“the other man’s grass is always greener” – petula clark (1967)

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I never really know what I want. Or, to phrase it more correctly, I do know what I do not want. I feel like I know myself pretty well, though I am constantly learning and growing. And sometimes, I surprise myself when I find an aspect of my personality and humanity, I was not aware of before.  There is also the possibility I may rediscover something lost before.  Things change, within me and around me, and sometimes it can be overwhelming.  Other times, change is welcomed.

I think about why it is difficult for me to confidently and affirmatively know what I want.  Perhaps it is a lot of things.  For one, I think that uncertainty is a product of being young and ambitious in a city full of competition.  There’s stress that comes from that.  There’s the good stress that keeps me motivated and driven and there’s the bad stress that makes me question my worth.  There’s also the stress of being the dog who finally caught the car.  When I do finally reach a goal I have worked very hard to achieve, what then? Will I be happy, or will I have realized that said goal was meaningless and a distraction from something much larger and more important? What if it turns out what I thought I wanted was actually not what I needed?

These are big and important questions. If the answer was easily and readily available, then we would not have big and important questions.

I have several friends, when I discuss these matters, who tell me things like “everything happens for a reason” or “listen to the universe and it will guide you.”  That’s all well and good and I see a lot of value in those philosophies.  While I do know that while luck plays a major role in how one’s life turns out, you’re not entirely without control.  You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.  In this case, I’m a big planner and try to work on several paths at the same time.  The reason being that I have some vague semblance of what I want in life and I know it takes work to achieve that.  I guess I just have some anxiety about whether or not it is all worth it.

Sometimes, I think about how I would live my life if I had the resources to live an unburned, worry free life.  What would that look like for me?  If I never had to worry about money, I would live a quiet, middle-class existence.  I would exit the rat race and not work, but I would volunteer frequently with several community organizations.  I would spend my free time reading, trying new hobbies, and taking two or three modest trips a year.  That is the dream.

However, my life is not like that and life like that requires some work and planning.  Some people may be lucky enough to have that kind of life, whether it was inherited or something they worked to achieve.  So, in the meantime, I am left trying to figure everything out as best as I can.

In my early thirties, I have noticed how I think about things differently than I did throughout my twenties. I sure as didn’t know what I wanted in my twenties.  I thought I did, but life events happen and you have to adjust.  Still, I kept my eyes on certain goals no matter what had come my way because that is what ambitious young men in their twenties do.  Now, in my thirties, I am left wondering If I don’t achieve soon what I wanted for myself in my twenties, then when is it time to move on? Or, on the flip side, I also think What if I get this thing and it turned out not to be what I wanted?  In either scenario, I wonder if I am wasting my time.

Then again, why worry about it anyway because my life, overall, my life is good.  I am healthy.  I have friends and family that care for me.  I earn an income that allows me to feed myself, put a roof over my head, and offers some disposable income for quality of life.  I have so much going for me and I have everything I need to live the fullest life possible.  So, why is that not enough?  It is for the most part.  Like Joe Walsh, I can’t complain though sometimes I still do.  But why complain at all?

One thing I know I need to do is live more in the moment.  Try and take things one day at a time.  Admittedly, I do sometimes worry or complain about things beyond my control. It is hard to not complain about that. And if I get what I want, what’s next?

Due these anxieties about existence and progress within my life, I would not say that I am happy.  I am content, but I am also aware that I can do things to increase the quality of my life.  How that happens, I do not know. What it is, I do not know. Will it being the chance I hope it will, I do not know.  All I know is that something in my life needs to change and I am on a journey to figure that out. And unless I get lucky, going on that journey could take a lot of time and work.

What I do know is that all of this is a process.  For one, a key step is to not compare yourself to others.  That is a big one because it can be incredibly hard to overcome.  This extends beyond coveting something someone else has.  This also applies to thought like Well I shouldn’t complain because this other person’s life is worse than mine.  Even if framed from a positive and well-intentioned place, it is still comparing yourself to others. I have made a lot of improvement in that area, though sometimes I slip up.  However, that is ok.

Ultimately, I just wish I could quit worrying about things.  I worry about not getting the things I want.  I worry about not appreciating the things I do get.  And what makes the worry harder is that is the uncertainty that comes with not knowing what you want.

