Thursday, June 4, 2015

Introduction to My Playlist

Hi there,
 My name is Alex Phuong.  I plan to earn my Bachelor of Arts degree in English from California State University--Los Angeles by the end of 2015.

During one of my last quarters as an undergraduate student, I created a blog which could also be called a "Playlist."  My playlist is essentially a collection of writing that I did for my Senior Seminar, which deals with "Music and Literature."

I believe that music and literature are both interconnected, and that they both reveal fundamental themes about what it means to be human.  I hope that the writing I produced in this blog will educate others about the significance of the humanities, and to also teach people why music and literature are important within their own lives.

I will go ahead and let you explore my blog.  Please just be careful while undertaking this metaphorical journey as I do my best to explain why music and literature has impacted, and continues to impact, the world as people continue to understand what it means to be alive.

Take care!

Alex Andy Phuong

Understanding and Interpreting “The Secret Power”

           Music has the ability to enhance the mind and awaken the senses.  It can also serve as a powerful reminder about a person’s past that could either create a sense of nostalgia or a sense of pain.  Since music has the ability to conjure memories from the past, the short story from Statement Magazine 2014 entitled “The Secret Power,” by Brad Kehoe, holds great significance between music and literature because both of these entities can create a way to remind people of the past so that they could strive towards a better future.  Within this story, Brad Kehoe reveals the symbolic power of music as it assists the protagonist, named Timothy, with his transition from adolescence into adulthood.

            The short story entitled “The Secret Power” reveals the power of being oneself through the comforting power of music.  Told in first-person narration, Timothy is the protagonist who had to confront challenges during high school in the 1950s.  Specifically, he had to deal with a bully named Billy, and also fell in love with a girl named Audrey.  This piece relates to music and literature because the song that the speaker was listening to on the radio created a sense of nostalgia for him.  It also allowed the speaker to reflect on his life as an adolescent.  Music serves as a reminder about his past, and also reveals how much he has grown since then.

            As a teenager, Timothy did not necessarily have the best high school experience.  For example, he reveals that “[his] senior year of high school was one of the best years of [his] life.  It was also one of the worst.”  (15).  It was also during this time in which he “discovered [his] secret power” (15).  The speaker was able to accomplish all of these achievements by learning to accept life as it is.  Basically, he does this by not preoccupying himself with the thoughts of other people, especially his high school friends.  By doing that, he was able to marry a girl named Audrey, and live a full life.

            “The Secret Power” also explores what it means to be part of a current generation as it relates to music.  For example, during the dance that the speaker and Audrey both attended, the speaker reveals, “Then the song ‘Hound Dog’ came on by Elvis Presley, a new man to fame that all the women were crazy about” (Kehoe 18).  After describing that flashback, the speaker reveals that he “relived some memories” (18).  Such an occurrence suggests that music has the ability to remind people about the past while allowing them to reflect on their lives.  Thus, music can act like an artifact that would remind people of what life was like in the past.  Simultaneously, music can also reveal to listeners how much they might have changed between the past and the present as they reflect upon their lives while listening to specific pieces of music.

            Additionally, music also relates to the power of memory because it can remind people of the past.  It can also show how “Things have changed since then” (18).  It is true that everything changes over time, but music can still act like an artifact that would remind people of the essence of a time period in which a musical composition had been created.  People cannot relive the past, but they can still reflect from it so that they would be able to progress personally instead of regress with sorrow and regret.  Furthermore, the “secret power” that is part of this literary piece is the ability to live in a way that suits a particular individual.  People might try to ridicule others, such as what Billy did to the narrator.  Nevertheless, the speaker was able to learn how to be himself.  His “secret” power was reminding himself, “Just don’t give a damn” (19).  Thus, being able to stay true to oneself is the ultimate secret power to enjoy life to its fullest.  The speaker did not let ridicule tie him down to a life filled with misery, which prompted him to live a meaningful life. 

            In the end, music has the ability to remind people of the past.  It can reveal how people behaved when they were younger, and reveal to them how much they might or might not have changed over time.  Being able to recognizing that change can prompt people to continue to strive for happiness because life ultimately is a beautiful work of art.  Music might shift as people do, but art is the essence of the basic humanity that makes people who they truly are.

