“walk the night” – skatt bros. (1979)

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This week’s song blog post will not serve as this year’s official Halloween entry, as that post will come next week, but there will be some spooky music season love this week.  The reason is simple. Listening to amazing Halloween music cannot be limited to one day.  It must be enjoyed the entire month of October.

Instead, this week’s entry is more focused on the art of creating curated playlists.  While the theme of the playlist I will discuss is focused on Halloween, I’ll be speaking more about what one thinks of when they create a playlist.  The process over the content.  This will be a great set-up for next week’s entry when I write my annual Halloween post.

Compared to most of my music-loving friends, I have very limited experience making curated playlists.  Crafting the perfect sequence of songs was just never a priority for me.  Even in situations where some semblance of a playlist was expected such as college radio.  My college radio station was strictly formatted except for the hours of 10 PM to midnight where students could propose and audition genre-specific specialty programming.  For three years, I had an independent soul music show, the only soul-oriented show at our station, and even then I did not put much effort into what songs I would play.  I would make it up as I went along.

I also never really made playlists for people.  Not for friends, girlfriends, or anyone else.  I cannot say what the reason why was.  Perhaps it was because I felt my tastes didn’t mesh with the those of my peers.  Perhaps that is bit of an elitist reflection, but it is the best explanation I can offer.

Now, when I was younger, I was no stranger to recording music off my stereo onto a cassette tape.  I did that in my later elementary school years during the late-90s.  Recording songs I heard on Casey Kasem’s show, I filled several tapes with top 40 songs of the era that I enjoyed.  And I would use whatever tape I could find.  I once re-recorded over a tape that contained audio of me reading from storybook in class from when I was even younger.  My parents were upset with me after that.

Once Internet file-sharing became bigger and people did not make playlists on tapes anymore, that is when my playlist-making days started to dwindle.  We had the Internet, but it was extremely slow during those days.  And my Internet usage throughout middle and high school were strictly monitored. No way in hell was I allowed to download music from the Internet.  In those days, it was believed that everything on the Internet you could illegally download was full of viruses (not a wrong assumption) or that doing the crime would land you some time and hefty lawsuit fees, the latter being one of the reasons to limit my use of the Internet.  Though, I did find some ways to download illegally from time to time.

By senior year of high school and well into my college years, the iPod was here.  Hit shuffle and you had an instant playlist.  No thought or creativity required.  Fill up your device with over 10,000 songs and hit one button to kick off your experience.  Though, unbeknownst to me, the experience would be cheapened by the effect of instant gratification.  I would skip songs endlessly before letting them playout like some kind of music junkie chasing the music dragon for the perfect song for that moment then and there, an experience that could be found when listening to the radio when you could not control what came on next.

So, considering the increasing influence and availability of technology, I had lost interest in making playlist.  Even in the early days of streaming audio, it still was not enough.  While friends were jumping on the Spotify train early and sending eachother playlists, I had moved on.

After college, after so many years, I decided to give making playlists my first serious go. I set up a private Facebook group and invited a bunch of friends.  The idea was that we would send eachother mix CDs.  However, there were some guidelines.  The mix had to have a theme, one of which was voted on by the group.  Stuff like songs about travel or summer.  Then, I would put the names in an online pairing randomizer. It would automatically generate who you would make your mix CD for.  It worked ok for a while.  I made some decent playlists, but other than one instance when someone sent me a Spotify playlist instead of an actual CD, all the people I got paired with never sent me anything.  I think we went through three or four rounds before I just stopped.

Fast forward to autumn 2019 and I’m watching television one night. I’m watching an episode of The Righteous Gemstones; a new Danny McBride comedy show on HBO.  As with McBride’s previous shows, Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, the soundtrack choices are remarkable.  And his latest show was no exception.  Whoever he hires to do that does an incredible job at finding the right song to convey the right messages.  Songs that can oscillate between being incredibly obscure to more well known, but add so much thematic depth.

During the credits of one episode, I hear a song I had never heard before.  There was a sinister guitar, and a deep-voiced growling laughter, all over this four-on-the-floor disco beat.  Men chanting “walk the night” turned this spooky song into a creepy anthem and I was loving it.  I had to immediately look this song up.  I had to figure out who this band was and to learn their story.

The song was “Walk the Night” by Skatt Bros., a group of leather-clad masculine gay men. Their story is that they were signed to Casablanca Records, the group formed by Sean Delaney after he worked with Kiss, and released their first album Strange Spirits in 1979. “Walk the Night” broke the top ten in the disco charts. The band was considered a rougher, more sexualized version of the Village People, a comparison not appreciated by the band who considered themselves real musicians who played real instruments. Their second, and final, album would me more rock-oriented.

I loved this song instantly because it sounded so hard-driven and spooky.  Listening to the lyrics, you realize the content is a lot more homoerotic than Halloween, with the vocalist singing that the creeper following you has something in his coat that he’s gonna make you take and you’ll beg for more, but it still felt like a fun song to play at a Halloween party.  Perhaps a Halloween party that would be more at home in the Al Pacino film Cruising than a teenage costume party, but perfect for Halloween nonetheless.

I posted the song on Instagram, along with a sample, and captioned it with the hashtag “spookymusicseason.” Since then, every day in October, I have been slowly building an alternative Halloween music playlist. Where everyday, I post the single or album art representing a song, a clip, and a small piece of trivia or comment about the song.

I love Halloween music.  I really do.  Every October, I go through my morning routing listening to the curated Halloween playlists on Apple Music and Pandora.  Though, even then, it is the same songs every year.  You’re either hearing campy tunes like “With Doctor” or Monster Mash,” songs from Halloween-appropriate movies like Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” the same Halloween perennial stalwarts like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,”  or random songs strewn in like Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra.”  I enjoy all of these, but it is the same thing every year.

So, with these daily Instagram posts, I have been slowly building an alternative Halloween playlist.  One that features Halloween appropriate songs that are not found on most playlists.  Songs running the gamut from the obscure to more well-known, but all of which are not featured among the more traditional Halloween music fare.

Playlists require thought.  And I know some people who spend a lot of time crafting the perfect playlists.  Since I don’t have a lot of playlist making experience, I’m still not putting a lot of time into this.  I wake up, think of a song that feels right for that day, post, and then move on.  I have asked for some feedback, and I have taken it, but I still want to spontaneity involved with the process.  As a result, there are various points where I go in interesting directions.  I can’t wait to see what comes up next between now and Halloween, where I’ll add the 31st song and then post the playlist for friends to enjoy.  Perhaps I’ll continue this as a hobby and build a small library of non-traditional seasonal playlists.  I love finding obscure, quirky music.  The more, the merrier.

The Skatt Bros. would then fade into obscurity after disbanding.  So much so that the producers of the video game Grand Theft Auto IV hired a private investigator to locate Delaney’s relatives, since he died in 2003, and get permission for the use of the track thus becoming the first pop culture use of the song since its release in 1979 until the song’s use in the 2019 episode of The Righteous Gemstones. I can’t be the only person who was amazed by the song and shared it.  So, I hope my Halloween playlist gives it some extra life in some small way.

