Gifts from 2015: BookDragon’s Top 25, NYT’s The Year in Illustration

I missed these two nice mentions before 2015 came to an end:

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s BookDragon named Love Love as one of its top 25 of 2015.  Here’s what it had to say about it:

Love Love by Sung J. Woo proves that jaw-dropping dysfunction can make for some spectacular Schadenfreude.

Over at The New York Times, they picked a handful of best graphics for their The Year in Illustration list and guess what was there…

None other than the fantastic artwork by Jun Cen for my Opinionator piece back in April.

Thank you, 2015.  You were the gift that kept giving until the very last day.

Favorite Songs of 2015

“I hope the world sees the same person that you’ve always been to me / And may all your favorite bands stay together”

Here’s a list of my top songs for this year, in an order that might be surprisingly mixable. These are not necessarily from 2015; I just happened to have heard them in the last twelve months.

When We Were Young, by Adele on 25
Budapest, by George Ezra on Wanted on Voyage
Jealousy, by Pet Shop Boys on Behaviour
I Can Change, by Brandon Flowers on The Desired Effect
Clearest Blue, by Chvrches on Every Open Eye
Want to Want Me, by Jason Derulo on Everything Is 4
Fire Under My Feet, by Leona Lewis on I Am
Queen of Peace, by Florence + the Machine on How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
All Your Favorite Bands, by Dawes on All Your Favorite Bands
Karen Don’t Be Sad, by Miley Cyrus on Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz
Farmer’s Road, by Telekenisis on Ad Infinitum
Capable of Anything (8 Chamber Rock Song Featuring yMusic), by Ben Folds on So There
Superheated, by New Order on Music Complete
Talk About You, by Mika on No Place in Heaven
Just Like Me, by Betty Who on Take Me When You Go
Cradle to the Grave, by Squeeze on Cradle to the Grave
Crystals, by Of Monsters and Men on Beneath the Skin
Wherever Is Your Heart, by Brandi Carlile on The Firewatcher’s Daughter
Missing You, by All Time Low on Future Hearts
Nobody, by Selena Gomez on Revival

The snippet under the heart up there is from Dawes’ “All Your Favorite Bands,” whose lyrics seem apt to mention as my own favorite band, New Order, pretty much broke up forever this year (they put out a new album, but without one of their key founding members).  Musically, the highlight this year is Mika’s “Talk About You,” which never fails to put a smile on my face.

95.9 FM, the Fish, Driving Through Beverly Hills


I’m driving a rental in L.A.  It’s a Ford Focus, the cheapest thing I could find.  Still has way more power than my Prius, so I still feel like I’m redlining every time I press the gas pedal.  This Focus has Microsoft SYNC, which is supposed to make connections to smartphones via Bluetooth bulletproof, except my phone, for whatever reason, will not connect.

So I’ve been relegated to listening to the radio.  After clicking through the channels, the one I found I liked the best was 95.9 FM, the Fish.  I found myself liking just about every song from this station.  It might be because many of them have these soaring melodies, almost Jim Steinmanian (that’s the guy who wrote those Meatloaf sagas, plus Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” etc.).  And then the DJ came on, Delilah, and she was talking about such deep, meaningful things, about the difficulties of life, the elusiveness of salvation, how we can find ourselves in this confusing universe of ours.  Wow, was this a cool station or what?  So very different.  Must be an L.A. thing.

And then came on a commercial about a movie I’d never heard before, War Room.

On the outside, Tony and Elizabeth Jordan seem to have it all—great jobs, a beautiful daughter and their dream home. But their appearances are deceiving: Tony relishes in his professional success and flirts with temptation, while Elizabeth resigns herself to increasing bitterness. Their marriage is on the verge of crumbling until their lives take an unexpected turn. When Elizabeth meets Miss Clara, she challenges Elizabeth to create a battle plan of prayer for her family by establishing a “war room.” This new film from the Kendrick brothers is a vivid reminder that prayer is powerful weapon.

