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

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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.

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“just dropped in (to see what condition my condition was in)” – the first edition (1967)

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I really enjoy going to the theater to see a movie.  Living in Chicago, I’m in a major market that gets most releases if they are fairly limited.  My usual go to is the Music Box (which I’ve written about in detail before), followed by the Landmark, and then, if I want to see something big budget with lots of explosions, then it is either an AMC theater or the Navy Pier IMAX.  I have plenty of options when it comes to seeing a movie.

Each theater has their own unique qualities that I enjoy.  Whether they show movies on actual film, have comfortable seats with optimal sound (the one big flaw of the Music Box), or shows the hard to find movies, I’ll go to wherever suits my mood.

However, I don’t see a lot of new movies often.  And it has been that way for a long time for me.  In high school, I lived in a rural farming community and didn’t have a car so when I saw it a movie, it was typically with family.  In college, I was within walking distance to a movie theater, but I didn’t have much money.  Plus, all the limited release stuff was an hour away in Nashville.  When I moved to Chicago, I was focused on finding table employment and when I did that, I didn’t have time to see movies.

However, I’ve been at a point in my life where I have the time and money to go to the movies with some frequency and make it a hobby.  And that makes me happy because it is something I enjoy.  I’m a busy guy.  I work, I volunteer a lot, and I have a pretty active social life.  I’m always moving from one place to the other whether it be by public transit or on foot.  So, I find it relaxing to sit in a dark theater for a few hours and just forget what’s happening in the outside world and enjoy myself watching a movie.

Now, back to the point where I don’t see new movies often.  That remains true.  As mentioned, I usual place is the Music Box Theatre.  They run newly released independent films, but they also have a regular rotation of older movies as well.  In fact, I would say that more than 90% of the movies I’ve seen there are not new.  Hell, I was just there on Monday watching a 25th anniversary screening of Rudy.  And usually when I go, it is to see a cult classic running as a midnight movie. In September, my calendar is filled with 70mm screenings at the Music Box and the most recent film I’m seeing was released in 1989.

I don’t know why I don’t see a lot of newer movies in theaters.  When it comes to those, I’ll wait until they are at the Redbox, streaming on Netflix or HBO, or available for check out at the library.  However, event then, I don’t see a lot of new movies.  It takes me over a year to get through the previous year’s Academy Award nominees for best picture.  For some reason, I’m in no rush and I have no answer to that.

The Music Box Theatre is the really the only place I see older movies.  However, Fathom Events tries to bring older or niche content to major chain theaters which is fine if you don’t have an arthouse theater in your neighborhood.

Fathom Events is a company that runs releases for a day or two and usually consist of televised broadcasts of musicals, special events like foreign television specials, or theatrical rereleases.  Typically, I’ve never paid much attention to anything Fathom Events does.  I often find that screenings they do are things I’m not really into or I’m busy anyway.  I made an exception this past weekend.

On Sunday, Fathom Events screened the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski for its 20th anniversary.  I wasn’t old enough to see an R-rated movie in 1998 and it had probably been a decade since I had seen it, so I figured I’d check it out.  I contacted some friends who were die-hard fans and we went to see it.

It was screening at a theater I hadn’t been to in years.  It was a larger theater, but it was always out of the way for me.  I struggled to remember what I saw there.

Another reason why I went was because I recently purchased a MoviePass and I needed to use it.  MoviePass has been struggling recently and it is likely to dissolve after repeatedly changing their plans and service policies.  I had one more movie before my subscription rolled over and I needed to use it.  Unfortunately, no screenings were accepting MoviePass for some reason so I shelled out the full $12.50 to see it.

Like I said, it had been about a decade or so since I last saw it.  I remembered key things because of countless memes and cultural references, but I largely forgot what the plot was.  For being such a cult classic that also has associated fan events, there weren’t many people in the theater.  I was fine with that though.

I had a great time and enjoyed myself.  The Big Lebowski is incredibly funny, but very flawed in a lot of ways.  I enjoy it, but not on a cult level and it sure isn’t one of my personal favorites.  It was great to see a movie I hadn’t seen in a long time and do so with friends.

Even if you’ve never seen The Big Lebowski, you’ve seen references to it.  Social media is crawling with memes of Walter with his gun with some text overlay about being annoyed with something trivial and mundane.  OR you may have seen some clips or heard any of the dozens of memorable lines from the film.

One of the most memorable scenes is when The Dude gets drugged by a pornographer.  He dances through a surrealist dreamscape and surrounded by women wearing Viking regalia.  There’s some dancing, The Dude looking up some skirts, and flying around the through the sky.  Before the dream shifts over into nightmare territory when some nihilistic Germans chase The Dude with a giant pair of scissors, it is a good time and we are grooving along with The Dude.

The song playing is a cover of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” by the First Edition.  The band was fronted by Kenny Rogers who provides lead vocals for the track and was released as a single in 1967 and became a top ten Billboard hit for the group.  The song was written by Mickey Newbury and originally performed by Teddy Hill & the Southern Soul.  It is believed the song s about an experience with LSD and the song serving as a warning about the effects of the drug.  The First Edition’s version is groovy, relaxing, and a great score for a trippy, drug-induced dream sequence.

The Big Lebowski is an underrate classic and I’m glad I’ve seen it in a theater now.  Granted, my experience with older movies in theaters is that I see them on actual film prints.  Pretentious, I know.  However, sometimes, it is great just to see something blown up even if everything looks a wee bit digital.  I’ll continue shelling out money to see older movies and I can abide that.

“money for nothing” – dire straits (1985)

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Today, Music Television turns 37 years old.  When it hit the airwaves in 1981, MTV was a cultural touchstone through its innovative programming exclusively focusing on playing music videos curated and guided by VJs (video jockeys).  The concept of the music video, or promo video, was now something musicians had to figure out if they were going to be competitive and marketable in the music industry as it evolved to include this new visual element.  For the newer bands of the 1980s, this came with the territory.  For bands who had established careers prior to MTV’s launch, adjustments had to be made. While MTV had overcome some rocky times, including their lack of diversity during their first few years, it became a cultural phenomenon.

While MTV was once an innovative venture and lived up to its name by playing music, the quality of the programming has diminished over the last 25 years.  When I first really became aware of MTV as a kid during the mid-1990s, it was no longer a channel completely dedicated to music videos.  I remember when MTV premiered its first produced feature film Joe’s Apartment.  The animated series Daria made an impact on me when it went through its initial run. And, of course, Celebrity Deathmatch was essential viewing with a young boy who liked crass humor.

Sure, I do remember when MTV hyped up music video premieres (“Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys being one that was heavily anticipated), when Total Request Live was my go to afterschool watching, and when they ran countdown shows on the best music videos of all time.  I even remember when Vanilla Ice smashed the video to “Ice Ice Baby.”  At the time, I didn’t think about the decline in the channel’s programming.  That was what MTV was to me because that was its state was when I watched.  I’m sure the Gen Xers were already cynical about it at that point and I would come to understand their viewpoint in the era of Jackass and My Super Sweet Sixteen.  As it closes out its fourth decade, MTV no longer delivers what it promises.

