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

R-605328-1437550728-2440.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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

R-773056-1401787318-8351.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“je bois (i drink)” – charles aznavour (1987)

R-11102244-1509891704-3195.jpeg

Yesterday, the world lost Charles Azanvaour.  As one of France’s most popular vocalists, and a singer of world-renowned fame, Aznavour was dubbed the “French Frank Sinatra” for his distinctive and classic tenor voice.  His accolades run deep including being named “Entertainer of the Century” by CNN, edging out Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan as being recognized as the world’s most outstanding entertainer, and was even appointed ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland.  HE was also recognized for his activism and sheltering Jews during World War II.  Aznavour sang for presidents, popes, and royalty.  Aznavour was a remarkable human being.

Aznavour was a remarkable talent that I discovered surprisingly early in my life.  I was in high school when I first heard “Je Bois (I Drink).”  At the end of my senior year, Bob Dylan had premiered his XM Satellite Radio show Theme Time Radio Hour.  I was a huge Dylan fan and I wanted to listen to everything associated with that man.  So, naturally, a radio show he curated with thematic playlists was right up my alley.

In May of 2006, Dylan’s third episode was about drinking.  In keeping up with the theme, all of the songs he played were about alcohol.  Dylan was a huge fan of Aznavour and that was evident in his outro for “Je Bois (I Drink)” when he said Aznavour “Sings in six languages, French, English, Italian. He’s written over a thousand songs.  I only know about half of them.”

“Je Bois (I Drink)” was co-written by Aznavour with Georges Garvarentz and Roger Loubet.  In the song, Aznavour sings and laments about the reasons he drinks.  There is a love degraded, a woman who took satisfaction, and the lost of an innocent heart.  Aznavour drinks to dull his pain and find solace within endless confusions, but he also aware of the damage it is doing and how this refuge is killing him.  It is a cynical and heartbreaking song with just a touch a dark humor.

I have a funny story about this song.  I had a girlfriend my junior year of college and we were on-again and off-again throughout that year.  We would break up and then not see each other, but then time would pass by and she would treat me like she missed me and couldn’t stand to be away.  It was confusing and childish. We wouldn’t talk through issues because she was just excited to see me again.  And then the cycle would continue.

One day, after a period of not seeing each other because we are angry, she wanted my advice on a homework assignment.  She was taking a French class and needed a song to feature and discuss.  She knew I loved music and knew a lot about it, so she asked for my advice.  She didn’t pick a song because she felt like she wouldn’t be able to pick something that no one else would.  She wanted to be unique.

So, I felt a bit cunning and told her to play Aznavour’s “Je Bois (I Drink).”  I can’t remember if the assignment was due that day or the next day, but it was coming up soon.  She never did listen to the song beforehand. I knew this because she met up with me a few days later and tore into me about how embarrassed she was to play the song because she knew I was sending a message.  I was and she walked right into it.  It was cynical and vindictive and really played well against the themes of the song.  I wish I would’ve been there to see the look on her face as she played the English language version of the song.

Aznavour was a remarkable talent an incredible person as well.  Not only did he sing gorgeously, but his activism made significant impacts and added depth to his legacy.  With a career spanning seven decades and recording more than 1,200 song in eight different languages, he was the epitome of a truly great entertainer.  We need more people like Charles Aznavour.

“under the pressure” – the war on drugs (2014)

R-5698856-1403885163-5447.jpeg

I don’t watch a lot of television.  Between work, volunteer commitments, a social life, and other hobbies, I just don’t have the time.  I am supposedly living in a second Golden Age of Television, but I just haven’t paid attention to the shows that receive the most buzz.

However, there are a couple of shows that I follow and get really excited when they return with another season.  What I look for in a show is a blend of absurdist humor, wit, escapism, and starring protagonists with relatable issues overcoming real-world problems.  And with all that in mind, I stand behind Bojack Horseman as being the best television series currently running,

For those unfamiliar with Bojack Horseman, it is an animated show about a talking horse named Bojack who was the star of a family sitcom in the 1990s called Horsin’ Around where he played the adoptive father to three orphaned children.  Since the show’s cancellation, Bojack’s status as a celebrity faded and he has grown bitter, cynical, and developed substance abuse issues.  He is selfish, narrow-minded, and awful to people in his life.  As the series progresses, he experiences a resurgence in his career coupled with various emotional and professional setbacks.  During this, he faces is demons during a continuing existential crisis that hurts everyone who tries to help him.

Bojack Horseman premiered in August 2014.  It took me a few weeks before I caught in episode.  In August of that year, I was working through a devastating breakup and I spent that month packing out of my girlfriend’s apartment and finding a space for myself.  It was pretty world-shattering for me, so I didn’t focus on much else.

When I got to my new place, I took a few months for me to find my footing.  My whole life involved this person.  I had met them early on when I moved to Chicago, so we shared the same friends with many of them being her friends first.  On my own now, I only had two friends that I would still be able to see and spend time with post-breakup.

Not only that, I wasn’t making that much money and I worked all the time.  What little time I had outside of work was spent with my girlfriend, so I didn’t have hobbies of my own.  My biggest worry after I moved into my new apartment was “what am I going to do in my free time?”

It took months for me to make new friends and find new hobbies.  Eventually, reading would become a passion, I would take guitar lessons, and I would increase the amount of volunteering I would do.  However, I had to get through this rough transitional period.  So, I did something I would never do now.  I binged-watched.

The first few episodes of Bojack Horseman weren’t interesting to me at all.  If this was a show I discovered now or didn’t come to me during a rough patch where I had to rediscover myself, I would’ve just passed on it and never looked back.  A close friend of mine says that things come to you at the right moments.  And perhaps that’s why I started the show when I did.

Bojack Horseman deal with a lot of heavy subjects through a surrealist and absurdist lens.  And in many of these situations, Bojack has to face his past and confront difficulties that leave him guilt-ridden so many years later.  And, often, these are things he cannot change so matter how much he as changed.  The series covers topics such as the death of an abusive parent, infidelity, searching for an identity, substance abuse, and sexuality in ways that transcend the animals in the show and feel real and relatable to the viewer.

