A None-Too-Civil War

November 3, 2010

The American public has once again succeeded at doing what it does best.  Frustrating the hell out of political scientists, hill staffers, election junkies, Wednesday morning armchair quarterbacks, and anyone else who tries to explain their behavior.  So, there we have it, a house divided against itself.

In a stunning shift from two years ago, the republicans have gained 50 seats in the House, and the majority.  Madame Speaker will soon become Congresswoman Pelosi, and Minority Leader Boehner will become Speaker Boehner.   The Senate seems to be safe for Democrats, but I don’t see how 51 or 52 is much better for a body that was unable to get anything done with 58.  Then again, it’s not much worse, either.  But in watching Boehner’s speech tonight I was reminded of something that’s often forgotten in American politics.  As easy at is to think that it’s us vs. them, left vs. right, sanity vs. fear, death panels vs. real americans, that kind of thinking doesn’t help anyone but campaign fundraisers. It’s really people against problems.  And the source of all this animus, ultimately, comes from people proposing different solutions to the same problems. But we see the same problems, we agree on the problems.  We know change needs to come, it’s the how of it that seems to drive this engine. It’s as if the parties have turned into “Rock Em, Sock Em Robots,” doomed to pummel each other for all eternity, the reason for their epic contest long forgotten.

It’s nothing new.  Government is serious business, and people have always argued with passion, disagreed violently, and resorted to name calling and mud slinging.  The argument has been that the ends, gaining political office to enact policies that benefit the country, outweigh the means, i.e school yard name calling and bullying.  The problem is that campaigns are now permanent.  In the age of internet watchdogs, 24 hour news networks, and gawker/tmz, you’re always running. Running as fast as you can.  You can never put your guard down and get to the governing.  And even if there was a media blackout for the first 18 months of a two year congressional term, it’s not like the guy-your-buddy-was-running-against-but-lost-to has forgotten that you called him an ungulate lover in order to score a few cheap votes.

The problem is that no one in Washington respects anyone else.  Gone are the days of the “collegial” senate.  Republicans and democrats would spend 9 to 5 debating, and 5 to 9 getting shitfaced together.  Even if they disagreed, violently, vehemently, on policies, they still respected the man across the aisle.  Where did that respect come from?

An acknowledgement of the other guys commitment to public service, a commitment to fighting most for what they truly, honestly believe is the best course for their country.  No one who earnestly argues for their policy of choice is worthy of scorn, but in these sound-bite ridden decades, it is much easier to deride your opponent as a looney, gun toting, tea bagging, god clinging moron than to have to debate each of their policies.  This political short hand has given the country short shrift.

And I think this election demonstrates one thing pretty well.  The public isn’t happy with the way things are going, but no one has shown that they know how to fix it conclusively.  It’s not punishing the democrats for moving too slow by slowing them further, nor is it an embrace of tea party politics.  It is pure frustration with a system that has been hamstrung by a media that amplifies discord and deaden’s harmony.  When the perception is that government has ground to a halt, that no one in Washington is willing to work across the aisle, then nobody has to.

Say what you will about Boehner.  God damn it, that mother fucker loves America.  He loves the shit out of this country.  Whether or not I agree or disagree with his policies, he’s doing what he thinks is right.  Don’t like it? Convince the people to vote for you, next time.  This kind of passion, this kind of dedication, is something to be praised, no matter the brand of the aforementioned impassioned politico. People get into politics, usually, at the local level, which means they’re not motivated by greed, but rather by a desire to positively change the lives of their children or their fellow citizens. They are answering the call to public service.  It’s arguable that those who start out at the higher levels of politics aren’t motivated by greed either, since they’ve got to be independently wealthy.  On the road to higher office, which they seek in order to affect more peoples lives in larger ways, they are consistently and constantly battered during these permanent elections.  Mr. Smith starts out on the road to Washington, but Mr. Hyde is the one who gets there.

If we want candidates to stop campaigning and start governing, then we’ve got to somehow let them put the gloves down.  A Mutually Assured Destruction media strategy leaves the public with representatives that nobody likes too much, who don’t like each other, and who can’t get anything done.  Until we figure out a way to stop the MADness, that’s how it’s gonna stay.


How do you feel about that dirty water now?

May 2, 2010

~Or: Potent Non-Potables~

It’s obvious that the universe has decided to be a little cheeky this week. And usually, I like as much irony as I can get.  But, a drinking water crisis in a town that confesses to “love that dirty water?” Well played, Universe, well played indeed.