In 1985, Dire Straits released their studio album Brothers in Arms and it was a critical and commercial success.  With Brothers in Arms being their fifth studio album, Dire Straits had been involved in the music industry for a while.  Here was a band who developed their chops before the launch of MTV and became successful before the music video phenomenon, but had to adjust this new facet of the business.

As a result, the band recorded and released “Money for Nothing.”  “Money for Nothing” is written from the perspective of two working-class guys watching MTV and noting what they find ridiculous about it.  They are incredulous when watching the performers in the music video.  While these two men have to install microwave ovens and deliver refrigerators, they comment on the wealth and fame rock stars receive for doing something, in their eyes, that isn’t a real job.

Lyrically, the song is based on an experience Mark Knopfler had.  In a 1984 interview with critic Bill Flanagan, Knopfler said, the lead character in “Money for Nothing” is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/​custom kitchen/​refrigerator/​microwave appliance store. He’s singing the song. I wrote the song when I was actually in the store. I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store. I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real. “Money for Nothing” provides a look into what some people thought during MTV’s earlier years.  Even when it was at its most innovative, some people weren’t buying what MTV was selling.

“Money for Nothing” is also noted for its music video which was one of the first to use computer animation to tell a story.  Ironically, Knopfler was not enthusiastic about making music videos for MTV.  His focus was on recording and performing music. For a song of his to become big and receive regular airplay on MTV, Knopfler’s initial apprehension is a bit funny to observe since he was an established artist trying to adapt to this new medium.

To further drive the irony in the listener’s ears even deeper, the song also features guest vocals from Sting. During the intro and outro, Sting sings the channel’s trademark phrase “I want my MTV” in his signature falsetto.  Considering the song’s critique eon music videos, it is no wonder why it because the first video played on MTV Europe when it premiered on this day in 1987.

In addition to the music video, the song also gained notoriety for its use of a homophobic slur.  In the song, the characters refer to the rock star in the video as a faggot.  Knopfler has expressed mixed feeling noting that the song is performed by a character and based on actual language he heard when writing the song.  Since its release, there are edited version replacing “faggot” with “queenie” and some countries have debated banning the song but ultimately leaving it up to the radio stations to play at their own discretion.

MTV’s glory days are long gone.  When MTV lost its former glory depends on your age.  For millennials like me, we remain nostalgic for an era of MTV that Gen Xers might find to be when MTV truly lost its vision.  People younger than me still tune in to MTV and consume its programming with no thoughts or opinions on the concept of music video let alone an all music video channel.  They are simply watching the MTV that is relevant to them because of their time period.  Perhaps, to them (and maybe even me to an extent), the idea of 24-hour music video rotation seems stagnant.  Either way you look at it, MTV has undergone a lot of change since its inception.  And even from the beginning, it was getting criticized for its programming.  Now, when you think “I want my MTV,” the statement becomes an existential one.

“john the fisherman” – primus (1990)

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Last week, I went on a family vacation with my dad and two little brothers.  I hadn’t been on a vacation with them for a while, so this was something I was really looking forward to.  The plan was to go the Pensacola area and spend a few days there enjoy fun in the sun, see some sights, and spend time with one of my dad’s buddies from the navy.

I took a Greyhound bus to Louisville and, on the following day, rode down the rest of the way with my dad behind the wheel.  We made a stop in Montgomery, Alabama to stay the night so we wouldn’t be too tired once we arrived at our final destination.  We arrived in Montgomery during the middle of the afternoon, so we only had a few hours to visit places.

First stop with the Civil Rights Memorial Museum.  The centerpiece of the museum is a fountain monument outside of the museum.  It is a piece that honors and commemorates the people who lost their lives fighting for Civil Rights.  It was designed by Maya Lin who also designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Unfortunately, due to construction, we couldn’t visit the monument, so we toured the museum.

The museum was rather small but was an appropriate and somber tribute to those who lost their lives for freedom and equitable treatment.  While there was information about notable figures like Emmett Till and Medgar Evers, the museum also featured over 40 other lesser known individuals who faced violent racist attacks.  The museum even had a section dedicated to the modern victims of white supremacist violence like Heather Heyer, the young woman who lost her life protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

The next stop in Montgomery was the Dexter Parsonage.  This was the parsonage where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived during the 1950s.  I toured his home and saw how humbly he lived when he served as pastor.  In 1954, Dr. King received a threatening phone call in the middle of night.  To calm his nerves, he went to the kitchen and made himself some coffee.  As he sat his table, he was thinking about his recently born child and the future.  He meditated and listened carefully on what he should do.  In that kitchen, a voice told him to become an activist for civil rights and that is when he made the decision to become a voice for the movement.

The next day, we went to southern Alabama where my dad’s friend Vince lived.  Vince and his wife have lived for four years at a Yogi Bear-themed campground in rural Alabama just north on Gulf Shores and not far from the Florida border.

We drove back and forth between Alabama and Pensacola visiting the beach, walking around, touring the Naval Aviation Museum, and whatever else there was to do.  However, all this was leading up for why we made this trip.  Dad organized the trip to Pensacola because he wanted to go deep sea fishing.  And on the day before we drove back home, that is what we did…sort of.

Dad, the boys, and I all got up early and set out to docks where the fishing charter was to take a group of people to fish for red snapper.  We packed up a cooler of waters, snack packs, and other foods since we were going to offshore for about six hours.  When we arrived, we took our motion sickness relief pills, waited by the dock, and listened to the instruction and procedures for when we made it out to where the fish are.

Now, I had been deep sea fishing once before in Alaska when I was in middle school.  Some family friends were visiting and we went out to Seward to fish.  I don’t remember much about the experience, but I don’t recall us being that far out from the water, but I remember it was really gray out, the water was fine, and I caught some fish.  Though I cannot remember many other details, I remember it being a fun experience.  So, I felt prepared for this trip.

We boarded the charter and took up the front four spots on the starboard side.  When we set out, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I was incredibly excited.  I really love saltwater.  I love the smell and feel of it.  So, I felt pretty cool standing along the railing, wearing some sweet prescription sunglasses, and watching the horizon.

As we continued away from the shore, I felt a fine sea mist spray up.  It was refreshing and really added a nice touch to my adventure on the open sea.  Then, that mist turned into what felt like a lite drizzle until it eventually felt like I was standing in the splash zone of a water ride at a theme park.  Now, I hate being wet when wearing normal clothes.  And I hate being wet in normal clothes in a humid and sunny environment.  You just feel really uncomfortable.  So, I took my stuff and waited in the cabin on a bench.  It is then that I noticed that the port side was bone dry.  We got it on the way out because of the direction of the waves, I thought.  They’ll get it on the way in.

