“new york groove” – hello (1975)

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This past weekend, I flew out to New York City.  I was to spend five days exploring as much as I could and I flew out on my 30th birthday.  The idea was to treat myself and take some time to reflect and enjoy my life.  And I did just that.  I had an excellent time.  Though I was fighting a bit of a cold, I was out and about everyday walking upwards of 13 miles a day exploring the city and what it means to be young and alive.  The weather was sunny and warm for December and everything fell into place perfectly.

It didn’t dawn on me until I was flying back to Chicago just how much the specter of Death directed the course of my trip.  This was amusing to me.  I booked this trip to celebrate life, take time to personally reflect on what has happened to bring me to this point, and focus on my path ahead and what comes out of the unknown.  The irony of this was just too rich.

Let’s break down just how much I was walking along with ghosts:

Thursday

I land at LaGuardia airport and only have a few hours in the evening to kill. I wanted to see the World Trade Center memorial at night and this was the best time to do it during my trip.  The last time I was in New York City, the memorial and One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) were under construction.  Now, the area is a gorgeous plaza with the two reflecting pools, the 9/11 Museum & Memorial, and Freedom Tower.

That evening, I slowly walked around both reflecting pools casually looking at the names of the people murdered in the 9/11 attacks.  Some of the names had a white rose sticking out of the etching.  I saw on a nearby note sign that the roses were placed there to signify it was that person’s birthday.  It was my birthday as well and I was looking at the names of the people who shared the same date of birth.

While walking along the pools, I came across Betty Ann Ong’s name.  I knew that name.  I didn’t know her personally, but I had listened to her recordings from Flight 11 a few dozen times.  She was a flight attendant.  She is only one of a few people I can name who had perished in the attacks.  I didn’t personally know anyone, but some stories just stuck with me.  Hers most of all.  I didn’t seek her name, but something guided me to turn my head and see her name.  The light shining beneath the etchings and glowing.  It was too much for me and I left soon after.

Friday

This was my first full day in the city.  My first stop was Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty over the horizon.  When I booked my trip a month prior, all the tours of the statue’s pedestal and crown were booked.  So, I didn’t have a need to go there.  Along the way, I saw a heart-wrenching statue memorial to the millions of immigrants that passed through Ellis Island.  Their emaciated faces showed joy, pain, grief, and jubilation as they reached the promised land.

I sat on a bench looking at Lady Liberty and thought about the duality of America.  The reality is that there are two Americas; one that is promised and the reality.  Many people have risk or continue to risk their lives to come to this country.  Historically, America has been a shining beacon welcoming the tired, poor huddled masses.  Freedom’s light shows them the path to pursue the limits of their own happiness and self-determination.  This is a lie.

The idea of America should be what it needs to be for those who need it most.  However, what many immigrants find are nationalists who turn them away, often with violence.  They are forced back or face adversity in the form of discrimination and abject poverty.  They continue to struggle and perish.  Sure, a lot of immigrants have found success and great lives in this country.  However, this nation is more polarized than ever with a government that is banning certain types of people from coming.  That very action betrays what it means to be an American.  I couldn’t help but think of all the lives America’s lies have damaged or destroyed.  We’ve disappointed those who founded this country and those who seek refuge in it.  I saw this in the faces of the people in that statue.

Later in the day, I returned to the 9/11 memorial and visited the museum on the grounds.  The museum is underground and you walk the space where the Twin Towers’ foundations were and the excavation around them.  This was one of the first places I had included in my itinerary to visit.  The attacks on September 11, 2001 is arguably the most significant event of my lifetime based on the fallout and course of world and social politics that followed thereafter.  It defines my world so much that I cannot even imagine where I would be if they didn’t happen.

Visiting the museum, you see the remnants of the destruction.  The original foundation is visible, in the main area sits a burnt and melted fire truck, and a staircase that was integral to the survival of some people escaping from the towers.   Walking through the museum, on display were a couple of steel beams.  I read the plaque and it said these beams were the exact impact point of the first plane.  They were twisted and bent.  The beams looked more like a modern art masterpiece.

Standing by the beams was a docent.  An older man, maybe in his 60s, with a large gut.  He had an air of authority and sadness surrounding him.  I asked him if he knew anyone who was lost in the attacks.  He chuckled slighted and aid yeah.  He then told me he was the sole survivor from his firefighting regiment.  All his comrades passed.  He also had friends in other regiments who died too.  Plus, he lost an uncle on Flight 93.  In total, he knew 85 people who died in the attacks.  I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like with that resting on your shoulders standing next to the exact point of impact.

Later that day, I was venturing back to Times Square and Rockefeller Center.  I was there the previous night to see the sites at night, but I wanted to see them during the day.  Then, I remembered that it was December 8th.  The day that marked the anniversary John Lennon was shot to death at the hands of deranged ex-fan Mark David Chapman.  Lennon has a portion of Central Park dedicated to him called Strawberry Fields.  Of all days, I had to be there.

I took the train to Strawberry Fields.  A large gather was there surrounding the iconic “Imagine” mosaic.  Some people had instruments and everyone joined together singing various Beatles and Lennon solo tunes.  When I got there, they were performing the Beatles classic “In My Life.”  I people watched for a bit and before the sun fully set, I walked across the street to the Dakota.  Lennon resided there with his family and he was shot to death right in front of the building.  Some people were there taking photos and lighting candles.  I was looking for the spot where he lay.  I don’t know what I expected to find, but I scanned the area.  I don’t think I found it, but it doesn’t matter.  I couldn’t believe I almost forgot about the date.  I would be remised if I didn’t go to Strawberry Fields on that day.

Saturday

Snow finally hit New York City.  The city was expecting three to six inches of snowfall.  It came down the whole day and the city was draped in a comforting gray fog that consumed everything.  You couldn’t see where the ground ended and sky began.  It was comforting.

The first stop that day was to see President Grant’s tomb in Riverside Park.  I had never seen where a president was buried before and I knew it would be a quick visit before I ventured into the seemingly endless Central Park.

Snow was falling fat and heavy as I approached the mausoleum.  It was bigger than I expected.  Inside the rotunda was a viewing area into the crypt where President Grant and his wife lay in giant black marble coffins.  Busts of the man surrounded the coffins.  I was only there for about 10 minutes, but it was a thrilling site.  The opulence of it was breathtaking.

Grant’s tomb wasn’t the only memorial I sought out that day. I was going to spend the days and explore the entire length of Central Park as best I could.  My last stop, near the southwest corner of the park, was the Balto memorial.  Having spent a lot of years in Alaska, I have an affinity for the place.  I love Alaskan things.  And hardly anything is more Alaskan than a hero sled dog.  Anchorage is the only other place that has a statute celebrating Balto, but it isn’t that exciting.  It doesn’t really depict him but rather just a general sled dog.  The one in Central Park was THE Balto.  It took me a few hours to get to the memorial, but it was worth it to see a tribute to a true Alaskan legend.

Though I was covered with windblown snow, I wasn’t done with my outdoor adventures.  Next stop was Roosevelt Island to see an abandoned smallpox hospital.  The weather was rough and the landscape of Roosevelt Island reflected that.  The further I walked away from the train station, the more isolated things became.  I didn’t see many people.  The landscape was pure white and match the gray-white sky.  Th hospital was fascinating to observe.  It is a crumbling structure that is incredibly dangerous, so it is fenced off.  However, it sits adjacent to a park commemorating President Franklin Roosevelt and will later see some additional development.  It is amazing that is hasn’t been town down.  I hope it stay because it is truly an amazing thing to see quietly snug in a city that is always changing and developing.

On my way to the smallpox hospital, I looked across the way to Manhattan as I passed the Queensboro Bridge.  Something looked eerily familiar. Then, I remember the iconic shot of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sitting on a bench for Allen’s film Manhattan.  I googled the location of the bench and I was on the wrong side.  Oh well.  I’ll find it when I make it back.

Getting back to Manhattan, finding this spot was an impromptu addition to my trip.  I had to go out of my way to find it but, luckily, I had time before the next item on my schedule.  With the help of my map app, I was able to find Sutton Place Park North which contained some benches overlooking the water.  Googling some articles about finding the bench location, I learned that the area had been redeveloped frequently since 1979 which makes sense.  This meant that the original location of the bench shot is long gone.  However, an article I found told me that this park was the best option to recreate the shot.  It was still windy and snow and the park didn’t see a lot of traffic.  Fortunately, there were two women there who helped take a photo of me sitting on the bench gazing out at the Queensboro Bridge. The area had changed, but enough of its legacy was there for me to make a kickass photo.  Social media can certainly make one vain.

Sunday

This day was a music history tour.  I was going to spend the day finding important locations of New York City musical landmarks.  This included famous venues, album cover locations, and other neat places.

My morning was spent finding the locations of five famous album covers.  They were An Innocent Man by Billy Joel, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan, After the Gold Rush by Neil Young, Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin, and Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys.  In the spirit of walking with ghosts during this trip, I faithfully recreated the covers of the first three albums.  For Zeppelin’s record, the building looked the same.  However, the business featured on the classic Beastie Boys album is long gone.  It is currently a restaurant, but there is a mural paying tribute to the legendary hip-hop tribute.  I liked that the current owners recognized the history.

During this album cover hunt, I made two pit stops.  First was the former site of CBGB.  I knew that the venue had been closed for several years, but I wanted to see the site.  Fans have etched the sidewalk with the name of the legendary rock club and the year it was founded.  Even though things change, it is always great to see some respect to history.  However, that would be the end of seeing touching tributes and homages to great musical history.

