ‘goat rodeo‘ refers to a chaotic situation where many things have to go right in order for it to work, a reference to the unusual and challenging aspects of blending classical and bluegrass music.”

The result, however, is nothing short of fantastic. It calls to mind the work of earlier classical composers like Aaron Copland, who wove folk-inspired songs of the “common man” into his work (for those of you in the US who remember the “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner” campaign, the theme song was taken from Copland’s “Rodeo“).

The song below, the first track off of the Goat Rodeo Sessions album, just plain makes me feel good, and the video brings a smile to my face. There’s nothing like watching four amazing musicians perform together, and look like they’re having a blast doing it.

Has anyone stumbled upon awesome new music lately? Rave and recommend in the comments below!

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A Dose of Awesome: OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass”

The band OK Go is one of my favorites when it comes to inventive, creative, dance-yourself-silly music videos. Their first, the infamous treadmill dancing video that earned an MTV Video Music Award (VMA), set the bar for what has become the band’s trademark style.

The video for their 2009 single, “This Too Shall Pass,” features an insanely complex and intricate “Rube Goldberg” machine (a highly complex machine that does simple tasks).

Cool fact: A good friend on mine worked on the set of this video. You can see his contribution to the Rube Goldberg machine — the falling pingpong balls — around 3:00 minutes in.

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ROW80: We Are The Champions

First, a heads-up: I am doing my first guest post ever over at Nicole Basaraba’s blog. I’m chatting about the basics of the steampunk genre, so if you’ve ever been curious about the ins and outs of steampunk books, swing by and check it out.

-oOo-

All right, all right, I know — Queen’s “We Are The Champions” is such an over-done anthem theme these days that it almost verges on cliche and corny, but it is still such an awesome song. Better yet, it captures the sentiment that I have as we close out Round 1 of A Round of Words in 80 Days.

This is the end of my 3rd round of ROW80, and I’m more grateful than ever for participating. I’ve faltered on a few of my goals here and there. The bottom line, though, is that I have done more writing — and more learning about writing — in the last few months than ever before.

What Went Well:

  • TELL ME NO LIES isn’t finished, but I’ve made a lot of progress in plotting and rewriting the first 1/4 of the novel. The new characters and subplots that I have introduced are going to make the book a lot stronger, and give it more depth.
  • For the most part, I’ve managed to integrate exercise into my weekly routine. I’ve had a few slip-ups here and there, and I’m trying to learn how to exercise when I’m feeling stressed out, but I still count this as a win.
  • The day job still saps most of my energy, but I did manage to defend my MA thesis, which means I can sign my name “Lena Corazon, MA.” Squeee!
  • I’ve succeeded in being social during this round, which is a huge shock. I was such a loner last round that I thought I would really have to work at reminding myself to go out and see people, but apparently not. 😀

What I Can Work On:

  • Ugh, blogging on a regular basis still seems to elude me. I have to be in a specific mood and frame of mind to write blog posts, and I still haven’t learned to summon it on a whim. I’m hoping to try and build up a cache of posts over spring break, but… we’ll see how that goes. Next round, I may try to set aside 1 writing sprint each week to work on blog posts.
  • I’d like to make time for reading. After my delicious book binge over Winter break, I’ve been reading in dribs and drabs, and it makes me cranky.

Things to Eagerly Anticipate:

  • Finishing my last class ever, and moving closer to narrowing down a dissertation topic.
  • Enjoying my last few months in Santa Barbara, and prepping for the big move back up to my parents’ house in San Francisco.
  • That tattoo I mentioned during the last check-in? It’s one step closer to becoming reality. I snagged an appointment for May 4th (the only opening the artist had before July), so now I’m just busy counting down the days. For those of you who have asked, I am getting my inner right forearm tattooed with my favorite quote from POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt: “Words have been all my life.” It will be accompanied by a peacock feather quill, similar to the one below.

So rock on, ROW-ers! From what I’ve seen over the last 80 days, you are all doing an amazing job, even if you have experienced some rough patches here and there.

Because we’ve all worked so hard, wouldn’t you say that it’s time for a PARTY? 

Our first ROCK THE ROW was simply epic (if you need a reminder, check out Jenny Hansen’s recap of the shenanigans and mayhem that occurred), but I think we can ratchet up the crazy even more for our next ROCKING celebration!