I didn’t keep track of time because my cell phone was in a zip lock bag, but we spent at least an hour to get to the fishing spot.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually closer to 90 minutes.  Either way, we were approximately 35 miles off the coast when we reached the fishing spot.

At this point, the waves were extremely choppy. Between the crest and trough of the wave, the difference was about six to ten feet and happening frequently enough where the boat rocked an entire wavelength in three seconds or so.  It was a consistent rocking that affected the boat on all sides.  Our side dipped so much that I thought we would take on water, but we never did.

I stumbled to my fishing station and sat down.  Everyone else were standing up to prep their rods and cats their lines.  No way in hell was I going to do that.  I did want to fall and get a hook caught in me, but my nose on the railing, or, more importantly, break my prescription sunglasses.  So, I sat on the bench and lifted my legs against the railing to brace myself.

Our bait were little fish (minnows, maybe?) that were cut in half.  I grabbed the head of one and jammed my hook through its eyes as instructed and cast out.  While I sat there and waited, I watched the waves because they were particularly mesmerizing.  The texture of deep sea water is fascinating and it you marvel at the display and power of the water.  Plus, I saw a couple of dolphins and that was badass.

I got a few bites and I rapidly would reel in my line just to be disappointed that I didn’t catch anything.  So, I would awkwardly bait my line again as the boat rocked and I kept legs up as a brace.  I went through this cycle a few times where I would feel a bite, reel it in to find nothing, and then cast out again.

All the while, I feel a sensation.  I remember watching a Henry Rollins special about a decade ago where he talked about riding the Trans-Siberian Express and hearing a little voice in the back of your head.  A voice that is associated with a very specific feeling.  A voice that tells you, you are going to vomit at some point.  That was the sensation I was feeling.  Even though my stomach felt fine, that voice in my head woke up and let me know what to expect at some point in the near future.  I had to prepare.

We spent about 20 minutes at this spot before the captain called for the lines to be reeled in so we could move somewhere.  The fish weren’t biting, so perhaps we would have luck elsewhere. Since I didn’t want to get soaked again, I made my way back to the cabin.  The voice in my head was getting louder now.  I didn’t know how long it would take before we reached our next spot, so I was determined to silence this voice before we stopped and continued fishing.

As the boat sped along to wherever it was going, I left the cabin and went to the port side.  The idea was that I was going to induce vomiting in a spot where my dad wouldn’t see and then make my back to my post and continue fishing.  My dad had this trip planned for a while and he was excited about doing it with his sons.  I didn’t want to disappoint him because I don’t know how much he spent and I didn’t want to crap out so early.

Even though I didn’t really eat much that morning, I had a surprising amount of vomit come out of my body.  I got out as much as I thought there was, went back into the cabin to wait until we got to the next spot, and sat down.  As soon as I sat down, I was back it again.  I still had some left in me.

After I was done with the second session, I felt for certain I was done.  So, I started to make my way back to my dad and brothers.  However, after a couple of steps, I thought Oh yeah.  This isn’t happening and went to lay down on a bench in the cabin.  Excluding the trip out to the first spot, I only lasted 20 minutes.  My plan now was to sleep through this awful feeling and not wake up until we were docked.

I did get some sleep, but I woke up at various moments and took in what little I could see or hear.  I remember seeing a deck hand apologizing to some people about the poor fishing conditions.  While some people were able to catch and keep some fish, others weren’t due to the choppiness of the water.  All the while, I’m resting flat and trying to anticipate the motions in some lame attempt to minimize my movement.

I turned my head to the right and saw my little brothers eating bags of chips.  I was incredibly grossed out by this.  For one, watching them eating nacho-flavored tortilla chips was weirding me out.  I had no idea how they were able to eat that junk and not get sick in these conditions.  And secondly, they were eating them with their bare hands.  Bare hands that were also touching the dead fish we used as bait.  Super gross.

During this state, we managed to stop at a few different places to fish.  How many exactly I don’t know, but a few.  At one point, I managed to get up and go to the marine toilet.  If you’ve never sat on a toilet in choppy water conditions, consider yourself luck.  The amount of relaxation you need to void yourself is not there, so you have really work at it.  It is a mental game for sure, but you’re also using both hands to brace yourself against two different walls to aid yourself as you attempt to feel relaxed enough to do what you need to do and leave.  And wiping yourself is no easier as you’re standing bent over with your face bracing a corner so your hands can do what they need to do.  It is an awkward experience.

I went back to my bench and tried to sleep.  I woke up later to see some weird looking schlubby teenager sitting by my feet and eating Pringles.  Now, I was already grossed out watching my brothers eat their chips with their fish fingers, but this kid was the worst.  Why?  Because he was eating salt and vinegar chips which are the most nasty and potent flavor of chip that there is.  I secretly wished he would fall overboard for committing the sin of eating hose nasty things so close to me while I was in this condition.

I kept slipping in and out of consciousness before I realized we were docking.  I got up and looked out the window.  The port side was still bone dry and I was thinking about how luck they were.  I stumbled out of the cabin and sat by dad.  I said I was sorry I crapped out so early, but I tried by best to participate.  He just laughed.  He got sick not long after me and stopped fishing too.  I had felt bad because he spent the money to do this and was excited about it.  He wasn’t worried about it because we tried it and now we know we don’t ever need to do it again.  Surprisingly, despite the water conditions and all the junk food they ate, the boys were fine.  One even managed to catch two fish, but they were too small to keep.  He was the only one in our group to do so.

I thought this was a funny story and I wanted to find a song about fishing to go with it.  Naturally, the first one that came to mind was “John the Fisherman” by Primus.  Though first released as a live version on 1989’s Suck on This, the studio recording was released the following year of their first studio album Frizzle Fry.

In the song, John drops out of school and shuns away the normal adolescent desires such as women to become a fisherman.  Years later, danger comes over the horizon and the ocean swells.  The boat is swallowed by the sea and John dies the fisherman he always wanted to be.

Preparing for this trip, I was imagining I was to be great at catching fish and couldn’t wait to show off photos of all the big and plentiful fish I caught.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  In fact, the opposite happened.  I’m a terrible fisherman, but at least I didn’t get swallowed up like John.  I’ll leave that to him.

“soul city” – the fleshtones (1979)

No one can ever accuse me of being a lazy person. Like everyone else, I have my lazy moments, but I’m not a lazy person. I work hard to achieve my goals.

Right now, I work a boring office job. I’m trying to change that. I apply to jobs in film or the arts that speak to my passion and interests. It is tough. Those kinds of jobs don’t open often, are horribly underpaid, or are just difficult to get. However, in my volunteer work, I find ways to keep myself actively engaged in the arts. And, on Monday, I had an experience that became a moment of pride for me and a milestone in my career.