Don’t get me wrong, uncertainty is good and something I do look forward to sometimes.  However, it is all about context.  When I moved to Chicago in 2011, I was uncertain about how things would turn out, but I was excited because I was eager to make that move to Chicago and it was something I have wanted.  I currently do not like my job and it is a negative, stress-inducing cloud and the uncertainty of settling for something else that I don’t really want gives me some anxiety and I have to work hard to reframe my mind and focus on the positive (in this case, it is ok to leave a toxic environment for someplace else even if it isn’t what you wanted because you’re removing something actively toxic).

What I am learning in my thirties is that all the questions and uncertainties in my twenties do not always get addressed and resolved.  Life is still vague, complicated, and everyone is just trying to figure things out.  The only difference is that I am becoming aware of the fact that while I still do not really understand or know what I want, I am becoming more comfortable with it.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am growing more comfortable with it, but I know I am.

Until I figure out what I want, I have to be more active about living in the moment.  Sometimes that is easy and sometimes that I hard.  Though, I do imagine it will get easier.  Or, at least, I hope it does. Some people have it figured out and they live with peace and happiness.  I envy that, though I know I shouldn’t.  They are on their own journey and I am on my own. And, if I obtain something I thought I wanted, I can always shift my priorities.  I don’t have to be stuck with something.  It may take work (and I know the idea of working hard to get rid of something you worked hard to get is maddening), but you’re human.  And humans and their priorities change.

I know this blog entry is vague and rambling.  That’s fine.  There are some discernible nuggets of wisdom from someone trying to figure things out. So, let’s get to the music.

In 1967, Petula Clark released her single “The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener” from the album of the same name.  This charming pop song, written by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, addresses what I discussed in this blog post.  In the song, Clark sings Life is never what it seems / We’re always searching in our dreams / To find that little castle in the air / When worry starts to cloud the mind / It’s hard to leave it all behind / And just pretend you haven’t got a care.

Clark sings about the burden everyone experiences at time or another about the desire to just escape one’s humdrum life and step into someone else’s shoes. Though I feel like my own confusion and uncertainty is unique and no one gets it, I have to realize how narcissistic such a position is because that is something everyone feels.  We all fantasize about how much better life could be if we could live a different life than our own. However, we only know our journey.  We cannot assume someone else’s journey.  They grass will always be greener on the side so, as Clark sings it, be thankful for what you got.  I know it can be hard sometimes, but do what you need to do to live your life one day at a time.  I know we all have worries and it can be hard work to get rid of them, but there no wrong paths.  Life your life and do what makes you happy.

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“do you think i’m disco?” – steve dahl & teenage radiation (1979)

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Disco music, since its mainstream popularity in the late-1970s, generally gets unfairly criticized and misrepresented.  If your only cultural reference points for disco are novelty tracks like Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” or any of the endlessly parodied clichés, then you truly do not understand the significance of disco music.

Disco, in its earliest inception, was a countercultural response to the dominance or rock music on commercial radio.  For members of marginalized community like African Americans, Hispanics, and the LGBT community, the hard and heavy, rhythm and blues elements of popular rock music did not reflect their values, heritage, or culture.  Those groups did not see a place for themselves in the mainstream, so they carved out a niche where they would not be stigmatized for dance music.  This was the birth of disco.

Disco and dance clubs became spaces for marginalized communities, especially the LGBT community in New York, to express themselves without ridicule or threat of violence from rock, fans, the general public, or the police.  As the appeal of disco music began to broaden and bleed into the mainstream, with its up-tempo soul and heavy beats, disco quickly transitioned form being a unique, underground form of self-expression to a broad label that could be attached to any danceable, “four on the floor” style music and marketed at disco.

With the widening popularity of disco, it began to overtake space in the cultural arena that had been dominated by rock and roll.  Seen as vapid, escapist, and, according to Mark Motherbaugh, “a product of the political apathy of the era,” disco was targeted for occupying a space that those in power, rock fans and musicians, felt entitled to.  The vitriol that disco music experienced reflects larger systemic forces than just music.  The admonishment of disco was a statement against minority groups and were subjected to homophobia and racism.

Amidst all the cultural backlash against disco music, the most significant event in the “Disco Sucks” movement was Disco Demolition Night.  A black mark on the history of Chicago music, Disco Demolition Night was a promotion held at Comiskey Park on July 12th, 1979.  Between the game of a doubleheader between Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, a crate of disco records was to be ignited on the field in an explosive and violent display as a cultural statement about rock’s perceived dominance.