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“oh, good grief!” – vince guaraldi (1968)

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When a friend had invited a group of people on social media to fly kites yesterday, I had some preconceived notions on how this was going to turn out. Or at least for me.  I can count on one hand how many times I have flown a kite, and I was not very successful at it.  I figured that I would show up, fail spectacularly at flying a kite, and then spend the rest of my time eating snacks and talking to people.  Little did I know that I would go an adventure and leave with an excellent story.

I was in a rather bitter mood by the time I got to Cricket Hill, the rare hill in Chicago that is in a park near Montrose Harbor.  I had left a volunteer meeting and was pretty grouchy about someone being rude to me.  I waited on the hill just stewing as the chilly wind blew around me.  When my friend showed up with her kites, I started to vent.  She told me to take it easy, fly a kite, and then I would feel better.

I was the first in the group to get a kite together and got it in the air.  It was amazing! I had traditionally had mediocre experiences flying kites.  Here I was, flying a kite and trying to get it as high as I could go.  It was fun, exciting, and I was certainly calming down.  I managed to keep the kite in the air the entire time.  Even when it looked like it was about nosedive into the ground, I saved it at the last second and it went soaring back up again.  I stood there thinking about how amazing it would be to fly around.  I had an absolute blast, and so did everyone else.

A man and his small daughter came by and we asked if they wanted to fly kites with us.  The man was a bit of an expert at kites.  He was talking to us about the model types, tips and tricks to get it soaring and steady, and talked about his kite collection.  I never thought about the technique behind kite flying. After hearing about it, it made sense.  Kites were just never on my radar.

We all shared kites and trade them mid-air.  One I had my eye on was this giant orange whale with a windsock.  The kite expert was telling me that the design of this whale kite required minimal amount of wind.  He then told me about the purpose of the windsock and how the size and shape of the kite’s windsock affects the performance of the kite. It was all great to learn and I was having fun.  And part of that fun was seeing how high I could make this kite soar.

I let out the entire length of string.  I don’t know how long the string was, but it must’ve been a few hundred feet.  My whale was soaring higher than any of the other kites.  I called out to everyone to see.  I then thought it was too high, so I started to reel the kite back in.  The kite expert stood nearby and told me to watch out so as not to break the string.  And, like it happens in the movies, cosmic forces came together to ensure that, within seconds of him saying that, my kite string would be destined to break.  And break it did, with the kite expert saying, “that’s going to end up in the lake.”

I panicked a bit.  This was a very nice kite my friend got.  I didn’t want to lose it.  Sure, I could pay for the kite I lost due to my own negligence in letting it out so high.  But I wanted to at least give it a solid effort to catch the kite before it was lost in the vastness of Lake Michigan.

I ran down the hill eastward towards the lake. For those unfamiliar with the topography of this area, running to the lake from Cricket Hill is not a straight shot.  In my way was a huge fenced parking lot. While it usually has some gates open, it did not at that time.  So, I ran around the length of the parking lot, losing site of the kite.

When I got to the other end of the parking lot, I must’ve sprinted a half mile before I stopped and surveyed the area.  If I was a kite, I thought. Where would I end up? Around that area, there are park grounds, beaches, boat harbors, and a wooded bird sanctuary.  All covering an area of several square smiles.  Plus, it was super windy.  This kite could be anywhere.

As am I surveying and walking towards a walking trail through the park, I see orange fabric in a tree.  I squinted and ran closer.  And it was the kite! I could not believe that it took me only a few minutes to locate the kite.  And though I was able to find the kite quickly, I had a much bigger problem.  It was at the very top of this tree.  A tall, thin tree with branches very few, small branches that could support a grown man’s weight and it’s closest branches to the ground were easily a few feet beyond my grasp.

I just stood and stared at the kite.  It was right there!  I was so close.  As I was staring at the kite, some teenagers walked by and laughed at me.  I get it.  It is funny.  But I was determined to get this kite back.  I was thinking about my best options to get to the top of the tree and looked around.  Down the trail was a one-story building where people can buy snacks and rent kayaks.  The building was closed for the season, but there were men with blowtorches on the roof doing some work.

I ran over and asked them if they had a ladder I could borrow.  I fully expected them to say no, but I explained my situation with the kite.  They had no problem lending me the ladder they used to get on top of the building.  They just told me come back with it because it was their only way off the building.  And the ladder they loaned me was a solid 30-foot ladder fully extended.  Surely this would do the trick.

I ran back to the tree with the ladder and extended it as high as it would go.  Even then, the ladder was not long enough for me to climb to the top wrung and grab the kite.  I also had another problem.  This was not a very sturdy tree.  While the right side of the ladder rested against one of the thicker branches, the left side was being supported by twigs.  A few steps up and the twigs were snapping.  I needed help.

Since the weather was windy, gray, and on the colder side, not many people were out.  I needed someone to hold the ladder for me.  I waited a few minutes and the first person who came by was a jogger.  I waved him down and asked if he could hold my ladder, but he just pointed to his headphones and kept running.  So, I kept waiting.

After a few more minutes, I saw two couples walking an adjacent trail.  I was hoping they were going to turn towards me.  When they turned in the opposite direction, I yelled for them.  The couples were in their 50s and I explained that I needed someone to help support the ladder while I grabbed the kite. And, thankfully, they agreed.

I repositioned the ladder and climbed to the top.  On the last wrung, holding onto the tree, I was thinking about my options.  The kite was way to high.  Also, I was scared.  I actually have a few of heights, and here I was in a tall tree with thin branches, swaying with the wind.  The guys holding the ladder called down asking if I had a pole to knock it loose.

I rand back to the roofers and asked if they had a pole.  They pointed to an old pvc pipe that had rusted wiring attached to some metal piece.  It was a solid ten-foot pipe.  I pulled the wiring out and rand back to the track, climbed the ladder, and attempted to knock the kite loose.

If I was scared before, I was even more so now.  I held onto the tree tightly and swung the pipe around thus making the tree and branches move even more.  After a few minutes, I was able to dislodge some of the kite.  Though, it was not enough.  I would have to climb higher and pull it out by hand.

I climbed above the ladder placed my footing on branches that stuck out upward from the main trunk.  My shoes were an old pair of Converse shoes I was trying to blow out as long as I could, long enough to get me to the first snowfall when I transition to boots.  So, there is no tread left and my feet are slipping.

I grabbed a hold of the kite and I was pulling hard.  The branches it was stuck on were not that thick and I wanted them snap.  So, I’m really high in this tree, standing on branches, pulling a kite and cause the top of the tree to sway and shake.  I kept thinking that this was not how I wanted to die, and I had thoughts of falling and ending up paralyzed.  Neither of those situations sounded good to me.

After a few minutes and some hearty tugs, I managed to get the kite out of the tree.  I was shaking as I was climbing down the ladder.  I could not believe what just happened.  It was luck that I found the kite.  It was luck that I managed to borrow a ladder in a rather empty park.  It was luck that I found some helpful people.

I talked to these good Samaritans and introduced myself. They were from out of town, one couple from Minneapolis and the other from Seattle, and were just visiting Chicago for a few days.  I could not believe that.  It was so funny.  The wives then asked me to pose with their husbands and the kite as a document of their vacation in Chicago, when they helped a stranger get a kite out of a tree.  One of the wives also told me she took photos of me in three and I could not believe it.  I had a great laugh.