The next song that came on was Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” and then I finally realized I’ve been listening to a Christian Rock station.

One strange thing about me is that I hardly ever listen to the lyrics of any song.  If I like a song a lot, then I’ll eventually pick up on the lyrics, but even with those, it’s entirely possible I just learn the words on a pure sound level; i.e., my brain isn’t actually processing anything.

Even stranger?  I’m still listening to the Fish.  What can I say, I like the music.

Love Love in San Francisco Magazine (9/2015)

A hearty thank you to San Francisco Magazine for giving some love to Love Love:sanfranmag_ll

The full text:

Get lost in an oversexed San Francisco

Sung J. Woo, author of the highly lauded Everything Asian, has a new novel on a slightly different subject.  Love Love (Soft Skull Press) finds 40-year-old tennis coach Kevin Lee grappling with the discovery that not only was he adopted, but his biological parents were porn stars in ’70s San Francisco — a lot to take in for a man in the midst of a midlife crisis.

The portion of the bald head you see below my little snippet belongs to none other than Salman Rushdie!  If that wasn’t amazing enough, I’m also sharing space with Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and Billy Joel.  The entire page appears below.


KoreAm Column: Welcome to the Club


My bi-monthy column for KoreAm Journal for March/April features the music of my youth, Erasure in particular.  Enjoy!

First-World Problems: Welcome to the Club

This past New Year’s Eve, I was on the second floor of Terminal 5, a concert hall in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. Leaning over the railing, I screamed, “I love to hate you!” with the rest of the frenzied crowd below me, above me, all around me. As the song reached its end, the singer segued into a countdown, and then he yelled, “Happy New Year!” Gold balloons and white confetti rained down from above, and then we all sang the next song, “I try to discover, a little something to make me sweeter …”

If you are of a certain age and Asian American, there’s a high likelihood that you know these two songs are “Love to Hate You” and “A Little Respect.” This was my first time seeing Erasure. I probably should’ve done this a quarter of a century ago, but back then, I didn’t even know who they were, and more to the point, I didn’t know who I was.



Favorite Songs of 2014

“Even though we draw our lines / with very different ends”

Here’s a list of my top songs for this year, in an order that might be surprisingly mixable. These are not necessarily from 2014; I just happened to have heard them in the last twelve months.

Katie Herzig (The Walking Sleep) – Oh My Darlin’
Jessie Ware (Tough Love) – You and I (Forever)
Coldplay (Ghost Stories) – A Sky Full of Stars
Spoon (They Want My Soul) – Let Me Be Mine
Echosmith (Talking Dreams) – Nothing’s Wrong
Katie Herzig (Walk Through Walls) – Drug
American Authors (Oh, What a Life) – Hit It
Angus & Julia Stone (Angus & Julia Stone) – Get Home
Tennis (Ritual in Repeat) – Bad Girls
Delta Spirit (Delta Spirit) – Yamaha
Sam Smith (In the Lonely Hour) – Not in That Way
Ed Sheeran (X) – One
Katie Herzig (Walk Through Walls) – Human Too
Taylor Swift (1989) – Style
First Aid Kit (Stay Gold) – Heaven Knows
Bleachers (Strange Desire) – Rollercoaster
Tove Lo (Queen of the Clouds) – Timebomb
The New Pornographers (Brill Bruisers) – Champions of Red Wine
Stars (No One Is Lost) – This Is the Last Time
Jenny Lewis (The Voyager) – Just One of the Guys
Phosphorescent (Muchacho) – Ride on/Right on
Katie Herzig (Walk Through Walls) – Lines
Adam Levine (Begin Again) – Lost Stars

Katie Herzig makes four appearances here, and that number easily could’ve been ten.  I first heard her music in the show Rectify, the song “I Hurt Too,” which I later found out was also featured in the show Bones.  I guess her music translates really well to TV.  The standout this year is one of hers, “Lines,” which showcases her beautiful, fragile voice.