Shortly after Joe Strummer died, a mural of him went up on 7th Avenue.  I had found the location and included a visit in my itinerary.  However, I was unaware that the mural was repainted in 2013.  It was there for roughly a decade.  The Clash were one of my favorite bands growing up and this was the equivalent of visiting a holy site for me.  You can imagine the devastation I felt to see a sickly orange color where the mural should’ve been.  The Latin restaurant that owns the building painted over it.  I was crushed.  However, life moves on and so I should I.

I then ventured to Greenwich Village.  I had printed out information on a self-guided walking tour of over a dozen spots that were integral to the development of a blossoming young folk singer named Bob Dylan.  The tour started in Washington Square Park where Dylan would sometimes watch performers.  The tour then took me to places like the Bitter End, Café Wha?, and his former Townhouse.  While the Bitter End and café Wha? are still open, many of the sites were not.

I knew going into this that these sites would be closed.  A lot happens over 60 years and coffee houses and clubs can’t stay open forever.  However, what killed me was that there was nothing at any of these spots to signify the important of the location. I was gazing at a cheap Mexican restaurant and wrapping my head around that Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in there when it once was a coffee house.  Now it was a place that advertised it had one of New York’s six best margaritas with no plaque or sign or any indication that history was made there.  I was so disappointed.  I accept change.  But when people ignore or forget history, it is a hard thing to accept that everything is temporary and will fade.

The last remnant of Death on this day involved me seeing Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room.  It is a 3,600-sq. ft. room that houses 280,000 pounds of dirt.  I had a lot of questions.  I asked if there is any vegetation. The docent told me that stuff used to grow years ago, but they were all picked out.  The nutrients in the dirt have vanished a long time ago.  I went to New York to see dead dirt and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.

Monday

On the last day of my trip, I had a few hours to enjoy the city before flying out.  I spent the morning on a guided tour of Bushwick’s thriving graffiti and street art scene.  After that was done, I had two important stops before I left for the airport.

Also in Bushwick is the legendary Daptone Records.  I first discovered Daptone when I got a copy of 100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.  That album changed my life and provided the soundtrack of my college years.  I’ve been a fan of Daptone for a decade now and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see the building.

Both Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, the leading figures of Daptone, passed away in the last year.  Seeing where they made their art also meant paying respect to their work and the success they found much too late in life.

I saw the building in all its decaying beauty.  The façade is tagged with graffiti and crumbling.  Shingles and paint falling off the sign.  The building had all the character of a dusty box of records you find in an attic.  It was perfect and I was in awe.

With me running out of time, I had one more stop.  Beastie Boys were one of the bands my dad forbid me to listen to while growing up.  I have found this was the case of many people in my generation.  Though the Beastie Boys matured as artists, our parents’ generation couldn’t get past the raucous frat boy persona that embodied when they first started.

Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, passed away in 2012.  I was crushed.  Since graduating high school and free from the shackles of parental supervision, Beastie Boys have become one of my favorite bands.  I loved their attitude and way they blended genres seamlessly to create something raw and authentic.

Last year, a city park in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood was renamed for Adam Yauch.  I have a friend who went there on the first day and beet Ad-Rock and Ben Stiller who were friends of Yauch.  I visited the park and listened to some choice Beastie Boys cuts for about an hour before having to leave for the airport.  It was quiet and peaceful with few visitors since most people were at work.  Considerably less celebrities than when my friend visited.

I texted my dad teasing him that I was visiting a park named after one of the members of a band he said I couldn’t listen to growing up.  He replied with a thumbs up emoji.  Sitting peacefully looking around the park listening to music was the best way to pay tribute to Yauch and end my trip.  I may have been walking with ghosts during my trip, but to end it peacefully enjoying life and its riches provided a rich balance and appreciation for being in that spot in that moment.  We may be surrounded by ghosts and specters of the past, but it only means we motivate ourselves to live life the best way we can.

“New York Groove” is a cheesy, but fun glam rock song written by Russ Ballard and first performed by Hello.  Hello recorded the single in 1975 for their debut album Keeps Us Off the Streets with a chugging clapping rhythm and a train whistle like harmonica.

The subject in the song is returning to New York after a year and falling back into is familiar groove to enjoy what he’s missed. He’s come back with a lady and fistful of cash to dance the night away.  The song is about return and the jubilation that comes with that.

After eight years, this was my return to New York City.  And I was doing it solo.  Doing it my way.  I set out to celebrate my life and create an experience that represented who I am and where I am going.  I learned a lot about myself by creating my own path inspired by those who walked their own before me.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better time to find my groove.  I feel so good and my best days are ahead of me.

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“you’re my rose” – kitra williams (2003)

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December is a big month for film.  Studios and directors typically reserve December as a prime time to release films that they believe will be strong contenders for the biggest industry awards.  Much of this is due to the fact that they have eligibility requirements to meet, but also to keep films fresh in the minds of audiences and award committee representatives since many of these ceremonies are conducted in the first quarter of the year.  While culturally significant and critically-acclaimed films are released throughout the entire calendar year, the heavyweights usually follow this pattern.

Oftentimes, the big contenders released at the end of year are predominantly backed by major studios, have big name directors attached to them, or are serious dramas.  However, award shows always sneak in at least one dark horse release that has a strong chance of subverting the expected favorites and possibly winning the most coveted prizes.  That dark horse this year could be The Disaster Artist.

The latest directorial effort by James Franco, The Disaster Artist is a passion project of Franco’s, and fellow producers Seth Rogen’s and Evan Goldberg’s, that pays homage to one of their favorite films The RoomThe Room, directed by Tommy Wiseau and released in 2003, is often regarded as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”  Originally released in one theater and whose distribution was completely funded by its director, The Room initially only grossed $1,800 despite having a budget that exceeded $6 million.

However, since its release, the film has become a cult classic and generated a profit.  Midnight screenings around the world are held with Wiseau attending some throughout the year.  Much in the spirit of Rocky Horror Picture Show, seeing The Room in a theatre is an interactive experience as audiences will yell and throw objects (like spoons) at the screen.  What has been considered to be one of the worst films ever made has since become a global and cultural phenomenon that continues to amaze and bewilder audiences.  And the film’s inspiration could land Franco and company a Golden Globe or Academy Award.

For those unfamiliar with The Room, here is the breakdown.  Wiseau stars, produces, writes, and acts in his masterpiece where he plays Johnny, an all-American guy, who is soon to be wed to his beautiful fiancé Lisa.  Lisa, however, has been cheating on Johnny with Johnny’s best friend Mark.  Johnny ignores warnings from friends and signs of Lisa’s infidelity believing that he has an idyllic American life to be shared with Lisa.  The love triangle comes to a dramatic conclusion when Johnny, crushed by Lisa’s betrayal, chooses to end his own life.

The plot to Wiseau’s film is basic, but it is his tribute to great American cinema and the emotional performances from the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando.  While there is a limitless number of melodramatic bombs that have circulated around Hollywood, The Room has surpassed them all.  Personally, this can be attributed to the man that is Tommy Wiseau.

Tommy Wiseau is a mysterious figure who had befriended Greg Sestero, the actor who played Mark, in an acting workshop. Sestero documents this in his book on the making of The Room entitled The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made.  In this book, Sestero recounts his strange interactions with Wiseau both on and off set.  To anyone who met Wiseau, it was clear that he was not the all-American hero he projected himself as.  Wiseau was older and from a country of indeterminate origin, but still tried to convince people he was young and from New Orleans.  To this day, it hasn’t been confirmed how old Wiseau is or where he is from though it is speculated he is in his 50s and from Poland.

While making The Room, it became clear to the cast and crew that they were working on an ego-trip of a movie that would never be seen.  Wiseau clearly didn’t know how to make a movie and ignored basic filmmaking principles.  The performances are wooden, plot holes are rampant throughout, characters are never seen again, and the writing is stilted.  This was objectively a bad film that was not meant to be a success.

However, it has become a huge success due to Tommy Wiseau’s drive, creepy image, and bizarre performance.  His odd non-sequiturs, random emotional outbursts, and bewildering dialogue are unintentionally funny.  Wiseau’s intended drama became an accidental commentary that can be interpreted as being so meta that one could argue a brilliant film was made born from Dadaist tradition.

The Room and what transpired has become legend with top-tier actors and directors claiming that they would’ve loved to have been on the set to witness the performance art that was the making of The Room.  Sestero capitalized on this with his book which became the basis for Franco’s film adaptation.

I saw the Disaster Artist last night at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.  Upon seeing the initial trailer over the summer, I knew I had to see this movie.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen or read the source material yet.  I knew The Room existed, but I avoided it.  While I really love bad cinema, this movie didn’t appeal to me because of the cult following.  I knew I could’ve gone to any of the midnight screenings that are held every other month in Chicago, but it didn’t appeal to me.  If a bad movie has a reputation in its own right without fanfare, I’ll see it.  But with costumes and interactive participation, it becomes less about the film.  It is almost as if the film is background noise which is not how I want to experience a movie.

I knew I would have to buckle down and experience everything about The Room to mentally prepare myself for The Disaster Artist.  Within a few weeks, I had seen the original film, participated in a midnight screening, and read Sestero’s book.  The movie was bad, it wasn’t the worst movie ever made as suggested.  It isn’t even the best worst movie ever made.  I’m glad I watched it and I found it laughable and entertaining, but I was skeptical about the hyperbolic assessments I had hear about the film.  The midnight screening was fun.  I’ve participated in interactive screenings for Rocky Horror Picture Show many times.  I’m glad this wasn’t the first time I had seen the film because I couldn’t hear anything over the laughter and screaming that made Rocky Horror seem tame by audience standards.

