(Note: I’m just going to pretend I didn’t miss 2 weeks of this project. More on that later!)

Hi, I’m Jennifer. And I like pop music. This includes Miley Cyrus, but not her blonde alter ego Hannah Montana. There’s no difference, you say? You would be wrong.

Hannah Montana’s songs are Disney pop-ish. Very light and easily trimmed down to 45 seconds to be squeezed in between episodes of Suite Life with Zack & Cody and Wizards of Waverly Place. It’s clear that the Disney machine wrote every word and note of every song. At least with Miley, you get some of the teen angst without the bubble gum. Her songs are simply more tolerable, in my opinion. Like this one. If you didn’t know it was Miley Cyrus, you might think it was some rocker chick ala Avril Lavigne. And I don’t care what anyone says about “The Climb.” That song still brings tears to my eyes, despite the fact that I’m not sure she’s lived enough to fully understand what it means.

I took Charles Jr. to see the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus “Best of Both Worlds” concert four years ago. Miley’s set was infinitely more entertaining than Hannah’s, despite the appearance of the Jonas Brothers (can you say ear-splitting screams?). Two years ago, my friends and I took our first graders to see Miley’s concert. You might remember the reviews of the show. The words “grind” and “pole dance” come to mind. Awkward. But the music was good.

I keep rooting for Miley, despite her recent rash of bad decisions. I hope she can overcome the “teen star” curse and make something decent of herself. I think there’s talent there, but it’s just caught up in the mix of tabloid gossip, teen rebellion and Tennessee twang.

So, here’s some bubblegum to start your Thanksgiving Day. The flavor only lasts about 3 minutes, but it’s pretty good while you’ve got it.


Okay, I’m cheating again. This song didn’t actually pop up on my iPod, but it’s the first song I wanted to hear this morning.

I watched “Less than Zero” last night after the kids went to bed. For those of you who aren’t children of the 80s, the movie that gets its name and main characters from Brett Easton Ellis’ novel. It stars dreamy Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy as Clay, who comes home to L.A. from an east coast college for Christmas; Brat Packer wannabe Jami Gertz as Blair his high school girlfriend; and a young Robert Downey Jr. as Julian, a drug addicted party boy whose storyline does not have a happy ending. He basically plays himself.

When Clay returns, he finds his best friend strung out on crack and in deep debt to a sleazy dealer, played expertly by James Spader. His ex-girlfriend is a cocaine sniffing model with serious codependency issues. As the trailer says, “Sometimes, you can have everything in the world you want, except the way it used to be.” The movie captures the decadence of the 80s well, I think, with lots of partying, lots of music, and lots of bad hair.

I LOVED the movie when it hit theaters in 1987. I was a sophomore in high school, and I went to see it with my boyfriend at the time. Afterwards, we stopped by Reservoir Park, which was the place to hang out on weekend nights if you went to Hall High School. I was so shocked by the movie (SPOILER ALERT! Julian sinks into the depths of addiction and dies of a drug overdose) that I was numb. I remember looking around at all my classmates and acquaintances stumbling around with beer cans and Solo cups full of Purple Passion and being sad. I asked to go home almost immediately.

Watching the movie last night, I vividly recalled what it felt like to come home from college on break and reunite with old friends. I have tons of old photos of Thanksgiving and Christmas break 1989. Those of us who’d gone away to college crash landed at the apartments of the few who stayed behind. The handful of us at small private colleges complained about the pressure cooker of studying and making good grades. The ones at big state schools were dealing with homesickness and trying to find their way in the midst of so many students. The few working and living in Little Rock were worried about paying rent. They looked at the rest of us as whiny college kids who weren’t living in the real world. In just six short months, we’d grown up and apart.

Thankfully, the majority of us emerged from the decadent 80s and 90s intact, and most of us have gravitated back to one another over the years. After the weddings and the children came along, we found we had more in common again. The girls make it a point to gather every Christmas for a night of wine and reminiscing. Maybe this Christmas we’ll build a fire in the pavilion at Reservoir, drink Purple Passion out of Solo cups, and play this song really loud.

Ah, yeah! What a perfect song for this day. Sometimes the ol’ iPod really knows what you need to hear.

My morning began with a 5 a.m. alarm. By 5:30, I was heading out for a half-mile warm-up run through Hillcrest with my partner in pain Dorothy. By 5:45, my fitness instructor Susan was putting us through the wringer, with shuffle drills, push ups/push offs, plank jacks and lots and lots of arm/shoulder strength training.

I’ve been working out with Susan in her Body Back class since February. During my first 8-week session, I blogged weekly about the pain and pleasure of the whole thing. You can read more about that here, here and here.

This morning, Susan pushed us really hard. At one point, as she was correcting my form on “preachers” (bicep curls done while holding your elbows very high), she said “You can do this. You’re sexy and you know it!” Which prompted me to sing-song, “If you’re sexy and you know it, clap your hands.” It’s now our Body Back theme song. JT’s not the only one bringing sexy back.

On another note: I truly do love this song. And I’m probably more obsessed with Justin than I should be. Throw Jimmy Fallon into the mix and I can’t be held responsible for my actions.

So perfect for Wordless Wednesday. The Lady needs few words.

She. Is. Awesome.

Geez. Do I have some crap on my iPod or what? If I’m learning anything with this project, it’s that having an entire album on your iPod just because you enjoy one or two songs off of it is not always necessary. Trust me, I’d culling my ABBA tunes down to the essentials asap.

What ABBA tunes are essential, one might ask (especially one who doesn’t enjoy the finer points of disco)? I’d have to say “Dancing Queen” (my Ally-McBeal-esque theme song that I hear in my head when I need a boost), “Take A Chance on Me,” and “Mama Mia” are really the only ABBA songs one needs in life. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.