Steve Dahl, a local shock jock and a force behind the “Disco Sucks” movement, campaigned heavily for the event.  While only about 20,000 people were expected, Dahl’s aggressive campaign brought in 50,000 ardent disco haters brought records to burn and to declare their musical supremacy.  Vinyl not collected by stadium staffed were hurled like frisbees onto the field.

Fueled by adrenaline and their commitment to rock’s superiority, fans rushed the field after Dahl blew up the piled of records collected.  Riots ensued and a few dozen people were injured during the mayhem with the same game of the doubleheader postponed and then eventually cancelled.  Cited as the start of disco’s cultural decline, Disco Demolition Night became an embarrassment to Major League Baseball and Chicago.  Disco was a space and genre that was coopted and appropriated from the underground and eventually popularized at such a rate that it became dangerous to enjoy and whose supporters experienced racism and homophobia from those who feared losing cultural dominance and power in music.

On June 13th, 2019, nearly 40 years after the riots of Disco Demolition Night, it was reported that the Chicago White Sox would give away 10,000 t-shirts commemorating the night Steve Dahl manifested his hate for disco in a violent act of white supremacy. It was also reported that Steve Dahl would throw an honorary pitch on the field where had had perpetrated a violent act four decades prior.

After much backlash, the Chicago White Sox issued a statement that they would review the event saying

This year’s Disco Demolition T-Shirt giveaway was intended to recognize the anniversary of a historic off-the-field moment that has been connected to the organization over the past 40 years. It is a recognizable part of Chicago baseball history. We recently were made aware of comments criticizing the T-Shirt giveaway and are in the process of reviewing feedback. We have been communicating with our community partners who have raised concerns to make it clear that the intent of this giveaway was only meant to mark the historical nature of the night 40 years later. We have reinforced that the White Sox organization is dedicated to advocating for a safe, welcoming ballpark experience for all people and communities, and will continue to engage in important, informative discussions with our fans and partners to build toward positive change through sports. We remain proud of our franchise’s longstanding record on advocating for inclusion and diversity.

As white nationalism, fascism, and white supremacy are emboldened under a Trump presidency, we must be aware of problematic events in history.  Traditions are not always a good thing because of the dynamics that created and continue to support the tradition.  Whether they be enforced because of outdated racial, gender, or other social factors of their time, modern society must move past those things, recognize the circumstances that allowed them to occur in the past, and not advocate for their relevance in a modern context.  In this case, those who do not understand what Disco Demolition Night represented, they likely do not care or even support it.

Steve Dahl was, and still is, a hack.  Not only is building a persona around one’s racism and homopbia problematic, but riding on that persona and its connection to a violent display forty years on is tasteless.  Dahl’s only claim to fame is that he hated disco.  And, oh man, did he hate disco.

A travesty, though not on the scale of Disco Demolition Night, is Dahl’s musical output.  He hated disco so much that he decided to parody the genre for his own gain.  Recording as Steve Dahl & Teenage Radiation, Dahl released the single “Do You Think I’m Disco?” in 1979.  A parody of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” already a spoof on disco according to the song’s co-writer Duane Hitchings, Dahl proves that his appeal his very limited, his comedy banal, and his satire being anything but that.

If you all know about disco comes from the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it was overplayed and commercialized beyond recognition from its origin, I encourage you to listen to the movement’s early days.  You can feel the power of freedom and expression in the music.  Listen to it, appreciate what it represented, and respect the modern movements that mirror disco’s initial purpose.

“beautiful” – carole king (1971)

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The last month for me has been rather difficult.  I have been experiencing a lot of stress for personal and professional reasons.  And while I know that I am strong enough to endure anything, sometimes I get bogged down by everything.

When that happens, the first step is to know that feeling stressed and overwhelmed is ok.  Those feelings are natural and you must let them pass naturally.  What makes them stay longer and become real problems is if you dwell.  Realize that you’re feeling them, accept them, and move on.

This week’s entry was a struggle for me.  I did not feel motivated to write one.  I know I don’t have to write one.  This blog being weekly is an imaginary stipulation that I put on myself.  However, I like the structure.  And if the topics deal with something difficult and personal, it gives me an opportunity to face the issue, reframe, and move on.  Plus, not every entry is going to be great.  Some will, some won’t.  That’s the point.