Finally, I read the book which I loved.  It conveyed the tension, anger, and frustration felt on the set rather well.  Like others, it made me wish I was on set just for the experience.  Alas, hindsight is 20/20.  But, the book stands out rather well on its own even if you’ve never seen the film.

With all that prep work finished, I was ready for The Disaster Artist.  And I really enjoyed it.  I don’t consider it the best film of the year, but it deserves the same company as the other films that deserve that moniker.  Some scenes stood out as unnecessary while pertinent details from the book were left ignored.  However, the way the narrative was crafted and the inclusion of various reference and in-jokes really show that this was a labor of love by true fans of Wiseau’s masterpiece.

The most uncomfortable scenes in the movie are the soft-core sex scenes.  And it was clear both in Sestero’s book and Franco’s film that these scenes were among the arduous to film because of Wiseau’s ability alienate and disturb cast, crew, and audiences.  There are four full-on sex scenes (and one oral sex scene) in the film.  They are at a length that would be more appropriate for a skin flick on HBO or Cinemax.  Wiseau would also be nude, show his ass multiple times on camera, and perform simulated intercourse that in no way resembled the actual method of love-making.

Again, it cannot be stressed enough that these scenes feel like soft-core pornography.  If the length, nudity, and soft focus didn’t convince you, then the music will.  R&B slow jams play during these scenes and sound like fair-use music that radio stations receive on sampler compilations (my college radio station received many CDs like this with all sorts of genres with each one sounding hacky and more appropriate for low-budget films or corporate training videos).  The tracks are performed by Clint Gamboa, Jarah Gibson, and Bell Johnson.  However, it is Kitra Williams’ “You’re My Rose” that stands out.

“You’re My Rose” is the best of the slow jams that appears in The Room.  It is remarkably cheesy with its repetitive, saccharine lyrics, it appears twice in the film with the reprise playing of the ending credits, and Williams is credited as being the co-producer for The Room’s official soundtrack.  Though Mladen Milićević’s, Loyola Marymount University music professor, original score is wonderfully tacky in its own right, it is Williams’ contribution that truly elevates the comedic factor of the music within the context of the film.  Other than contributing vocals to a René Moore’s 1988 LP Destination Love, Williams’ only musical project is this song.  Her contribution to Wiseau’s masterpiece is her legacy.

The film adaptation’s hype is driven primarily by “look how weird Wiseau is and how bad his movie is.”  I guess as it should be.  I’ve seen other films or documentaries about the making of classic films, but hardly of them focus on one particular individual.  The Disaster Artist stands out on its own.  However, despite the forced references and call backs, the film is worthy of buzz.  I anticipate the film will be nominated for awards for best adapted screenplay and best actor for James Franco.  I’m still processing the film.  And while it hasn’t secured a spot as my pick for best film of the year, it’s among the top.  There is considerable irony that Wiseau, once ridiculed and mocked, is getting the attention of Hollywood’s elite.  Only in America!

“this must be the place (naive melody)” – talking heads (1983)

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I turn 30 next week and I’m flying to New York City on my birthday to spend a few days in the Big Apple.  I booked this trip randomly as a spur of the moment type of thing.  A friend had posted that flights to NYC were only $80 on United and the timing felt right.

Making a random purchase like that is big for me.  I don’t usually spend money on things like flights without putting a ton of thought into it.  Really thinking about it for weeks or even months.  The reason is that money really stresses me out.  I don’t like spending it.  I make enough at my job to enjoy myself and I’m really good at saving money, so I’m not hurting financially.  However, I still hate spending money.

A few years ago, after a nasty break-up, I was flat broke.  I lost my job the same week as that break-up and worked low-paying temp jobs for the last half of the year.  I was scared.  I didn’t know what my future looked like.  I craved stability.

I got the idea in my head that the military was the answer (it was my dad who made one off-handed comment as something to consider).  I spent late summer of 2014 through late winter of 2015 preparing to become an officer in the Air Force.  The only thing driving me was that I wanted financial security and not have a job that I could just lose again.  I was also nursing a broke heart, so I wasn’t feeling great or thinking straight at all.  It was pure survival mode.

I spent my free time reading and studying the AFOQT (Air Force Officer Qualifying Test).  The Chicago Public Library had one copy of a testing guide for the AFOQT and I spent every night with it.  I would read through the concepts, test expectations, and run through practice tests.  Imagine it like studying for the SATs or ACTs, but you have additional sections that test navigation and other skills important to the United States Air Force.

I took the test January 2015 at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Rosemont sitting with 18 and 19-year-old kids.  I got the results a few weeks later and I did fairly well.  The next step, while working through my recruiter, involved getting physicals and working on job placement.  This is where things fell apart.

My career background is in media production and development.  So, upon reviewing all the potential career options in the Air Force, I decided the only thing I wanted to do was work as a Public Affairs officer.  Public Affairs deal with the media and broadcasting arm of the military.  They produce programs for the armed forces radio and television networks as well as work on public relations.

The one issue with this role is that there isn’t a lot of demand for it.  Openings are rare.  So, recruiters don’t usually like working with candidates with such a limited scope.  They have information on quotas and what is needed immediately.  So, they will do what they can to fill those quotas.  My recruiter wanted me to become a radar technician.  I fought that and said I wasn’t going to do anything other than Public Affairs.  Our relationship fizzled soon after.

That outcome was for the best.  By the time that happened, I was permanently hired at the company I am currently employed at. I have the freedom to pursue hobbies, volunteer opportunities, and social engagements with friends.  I also have the freedom to do what I want when I want.  Last year, I went to Europe on a two-week vacation.  I don’t think that could have been done that easily if I was in the military.

That whole Air Force pursuit was an odd experience that came out of fear.  Fear of being alone and destitute.  I’m in a much different place now.

A lot of people do big extravagant things for their milestone birthdays.  I always thought that was a silly thing to do.  My thinking was why wait for a milestone to do something big?  Why not do it whenever?  Before booking the flight, I used vacation time for my birthday and the day after.  So, I was already free.  And then, I saw that Facebook post about flights to NYC.  A good friend of mine named Jean always tells me to live in the moment and listen to the signs the universe is giving you.  I took her advice.

I don’t know exactly what I’m doing and the trip is next week.  And I’m doing my best to not worry about money.  I know I can afford this trip and I tell myself that.  I’ve gotten better at this.  I work very hard at trying not to let the past dictate my future.  I was broke a few years ago.  I’m not anymore.  I could be broke again someday.  Who knows?  But, I can’t let myself be afraid of hypothetical scenarios and my good friend Carolyn says I can’t live my life as a miser.  So, I’m doing this and it will be fun.

While I figure out what I’ll be doing, I’ve been in a New York mood regarding my reading material.  I have already decided that I’m taking Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids with me.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes.  Hermes was a teenager in New York during the 70s.  In the book, he chronicles all the major players and musical movements that originated or occurred from 1973 through 1977 including the rise of punk, the formation of disco, the salsa explosion, and heady origins of minimalist music.

Reading through this book, you get a strong feeling like you missed out on something.  These legendary artists like Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Grandmaster Flash, Willie Colon, and Steve Reich were doing big things and often with each other.  The book makes it seem like you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a rising star.  New York City, despite the crippling economy and rising crime, was the hip place to be if you were young and loved music.  Sigh.

This book has really put me in the mood to explore the city as much as I can over the five days that I’m there.  I am someone who gets out there and walks all over the place seeing and doing and living as much as I can.  Reading this book prior to my trip has really taken my mind off the things the typically stress me out.  This book puts me in the mindset that I will go and have a great time.  And, you know what?  I know deep down that is true.  Sometimes I just need some help remembering that.

I love and adore many of the artists profiled in the book.  I own a few dozen Dylan album and almost all of Patti Smith’s studio releases.  Bruce Springsteen is someone I really appreciate having read his memoir.  I spent my high school days wearing Clash shirts declaring them “The Only Band That Matters.”  Television and the Stooges furthered my musical exploration during my college years.  And Grace Jones and Steve Reich have entered my life fairly recently, but have made significant impacts.

However, it is Talking Heads that stand out to me in this book.  I own one record of theirs (Fear of Music) and I don’t listen to them as much as the other artists I previously mentioned.  However, I feel a connection with them that I don’t quite understand.  They affect me on a different level that is primal and emotional.

When I listen to Fear of Music or Remain in Light, I’m enamored by their rhythms and New Wave world beat styles.  I want to dance.  I want to shed all the technological shackles of modern man and regress to being driven by a primitive musical desire.  When I listen to Talking Heads, I don’t think a lot.  I just feel.

There’s one song in their catalogue that just absolutely wrecks me.  “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” was released as a single for their 1983 studio album Speaking in Tongues.  According to David Byrne, the lyrics contain non-sequiturs that “may have a strong emotional resonance but don’t have any narrative qualities.”  Listening to these lyrics, I certainly experience that strong emotional resonance.  The lines are simple to understand and very relatable.  It evokes in me strong feelings of need, fear, lust, and confusion.  The song sounds both hopeful and devastating.  It represents a past self and future desire.  It appeals to a human side of me that has existed for thousands of years and free of our modern burdens.

