“good morning, baltimore” – nikki blonsky (2007)

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Last week, for my birthday, I traveled to Baltimore.  I know. It sounds like such an odd vacation destination.  I have never had, let alone anyone else, expressed the desire to visit the place.  It was never on my radar of places to go when there are so many other places to see first.  Baltimore was never high on list.

However, I went to Baltimore.  At the Baltimore Museum of Art, there was an exhibition on the art of John Waters called “Indecent Exposure.” I wanted to see that, and I was not sure if it was going to tour.  I like to travel for my birthday and, out of curiosity, checked on airfare prices.  They were less than $100 and even then, I was still hemming and hawing about going to Baltimore.  Couldn’t I use that money for some place more exciting?  When a friend offered to travel with me, I decided to go.  And having done that, I never need to go again.

The exhibition was fantastic.  It featured portraits, statues, and chromogenic prints related to Waters’ own work, inspirations, and general fascinations.  It was subversive, and quite sincere in its execution.  It was everything I wanted and more.  I cannot recommend it more highly if comes to a museum near you.  Though, I cannot say the same for the rest of Baltimore.

My friend Amelia and I walked around a lot of places, saw different neighborhoods, and had a pretty comprehensive exploration of Baltimore.  And, frankly, Baltimore is really awful. This, of course, should not have surprised me.  Waters, in his films, has commented on the trashiness of Baltimore with fond recollection.  The seedy and trashy aspects of Baltimore inspired his outlook and cemented his unique vision as an auteur.  And he is sincere about it.  There is no irony in his work.  He loves Baltimore and all of its trashiness.

I just could not say the same for myself and neither could Amelia.  Walking from place to place, there was just a lot of trash, dilapidated buildings, and an aesthetic that neither of us could pinpoint. We were solicited for drugs on our way to Edgar Allen Poe’s grave and we, mistakenly, walked right through the worst neighborhood in the city.  Now, I may hear responses like “But, Bradley, all cities are dirty and filled with trash.  But there are nice areas too.”  I know that.  I live in a city much larger than Baltimore and one with a bigger reputation for crime and violence (although incorrectly attributed).  I know what cities are like. And Amelia and I did venture out to the nicer neighborhoods as well, but Baltimore is still awful.

Here are two of my favorite anecdotes from touring the city.  After we leave the Baltimore Museum of Art, Amelia and I walk two miles to the Green Mount Cemetery to find the graves of John Wilkes Booth and Elijah Bond, the creator of the Ouija Board.  We walk through a neighborhood that was obviously lower class and a bit rundown, but we were fine with it.  We live in Chicago and are used to these things.  We get to the cemetery and tour the grounds which are beautiful and stunning and filled with foxes.

When we leave, Amelia does not want to walk again so I ordered a Lyft.  As soon as we get into the car, the driver says “What the hell are you doing out here?  Do you live here?” We explained that were just visiting as tourists and he says “What the hell were you touring? What is there to see here?” We told him about the cemetery and other aspects of our trip.  He then tells us we were one street away from being in the most violent neighborhood in the city and was legitimately afraid for us.  He said he almost cancelled the order before picking us up.

My other favorite anecdote was at the gate to board the plane to get back to Chicago.  A woman in her early 20s was ahead of Amelia and I, and she turned around and said she recognized us from the flight to Baltimore two days earlier.  Turns out we had the exact same round-trip flight.  We asked what she was in town for and she told us she came to interview for a job.  I followed-up asking her what she thought of the city.  She grimaced, looked down a quick second, and then said, “If they offer me the job, I am going to decline.” Baltimore is so awful that a young woman trying to jump start her career would not move there.

I’m sure Baltimore can be charming and has a lot to love about it.  People willingly live there, so it cannot be all that bad.  I’m just saying I have no desire to ever return for any reason whatsoever.

Waters’ most successful film was Hairspray.  Released in 1988, it is an ode to the teen dance shows that aired in Baltimore when Waters was a kid.  Hairspray is the story of Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenage girl, who pursues local stardom as a dancer on one of these shows.  The film tackles the issue of racial segregation as Tracy fights to have these dance programs desegregate and becomes a local hero.

In 2002, a musical based on the film debuted and went to win the Tony Award for “Best Musical” in 2003.  A film adaptation of the musical was released in 2007 starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, and Nikki Blonsky as Tracy.  The musical would then air in 2016 for a live on-air adaptation.