I am not going to go into a lot of detail about what has been bugging me, so this will be short entry.  Instead, I’ll share an anecdote about how helpful music can be.  When the right song comes on at the right moment, it is a transformative experience.

A few weeks ago, I got an email that really upset me.  I was being taken advantage of and felt powerless.  I felt like I had no control over the situation.  Though, that wasn’t necessarily true.  I called a few friends and consulted with them on how to handle things.  It was a situation where I was right, but I felt like I had lost.  I was told I could see things that way, or I could reframe my mind.  In this case, it involved me validating myself that I took the high road.  It didn’t solve my issue, but I could leave the situation with my dignity intact knowing I did the right thing.

After my friends talked through everything with me, I could see more clearly now.  I had blinders on all day because I was so upset by this situation.  It prevented me from seeing the larger picture. When I was all talked out, exhausted by the topic, I turned to music.

Sometimes, I rely on magical thinking.  Magical thinking is where you believe that your thoughts or actions can change things in the physical world.  The type of rationale, or wishful thinking, isn’t based in reality.  IT helps as a coping mechanism.  I picked up my iPhone and opened the music app.  I told myself that the first song that that came up on shuffle would be the song I most needed to hear and would fix everything about my mood and put me in a more positive space.  Considering most of the music I listen to can be heady, sad, angsty, or anxious (lots of post-punk and new wave), chances of the first song being one that could successfully give me a moment of lift was slim.  It was a heavy burden for whatever song that would be.  I pressed shuffle.

The first words I heard were “You’ve got to get up every morning / With a smile on your face / And show the world all the love in your heart.”  It was “Beautiful” by Carole King from her 1971 masterpiece Tapestry.  King continued singing “Then people gonna treat you better / You’re gonna find, yes you will / That you’re beautiful as you feel.”

I could not believe it.  That was the song I needed to hear that I didn’t know I needed to hear.  It was the perfect song for the moment and I felt transformed.  I was lifted.  The experience was beautiful, and I felt beautiful.

I try not to be a cynical person, but I can be sometimes.  As much as I love music, I really do not believe it can change the world.  Perhaps in small ways, but not in large sweeps that produce systemic shifts.  Maybe it can.  I don’t know if music can change the world, but it certainly changed mine at that moment.

My mood was lifted and I felt better.  There will be times where you are mistreated by people with more power than you, but you cannot stoop to their level.  Just smile and do the best that you can.  Find confidence within yourself that you’re a good and decent person, and people will treat you like one.  And when you feel good and whole and positive on the inside, it shines through on the outside.  I am beautiful.

“o-o-h child” – the five stairsteps (1970)

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On April 28th, John Singleton, the pioneering black filmmaker, passed away after suffering from a stroke.  His career was honored by numerous actors and musicians paying tribute his legacy and the impact he had on American filmmaking for, as Ice Cube said, bringing “the black experience to the world.”

The Music Box Theatre, in honor of Singleton, programmed a tribute showcasing several of the director’s most enduring impactful works; Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Rosewood. Programmed under the title of “You’ll Never Be As Important As the Ocean: The Films of John Singleton,” these three films illustrate Singleton’s unique aesthetic style, his commitment to document the experience of black men and women, and his ability to deliver an enduring and relevant social commentary.

Kicking off the tribute was a screening of Boyz n the Hood, Singleton’s directorial debut from 1991.  Set and filmed in South Central Los Angeles, and launching the film careers of Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr., Boyz n the Hood is a slice of life drama about living with the violence of gang culture and the systemic forces that perpetuate an endless cycle of death within the black community.

Though a strong admirer of Singleton’s work, I had not seen Boyz n The Hood since high school. Now in my 30s, living in Chicago, and more social conscious of the systemic oppression endured by people of color, this tribute to Singleton became an appropriate time to revisit the film.

As I watched the film, I was amazed by how much I still remembered.  Though it had been a long time since I last watched it, Boyz n the Hood had left an indelible effect on me.  As a teenager, the film was a window into a world very much unlike my own.  Though a narrative drama, watching the film became an education. Now, so many years later and more educated on the systemic oppression the film addresses, the reaction I had to Boyz n the Hood was deeper and more significant.  Due to its alarming relevancy, nearly three decades after its release, I left the theater with a heavy heart and walked home thinking about the world’s injustices; oscillating between thoughts on what I can do to help and feelings of hopelessness.