This show is heavy.  It makes me laugh, but also leaves me in a weird headspace that I find dark and uncomfortable.  I recently asked a friend who also watches the show if they experience the same thing and what they do about.  He laughed it off by saying the show leaves him in a negative space and drinks through it.  The themes and issues of the show are too real to me, so I try to practice mindfulness.  While the problems Bojack faces seem real and relatable, I don’t want the life Bojack has.

I finished the fifth season which recently made its way to Netflix.  Whenever I finish a season, it takes me a few days to process and work through the weird things that occupy my head.  Basically, I don’t feel that good and I have to tell myself that it is ok not to feel good sometimes.  I then evaluate the positive things in my life and what I can do t continue living well and be good to the people in my life.  After a few days, I get into a better mood and I’m left with a perspective that I’m a good person so matter what doubts may come to mind.

One great aspect of the show is the soundtrack.  Alternative and indie songs are used very effectively to convey a mood or elevate the scene.  In this latest season, “Under the Pressure” by The War on Drugs from their 2014 studio album Lost in The Dream is used beautifully and one of the best uses of soundtrack score in the series.

Bojack Horseman, considering the difficulty of the subject matter, is an absurd and very funny show.  The can be extremely dark, but there is a light-hearted honesty that makes the characters and their struggle somewhat endearing.  You want them to succeed in overcoming their demons.  And despite that I don’t watch much TV, I still stand by my declaration this is the best show currently running.

“lincoln park pirates” – steve goodman (1972)

R-5974931-1483533494-6929.jpeg

Last week, the Illinois Commerce Commission voted to revoke the relocation towing license for Lincoln Towing Service.  To people outside of Chicago, that doesn’t sound like interesting news.  However, it really is.  Lincoln Towing, since its founding, has been a scourge on the city of Chicago for decades. Through questionable operational practices and even direct violence, the towing service has a nasty reputation.  Everyone has a story with Lincoln Towing.

Actions spearheaded by lawyers, alderman, and other city officials have been conducted to reign in the unruly towing service.  Chicago Daily News writer Mike Royko, since 1967, had written several articles about the founder of Lincoln Towing, Ross Cascio, claiming that “to intimidate those who objected, Cascio hung bats, blackjacks, chains and other pacifiers on his office wall. If a person tried to escape with his own car, Cascio’s men would dance on his chest.”

James Kargman, in his race for alderman in 1971, campaigned to “hit Cascio in the pocketbook—where it hurts.”  Kargman encouraged many businesses to cancel contracts with Lincoln Towing.  He inspired such ire against the towing service that after the campaign, 300 people attacked a Lincoln Towing employee who was removing a car from a lot.  That is how much they are hated.

As mentioned, everyone has a story about Lincoln Towing.  I even have one though I don’t own a car.  During the summer of 2015, I left my apartment to get some food.  At that time, I was living in Buena Park and I walked a half mile or so to Wrigleyville to get some pizza.  It was quiet because there weren’t any concerts or a Cubs game.  Either of which make the area hell.  So, I had planned to enjoy a quiet walk at night.

On my way back, I passed by an apartment building with a lot.  I saw that a tow truck had a car hitched to it.  And, sure enough, it was a Lincoln Towing truck. The driver was outside of his vehicle arguing with two women.  The driver’s partner was still inside the truck.

The tow driver was a big guy; tall and round.  He looked rather intimidating and someone who had a short fuse.  The car he was towing belonged to one of the women arguing with him.  Now, I’m sure that being a tow truck driver is not an easy profession and I’m sure drivers are met with lots of anger and aggression.  However, the women were considerably smaller than the driver and he threatened to beat the shit out the women (his words).

I was startled by that and knew that Lincoln Towing was a nasty business even though I didn’t have a car let alone a car towed by them.  I decided to take some video of the altercation because this was an example where an employee of Lincoln Towing was threatening physical violence against someone.  Granted, the woman was angry but she didn’t threaten the man.   I kept my distance at about 50 feet from the incident and just recorded without saying anything.

I recorded video for about thirty seconds before the driver’s partner in the truck noticed me and yelled for the driver.  The driver stopped arguing with the women and walked towards me.  As he walked towards me, he was yelling at me to mind my own fucking business.  I stopped the video and put my phone away.  After I did, he pushed me into the street.  There was a car heading my way and, fortunately, it swerved away from me just in time.

The driver got into his car as I was getting up and dialing the police.  HE blared his horn driving past me while I was on the phone.  I gave the police some details of the incident and was told someone would be by shortly.

After the call, I stayed with the women until the police came.  They were upset because they had some personal belongings in the back of the car that the driver refused to let them have.  They were sure that the items would be stolen or thrown away.

It took almost an hour for the police to come.  In the meantime, the guys from Lincoln Towing drove by us a few times and glaring.  They were trying to frighten us, but I was having none of that.  I started right back at them.

When the police came, they said there was nothing much they can do.  I did explain that I was pushed into the street and almost hit by a car.  However, they just shrugged it off since I had no injuries.

That’s my story with Lincoln Towing.  I know some people have had much worse experiences with them.  But, everyone has a story.

For his 1972 studio album Somebody Else’s Troubles, folk singer Steve Goodman wrote “Lincoln Park Pirates” lambasting Lincoln Towing.  Though the song was about a Chicago business, the themes were relevant elsewhere as well.  It is reported that that Chicago stations initially would not play the song for fear that Ross Cascio would sue them since Goodman named him in the song.

Good riddance to Lincoln Towing.  Though their license was revoked, a judge has recently said they can still operate pending further litigation.  Though, I hope this move from the ICC was the death knell for a shitty business.

“alaska & me” – john denver (1988)

R-3335632-1326304531.jpeg

Alaska is home to countless wilderness trails of varying difficulties.  Regardless of your physical ability, there are a number of trails available to you if you’re looking to engage with nature in a respectful way.  If you’re looking to just stroll through a forest or brush, there are easy walking trails that are safe and well-groomed.  If you’re more adventurous, you can try to something rockier and with a higher elevation.  Or, if you’re an expert or stupidly brave, you can travel in unmarked areas and test your will against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you.  While I have no desire to blaze my own trails as a relative novice in such dangerous areas, I always look for a challenge.