Located down by the banks of the river Charles, Boston is one of the most affluent cities in existence, with the third highest SBPC (Starbucks per capita) rating among American cities, after Seattle and, surprisingly, Dayton, Ohio.  It’s highly educated, holds two of the finest institutions of higher learning in the western world (what schools did you think I was talking about?), and is home to think tanks, harvard commas, and the Red Sox, one of the highest paid sports franchises the world has ever known.  But, over the past two days, Boston residents have gotten a little taste of what it feels like to live in the more economically depressed areas of the world.

Because Africa needed more problems.

Most of the people that don't have access to clean water live in Africa. Which is totally fair.

Two million residents of Boston and the Greater Boston Area were advised by public health officials to boil their water as it was unsafe for ingestion after a 10 ft wide pipe burst, spewing eight million gallons of water per hour, and allowing the cities drinking water to mix with untreated water.  Many were inconvenienced, and played it safe by drinking lots of beer and other adult, sterile beverages. This strategy worked really well for one night, until the next morning, when it proved to have been a really, really bad idea. Imagine having to wait 20 minutes for water to boil when there’s a stadium full of soccer hooligans screaming “Rule Britannia” behind your eyes.

But, what will prove for Bostonians to be a short term inconvenience (that already has its own T-Shirt) is the status quo in places like Africa, where only 46% of the population has access to safe drinking water.  Think about how inconvenient this has been for you, Boston, and this is just a 48-72 hour situation.  In Africa, it’s permanent.  In 2006 alone, 1.6 million people died from water born pathogens.  That’s 3 times the population of the city of Boston proper.  In order to deal with this issue, all a Bostonian has to do is get some water from the tap, turn on the stove, wait 15 minutes for it to boil, cool it off in the fridge for maybe half an hour, and drink away.  That sure is a pain in the ass, man.  A mother in Uganda, where only 52% of the population has access to safe drinking water, would only have to walk several miles to a well, fill up two 5 gallon jugs of water, which weigh a little over 40 pounds each, walk back to her home, gather the necessary fuel and pots to build a fire, boil her water over said fire, and wait hours for the water to cool.  Many don’t make the effort after walking the 10 miles to go through the arduous process of purification.  They may use iodine tablets or screen the water for any large particulates, but largely their water goes untreated. And, as evidenced earlier, they pay a steep price.

But! There’s a silver lining.  You can help! Obviously Boston, you’ve seen how much limited access to safe water can suck.  Help it suck less in the rest of the world.  Check out the Millennium  Development Goals from your old pals at the UN.  Keep them on track.  Better yet, give money.  Seriously.  For reals. Because you’ve seen how much this can suck as a temporary inconvenience.  Imagine how bad it must be when it’s a way of life.

There isn’t a cool way to title a post about a random collection of thoughts, so I won’t try

April 29, 2010

Often, small thoughts flit through my head that are humorous, but don’t really fit into any narrative structure.  I’ve collected a few of them, and have decided to present them as a way to reintroduce myself to the blogosphere now that all of that gradschool stuff is behind me and out of my system.  Add any strange thoughts you may have to the comment section.  Please do, in fact.  Then we can talk about em, and it’ll be rad.  Seriously rad.  Which brings me to my first thought:

I say rad more than is normal.

Why do rappers always want us to put our hands in the air? Wave them around like I just don’t care? It’s obvious that I do. And, as a corollary, what does putting my hands up actually do for the city of Detroit? Cut down unemployment?

I feel awkward when musicians tell the audience to do something, and even more awkward when the audience does, but the MOST awkward when the audience doesn’t.  Perfect example – when the bass player, during a drum break, starts the clap along.  Then we all have to follow, even though eventually it’ll fall apart sort of randomly.  I feel bad for the people who are the last to be clapping.  But if no one claps along with the bass player, oh man.  Sucks for that guy.

It really bothers me when people use the word party as a verb.  “Do you guys party?” Party to me means gathering at someone’s house, having a little bit to drink and then having a dance party in a sweaty, unventilated living room.  The word party is the noun for the gathering, not the verb for the actions. Also, saying party as a verb seems creepy in regular conversation, like it’s a polite way of asking “Do you take ecstasy and sleep around?” It does not mean going to a bar. And it certainly doesn’t mean spending anytime with you, dude who is too old to go out to da, or even the, club.

“Who” is a really weird word.  Look at it.  Really look at it.  See? Weird. Told you.

I get a really big sense of accomplishment when I finish and mail back a netflix that I’ve had at home for more than 4 days.

Why don’t we make daylight savings time year round?