Works Cited

Kehoe, Brad. “The Secret Power.” Statement Magazine 2014.  Los Angeles:               
        California State University—Los Angeles, 2014. 15-19. Print.

Music as the Language of the Soul

Music is a universal language that allows people to connect with each other as they listen to its profound beauty.  Music itself might not be palpable, but it still affects people in deep and meaningful ways.  It can create joy, conjure memories, or simply be something pleasant that people would want to listen to on a bad day.  As people change over time, so does the music.  That is because music often times reflects the time period in which a piece had been composed.  In “Caedmon's Hymn,” this example of a musical work of art helped shape the rest of the English literary tradition because of its influence on both literature and music as a whole.

Upon hearing “Caedmon's Hymn,” it reminded me about the power of religion.  Since the piece is literally a hymn, I felt as if the composer was trying to connect with God.  People have been trying to understand their place within the universe as they continue to question why they exist both historically as well as today.  Religion has been a major influence on how the world operates because there are people who would want to have a sense of purpose of why they exist.  Creating the first hymn in English might also have been a blessing that the divine gave mankind because it allowed human civilization to progress into the society that it is today.  “Caedmon's Hymn” might have been composed for religious reasons, but God might have blessed the world with the wide variety of music that exists currently within the present day.

“Caedmon's Hymn” also has a strong influence on how music developed over history.  An example of such influence is soulful song known as “Motherless Child,” which is also an anonymous work, reveals the fundamental power of the bond between a mother and a child.  Interestingly, both pieces evoke feelings of longing and connection.  Perhaps a reason why music has such a strong influence upon society is because music connects people together.  Language might create barriers between people, and separate them, but music allows people to express themselves in ways words cannot.  That is because music transcends speech as people hear the enigmatic nature of musical sounds that ultimately touch the heart.  People might have their own respective tastes in music, but being able to enjoy music together helps unify people together while also acknowledging the diversity that exists in the world.  In the end, “Caedmon's Hymn” might have been created for religious reasons, but having the first poem in the English language has truly been a blessing because it led to the development of the entire English literary canon.

The shifts in music between “Caedmon's Hymn” and the present day also reveal the fundamental fact that everything changes over the time.  Upon hearing this song, it sounded like gibberish to me.  I honestly thought that all I heard was noise rather than an actual song that people today are accustomed to, such as the songs with English lyrics head on CDs and the radio.  Later on, as society progressed, so did music and literature.  For example, the piece by Shelley entitled, “A Song: Men of England” reveals how music and religion still had connections many centuries after the creation of "Caedmon's Hymn."  In fact, Shelley's piece sounded like a hymn as well because it sounded like music that people might sing in a church choir.  The main difference between "A Song: Men of England" and "Caedmon's Hymn" is that Shelley's piece contained elements of a human voice instead of being just sounds, like the ones heard in “Caedmon's Hymn.”  I do not believe that "Caedmon's Hymn had any actual language because I did not hear words, but just sounds.  Such progress within the history of music reveals how people attempted to give themselves a voice through musical expression rather than simply live as passive listeners.  Thus, music transitioned from being a listening activity to one in which people would proactively try to make their voices be heard.

In spite of the changes that happen, “Caedmon's Hymn” also serves as a reminder that people should not forget about their origins.  Countless works of music have been made after the hymn itself, which reveals how the wide collection of music that exists today is full of variety.  In fact, “Slot Machine” by Emily XYZ does sound much more different than “Caedmon's Hymn.”  The sharp contrast between these two pieces of music serves as a reminder of how music evolves.  For example, "Caedmon's Hymn" simply had simple sounds, but "Slot Machine" had lyrics and a rhythm that might be more relatable to modern audiences.  Music within the English tradition might have started because of religious reasons, but the transition between the religious and the secular reveals how society changed over much of the history of the world.  People might be more focused on themselves in the present day, but “Caedmon's Hymn” can still serve as a reminder that music would not be like what it is today if “Caedmon's Hymn” had never been composed.  It is hard to say if music came before language, but they both intertwine to help people understand each other as well as themselves.  Therefore, even as the world changes, it is still important to not forget history because the past can teach people about why the world is like what it is today.