Of the several trails and hikes I went on last week, one stood out over the rest.  Just outside of Anchorage is the Chugach State Park; a mountainous area with lots of trails for people looking to get out into the wilderness but not travel a long way to do so.  The drive from the city is only about 15 t0 20 minutes, but the change in terrain and scenery is quite significant.

I went to this area twice during my trip.  The first time was to climb Flattop Mountain.  Flattop is the most climbed mountain in the area and is one I’ve climbed several times.  The last time I did so was in 2010, so I felt a need to go back.  Flattop was my first hike of the trip and it is a great hike.  The path is groomed and some of the steeper parts have wooden beams to help with the climb and stabilization.  Also, there is always someone close by on the trail.  It is not a difficult climb, but it isn’t easy either.

The day after climbing Flattop, I spent some time in a flatter and more forested area outside Anchorage in a town called Girdwood.  Those kinds of hikes through the woods offer a different kind of experience.  While both hiking on a mountain and through a forest can offer meditative experiences, you have a different frame of mind.  Walking through this area was a nice refresher after climbing Flattop; my first mountain in eight years.  However, the next day, I wanted to really test my limits.

I went back to the Glen Alps Trailhead of the Chugach State Park.  Instead of the path taking me to Flattop, I took a different path that took me down into the valley.  My goal was to reach the summit of O’Malley Peak.   O’Malley Peak is the tallest mountain in the area and just across the valley from Flattop.  To get there, you must walk through a brushy area, scale the slope of the first ridge, walk across a relatively flat but rocky bowl, and then start ascending the base of the peak to the summit.

I was travelling at a time where I wouldn’t see many people.  Since it was off season for tourists and during work week, I was guaranteed to be one of the few people out hiking.  Also, O’Malley Peak is harder than Flattop and, therefore, not climbed as much.  It was a guarantee that I would only see a handful of people the entire time I was out there.

The brushy area is the first part and is bear country.  Signs at the beginning of the trail warn you of this and offer guidance on what to do if you encounter a bear.  Again, I’m not an expert.  I should’ve been equipped with bear mace or a gun.  I had neither.  It was just me and some snacks (I guess you could count me as a snack too).  If I couldn’t defend myself from a bear attack, the best I could do was prevent one.

In order to prevent an attack, you warn the bears that you’re coming through.  Bears don’t like surprises, so warning them early with noise is essential.  Some people hike with dogs with jingle belles strapped to their collar.  If you’re like me and don’t have a dog, you make noises by clapping and talking loudly.  In this part of the trail, you’re walking through brush with very little visibility so bears and moose can easily blend in.  However, this part of the trail is beautiful.  It is very green with a beautiful creek running through it.

When you get to the base of the ridge, things become a little harder.  You’re official out of the brush, though there might be some patches here or there.  However, you have a lot more visibility.  The challenge now is to climb a slop that is more than a 45-degree angle and slick with mud and loose rub (known as scree).  Due to the elevation rate, it is already a strenuous activity.  But footing is really important if you don’t want to fall. One unlucky or not well-thought out step and you could fall and injure yourself.  And while there is a discernible trail from hikers before you, there aren’t any installed wooden beams to flatten the terrain or stabilize it.  It is all natural.

Once you successfully have climbed the slop over the ridge line, you have made it to the part of the trail known as the Ballfield.  The Ballfield is a relatively flat (not really flat but is compared to what you just hiked) bowl with rocks and tundra soil.  While the terrain is rocky, it is a nice break.  Also, there are no trees or brush, so your visibility is much greater.  It is also very quiet.

After hiking for about 45 minutes across the Ballfield, you make it to the base of O’Malley Peak.  This is where the rocks start rising from the land.  This is where you quit hiking and start scrambling; hiking involving a lot of use of your hands for stabilization.  This is also the most dangerous part of the hike since the peak is ridged.  Two steps in either direction and you fall to your death.  Footing, hand placement, and concentration are absolutely important.

I ascended the peak for about 30 minutes before I stopped and took a break.  I sat and leaned against a rock and just looked at the valley below me.  The expansiveness is beyond words and no pictures do it justice.  I don’t know how long I sat there, but I looked at the next mountain ridge and valley lakes for a long time.

To be clear, I was alone during these hikes.  And, as mentioned, I didn’t see many people.  In fact, I had been hiking for over two hours at this point and had only seen two people so far.  I didn’t have noise from other humans to distract me, so I was truly alone with my thoughts.

Hiking alone is not for everyone.  For starters, it isn’t the safest thing to do.  The “buddy system” saves lives.  However, hiking with friends can be distracting and I wanted to avoid distractions.  I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and focus as intently as possible at the environment around me and allow myself to be overwhelmed by the experience.  Many people are uncomfortable being alone with their thoughts.  I know I used to be.  However, I worked through those things and now I can be alone with my thoughts be OK.

Exercising your ability to be alone with your thoughts is absolutely important to personal development.  And I know it isn’t easy.  The reason why people don’t work towards that ability is that are afraid of what they will think of and I can understand the hesitation.  Bad thoughts have happened, do happen, and will continue to happen.  No matter how skilled you are in mindfulness and living in the present, bad thoughts happen.  It is an important part of self-thought and self-reflection.  The key is to develop and carry the right tools with you to handle those thoughts.  If you’re reflecting on life and something bad pops up, you can strengthen your ability to swat that bad thought away like a fly.

I won’t share everything I think about, but I will share the most important thing.  While I was sitting on that ridge, I felt insignificant and small.  And I don’t consider that bad all.  I hate it when I hear Mother Nature described as cruel or any other descriptor that suggests the concept of nature has an investment in your well-being.  Guess what.  It doesn’t.  Mother Nature is indifferent to your success, failures, happiness, and problems.  No matter what you say, think, or do, Mother Nature will continue.  They key to surviving it is to respect it.  If you walk into a situation thinking you’re better than Mother Nature and can overcome it, you will die.  You will die, be forgotten, and decay back into the Earth like every living being that came before you and will arrive after you.

I was not troubled by these thoughts.  In the grand scheme of things, I am insignificant.  That is not to say I am void of meaning.  I have meaning to myself and to the people who love and care about me.  But those worlds are much smaller than the one I was sitting in at that moment.  Where I was at that time sitting in the shadow of a mountain over a steep valley, I had no value there.  I was a visitor; neither welcomed or unwelcomed.  I was allowed to be there on the condition I respect the land.  If I didn’t, I would die.