At last night’s screening of Boyz n the Hood, the screening was hosted by Sergio Mims.  As the festival Consultant of the Black Harvest Film Festival, an annual celebration of independent films documenting the black experience and now entering its 25th year, Mims discussed the life and legacy of Singleton.  Joined by Mims onstage was Joe Doughrity, a production assistant for the film who would then develop a close personal and professional relationship with Singleton and was described by Mims as Singleton’s right-hand man.  Doughrity, sporting a Boyz n the Hood crew jacket, talked about meeting Singleton, their mutual love for films, and his experience working on the movie.

The most amazing thing about the production of Boyz n the Hood is that Singleton was only about 22 or 23 when he directed the film.  He had written had developed the film initially in 1986 as a documentation of the life he experienced.  Though the studio wanted to option the film, Singleton protested that he would be the one to direct.

His direction of the film is most notable for shooting the entire film in sequence.  Films are typically shot to accommodate schedules and locations, often staying in one location to get all the coverage before moving onto the next location.  The order the film unfolds is exactly how Singleton scheduled the production and as you watch it, you can the director becoming more confident and daring with his directing.  Singleton would not only become the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, but he is the still the youngest to hold that distinction.

After all these years, though I remembered a lot from the movie, the scene that has stuck with for the longest is the closing scene of the childhood segment of the film.  Set in 1984, the Ice Cube’s and Cube Gooding Jr.’s characters are children and the audience gets a glimpse into the environment and the impact it has on the social and mental development of these children.  In the scene, Doughboy, Ice Cube’s character, is arrested for stealing from a local corner store.  He is put into a squad car, along with a friend, with the scene scored to the song “O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps.  As someone who loves music and film, and how the two come together to complement each other, that scene has lived with me for a long time and it was an emotional experience to finally see it on the big screen.  And to think that someone in his early 20s could direct such a powerful scene speaks volumes about Singleton’s talent.

The Five Stairsteps, often referred to as “The First Family of Soul,” were a soul group from Chicago comprised of five siblings.  They released their first single in 1966 but it is the 1970 release of “O-o-h Child” that has become their most enduring song.  The song contains an uplifting message for a community that has suffered so much strife for generations.  With the message that “things are going to get easier,” the Five Stairsteps offer comfort to those who have faced adversity.  Used within the context of Boyz n the Hood, the song offers a commentary about the societal and racial tensions that lead the arrest of a small child and his detainment in juvenile detention for seven years.  Within that context, the uplifting message carries added weight making the song’s theme of things getting better sound simultaneously attainable and impossible.

“rock & roll” – the velvet underground (1970)

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If you lived in still at any point in the last 25 years, and consider yourself somewhat media savvy, you may have stumbled upon the name Jim DeRogatis.  DeRogatis started his Chicago media career at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992 as their resident music critic.  He had a brief departure from the newspaper in 1995 while working as a writer for Rolling Stone, but was fired for a bad review and returned to Chicago.  Since then, building upon his reputation as a great writer and discerning music critic, DeRogatis would branch out from the newspaper writing for several other publications, teaching at Columbia College, and even hosting a popular show on public radio.  Despite the national distribution of his writing and radio show, DeRogatis largely remained a local Chicago.  That is until, only with the last year, he finally gained the respect and attention he deserves for an investigation, ongoing for two decades, about the most notorious sexual abuser in music history.

On June 4th, DeRogatis’ latest book Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly was published, a book documenting an investigation that has gone one now for 19 years.  In November 2000, DeRogatis received an anonymous fax that would change his life. The fax alleged that R&B singer R. Kelly had a problem with underage girls which immediately sparked an investigation by DeRogatis that has been ongoing for nearly two decades. As the journalist who broke that story and has consistently been covering it for 19 years, DeRogatis documents his journey proving that Kelly had exhibited consistent predatory behaviors against underage girls from the earliest allegations in 1991 to how those patterns of behavior evolved to include an alleged sex cult of brainwashed women in 2019.