Favorite Songs of 2013

“I’ll explore the outer limits of boredom / moaning periodically”

Here’s a list of my top songs for this year, in an order that might be surprisingly mixable. These are not necessarily from 2013; I just happened to have heard them in the last twelve months.

“Tourniquet,” by Hem (Departure & Farewell)
“Run (Feat. Jennifer Nettles & Kristian Bush),” by Matt Nathanson (Modern Love)
“Someone Will,” by Dawes (Stories Don’t End)
“I Remember You,” by Rilo Kiley (Rkives)
“Entertainment,” by Phoenix (Bankrupt!)
“Metroland,” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (English Electric)
“We Sink,” by Chvrches (The Bones of What You Believe)
“Don’t Just Sit There,” by Lucius (Wildewoman)
“Out on the Town,” by Fun. (Some Nights)
“Black Sheep,” by Gin Wigmore (Gravel & Wine)
“At Seventeen,” by Janis Ian (Between the Lines)
“If I Ever Leave This World Alive,” by Flogging Molly (Drunken Lullabies)
“Fake Palindromes,” by Andrew Bird (The Mysterious Production of Eggs)
“Don’t Save Me,” by Haim (Days Are Gone)
“Lights (Single Version),” by Ellie Goulding (Halcyon [Deluxe Version])
“Love Is a Bourgeois Construct,” by Pet Shop Boys (Electric)
“Picking Up the Pieces,” by Paloma Faith (Fall to Grace)
“The Heart of the Matter,” by Megan Hilty (It Happens All the Time)
“What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven,” by Brandy Clark (12 Stories)
“Without You,” by Harry Nilsson (Nilsson Schmilsson)

If I had to pick one song that was my very favorite for this year, it would be the Pet Shop Boys’ “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct,” a seven-minute romp that somehow never overstays its welcome.  It’s a playful song with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a driving beat, the signature of these pop masters who’ve been making great music for more than twenty years.  May they stay boys forever.

Favorite Songs of 2012

“You are a guest here now…”

Here’s a list of my top songs for this year, in an order that might be surprisingly mixable. These are not necessarily from 2012; I just happened to have heard them in the last twelve months.

“Myth,” by Beach House on Bloom
“Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Gotye on Making Mirrors
“Dakota,” by Wiretree on Make Up
“Classy Girls,” by The Lumineers on The Lumineers
“High Road,” by Tennis on Young & Old
“Brokenhearted,” by Karmin on Hello
“White Nights,” by Oh Land on Oh Land
“We Are Young,” by the Cast of Glee, on Glee Season 3
“Augustine,” by Vienna Teng on Inland Territory
“Dead Oaks,” by Now, Now on Threads
“Hearts Content,” by Brandi Carlile on Bear Creek
“L-O-V-E,” by Nat King Cole on L-O-V-E
“Clown,” by Emile Sande on Our Version of Events
“How,” by Regina Spektor on What We Saw from the Cheap Seats
“King and Lionheart,” by Of Monsters and Men on My Head Is an Animal
“Brothers,” by Tanlines on Mixed Emotions
“Moves Like Jagger,” by Maroon 5 (featuring Christina Aguilera) on Hands All Over
“Dancing on My Own,” by Robyn on Body Talks Pt. 1
“Tongue Tied,” by Grouplove on Never Trust a Happy Song
“Everybody Talks,” by Neon Trees on Picture Show
“Coming Back to a Man,” by Dawes on Nothing Is Wrong
“The A Team,” by Ed Sheeran on +

If I had to pick one song that was my very favorite for this year, it would be Regina Spektor’s “How.”  I’m not exactly sure what it is about this song that really got me.  Possibly the earnestness with which she sings.  Or the plainness of the lyrics themselves.  It’s a sad love song, and a very good one.