To be in a situation like that and feel so very small, it is a humbling feeling.  It puts your life into perspective.  Every problem or issue you think you have suddenly doesn’t matter.  It is a strong mental refresh that reframes your thinking.  The key is to remember that lesson.  You may not always consciously act on it or apply its value, but that is fine.  Things do happen and you cannot help how you feel.  However, you can help how you react.  This is what I mean about having the right tools to deal with unfortunate situations.

Being in that frame of mind is not easy.  It takes hard work, but the effort is worth it.  If you’re the kind of person who always needs people or other things to distract you from diving into your own mind and confronting your thoughts, this is something you need to do develop if you want to become a stronger and more well-rounded person.  Though I’ve made a lot of progress over the years, I still have work to do.  Even the most mindful and enlightened of us still have work to do.  It is a journey that doesn’t end until death.  You will never stop facing problems in your life, but you can stop being overpowered by them.

While I scaled Flattop, I didn’t reach the summit of O’Malley Peak.  I had probably another 30 to 45 minutes of scrambling and I had the physical ability to do it.  However, reality set it.  I was hiking alone and I hadn’t seen anyone for almost two hours.  While I’m confident that I could’ve scaled O’Malley, I still had to respect Mother Nature.  It didn’t feel right to continue, so I turned backed.  I have no issue with not reaching the summit.  I made it further than most people could’ve on what was a rather difficult hike.  However, the trip wasn’t without purpose.  I was shown something I was meant to see; both with my eyes and with my mind.  And that something extremely valuable.

Thirty years ago this month, John Denver released his 20th studio album Higher Ground.  Closing the album is the song “Alaska & Me.”  In the song, Denver dreams of Alaska and flying over mountains and glaciers.  He toasts the people who are wild and free and wishes that his children can gaze at the northern lights.  It is his chosen country.

I struggled to find the right song to fit this narrative.  I thought of perhaps two dozen songs to highlight, but none seemed to fit the way I want them to.  Perhaps I could’ve gone with a different narrative.  However, I didn’t want to.   I wanted to talk about this experience I had hiking a mountain.  And with this being a weekly blog, not every post is going to be a winner.  Just like how I cannot climb every mountain, not every song will be perfect.  And that is fine.

“(i can’t get no) satisfaction [booji boy version]” – devo (1977)

R-3329185-1393735028-7584.jpeg

Last week was the 40th anniversary of the release of Devo’s debut studio album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!  Produced over the fall of 1977 through early 1978 by Brian Eno, the album was initially met with mixed reviews.  Famously, Tom Carson of Rolling Stone wrote about the album “there’s not an ounce of feeling anywhere, and the only commitment is the distancing aesthetic of the put-on.”  Over the years, the album would eventually receive the acclaim and recognition it deserved and is considered not only Devo’s best album, but one of the greatest albums of all time.

While there are a lot of great tracks from the album, I want to specifically highlight their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for the purpose of this blog.  This oddball cover that abandoned the original’s signature guitar riff and melody represents the right way to approach a cover and served as the gateway for audiences to discover the surrealist and satirical art collective from Akron.

Prior to the release of their debut studio album, Devo released a self-produced version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on their own label Booji Boy Records.  In 1977, a tape of Devo demo songs was sent to David Bowie and Iggy Pop.  Both rockers expressed interest in producing Devo’s first album, but it was ultimately Brian Eno that landed the role and the band flew to Cologne to record.

The recording sessions were contentious for both Eno and Devo.  Devo were very resistant to Eno’s ideas which led to Eno being frustrated with their unwillingness to deviate from the style of their demos.  Very little of the added synths and sound effects were used for the final release.

The album nearly contained completely original material written chiefly by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale with additional support from Gary Jackett and Bob Mothersbaugh, but the only exception was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.  For whatever purpose they deemed necessary, that song had to make the cut.

Normally, covering songs typically results in the band covering the song to pay royalties to the original performers or writers.  Ray Padgett succinctly explains the process of how bands cover songs in the opening chapter of his book Cover Me; The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time.  If the song is a straight cover, then the solution is simple if the band can afford to pay the royalties.  Things become more complex if words and music are changed.  However, Devo didn’t change too much of the song to not be considered a proper cover (unlike their cover of “Secret Agent Man” which changes the verses to reflect new lyrics).  Warner Brothers felt the song was just too odd and they deemed it necessary to receive Mick Jagger’s blessing before including it on the album.

In 1978, Mark and Gerald met with Peter Rudge, the manager of the Rolling Stones, in his Manhattan office.  Jagger was present and looked disinterested in the meeting and like he had just woken up.  The tape of the song was played and all eyes were on Jagger.  For roughly thirty seconds, Jagger sat stone-faced and didn’t seem to be responding to the song.  Then, suddenly, he gets up and starts dancing on the rug doing his typical rooster strut.

The story behind their cover is quite fascinating.  Mark and Gerald were fans of the Rolling Stones and tinkered with several songs during the early stages of Devo prior to the release of their first album.  The band couldn’t quite sync other Rolling Stones songs with their jerky rhythms, but they eventually started working with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and found it to be the song that best fit with what they were trying to accomplish which was not to cover it but, in their words, correct it.

Despite all the work it took to develop the song to meet Devo’s standards, they still had to get through that major hoop of getting Jagger’s approval.  Again, cover songs don’t need anyone’s approval as long as you pay the proper royalties and don’t change the words.  However, for whatever reason, Warner deemed it necessary to get approval which created the possibility that the song could’ve been refused by Jagger and dropped from the album.

Good thing it didn’t because it became a boon for the band.  They performed the song live on Saturday Night Live in 1978 in a performance that would be many people’s first introduction to the band.  I have friends who were old enough to see the performance when it ran live.  They often describe seeing that performance and knowing that music and their lives would never be the same.

Three years later, MTV would launch the music video would garner new interest in the band due to the increasing visibility with audiences.  Being an art collective, they understood the creative potential blending music and visuals to create a unique spectacle that made an impactful statement.  It can be considered that their early music videos helped MTV thrive.  While their television breakthrough had already happened, they managed to utilize MTV to keep people interested and watching.