Often alone in this journalistic endeavor, though aided by his writing partner Abdon Pallasch, DeRogatis received pushback from politicians, law enforcement, lawyers, journalists, music critics, Kelly’s fans and employees, and even family members of the victims with the intent to protect a musical figure that generated so much revenue for so many people. In addition to covering the timeline of the abuse and the investigation, DeRogatis offers thoughtful analysis about how systemic issues within law enforcement and the entertainment industry, as well as social and racial factors, failed so many young black girls and women who sought justice for the crimes committed against them by a man they loved and trusted and whose music provided the soundtrack for their lives and lined the pockets of others. Relatively unknown and unappreciated since starting his investigation in 2000,

DeRogatis’ work has since been validated within the last year due to additional reporting from other media outlets and a successful Lifetime TV documentary series, all of which expound upon DeRogatis’ work. However, all this seems too little, too late for DeRogatis who delves into the problematic reality that, while Kelly was on trial in 2008 for his sex abuse crimes, the singer was experiencing his most critically and commercially acclaimed period of his career with his albums selling better than ever and critics praising Kelly’s genius while dismissing the sex abuse allegations as being trivial distractions. This book by DeRogatis not only makes the case that Kelly is the most notorious sexual abuser in music history, but it also sheds light on how poorly black women are treated in society by exposing the patriarchal and racist political, business, and social systems that silences their voices, erases their identities, and robs them of their humanity.

Last week, I attend a panel discussion organized by the Chicago Humanities Festival featuring DeRogatis discussing his book as well as the ongoing grand jury trial Kelly currently faces. During the panel, DeRogatis was joined on stage with Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, the co-founders of #MuteRKelly, with questions moderated by Kyra Kyles, an award-winning writer.

During the panel, the group discussed DeRogatis’ investigation and the many systems and people that not only pushed back against his reporting, but who had also failed the young black girls and women within the segregated communities adversely affected by poverty and other racial and social factors.  The panel also discussed the secret to Kelly’s seemingly untouchable profile being his money and how his music has collectively raised over $1 billion, prompting Barnes and Odeleye to discuss the success of their tactics to tighten Kelly’s revenue earning by protesting and, ultimately, shutting down his concerts. It was a powerful and emotional discussion.

Before the panel discussion, DeRogatis performed a reading from his book. Specifically, the ending of his book.  After 19 years of talking to several dozens of Kelly’s victims, and the countless people who enabled the singer, DeRogatis finally met the women who was the first to challenge Kelly for his abuse and pursue legal action. In a small café on the northside of Chicago, DeRogatis met with Tiffany Hawkins who publicly discussed her relationship with Kelly for the first time.

Hawkins met Kelly in 1991 at the age of 15 where she was coerced into a sexual relationship with the singer, as well as experiencing violence retribution for not obeying his orders. In 1996, Hawkins sued Kelly for $10 million but settled in 1998 for an undisclosed amount.  Hawkins spent years healing from the abuse, focusing on her own life and wellbeing, and raising a family.

Reading from the book, DeRogatis asked Hawkins if she could listen to Kelly’s music anymore. She couldn’t stand it for a long time and hearing his music everywhere would cause untold stress and grief, but she learned how to tune it out.  When DeRogatis asked about her interest in singing, referencing her early career as a backup singer for Aaliyah, Hawkins said she could not singer anymore.  Though she tried singing years after the abuse, she just didn’t have the passion anymore.

As DeRogatis read about the next question he asked Hawkins, he started to become emotional.  With his voice wavering and fighting back tears, DeRogatis asked Hawkins if she could listen to any music at all.  Hawkins answered no.

DeRogatis shared how not only had he built a career on his love for music but believing that music saved his life.  Hearing that someone could not find joy in something so beautiful, so universal, and so joyous unfathomable to DeRogatis. Kelly’s abuses are many and unspeakable, but to rob someone of their ability to experience happiness from music, an artform so unique and expressive and beloved to so many, that was too much for DeRogatis.  Even after 19 years hearing what he has heard and seeing what he has seen, this is the detail the elicits such an emotional reaction.

In this except DeRogatis read from, which closes out the book, DeRogatis refers to his life as one “saved by rock and roll,” a line from the signature song “Rock & Roll” by the Velvet Underground.  Released on the album Loaded in 1970, but not as a single until 1973, “Rock & Roll” has endured as one of the band’s most signature and defining songs.  In the liner notes for the box set Peel Slowly and See, “‘Rock and Roll’ is about me. If I hadn’t heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet. Which would have been devastating – to think that everything, everywhere was like it was where I come from. That would have been profoundly discouraging. Movies didn’t do it for me. TV didn’t do it for me. It was the radio that did it.”

As with Reed, and many others, rock and roll saved DeRogatis’ life.  It has certainly saved mine.  However, for Tiffany Hawkins and the dozens of others, known and unknown, hurt by Kelly, music has become something impure and corrosive.  Lives destroyed by music. Destroyed by Kelly. A monster. Soulless.