Waters’ original film was surprising since it was released with a “PG” rating when most of his earlier works were “X.”  Since then, through the musical adaptations, it has become his most famous work, this lasting ode to 1960s Baltimore.

“Good Morning, Baltimore” is the musical’s opening number.  Performed by Nikki Blonsky in the 2007 film adaptation, Tracy sings about all the things she experiences in the city on her way to school.  It celebrates the dirt, grime, and trash of Baltimore with Tracy even hitching a ride with the garbage man and getting flashed by creep, Waters’ cameo in the film.  The song is a recognition of the Baltimore’s flavor, the same one that inspired him but repelled me.  I guess I have to appreciate the city’s character if it influenced John. It worked for him, but not for me.  I’ll just visit the city through his films from now on.

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“creative depression” – julie doiron (1997)

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Since shortly after Labor Day weekend, I had spent most of my free time focused on a creative project that kept my mentally. Intellectually, and physically engaged throughout most of my free time.  I somewhat sequestered myself in my down time to work on it. Sure, I saw friends on occasion, but I did not go out of my way to make plans.  Instead, I just focused on the project.

When working on a major project, you go through a lot of ups and downs.  Moments of doubt and confusion are separated by feelings of pride and accomplishment, oftentimes experiencing a whole range of emotions within a few minutes. Going through a cycle of emotions like that is exhausting, but I powered through it to reach my goal.

I made sure to track progress and benchmarks while working on the project.  Whenever I started a new phase, I was not feeling exactly positive though the feelings were not negative. At the beginning of each phase, it was just me doubting myself about the next steps and if I could creatively achieve what I what I wanted. I was also concerned about originality and my voice, wondering if I had anything fresh or unique to say.

By the end of each phase, I felt really good. Of course, a significant portion of feeling that was completing the phase.  However, I had also felt great about the quality of the work.  I felt I was able to convey my original feelings as well as find a new perspective and voice. It felt great.

I finished a major milestone with my project over the weekend and I experienced a feeling I was not prepared for. Unlike when I completed smaller phases before, I did not feel positive when reaching my first significant milestone in the project.  I was full of doubt and unsure of what to do next.  Though I close out earlier portions of the project feeling accomplish and positive, I did not feel the quality was good and I was left thinking “is that it?”

Over the weekend, I had a lot of free time on my hands.  That was something I had to get used to. I caught up on some television that I had missed over the last few months and even played some video games, which had been a super rare activity for me even prior to starting the project.  The weather was nasty, and I just felt bored by everything. I did some perform some self-care by cooking healthy meals, going to the gym, and seeing friends.

Reaching this major milestone of my project was significant.  What it means is that I have done everything I can do now at this time.  I have to wait a few months before beginning the next phase and working towards the completion of the project. I should feel great about being so productive, but I just felt down all weekend.

I talked with a few friends about it over the weekend and they told me it was post-creative depression. The idea that, when completing a major creative project that took up a lot of time and head space, you’re left feeling empty and unsure.  You’re left with all this downtime that was previously occupied with something significant in your life that required instance and focused thought and attention.

I am told it is normal to feel this way and that it ok to sit with those feelings.  A close friend said they felt the same way after every art opening, they curate.  And I’m told the most intense the work put into the project, the harder it feels when it is done.  I know I’ll be alright.   I will be fine.  Perhaps taking this as an opportunity to rest and relax is exactly what I need.  I know I have earned this time.

In 1997, Julie Doiron released her second studio album Loneliest in the Morning on Sub Pop.  The album is a somber indie rock hidden gem. On the second side of the album is “Creative Depression, a song about not feeling ok, the reason behind it, but knowing that things will be fine eventually.

That song sums up my mood right now.  I’ll be ok.  Winter is here, and this is the perfect time to rest, relax, and reflect.  And I have been neglecting those things lately because I was so busy.  I’ll welcome the peace in a few days.  I look forward to tackling the final stage of the project after the new year.

“i’ve got my love to keep me warm” – billie holiday (1958)

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While winters in Chicago may be tough, I also appreciate the first real snow of the season. I find such comfort in the dramatic change in the city landscape and a significant blanket of snow radiates a beauty that makes the cold temperatures more tolerable.  The city’s pulse changes and it truly becomes wondrous in so many ways.