The history of the song and the band’s exposure on Saturday Night Live and MTV with their respective gateways to home audiences was important, but it cannot be forgotten that the band made really great music.  However, the music was weird by the standards of most people at that time.  I have difficulty believing that Devo would’ve connected with the television audience if they played “Jocko Homo” over “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”  Creating a spin on a well-known hit was, in my opinion, the key to connecting with the audience.  Plant the seed with something recognizable, though different, and go from there.

Devo’s version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” does what cover song should do.   Cover songs should not be faithful renditions of the original.  You must add your own style and flare.  An example of a song that is the opposite of what a good cover song should be would be Roxy Music’s cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.”  The song is such a straight carbon copy of the original that Bryan Ferry even included the whistle that Lennon improvised during the recording.  As a result, Roxy Music delivers a cover that is boring, unimaginative, and creates no motivation for casual listeners who are not hardcore Roxy Music fans to listen.  They can just listen to Lennon’s original.

Think of the truly great cover songs that everyone knows.  These would include Jim Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Aretha Franklin’s version of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” or the Beatles’ version of the Top Notes’ “Twist and Shout.”  All those songs add personal creative touches that elevate them.  So much so that they no longer belong to the original performer in the popular consciousness.  They were taken, improved, and given new life.  That isn’t to say that Devo’s version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is superior to the Rolling Stones’ original.  IT is not because the original is a masterpiece on its own, but not every cover has to have the responsibility of elevating the original.  All a good cover must do is serve as a reinvention and reflection of the performer covering the song thus giving it new direction and creating something that newer and younger audiences can grasp onto and explore the source material that would otherwise be forgotten.

I’m featuring the original version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for this blog.  Though it was released a year prior to the album version, they sound very similar.  Devo had a complete and consistent vision with where they wanted to go with their music and they stuck to their principles.  And by doing that, they would eventually get some satisfaction.

“goodbye horses [demo 2]” – q lazzarus (2017)

1239062-1533999734-640x640

You may not know the name Q Lazzarus, but you may be familiar with her 1988 cult classic song “Goodbye Horses.”  The dreamy synth-pop song was prominently featured in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 class film The Silence of the Lambs.  It has also been used in films like Married to the Mob and Clerks II as well as television shows like Family Guy.

While the song has become a cult classic because of the quality of the track, the mystery behind the singer also significantly contributed to that status.  Not much is known about Q Lazzarus.  She doesn’t have a broad discography.  Though Q Lazzarus recorded a few of other demo songs such as “Tears of Fear,” “Transformation,” “Love Dance,” and “White Line,” as well as covering the Talking Heads song “Heaven” for the 1993 film Philadelphia, she is primarily associated with one song.  And Jonathan Demme is responsible for that.

As mentioned, “Goodbye Horses” was used for Married to the Mob and The Silence of the Lambs which were both directed by Demme.  Q Lazzarus was a taxi driver in New York City during the 1980s.  Demme had heard a demo of “Goodbye Horses” after he was picked up in her cab.  Demme was absolutely impressed and flew to Hollywood.  However, record companies wouldn’t sign her because of a perceived lack of marketability.  Q Lazzarus responded to this experience with “I market myself, I’m an African American woman who wears locks and sings American rock and roll.”

The song’s inclusion in The Silence of the Lambs is undeniably the most well-known use of the song which has perhaps led it to be included in other film, television, and video game projects since then.  It is a recognizable track and unmistakably unique.  It has an exotic, dark, and sultry appeal.  A song that is a cult classic and features such qualities becomes an excellent choice to cover by bands who don’t want to cover something already played out.  “Goodbye Horses” has been covered by bands such as Wild Beasts, Jon Hopkins, and MGMT.  Unfortunately, despite being a cool song featured in one of the greatest movies of all time and covered by a number of mainstream artists, not much is known about the person behind the song. But, when Kelsey Zimmerman wanted her band to cover the song, she got more than she expected.

Zimmerman tweeted “time to do my monthly google of whether anyone has heard from Q Lazzarus yet or not.”  A few days later, she received a response from someone who claimed to be Q Lazzarus.  Zimmerman was incredulous, but took it with good humor.  The account claiming to Q Lazzarus insisted by asking Zimmerman if she had any questions which Zimmerman replied with “a whole email’s worth.”

Zimmerman received the following from the account:

Hi, sorry to bother you. I just wanted people to know I am still alive, I have no interest in singing anymore. I am a bus driver in Staten Island (I have been for YEARS), I see hundreds of passengers everyday so I am hardly hiding (or dead!), I have given Thomas Gorton (Dazed) my fone number and address just to confirm I am ‘real’, sorry if this is a boring end to the story, I am going to come off twitter soon as I find it odd, please take note of this message incase anyone else is interested. THANK YOU

From this information, Zimmer did some research to verify the identity of the account.  She googled the name of the account Diane Luckey) and found that a woman named Diane Luckey filed a lawsuit against the Staten Island bus company in 2015 for not having a single woman driver.  Zimmerman also noted that, prior to deleting her account, Diane Luckey’s picture closely resembled the woman in the Q Lazzarus promo shoots in the late 1980s.

Zimmerman believes that it was the real Q Lazzarus that contacted her and applauds her decision o live a quiet life “away from the lechery of the music industry.”  It was also comforting to Zimmerman, as a fan, that the rumors she heard about Q Lazzarus dying in London, being abused by a drug addict, or forced into a bad marriage were all (unlikely) true.

Reading the story about Zimmerman being contacted Q Lazzarus brought up a personal memory of the song.  For me, I associate the song with death.  Specifically, the death of a classmate in college.  I knew the song “Goodbye Horses” before college.  Of course, I knew it from The Silence of the Lambs like virtually everyone else.  I liked the song a lot, but only ever heard it in that context.  It wasn’t until college that the song would become a cultural marker for that point in my life.

During the summer of 2008, I stayed on campus instead of going home like most of the students did.  I paid out of pocket to live in a campus dorm that was meant for the small population of students who couldn’t or wouldn’t go back home during the summer holiday.  I spent my summer working a part-time job, hanging with friends, and doing summer radio shifts at my college radio station since we believed summer wasn’t an excuse to go off-air; it just meant more shift and longer hours.