We talked for a bit and then I head back to Cricket Hill, feeling victorious. I ran up that hill like I was Kate Bush, holding my arms up in victory, and hooting the entire time.  Everyone was amazed that I had found the kite and were blown away by the story of how I got it.  They were actually kind of worried about me.  They texted me, but I did not take my phone with me when I ran after the kite.  They were glad to see that I was safe and loved the photos.

I left the experience with a great story. As mentioned, I could have replaced the kite. However, I wanted to at least try to get it back.  And when I saw the kite, right there in front of me, I wanted to feel like I did everything I could to get it back.  Now, if it was in Lake Michigan, I would not have swum after it or stolen a boat to get it.  I would’ve whipped out my credit card, opened my Amazon app, and clicked “Buy Now” with Prime delivery.

I like this story because it is funny, but it also reflects the kind of person I am.  I like who I am.  I am someone who cares about their friends and does not want to go half measure in life. I want my friends to know that I care enough about them that I’ll climb a tree on a windy day to get back their kite.  They mean that much to me.  Though, I’m glad they did not see me do this because they would have had a heart attack. When we’re all old and dying, and when they think of me, I want them to think about these shared moments.  Flying kites and me running into adventure to get one back.

I’m no Charlie Brown.  I will face the Kite-Eating Tree and enjoy the spoils of victory. So, I figured this story was a good way to spotlight the work of Vince Guaraldi and his memorable musical moments from Peanuts.

Guaraldi contributed a contemporary jazz soundtrack to many Charlie Brown movies and television specials, most notably A Charlie Brown Christmas from 1965.

In 1968, Guaraldi released Oh, Good Grief! featuring jazz cuts scored to characters such as Linus, Lucy, and Peppermint Patty as well as piece for Snoopy’s Red Baron. Included on the album is the titular song “Oh, Good Grief!” which perfectly encapsulated my thoughts when I saw the kite in the tree.

The Kite-Eating tree made it’s first appearance in a Sunday strip from March 3rd, 1968.  In addition to kites, the tree also ate Schroeder’s piano when Lucy threw it in there in a strip from January 23rd, 2969.  The tree would appear in the film A Boy Named Charlie Brown and appear in various incarnations over the years.

Everyone else can be a Charlie Brown and sacrifice their kite to the tree.  I will not.

“how dare you” – g.t. (2019)

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Without a doubt, climate change is the single biggest threat the planet faces.  The man-made impact on our environment, caused by burning fossil fuels resulting in huge amounts of carbon pollution that trap more heat within the atmosphere, has been a contentious debate despite the overwhelming evidence provided by the scientific community. Even though virtually every scientist confirms that humans have the biggest impact on climate and are accelerating the process, large lobbying groups, corporations, and many politicians stand in the way of progress towards reversing the effects of climate change caused by humans.

I have grown up my entire life learning about climate change, then referred to as global warming, and the need for society to find alternative solutions that can slow down, and preferably, reverse the effects of climate change. Having been born in the late 1980s, the debate has been going on since before I was born.  And while there has been increased awareness and technological advancements over the course of my lifetime, I do not feel like we have gotten any to implementing a solution.

As time goes on, it gets increasingly more difficult to not be depressed by the impact of climate change. The Internet is full of before-and-after photos where you can see the direct impact of climate change; photos from several decades ago that show majestic glaciers that now, with the camera in same spot, only show brown land since the glaciers have melted away.  I even find myself reviewing rising sea level projections and how it will impact my life in Chicago in the coming decades if I were to stay. Even since moving here in 2011, I have sensed considerable differences in the season in 2019; summer being hotter, winter being colder, and the transitional seasons of autumn and spring all too short to enjoy.

The depressing aspect of all this isn’t just the inconvenience with dealing with hotter and colder temperatures for longer periods of time.  It breaks my heart to see emaciated animals desperately searching for food sources that were abundant in years priors, but now are becoming scarce due to rising air and water temperatures. It hurt to see how far back glaciers receded when I visited Alaska last far, and to read about the increased wildfires and dying salmon this past season.

Even beyond the photos of melted glaciers and starving animals, there are other ways we have seen the effects of climate change.  The Syrian refugee crisis offers us our most stark look into the future and how climate change will increasingly impact our lives. While the people of Syria are fleeing a murderous dictatorship and civil war, droughts cause by climate change played a significant role in the biggest humanitarian crisis of my lifetime thus far.

With all that going on, and continuing to happen, it becomes easy to become cynical and nihilistic about everything.  There are things I can do on an individual level to help such as recycling or reducing my meat intake.  However, that is not enough. Me throwing my Pepsi bottle into a blue bin is not going to do a goddamn thing. Real, discernible change has to happen systemically, and this requires our corporate and political leaders to implement the change. They must be held accountable to work to change broken laws, update antiquated technology, and enforce energy regulations.

Virtually everyone, barring the few extremist exceptions, agrees that climate change is happening.  The problem comes from people disagreeing on the cause of climate change and the solutions.  Those who do not see climate change as an issue deny the impact humans have on the environment, citing that climate change happens naturally and cyclically.  While that is true, the act of sticking one’s head in the sand about the effects humans have is unfathomable, especially at this stage.

The other issue boils down to jobs.  Some people use jobs and the economy as an excuse to oppose any climate change innovation.  Regardless of the fact that evidence shows the alternative energy industry will not replace fossil fuel jobs, and present ways for coalminers natural gas workers to transition to a new industry, huge lobbyists stoke fear within the working class about how green energy will kill their jobs, thus ensuring an endless cycle where politicians earn their positions by promising their constituents to oppose any climate change legislation.

Thank whatever-your-preferred-deity for Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish environmental activists, who started her cause by advocating for stronger action on global warming by spending her school days protesting outside the Swedish parliament. Her first action as an activist occurred in August 2018 and now, a year later, has inspired millions of teenagers around the world like her to take to the streets challenging those in power for passing the climate change buck to them and, in their view, dooming their future.

Thunberg, in August 2019, sailed the Atlantic Ocean from the United Kingdom to New York in a yacht to speak at the United Nations Climate Change Summit.  On September 23rd, Thunberg delivered a fiery and passionate speech.  “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood,” Thunberg told the UN, “with your empty words.” She laid out how, for over three decades, the science has been clear about collapsing ecosystems and blamed world and industry leaders for being too focused on jobs and economy.  Thunberg took them to task for claiming they understood the urgency, but failing to provide sustainable solutions. Despite declaring such a willful act to ignore the crisis as evil, Thunberg had the gracious insight to suggest that these leaders are still capable of doing the right thing by refusing to believe that any lack of progress of is because of a direct desire to inflict harm upon the world.

Thunberg’s speech, and the resulting climate strikes, were incredibly inspiring. In a time where it is all too easy to negative about the future, Thunberg fills me with hope. Her passion in infectious and I become optimistic that the future is in good hands.