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Barbara McDowell and I are taking on hosting duties from our glitterific predecessors, Jenny Hansen and Nicole Basaraba. Plans for further madness are afoot, but for the moment, mark APRIL 4, 2012 into your calendars. More details to come!

ROW80: Under Pressure

I was on top of the world when I checked in on Monday, and for good reason: I had enjoyed an absolutely fantastic weekend away, and I was buoyed up by all of the good vibes and happiness that had been sent my way. Everything was grand for a few days… and then around Wednesday, panic set in.

Source: Pinterest

Like so many of you, I have a vast to-do list of things that absolutely must get done, and what sucks is that my biggest priorities have nothing to do with writing. I have a conference paper proposal due next week, along with the oral defense for my thesis and the regular load of 60-70 papers to grade. Add on everything else that I’d rather be doing (writing flash fiction and blog posts, visiting everyone else’s blogs, working on my WIPs, tweeting, reading books, watching movies and eating Cheetoes), and I basically need, oh, an extra 24 hours in a day to accomplish everything.

The anxiety and panic are physically paralyzing, to the point where I end up with fierce migraines and nausea. I sit down to tackle something on the to-do list, and I get so overwhelmed at the thought of everything else that I should be doing that I can’t do anything at all.

The thing is, I know much of this is self-inflicted. I am capable of finishing everything that I have on my plate. As so many of you have pointed out, I’ve lived with this thesis long enough that I know it inside and out. A 5-10 minute presentation, and the conversation that will follow with my committee, really shouldn’t be challenging. The conference paper proposal is only a short abstract, again one that is based on the work that I’ve already been doing. And the blog posts and social media are fun, nothing that should be giving me heart palpitations and sweaty palms.

So much of my problems stem from self-doubt and fear — fear that I won’t be good enough, that I’ll crash and burn in a spectacular display of epic failure, that I’ll embarrass myself (and my advisor) with my sheer incompetence.

All of this has started me to thinking over the last few days, and the question that reoccurs in my mind is one that is startlingly simple, yet also challenging: How much would I get done if I just abandoned self-doubt? I’m not talking about embarking on projects armed with hubris and arrogance. Rather, I’m thinking about approaching all areas of my life with the confidence that I am equipped and prepared to tackle any challenges that come my way. In my heart of hearts, I feel like I know more than I give myself credit for, and those things that I don’t know can be learned.

Perhaps this is one of those overarching goals that I can try to adopt for the remainder of this round: Abandon self-doubt. It’s not something that can really be measured directly, unless we’re talking about potential decreases in panic attacks, but I’d like to strive towards it all the same.

Here’s the short list of what I did get done this week:

Writing: Not too much happened here. I have ideas that are demanding to be released, and I am dying to just sit down and allow them to run free. This will maybe-hopefully happen this weekend.

Day Job: Met with my advisor on Thursday and started hammering out the next year of my life, including the directed study I’ll be taking with her next quarter, a list of the grants and fellowships I plan to apply for this fall, and plans to work as her research assistant next school year. There was also chatter about co-writing an article based on my thesis, and brainstorming potential syllabi I’ll want to have under my belt when I hit the job market in a couple of years. Overwhelming, but exciting.

Exercise: I squeezed in 4 days this week, even though 3 of those days were 15 minute stints on the glider, rather than the 30 minutes that I usually do. But I figure it’s better for me to at least move a little instead of sit around for days at a time.

Social Time: Surprisingly, there is lots of this happening — an impromptu girls’ night out on Monday, a birthday celebration for a colleague Thursday night, and a mock bachelorette party on Saturday night (it’s for Science, people, a sociological study of whether or not one of my single friends can “pass” as an engaged woman — long story).

50/50 Challenge: I haven’t had a chance to do any reading, but I finally saw Midnight in Paris, and I am in LOVE. So many people told me to watch it, and I’m delighted that I finally got the chance. As someone who has always felt like I was born in the wrong era, the movie resonated with me, and made me miss Paris all the more. I highly recommend it.

For anyone else who is feeling ridiculously overwhelmed, I dedicate the following song. Turn up the volume and dance it out, ’cause there’s nothing like a little Queen and David Bowie to make the world a better place. 😀

Be sure to swing by and send warm fuzzies to all the other ROW80 participants!

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Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Real Life Love Stories

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and because I am a die-hard hopeless romantic, I thought I’d dedicate today’s post to love, that most noble sentiment.