This past weekend, Chicago experience its first significant snowfall of the season.  A veritable blizzard was reporting to dump up to eight inches or more of snow on the city.  However, most of that was a bitterly cold rain that is never enjoyable in any context.  Though, I did wake up the next morning to accumulated snow, albeit it about two or three inches, and that was fine by me.

I just cannot stand a winter with no snow.  The cold always seems unbearable and there is an icky gray to the city that is unpleasant.  My belief is that if I am going to freeze, I would like things to be pretty.

Though, as much as I enjoy the snow, I can only take so much of it before I’m tired of it.  And, typically, this happens right on January 2nd.  When the holidays are over, winter becomes something to trudge through. Chicago winters are long and after the holidays is when we get the snowfall that becomes unruly and restrictive.  Just goes to show that there can be too much of a good thing.

Until then, I will continue to enjoy the snow during the holiday season.  It is a great time to eat delicious soups, drink comforting teas, and snuggle under blankets.  Now that I am on the verge of completing a personal project that I dedicated the last month to, I can finally slow down and take it easy for the rest of the year.

Billie Holiday’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” is such a fine song for this time of year as we get settled and brace ourselves for winter.  The season is only starting, but it will get worse.  Holiday sings that she cannot remember a worse December, but she relishes that warm fire that awaits her.  She finds solace in the idea that, through a dreary time, there are still things to hold onto.  You can let the winter make you cold on the inside, or you can keep warm with the love you have in your life, love from yourself and from others.

“light the sky on fire” – jefferson starship (1978)

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This past Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special airing on CBS.  Legendary in the Star Wars universe as being terrible, so much so that George Lucas has personally vowed to destroy every copy and Carrie Fisher would play it at parties when she wanted people to leave, the special has left an indelible mark on that brand that spawns ridicule, confusion, and (sometimes) ironic appreciation.  It is an intergalactic spectacle like any other.

Airing on November 17th, 1978, the plot of the special follows Han Solo and Chewbacca being pursued by the Galactic Empire.  Solo is urgently trying to get Chewbacca back to his home planet of Kashyyyk so he can celebrate Life Day, a deeply spiritual holiday for the Wookies, with his family.  Meanwhile, Chewbacca’s family on Kashyyyk, prepare for the holiday.  Itchy, Chewie’s father, spend times watching a virtual reality fantasy programs starring Diahann Carroll (which effectively serves for pornographic use). Malla, Chewie’s wife, is prepares a meal from a television cooking program hosted by Harvey Korman as a four-armed, purple-skinned alien.  And Lumpy, Chewie’s son, Lumpy tinkers with a video screen so he can watch things such as a cartoon starring Boba Fett.

Imperial stormtroopers and an officer force their way into the Wookie house ins search of Chewie until Lumpy uses a machine to imitate the voice of their commander and they are ordered to return to their base.  The fun doesn’t end at the Wookie home as we are given a glimpse of life elsewhere in the galaxy.  In the famous Mos Eisley cantina on Tatooine, the Empire has initiated a curfew and Ackmena, portrayed by Bea Arthur, is forced to close the cantina early, but not before putting on a musical number.

Just in the nick of time as not to be discovered by the stormtroopers, Chewie arrives and is reunited with his family.  From there, they prepare for the festival at the great Tree of Life, where they hold glowing orbs and are dressed in red robes against the backdrop of space.  As they walk into a star, they are greeted by all of their friends and heroes of the Star Wars film including Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2.  Leia gives a short speech about the importance of Life Day and, in all her coked-up gloriousness, sings a song to commemorate the occasion.

What makes the holiday special an embarrassment for Lucas and the franchise is the shear camp of the thing.  The special was designed to capitalize on the era’s trend of airing variety shows as television specials, which would explain the involvement of Korman and others like Art Carney. Their involvement adds outdated schtick humor that I’m sure was not even funny at the time.

Also, the segments of the special are incredibly weird.  I mentioned earlier the virtual reality porno fantasy Itchy was engaging in. That’s true.  It is Carroll speaking seductively and making a lot of sexual innuendo towards the camera.  Other segments include Itchy watching a Cirque de Soleil style acrobatics show.

Strangely, a lot of screen time was dedicated to the Wookie family with no discernible dialogue.  A good chink of the special involves them growling and roaring at each other with the audience unsure of what is being communicated.