Finally, the importance of “Caedmon's Hymn” involves much more than just a history lesson.  This piece of music is essentially an anonymous form of expression that helped inspire many other musicians and artists who express their ideas as well.  Music and literature might appear to be separate, but they both allow for the transmission of ideas that could be read as well as heard.  Music and literature has evolved tremendously since the creation of "Caedmon's Hymn," but that simply reveals the fundamental power of change.  This simple fact serves as a reminder that human imagination has no boundaries as people attempt to express who they are through the art they strive to create.

Works Cited


Anonymous. “Caedmon's Hymn.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 4th ed,


Anonymous. “Motherless Child.”  African American Spirituals: The Concert Tradition,

      Wade in the Water, Vol. 1, Smithsonian Folkways, 1994. CD.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “A Song: Men of England.” The Norton Anthology of English
       Literature, 4th ed, CD.

XYZ, Emily.  “Slot Machine.”  The United States of Poetry. CD.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Achieving the Satisfaction of Working with a Team

           I have been part of teams for numerous parts of my life.  For example, I was a member of the Academic Decathlon when I was in high school.  Being surrounded by intellectually gifted teenagers made me feel like I had a family that was outside of the one I was born into.  Unfortunately, a lot of the people I knew during my adolescence lost touch with me over time.  Therefore, it was truly a blessing to be able to be a part of another team during my time as an undergraduate transfer student at California State University—Los Angeles.  That team is the Statement Magazine staff, and it is truly a blessing to be a part of that group.
            The work that I had put into Statement Magazine culminated into one glorious night on May 28, 2015.  At first, I became interested in literary publication when I was a student at Pasadena City College.  There was a literary magazine at that campus known as Inscape Magazine.  As a creative writer during my spare time, I composed poems and short stories that were, unfortunately, rejected for publication.  The following year, I joined the Inscape Magazine editorial staff, and ended up having one of the most remarkable learning experiences in my life.  I submitted two poems while also serving as an editor, and luckily, one of the poems was eventually published.  That poem was entitled, “The Ballad of Benjamin Button.”  My adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic short story as I poem that I wrote enchanted the other editors, and I felt amazing when I saw my poem published in the 2013 edition of Inscape Magazine.
            An even more interesting story was the fate of the second poem that I submitted that year.  The other poem was called, “Au Revoir, Mon Amour.”  It was obviously a trite poem about love, and the other Inscape editors absolutely abhorred it.  After my self-esteem lessened while hearing their criticism about my poem, I was initially devastated.  Later on, though, I became glad that such an experience happened because hearing their criticism made me realize that writing does not need to follow any standards.  I ultimately learned that creative writing really is just that—creative.  Having that newfound knowledge inspired me to learn more about publication, and that desire prompted me to contact Dr. Ramey when I found out that California State University—Los Angeles had a literary magazine entitled Statement Magazine.
            The journey between my days at Pasadena City College and the night of the Statement Magazine launch is a remarkable story within itself.  During my first year as a transfer student at California State University—Los Angeles, I did my best to assist the Statement Magazine staff in spite of my own personal health issues.  I also wanted to be an editor that year, but my health created complications.  That meant that I was only able to help out whenever I was not in medical appointments.  As my health improved, however, my schedule became more flexible, and I was glad to have finally been able to serve as one of the editors for Statement Magazine.  Hoping to have creative work published once again, I submitted four pieces of writing.  Unfortunately, the staff rejected all of my work.  Nevertheless, I gained a new learning experience while serving as an editor for Statement Magazine, and that was realizing that the creative world is extremely competitive.  I also realized that I am not the best writer in the world, but I am willing to acknowledge the fact that at least I made an honest attempt when I submitted my work.  I might not be as talented as Jane Austen, but I can still strive to be at my own personal best rather than wallow away in self-pity.
            More importantly, though, I realized that while I was at the launch, I became part of another team again.  I had become a part of the literary community at California State University—Los Angeles.  In fact, having my name listed under the “Editorial Staff” list made me feel proud of myself because I really did take time out of my personal life in order to create this work of art.  None of my own personal work had made it into the magazine, but I can still congratulate myself for putting in the effort in order to create the 65th anniversary edition of Statement Magazine.  I have undoubtedly contributed to the legacy of Statement Magazine, and my name, “Alex Phuong,” will remain on the book jacket of that edition of the magazine forevermore.  Not a lot of people can say that their name is on a book jacket, but at least I can.
            Finally, all I can say in response to the Statement Magazine launch is that it was a wonderful evening.  I was able to hear creative work read aloud, spend time with my friends, and even enjoy two pieces of cake.  I might not have been published in the magazine itself, but at least I can still congratulate myself for helping produce it.  In fact, I must admit that I never took Statement Magazine as a class.  Honestly, the only reason why I decided to help out the Statement Magazine staff is because I genuinely want to do that out of the goodness of my own heart.  Therefore, I must admit that I am truly blessed to have been able to have such a remarkable experience, and that I was able to relish that extraordinary journey that culminated to that one special night.  That night had already passed, but I can still do my best to remember that night even as my memory fades over time.  Finally, it is impossible to remember everything that happened during the night of the Statement Magazine launch, but it is possible to remember that the entire night was completely beautiful.  All I can say is that I wanted to learn more about publication, and I ended up being a tremendous help.  My sincerest hope is that other students would contribute to the growing legacy of Statement Magazine for future generations to come.