The Music Box Theatre is my favorite movie theatre. I’ve written about it for a prior entry, so there is no need to discuss the history of it here. It is a great theater with a comfortable decor that has been my go to for interesting independent films, engaging panel discussions, and strange midnight screenings. I have a lot of great memories there.

In the history of my patronage at the Music Box, nothing may top the experience I had on Monday where I co-presented a film with the Chicago Film Society on behalf of Chirp Radio. We were there to show an original theatrical print of Urgh! A Music War in 35mm.

I have also talked about my discovery of this film in a prior entry when I did a post of “Total Eclipse” by Klaus Nomi. It is a rare concert film from 1981 that features a compilation of concert footage from various punk and new wave bands associated with I.R.S. Records. Bands like the Police, XTC, and the Cramps were given a chance to showcase a song live for the film.

It is a very difficult film to screen because of its distribution history. There are various cuts and rights holders depending if the film is for theaters, home video, or broadcast. Since it has a complicated distribution history, it is rare to see a screening of this film.

My role in Chirp Radio is to develop partnerships with arts organizations. I come from an arts background, specifically film, and it is a passion of mine. I had been wanting to do more events with film. And for some reason, I specifically wanted to do something with Urgh! I reached out to the Chicago Film Society to see if they would be willing to obtain the rights to screen the film and secure a venue while I would help promote the event.

They said they would look into it and I didn’t hear anything for about eight months. In fact, I kinda forgot about it. Then, in April, I got an email from them saying they were getting a copy and were screening it at the Music Box on July 16th.

I was elated when I heard the news. I couldn’t believe this film organization paid the money to get a film that came as a suggestion from someone they didn’t know. I felt a bit of pressure after that. If I was going to develop an ongoing partnership with this film organization, I had to make this event a success.

I would tell the programmer a few times since April that I was going to make this their biggest screening. It was my personal goal to do this. They were realistic in their expectations and told me that they had a few screenings that brought in about 400 people. However, I wasn’t going to have any of that. I was going to deliver on my promise.

In the proceeding months, I worked on all of the promotional materials Chirp would use to promote the event. I also relied on word of mouth and told everyone I knew. I talked about the event a lot and I know everyone was getting annoyed with me talking so much about it. But I didn’t care. I knew this was going to be a great event.

Why did I care so much about this event? Part of the reason why is that I love film and music. What better combination of the two than a concert film? However, I knew this film was rare and difficult to come across. Older audience members would have an opportunity to see it for the first time in over thirty years and younger audiences would have the opportunity to see it for the first time. And that was meaningful to me. All I really wanted was to create a fun experience for film and music lovers to share.

Though it was my goal to make it the Chicago Film Society’s biggest event, I was aware of the challenge. With it being such a rare and relatively obscure film, one of two things were going to happen: either a lot of people would show up because it was so rare or very few people would show up because it was rare and, therefore, unknown to them and not worth their time on a Monday night.

When Monday came, I was experiencing a crazy blend of emotions ranging between excitement and anxiety. I was sweating bullets walking all over the Music Box talking to friends and colleagues. The reason for this was that I was going to speak on stage about Chirp and the screening. This was my favorite theater and I was going to go on stage and speak to an audience. I knew they didn’t care what I had to say and I don’t have so much of an ego that I thought this event was about me. I was just giddy about being on that stage in some official capacity to speak about a film I wanted the audience to experience together.

On that stage, I spoke a little bit about what Chirp did. Then, I talked briefly about being both a music and film fan and I couldn’t think of a better film to screen than this one and how much I appreciated working with the Chicago Film Society. I’m sure I fumbled a bit, but it felt great to be up there.

As the audience settled and the curtain came up, the next 96 minutes were pure energy. The audience hooted and hollered at acts they loved. People clapped and sang along to the songs. Laughs were shared over the ridiculous and campy moments. Some people talked about the times they saw these bands perform live. The energy was intoxicating and it felt like I was attending a real concert.

After the screening, I talked with friends and colleagues about the film. Everyone enjoyed themselves and we shared our favorite performances and highlights. I didn’t speak to or see a single person who looked displeased or bored with what they just saw. I was happy and I left thinking about how wonderful the experience was. I got to present a rare film at my favorite theater. That’s a personal highlight for me. That may seem small for some people, but it is a memory I’ll always treasure.

The next day, I was on a Greyhound going through Indiana on my way to Kentucky. I opened Facebook on my phone out of boredom and to get a break from the book I was reading during the trip. Just a few minutes earlier, the Chicago Film Society’s Facebook page posted a thank you message to the Music Box, Chirp, and last night’s audience for making that screening their biggest event ever. I was over the moon and restless for the rest of the trip. I didn’t think that experience of presenting the film could be made better, but seeing that it became their biggest event made it even better. I am very proud.

As mentioned, I’ve already talked about the film in depth in an earlier entry to the blog. So, the song of the week comes from the pre-show that screened before the main event.

The Chicago Film Society went to a film archivist convention and saw some short films showcased. One archive organization recently created a new print of the music video “Soul City” by the Fleshtones. By the time the Chicago Film Society saw this, they had already secured the Urgh! print so this was a perfect match.

Produced in 1979, the music video for “Soul City” is a remarkable, hyperactive, and highly energetic piece of art. The band performs in a jerky, stop-animation motion while they rapidly flash off and on the screen with the background quickly changing colors.

The arts are my passion and it is a career I want to pursue. I currently work my average office job and apply to jobs as they open. And it can get frustrating because I’ve been at it for so long. So, in the meantime, I work as a volunteer in that capacity. It can get old sometimes. But then, I have to put things into perspective. Without that volunteer work, I wouldn’t have had the privilege to present such a rocking film and walk away with a feeling of accomplishment. This was certainly a milestone for me in what will be a rewarding career in the arts. This gave me so much hope and fulfillment that I have to continue no matter how hard it can get sometimes.

“be your natural self” – frankie “half-pint” jaxon (1940)

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I’m an avid reader and I’m always looking for new and interesting books that help me learn and grow.  I mostly read non-fiction which helps a lot.  However, the topics of those books are things that I may not be personally connected with.  Since I live in Chicago and know the city well, I’m trying to broaden my reading material by including more local authors.  I want to gain their insights into a city, culture, and way of life that I have in common with them.

This week, I’ve been reading The Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago’s First Century by local author Jim Elledge.  Elledge’s latest book is a history of gay culture in the Second City from the 1840s through the 1940s.  Based on a variety of sources, Elledge vividly portrays life in Chicago for the gay men who lived discreetly in order to pursue their passions and desires.  He profiles key individuals that add a slice-of-life context or who were valued for their historical contributions as well as provides context on various areas of the city that were hubs for the gay community.

Some of the men Elledge profiles in his book may not have been historically significant with very little information available about many of them, but they add a historical context to what it was like to live as a gay man.  Compared with today’s societal standards, your way of life was often misunderstood and mischaracterized (for example, a man who penetrated another man was masculine and, therefore, not a homosexual).  The types of queer men that received the most scrutiny were the ones viewed as feminine.  Female impersonators received the most trouble because their behavior was more visible than the type of queer man who dressed in a masculine man.  During the 1800s, a man who dressed as a woman could be imprisoned.

