Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Exhume Your Idols

There is little better in life than when you miss a cultural phenomenon, only to discover it years later. Maybe discover is too tame a word for what I do with cultural phenomenons that I may have missed the first time around. I become obsessed, addicted, enraptured.

Example- last year I started watching The Sopranos, and for a few months, that show consumed my thoughts, my dreams, my life. I slowly made my way through every season and was left crushed and empty when it ended. But I loved the realization when I began that there was so much Sopranos just waiting for me. I have had similar expereinces with Wilco, James Baldwin and even David Foster Wallace. I cherish the feeling of sitting at a nearly endless trough, with an empty stomach, ready to gorge on artists and shows that have extensive bodies of work. Bodies of work I know little or nothing about.

And well my friends, I am currently stuffing my face in the trough that is Sleater Kinney. And, holy shit, is this a good one. With an eight album back catalog spanning back to 1995, there is more than enough music to keep me satiated for weeks to come.

What I knew- after a ten year hiatus, Sleater Kinney was about to release a new album in early 2015, so I began to explore their work from different eras in their career. I started with The Woods and Dig Me Out. I had heard of this band for years, but for whatever reason had chosen to not listen to even one of their songs. WTF?

I guess a feminist punk band involved in the Riot Grrl movement was not on my radar as a twenty something year old dude in the 90's. (Which is surprising, since they have had a pretty close relationship with my fave band Pearl Jam. Singing Hunger Strike? Are you kidding me?) But oh no, I just chose to block them out.

Not anymore. My musical universe knows little beyond Sleater Kinney these days. Still gorging on the original two albums I downloaded early and their latest No Cities To Love, I am in jaw-dropping amazement at the shear gravity of this band.

First off, the guitar sound is unlike anything I have ever heard. Three piece band without a bass player. It's hard to tell who plays lead and who rhythm. Think Creedence Clearwater Revival, meets Modest Mouse, meets Led Zepplin and nothing you have ever heard before. Between Carrie Brownstein and Corrin Tucker, you will be left crushed under the power of sound. Bizarrely tuned guitars sing melodies beneath, over and through Tucker and Brownsteins vocals.

Lyrics and politics. Check.
Punk style and over all bad-assery- Check.

But why are you still reading this post? Get your hands on some Sleater Kinney now. I want to get to know these forty songs before I move onto the other FIVE albums. I cannot wait to see what is waiting for me there.

Hyperbole alert- This could be one of the best bands ever.

It takes a lot for me see it
Hope it better set you free
I went through the thought of you
I went through the void of me
I've grown afraid of everything that I love

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Grip of Fear is Already Here

There are so many nooks and crannies in our universe. So many places to crawl into and explore. Watched The Theory of Everything last night and got lost in the commitment and love Jane Hawkings was able to dish out for over fifties years, saying nothing about the physical nightmare survived by her husband Stephen. Just thinking about the world of Cambridge in the late 60's and beyond- dipping myself in and out of those times and that world.

Tonight I'm discovering Sleater Kinney for the first time. What a sound! Checking out interviews by Corin Tucker and learning about the Riot Grrl movement and Bikini Kill. Wondering how I missed it all. Maybe the egotistical drunk 20 year old version of myself was not so attuned to underground hardcore punk scene. Too bad.

But feeling grateful that I can access it now. Watch the shows, blast the music. Read the manifestos.

I think about last week's discovery of Sonic Youth and friends who are introducing me to Townes Van Zant and John Prine. Reading This Is Your Brain On Music (another friend recommendation) and learning about frequency and pitch and keys and the science of why I feel like I'm touching heaven when I here this.

Meanwhile, at work I'm turning thirteen year olds into readers, writers and thinkers.

Funny cuz just last week I was wallowing in a pit of doubt.

The grip of fear is already here
The lines are drawn,
Whose side are you on?

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The World Burns Around Us

Warning: Half baked thoughts raw with emotion and definitely not soaked in any kind of rationality. They were rattling around inside me somewhere and I needed them out.

Either you believe in evil or you don't. Either you think that human beings do terrible things because of sin and demons or you don't. Either you call people evil-doers or infidels or you don't. It is easy to accuse people of evil when they don masks and massacre journalists in broad day light. It is easy to say that people are wicked when they bomb and kill and scream and sin.