I’ve seen several of these clips many times, and I have actually watched the special in its entirety.  Not even Mark Hamill has done that.  I find it entertaining in a this-is-ridiculous-but-fun-to-watch-in-a-group-setting-under-the-influence-way.  IT is certainly not something to sit through sober.

The special, despite the many atrocities it commits towards culture and good taste, did serve an important place in the Star Wars canon.  The special did introduce the planet of Kashyyyk and Boba Fett, who has gone to be one of the franchise’s most beloved characters.  When Disney purchased the franchise and committed everything apart from the films to be considered non-canon, they still made the holiday special canon with the inclusion of Ackmena in a book of short stories about the first film.  So, say what you will about Disney, they at least have sense of humor about this and it is funny to think that the holiday special, despite Lucas’ intent, remains current in the Star Wars universe.

One of the more interesting aspect of the special is a performance by Jefferson Starship.  Lumpy, as a way to distract one of the Imperial guards, tunes his video screen to a music video of Jefferson Starship, as an unnamed human band, performing “Light the Sky on Fire.” Cast with shades are dark pink and red, the band performs their interstellar rock ballad with gusto that effectively keeps the guard entranced.  Originally under the working title of “Cigar-Shaped Object (Vanished Without a Trace),” the song was a promotional tie-in for their compilation Gold, though the single that would appear on that collection is different than the one on the special.  The performance on the holiday special would also be Marty Baslin’s final appearance with the band before later rejoining in 1993.

If you have yet to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special, please do.  Get some friends together and just do you own home version of Riff Trax.  What a great way to spend Life Day and the memories will be implanted in your brain forever as people pity you when you tell them you’ve seen the special in its entirety.

“one more yard” – evamore (2018)

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Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day which signified the end of the Great War.  In order to celebrate the centennial of the international order that ended World War I, dozens of world leaders attended a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe.  However, in what was supposed to be a solemn occasion to reflect on the progress humanity has made over the last century to ensure peace and stability, it turn into a dark reminder of our worsening global instability.

Trump made a big statement about not attending most of the ceremony due to his claims about excessive rain, though the weather actually had minor precipitation. It showed that Trump does not consider relationships with other nations, many with leaders critical of his administration, to be of personal value to him. So much so that his behavior proves that he is only concerned for his own well-being and make a somber occasion about the devastation of global conflict and the need to maintain peace all about him.  Trump even chose to arrive after the other leaders citing safety concerns.

Putin also attended the ceremony, though arriving several minutes after Trump.  What both men have in common is their unwavering nationalism that they do not care about the rest of the world.  Trump has even declared himself a nationalist and is unafraid to demean other nations while praising Putin, the other central figure in global politics who is encourages furthering global instability.

Other world leaders at the ceremony chose to speak up against nationalism both as a commentary about the goals of the original pact and a rebuke of Trump and Putin.  “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying: ‘Our interest first. Who cares about the others?’”  These comments were made to address the resurfacing of old ideas “giving into the fascination for withdrawal, isolationism, violence and domination would be a grave error that future generations would very rightly make us responsible for.”

Trump’s behavior at the Armistice Day ceremony was not only embarrassing, but an indicator of how he will continue his own agenda regardless of its effects.  Even today, Trump went on Twitter to rage against Macron for his comments and insulted him, furthering the divide between the United States and the rest of the world.  Trump’s reaction adds validity to Macron’s comments and, without doubt, signifies that the United States is actively destroying the foundation of the principles of Armistice.

To commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Armistice, several Irish and English musicians collaborated on an EP under the name of Evamore, Chris Evan’s project collecting songs inspired by the letters of World War I soldiers.  The first single released from this project is “One More Yard” and includes contributions from Cillian Murphy, Sinéad O’Connor, Imelda May, Brian Eno, Ronnie Wood, and Nick Mason.  The lyrics, recited in spoken word by Murphy, was inspired by the letters of Lieutenant Thomas Wall from the Royal Irish Regiment to his mother.  Evan’s project will expand into a full album and raise funds for cancer awareness.  “It was incredibly moving to see how the words of soldiers 100 years ago were so similar to those of young people suffering from cancer today,” Evans said. “We can only now honor the sacrifice of those a century ago but there is so much to be done to help those who are locked into the greatest struggle of their lives as they confront cancer. We are very privileged that some of the greatest names in rock music and wonderful actors have chosen to get involved in our project.”