When I listen to this song, a lot of images come to mind. I see my past and future selves.  I see moments that I lived, experience I could have had, imaginary settings with me in another time and another place, where I see my current self going, where I realistically expect my future self to be, and what my future self could have experienced if variations of my past self if they were allowed to blossom and continue.  Basically, a lot of what ifs that I shouldn’t be concerned with that come out when this song plays.  This song is very bad for someone who actively works to live more in the moment.

A few months ago, a friend and colleague at the community radio station I volunteer with, published his own account of this song.  His name is Tony Breed and he’s a well-known local comics illustrator who lost his partner Eric a few years ago after being together for 20 years.  He has published a few different web comics described as a “queer slice of life.”  However, this recently published work is his first autobiographical comic.

The comic, titled That Night: This Must Be the Place (Link), is a work that serves as an important part of his healing process.  In the comic, Breed goes out to a bar to have a few drinks and then quietly walks home. On his way home, he is listening to a cover of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by Kishi Bashi.  While listening to the song, Breed remembers the time they attended a wedding together and, a decade later, when he lost Eric.  Breed walks down the streets with the song’s lyrics appearing in the panel and Breed shedding a silent tear.  I haven’t experienced that particular pain Breed has gone through, but I have expressed my listening the same way.

I’m going on this trip next week.  I’m going to have a great time.  I will spend my time walking all over the place and seeing interesting things.  I will do so while living in the moment.  I will plan an itinerary, but allow myself some freedom to allow at least a little spontaneity.  I will think about my life and the good things that have happened along the way.  I will feel grateful to be alive.  I will appreciate this.  I will live in the moment the best way that I can.  I deserve this.  I deserve love and happiness.

“gratitude” – earth, wind & fire (1975)

Living in a big city like Chicago, it can be hard to be festive in the fall. A lot of the typical fall event staples like apple picking, corn mazes, and pumpkin patches are really only available outside of the city. Being someone with no car, that makes getting there difficult. Needless to say, I don’t get to those things every year but I’m excited that they are happening and that some people do get to enjoy those things. However, I find other ways to enjoy the season.

I am currently in Kentucky taking some much needed time off work. Today, I went to a local Methodist church to help my stepmom prepare a Thanksgiving meal. Even though the actual Thanksgiving holiday isn’t for another two days, she was in charge of a really special event.

For over 15 years, my stepmother has been teaching high school students with learning and behavioral issues. When I went to high school, these students were known among the general student population as the bad kids and went to a separate facility a few miles away. Admittedly, thinking that way was due to being younger and ignorant. Now that I’m older and have a better understanding of people and our education system, I no longer think of these students as “bad.”

When my high school got remodeled the year after I graduated, the separate facility was closed down and the students were moved into the main building. In the years since then, I’ve visited the classroom a few times and met the students my stepmother taught. I have even participated in some of their class discussions and exercises.

Prior to my stepmom being involved, I can’t say with any certainty how these classes were conducted or how students were taught. I have the feeling that maybe this environment could’ve been better. Since my stepmom became involved, I do know that there has been many improvements to the program which has ultimately impacted the lives of these students.

As mentioned, these students have behavioral and learning issues. And that is me just generalizing which isn’t exactly fair. Every individual student learns and grows differently, so referring to a group of students that learn independently of the general population as having “issues” doesn’t take into account the work they do and the progress they achieve. I’ll never stop being a student. I learn everyday and I’m learning on how to better describe these students. I’ll get there.

These are students that require a little more attention and help. Some, over the years, had developmental problems stemming from their parents’ drug and alcohol use. Many come from poorer environments which has impacted their education. And others lack the resources outside of school to enhance the education they are receiving in school. However, all of these students have the desire to make improvements in their lives. That’s why they are in that program.

A big part of what these students learn is how to recognize and handle their emotions. That when they face a challenge or obstacle, they can keep a clear head, solve the problem, and not make a mistake that could have severe consequences. This involves talking and being open about feelings as well as listening to people and being respectful of their experiences. These are key principles everyone must know to be successful in their lives. And it amazes me how many people in less marginalized or ridiculed settings don’t know that or choose to ignore it. So, when I see my stepmom’s students, I’m amazed at how hard they work to make the best of their situation and not fall into something more serious.

Today was a great example of that. The Thanksgiving meal my stepmom was coordinating was one that involved her students. For the last dozen of the 15 years she has taught this program, she has coordinated a Thanksgiving meal for the staff and students of this program. It first started in a small building on the high school’s grounds, but has now moved into the larger space of this church.

Every student has a job during this event. Some help my stepmother prepare food in the kitchen, a few prepare drinks and set tables, others handle greeting duty, and two were tasked with setting up a Christmas tree. Every student was dressed very well with the girls wearing nice outfits and the boys wearing shirts and ties. Everyone kept busy and did their job well.

This event is a big deal to them. For one, it showcases what they’ve been learning regarding handling emotions and being more successful members of society. This is a meal they plan and work together to organize. Even though they are the ones putting everything together, the event is about them and celebrating their efforts and accomplishments. This is their moment to show they can contribute to their community.

Secondly, this is a nice meal they can share with friends and family. One perk is that each student can invite their friends and family. As mentioned, many of these students come from poorer environments and likely don’t get to participate in large traditional Thanksgiving meals. So, this is one time where they can and be around people who love and support them and only want for them to succeed. The kids prepare the meal, serve the meal, and then get the opportunity to spend quality time with each other.

There was one touch to the whole event I found pretty remarkable. On each table, there were index cards with handwritten notes. Some of these included well-known quotes. However, most were notes about what the students were thankful for. I took some time to read the notes and talked to some of the kids preparing the event. It was great to hear them actually articulate their thoughts instead of getting “I don’t know” or “whatever” responses.

Prior to the actual dinner, the director of the program spoke for a few minutes about the history of the program and the success he has seen over the years. Then, he encouraged people to stand up and share what they were thankful for. It was mostly the students and a few teachers who shared their thoughts. And they were rather endearing. One student actually became really emotional and cried because she was so thankful for the opportunities she received in the program to turn her education, and her life, around. I took some time and observed the other students who didn’t speak up. No one was snickering or mocking anyone who shared their feelings. I was once a high school kid. I know how they act. I was very pleased to not see any childish behavior. Perhaps I would’ve seen that out of the students from the general population. But, they don’t have to work as hard as they kids do. They want this for themselves.

Thanksgiving is one of the rare holidays that I’ll do a themed post for this blog. So, the song of the week is “Gratitude” by Earth, Wind & Fire. Released in 1975 on a live album of the same name, this is a funky track that is about being thankful and giving love. There really isn’t a melody or standard verses and choruses. Just a funky jam with some real meaning; a meaning that is pure and simple.

Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for what you have and showing gratitude to the people around you who love and support you. I know that overall feeling can sound hokey and sentimental, but it is still important. Take into account the good things in your life and how they got to be there because things can change. Just have the strength to know that when changes come, you can be ready for them, and then be thankful you weathered it.

“out of the wilderness” – the como mamas (2014)

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Daptone Records came into my life a decade ago when I was in college.  I obtained my undergrad at a state school in southwestern Kentucky just an hour north of Nashville in a city called Bowling Green.  Bowling Green is a sizable city as far as Midwestern cities go.  It is the third largest city in Kentucky and coincidentally home to the third largest state university.  For its size, it still has a small town feel because of the university’s presence.  Bowling Green is a nice, quiet place to attend school or raise a family.

Bowling Green, however, is not a cultural hotbed.  The city is tucked between Nashville and Louisville which get more events and programs.  Though, there are elements that promote that value.  The university there strives to bring in more international students and increase its scope broadly through exchange and study abroad programs.  Cage the Elephant, which as seen a considerable amount of success recently, originated there.  And Corvettes, the classic American sports car, is manufactured there and maintaining its image as a homegrown icon.  Despite having a lot to offer, Bowling Green can leave a lot to be desired for someone looking for things below everyone’s radar.

That’s how I felt when I picked up my first Daptone Records release in 2007 from a small record store in Bowling Green.  It was 100 Days, 100 Nights, the third studio release from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. It instantly became one of my favorite albums and I could not stop singing the praises of Sharon Jones or Daptone to my friends.

That album dropped at the beginning of my sophomore year of college and really defined the sound of my college years.  At that time, I was entering the second semester of my radio show Soul Food that aired on my college’s student radio station.  I love soul music and Soul Food was an outlet for me to express that.  The first semester went alright, but it had trouble finding its footing in terms of sound.  I ended up playing a lot of classics and threw in some songs that sounded awkward on a progressive college station.  But when I got into Daptone, I got the sound I was looking for and the connections to find similar record labels and artists.

Though I did expand to other independent soul labels like Numero Group, Daptone was my musical epicenter in those days.  I had all the early releases from Sharon Jones, the Sugarman 3, the Budos Band, and Antibalas.  No one else had these albums.  This was exciting stuff and I had to make sure everyone knew about.

I was an early adopter for Daptone and there were challenges associated with that.  I had fans of the show and some colleagues at my college radio station became really into what I was playing.  However, I did get a lot of resistance whenever I tried to speak the gospel of Daptone.

The strangest criticism I had about playing Daptone’s music, or any soul music, was that I could not be taken seriously because I was white.  I got this a lot from colleagues at the radio station a lot in the form of jokes and snide comments.  Just the fact I was white made my show somehow subpar or worthy of ridicule because the idea of me playing music by predominantly black artists was ridiculous to them.  Despite having a solid fan base and high performance evaluations from our quality assurance department, this was something I never managed to evade.