I’ve been living in Chicago for nearly eight years.  I’ve explored a lot of this city, but there is so much I still haven’t seen.  Not only that, but there is a ton of history to explore.  I have so much left to learn about the city from a modern context, but I also feel compelled to understand and contextualize its history as well.  Knowing many of the neighborhoods now in 2018, it is so fascinating to learn how different those same neighborhoods were during the latter half of the 19th century.

For example, consider the area north of the Chicago River.  The Near North and River North neighborhoods are home to amazing restaurants, condos, high-fashion shopping, hotels, and other qualities you would find in an affluent neighborhood. However, during the late 1800s, this area was a Bohemian neighborhood called Towertown.  In Towertown, gay men with little money could find cheap accommodations and live within a community where their non-queer neighbors were more tolerant of their way of life.  Many of these men were artists, performers, and transients who could, within societal reason, feel free to be unapologetically queer.  Female impersonators could walk the streets freely and other types of queer men could pursue sexual conquests at any of the local clubs.

Other areas of the city were profiled as well and had their own distinctive qualities.  In the 1800s, Chicago became a major railroad hub.  Young men from around the country could hop the trains and ride the rails away from whatever they were trying to escape.  Whether they were running from the law, abusive parents, or towns where their queerness was problematic, many of these young boys and men found refuge in Chicago.

In the West Side, where the railroads were serviced and operated, existed several hobo jungles where vagabonds lived and were serviced by the young boys coming off from the trains.  There existed an active queer culture among the hobos who occupied the rail cars and abandoned buildings in the area.  Even young men new to the city could make some money as prostitutes in the area.  Their quality of clothes wouldn’t get them business from the wealthier older gay men at State and Randolph, but they could scrape together a few dollars here and there to survive.

While the Bohemians of Towertown and hobos of the West Side contributed to the city’s colorful and varied tapestry of queerness, the real action was in Bronzeville.  Bronzeville, in Chicago’s South Side, is a predominantly African American neighborhood that was built up after many African Americans fled to the north from the south in what is referred to as the Great Migration.

Bronzeville was a haven for queer black men for a few reasons.  First, it allowed them to pursue other queer men without racial discrimination being a factor.  While white queer men in Towertown would preach free and open love for them as queer men, there were still lines drawn when it came to free and open love as far as black queer men were concerned.

Secondly, Bronzeville was also a very hip place to be because of the jazz and blues music one could see.  While white queer men would perform vaudeville and burlesque acts that were inspired by and derived from minstrel shows popular several decades earlier, blues and jazz were the exciting new art forms queer black men pursued at the beginning of the 20th century.

Of all the people profiled in the book, no one fascinated me more than Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon.  Jaxon was born in Montgomery, Alabama and referred to as “Half-Pint” because of his diminutive stature.  In the early 1910s, he started his career as a singer in Kansas City before travelling around the country to perform.  Eventually, he would find regular work in Atlantic City and Chicago with the latter becoming his home.

Jaxon’s performance style was unique.  He often sang with a high feminine voice and performed as a female impersonator on many of his records.  The best example of this is his recording of “My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll).”  Originally written and performed by Trixie Smith seven years prior to Jaxon recording his version, the song is about Smith, a woman, making love with her man.  With Jaxon, a man, performing the song while imitating a woman with his signature feminine voice, the song takes on a whole new meaning that speaks to Jaxon’s queerness and queer culture.  Jaxon also says the word “daddy” more than Smith did, so it heightens the queerness.  In addition to the voice, Jaxon adds his own flavor by adding in various grunts and moans which leads many music historians to believe that this is the first recorded song to include an allusion to an orgasm.

The police and government officials in Chicago held varying views on queerness and vice in the city depending on external factors.  For example, the queer community received less raids during the Great Depression because they were spending money and boosted the economy.  Once that period was over, the city cracked down harder on vice.

With World War II looming over the horizon, the city and its police force began to take a strong stand against anything that was feminine or was anathema to masculinity.  As a result, more and more queer clubs were getting raided and shut down.  Reading the writing on the wall, Jaxon decided to officially retire from show business to avoid being arrested.

On April 17, 1940, Jaxon put his own feelings into one of the last songs he ever recorded.  “Be Your Natural Self” was a declaration of advice to his brothers in the queer community.  In the song, Jaxon declares his message that he wants queer men to be able to live freely and without apology.  However, he also cautions them and implores them to be careful.  It isn’t safe to be a queer man right now, so don’t flaunt your queerness openly.  Maybe someday you can do that, but now isn’t the time.  However, within the standards of society now, be your natural self the best way you can.

Not much is known about Jaxon’s life after he quit music.  He did work for the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and was eventually transferred to Los Angeles.  However, the date of Jaxon’s death has been up for date which various sources citing his death date as either 1944, 1953, or 1970.

Society ebbs and flows with regards to what it tolerates.  Things are harder for queer men than for straight men, but how much backlash queer men have experienced varies over the years.  In the days of Jaxon, it was a career killing move to be discovered as a female impersonator.  Now, we have major television shows featuring female impersonators and drag queens.

Same-sex marriage is legal now, but that freedom might also be in trouble with Trump’s latest Supreme Court pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy.  A lot of progress has been made within the realm of LGBTQ+ rights, but there looms over the horizon groups of people and actions that could potentially reverse that progress.  While it has been fascinating to learn about Chicago’s gay community during the first 100 years of it being a proper city, but the discrimination that comes with that period is not something we need today.

“in the summertime” – mungo jerry (1970)

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Chicago during the summertime can be a really wonderful place.  There’s plenty to do and see while enjoying the sunshine.  You can walk along the lake, ride down the city’s bike trails, visit the conservatory or botanical garden, and so many more great activities that mean fun in the sun.  It is frankly impossible to be bored during a Chicago summer.

While summers in Chicago are fantastic, they can also be a point of anxiety for me and there are two reasons why that correlate.  The first being that since winters in Chicago can be rather long, I feel obligated to enjoy summer as much as I can.  While winter is certainly over by June, we still had days where the high on some days were in the 50s.  It wasn’t until the end of the month that we started to get decent weather appropriate for the season.  And I feel very compelled to schedule my days to involve as much outside time as possible because I don’t want to take the great weather for granted and especially after spending a lot of time during winter indoors.  Even if I don’t feel like going out for whatever reason, I make myself do it.

Normally, I’m a very busy person.  I work, have volunteer commitments, take music classes, etc. I have a very active life.  So, it is very rare when I have a Saturday where I don’t have some sort of obligation or responsibility.  This past weekend offered the rare Saturday where I had no volunteer commitments on the schedule.  In fact, nothing was on my schedule.  And while having a completely open day should be exciting, I begin thinking What am I going to do?