But what if we assume that human beings, all of us, are not evil or the experiments of some omniscient being, but just fucked up individuals tied to our expereinces, cultures, and histories. That every tragedy is not based on a soul's value, but on sociology. What if our default assumptions were that we can fix these things. That we can eradicate ignorance.

What if we believed that even the worst of us can be healed and cured and fixed. Taliban or Tea-Party, Extremist or Progressive, makes no difference. What if we understood that we are who we are due to a plethora of variables and it is the exploration of these variables that will lead to understanding.

After every tragedy, and man does there seem to be lots of them these days, we point fingers and assign blame. We volley hate and pain and accusations. They did this so we will do that. But what if, we stop to ask why? How does a person become so angry and disillusioned, so ignorant and terrified, so insecure and so violent to think that because someone thinks differently then they do that they should kill the other person. This behavior is a sickness. It is not evil. It is the failure of the systems we have created. Failures of nation states, churches and mosques, families and schools. Every massacre is proof that we have failed to understand each other.

Every tragedy is a reminder that we have barely advanced from the birth of our civilization. But that is no reason to throw up our hands and yell, evil. We owe it to the beauty of humanity to keep working toward a better understanding of each other. Both Darren Wilson and Kim Jong-Un are reminders of how far we still have to go to educate and illuminate.

These men are not evil, but the results of circumstances. The result of colonialism and war. Misguided immigration policy and failing school systems. Broken families and false promises. These men are the result of failure. 

I know it can be difficult to remain calm in the face of reckless murder and injustice. It is difficult to ignore our natural need for revenge in the face of barbarity and petty ignorance, but if have any hope for the future we have to see the perpetrators of violent acts as human beings. Not evil monsters. Because there is no hope for a monster. There is no cure for evil, but there is work to be done for flawed human beings. This work starts with love and education, empathy and trust.

Sometimes I imagine adults who commit terrible crimes as children in my classroom. What would I say to the three men who shot up the Charlie Hebdo magazine when they were twelve? How would I counsel or teach the cop who killed Eric Garner when he was ten?

It's not easy to stay loving and calm as the world burns around us, but it seems to me that we have no choice.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Total Trash

I'm forty years old, listening to Sonic Youth, and I just spent an hour working on a short story I am writing for middle school kids about how the cool kids treated me like shit when I was thirteen. It feels lukewarm and cliche, and the story isn't going any where either. I was hoping to maybe write a batch of stories about said issues for said audience, but now I am not sure. I  have a 47,500 word memoir thing of vignettes and snippets that lack any sort of plot, conflict or point sitting on a file on my computer. I'm not sure where to take it.

I know I want to write more this year. That was my goal, but these nights when I ignore my work responsibility and start to write it feels awkward and clunky and not right. Last night after I wrote this, I lay wake in bed grappling with my own mediocrity.

What if I will never be good enough to match my own expectations? What if my lack of talent or the lack of dedication I showed in my youth toward any kid of craft can never be surpassed in my middle age? What if I now know that I will never be good enough? Forget about the need to be famous or good or any of those pipe dreams, but what if I won't even be able to write for my own needs?

It was a hard night before bed, but then there was this memory:

There is a pounding. I can hear it loud and clear. Unbound sets of waves crash like lifetimes against an invisible shore. The sky. A sea. Blurred by an inky shadow, which is only highlighted by cresting liquid rims. Could that be the cold wet sand quivering beneath my feet as they shout and revel in the freedom of a night, tossed so carelessly out of time and place? They are there I am here, but I should not be alone. I look for her hand, but she is nowhere. I am here. I am alone.

I can hear them laughing. Raving. Howling. They must be mad. Drunk with the wanton power of these hidden breakers. The incurious moon covers her ears and rolls over, turning her back on the thoughtless soul-slaking below. A patch of bashful stars peaking from behind the remnants of a sole cloud, giggle and point, twinkling in an otherwise empty sky.

I can smell the pressure before I can feel it. The scent lingers in the air entangling my equilibrium with its condensed phases. It is a measure of the tendency of molecules and atoms to escape from a liquid or a solid. I am evaporating. Volatilized. It is too dark to tell if I am alone or if the entire beach is disappearing.

There is a flickr. A flash. Ignition. The sea is on fire. He is on the wrong side of the breakers behind a wall of fire. They are kicking the empty gas can into the water. He’s laughing. Swallowing gasoline. He is on fire. It’s difficult to tell if the screaming from shore is shaped by panic or ecstasy. I can see his distorted face shimmering through the blaze. Although he’s finally removed his burning jacket, his face is still tainted by the terror of being trapped behind a watery inferno.