While producing this show, I was also on the stations Board of Directors.  We planned two charity concerts events during the year and strategized on artists, ways to promote, and the overall design and theme of the event.  I would also push really hard that we book Sharon Jones.  The response to this was typically lukewarm.  This issue, to them, was that they felt soul music was no longer relevant and that an act like Sharon Jones wouldn’t draw much of a crowd.  I would protest this.  Not only because we never had soul acts on the bill, but that Sharon Jones would become too big to book within a next year or two.  I had seen her perform live and her records were amazing.  The only way to go was up.  This suggestion would always get dismissed and the station would instead book acts like Freezepop (became the band appeared on the video game Rock Band which was popular at the time) or one-hit wonder Stacey Q to talk for a little bit on a Halloween-themed radio show.  Such a waste of money.

As I was nearing completing my undergrad, I just grew further away from that station.  I was more focused on my video production capstone, internship at Country Music Television in Nashville, and listening to music that I would make an impact.  It was also during the last year of my undergrad that my radio show Soul Food was no longer renewed.  The reasoning was that people didn’t care about soul music.  I didn’t care anymore.  I had dismissed the people around me at the station as idiots who couldn’t see that there was a larger world out there.  I was emotionally checking out.  I wanted to graduate, move, get a job, and surround myself with people I knew who got it.

As I was checking out and doing my own thing until graduation, Sharon Jones did indeed blow up the way I knew she would.  With the 2010 release of her album I Learned the Hard Way, her career was skyrocketing.  She was making appearances on shows like The Colbert Report and performing at massive festivals like Bonnaroo.  When the college station got the album, it was like pulling teeth to get the music director to put a track in rotation.  Eventually, they would just so I would get off their back.

Over the years, Daptone and its repertoire of artists only continued to grow in popularity.  Sharon Jones was the crown jewel of the label, but they also supported some of the hardest working and most entertaining artists on an independent label.  Charles Bradley, the Screaming Eagle of Soul, earned his way and ultimately finding happiness and success after a hard life.  The Budos Band and Antibalas brought their own aggressive form of funk to larger venues and festivals.  Daptone music started appearing in commercials, film, and television shows (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings even performed in a Martin Scorsese movie).  Daptone was unstoppable.

Last week, I attended the opening night screening of the 9th annual Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMFest).  The featured documentary kicking off CIMMFest was the Chicago premiere of Living on Soul.  In the spirit of great music revue concert films like The Last Waltz and Monterey Pop, Living on Soul was a Daptone showcase piece.

The film featured performance recorded during a three-night revue at the Apollo Theater that was held in December 2014 to celebrate Daptone’s 20th anniversary.  This was an incredibly big deal.  No one had played a multi-night residency at the Apollo since James Brown in the 1970s.  Coming from their humbling beginnings in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Daptone had worked for two decades to get to this point.  And they deserved it.

The residency featured over 40 different musicians including performances from Daptone stalwarts such as Charles Bradley, the Budos Band, Antibalas, the Menahan Street Band, Saun & Starr, and Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens.  The film featured a performance form each band as well as behind-the-scene footage and interviews with them preparing at the Apollo or working at the Daptone studio.

Sharon Jones, the leading lady of Daptone, had two performances in the documentary kicking off the festivities as well as brining everything to a satisfying close.  At the time of the filming, she had just beaten cancer.  At the closing, she performed “Get Up and Get Out” from her latest album at the time Give the People What They Want.  She announced that the arrangement was changed from the studio release to give it some Tina Turner flair.  She performed the song spectacularly with the lively stage presence she was known for.  During the performance, she was shouting not unlike a southern preacher about her journey beating cancer and the joy she felt performing that evening at the Apollo.  It was an emotionally driven performance that filled me with absolute joy and brought tears to my eyes.

The film was emotional on a lot of levels.  First, it was great to see these incredibly talented musicians talk about their lives and their struggle to get to this point.  Secondly, both Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones passed away in the last year.  Both had found success very late in their lives after having difficult experiences.  Bradley spent a lot of his time on screen talking about never giving up on your dreams no matter how hard it gets.

Lastly, it was emotional for me personally because I had been a fan of Daptone for a decade.  Admittedly, I have strayed away a bit since my initial discovery.  Over the years, you discover new interests or get busy with jobs, relationships, or anything else life throws at your way.  Still, Daptone had been a big part of my life during formative years and still are one of the best record labels around.  Daptone consists of a group of people that struggled to get the success they absolutely deserved.  And I feel some pride in being an early fan of theirs (though they had technically been around for 13 years, they were still quite small in 2007).  I loved Daptone and I was passionate about them because I wanted to support and elevate these talented artists.  I’m not bitter about the resistance or ridicule I received early on about this.  It is merely just a part of my history with Daptone.  Besides, I ended up being right.  Daptone and artists like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley became huge.  I’m not bitter, but I do feel validated.

While Sharon Jones’ closing performance was the highlight of the documentary, one performance continues to stick with me.  One of the first few performances in Living on Soul featured the Como Mamas.  The Como Mamas are a trio of a Capella gospel singers from the small town of Como, Mississippi.  Ester Mae Smith is powerful and raspy, Angela Taylor provides a deep soothing voice, and Della Daniels is the energetic voice of the group.  Together, they bring their story and experiences to gospel music and breathe new life into it.

The song they performed was “Out of the Wilderness,” a traditional gospel tune.  Their performance on Living on Soul was a Capella, but the recorded versions have a backing track.  It was initially released as a 45 single in 2014, but would appear on their second studio album Move Upstairs in 2017 with a whole new arrangement.  Before going into the song, the group projected pure energy and joy about their excitement performing at the historical and acclaimed Apollo Theatre.  They absolutely loved coming all the way from Mississippi to bring the people of Harlem to church.

Before their performance, there was footage of them backstage hanging with Sharon Jones.  They sung spirituals and offered their praises to Jesus for the opportunity to be a part of something truly special.  Much like the Sharon Jones’ and Charles Bradley’s history I can’t imagine that the women of the Como Mamas had an easy life.  However, they take every opportunity they can to feel joy and I find that so remarkable.

The provided an introduction in the film to “Out of Wilderness.”  Whether you were going through a divorce, illness, or other calamity, you must get through those trials because there is joy and relief when you overcome adversity.  When you emerge out of the wilderness, there is satisfaction and a love for life because you survived.  I really gravitated towards that message because it is something I forget sometimes.  I am here because I have survived and I didn’t quit.  And that means I need to take stock of the good things around me and appreciate them.  That’s the best thing anyone can do for themselves.

 

“silk” – wolf alice (2015)

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This past weekend was atypical for me.  Between work, volunteering, social engagements, and other responsibilities, I very rarely have any “me” time.  Frankly, at my busiest, it becomes something I have to schedule for myself.   I have to work in pockets of time to focus on myself.

During the summer, that’s when I’m the busiest.  Being cooped up indoors during the lengthy Chicago winters makes me want to spend as much time outside as I possibly can.  I fill this in with long walks, coffee dates, and softball games. And when I’m inside on a spectacularly beautiful sunny day, I almost feel guilty about wasting such a golden opportunity.  I do realize it is ok to be inside on days like that and I am working on being ok with that.

Beyond just merely taking every moment I can to enjoy great weather, there’s a deeper reason to my busy schedule.  I’m essentially living on borrowed time.

I’ve talked about this several times before, so no need to go into too much detail again here.  However, the short story is that I spent my first three years in Chicago working for a tyrannical non-profit where I worked constantly and was emotionally abused.  During these years, I would miss family and friend engagements.  I even went a six-month period where I was working so much that I only saw friends on one evening.  I have memories of spending Thanksgiving alone with a case of beer and a bucket of fried chicken.  Christmas would be spent with my Netflix account.  It was a very lonely time.

When I got out of that toxic environment, I had to normalize my life.  For a solid year, I had sparse employment but I had time to spend with loving and supportive people.  As best I could, I invested myself in rebuilding friendships and relationships with people who were mere acquaintances for the longest time.  There were people I knew for years at this point, but I couldn’t really say I knew that at all.

I also had to work on defining myself as a person.  I needed to figure out who I was and what I was about.  I delve into several different hobbies that have since become a part of my identity.  I read a lot.  I do a lot of volunteer work with a few non-profits.  I perform guitar in an ensemble class for a local music school.  I wasn’t used to having all this time to develop myself as a well-rounded person.  I could never have hobbies or interests outside of my non-profit job.  And now that I was free, I wanted to do everything I could.  I went a little overboard, but I’m managing it.

I don’t share that information to fulfill some egotistical reality where I see myself as a victim.  I share that to provide context to what drives and motivates me.  I went several years where I didn’t feel like I had any control of my life.  My job held the steering wheel and I was locked in the car.  In the last few years, I had to work really hard to put myself back together.

I’m now four years removed from that horrific place and I’m very happy with my life.  I have good friends, interesting hobbies, and fulfilling community service opportunities.  I can do those things because I have the time to do them.  I’m also in a decently paying job with a respectable work/life balance, so now I have the money to do what I want.  I didn’t have these things together before.

So, what about this past weekend?  The whole weekend, I had nothing to do.  Absolutely nothing.  No errands or responsibilities.  Two and a half days to do whatever I wanted.  I know a lot of the things I do are things I want to do.  I get that.  But, those get scheduled in my calendar with reminders and things like that.  This past weekend, I had nothing.  It has been a long time since I have had that kind of gift.  Plus, the rainy weather also helped in keeping me unattached.

I spent the whole weekend doing what I wanted to do.  I went to the gym, drink tea, read books, and watched TV.  Even though I continued by workout routine, I still felt considerably more inactive than I am usually am.