Getting in that mindset then leads me to explore all my options and possibilities.  Usually, left to my own devices, it involves picking a neighborhood and just wandering.  So, I try to decide the neighborhood, what there is to see, how much should I read, etc.  I start to think about all this free time and creating a schedule to fit it.  And it can be exhausting.  I’ve always been a very structured person, so just playing things by ear can be very hard sometimes.  I can do it, but it requires some level of conscious planning to make it happen.

Keep in mind that all this occurs before I even experience the free day.  And do you know what happens when I actually experience the free day?  It turns out to be really lovely and I wonder why I get so anxious about unscheduled free time and I get reminded that it is ok.  This past Saturday, I went to the gym, read by the lake, walked with a friend to get some beachside snacks, and listened to a Dvorak concert at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.  That is a pretty nice Saturday.

When I was talking with my friend about having a free day and worrying about if I’m using my time effectively, she rhetorically asked if there is a right or wrong way to spend a day like that.  I felt good spending time by the lake reading for a few hours.  Normally, I read on the train, during my lunch break, or inside if the weather is bad.  It was nice to feel the breeze, listen to the water, and occasionally people watch living their best lives in the sun.  It is such an uncomplicated way to spend time, but the simplest ways are often the best ways.

I was concerned about how to spend my day and I did go outside and have an enjoyable time.  I don’t have to spend every single second outside while the sun is shining in order to feel like I’m not taking the weather for granted.  However, having some time to think and talk with friends does reaffirm that there is no right or wrong way to enjoy something.  I was enjoying myself and that is what matters.  The thing to work on is to listen to the universe and not worry so much about “what ifs” and to enjoy the now.  Live more in the present.

The hot weather Chicago experienced this weekend also got me yearning for some sweet summer jams.  Of course, I have my favorites and preferences for when the mercury rises.  However, I also put out some feelers and got some great recommendations from friends at the community radio station.  While listening to these songs, I was thinking about the best summer jam.  Like how to spend a summer day, is there a perfect summer jam?  No, but this one is a contender.

Mungo Jerry released “In the Summertime” as their debut single in 1970.  Written and composed by Ray Dorset, the band’s lead singer, the track is a simple and fun skiffle song about carefree summer days.  In the summer time, the weather is hot and you’ve got women on your mind.  In the summertime, you do what you please and go swimming in the sea.  When you live by the philosophy that life is for living, it is not hard to always be happy.

For such a simple song, it carries a powerful message about living in the now and making the best of what is around you.  You don’t need a lot to have fun and be happy.  And, with the things life throws at you, the opportunity to have a carefree day with no responsibility is increasingly becoming scarcer.  So, just do what you please.  This weekend, I have another Saturday with no obligations (two in a row is unheard of in my world).  I’m going to make a promise to myself to not overthink it.  I’m just going to wake up and see where the day takes me.

“your racist friend” – they might be giants (1990)

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Unless you’re off the grid and have completely disconnected from any Internet or telecommunications signals, then you have seen the images and video coming from Texas where immigrant children are ripped away from their parents and kept in centers that resemble prisons.  The news media have diligently covered this and the topic has been all over social media.  It is a deeply troubling human rights issue that has unified and motivated people to take action by protesting in the streets and contacting their representation in Congress.

The country has been through so much over the last few years, but I believe we are officially at the turning point in the existential crisis we are currently experiencing as a nation and a democracy.  The systemic practice of tearing families apart, detaining children, and even losing hundreds of immigrant children whose fates will range from being trafficked or murdered seemed so unreal in the past.  I know those things have happened before the Trump presidency, but the recent efforts of this administration to put his racist agenda in full gear is disturbing and could signal the end of our country’s moral standing as we have traditionally known.

My heart has been breaking over this.  I get a visceral feeling deep in my gut every time I see photographs or videos from these detainment centers.  Very young children are separated from their parents and are essentially imprisoned.  And the fate of these children is uncertain.  Some have been sent to foster families around the country.  Many continue to stay in these centers with no knowledge of their parents’ well-being. And, worst of all, many have just disappeared.  I know the pain I feel cannot match the pain experienced by these immigrant families.

I am happy to see that this issue has sparked such unrest in the nation and that people are demanding action in justice.  This past weekend, a nationwide protest called March for Families was conducted in communities across the country.  I was unable to participate, but I loved seeing the photos of people in my own community stand up against this human rights abuse.  Politicians are vocalizing sentiments from their constituents denouncing ICE and Trump’s racist immigrant agenda.  It is powerful and I am proud of what people can accomplish.

However, these positive efforts haven’t been met without resistance.  Trump and his administration have made hypocritical policy statements regarding their actions.  They continue to cite the reasoning behind their agenda being a law passed by the Democrats in the 1990s.  In reality, no such law exists.  And when met with that, Trump’s administrations continues to deflect by saying it is the Democrats fault why immigration reform hasn’t passed despite the fact that it is the GOP that currently serves as the majority in both the House and Senate.  Recently, Trump has made his true intentions known by saying he’ll quit separating families if he can get funding for the border wall along Mexico.  None of these actions separating immigrant families were random.  It is a carefully crafted and strategic policy designed to manipulate the country into furthering Trump’s authoritarian visions.

This is an ongoing issue and it continues to get worse.  In a move that shocked many, First Lady Melania Trump was seen wearing a jacket with the phrase “I DON’T REALLY CARE, DO U?” painted on her back as she boarded a plane to visit one of the detainment centers.  The spin team in the White House has rationalized this by saying the First Lady didn’t wear the jacket when visiting the children and that we shouldn’t be focusing on her wardrobe because it is sexist to do so.  They have also said the writing on the jacket didn’t hide any veiled messaging about the Trump administration’s policy.  They are right in that it wasn’t veiled because it spelled out exactly what their policy is.

As I mentioned, we are experiencing a very troubling existential crisis.  One that could change America into an authoritarian nation.  The current immigrant issue is the turning point.  How this turns out will determine the nation’s trajectory.  And the people have a choice in the role they play.  Do they want to live in a democracy or do they want to live under an authoritarian regime?

This is the time to speak up and speak out against those while justify the separation and detainment of immigrant children.  This is not the time to compromise.  I don’t really believe most people in this country want to see children ripped away from their families and essentially imprisoned.  Most of the people in this country have good hearts.  Sure, there is a minority that does enjoy those images, but I’m not speaking to them.  I’m speaking to the people who stuck on the wrong side of this issue because they are committed to party platforms.  I’m speaking to the people who, in response to any questioning about the detainment of these children, will say things like “Obama did the same thing” or “I don’t want completely open borders.”  Those are misguided and misinformed pieces of rhetoric amplified by the Trump administration to get his support base to back his immigration policy.  I don’t believe these people want to see children treated this way, but this goes back to the heart of the issue; separating immigrant families and detaining children is immoral.  That is what we must speak to and we cannot compromise on that message.