I can’t make out any words. The wall of fire burning ten feet high as verdant petroleum doused waves crash through it has me mesmerized. The wet sand between my toes is the only thing that’s real. Fear is only what we refuse to look at head on. It is only what we allow to take us from the present moment. 

There is no fear in the unfragmented now. I see it all. Feel the heat from the flames both outside and within. The cool breeze of the raw night and the victorious applause.

They have gathered at the end of the fiery line, now subdued and brilliant in its azure and violent glory. He ambles out from the surf as I run over. We don’t even have a towel for him. I will never know whether he won or lost. The fire and the night both die to black and nothing is left.

So who knows?  What else is there in the face of doubt, but to keep at it. Maybe I will be the story they tell when I am eighty, "He didn't get going till he was in his 40's. It was like he suddenly got it. Or, he finally dedicated the time to his craft and began to write well well after he was forty. Maybe they will say, yeah he didn't even write a song till he was fifty."

Or maybe, they won't say anything and I will fade into obscurity having said nothing. A random scattering of digital detritus in the forms of these blogs blowing through the emptiness of cyber space. Melodramatic? Yeah, maybe, but you didn't hear what Thurston Moore just did with that guitar.

It's never the same
It's more than a game
Can't take it away
Can't kill all the shame...

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Great Motivator

Are you happy? This is what you wanted. Right? To write more? Some kind of unspoke resolution, nothing public, so you wouldn't be held accountable. Something a bit more passive aggressive-- a  piece of writing like this one. A sort of proof-is-in-pudding, stream of consciousness, first-thought-best-thought, lots-hyphens-and-dashes kind of post. This is what it looks like. Right?

Messy, incoherent. Not the beautiful Kerouacian haiku-like blurbs you envisioned, whilst walking in the rain around the reservoir. Posts like this one are much sexier when they still only possible ideas gyrating in your brain as the clouds move low and fast driving on the highway, drowning out your kids screaming.

You see yourself in a more Bohemian atmosphere. There is wine and smoke and late nights. Cool hats and maybe a bow tie. I will produce more than I consume, you whisper tiny promises to yourself. Less watching and reading, and more writing and strumming and creating.

Not so pretty though is it? Languishing in the all this blank space. The thoughts stumbling into each other like kids at a middle school dance. Each half baked metaphor appearing more ridiculous than the next. These acts of creation, this writing, this producing takes time and effort and struggle and pain and ain't easy.

Woah, woah, woah.....where did this chastising voice come from and who the hell are you yelling at? Yes, it does take time and yes smearing yourself into the blank spaces takes time. And yes, no one said art in any capacity was meant to be easy, but if we never start, then we will never create.

Sometimes, some nights, most nights we need to loosen the muscles, oil the wheels, and click clack these keys, to let the words and chords and whatever else needs to get out...get out. There is no need for grand resolutions or public announcements. The only thing that separates those that do and those that don't is that those who do. Do. How's that for a terribly written sentence that makes more sense that anything you have heard this week?

Some Thoughts-  I should have been in a punk band when I was nineteen. It would be ridiculous for me to be in a punk band now, but I get it. That need to claim an identity that cannot exist in the status quo. Perhaps as adults, we need to understand that kids cannot simply be trained to be who we want them to be.  The very nature of society is that it relies on it being fought against and push upon. I need to push upon something. I need DIY in a larger capacity. I need...I need.

More Thoughts- I am dying and I haven't done it yet. Anything. Written a book. Written a song. Sure there are these random thoughts. This blog. Twitter. Facebook. Me. You. But for what? Where is the work? The blood? The sweat? The tears?

Watching Sonic Highways made me realize that no matter what we dream, we have to do the work. We don't do the work to be famous. Or to change the world. But because doing the work is vital to our own sense of relevancy.

It seems, however, that people only do the work when they don't have a choice. It bubbles from somewhere beneath the rest of their lives. Have I given myself too many choices? Is life too easy to create? Or am I romanticizing the work and I am just being lazy?

Desperation is a great motivator, but what gets us going when we are not desperate? When we don't need to do the work? When TV shows, books, and Facebook and other distractions keep us just satisfied enough so we don't feel the need to create?