My station wasn’t a freeform station which meant that we had structured programming and DJs followed programming logs.  The logs told us what to play and when, but did leave some room for DJ choice to add some level of variety and personal DJ flare.  New songs were featured the most and referred to as “rotation.”  In the songs, we also had songs we would called “recurrents.”  These were older songs that were played more frequently than most older songs.  Think of these tracks of “rotation-lite.”

That summer, our new station manager began work on their programming vision for the next year.  This student was a big admirer of synth-pop music and made changes to the rotation and recurrents programming to reflect that.  I don’t remember much of what was added, but I’ll never forget that “Goodbye Horses” effectively became a station anthem not long after it was added.

When summer ended, the DJ staff worked to recruit new DJs from the incoming freshman class.  Like most organizations that experience an abundance of overly eager youngsters, the beginning of the school year began with a large number of volunteers that eventually dwindled to a solid core of new talent.  One of those new talents was DuWayne.

DuWayne was from the area and very much fit the profile of a southern boy from a large town; conservative, rural but not country, and cocky.  His faced also resembled the video game character Duke Nukem, but had a body as if Duke Nukem lived off Mountain Dew and Doritos and one foot too short.  I don’t suggest this as a negative.  He was just a big guy.  And we were all in college and came up with jokes like that.  It just goes with the territory of being in college radio.  It can be like a frat.

Anyway, DuWayne didn’t make the best impression when he started.  He was rude, made nasty jokes to people, and acted like he was too cool to be there.  From interactions at the station, around campus, and at parties, he was earning a reputation that he wasn’t fun to be around.  At one party, he lightly burned my inner arm with a cigarette.  He didn’t grab my arm and put his butt out in me.  He just grazed my skin after I made a comment to him he didn’t like.  I don’t remember what I said, but his response was indicative of how he tried to assert himself in the group.  The scar tissue on my arm has faded over the last decade, but it is still visible and a constant reminder of DuWayne.

Looking back, DuWayne was just acting like how most freshman boys act.  He goes from being at the top of high school food chain and must start all over in college. However, without making any adjustments to social behavior in an effort to look cool.  A lot of freshman boys go through that phase.  It happens.  However, you learn quickly and readjust.  College can be a difficult time and everyone goes through the growing pangs of becoming an adult.  It is messy, awkward, and sometimes dramatic, but everyone goes through it together.  I really don’t look back at college bullshit with any semblance of animosity.  I see that time for what it is; awkward people growing up and learning/deciding who they want to be when it is all over.

As DuWayne’s reputation with the group was sinking, people let him know.  Whether it involved people telling it to his face or hearing gossip through the grapevine, he heard what was being said.  And it affected him.  No one likes to be the butt of jokes or have people speak negatively about them in public or private.  People want to be like.  Especially if you’re a college freshman.

So, DuWayne started to make adjustments to his behavior and attitude that made him more likable.  Some people at the station were welcoming of those changes early on while others were skeptical and needed more time to warm up to DuWayne.  Regardless, it was known and seen that DuWayne wanted to be better.

Outside of his behavior, DuWayne was also known for his love of the song “Goodbye Horses.”  I don’t know whether or not he had heard it prior to joining the station, but he loved playing that song.  It very quickly became considered DuWayne’s song.  Even if you hadn’t met him or knew anything else about him, it was commonly known in the group he loved that song.

Unfortunately, DuWayne died in a car crash during the second semester of his freshman year in March 2009.  There was a passenger in the car with him, though he survived.  DuWayne’s death shocked everyone at the station.  At that age, death isn’t that common.

His death impacted everyone at that station who knew him regardless if they liked him or not.  He was one of us and we all recognized he had been making a considerable effort to be a better friend and colleague to us.  “Goodbye Horses” was played more frequently on the air and at parties to honor DuWayne.  Despite his flaws, we cared about him.

I attended his wake, but not his funeral (I generally have an aversion to funerals).  I owned a car then and kept the ceremony card in my car at all times.  Inside were the obituary details.  On the front was a mountain with the image of the American flag depicted in the snow on the peak with an eagle soaring in the foreground.  DuWayne identified as conservative and loved his country.  The image reflected his values and was a calming presence whenever I pulled it out of the console to look at it.

No matter what, I cannot associate “Goodbye Horses” with anything other than DuWayne.  While the rest of the world will always think of Buffalo Bill dancing, I think of DuWayne and the cigarette burn in my arm.  He was a good person who was struggling to come out clean from an awkward phase.  I feel we can all relate to that.

When I read the article featuring Zimmerman’s communication with Q Lazzarus, the image featured was an EP released in 2017.  The EP contained a compilation of the single edit of the track as well as two demos and demos for three other songs on the B-side.  I listened to the demos.  The second demo sounded great for a demo, but had a distinctly different feel than the single edit.  I don’t like it more than the single, but I really like it a lot.  I am choosing to interpret it as the awkward beginnings of a classic.

I hadn’t heard the song in a long time.  Reading about Q Lazzarus speaking out brought up memories of DuWayne and I thought about how much I have grown since meeting him ten years ago.  It is sad when someone that young passes away and when that happens, I feel an obligation to live my life as fully and completely as possible.  I had loved “Goodbye Horses” before meeting DuWayne, but I love it even more since then.  So, perhaps, the song really means more to me than someone’s death.  Perhaps I should think of it as something beyond that and the value of a life lived well and simply.

“amazing grace” – aretha franklin (1972)

R-5651544-1398977337-8020.jpeg

I received news over social media that Aretha Franklin was in hospice care a little over a week ago.  The new was frankly stunning.  For one, I didn’t know she was ill.   It wasn’t as if she was keeping a low profile over the last few years.  She had actively toured within recent memory.  I would never have guessed she was in ill health.

When she did pass away a few days after the news of her being in hospice broke out, it turns out she had pancreatic cancer.  I don’t know how long she had it, but it must’ve developed rapidly.  I wasn’t just stunned by the suddenness of such an announcement.  I was a fan of Aretha’s music and the impact she had on soul/R&B, pop, and female performers that came after her inspired by her talent, character, and attitude.