Evamore is an exciting project with an incredible mission.  It is representative of what humanity can accomplish when we unite.  Only in our division will we secure our own demise.

“americans” – janelle monáe (2018)

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The rollercoaster ride of the 2018 mid-term elections is over and now everyone can take a little breather before we start grinding the political machinery for 2020. While the promise of a Democratic blue wave did not happen, a lot of good progress was made.  I feel better after this election than I did in 2016 when the whole world was surprised by the GOP controlling both the House and the Senate and, worst of all, the unexcepted election of Donald Trump.

Admittedly, I was cautious regarding my optimism to the point I may not have been optimistic at all.  The blue wave concept seemed too grandiose to me. If you believed the hyperbole you saw on social media, images of a blue wave conjured a major sea change across House, Senate, and gubernatorial races.  I was extremely confident about the results in 2016, as we all were, but I did not want to get my hopes up this time around.

The blue wave did not happen, in the sense of sweeping change, but progress was made.  The House of Representatives turned blue which gives control of subpoena and investigative power back tot eh Democrats who will certainly be engaged as exposing Trump’s fraud.  That, above all else, is the biggest outcome of the election.

Where the Democrats failed to deliver were in the Senate and governor races, where the Democrats lost seats of power.  For the governors, this means more conservative policies on a state level that repress people’s rights (two states voted on referendums amending their state constitutions to restrict abortion access.  On the Senate level, the GOP still has the majority to control appointments, like the Supreme Court, which will have an effect that will last for generations.

The Women’s March in 2017 that took place the day after Trump’s inauguration seems so far away.  Upwards of five million people marched in the streets of major cities across the United States protesting Trump and his vitriolic and sexist agenda.  The movement was energizing, but there were worries that the momentum would slow down as we got closer to the 2018 mid-terms.

However, last night’s election was a referendum on Trump, and women were largely responsible for much of the Democrats’ success last night.  It was amazing to see that the spirit of the Women’s March was sustained long enough to create some change at the polls, even if it wasn’t as much as hoped.  Here is a highlight of the accomplishments women made last night:

  • 100 women were elected to the House; more than ever before
  • Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia became the first Latinx congresswomen for Texas
  • Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to congress
  • Ayanna Pressley became the first black congresswoman for Massachusetts
  • Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland became the first Native American women elected to congress
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to congress
  • Michelle Lujan Grisham became the first Latinx woman Democratic governor
  • Letitia James became the first black woman to become Attorney General of New York
  • Jahana Hayes became the first black congresswoman for Connecticut
  • Angie Craig became the first lesbian mother elected to congress

Over the next few weeks, when all the election information is collected and studied, we’ll see what all of this means for the GOP and Trump in the long-term.  However, while the 2018 mid-terms did not usher in a blue wave, it was an indicator of what the Democrats could possibly achieve in 2020 and beyond.  The key, and it is no less urgent than before, is to continue the fight.

In April, Janelle Monáe released her third studio album Dirty Computer, a funk neo-soul concept album that she considers to be “a homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities” and an exploration of her more authentic self.  In the track “Americans,” Monáe is urging for America to end the oppression of marginalized people and calls for these oppressed citizens to fight back.  In the song, she plainly lays the gauntlet singing her America is not one where women cannot ear equal pay, where same-gender people are denied love, where police can freely shoot unarmed black people, and where poor white cannot get a chance at success.  It is an inclusive call to arms that mirrors this election’s referendum on Trump, one where women are making the progress the country needs.

“halloween theme (main title)” – john carpenter (1979)

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John Carpenter’s slasher film classic Halloween was released 40 years ago last week.  Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut, the film tells the story of a serial killer named Michael Myers who escapes a sanitarium to murder teenage babysitters on Halloween night in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois.  With the film’s success, a franchise was built containing multiple sequels and inspiring several generations of horror filmmakers.  Since it’s release, the film has been considered one of the greatest horror films in the genre and has appeared on multiple “best of” lists by institutions such as Empire magazine and the American Film Institute.

Last week also saw the release of a direct sequel of the same name.  Adjusting and upending the continuity of the franchise’s other films, the 2018 Halloween sees Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role and returning to Haddonfield to face Michael Myers again forty years after his killing spree in the first film.  Already heralded as the best film in the franchise, the has also become the highest grossing in the franchise.