I think I’m a good dancer, but I also think I’m not as good as I think I am.  Does this argument, taken to its logical conclusion, mean I think that I can’t dance at all.  Or even, that I dance negatively?

I know we’re all supposed to hate cliches, but aren’t they popular for a reason? Dumb as a bag of hammers, while a cliche, is really, really descriptive.  It just works.

Why do people that live in a city never do the fun, touristy things in that city?

Journey to the Center of My iTunes: The End

January 9, 2010

I just had to fight the urge to put an ellipsis and a question mark in the title of this post.

I did it.  It took me 2 and a half months, a pair of headphones, and lots of time spent listening to myself (curse you garageband for auto exporting!), but I did it.  I have listened to all of the 5500+ songs in my iTunes library.  All 15 days.  And what have I learned?

Mostly, I learned that I like the music I have.  There are some fantastic gems in there, like The 13th Floor Elevators, Sure Juror, Suffrajett, She and Him, The Thermals among many many others.  The only part where I really had a problem was with listening to Tool.  In small, I repeat, small doses, it was cool.  Nostalgic even, reminded me of the Tim that shopped at hot topic and hung out at Teen Night at the skating rink, wore black and was moody.  Well, as moody as I could be, being generally happy with my life and my family and all that crap that makes it really hard to be a tortured artist and a preteen.  But, sound scapes for hours at a time? Gah.  Almost threw in the towel.  But, I have prevailed, friends.  Woo hoo, what an accomplishment.

But now, what am I going to do with this new found freedom?  I’ve listened to everything I’ve got.  I think that while I was doing this project I was avoiding getting new music, because it would just delay this momentous occasion.  Now I get to check out music that I have been putting off, like Them Crooked Vultures, and Best of Bootie 2009.  Any suggestions you have for me are welcome in the comments.

This began as me being frustrated at myself for what was characterized as my “iTunes ADD.” So now, I’ve beaten it.  I’ve slain the dragon.  Will I be a more responsible listener or continue to prune the random playlist of my life? Will I accept that I don’t need to have control over everything? Will I mellow out?  Or, did I just waste my time and yours for the past two months in an ultimately meaningless exercise? Am I out of questions?

If you’ve got any questions for me about the Journey to the Center of My iTunes, or suggestions for new music that I can obsess about not listening to, go ahead and put it down in the comments.  Don’t worry, no one will judge your taste in music.  No one reads this thing except for people that were bored on facebook and decided to click the thingy on their news feed.

Please Shoot Me.

November 24, 2009

Ken Johnson’s New York Times review of the new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, Who Shot Rock & Roll, concludes that, “nothing captures the spirit of rock ’n’ roll like video.” The fact being that the exhibit in question shows photography, Johnson’s comments certainly did more than raise a few eyebrows from the featured artists and the countless photographers who capture live shows today.

The exhibit features photos from over 100 different photographers and chronicles the ever-changing face of rock & roll from Elvis in 1955 to Jay-Z in 2009. One of the most prolific rock photographers ever is Bob Gruen, who made an appearance at the museum’s opening event. He reveled in the anti-glamour of 1960s-70s New York, befriending John Lennon, Yoko Ono, The New York Dolls, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Clash (“the only band that really matters”) and practically everyone else that matters too.

Gruen started taking photos of rock & roll for the same reasons his subjects played it: money and rebellion. His first concert was Pete Seeger and Gruen liked that his music had a message; his songs were about social politics, not just sex and lust. The way he saw it, rock & roll was the folk music of America, music that wouldn’t take “no” as an answer but as a beginning of the discussion. Gruen wanted to relate through his photos the passion of experiencing that type of music and the chaotic excitement of being in the crowd. It meant that his photos were often wonderful mistakes, small moments never meant to be caught, and musicians in a blur of raw emotion: “When the subject isn’t sharp, the feeling is clearer,” he says.

He talked about the shift from film to digital photography because it made his assignments easier and more lucrative. It struck me that he was so accepting of the state of music and his art in the digital age. What my generation seems to be so cynical about – mainstream music and the ‘corporatization of rock & roll’ – Gruen sees it as a passing marker of time. There’s no nostalgia for the Minolta.

However, the question remains: can rock photography be considered art?

As Gruen says, rock is a “bipartide revolution”: both sound and image. To diminish the power of the photograph is just careless. Videos may have a larger scope, but they cannot zone in on a single snapshot moment, capturing someone’s split-second expression that could open up an entire window of a life. To hear music is to create images in your mind about what the music means to you; videos tell you what to think about a particular song and do all the fun parts for you. I believe in the power of music videos and videos of live performances, but to say that they better possess the spirit of rock & roll ignores the fact that photographs can evoke those same incredible feelings.