Since this is a blog where I connect songs with whatever social, political, or personal topic is on my mind, I sometimes have to really think and do some research on what song to spotlight that supplements my messages.  In some pieces, I start with a song and write a piece around it.  In other pieces, I write a piece and find a song to fit the narrative.  This is an example of the latter and I am quite pleased with what I found.

I don’t know many songs by They Might Be Giants.  I can honestly only count on one hand how many songs of theirs that I do know.  So, as a result, I was unaware of their song “Your Racist Friend” until very recently.

Appearing on They Might Be Giants’ 1990 studio album Flood, “Your Racist Friend” perfectly represents that kind of attitude we should have when encountering someone spewing racism and bigotry.  In the song, the singer is at a party with his friend.  His friend’s friend is there and saying some racist things.  The singer is fed up with being there and let’s his friend know that he feels like a hypocrite just standing there and being polite.  The singer’s friend is bored by politics, but he’s still complicit in the issue.  The singer let’s his friend know that he can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.  His friend cannot stand on the sidelines and has to choose what path he is going to take.  Does he support the singer and denounce his racist friend or does continue to be complicit or even echo his friend’s racism.  There is no room for compromise in the song just as there is no compromise in real life on this issue.

I strongly believe things will get better.  In fact, I know thing will get better.  I also know that things will get a lot worse before they get better, but they will get better.  Standing up and speaking out against an issue doesn’t have to be some grand thing.  Not everyone can do everything all the time.  Some can do more than others, but they are started from somewhere.  It all started with just by saying something and then everything else comes after that.  If we all just say something about this immigrant children, we can make things better.

“two tribes” – frankie goes to hollywood (1984)

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Donald Trump is positioning himself to become a wartime president.  In his ongoing mission to delegitimize American democracy and establish an authoritarian regime, the ultimate endgame Trump is achieving to secure his position is create global instability so severe that it results in multi-national armed conflict.  His recent actions have made this abundantly clear and an eventuality we all should consider should things continue.

Consider his recent summit in Singapore where Trump met with Kim Jong Un.  His administration is positioning this as a historic summit that signifies peace between two adversarial nations.  Part of that messaging includes blaming the previous presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, for failing to create a peaceful relationship.  Trump has had his photos taken with Kim and they are both smiling so, as the official position of the administration, this means Trump was able to “make a deal” and “win big” at something he claims that the previous presidents were to weak or inexperienced to accomplish.

Seeing images of the summit made me so angry.  When I saw the North Korean flag displayed in a way to suggest it was equal to the American flag, it was such a slap to the face to everyone who desires freedom for all and condemns regimes that starves and murder millions of their own people.  Trump didn’t make it a secret how much he loved Kim.  Trump viewed him as an effective leader and praised him repeatedly.

This summit served as a mean to legitimize Kim on a global scale.  Trump can claim all he wants about how he made a great deal with the North Korean leader, but he was played.  Kim doesn’t have to get ride of his nuclear programs, Trump has ceased military exercises in South Korea, and Kim is seeking to strike a deal to build a Trump Tower in his country.  If this wasn’t enough to convince even Trump’s most ardent supporters that he values his own fortune over national interests, I don’t know what would.

If only this summit was the only thing Trump was actively doing to disgrace this nation.  Trump, whether by his own will or the will of others, is playing this game on multiple levels.  At the same time he is manipulated by and kissing Kim’s ring, Trump does this at the same time he is destabilizing our relationships with this country’s most loyal allies.

Trump recently issues high tariffs against Canada.  Under the guise of “national security,” Trump declares that his next move to keep America first is to renegotiate or eliminate deals he believes are unfair to the United States.  There is no reason for such a move to take place against Canada.  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not taking this lightly.  He is retaliating with his own tariff that go into effect in July.

These tariffs mean more than just higher prices for dairy or beer.  A major economic shift is coming and these tariffs only exacerbate the situation.  According to the latest quarterly outlook from the National Association for Business Economists, two-thirds of economists believe that a recession is coming 2020 with an economic decline that could begin as early as 2019.  The increased tariffs and trade wars Trump is initiating, in addition to his corporate tax cuts, make it likely that this recession will come even sooner than that.  This recession is believed to be as bad or worse than the last one in 2008.

A few weeks ago, the G7 summit was held in Canada.  These summits are designed so the seven leading (formerly eight before Russia was removed) economic nations to discuss various issues covering topics such as the economy, global security, and other related matters.  Prior to the summit, Trump made public statements in the media that Russia should be allowed to participate in the summit.  Our allies and neighbors already had a fractured image of the United States, but these statements by Trump only continued to deteriorate our relationships with the other six nations.  One image released by Angela Merkel’s staff signified the mood of the summit.  In the photo, Merkel is leaning on her hands over a desk surrounded by allies as she stares down at Trump who is sitting like a petulant child with his arms crossed and a smug smile on his face.  You could feel Merkel’s ire radiating from the image and served as the perfect symbol of this nation’s place in the world right now.

Thins are scary on an international level, but they are even worse at home.  For several decades, the GOP has been quite successful at branding themselves as the party of the common man.  As part of their anti-rational and anti-intellectual mission, anyone who doesn’t fit in their box is deemed as an elitist who is out of touch with the American people.

Since the 1980s, the Republicans and the extremists wing within it have been consistently on point with their message.  I have always seen politicians or the media denounced as being tools of the liberal agenda, but things are getting scary.  This messaging has now influenced public perception of federal institutions and basic tenets of democracy.  Whole political institutions such as the FBI and Department of Justice have now been labeled as tools of a rigged system that only Trump and his supporters have the power to save the American people from.

Trump ran during the 2016 presidential election because wouldn’t have been able to win before.  However, a rift in America has been growing since the 1980s and 2016 was the prime time to exploit it.  Trump and his administration’s message isn’t random or chaotic.  It is well-thought out and intricately planned.  Their mission is to create a civil discourse so irreversible that we could be on the verge of another Civil War.

So, how does this all relate to my belief that Trump is seeking to become a wartime president?  By creating mass instability at home and abroad, it becomes a platform by which he can rally his base and execute executive powers that are available, or even made up, during times of crisis.  Recent polls show that over half of Republicans support Trump postponing the 2020 election.  Now, these Republicans hold that position as a means to combat the non-existent problem of voter fraud, but we have seen examples where elections favor leaders currently sitting in office during times of war.  Franklin Roosevelt was a third term in 1940 and a fourth term 1944.  To be fair, presidential term limits weren’t in place yet and those elections weren’t postponed due to World War II.  However, FDR won with over 400 electoral votes each time.  Even if the 2020 election wasn’t postponed, who is to say that Trump wouldn’t experience similar results if a conflict were to arise that kept people from the polls or even seeking a change at a time when it becomes so important to maintain the status quo?