I did a lot of thinking during this time.  I thought about my life a few years ago.  On a Saturday five years ago, I remembered I was negotiating with my boss to allow me to go to an eye exam because I desperately needed glasses.  In exchange, I had to give her a few extra hours in the evening every day the whole next week.  Nevermind that I was already working 70 hours a week already.  But, I had to give her an additional 10-15 just to go to get an eye exam and buy glasses because it was now getting difficult for me to see.  Now, I was sipping chamomile and gazing out the window.

My experience at this job is not something I let define me.  However, I recognize it was a big part of my life for a long time.  And, more importantly, I knew I had a long road ahead to build myself into the person I wanted to be the moment I got out.  I couldn’t be lazy (which I couldn’t do even if I tried) if I was going to do this.  And that included doing things that were going to be healthy for me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  The important thing was get back to a place where I could enjoy life and everything it should offer and not letting opportunities go by.

I caught up on a few movies over the weekend.  One I was eager to rewatch was Danny Boyle’s follow-up to his brilliant 1996 classic TrainspottingTrainspotting is one of my favorite films.  Despite the plot holes strewn throughout and the film changing pace to becoming a heist film, it is a beautiful and tragic slice of life piece; a microcosm of 90s culture and the fall-out of 1980s excess.  When the sequel was announced, I was cautiously optimistic.  I wanted to see the main characters return and how their lives had changed.  More importantly, I wanted to see how they handled the ghosts of their drug-addled pasts.  When I caught in early screening back in February, I thoroughly loved it.

Released earlier this year T2 Trainspotting is set 20 years after the original film.  The four principal characters are reunited with some lingering bad blood and a proclivity for a relapse into heroin.  Despite the onslaught of reboots, rehashes, and remakes that have dominated popular culture in recent years, T2 Trainspotting surpassed my personal expectations and didn’t feel like an unnecessary sequel.  The sequel embodies Boyle’s current directing style.  Despite the distinct presentation differences, the films still connect together nicely.  Although T2 Trainspotting is about 10-15 minutes too long, it is a wonderful sequel with its own style.

Revisiting the film allowed me to concentrate more on the subtext of the film: change.  Change is huge part of this movie.  We find that while a lot of things are different about the four mates, nothing has really changed.  They’re addicts.  They have a severe drive to feed that addiction.  Twenty years ago, it was heroin.  Now, peace of mind comes in the form of other drugs, suicidal thoughts, journal writing, committing felonies, or even exercise.

Ewan McGregor’s mantra in the film is “You’re an addict.  So, be addicted.  Just be addicted to something else.”  And the more I think about that, the more truth I see in it.  Perhaps, I thought, I’m an addict.  Makes sense to me.  I read a lot and do a lot of stuff in my spare time.  Both more than many of my friends.  I get asked how I’m able to read or volunteer so much.  I say it is because of time management skills.  And that is true.  But, it also because I’m addicted to it.

That was a huge revelation to realize.  I’m sure most people would tell me that reading too many books and filling my life with too many activities is not an addiction especially when you compare it to drug and alcohol abuse.  But, I’m not sure about that.  I do these things because they make me happy and I enjoy them.  Sure, I have moments where I wish I had more free time and room to breathe.  But my life is so much better than it was before I could do those things.

Though, having an entire weekend to myself gave me some things to think about.  I thought about how nice this was and that it is ok to slow down sometimes.  And while I’ve been really good regarding self-care and doing things like exercising and engaging with friends and having mentally stimulating hobbies, maybe there is more I can do for myself.  I’m getting better at not always needing something to do.  I know where that comes from.  It comes from a need to feel like I am living my life on my own terms as opposed to someone else dictating how I live my own life.  And I’m in a good place.  Perhaps it is time to take it down a notch and relax.

Winters are my slower times anyway.  However, I’m going to take this winter to relax and not schedule and do so many things.  I think I will benefit taking some time to be on my own, in my apartment, and alone with my own thoughts.  It will be an exercise for me to learn to live more in the moment, but I’m going to do my best.   In the last few years, I wouldn’t have done well with a do-nothing weekend.  I think I’m at a point where I’m ok with that.

Reading over this before publishing, I know it all sounds so silly.  If it does to me, I’m sure it does to other people.  It is difficult to live in the moment when you are so compelled to fill your life with constant engagements and responsibilities.  The stress that comes with thinking I need to be busy with something because I cannot be alone with myself is hard.  For many, that simple cup of tea with a book or a bad TV show is par for the course.  For people like me, it represents me wasting my life.  I struggled and worked hard to get to a point where I could live the way I wanted.  Before, I couldn’t allow myself to waste time on such quiet moments.  Now, I’m starved for them.  I need more of those moments in my life.  And to get to that point, I have to alter behaviors and expectations for myself.  I must teach myself that it is ok to slow down. And that isn’t easy to do.

The Trainspotting films really drive home the consequences of addiction.  Also, they both have killer soundtracks which reinforce those points.  The first film has a superior soundtrack, but the sequel has many gems as well.

One track in the sequel’s soundtrack that sticks out to me is “Silk” from Wolf Alice.  The track appeared on the band’s 2015 debut album My Love Is Cool and was featured prominently in the film’s trailers despite not being a single.  The song starts off a little slow, but gains some energy and life when the shoegaze element gets electrified with hard hitting indie rock progression.  There’s a poppy energy buried in there.  However, there is also a hard-hitting narrative about loneliness and coming to terms with one’s own self and role in relationships.  It is a brilliant track and a signature piece on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack.

It is ok to work on yourself.  A lot of people become complacent as they get older.  They get stuck in this mindset that who they are will always be who they are.  They’re right for the most part.  People don’t really change.  You see that in the Trainspotting films.  However, you can still make an effort to channel certain aspects of yourself and direct in healthier ways.  And everyone struggles to do that.  We’re all working towards our own happiness.  For some, it just takes a little longer.

“cry little sister” – gerard mcmann (1987)

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Halloween has increasingly become by favorite holiday over the years.  And the older I get, the more I get into it.  With each new year, I spend more time planning my costume.  I strive to put together something that is iconic and recognizable, while also minimizing the likelihood I’ll see others with the same costume.

This year, I partnered with a friend to recreate the two iconic leads from 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? With me as Bette Davis’ “Baby” Jane Hudson and my friend as her sister Blanche, we donned our makeup, wigs, and dresses for Halloween mischief in Chicago.

Our costumes were a complete hit.  We spent the Friday night at Metro in Chicago for Nocturna, an annual goth Halloween ball, and spent Saturday in Boystown.  A lot of people complimented the accuracy of the look and we played to the roles imitating the duo’s tense relationship.  Davis’s and Crawford’s hatred for each other was the stuff of Hollywood legend.  The making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was adapted to a television series earlier this year.  My friend and I watched Feud: Bette and Joan when it premiered early 2017.  We knew that’s what we should do for Halloween.  The show was a complete hit and aired early enough to not exactly be in the forefront of anyone’s mind to imitate.  This was perfect for us and we delivered.

Though we didn’t win any costume contests, the comments and feedback make me feel validated for the costume choice.  Plus, we looked like the real deal.  Even the FX Networks twitter tweeted pictures of us.  Lavish costumes and attention are the stuff Halloween dreams are made of.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a great thriller, but isn’t a Halloween film.  In addition to planning great costumes, I also make time to watch as many horror and Halloween classics that I can.  I watched Hocus Pocus for the first time since the 90s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an annual favorite, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first viewing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for its lavish and complex set designs.

I also revisited The Lost Boys as well.  I don’t remember the last time I watched the film, but this year marks 30 years since its release.  Directed by Joel Schumacher, The Lost Boys is a horror comedy about two brothers (played by Corey Haim and Jason Patric) who move with their mother from Arizona to the small beach town of Santa Carla, California.  Santa Carla is home to a vibrant wharf complete with a Ferris wheel and roller coaster, but there isn’t a lot happening otherwise as the town’s youth cause trouble and engage in illegal activities to pass the time.  When Jason Patric’s character meets a young woman played by Jami Gertz, Patric starts falling into a bad crowd led by a sinister teen played by Kiefer Sutherland.  It turns out Sutherland’s gang are actually vampires and Patric unknowingly underwent their initiation process, so he sets out to escape and teams up with two eccentric vampire hunting teens (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to kill the head vampire and lift the cure hanging over Patric before its too late.

As mentioned, I don’t remember the last time I saw this film.  In act, I largely forgot about most of it.  While rewatching, I vaguely remembered having seen some of the more shocking scenes before as fragmented childhood memories were slowly coming together to try to complete the portrait.  Despite that, I enjoyed revisiting the film.  I think, for the most part, a lot of it stands up 30 years later.

I was recently reminder of the film while listening to the Halloween radio station on Apple Music.  During the entire month of Halloween, I listen to seasonal music endlessly.  While at work, getting ready during the morning, or completing chores, I’ve got Halloween music playing almost around the clock.  I love the song.  I love the novelty songs. I love the “Monster Mash” rip-offs. I love all the popular music choices that somewhat pass for a Halloween-themed playlist like Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” Kanye West’s “Monster,” Rob Zombie’s “Dragula,” and Nine Inch Nail’s “Came Back Haunted.”  It is all good to me because it is all in the spirit of Halloween from the most absurd Dr. Demento classics to the stray Marilyn Manson song following Ray Parker Jr.’s ghostbusting classic.