Thunberg’s speech also had an impact in the world of music. John Meredith, thrash-metal drummer for Suaka, put Thunberg’s speech into ProTools and turned a charged political speech into a head-banging metal anthem. “When I saw her speech, I was very impressed by her passion and outrage,” Meredith said. “And the words she chose just evoked the darkness of the metal music I love: Entombed, Gojira, At the Gates, Sepultura.” Meredith could not adjust Thunberg’s voice to sound metal enough, so he growled along with Thunberg giving the speech and improvised the guitar.

Meredith released the Thunberg metal project as “How Dare You” under the moniker of G.T., Thunberg’s initials. A video was released for the project and proceeds from the single are benefitting Greenpeace. Thunberg, in response to the heavy metal version of speech, had a sense of humor about the project tweeting “I have moved on from this climate thing. From now on I will be doing death metal only!”

Following Thunberg on Twitter, I am impressed by her tenacity, passion, and strength. So many trolls and toxic pieces of shit have come out from under their rocks in their parents’ dens to blast Thunberg on social media. The fact a 16-year-old Swedish girl is instilling so much fear in these sad white men that they feel the need to lash out speaks to the power and truth of her mission.  She’s a stronger person than I will ever be and I champion her, and all the other teenage climate activists out there, fighting to make their future livable.

 

“i am what i am” – gloria gaynor (1983)

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I have been sick this week so far and, of course, it is never really fun.  Generally, I have a pretty robust immune system.  It is a very rare occurrence that I get sick, at least enough to where I need to take a whole bunch of medicine, skip work and social engagements, and sleep most of the time. When I do get sick, it really hits me hard and I spend several days exaggerating to myself that I am at death’s door as I get winded walking to the bathroom. Melodramatic sure, but go easy.  I’m sick.

I was hoping to spend this week’s edition of my blog to cover the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, but that will have to wait.  I’ve been behind on the news as I’ve been sleeping most of the time and using what little awake time to watch funny things on tv and read on the couch.  So, that topic will have to wait.  Instead, please enjoy this week’s filler post.  Since starting this blog in 2015, I’ve acknowledged that not every post will be a stunning example of online personal and music blogging.  Sometimes, it is fine to just phone it in as an excuse to reaffirm some basic ideas.

On Sunday, I went to bed early.  Like 4 PM early.  A close friend spent the afternoon watching South Park and Archer with me until it became too difficult to keep my eyes open.  That evening, I originally had tickets to a concert but had to forfeit them to a friend because I was just to unfit to go.  So, might as well just escape reality and head into flu medicine induced dreamland.

I slept rather solidly, but woke up around 3:30 AM on Monday in a cold sweat.  I could not go back to sleep, so I just laid there in the dark for a few hours.  Spending my time thinking.  About what? Well, future long-term plans, things I needed to get done once I got better, upcoming social plans, and other general life stuff.

Though, I also took a considerable amount of time to think about my life and take stock of all the good things in it.  Doing that is always a great exercise.  It is a method in practicing mindfulness and living in the moment.  Appreciating what you have and the loved ones in your life is always important, so it is good to remember that especially when things are not that fun at the moment.

Recently, I received a reminder about someone toxic from my past.  I do not really want to go into specifics, but this reminder was upsetting for a bit.  For a few moments, I was taken back to a time where my life was a lot different than it was now.  Since disconnecting from this toxic individual, I had to do a lot of work refocusing my life and moving in a direction that was healthy for me. This meant doing a complete self-evaluation, identifying where I was lacking with regards to my self-care, and then building the network structure that could provide and support me.

And I am happy to say that I have all those things now.  I have a strong network of friends, creative pursuits, professional endeavors, and other things that allow me to continue to develop and grow as a human being. Not only am I happy that I have these things, I find satisfaction in the fact those are happening for me because they are things I worked for.

When something about the past brings you down and makes you sad, that is fine. People who just do not get what you’re feeling will often tell you to just move on.  From this toxic person in my life, I have moved on.  My life is so much better without them because of all the things I have worked to achieve since then.  However, the myth about moving on that some people subscribe to is that, if you truly moved on, you cannot talk about or be affected by whatever past trauma.  And that is simply untrue.  Being bothered by this recent resurfacing of past trauma does not suggest I have not moved on.  It bothered me, and then I was able to talk myself into a better state of mind.  And being temporarily upset about something from the past does not lessen the significance of good things in my life now.  If anything, it reinforces the positive things that are currently in my life.

So, for this week’s post, I wanted an uplifting song to help me get out of this flu funk and reflect that my life is pretty great.

Originally composed for the Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles, “I Am What I Am” is a celebration of life and not conforming to societal expectations.  Originally composed by Jerry Herman, an openly gay man, about doubling down on the love of his sexual identity, the song reached new heights as a club hit for disco diva Gloria Gaynor in 1983 for her 1984 album I Am Gloria Gaynor.  The song is a call to arms to celebrate the highs and lows that life has to offer where for every ace that get played, you get dealt a deuce.  Where the drum your banging is noise to some, but it is pretty to you.  Where you do not need to offer excuses about how you live your life because you are good, strong, and somebody.

“i am a tree” – guided by voices (1997)

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Despite the threat of rain over the weekend, there was an opportunity for me to get out into nature and enjoy the lingering joys of late summer. Late summer is a great time. Despite hints of fall’s arrival, it is still very much warm, and I get to still do all the summery things that I like to do.  While the beginning of summer gives me some anxiety about the best way to use my time after a long winter, I have a deep feeling of satisfaction at the end of summer because I feel like I have accomplished everything I wanted in the sunshine and then some. It is a time where I san still appreciate the gifts of summer, but I am ready to move on.

Though today is the fall equinox, it is still a bit on the warmer side for me to consider the weather autumnal.  So, in my mind, it is not quite fall. And since I do not consider it fall yet, I still seek opportunities to have summer fun.  And this past weekend was a great way for me to say goodbye to summer.

A friend picked me up in his car and we drove out to the Skokie lagoons to walk the trails there.  Though there was the satisfying crunch of leaves beneath our shoes and the hints of auburn in the trees, this was still an embrace and appreciation of summer.  We smelled the flowers, watched the wind rustling through the trees, and observed the deer and geese drink from the water.  Tranquil and wonderful.

After we walked several of the trails in the lagoon, we headed to the Chicago Botanical Garden and enjoyed the prairies lands by the water.  Sitting on a bench, we talked about life; goals, interests, hopes, and concerns. After some time talking about such things, we just watched the water in quiet reflection.

During the few hours we spent walking around the lagoons, we spent periods of time in reflection we referred to as “nature walks.” During this time, we would be quiet, walk, and try being more present; letting go of the things in the human world that bring us down.

On one of these nature walks, we both stopped by a tree.  For some reason, I wanted to touch it. When I rest my hand on the bark, there was a soft warmness that was soothing. After a few minutes, we left the tree.  Breaking the silence of the nature walk, I said to my friend “the tree was warm.”  In response, he told me to think about what that meant and then we walked together in silence until we got back to the car.

During that time, I did think about the tree’s warmth. Not just what the warmth may have represented, but what about brought the tree and me together.