Aretha’s music had always been with me.  By the time I was born, her career had gone through so many changes.  The hits we all know were so ingrained in popular culture that they were presented as wallpaper music in most contexts; a score over a popular movie or playing over tinny grocery store speakers.  We all knew the hits because they were part of the lexicon of American popular music.  You didn’t seek them out.  They were already there surrounding you.

During the second semester of my freshman year of college, I started my own genre-specific show at my college radio station.  That station was unique.  We were a completely student-driven station, all volunteer, live 24/7, and with specific programming guidelines.  Many college radio stations had one or a combination of those qualities, but very few did all that.  However, from 10 PM to midnight every night, a specialty show got to go off-format and do their own thing.  It was a privilege to have a specialty show; two hours where you call the shots.  These slots were given to volunteers who applied with well-defined ideas and who had proven they were responsible.  My show was called “Soul Food.”

I had always loved soul music and “Soul Food” was going to reflect that.  However, just turning 19 and still within my first year, I still had a lot to learn about the genre.  The first year or two of the show were rocky due to its predictability and lack of a unique voice.  This was because I played a lot of soul/R&B standards with a few deep cuts from those artists sprinkled throughout.  I would often get jokes about the music I played.  I didn’t mind because I liked that music, but I was still finding my voice.

As time went on and I continued to develop “Soul Food,” I was making musical discoveries all the time.  Through Internet research, outreach to independent labels, conversations with the local record store owner, and reading through specialty trade magazines, I was able to find new, independent, and never-heard-before artists that would give my show a unique sound that wouldn’t have been heard anywhere else in town and probably the state as well.

This drive was how I discovered artists like Sharon Jones, revivalist labels like Numero Group, and so much more.  I couldn’t believe in what I was hearing.  Whether it was recently recorded music or reissues of material long forgotten or never heard, there was a market for a specific type of soul music that wasn’t the pop you heard on Top 40 at the time.

I was met with skepticism and incredulousness by my fellow college radio DJs when I talked about all this great music.  I was often told that soul music was no longer relevant.  Nevermind that Amy Winehouse was making big waves and Duffy and Adele were right around the corner, I was often dismissed and that no one cared about soul music.  Under the direction of an out-of-touch station manager, our station became more focused on playing obscure artists inspired by barely recognizable synthpop one-hit wonders of the 1980s.  I knew soul was still alive.  I tried in vain to get our station to book Sharon Jones for events before she got too big.  They didn’t think that would ever happened.

Before my discovery of all this, my knowledge and love for soul music was rather stagnant.  I knew the hits.  However, finding that niche that Sharon Jones and Numero Group were filling, it added fuel to the fire.   I think a big part of why was because they sounded like direct descendants of what Aretha pioneered.  I knew her work and now I was learning what people today were doing with it.  To me, this wasn’t wallpaper music.  This was life.

I have now come to realize that I just wasn’t in the right place to have my interests and passion encouraged.  I wasn’t surrounded by the right people.  It took me a long time and moving to a new city to find a group of people who are open to new music, new ideas, and approach the musical landscape with an open, and somewhat, academic mindset.

When Aretha passed away, I didn’t’ immediately listen to her music.  I went to the stuff that was inspired by her; the music I had discovered during my college radio days.  I didn’t realize exactly why until a few days later.  It was because there was no one doing what Aretha did before that.  Before Aretha, there were no women of color that could match the critical and commercial success of Aretha.  Certainly, many of these women were extremely talented but unfortunately were not recognized.  Aretha changed all of that and set a standard that is still being followed five decades later.

Listening to Aretha also opened the doors to gospel for me.  Admittedly, gospel isn’t an area I know that much about.  I am ware of key figures and do listen to some on occasion.  However, as compared with my knowledge and love of soul, my knowledge of gospel is lacking.

That’s why, when I was diving into my soul records and anything having to do with Aretha, I was pleased with Sound Opinion’s tribute episode to Aretha.  Jim and Greg talked about her early days at Columbia, the success she had at Atlantic, and highlight from her career since then.  However, they talked very extensively about one particular gospel record.

Amazing Grace was a 1972 live gospel album by Aretha and became her biggest-selling album to date.  Recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, it is a testament to Aretha’s massive talent.  Sure, you may have known she was talented because her most famous singles illustrate that, but they cannot match the quality of exceptionalism captured live for Amazing Grace.

I listened to the album a few times over the weekend and I am amazed by its energy and passion.  Every track breathes life.  Rumor has it that Mick Jagger was in the audience and the album inspired the sound of Exile on Main Street.  It is gritty, sweaty, and unapologetically full of life.  While many of these tracks are remarkable, I wanted to highlight her rendition of the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”  With a run-time of nearly 11 minutes, this track represents Aretha in pure form.  This is Aretha will no filter and nobody stopping her as she exposes her true essence in a way very few artists can.

The performance was recorded by Sydney Pollack for a concert film he planned to direct.  Originally scheduled for released in 1972, the film could not be completed due to sound synchronization issues.  It was the shelved for 38 years until producer Alan Elliott resolved the sound issue.  The goal was to premiere the film in 2011, until Aretha sued to not have the film screened citing rights over her likeness being used.  Aretha stated “Justice, respect and what is right prevailed and one’s right to own their own self-image.”  Despite the fact the original contract stated her likeness could be used, Aretha secured an emergency injunction.

This story thrills me.  This is Aretha exhibiting full control and power over herself and is indicative of the way she has managed her career; no one tells Aretha how to do Aretha but Aretha.  As much as I would love to see this footage, it likely doesn’t do the original album justice.  I’d rather have that and leave the rest to my own mind and imagination.

“nazi punks fuck off” – the dead kennedys (1981)

R-2406317-1282247283.jpeg

Last week’s blog post was about how I don’t go see new movies in the theater often.  I broke the streak over the weekend when I went to see Spike Lee’s latest joint BlacKkKlansman.  Based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth and starring John David Washington (as Stallworth) and Adam Driver, the movie is about Stallworth’s real-life experience of infiltrating the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in 1972.  Stallworth disguised his voice to get information on members and chapter meetings while his partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), became the public face.  As Zimmerman and Stallworth get deeper into the operation, suspicions flare up regarding their interest in the organization and they must maintain their anonymity while also ensuring the safety of a local Black Students Union organization.  With the upcoming arrival of David Duke, president of the KKK, Stallworth and Zimmerman must stop a perfect storm of racially-motivated violence.