Yesterday, I read that Russia may have modernized a nuclear weapons storage bunker in Kaliningrad.  Allegedly, these major renovations have been ongoing since 2016 and likely to resume operational status soon.  Positioned between Poland and the Baltic, the site in Kaliningrad “could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces.  But it could also be a joint site, potentially servicing nuclear warheads for both Air Force, Navy, Army, air-defense, and coastal defense forces in the region, according to Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists.

Such a renovation project could signify Russia preparing for an escalation in tension with Eastern Europe; a tension that has been steadily increasing since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Given Russia’s role in undermining the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its removal from the G8 (thus becoming the G7), and the decline of America’s relationship with its allies, it is likely that Russia is looking to secure itself as the world’s dominant superpower.  Thus possibly leading to further land expansion, armed conflicts, and infiltration in foreign governments to disrupt national security and stability.  Welcome to the Cold War repackaged and rebranded for the Millennial generation and Donald Trump is at the helm and ready to get rich off of everyone at the expense of this country’s most valued traditions and institutions.

One of my favorite anti-war songs from the Cold War era is “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.  Released in 1984 on their album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, it is a nihilistic but enthusiastic statement about nuclear war.  Comparing the conflict of a nuclear war to something as trivial, but emotionally significant to some, as a soccer match, Frankie Goes to Hollywood believes that there is nothing more to gain from war than just a score.

Trump wants to be a wartime president because he is scared.  As each day passes in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, Trump can feel the noose tightening.  Staff members are leaving and some people close to the campaign are facing serious jail time.  I don’t know if this goes all the way to Donald Trump or what his fate will be (he has openly discussed his ability to pardon himself), but he is a man who is being cornered.  And like a scared animal, he will lash out any way he can.  And if he could look like a powerful leader in the process, then all the better.  That is why I believe Trump wants a war and he doesn’t care how he gets it.

“long slow goodbye” – queens of the stone age (2005)

Queens_of_the_Stone_Age_Lullabies_to_Paralyze

On Friday morning, I awoke to the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide.  Like many people around the world, I was gutted.  This wasn’t just because this was a famous person who passed away.  Bourdain was a kind, loving, and generous person who represented the very best in humanity.  His honest and curious approach to life was endearing and inspired me to find and focus on the elements that connect all human beings together.  He exemplified a humanist belief that despite our cultural and social differences, people are driven and connected by similar needs and desires that are blind to our prejudices and societal norms.

Bourdain worked in restaurant and hotel kitchens until his 40s.  He published Kitchen Confidential, a behind-the-scenes memoir of the culinary industry, and became a successful author.  By the next year, he was making a television show and published A Cook’s Tour, a memoir of him searching for the perfect meal and the template that would define the rest of his career.

There was a lot to admire about Bourdain.  Most people, and this includes me, were envious of his life style.  Watching episodes of his programs No Reservations and Part Unknown, it was easy to be caught up in the excitement of traveling around the world in order to meet exciting people, see interesting places, eat amazing food, and drink remarkable spirits.  Who wouldn’t want a career like that?  It looked like one of those jobs where the work didn’t seem like work.  Of course, television has the power to filter out the mundane and only show us the glamour.  However, I didn’t care.  Based on what I was seeing on television, Bourdain was living the life.

I envied Bourdain’s life.  I was vocal about this on social media numerous times.  IT was easy to be enamored by that because, by comparison, my life isn’t as exciting.  I have good and exciting things in my life, but the absolute freedom I projected onto Bourdain’s life was alluring and I would think about how wonderful it would be to step into his shoes.

Bourdain’s suicide was a shock to the system in a few ways.  We lost a truly remarkable media personality.  However, it reinforced a few life lessons I would conveniently forget when I watched his shows.  Two days before his death, I tweeted “.@Bourdain is living my ideal life.”  I know that tweet was superficial and only spoke to my own personal desire to not work and travel the world.  When I heard about Bourdain’s suicide, I had to think about what that comment really signified.

I thought about that comment and similar ones I had made before.  With that kind of statement of desire, I realized that it was based on an assumption.  I assume that I could be happy with travelling the world and eating amazing foods, so Bourdain should have been happy travelling the world and eating amazing foods.  That lifestyle, for me, signified that Bourdain was a happy and completely free spirit.  When you make an assumption like that, you tend to forget about he invisible scars people have.

Bourdain has experienced substance abuse issues throughout his life.  Before he became a media personality, he habitually abused hard drugs and alcohol as a result of his depression.  Bourdain was always open and honest about his struggle with addiction and his pursuit to filling a hole he felt compelled to fill with heroin and booze.  Even in his books and on his television programs, he would open up and address these things when temptation hit him during a particularly difficult scene.  That struggle was always there.  Whether it was front and center or hidden in the background, that fight never goes away.  And Bourdain addressed it in a way that was honest, bold, and could help people struggling with the same issues.

Bourdain was not only known for his love food, but he was a huge music enthusiast.  Musicians would appear on his show to eat some tasty food and philosophize on life.  There’s an episode of Part Unknown where Bourdain is dining with Iggy Pop.  Bourdain jokes about them eating a healthy meal when they both have reputations of hard drugs and hard living when they were younger.  Bourdain asks Iggy about is important to him after all he’s been through and Iggy replies that he enjoys the love he gets and wants to spend more time with the people who give it.

Bourdain dined with many musicians he admired.  There are episodes of Parts Unknown and No Reservations where Bourdain is joined by his musical heroes such as Alice Cooper, Serj Tankian, and Questlove.  However, no musical encounter on any of his shows were as intimate or heartfelt as the episode with Josh Homme.

Homme appeared on a 2011 episode of No Reservations where Bourdain visited Homme’s Rancho De La Luna.  Together, Homme and Bourdain travel around the California desert.  They visit a strange swap meet, drive around in old cars, and even record a song together at a studio in Joshua Tree called “Lonely T-Bird.”  This was an inside look into their intimate friendship and really illustrated the love Bourdain had for good food and good people.

Homme was gutted when he heard about Bourdain’s suicide.  His band, Queens of the Stone Age, had a performance scheduled at Denmark’s NorthSide Festival. During the set, Homme dedicated a performance of “Long Slow Goodbye,” the closing track of their 2005 studio album Lullabies to Paralyze, to Bourdain (At 46:00 here).

My life is good and I have plenty to be thankful for.  It can be easy to become distracted and focus on how green you think someone else’s grass is.  However, there are things you and your assumptions cannot see.  Someone who may seem content and living their best life could be fighting internal demons that you may or may not be strong enough to deal with, but they feel compelled to project a sense of normalcy they can appear to fit in.  That’s the danger of making assumptions about people.

If you or anyone you know is suffering and thinking about suicide, please talk to someone.  It only takes five minutes of talking to a friend, a loved one, or a counselor for those thoughts to start to recede.  For many, suicide is a spontaneous and permanent reaction to a temporary solution.