I thought deeply about my intentions first.  Specifically, what motivated me to touch that tree.  It became clear that I wanted something from the tree.  I had to touch it, to feel it for whatever reason.  Breaking it down, I realized there was something I wanted from that tree. I cannot say for certain what exactly I wanted, but just thinking about the concept of approaching the tree was all that mattered. It was the act of me, a mobile organic consumer, approaching a deeply rooted being and insisting myself upon it.

As for the warmth, I had a few thoughts about the sensation I experienced when I pressed my palm against the bark. Thinking about the intent that initially had, where I encroached on the tree, I thought about the warmth representing a selfish desire; a symbol of me taking something from the tree or, by invading the space around it, asserting some sort of dominance over it in the natural hierarchy.

While that line of thought presented a significant amount of self-awareness, I do not believe it is the truth. That tree represents something much older, wiser, and stronger than me. How arrogant I must be for thinking that my selfish desire, represented by my need to touch, could somehow overpower something so majestic.

Instead, I think that warmth was a gift.  A message from the tree telling me that I do not need to insist. That I do not need to feel like I must take. That I do not need to exude a dominance or authority.  That warmth is a gift, a reminder of the benevolent side of nature.

Reflecting on this experience with the tree, I thought deeply about my interactions with other people whether they be friends, family, or lovers.  I thought a lot about my interactions with people and concluded that I needed to be less egocentric in my thinking.  That is not to say I am an egotistical person, but that I am the center of my own world.  And while it is okay to be the center of one’s own world and to embrace selfishness, I was thinking about that the best way to approach relationships with people is to not be so transactional.  In this competitive, patriarchal world, it is easily to fall into that trap.

In the car, I shared my thoughts with my friend.  We talked about self-awareness and the role nature can play in helping to achieve self-awareness. With all the distractions, the noise and endless notifications, it can easy to overlook the lessons that nature can offer. It can almost be an act of subversion to stop and smell the roses or, in my case, touch the trees. Especially in a society that demands more from you every day.

In 1997, Guided by Voices released their studio album Mag Earwig! Track three, “I Am a Tree,” written by the band’s guitar Doug Gillard, is about a tree and its relationship to a bird that has taken flight.  Fans of the band speculate that the song is about a relationship ending and perhaps it is.  However, the imagery is striking and reflects the experience I had this weekend. In the song, the tree is telling the bird they can build a nest and get the sap out of it.  Proclaiming it is fruitless and free, the tree urges the bird to touch it and see.

While “I Am a Tree” may be about a specific relationship, the song feels relatable enough to cover a wide arras of relationships. And when I think about this song, I find it a bit funny that I focused so much about relationships when I was thinking about the tree’s warmth.  Not the potential narrative of a romantic relationship as in the song, but the way I develop relationships with anyone.  We cannot be transactional in our interaction with other people.  We must touch eachother and see.  In our hearts and minds.

“just what I needed” – the cars (1978)

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Music plays a big role in my life. With various aspect of my life, music is somehow involved. I’m an avid fan, always curious and exploring things that interest me or offer new perspectives. I play guitar for an ensemble at a folk music school.  At that very same school, I also volunteer in their library where I have access to thousands of records.  And, crossing over from the personal to professional realm, I volunteer for a community radio station, a bastion for new ideas and sounds.

Music also impacts my social life. I meet with friends and talk about music or even go see a concert. Over drinks after ensemble practice or a radio meeting, we talk about what we’ve been listening to, new and old. Music is a great force that connects people and allows us to open ourselves to others, discussing ideas, dreams, and philosophies.  Things that drive us and make us happy.

For over three years, I have been part of an ongoing album discussion group.  The core focus of the album group is a like a book club, but music albums are discussed instead of books. Using a book called 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die, we have a general guide that offers a broad appeal for people of all types to participate.  And we have that in the group.  After discussing over 80 albums so far over the last three years, our group has grown with members representing different gender, generation, taste, and interest background.  We come to the discussion with our thoughts, fueled by our experience.

One of the consistent themes that comes up, especially with an album with mixed reactions, involves the concept of enjoying the music for what it is. The idea being that the context with which the music is known, perhaps how pervasive or controversial it is, is irrelevant since the we’re ideally supposed to judge the music itself.

I sometimes find that topic difficult to accept.  Whenever this topic comes up, in the group or elsewhere, it is usually associated with the concept of “separating the art from the artist.”  And within that context, it is usually a discussion involving artists with toxic and controversial histories, personal or professional. However, within this group, this topic tends to come up as a generational issue. For the younger members of the group, millennials like me, sometimes music is tainted by its pervasiveness. Music that is heard in car commercials, in grocery stores, or featured as a set piece in a period piece film to establish a sense of time, the latter being a context that cements the song’s reputation.

Music is a very emotional experience and the music that is closest to us has the strongest emotional appeal.  In most cases, this is music you grew up with.  However, given my age, not all the beloved music of yesteryear has resulted in an emotional connection.  That is not to say that there is no old music that I have an extreme fondness for.  Most of the music I hold dear was released before I was born, sometimes by multiple decades. However, there are artists who are beloved that, to me, seem overplayed and have not appealed to me because I cannot separate the art from the commercials, stores, and movies that I associate the music with and that is regardless of how influential they are.

On Sunday, Ric Ocasek, the lead singer and guitarist for the Cars, passed away from heart disease at 75.  My social media feed filled with friends talking about the role the Cars’ music played in their lives.  For the older generation, it was the sound of their youth.  For my contemporaries, the Cars paved the way for the power pop bands of their formative years.  Multiple generations coming together because of an emotional connection to this band. One that I, however, do not share.

The Cars’ eponymous debut from 1978 was one of the albums discussed in our album group a while back.  And I remember talking about the pervasiveness of their music from the perspective of a millennial.  They are what I had referred to as “grocery store music;” stuff that sounded good that I could not say I disliked, but I also could not say I loved it either.

Since Ocasek’s death, I read the outpouring of admiration from friends and the tributes from musicians and celebrities that were impact by the singer’s passing.  Even if I did not share the same emotional connection, I really enjoyed reading their thoughts.  They were from a genuine place of love and respect for something that had a deeply personal impact.  I know I have artists that represent that for me that others do not share, but I have respect for that.

What I did gain from reading these tributes was some perspective on how the Cars never really became a part of my life.  For Generation X, the Cars signified a new, explosive change in music.  New wave was an escape from the monotony of popular radio at the time, the era of disco and arena rock.  A powerful cultural shift is certainly a great reason to develop a strong bond. I actually kinda envy those who were there at the beginning with the Cars’ music offering a glimpse in the strange new future of music.  These types of seismic disruptions occur less frequently now (within my lifetime, grunge was probably the last one).

And for my generational contemporaries, I never really got into the bands that were directly influenced by the Cars.  Bands like Weezer and Interpol. When my friends and classmates were discussing the brilliance of albums like Pinkerton, I was exploring a different direction and never cemented an appeal during my formative years.  I have come to deeply love musical forms that I have discovered for myself later in life, so perhaps there is still hope for me when it comes to power pop.

Part of my morning routine getting ready for work involves me listening to Apple Music’s new wave radio station.  Almost every morning, I hear the Cars.  I never skip tracks and their songs are always pleasant to listen to.  I can appreciate the band to some degree, but they are still the music I hear in commercials and at the store.  Or, more realistically, the soundtrack to me brushing my teeth.