The original Halloween film is an absolute classic and a must see for anyone who appreciates horror or 1970s American cinema.  It was one I enjoy returning to every few years and I’m still surprised by its ingenuity and nuance.  It is truly a pioneering work of art that still stands on its own.

Interestingly, I have a couple of interesting connections to Carpenter and this film.  Carpenter was raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and went to Western Kentucky University where I also attended.  I had an opportunity to meet him during my freshman year when he spoke to a select group of students who were in the video production track.  He didn’t many, probably about 30 or so, but it was really cool I got to see this filmmaking legend in person.

Before he spoke to the group, I got the chance to meet him.  I told him that I rewatched The Thing a few days earlier when I found out he was visiting.  He asked me if I watched it on DVD and I told him that I didn’t, and it was on an old VHS copy.  He then told me “there is this new technology called DVD and you should probably invest in one.”  It was 2006, so I knew what DVDs were, but he was just giving me shit.

On WKU’s campus at the bottom of the fame hill, there is a log cabin sandwiched between two of the freshman dorms.  It was John Carpenter’s childhood home that, when I was a student there, was converted into an office for the folk studies department.  Around Halloween of my freshman year, they held a screening of Halloween.  I had never seen it before, but I thought it was really cool to have the chance to see the film in the director’s former home.  I remember sitting on the floor and being really amazed by it.  I don’t remember who I was with, but I do remember that someone staring through the cabin window wearing a Michael Myers mask.  That was awesome.

The next year, during my sophomore year, that cabin would also become meaningful in a different way.  While sitting on the door step of Carpenter’s childhood home, I smoked pot for the first time.  It was late at night on a col fall evening in southern Kentucky and everything about the experience felt right.  In fact, I thought it was pretty badass that I was doing that where John Carpenter lived since he was a true badass himself.  I spent the rest of the evening asleep on a blanket a few feet from the cabin and woke up at dawn.  There was no Michael Myers on WKU’s campus.

Perhaps one of the most famous qualities of the film is the score.  In addition to directing Halloween, Carpenter also scored the film himself.  The main theme is a piano melody played in a 10/8 or “complex 5/4” signature.  Despite being fairly simple, the score for the entire film took only three days to create.  However, despite its simplicity, it is one of the most memorable aspects of the film.

While the film was released in 1978, the soundtrack wouldn’t be released until August 1979 and that was in Japan.  The United States didn’t get an official soundtrack release until October 1983 which is five years after the film’s release.  Since then, the soundtrack has been released multiple time and with supplemental material.  While other qualities of the film are amazing, it is Carpenter’s score that truly elevates the film to a higher plane.

“alive” – pearl jam (1991)

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College radio was an important part of my life during the tail end of my formative years.  Many of my favorite bands were college radio darlings at the beginning of their careers before becoming more well-known.  Plus, I respected the institution of it as a bastion of terrestrial freedom within an industry and market plagued with stagnation.  However, above all else, I was active in it.

I started college at Western Kentucky University in the fall of 2006 and, within a few weeks, I started volunteering at the campus radio station WWHR Revolution 91.7.  WWHR was an interesting place to start my media career because of the intense focus and structure guided by the general manager of the station.  For one, it was most important that the station not be free-formed.  There had to be a clear sound and philosophy behind our programming.  We weren’t just going to sound like a bunch of kids on the radio like the majority of college radio stations.

Next, the station had to be live 24/7 with a DJ operating the board.  With the exception of overnight hours during the summer and Christmas break, live human DJs were broadcasting around the clock.  Senior volunteers would first pick for shifts while newer volunteers like me would get what was left.  As a result, my first-year shift was Sunday mornings from 6 AM to 10 AM.  This meant my ability to party on Saturday nights was limited, or I just partied all night and powered through my Sunday morning DJ shift in a toxic haze powered by lingering alcohol and sleep deprivation. Oh, to be young again.

Every volunteer was a DJ and could be one after completing training.  However, for those who had a little more ambition, you could take on a leadership role on the board of directors. I spent a year in leadership doing traffic log operations before moving to promotions for a year and a half or so.  There were perks to this.  For one, directors got to go on trips to places like SCSW in Austin, the NAB conference in Vegas, or conferences in NYC.  The downside to all of this was there was the dreaded “director on duty” week.  You got a special flip phone to carry with you to answer whenever a problem ever came up.  And you had to drop what you were doing to handle it.  On a date but the DJ didn’t show up?  Tough shit.  Tuck it back in your pants, play indie rock for three hours, and take care of your blue balls on your own time.  The station doesn’t wait.