ABBA will always remind me of graduate school. I attended the University of Mississippi for two years while I pursued a master’s in English. It was a murky time in my life, as I was trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. I try hard to remember all the times I laughed and all the things I learned, and not all the times I made a mess of relationships and friendships.

Most of the grad students in the English department were there to get PhDs. They were uber serious about their “focus areas,” dissertations and career paths. A master’s degree was fine with me. I didn’t want to be a professional academician. I just love to learn, and I felt like there was more I could learn – about Southern literature, British literature, American literature … anything they would teach me.

“You mean you’re terminal?” my fellow grad students would ask me. “Um, no,” I’d reply. “I’m not dying. I just don’t want a PhD.” Dead. Silence. I honestly think many of them couldn’t comprehend that decision. To them, I might as well be dying. I think I baffled many of them. They simply didn’t understand a loud, bouncy Southern girl who loved to watch TV and was obsessed with pop culture.

So, I charmed them with my ability to throw a heck of a dance party. I became the “cruise director” for the entire department, planning tailgates in The Grove for football games and organizing happy hours and “late nights.” Amidst the serious academics, I managed to find three very smart women who shared my joie d’ vivre and love of disco music. Julie befriended me first and always kept me grounded throughout each one of my dramas. Elisabeth and I choreographed a mean routine to “Car Wash.” Jill and I cleared out the furniture in her front room and invited the whole department over for booze and dancing to ABBA. I treasure the memories of dancing, laughing, studying, working and living in a community with these women for two years.

The memories of dance parties and those three friendships may be the best things I took from that time in Oxford. Let’s face it, I don’t often have to offer literary analysis of the feminist undertones in the female protagonist in William Faulkner’s “Sanctuary” these days. But I can do it. While dancing to ABBA no less.

I’d love to know how many of you have even heard of this song. Harry Chapin was a singer-songwriter, most famous for “Cat’s in the Cradle,” the tear jerker about the mean ol’ Dad who ignores his kids until it’s too late. He also penned and sang “Taxi,” about the pot-head who picks up his old high school girlfriend in his taxi one rainy night and is forced to confront the regret he has about all the things he didn’t do with his life. You know, happy, uplifting stuff like that.

Harry’s songs are actually some of the best-written short stories I’ve ever heard put to music. He managed to cram fully developed characters and their arcs into 4-minute tunes. This song is off his live album, aptly titled “Greatest Stories.” In it, a semi-truck driver meets his demise when he loses control of his vehicle and spills its contents – 30,000 pounds of bananas – onto the highway. Miserable, right? But Harry tells the story with humor and great skill, starting slow and building to a crescendo right about the time the driver picks up speed.

My favorite Chapin character of them all has to be Mr. Tanner, “a cleaner from a town in the mid-west” who “also was a baritone, who sang while hanging clothes.” The story follows his failed attempt to launch his singing career at the urging of his friends and neighbors. The refrain is haunting, especially when Big John Wallace, a member of Harry’s band, adds his voice, singing “O Holy Night” as Harry sings this:

Music was his life.

It was not his livelihood.

And it made him feel so happy.

It made him feel so good.

And he sang from his heart,

and he sang from his soul.

He did not know how well he sang.

It just made him whole.

I was introduced to Harry Chapin by Charlie Crow, the father of my childhood best friend Suzanne. When Suzanne and I were 15, the Crows took me to Europe with them for three weeks. My parents had just announced their separation, which would end a few months later in divorce. The Crows had recently moved from Little Rock to Birmingham, separating me from Suzanne for the first time since we were six years old. Charlie and Anne knew I needed a break from Little Rock and graciously offered to take me along on their family vacation.

After a week in Paris, we rented a car and drove from France through Switzerland and Germany. Charlie had “Greatest Stories” on tape, and we listened to it over and over again. I remember looking out the window at the passing landscapes while Charlie sang along to “Mr. Tanner” in his own baritone. It’s such a good memory of feeling safe, secure and happy during a time in my life when the combination of those emotions was rare.

There are  a few versions of “30,000 Pounds” on You Tube, but none of them are as good as this version of “Mr. Tanner.” Grab a hankie and enjoy!

Remember how your parents were always saying, “I can remember exactly where I was when I heard that JFK had been shot.”? Well, kids, I can remember exactly where I was when I heard Michael Jackson had died.

I was sitting in the stands at the Ken Best field at Junior Deputy baseball park watching All-Star practice with the other moms. Someone stopped to check Facebook, and boom! The world was changed forever. One of us (most likely me) shouted, “No way! Michael Jackson died!” The coaches on the field stopped what they were doing and walked over to the fence to listen to someone (again, probably me) read the news article aloud.

I texted my brother: “Michael Jackson dead of a heart attack.” His reply: “Mama say, mama sah, mama coosah.” He’s quick witted, that one.

We (okay, just me) started singing our favorite tunes: “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” “PYT” and “Smooth Criminal” topped the list. We talked about how sad his life was and how talented he was. Some people talked about all the tabloid gossip, accusations and lawsuits. We had our own little wake for the King of Pop right there in the summer twilight. And then I went home and promptly downloaded “The Essential Michael Jackson” from iTunes and began showing my children his videos on You Tube.

For the next few weeks, my children begged to hear MJ whenever we got in the car. Their favorites are still “Rockin’ Robin” and “Black and White.” I’m partial to “The Love Yo Save” and have used it on several playlists and mix CDs for friends. If you’re ever next to me at a stoplight and I appear to be boogieing to Motown, it’s likely a Jackson 5 tune. Dance. Shout. Shake your body down to the ground.