No Regrets


From the getgo, I was filled with doubt.  First of all, the cost: $74.  The last time I saw New Order in concert, it was seven years ago and twenty bucks cheaper, and it wasn’t that cheap then.  Secondly, the venue: Roseland Ballroom, which I’d never been to but read online that it was not the optimal place to see a show.  But I wasn’t getting any younger, and certainly the same could be said of the band.  Not only were some members on the back nine of their fifties, but one of them, the bassist Peter Hook, had left altogether after an acrimonious split.

But I bought the ticket and said to myself that this was it.  This wouldn’t just be my final New Order concert, it would be my final rock concert, period.  This wasn’t some grand gesture or sacrifice on my part, as I’ve only really seen three rock concerts in my life, and two of them were New Order.  And truth be told, I hadn’t really loved either of them.  There’s  entirely too much waiting around, first from the DJ spinning some music, then the opening band that nobody ever cares about.  And by the time the headlining band takes stage, your ears are already ringing.

Most people know of New Order through three songs: “Blue Monday,” the best-selling 12” (vinyl single) of all time; “Bizarre Love Triangle,” which people have danced to if they went to college between the late ‘80s and the early-to-mid 90’s; and “True Faith,” a fairly popular single that was featured in the movie adaptation of Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City.  Bernard Sumner is their lead singer, and he’s got what I’d call a studio voice – perfect for the confines of the glass cube to extract his vocals, but live and on stage with everything blaring, his words get a bit lost in the music.  Still, the point is not to have the man sound like his CD – the point is to see them live and revel in their liveness.

The first time I saw New Order, it was in Giants Stadium, and our seats were way in the back.  The second concert was held at Hammerstein Ballroom, and I sat upstairs and watched the show from the mezzanine.  This time, since it would be my last one, I decided to get as close as I could, which meant I’d have to stand with everybody else.  I went with a friend, so when the opening band came on stage, we made our way to the middle of the pack.  Win Win was the name of the band, and although everyone wanted these poor guys off the stage as quickly as possible (you could just feel the impatience running through the crowd), they held their own and weren’t half bad.  Behind them hung a huge projector screen, and they played rave-like screen saver videos, which seemed odd to me.  If I can be the cranky old guy for a moment: in my day, it was enough for the performers to perform without all of these moving images.

When New Order finally came on, around 9:30pm, everyone who was holding a smartphone turned it on to either take a photo or record a video.  As much as I’d like to bemoan this lemming-like response, I can’t, as I was one of them.  It was almost comical to see all these little screens held up above the owners’ heads, tiny beacons to capture the stage.  New Order started the gig off with an instrumental, which seemed like an odd choice, but it was a tribute to Michael Shamberg, a filmmaker who was close to the band.

With each song, the crowd inched forward.  Personal space, which was lacking to begin with, shrunk even further.  As people pumped their arms and pogo-danced in their limited area, the temperature in the room rose.  I started to sweat.  Everyone started to sweat.  Bodies were banging into me, and I suppose I was banging them back.  I don’t know, because I was dancing, too, and singing and screaming!  There was a girl to my left and a guy to my right, and I have no idea who they were, but outside of my wife, I have never been so physically close to other human beings for such a length of time.  By the time “Temptation” played, a huge fan favorite and a great dance tune, the ballroom felt primal.  The body heat, the human musk, standing shoulder to shoulder with total strangers – it felt a little out of control, a bit like that scene in the second Matrix movie where  people are dancing crazy and beads of sweat fly off everywhere – and and you know what?  I kind of loved it.  Never have I felt such closeness to this band I’ve loved for more than twenty years, nor have I ever been so aware of people who enjoyed them as much as I did.  These were my people!  Though maybe not all of them – at some point, a guy came barreling through, telling everyone to dance harder, dance harder!  And he took turns putting his arms around people, including me.  This was a bit much, but thankfully, he kept pushing through to offer his gift to as many concertgoers as possible.

My final rock concert was a sweaty, messy, loud affair, and somehow that was a good thing.  It felt not quite like my final — but rather my first.  An ending that might very well become a beginning.