I was 18 when I started and 22 when I graduated.  In those four years, I had a lot of interesting experiences.  Most were good, but some were not.  And that’s fine.  A college radio station, which is essentially a collegiate club, is a strange place to be.  It is a microcosm of ego, hormones, and whatever else fuels awkward people transitioning from being kids into something that kind of resembles adulthood.  Naturally, an environment like that is ripe for drama but it is also a place where you make friends and get a sense of the kind of person you want to be.  What pissed me off and stressed me out no longer bothers me and I don’t hold onto to stupid grudges based on college nonsense.  We were all just kids trying to figure it out amidst all the fights, fucking, and fun.

This month marks 30 years since the launch of WWHR’s broadcast.  When it launched in October 1988, the station was called New Rock 92.  Back then, I imagine it was your typical college radio station; freeform and a place for kids to goof off.  Though, in 2001, the station was rebranded as Revolution 91.7 with a specific philosophy guiding the broadcast and aided by a new 30-mile radius transmitter.  The freeform was gone, but we still got to goof off in our own ways.

The last DJ shift of a volunteer was always a special thing.  In the last shift, a DJ could ignore the programming logs and play whatever they wanted.  They had earned the right.  And people would spend months planning their final shift.

I put a little thought into my last shift, but not much.  My musical knowledge, taste, and diversity is more complex and expanded now than when I was 22.  If I could go back in time with what I know now, I’m sure I could’ve crafted a really awesome playlist.  Instead, I just kinda winged it.  And that’s fine.  I don’t think it’s a bad way to go out.  After spending over three years following what a sheet of paper told me, perhaps going freeform with very little thought of what to play was the most spirited and alternative way to end my college radio career.  It is a big middle finger to the establishment within the establishment.  That is very rock and roll.

My last song I played was “Alive” by Pearl Jam.  The band’s first ever single from their debut album Ten, I played it because it was the most quintessentially alternative song I could think of at that time (yeah, I could’ve played something truly alternative, but I didn’t know as much back then so you Gen-Xers can chill out).  I loved the guitar that powers through the end of the song and the passionate shouts from Eddie Vedder.  I played it loud and rocked out in that studio one last time.  The same studio where I spent countless hours as a DJ, hanging out with friends, and doing all kinds of things only a young college student would be so brazen to get away with.

My college radio spirit hasn’t left me.  I’ve moved onto community radio.  I volunteer with a station in Chicago.  I don’t currently DJ (and haven’t since college), but I engage as a volunteer in ways that are helpful to my career.  I’ve also made a lot of great friends.  The age and background of our volunteers is a lot more diverse, but we have tinges of the kind of drama you would find in college radio (as you would with any large volunteer organization).  In many ways, the station I’m at now is a better station.  It is more professional and has a broader presence in the community. However, I won’t have the same memories like those I made while volunteering at Revolution 91.7.  For all the good and bad, it is a place I’ll always cherish.

“so long, frank lloyd wright” – simon & garfunkel (1970)

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For me, living in Chicago, October is an awesome time.  The trees are adorned in autumnal hues as the season change and the excitement of Halloween hangs in the air.  I don’t have to start worrying about Thanksgiving travel or Christmas presents yet.  It is a month of subdued electricity running through my veins as I celebrate the season before winter arrives. Also, it is the month of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago!

Since 2011, the second weekend of October is the most magical time of the year for Chicagoans.  Put on by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Open House Chicago is an opportunity to see over 200 sites across the cities from as far south as Englewood all the way to Evanston.  The appeal of these sites ranges from their architectural elements, historical significance, normal public exclusion, or for other unique treasures that you weren’t aware existed in this fair city.

It truly is my favorite time of the year and I’ve gone every year since its inception.  Some years, I scramble to see as many sites as possible over the two days.  Other years, I take my time and check out a few places.  And with the variety of amazing places to check out, there are a lot of ways to have fun.

This year, I made an effort to venture out to Bridgeport and Back of the Yards which are neighborhoods I never go to.  Like ever.  Considering this was my eighth year in a row, it was time to break some new ground so to speak.