This is my third Halloween entry since starting this blog.  In my first year, I explored the world of amazing “Monster Mash” rip-offs and discussed Don Hinson’s version of “Monster Swim.”  Last year, I praised “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” for using Halloween to lampoon Christmas charity songs.  This year, I wanted to focus on a different type of Halloween music: movie songs.

Considering I dressed as an iconic film character and spent some time relaxing with Halloween classics, it is only fitting I highlight a movie song.  Constantly present in any Halloween playlist I find are tracks from The Nightmare Before Christmas which I don’t care for and always skip if possible.   Between that and Rocky Horror, it didn’t seem like I had much choice in great Halloween movie songs.

However, one morning last week, I was getting ready for work and this song came on.  It was brooding, anthemic, and rich with 80s production value.  I didn’t recognize it.  The song was the theme to The Lost Boys.  Gerard McMann’s “Cry Little Sister” is the musical center of the film.  So much so that it’s presence suggests that it’s a character in of itself.  The song is, according to McMann, about “longing for family from a rejected youth’s perspective” which perfectly summarizes the central narrative and themes of The Lost Boys.

In fact, it was hearing that song that motivated me to revisit The Lost Boys when I was compiling movies to watch during the Halloween season.  I’ve been listening to “Cry Little Sister” a lot since that film.  It’s a great song for its lamenting vocals and haunting instrumentation including a sinister organ.  Even the children’s choir doing the backing vocals adds an extra sinister appeal.

Halloween is amazing and I anticipate my love for it will continue to grow.  I love dressing up for it and making a big deal.  And to see everyone else’s costumes are a treat as well.  The creativity that people put into such rich and complex outfits is really cool.  And if costumes aren’t your thing, then stay at home and watch a movie.  There’s so much to enjoy about this holiday.

“sunday candy” – donnie trumpet & the social experiment feat. jamila woods

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On Saturday, October 21st, 2017 at noon, the Chicago Independent Radio Project (Chirp Radio) officially flipped the switch on their transmitter and broadcasted on terrestrial radio for the first time.  An event ten years in the making, this was the result of hundreds of volunteers committing thousands of hours to elevate an independent media voice in Chicago and provide an outlet for local, up-and-coming, and underappreciated artists.  A lot had to be done since Chirp Radio became a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2007.  Congress had to be lobbied to change laws, relationships with area organizations and businesses had to be developed and matured, volunteers had to be mentored and trained, and a sound had to be established.  All of this had to come together to create the unique Chicago presence that is Chirp Radio.

In prior blog posts, I have shared my own personal story with Chirp including how I came across it and my experience volunteering and making life-long friends.  In the last few weeks, I’ve talked with people who have been around the station much longer than me.  I’ve only been a part of the station for four years, but there are people still around who were here at the very beginning.

In the days leading up to the launch, I really enjoyed hearing the excitement and stories from the people who were there when the idea of Chirp was born.  These were the committed individuals who shaped the station over the years.  At the monthly volunteer meeting held on the Thursday before the launch, people shared their stories about Chirp that they cherished over the years.  I enjoyed listening to the humor and passion that came through as they recounted memorable moments such as moving everything out of a potential studio location on the coldest day in February, the tradition on annual summer parties, and comical moments interacting with musicians.  Everyone was ready for the launch.

Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville graciously hosted Chirp’s broadcast launch kick-off.  Since the signal would begin transmitting at noon (or moments before noon), the bar opened a half hour early to allow Chirp volunteers to set-up and hand out gift items to early bird listeners and friends of the station.

Very quickly, the top floor was filling up.  Everyone wanted to be in the room where it happens before the station went live.  So many people were there that it became difficult to move.  However, that was fine because spirits were high and the comradery elevated everyone’s mood.  I saw many volunteers I have met, worked with, and befriended over the years and congratulated them all.  I was introduced to Chirp board members who were instrumental in guiding the direction of Chirp.  I met friends and spouses and partners and loved ones of Chirp volunteers who came out to show their support.  There was so much love in the room and everyone there played their own part in making Chirp a success.

Hopleaf poured little glasses of beer that we saved for a toast.  A few minutes before the launch, we all toasted Chirp.  Glasses clinked and were upturned as we celebrated, enjoyed life, and reveled in the success of our communal hard work.

Just a few seconds before noon, the station became live and everyone quieted.  The song that was finishing during Michael Bennett’s shift was ending and segueing to Chirp’s official debut.  Right at noon, the station’s manager Shawn Campbell came through crystal clear over the radio playing throughout the top floor of the bar.  “Are you receiving?” Shawn asked.  “Hopleaf?  Since 2007, it’s been a really long time coming.  I’m so happy to be able to say ‘This is 1071.1 FM WCXP-LP Chicago!’”

Shawn spent her shift reminiscing about the station’s history and the personal journey she embarked on to make her passion and dream into a reality.  She played songs that meant a lot to her and her vision, thanked people instrumental in Chirp’s development, and talked about Chirp’s mission in Chicago.

“Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment featuring Jamila Woods was the song she chose to debut Chirp’s terrestrial broadcast debut.  She had kept which song she would open with secret for so long.  I had a few ideas as to what that song could’ve been, but I was wrong.  And for Shawn to pick such a jubilant song that also includes several of Chicago’s very own creative powerhouses, the choice is fitting and appropriate with nothing that even comes close to its significance to Chirp and its listeners.

The Social Experiment is a band self-described as a group of bohemian musicians.  Co-founded by Chance the Rapper along with Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr., and Nate Fox, the Social Experiment partnered with Donnie Trump, a trumpeter and record producer, to release their studio debut Surf in 2015.  The album was released exclusively on iTunes as a free download and was met with widespread critical acclaim.  The album is a passion project that is highly stylized and contains a blends of jack fusion, dance, and neo-soul supported by a variety of great guests such as BJ The Chicago Kid, Big Sean, KYLE, Noname, Busta Rhymes, J. Cole, Janelle Monáe, and Erykah Badu.

Shawn chose the track “Sunday Candy” for a reason.  The song conveys pure happiness and joy in its lyrics and production which makes it, on a musical level, a great choice for a celebration.  However, she shared a story of when she decided to make the decision to open the broadcast launch with it.  Debuting New Year’s 2016, Chi-Town rising was Chicago’s New Year’s party designed to compete with New York City’s classis ball-dropping tradition.  Shawn recounted that they played, or played a band like, Maroon 5 to kick off the New Year.  Shawn felt it was a missed opportunity to highlight Chicago’s very own talented music scene.  “Sunday Candy,” supported by a whole crew of Chicago’s most innovative and excited talent, reflects all of the talent and spirit Chicago’s music scene offers.

For many people, it has been a great decade working towards an exciting and shared goal.  For those who have been around less than that (like me), it is exciting to be inspired and motivated by those at the beginning.  And for new volunteers, I look forward to hearing their fresh-faced journey.  Together, we’ll spend the next ten years to make Chirp even better.

“stand up for something” – andra day feat. common (2017)

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All this week, cast and crew of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah have ventured away from their New York studios to take their brand of political satire on the road.  Dubbed The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Undesked, the team of correspondents chose Chicago to host the first installment of the show’s travelling format.  When I found out about this in July, I got tickets to the taping as soon as they became available. Despite having been in New York twice during the years Jon Stewart helmed the show, I missed out both times to see the show.  Now that it was happening in my own backyard, there was no way I was going to miss this show.

Tickets guaranteeing entry were acquired back in July, and demand was hot.  Even though I had passes that would guarantee us entry, we still had to show up early.  This is a television production after all.  The crew would tape that afternoon and the program would broadcast later that evening.  Protocol had to be followed and punctuality was everything.  So, I met with six of my friends and we enjoyed pleasant conversation waiting outside on a beautifully sunny and warm October afternoon.

When it was time to go inside Athenaeum Theatre, the show’s home away from home in the Windy City, we followed all the necessary procedures to get to our seats.  Police officers searched bags, we walked through metal detectors, heard about the show’s rules once seated, and all the other little things that ensure the taping goes well and that we were a respectful and cooperative audience.

After some time waiting, one of the show’s crew members gave us the run down on what was expected from us which was common sense; no cell phone use, stay in your seats, and make a big noise when prompted.  After that, the show’s opening comedian Angelo Lozada came to perform.  Lozada is a Puerto Rican man in his 50s whom I had seen open for Trevor Noah last year when Noah performed a stand-up set at the Chicago Theatre.  Lozada engaged with members of the audience and was playful so he could build up our excitement.

After Lozada’s set, Noah came out and went over the show’s format with the audience.  He also took two questions from the crowd; one of which came from my friend Jean who asked which guest had inspired Noah the most (the answer: President Barack Obama).  Noah left and the monitors played the show’s special opening clip.  Parodying his iconic role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein stood beside Noah’s desk calling “Trevor, Trevor, Trevor.”  Cut to Trevor Noah performing on a parade float in the Loop until realizing he had a show to do.  Committing to completely referencing all the memorable scenes from the classic movie set in Chicago, Noah and the show’s correspondent team are running through the streets and backyards of suburban Chicago set to the Beat’s “March of the Swivel Heads.”  There were even incredibly hilarious takes on this scene such as Roy Wood, Jr. stopping in a yard and saying that he, as an unannounced black man, was not going to go up to some stranger’s house in Chicago and decided to call a cab.  The crowd absolutely loved the satirical take on a Chicago classic.

Trevor took the stage after the introduction clip and greeted an explosive and jubilant audience.  Very much promising an “undesked” program, the set lacked a desked and was designed to resemble the city’s famous L tracks.  Under this format, Noah felt like he was performing stand-up which is ultimately what his show is but with a desk.