1. Elegia
2. Crystal
3. Ceremony
4. Love Vigilantes
5. Age Of Consent
6. Here To Stay
7. Your Silent Face
8. 1963
9. Close Range
10. Bizarre Love Triangle
11. 586
12. True Faith
13. The Perfect Kiss
14. Blue Monday
15. Temptation


16. Atmosphere
17. Love Will Tear Us Apart

For New Order fans, some specific stuff:

  1. Nothing from Technique or Republic, which was disappointing.  Sometimes I wonder why they bother to play songs like “Here to Stay” or “Close Range” — few people know or care about those songs.  At the same time, I do remember being very happy that they played “As It Is When It Was” back in 1993, so maybe I should shut up.
  2. Both “Temptation” and “True Faith” seemed like unique arrangements; they both sounded fantastic.
  3. I really missed Hooky’s bass.  Tom Chapman did a nice job, but only Hooky has that warmth.
  4. I was thinking the crowd would be between 35 and 50, but I’d say half of the people looked under 30.  Nice to see New Order has a fanbase that still speaks to the youngins.

For better pictures than the ones I took below, and for a more thorough review of the concert, check out these two links:

Favorite Songs of 2011

"Some New Jersey Dawn..."

Here’s a list of my top songs for this year, in an order that might be surprisingly mixable. These are not necessarily from 2011; I just happened to have heard them in the last twelve months.

“Payback Time,” by East River Pipe on We Live in Rented Rooms
“A Heart Divided,” by Holly Throsby on A Loud Call
“Sweet Disposition,” by The Temper Trap on Conditions
“Americano,” by Lady Gaga on Born This Way
“You’re Not Stubborn,” by Two Door Cinema Club on Tourist History
“Stranger,” by Lissie on Catching a Tiger
“Cruel,” by St. Vincent on Strange Mercy
“The Day,” by Moby on Destroyed
“Box of Stones,” by B.F. Leftwich on Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm
“Job’s Coffin,” by Tori Amos on Night of Hunters
“Bluebird,” by Christina Perri on Lovestrong
“Mylo Xyloto/Hurts Like Heaven,” by Coldplay on Mylo Xyloto
“Dance, Dance, Dance,” by Lykke Li on Youth Novels
“Rolling in the Deep,” by Adele on 21
“Club Can’t Handle Me,” by Flo Rida featuring David Guetta on Only One Flo Pt. 1
“Never Gonna Leave Me,” by Sia on We Are Born
“Change of Seasons, by Sweet Thing on Sweet Thing
“Portable Television,” by Death Cab for Cutie on Codes and Keys
“The Cave,” by Mumford & Sons on Sigh No More
“Mistakes,” by Mates of State on Mountaintops
“Torch Song,” by Priscilla Ahn on When You Grow Up

The song that has most intrigued me this year is the first on the list, “Payback Time,” by East River Pipe.  So intrigued that I transcribed the lyrics below:

Yeah, I saw you walking with the commandant
Yeah, he buys you everything he thinks you want
But after food and wine and small talk on the Rhine
he says it’s payback time

Yeah, Jean-Paul took you on long cross-country trips
Yeah, Voltaire and Kierkegaard fell from his lips
of steal
But something went awry as love started to die
he said it’s payback time

Just wait, I’ll come along
on some New Jersey dawn
I’ll say payback time

I can’t find the lyrics online, but the singer is pretty clear.  The only part that’s in question is what I have in bold.  I imagine the first stanza describing a situation in a concentration camp (commandant, Rhine, etc.).  In the second stanza, the “you” is a woman, and the singer has lost her to Jean-Paul (hence, the lips of grammatically incorrect “steal”).  The third stanza is a bit of a mystery.  Our narrator will be coming for his girl at some undetermined morning, but whose payback is he talking about?  Jean-Paul’s?  Hers?

Of course, for all I know, the song has nothing to do with anything I’ve said above.  Whatever.  It’s a great tune, and I like thinking about it.