So what do you think best captures the spirit of live music: Photography? Video? Or can neither of these quite recreate the same experience as being there yourself?

Journey to the Center of My iTunes, Part 4: I vastly underestimated the letter B

November 16, 2009

I know it’s been a couple weeks since my last post, and while I haven’t abandoned the project, my progress has certainly slowed.  For starters, as you may have been able to glean from the title, I vastly underestimated the letter “B.”  42 hours of the letter B took me about a week to get through.  From the latter half of that behemoth of a letter, I’ll highlight Bishop Allen, Brett Dennen and Brother Ali.  Bob Dylan was in there, but like the Beatles you already know about him.

Bishop Allen achieves what lots of songwriters are going for these days.  Effervescence, strong harmony, catchy choruses and an often upbeat sensibility. Sensibility? God, that word gets over used by people that talk about music.  The first time I saw them live was at a cramped show at the Middle East Upstairs.  They’re a hometown band for Bostonians (Bishop Allen refers to Bishop Allen Drive, in Cambridge), and the crowd was amped to see them.  They did three encores. At the end of the third they told us that they knew no more songs so could we please just go home.  But in a really charming, funny way.  Also, I’m convinced that Darby Nowatka or however you spell her name sang “Butterfly Nets“specifically to me that night. Or someone in the immediate vicinity of me.  Dig the hell out of them.

I found out about Brett Dennen while listening to a Pandora mix of another B artist that I’m neglecting here, Bob Schneider.  I’m not talking about Bob Schneider because some one else on this blog is much more qualified to do that.  Brett writes songs in such a way that you’re not sure if he’s a musician, a christian musician, or a christianmusician.  Wonderful acoustic melodies.  Not a bad singing voice. Ain’t No Reason is a really great song, and I think rather indicative of his style.

Brother Ali is probably the least likely rapper in the world.  Albino, lives in Minneapolis, converted to Islam at age 17. A member of the rather righteous hip hop collective Rhymesayers, Ali’s popularity has lagged behind that of label leader Atmosphere for some time, but he is finally gaining his (richly deserved) popularity.  Ali’s lyrics focus on his identity, his struggles that come from finding himself between two racial groups, as well as personal issues and relationships. Like most under-about to become above ground hip hop, Ali doesn’t rap about guns or bitches, but rather has a socially aware message.  What I like most is his refusal to have anything other than a positive self image, like in his song Forest Whitaker.  And his newest album, The Truth is Here, has some amazing beats, courtesy of Ant, producer extraordinaire and one half of the aforementioned duo Atmosphere.

I’ve also managed to get through C, D, and most of E.

C is for Cat , be it Power or Empire.

My first test of this experience came soon into my experience with the Letter C.  After a sweet album from Cannibal Ox, I thought it would be smooth sailing.  But then, 3 hours of the Capitol Steps.  The Capitol Steps are a political song parody group.  They are a political song parady group and all of my albums were 5 to 7 years old.  Lots of Bush, Clinton and Gore jokes that, I will admit were funny the first time through, even the first 5 times through, definitely have not aged well.  Almost skipped, but managed to grit my teeth and make it through.  But if I never hear another parodied version of Bohemian Rhapsody again, it will be too soon.

Then we come to the cats.

The Cat Empire is this awesome funky sort of rap group kind of thing from Australia.  Really, that’s the best I’ve got. They’re all about life and love and drink and love and drink.  Be sure and listen to the Wine Song or One-Four-Five.

Cat Power, as many of you are now aware, is the performing name of one Chan Marshall, a very talented songwriter with a deep, rich voice.  But she can’t perform worth shit.  I hear she’s overcome her awful stage fright recently, and am looking forward to giving her another go.  Haunting melodies, powerful lyrics, wonderfully sung, especially on her album You Are Free, check out He War or Names.  I’m not going to provide youtube links any more because I’m lazy.

Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam and is on the terrorist no fly list.  Really.  The guy who wrote “Peace Train” obviously can’t be trusted on a 747.

Charlie Mingus, The Clash, Coldplay, Common, Common Market (Seattle based socially conscious hip hop – please please please listen to them), Cream, The Cure, and then…

D is not for DaRude

Early on in my experience with the letter D, DaRude’s Sandstorm came on.  Unfortunately, it was in the middle of the day, I had no glow sticks, no foam machines, no club kids in my immediate vicinity, and no shady dudes offering me and my friends ecstasy.  It still kicked ass.  There is no better song in the world for getting ones energy up.  None.  I defy you to name one, go ahead. I’ll wait. Not really, I wrote this a while ago and you’re just reading it now, more than likely I’m off doing something else by now, but don’t worry, it’s definitely not my thesis.