After greeting the audience, Noah launched into the show’s theme of the night: violence in Chicago.  He talked about the reception he received when he was going to do a week’s worth of shows in Chicago and that he should be careful if he didn’t want to get shot.  Noah discussed how Chicago had become a talking point for conservatives to address gun violence.  While Chicago may have the most murders by numbers, there are other cities where the murder rate is higher.

Noah continued to explore this theme in the opening segment and what those criticisms actually mean.  He played clips of Donald Trump talking about Chicago and what a mess it is and that something should be done about it.  Essentially, these clips just represented that Trump was full of hot air and used the city as a scapegoat to push an agenda because constantly repeating a false narrative to his supporters allows it to become increasingly real to them.

Clips of various conservative pundits were also played with each one commenting that the city’s violence belonged to President Obama or going out of their way to note that Obama was from Chicago.  That therein lies the heart of this narrative.  For Trump, Chicago is a target because the city didn’t vote for him.  For the larger conservative base, it is a racist talking point.  It is much easier for them to spew their bigotry under the guise of controlling gun crime than it is for them to actually come out against the city’s minority population.  Noah even joked about this saying “I get it. When there’s shootings, Obama is from Chicago.  All the other times he’s from Kenya. Now it makes sense. These people don’t care about Chicago’s murder rates. They care about how they can use Chicago to score political points.”

However, Noah pointed out that this narrative has long existed since before Obama occupied the Oval Office.  He played a clip from the children’s television series Sharkey & George, a French and Canadian cartoon where fish shoot each other in the underwater city of Seacago.  While the violence in Chicago is the current hot button issue many conservatives use to disrupt gun control legislation or to rally against people of color, all their information is wrong and has been for a long time.  In recent years, violent crimes have reduced across the city.  And not only that, and I cannot reiterate this enough, there are several other cities that have a higher murder rate but do not get criticized the same way that Chicago does.  This is a level of racism that has been brewing for a few generations which has become so ingrained in our dialogue.

While the white men in suits continue to degrade Chicago with their racism and misinformation, there are those who have successfully worked towards reducing violent and gun crime in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.  In a produced segment, Roy Wood, Jr. visited with the Cease Fire community anti-violence group that operates in the South Side.  These are dedicated individuals who believe that mediated dialogue is the key to reducing the violence in Chicago.  The members of Cease Fire directly engage with gang members drug dealers, and other young men in these communities with the goal of deescalating violence and finding a peaceful resolution.  In his report, Wood noted that violence had gone down in all the areas where Cease Fire is active.  Those are amazing results and it is great that The Daily Show used their national platform to provide visibility to such an amazing organization while also actively working against the misinformed narrative about Chicago.

For the third segment, a small riser was brought out with a table and two chairs.  The guest that evening was Common.  As an activist and rapper, Common has used his platform as a celebrity to address that Chicago is a beautiful and diverse city that has more to offer than crime statistics.  Common’s interview was very serious considering the show’s comedic tone, but the message was real and sincere.  Common spoke candidly and honestly about his work inspiring young black people and supported his belief that understanding and support was the way to stop violence in black communities.  He even shared that the support he was given at a young age was what motivated him to succeed and to use that success to suggest others.

Common is such an eloquent and passionate speaker.  I remember, back in 2011, working with him at Corliss High School in the South Side.  At that time, I was working for a black history non-profit and we had held an annual event where black leaders would go back to their school, or a school in their area, and talk to middle school and high school aged students of color about the importance of committing to their education which can elevate their community as well as their well-being. Many of the same things Common said back then came out during last night’s taping and still ring true.  The violence facing the people in these communities are incredibly serious.  A lot of work has been done in the last six years since I saw Common speak, but more must be done to reverse the damaging effects perpetrated by the current administration and conservative pundits.

Common also spoke about his music and using it as a platform to share his message.  Before he came to the stage, a clip from Andra Day’s song “Stand Up for Something” played.  Featuring Common, Day’s song is the signature track from the soundtrack for Marshall, a film about Thurgood Marshall who served as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.  Common discussed the song and how, like earlier soundtrack contributions that earned him a Golden Globe and Academy Award, he uses music as his platform to share enlightening ideas and to highlight the achievements of those who stand up and do good for all.

Andra Day is relatively new on the music scene debuting in 2015.  With the message she shares in her music, and with the support of Common, she’ll continue doing great things.  “Stand Up for Something” is an anthem that inspiring and what this country needs right now.  We are currently in a dark time for this country with an administration that is determined to silence many voices.  I have lived in Chicago for seven years.  It has become my home.  I am tired of hearing this great city put down for bigoted and unfounded reasons.  And that’s why I try to help and fight against that vitriol.  For those with the power to do so, we must stand behind and elevate those voices.  They stand for something and we need to give them the room to do so.  With that understand and support, we can make that change we long to see.

“pulse” – melissa etheridge (2016)

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Last Monday, I woke that morning to the news regarding the horrific gun violence that occurred in Las Vegas the night before.  Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old resident of nearby Mesquite, opened fire from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel on concertgoers attending the Rout 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.  In a window of ten minutes, hundreds of rifle rounds were fired resulting in the deaths of 58 people and the injury of 489.

I was mortified by the news and I needed to take some time to process the details of the deadliest mass shooting in this country’s history.  My heart ached for the survivors and the families of those killed.  I cannot imagine pain and suffering they are experience as the result of being subjected to such inhuman and evil carnage.

Details surrounding the initial reports were basic.  We knew basic information about the murderer and that he was dead.  In the following days, updates and breaking news alerts would tell us additional information.  This is where we would learn about the reactions from Paddock’s family, Paddock’s history as a high stakes gambler, Paddock sending his girlfriend to the Philippines with a ton of money, and stories about the brave people who risked their lives to others caught in the crossfire.  All of this was important in painting a complete picture of what happened, what led to these events, and how we can learn to prevent it from happening again.

All the while we were learning more information about the shooter, a heated debate had risen about gun control.  Gun control advocates vocalized their ongoing support to ban certain assault weapons and restrict at-risk individuals from purchasing firearms.  Critics of gun control argued this wasn’t the time to discuss gun control and that we should wait until a more appropriate time.

I became disturbed by some of the developments that came out of these discussions.  When I learned that stock prices of firearms manufacturers rose the day after the shooting, I couldn’t believe the audacity of these people.  Their baseless fears of extreme and stringent gun-control legislation that led them to believe the government would take away their guns overshadowed any empathy for the victims and their families.  From this reaction, the most awful thing I saw was a congressman appropriating Martin Niemöller’s “First they came…” poem about the cowardice many Germans displayed following the rise of Nazis.  In a photo on social me, he was holding an assault rifle and making a tone-deaf stand on gun-control legislation.  It was disgusting that he was supported for equating the extermination of Jews and banning assault weapons.

As details emerged about Paddock’s history, it was revealed that the 2017 Lollapalooza could’ve been the site for his massacre.  He had reserved a room in a hotel overlooking Grant Park, but never checked in.  I realize that what happened to the concertgoers in Las Vegas could happen to me.  However, learning that it almost happened in Chicago hit me really hard.  I don’t know anyone who went to the concert in Las Vegas.  But, I know a lot of people in Chicago who went to Lollapalooza.  And the idea that they could’ve been gunned down by a madman at a music festival is too much for me to handle.  I’m glad it didn’t happen here and I’m sorry it happened anywhere at all.

These mass shootings are becoming the new normal.  The movement to support gun-control legislation has seen increasing popularity since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.  However, nothing has gotten done.  The National Rifle Association, as the most powerful lobbying group, has successfully collected the GOP to do their bidding preventing legislation from passing.  The NRA is successfully living up to their reputation that they care more about their bottom line than the lives of innocent people.

I want all of it to stop.  I’m tired of waking up to news stories about horrific violence committed for senseless and selfish reasons.  I’m tired of nothing being done to stop dangerous people from legally obtaining dangerous weapons.  I’m tired of our politicians dismissing the cries and please from victims’ families to stop future massacres.

The Las Vegas shooting on October 1st is the deadliest mass shooting ever.  Prior to that, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando was the deadliest.  On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed.  It took less than 16 months for Stephen Paddock to top that record.  And now his name sits on high in history’s dark hall of fame.

In response to the Orlando shooting, Melissa Etheridge recorded a download-only single dedicated to the victims.  Named after the nightclub, “Pulse” is Ehteridge’s way of coping with the tragedy; one that we are seeing more frequently.  While the song is named after the club, Etheridge said “there’s just something very poetic and very meaningful about the name… You just start thinking about your own pulse. It’s the way I’ve always felt about the gay movement, the gay issue. Here we are – people who are loving; we are fighting for who we want to love.”

The song was meaningful then and it remains so now.  Listening to the lyrics, it is hard to get emotional.  Etheridge acknowledges we all have a pain inside, but we don’t have to act on the hate that can build in us.  We’re all human with a pulse and a capacity to love and be loved.  She poses a question to the Pulse shooter (which can be applied to future mass murders) by asking who will they hate when there’s no one left but them.  Etheridge’s resolve stays strong because she knows, like many of us, that love will always win and no gun can kill that truth.

Nine days later and there has been no progress in the debate concerning gun-control.  We now have a lot of information about the shooter, but none of the motivation to prevent others like him.  I’m trying not to lose hope that we can win the fight to slow down, or even stop, mass shootings.  However, they are happening more frequently and increasingly deadly.  Still, I must remain grounded and know that love will win and that fight is worth the reward.