I dabble with romance in my writing, and a good romance book or film can always boost my spirits. But as much as I enjoy the love stories that Hollywood and my favorite novelists can create, it’s the love stories from real life that affect me the most.

Cupid by Michelangelo, Musee du Louvre

Cupid and Psyche | Image via Wikipedia

I didn’t always feel this way, but after my first (and, to date, last) relationship ended, I found myself looking at love in a completely different light. If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that maintaining a relationship is really damn hard… but that it’s worth the effort, if the person you’re with is also willing to put in the work.

My parents on their wedding day, July 1986

The older I get, the more I come to admire and understand the nuance of my parents’ relationship. As a child, I idolized their love story, the tale of a man and a woman from two different parts of the world meeting by chance in San Francisco, falling in love, getting married, and having a couple of kids.

I spent a lot of time looking at my atlas back in the day, tracing myself an imaginary line from the Philippines, where my dad was born and raised, to San Francisco, where he and his family moved when he was 15; from Ohio, where my mom was born, to Los Angeles, where she grew up, and up the coast to SF, where she moved in her early 20s. Add in the fact that my mom claims to have day-dreamed of marrying “a boy from an island” when she was 5, and you have the recipe for little Lena thinking that her parents’ relationship was written in the stars.

My parents worked in the same office in San Francisco, where dad was the chauffeur for the company president. As my mom tells the story, all of the ladies in the office had crushes on him, including all the fancy-pants executive secretaries… but somehow, he fell for her, the lowly receptionist. It almost reads like a romance novel: the plain Jane who wins the cute guy over all the other ladies. It was a story that I loved.

And yet, I knew very well the darker side of their relationship. Both of my parents came to their relationship saddled with their fair share of baggage, emotional and otherwise. To top it off, my dad had a nasty addiction to drugs and alcohol, which contributed to the fights and arguments, the cycle of making up, breaking up, and making up again.

The early years of their relationship were turbulent, and those problems only continued after they married and I was born. In my early memories, it was just my mom and me — dad was off elsewhere, carousing with the guys, too busy getting drunk and high to come home. And I even remember the day when everything changed, the terrible fight when my mom called the cops and had my dad arrested because his temper got so out of hand.

This is a story that, for so many reasons, shouldn’t have a happy ending. It’s a story that should have ended with a divorce… but it didn’t. Mom decided that she wasn’t going to take it anymore, kicked dad out the house, and told him he couldn’t come back till he was clean. And my dad hit rock bottom, decided that his life, his job, and his family were more important than anything else, and came back to us. My little sister was born shortly afterwards, when I was 5, and slowly but surely, we became a family.

The whole family together, Christmas 2010

Watching my parents grow together over the years has taught me that love is never easy, that it requires constant maintenance and cultivation, like a garden that must be tended each season in order for fruit to ripen and flowers to bloom. They have their ups and downs, the occasional argument and misunderstanding, but they are on solid ground with one another.

Now that my sister and I are both grown and more or less living on our own, it’s exciting for me to seem them enter a new phase in their relationship: two empty nesters who go out on impromptu dates, who have been together long enough to overcome some of the hardest challenges in their relationship and who now know each other so very well.

I think my proudest moment came last summer, when I watched them renew their vows for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Their story is still in the process of being written, but it is one that reminds me that real life love is rarely as simple or straightforward as in the movies.

My parents on their 25th wedding anniversary, July 2011

I remember them today, especially because they have another anniversary coming up — the 28th anniversary of their first date, which, in a strange twist of coincidence, falls on February 18th, my 25th birthday. Congrats, Mom and Dad!

-oOo-

Because I am a music fiend, I had to give you all a couple of my favorite love songs to go along with today’s theme of “real life love stories.” These two, in my mind, capture the poignancy and uncertainty of love.

The first song, “Kissing You” by Des’ree, will be familiar to any of you who have seen the 1997 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrman and starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s bittersweet and beautiful, and Des’ree’s voice never fails to send chills down my spine.

The second comes from John Legend’s first album, Get Lifted. No matter how many times I hear this song, I’ll never get sick of it. John Legend tells the story of the love that “ordinary people” face, one that is far more complex and nuanced than any Hollywood fairy tale can portray.

What are your favorite “real life” love stories? Any romantic songs that you can’t stop listening to?

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