The Cars’ first single “Just What I Needed” was released at the end of May in 1978, a week before the release of their debut album. I would have liked to have been around at that time to experience the thrill that Generation X friends felt when they first heard Ocasek’s voice and rhythm coming from the stereo, or more appropriately from a car radio.  Dismayed by a myopic cultural dystopia, I’m sure Ocasek delivered just what they needed.

“omar sharif” – katrina lenk (2017)

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I am typically not one for Broadway musicals.  I have seen a few and some I really enjoyed.  However, I still do not consider myself a fan of the Broadway style. I think some of the reason why is that I am just not that into the delivery style, and the songs can be really cheesy.  I have friends who adore Broadway musicals and I am glad that it is their thing, but I am just a bit picky.

In 2018, I watched the Tony awards with a friend.  I had never watched the Tony awards before.  I don’t really follow award shows now but when I did, it was usually the Oscars.  Watching the Tony awards, I either was not aware of or did not care about most of the productions.  I remember seeing a performance of a musical based on SpongeBob SquarePants and the overly obnoxious, saccharine acting and presentation and I was just not digging anything about it.  Still, I watched.

As I was watching, there were a lot of wins for a musical I had not heard about which is nothing new.  Though, my friend I was with who loves musicals, was not quite aware either.  Competing for 11 nominations, the production won 10 of them, including the Tony for “Best Musical.” It was a peculiar musical.  Understated, lacking in grandiosity.  It didn’t appear to have all the trappings of what I consider to be standard Broadway motif.  Though, with one performance, and having no other information, I was sold.  I really wanted to see The Band’s Visit.

The Band’s Visit, a musical adaptation of a 2017 Israeli film (that is not a musical), was the big winner of the 2018 Tony awards.  The story involves an Egyptian police orchestra band that is travelling to Israel to perform at an Arab Cultural Center.  While they are trying to get to the bustling city of Petah Tikvah, a translation error, a classic set up in a fish out of water story, has the band ending up in a small desert town called Bet Katikva.  While the band is stranded overnight having to wait for the next bus the following day, the members of the orchestra have a major impact on the listless denizens of this nowhere Israeli town.

Watching the Tony awards, the song performed was “Omar Sharif” performed by Katrina Lenk.  In the scene, Lenk, as Dina, goes out on something resembling a date with Tewfiq, the captain of the police orchestra portrayed by Tony Shalhoub. While they discuss the band sticking to traditional Arab music, Dina shares with Tewfiq that she used to listen to Egyptian radio stations as a child with signers like Umm Kulthum.  She also shares her love growing up with Omar Sharif films.  It is a tender song about the impact these legendary cultural figures had on her, able to sense the lemon and jasmine scents of their representation.  While Tewfiq is in the scene, Dina performs solo with him silently watching this woman express herself so freely when one imagines there is little opportunity to do in such a small town.

Despite garnering so much acclaim, I had never heard of it before.  And neither had anyone else I had spoken to about it.  Then, and even still, any conversation about Broadway is dominated by Hamilton, and rightfully so as it managed to expand the Broadway landscape with its diverse representation and catchy hip-hop tunes.  And if it isn’t Hamilton that people are talking about, it is a jukebox musical based on some popular singer’s career.

So, when tickets were announced for Chicago, I had to go.  I even managed to get a big discount by waiting for a special.  In the weeks leading up seeing the musical, I was incredibly excited.  I only knew that one song.  “Omar Sharif” sold me.  I refrained from listening to the rest of the musical or even watch the original movie because I wanted to go in as fresh as possible.

All the while, I am telling people about the musical.  And not a single person among my friends had heard of the musical. Some of them are not that into musicals, but even the ones that were just had no idea.  It was so bizarre.

The Band’s Visit was praised for being a “musical for grown-ups” and noted for its positive impact on the portrayal of Middle Eastern actors and performers.  Now, when representation is something that is heavily considered and discussed, a musical like The Band’s Visit going under the radar for so many people, despite all the Tony wins, just seems so bizarre.  I know that it has a lot of traditional Arab music and the songs are not filled with socially conscious, politically charged hip-hop elements like Hamilton, but it is a musical worthy of attention.

“oh loretta!” – sex on toast (2015)

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Irony really irks me.  Not really as a concept in and of itself, but the role irony plays in our culture.  Two things really stand out to me about irony. First it can be used flippantly as a cheap narrative or tonal effect by those are just are not that clever. If you’re bad at communicating your point, it becomes easy to just play off a misfire as being ironic.  No need to further delve into your lack of wit or tact.

Second, the idea that people enjoy or do things ironically directly contributes to cultural supremacy. Suggesting you enjoy something, whether it be a film or a song, out of irony establishes the presence of a hierarchy.  Whatever piece of work you’re enjoying through your own sense of maligned irony now inherently has a value placed on it that suggests you believe it is somehow lesser than you or your taste. It implies that you think you are somehow better, as in more refined or cultured. When you enjoy something ironically, you are placing a value judgment on something that really does not need your validation. It undermines the creative efforts behind it and being ironic about it is just shitty.

I enjoy camp, which is objectively sillier than artistic expressions that are culturally determined to be more serious. And camp is an area that largely suffers from the misfortune of being enjoyed ironically.  Things that are camp are often made on a lower budget, contain fringe elements, and appeal to tastes beyond the mainstream.  Things that are camp, no matter how silly, are made with sincerity.  It just comes off as pretentious when you enjoy something camp without sincerity.  So, if you are going to create or enjoy something campy, do it with respect and sincerity. Whatever it is may be out of the norm, but don’t force it to exist within a structured cl hierarchy thus diminishing the artistic intent and cultural value.

Earlier this year, a friend introduced me to an absurdist revival band called Sex on Toast. Formed in Melbourne, Australia, Sex on Toast is a revivalist boy band creating their own spin on synthesized R&B and new jack swing of the 1980s and 90s.  So, I know what you’re thinking.  A whole bunch of white guys playing black pop music from three decades ago? How is this not ironic and how can we take this seriously? The answer is quite simple: they have respect for their music inspirations, and they are very skilled at what they do.

I often find that most revivalist acts are just novelty acts driven by irony, but that is not Sex on Toast.  With their songs drip with stylistic clichés like partying, bubble baths, and sex, all sung over sweat inducing funk and disco beats accented with killer synth riffs and full horn sections, the members of Sex on Toast pay tribute to these dated pop motifs with their skilled and expert musicianship.

Sex on Toast relies heavily on humor to convey their style and this is obvious in their lyrics and music videos. This by no means undermines the sincerity of the band’s sound. On this band’s style, lead singer Angus Leslie said “We’re not really a parody act. We mess with musical archetypes, but we genuinely love the styles of music that we play, and the band’s full of seriously gifted players.”

While the lyrics are ridiculous and funny, the band really shines through musically as being precise and tight. While songs that inspired Sex on Toast’s sound are musically tight as well, those songs featured lyrics just as sugary.  “There’s that influence but I try to infuse any sort of insanity that I believe to be our own as a band,” Leslie said. “As a band of absolute weirdos, that we are, it makes sense to infuse those influences with our own bacteria.”