Due to the time it took to get to that area, I only saw a few locations.  However, they were amazing.  Zap Props was well worth the trip.  Zap Props is a large prop rental warehouse that rents out props to film and television productions.  They had thousands of knick-knacks and other items that are rented out regularly for productions, parties, and even restaurants.  It was a flea market junkie’s dream.  From there, I checked out other place such as the Chicago Maritime Museum, the ComEd training facility, a restored Roman Catholic church, and a Buddhist Temple.

On Sunday, I went north to Evanston to see the American Toby Jug museum.  A Toby Jug is a large pouring vessel modeled after this British guy’s famed love for drinking.  Since the late 1700s, the tradition of the Toby Jug has expanded from jugs modeled after the guy to jugs modeled after animals, world leaders, entertainers, and so on.  It was such a strange collection to see and it was curious that it would be in Evanston of all places. Still, these are the kooky and fun things you may come across on your journey through Open House Chicago.

Open House Chicago appeals to all tastes.  For me, I like weird and unique places.  For others, you may be seriously interested in architecture.  And if that is that case, you may have a deep appreciation for famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Living in Chicago, you’ll occasionally walk by homes designed by Wright.  For Open House Chicago, some of his sites are even opened up for tours.  The experience may not be as comical or bizarre as the Toby Jug Museum, but it is truly a great experience.

In honor of Open House Chicago, architecture, and Frank Lloyd Wright, the song to celebrate all of those things this week is Simon & Garfunkel’s “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright.”  Released in 1970 and closing out the A-side of Bridge Over Troubled Water, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” is a folk ballad tribute to the architect.  Lamenting that architect may come and go, there are fond memories of laughing so long and harmonizing until dawn.  In the duo’s signature style, Simon & Garfunkel bring a shade of curiosity, romanticism, and humor to the song.

Architecture, though admirable ad awe-inspiring in its craftmanship, is also something that can fun and alter your point of view.  Open House Chicago does that for me in a city where I’m sometimes dulled by the familiar during my normal routine.

“autumn serenade” – john coltrane and johnny hartman (1963)

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I deeply cherish the transitional seasons.  Spring is an awakening for me.  After a long, cold Chicago winter, I am filled to the brim with life and energy.  I have to get out and do everything.  Exploration is on my mind and I’m an active whirlwind swimming in warm sunshine.  The brilliance of it makes me feel so young.

Fall, on the other hand, makes me sleepy and a bit weary in a welcomed way.  After an active summer of outdoor sports, travel, and social engagements, autumn is nature’s signal for me to start slowing down.  Winter is on the horizon and I’ll need to use that time to refresh.  Until then, autumn is my needed motivation to stop and look around at the beauty and mortality of all things.

The colors, the smell, and the chill are all things I adore about the season.  When spring arrives, I look around and am energized by all the things I can do now that it is warm. With autumn, I find comfort that things need to wind down.  Not just for the sake of energy expenditure, but to appreciate its return after winter.

A lot of my friends hate the fall because of what it represents.  To them it means that winter is almost here, and they’ll be miserable.  So, they don’t celebrate fall because of it’s the season in between winter and summer.

Part of that makes sense to me.  Winter, in that sense, almost signifies a sense of death.  However, that is life.  Embrace it and perhaps you’ll find it isn’t all the bad.

The start of my autumn has unusually busy.  It almost feels as my hectic schedule and need to do things from the summer has delayed a true autumnal experience for me.  I’ve been working a personal project that has really been eating up my time (in a good way).  But I’ve been aware of how little time I’ve had to enjoy the colors changing.  The experience I feel I’m supposed to receive of winding down just hasn’t happened yet.  But, that’s life.

John Coltrane is excellent to listen to this time of year.  I’m very partial to the record he released with Johnny Hartman.  Released on Impulse! in 1963, John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman is a jazzy match made in heaven.  Coltrane plays his sax supremely while Hartman lends his iconic vocals to the album’s six tracks.

Closing out the record is “Autumn Serenade,” their tribute to quite possibly the greatest of seasons.  Over the sweet saxophone, Hartman sings a sad ode to the wind coming three the trees which make the sweetest melodies.  Warmed by kisses, those beautiful souvenirs, we hold onto the true comforting value of life’s little gifts.