Can I at 40, in my comfortable bourgeois wonderland, focus enough to sit each night and wrestle with the work? Can I write enough admonishing posts like this one, to help kick start whatever comes next?  Can I write in some kind of consistent manner? Do I have the discipline? 

This is what you wanted. Right? To write more? Now shut the fuck up and write.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"I'm sorry. I love you."

I am nursing an anger that I cannot name.  It sits heavy in my heart and obscures the way I see the world tonight. I know it is not healthy. I don't want it, but I have no idea where to put it. I know a few things: it grows when I follow the #Ferguson hashtag on any social media. It seethes when I read articles about it on the Internet. It throws its hands up when I listen to Dead Prez. I know that it will not lead to peace. I know it is toxic, but it is here and it burns bright-- I can't help but build words around it.

I apologize in advance for this post. It will not be intelligent, poignant or even legible. This post is not for you, looking for answers or calm. This post is for us, the confused. The lost. The speechless. Thank you for being here and reading and commiserating, but I cannot offer you anything beyond confusion and disappointment.

This anger is not directed toward murder, riots, pain or suffering. The problem with anger like this is that it is deep rooted. A symptom of deeper wounds, a re-occurring scab that reminds me of how far I am from healing. 

I find it painful that despite everything we have been promised by the American dream, despite everything we have given to it and every lie we have believed, it all feels so empty.

After the anger comes guilt. Guilt for feeling that my anger is unearned. What the hell do I have to be upset about. I am a privileged white male, living an exceedingly charmed life in a country on the other side of the planet. Why should I have any claim on the anger and pain suffered by the people of Ferguson, Missouri? Or people suffereing from racism anywhere?

After all, wikipedia explains as such:
Anger is an emotional response related to one's psychological interpretation of having been threatened. Often it indicates when one's basic boundaries are violated.
I have not been threatened nor have my boundaries been violated.  So how do I explain this anger? How do I get passed my white guilt? Maybe I am asking the wrong questions. Maybe part of my confusion is wondering why everyone isn't seething with rage.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Even though my reality is considerably different than the people suffering through Ferguson, Missouri, do we all not owe it to the very notion of peace and justice to be enraged by the egregious nature of systematic injustice?

Learning collective lessons might be the most difficult thing people can do. This is going nowhere. There's peace and love and this and justice and this and everything else. 

Eventually, it becomes clear that the anger was not really anger at all, but a dense sadness at the hopelessness of it all. A cocktail of emotions that leaves me saying, "I'm sorry. I love you."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

somewhere. sometime.

Somewhere or was it sometime when I was twenty, one, two, five,
somewhere in that decade of fog,
when on the edge of some midnight and an encroaching dawn,
in the midst of smoke and empty bottles,
the music gone flaccid
the air deflated
I made promises to no one in particular.

Somewhere or was it sometime in the decade of dyed hair and pierced skin,
broken knuckles,
tables and chairs,
drowning in words:
HST, Henry Miller, and Bukowski.
Broken, blind men leading the blind
into some hedonistic heaven.
I followed
fist raised
eyes closed
with no fear
of edges and misdirected hope.
I followed without the need for anything
as abstract or useless as success.

Somewhere or was it sometime in the decade of amateur love,
loneliness and broken hearts,
in beds with strangers and friends
waiting for the dawn,
hands between legs
breasts and flesh
minds lost in ether.
Every word I whispered I believed true,
lost in my own mind,
I brought you in
and promised to get us back out

Somewhere or was it sometime in the decade of dropping out
when my mother called your mother and cried.
Asking where she had gone wrong.
Driving all night from San Diego to San Francisco
searching the miles and the darkness
for a place to belong. A home. A love. Some answers.
Only to get lost on barstools on Sundays
and chicken pox alone in the rain. Bones shivering
another bum on the Muni. 

Somewhere or was it sometime in the decade of car crashes,
hospital rooms, so close to death it just made sense
to cross over—
on one of those nights I told you
I didn’t plan on making it passed thirty-six:
what would be the point I proclaimed? 
(The brash audacity of youth a thunderclap)
If I’m alive passed forty, I will have failed somehow,
is how the thinking went in those days.

Somewhere or was it sometime in the decade of my youth
I never imagined these quiet Sunday afternoons,
where the darkness has been carefully
closeted waiting to be observed like a carnival show.
The rich embers glowing like blood on fire
molten in their heat
simmering just beneath the surface—
the occasional spark,
reminds us of


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