Sex on Toast’s unbelievable musicianship is on full effect with their 2015 single “Oh Loretta!” Filled with sweaty groove, disco rhythms, and supreme horn solos, “Oh Loretta!” is a triumph in revivalism that features so much humor but as an homage to a bygone era.  Sex on Toast’s take on forgotten, esoteric R&B pop stylings pays respect in all the right ways, musically, while having fun with the indulgent lyrics of the form.  “I wrote it in my underpants in a room above a pub in North Australia, with a little toy piano. I filled it up with the sort of dodgy rhymes you often find in those sorts of love songs, and just boosted the foolishness, I guess. Those songs are often about a guy pledging his undying love to someone he wants to sleep with, and you know it’s really insincere, so for the second half of the song, it switches to a different girl called Rebecca…”

Even the video for “Oh Loretta” majestically serves the homage driven appeal of the band.  Adorned in tacky outfits, Sex on Toast perform “Oh Loretta” to a dancing throng a la musical variety shows from the 70s and 80s.  With a polished energy, everything starts off like a standard music video tribute.  However, as time goes on and the sweat pours and the dancers look more pallid, heads explode (literally) as Sex on Toast reaches a musical climax delighting in the bloody devastation they have caused with their sounds.  It is shocking and mesmerizing, but the music, the most important factor for a band, stands on its own.

Sex on Toast is a rare occurrence where revivalism isn’t based on tired irony.  They serve as a band that is genuinely respecting and having fun with the music that inspired them. “I think people love Sex on Toast because we’re funky and fun,” said Leslie. “We refuse to be earnest, partly because we’re genuinely strange people, but also because the music we love often had a strong sense of humour. People like Prince, George Clinton, Zapp, Rick James, even Michael Jackson. These dudes were wacky, man, and we love that.”

While Leslie’s comment can seem like Sex on Toast is a band that relies heavily on irony, they are much cleverer than that. They contribute to the form while standing on their own musically beyond what one may typically expect from a parody or novelty act.

“mercy mercy me (the ecology)” – marvin gaye (1971)

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The news coming from the Amazon has been incredibly upsetting. The massive fires sweeping across Brazil are a very real indicator about our world’s future and the negative consequences of climate change. It shows how climate change had contributed to its manifestation while also furthering the advancement of it as well.  The Amazon produces 20% of the world’s oxygen. As conditions that create massive forest fires, much like the ones California experienced last year, the effects of deforestation disrupt the oxygen balance, producing more carbon which accelerates the effects of climate change.

While many factors contribute to climate change, the most influential are industrial and populist governments.  In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, deemed Brazil’s answer to Donald Trump, openly ran on a campaign calling for the exploitation of the Amazon. Specifically, to allow farmers and ranchers to expand cattle ranches.  Ranches where large conglomerate food companies, such as fast food chains, buy meat to feed their customers. Meat that, coming from an inexpensive source, can be sold cheaply to ensure mass consumption.  Mass consumption that thrives on its appeal to consumer for it’s convenience and availability, someplace warm and welcoming where you do not have to put in time to cook healthy, nutritious food because you have so little time after work and all of your other commitments. Capitalism and climate change are lovers in this vicious cycle.

Climate change has concerned me for several years now.  Admittedly now more than ever before.  When I was in college, when Bush was finishing his second term and Obama was selling hope to a new Democratic electorate, things seemed like they were looking good. The new president cared about climate change and worked across national borders to reverse the effects of climate change, putting the onus on corporations as mass polluters.  At that time in my life, it did not seem like I needed to do anything to help.  After all, I am just one person. I don’t need to do anything because my carbon footprint is much smaller than a major company, right?

As Obama was going through his second term, I started to think more consciously about food.  Throughout college and during my early 20s, my diet was not that great.  When I moved to Chicago in 2011 at the age of 23, I ate out a lot or bought frozen meals.  I did not really know how to cook.  Plus, that was a point in my life where I was working way too much so I did not have the time to cook even if I wanted to.  I relied too heavily on convenience.

After some major life changes such as losing my job and partner, I had a lot more time on my hands. I will not say I was unhappy, but there were certain things in my life I wasn’t too happy about.  And if I could make more positive change in those areas, I could be happier.

One area I recognized that I needed to work on to be happier was to better my diet.  So, I started cooking.  Very simple, basic stuff at first. Things I could microwave, came from a box, or throw into a crockpot. Steps I needed to take to learn my way around a kitchen and establish habits.

As I continued with this and became more skilled in the kitchen, I was also working on other areas of my life that would make be happier.  I gained more friends which required time spent on them.  I also picked up a few hobbies and began volunteering at a couple of places.  I became a busy guy again, like I was when I had that overbearing job a few years back, but I was doing much better.  Not just because I was spending time doing more of the things that I wanted to do, but I was eating better.  And being too busy to cook did not dissuade me anymore because I had a routine, figured out how long things took, and started meal prepping.  I wasn’t the healthiest eater I knew, but I found solace that my diet was better than average.

A few months ago, when I was hearing reports about Alaska’s heatwave and fish dying in the streams, I started to get very depressed about the environment. I had moved here from Alaska.  Alaska was my home for several years.  I know and love people in Alaska.  I have had great adventures hiking through its natural wonder. Alaska will also be someplace that holds a special place in my heart,

Earlier that year, Chicago experienced a polar vortex where temperatures were consistently remaining below zero for a few days. While only lasting a few days, I knew that it happened because of climate change and that, in a decade or two, a few days of that could easily turn into a month.  And when summer came, the extreme heat was worrying me. A record-setting weekend will turn into a month by the time I am retirement age.

While experiencing this extreme weather in Chicago, and hearing the news from Alaska, I was also putting in considerably more thought into my diet. My cholesterol is a bit high. Not enough to warrant medical intervention or medication, but definitely not in the green.  I am also getting closer to the age when my dad was diagnosed with diabetes.  To be truthful, getting diabetes scares me so much.  In order to combat it, I had picked up a somewhat regular exercise routing the last three years, going to the gym three times a week if I am not too busy.

While thinking about lowering my cholesterol and reducing my risk of diabetes, I could not escape the news stories about the extreme weather impact Alaska, Chicago, and elsewhere in the world such as Europe.  And with the Trump administration’s reversal of several environmental laws and policies aimed at combatting climate change, things are just going to get worse.  So, I had to do some serious thinking about what I can do, on an individual level, to do my part to help the climate while also keeping myself healthy. That mindset I had in college, about how helpless one individual is, had to change.

About a month ago, I began making some serious changes to my diet.  And, even as I write this, I know that these changes are just incremental and will likely develop into something larger.  I made the decision that when I cook (and I do cook quite a bit), to cook exclusively vegan.  Buy raw, unprocessed vegetables and find creative ways to make them super delicious.

I know that being vegan does not mean one is inherently healthy. So, like when I first learned to cook, I am committed to setting up patterns.  For the first two weeks of this change, I went hard on the high fiber vegetables.  I bought kale, chard, peas, broccoli, and spinach and cooked them in a variety of ways accented with bell pepper, chickpeas or even walnuts. These are wonderful things to put into your body and enjoy.