Deglamorizing the Soulful Nature of the Blues

            There has been countless times in which music plays a major role in the lives of entertainers.  People ranging from Barbra Streisand to Michael Jackson have contributed to the world of music with their passion and devotion to that craft.  However, the general public might not be fully aware about how music affects the private lives of such artists.  In fact, sometimes music might act as a curse upon such people rather than a blessing.  In David Crittendon’s “Reckless Blues / A Story About Bessie Smith,” Crittendon’s use of music reveals the pressure associated with being a music star because of the stress related to the entertainment industry.
            Bessie is a character who craves for more because of her desire to achieve stardom.  For example, Bessie mentions that she, “Got tired of being the best thing on stage but never singing lead” (78).  It is interesting to note that she reveals how she was “the best thing on stage” (78) because that implies that she is already a starlet.  However, she immediately follows that description with “never singing lead” (78).  In a way, she essentially strives for more because she enjoys the glory associated with being on stage.  Such a mentality presents an issue, though, because the pursuit of fame can ultimately result in her personal demise.
            Bessie also undergoes a character shift as she transitions from being a star to a person consumed within her own craft.  For example, she mentions that, “I stopped singing and only used my mouth for pleasure, forget about turning expressions into songs, was through hooking trumpets to memories, telling no-counts I loved them” (79).  The idea of using her “mouth for pleasure” (79) implies that her desire to be a music star involves her craving for satisfaction.  Additionally, singing allows her to express herself, and the simple act of using her mouth offers her the opportunity to enjoy what she does.  However, her want of “pleasure” (79) also contributes to her own downfall because she stops “turning expressions into songs” (79).  Therefore, she uses music as an excuse for a sense of satisfaction rather than as an act of passion.
            Bessie’s downward spiral also creates problems within her personal life.  Specifically, she reveals, “I finally woke up singing and his people warned him about me” (79).  Bessie essentially becomes a danger to both herself and her husband because other people regard her at a threat at this point in her descent.  Symbolically, Bessie also remarks, “‘Songs die like we do’” (79).  Her comment foreshadows her end of her relationship with her husband, named Earl.  Furthermore, Earl also asks her, ““‘Why you say ‘yes’ when I offered you a quiet life?’” (80). Realizing that the both of them had changed, Bessie acknowledges that she “leaned into the blues” (80), meaning that she devoted herself entirely to her music and nothing else.  Unfortunately, her passion for music led to devastation as “A country juke brought [their] marriage down” (81).  Ultimately, music might have been Bessie’s passion, but it also transformed into a disastrous obsession as her professional life damages her personal life as well.
            Finally, David Crittendon’s short story serves as a warning about the destructive power of music.  Some people believe that music artists might have it all, but that portrayal of the glamour associated with stardom is not a complete portrait of such talented musicians.  In fact, sometimes the general public forgets that artists are fundamentally human and prone to error.  Additionally, music might enchant audiences, but there is also a dark side to music that reveals the bleakness associated with entertainment.  Therefore, David Crittendon appropriately titled the first part of his story “Reckless Blues” because the blues ultimately did make Bessie a reckless individual.

Works Cited

Crittendon, David.  “Reckless Blues / A Story About Bessie Smith.”  Statement Magazine
            2015.  Los Angeles: California State University—Los Angeles, 2015. 78-81. Print.