It was an enjoyable movie with plenty of humor.  Lee hasn’t directed a brilliant film for a long time, but he doesn’t have to.  His body of work speaks for itself so, it is fine if his recent films are not brilliant but serve to be entertaining and thought-provoking.  And BlacKkKlansman accomplished that well.

I wasn’t aware of Stallworth’s story prior to seeing the film, but I was impressed by what he did.  However, I was more impressed with how Lee drew parallels between the events in the film and things today.   Little tongue-in-cheek comments were made throughout the film that served to be biting satire of the Trump administration and the rise of white supremacist violence in this country.  While the story of BlacKkKlansman was solid on its own, drawing connections that related to modern audiences certainly amplified the overall message of the film.

However, Lee isn’t known for his subtlety.  He is a very outspoken, and often abrasive, individual who says what he believes him.  He often generates a lot of controversy with his comments, but he is a voice representing a viewpoint that is oppressed and underrepresented.

Somehow, I forgot how brash and direct Lee could be when I was watching BlacKkKlansman.  SO, I was absolutely stunned and surprised to see Lee did before the credits rolled.  Just in case you didn’t catch the jabs and remarks about white supremacists that could easily apply to Trump and his supporters, Lee beat the message over the audience’s heads by using footage from the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville in 2017.

When the violence erupted in Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017, it was a real wake-up call for me.  I had known that Trump was garbage and the Alt-Right were misguided, racist, and just plain awful.  However, I was naïve regarding the extent of their cowardice.  I watched the footage of them chanting “Fuck you, faggots” and “Jews will not replace us.”  I watched the street fights and barricades being pushed and bottles being thrown.  I watched the police fail to maintain law and order.  This was proving to be a significant moment in our country’s history.  However, I wasn’t prepared for the tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville.

Heather Heyer was an activist who marched with the counterprotestors in Charlottesville.  She was murdered by a Unite the Right participant when he accelerated his car into a crowd of counterprotestors.

When Heyer was murdered, a piece of innocence was lost that day.  I had never met or communicated with this person, but I went into a deep seething rage when she died.  Something became lost, but it awoken something darker in me.  For about a month, I was obsessed with learning about Nazis and the Alt-Right on Twitter.  I wanted to learn their dog whistles, how they communicate, and, most importantly, their identity.  I engaged and argued with them.  I called them cowards for hiding behind cartoon avatars.  I wasn’t afraid of them, but they tried hard to put fear in me.  They sent nasty messages to me, made memes of me where I was the subject of violence, threatened to run me over with a car like Heyer, and other threats that you cannot take seriously because they come from the Internet.  I was never afraid of them.  I never hid my face or my name.

For a month, I argued and did whatever I could to dox and expose them.  It was such a rush.  However, I had to stop.  Friends and family tag me in posts.  I realized that these online trolls would see that and then, in an effort to make me afraid, make memes or comments about my loved ones.  I couldn’t subject them to that abuse at the hands of my Twitter crusade.  So, I stopped.  I went dark for a while so the trolls thought I was gone for good.  After a decent amount of time, I came back quietly.  I still research and follow the same trolls, but I don’t engage with them anymore.

I guess that was my process for grieving and avenging Heyer.  She became a symbol of the good people can achieve when they face fascism and the unfortunate consequence that can occur.  I was in Montgomery, Alabama last month and I toured the Civil Rights Memorial Center.  It is a museum dedicated to the victims of racially motivated violence.  The center profiled a few dozen people from notable figures like Emmett Till and Medgar Evers to the lesser know victims of white supremacist violence.

In the center, they had a wing dedicated to the victims of violence in the modern age.  There was a plaque dedicated to the church members shot and killed by Dylann Roof.  There was a memorial to a transgender woman (I’m sorry I forgot the name) who was murdered somewhere in the middle.  And there was a tribute to Heather Heyer.  Unlike the other two examples, Heyer was murdered less than a year ago.  I amazed that she earned a spot of distinction in such an important place so quickly.

As I watched the Charlottesville footage playing at the end of BlacKkKlansman, the screen then showed a picture of Heyer with a tribute.  I was surprised to see her image and I started applauding.  I applauded because she was, in my opinion, a real hero.  Even though I was in a crowded theater, everyone was silent.  I was the only person applauding.  Initially, I was angry at the silence.  However, I have come to realize that maybe they forgot about Heyer or that they were in shock.  I hope they didn’t forget her.  I certainly never did.

I was then struck by the realization that I saw the movie on the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally; the rally with the iconic torches.  In the course of one year, I’m already seeing this stuff in movies.  In less than a year (one day before the date of her death), I’m seeing Heyer in tribute during a widely-released film.  I was blown away. Charlottesville seemed so far away, but it was only a year.  In less than a year, that brave woman has being honored in ways that were befitting of her dedication and activism.

Unite the Right 2 was held in Washington, D.C. over the week to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville.  It was thankfully a disaster for the Alt-Right.  Very few of them showed up and they were drowned out by the droves of counterprotestors that came to denounce their message of hate.  It was a success for those who stand against racism and bigotry.

While I am proud of what happened in Washington over the weekend, I have trouble believing that the tides are turning.  Recently, violent protests have been occurring in Portland, Oregon where representatives from group like the Proud Boys are violently clashing with Antifa and other left-identifying people.  I feel the violence there has been severely underreported.  There haven’t been deaths yet, but it could be likely.  I feel people were expecting the rally in Washington to mirror what happened in Charlottesville.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  However, I think we are close to another Charlottesville and I think it will be in Portland. Though, I hope I’m wrong and that the violence will cease.

When the tragedy in Charlottesville occurred, I saw a bunch of memes and messages on social media denouncing racism.  Most notably, I kept seeing reference to “Nazi Punks Fucks Off.”  Released as their fifth single in 1981, the Dead Kennedys made a fitting soundtrack to serve as a symbol for anti-racist sentiments.  It is song full of fire and anger.  Sure, now, it might be a played out and overused.  However, the message still rings true.  Nazi punks will never step Spike Lee.  Nazi punks will never stop Ron Stallworth.  Nazi punks will never stop Heather Heyer.