So, in the meantime, I have been focused on incremental change.  After a month, I am still cooking exclusively vegan.  While I’ve been out with friends or at a work function, places outside of my kitchen where food is available, I have been keeping the same food habits. Even now, just beginning, that this will likely change.  I am sure my vegan eating habits will start to increase when I leave my apartment.

For the most part, friends have been rather supportive of this.  They ask why I’m making these changes and I discuss with them I’m making a personal change because of health and climate change reasons. For the most part, people get it.  Some are supportive because they support me.  Others make jokes because they likely feel my personal choice is an indictment on theirs.  Vegans are viewed as a joke and even though I am not completely vegan and not condemning others for their choices, I am starting to realize that I need to develop a thicker skin and rise above the nonsense when I talk about me eating more vegetables. These people certainly would not make similar comments if I was halal or kosher, but some people view meat as a part of their identity and the emotional bond they have is so strong that it becomes personal when they meet someone with a different life choice that they view as frivolous.

As the fires rage through the Amazon, I see friends on social media saying the feel helpless and do not know what to do.  Of course, you could always give money to a pro-climate or pro-Amazon organization. But that would be them doing the work without you having to make any compromise in your own life.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Those organizations do great work, but people are no longer willing to embrace compromise if it inconveniences their lifestyle.  They’ll only make a change when they are forced to.

Beyond just giving it away, your money can also be used as a weapon in other ways.  To fight climate change, and the industrial and populist forces advancing it, you can choose to not spend your money on meat and dairy, especially those sourced from places like the Amazon.  Hit those companies where it hurts; their pocketbooks.

This requires eating less meat, or no meat at all.  Our world is dying, and we are on the verge of crossing the threshold where there’s no going back. Now is the time to find ways to find back against those in power because we cannot trust anyone but ourselves to do the right thing.  I have my plan and know the steps that I need to take. I am continuing eating vegan in my home and finding ways to get more creative with my cooking to keep my interest and have the experience be fresh and exciting.  Perhaps in a few years I will be entirely vegan. For now, I’m making incremental change.  I have not given anything up, but I feel like I’m doing my part.  For the planet and myself.

On his landmark 1971 studio album What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye addressed a lot of social and political issues.  From the war in Vietnam to heroin abuse in black communities to police brutality to poverty, Gaye was tackling serious issues in a way that Motown had never done before.  The second single from the album, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” addresses the environment and humanity’s poor treatment of our planet.  Gaye sings asking where the blue skies went and tells of the radiation underground.  Even the food we eat, fish filled with mercury, and the water we drink, oceans filled with water, are products of the same systemic issues inherent in industry and populism that also fuel racial tensions, violence, and poverty.  To Gaye, environmental and human problems are symbiotic.  One in the same, each fueling eachother in a vicious and deadly cycle.

I really hope that something good comes from the devastation in the Amazon.  I’m trying not to be cynical, but it can be hard.  It seems that the news and social media is filled with so many tragedies, but nothing changes. Climate change is real, and it will get worse.  If you’re worried about what to do and feel helpless, anything helps.  Give money, sure.  But, reduce your reliance on the products that fund the industries and populist governments that only serve their own interests at the expense of the rest of humanity.

“don’t look back in anger” – oasis (1995)

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Ten years ago today, Oasis played their final gig and officially broke up.  I remember hearing about the news at the time and didn’t believe it.  Liam and Noel, one of rock’s most notorious cases of sibling rivalry, had fought throughout their entire career.  Growing up, I remember watching MTV News stories about their fights and as I got older, watching radio show clips on YouTube of one of them tearing the other down. It was shocking and strange at first, almost humorous, because I was at such a young age when Oasis hit the scene and I was so unfamiliar with other examples of rock and rock family dynamics.  By the time I hit college, new stories about their drunken brawls and childish taunts were no longer rock and roll.  They were on brand.

I remember thinking, when they broke up right before I started my senior year, that this separation would never last.  They’ll patch things up, play the gigs, and suffer eachother jus enough to barely complete an album. I mean, they had done this before and made a long, lucrative career out of it.

However, that never happened and both Liam and Noel were quick to form new bands almost immediately.  Beady Eye and High Flying Birds, two separate bands both formed in 2009 by Liam and Noel respectively, rose out of the ashes of Oasis and released studio albums in 2011.  I had just moved to Chicago when those releases hit the shelves.  Having been someone who really enjoyed Oasis, though never would call myself a true fan, I was eager to hear new music from the Gallagher brothers, even if they weren’t recording together.

Both freshman releases from the veteran rockers left a lot to be desired.  The albums were fine, but there was something missing and I tuned out when it came to any subsequent releases.  I just chalked it off as two guys, secure in their musical legacy both critically and commercially, just playing music that they wanted to play and keeping busy with it without a lot of drama. There’s nothing for them prove and I can appreciate that, but just like them, I had moved onto other things.

Though, while I moved on, it seems the brothers haven’t quite done the same.  Or at least, not fully. Since their final gig on August 22nd, 2009 when they cancelled their Dig Out Your Soul tour four shows early and Noel announced that he was quitting with claims about Liam’s excessive drinking and violence with him “wielding [a guitar] like an axe, “ the two estranged brothers have never stopped taking opportunities to dig out the other’s soul on radio, television, and social media. And ten years on, it still hasn’t stopped.

While Oasis were touring and making music, these taunts and jabs were par for the course.  And, frankly, it was entertaining to me as a kid and teenager.  Now, with the band broken up and the two pursuing their own projects, it is just sad.  As an adult, I just wonder why they don’t keep themselves focused on their passion projects.  With all the continued drama, it is almost as if they never broke up.

While I don’t really listen to anything new from the Gallagher brothers, I still very much enjoy their Oasis output.  Despite all the drama, there’s a magic there in the brighter, catchier alternative to the post-grunge sound the defined part of the 90s. They were taking the timelessness of the Beatles, indulging in their Britishness, and unabashedly translating that passion and identity to usher in a new era of alternative, joined by others such as Pulp and Blur.  Growing up in a house with an English parent, I just found Oasis more relatable than the other alternative bands on the radio coming from the American musical centers that contributed to the zeitgeist.

On their final gig, Oasis opened their encore with “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” Released as a single in 1996 on their 1995 megahit studio album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, the song has endured as one of their best and most anthemic songs.  Noel describes the song as his “Hey Jude,” and while that is a bit of stretch to compare yourself that directly to the Beatles, the band did come close to doing so and it is with songs like “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”

On a radio interview, Noel said of the song “It started off as a song of defiance, about this woman: She’s metaphorically seeing the diary of her life pass by, and she’s thinking, ‘You know what? I have no regrets.’ She’s raising a glass to it.”  And I can imagine that was how he was feeling when he decided to walk away from Oasis, from the biggest thing in his life, and from his brother. He wasn’t on top of the world in 2009 like he was in 1995, but to walk away from a legacy like that is no easy thing.  Toxic people, no matter how close they are to you in blood or spirit, takes a lot of strength and courage.  And to do so on your own terms and not feel any regrets, there’s power in that.