Lots of Decemberists and Deathcab.  Bands that I really love, and have interchangeable frontmen.  If you thought they might be too hip for you to check out, don’t worry.  They’re way to well known to be truly hip.  But, the music is really good, probably why they got popular and became unhip.

Then came the second time I wanted to quit.  Dispatch.  Ok, ok.  I like that song the general.  But, as I learned, that does not extend to the rest of their music.  It was way too reminiscent of the other guilty spot in the letter D, Dave Matthews’ Band.  Listen.  I was struggling to be cool in high school, and the people that I deemed to be most cool were into DMB, so I bought a few records.  I know, lame and shallow, but in my defense, I was in high school.  That was pretty much par for the course. Long story short, jam bands are not my cup of tea.

D, while not being for DaRude, is for DJ.  Tons of mashups graced my eardrums while traversing this section of my iTunes.  I’ve already talked about how much I like mashups, but wheres the harm in saying it again.  I like mashups.  A lot.  I listen to each one usually about 15 to 20 times before I even think about wanting to change the song.  It’s a bit of a compulsion, to be honest.

Dresden Dolls, Drop Kick Murphys, Duke Ellington closed out that letter for me.  Currently I’m on Elliott Smith, and will probably be back in 6 to 8 weeks with my impressions on the letters E through J.

Journey to the Center of My iTunes; Part 3: B is for quite a few things, it turns out

October 23, 2009

The letter B has so far lasted a whole day.  That might not be so surprising.  What may surprise you is that I have yet to hit the Beach Boys, let alone the Beatles.  What has taken up the lions share of my time on the letter B has been a 5 disc monster, Musical History, an anthology of The Band.  The Band is the name of the particular band that played behind Bob Dylan for part of his career, and then when they split up, both entities (The Band and Dylan) went on to bigger things.  Before The Band was B.B. King, I’ve already talked about one blues musician with that surname for this experience, so won’t bore you with more blues writing.  Then b&d confusion, a high school band of a friend of mine who may or may not appreciate being mentioned here.  But I already did mention him, if you were paying attention.  b&d wrote some pretty damn good songs, with really good lyrics, despite their authors groaning protestation.  After b&d came my 6 and a half hour relationship with the Band.  While I love classic rock, and it’s southern variant, I found myself most excited when they would do something a little different.  Whenever they funked something out, I got way more into it than throughout the other 6 hours or so of really great music.  The Band were at their core a group of very talented musicians, comfortable in a variety of styles – rock, folk, funk, etc, and the 5 disc set demonstrated that range.  Be hard not to, with 5 discs of material.

I’m currently listening to the Bare Naked Ladies, which is a nice reminder of my middle and high school years.  I used to giggle at their name a lot more than was necessary, and still do have a silent chuckle to my self.  They remind me a lot of Harvey Danger, but it’s not time yet for that.

After BNL (I realize I am breaking my own rule against abbreviations), it’ll be two Barry White songs.  For a guy who says he likes soul, my soul collection has been kind of shallow – not much Al Green, almost no Aretha, and two Barry White songs.  Pitiful(You can probably guess which two songs – they’re the cliché Barry White songs that populate playlists named “Get Down” or “Lovin'” or “Business Time.”)

Then, Basement Jaxx.  Just the one song, “Where’s Your Head At?”  That is all the Basement Jaxx you need.  Not that Basement Jaxx isn’t good, but seriously, they never topped this one.  It turns out, that in addition to my love of underground hip hop, classic rock, classical music, romantic guitar, jazz, and the blues, I also really like over produced electronica.  Someone get me a glow stick.

Then it’ll be some Battles, a math rock band that I must admit I originally downloaded because my friends were way more into them than I was.  Then, the Beach Boys.  Pet Sounds is a great album, and the Beach Boys remind me most of long car trips, or that one time I rode in a convertible (it was pretty damn awesome.  I was 12, had sun glasses on, and was, for those 45 minutes, king of the world.) After a couple hours of Brian Wilson and the gang, it’s time for the Beatles.  I’m not going to write about the Beatles.  Yes, I like them.  So does everyone, ever.  Better writers than I have written whole books about the Fab Four.  What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said?

And the Beatles will probably take me throughout the rest of tonight, and possibly tomorrow.  My next post will most likely be concerned with the latter half of the letter B and probably all of the letter C, since my Johnny Cash collection is, in iTunes, under the letter J.