“conversation music” – mike reed (2017)

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While the weather, being chilly and rainy at times, does not indicate it, summer is her in Chicago.  For the next few months, Chicago citizens who spent all winter hunkered in their homes during what was a particularly tough winter, which included a polar vortex, will be letting it all hang out at their favorite seasonal hotspots.  Whether it be tanning at the beach, sipping tasty beverages on a restaurant patio, or strolling through the park, summertime in Chicago is a fine time.

I had an incredibly busy fall and winter.  Between a writing project and freelancing for a film festival, with all this being in addition to my normal job, I stayed really busy time with overlapping responsibilities.  When summer in Chicago hits, I still fairly busy.  However, unlike all the work I was doing in the months prior, this busy is more about fun in the sun.

Summertime in Chicago makes me a bit anxious because of how short it can be in relation to the lengthy winters.  I feel some anxiety thinking that I must spend as much time as possible outside in the sun so as not to waste it. I’ve recently gotten over that line of thinking and realized that it is ok not to be outside all the time.  Indoor summer fun can be great too.  It is all about moderation.

However, back to the busy schedule.  My summers are typically not very leisurely.  Sure, my job slows down a bit and I do less volunteer shifts with the radio station and folk music school.  But I fill in all the gaps with lots of other activities.  Going to the movies, weddings, hanging with friends, etc.  I’m an active, extroverted person and Chicago summer is mean to be enjoyed.

I do get an occasional weekend where I have nothing scheduled, and sometimes that gives me some anxiety.  However, a nice, long, aimless walk through the neighborhood or a park helps.  I have no particularly place to be but I’m getting myself out of the apartment and immersing myself in the splendor of Chicago summer.

Naturally, I’m just a planner.  Always have been and there’s nothing telling me to stop that now.  So, I don’t get to do many things that are spontaneous.  Sometimes I crave that spontaneity.  But the funny thing is when I have a day where I have nothing scheduled, I spend so much time thinking about what to do and what’s the best way to enjoy the day.  It is like trying to find something watch on Netflix.  You spend more time deciding what to watch than enjoying what you are watching.

Oh well.  I’m told there is no wrong way to spend a summer day in Chicago.  Just wake up, listen to what you want, and then just go do it.

This summer, I want to get out and explore cultural events in the city I have never done or haven’t done in a long time.  One of the great things about living in a major city like Chicago is that there is always stuff do.  Lots of great music, art, and culture in this city.

This past Tuesday, I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Since I volunteer nearly every Tuesday at the music school, I never get a chance to go out the MCA when the main gallery is free to Illinoi residents.  However, a friend of mine invited me to their Tuesdays on the Terrace event, an evening of free music hosted in the terrace garden of the MCA.  It is a weekly event running every Tuesday from the beginning of June through the end of September.

On this occasion, my friend, his girlfriend, another couple, and I got to enjoy the stylistic free jazz drumming of Mike Reed.  With warm, sunny air surrounding us as we chilled on the grass, we listened to the local jazz auteur and had great conversations over wine.

Reed, though born in Germany, was raised in Evanston and started his jazz career in Chicago in the 1990s after graduating with degrees in English and psychology.  He started playing in the local jazz scene with such acts as Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra and the Josh Berman Quartet.  Along with cornetist Josh Berman, Reed has also launched several music cities at various venues around the city including the Hungry Brain.  Reed is also the founding director of the Pitchfork Music Festival and is the owner and director of the performing arts venue Constellation.

In 2017, Reed released the album Flesh & Bone on the label 482 music.  Reed composed and recorded the tracks as well as played drums.  He was backed by a variety of great jazz musicians including Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Jason Roebke on bass, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, and Ben Lamar Gay on cornet.  While there are some tracks that contain spoken word and poetry elements, most of the album is instrumental free jazz.  The third track, “Conversation Music,” is a standout track.  Reed’s drumming is slow and subtle while a sinister saxophone and clarinet undulate throughout the track fluctuating between performing in unison and seemingly in competition with each other.

The MCA knows great art and great music.  If you’re looking for some lowkey summer fun in Chicago, the music you’ll hear at Tuesdays on the Terrace is a good way to go.

“the shores of normandy” – jim radford (2019)

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Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, an Allied invasion of Normandy as part of Operation Overload during World War II.  It is a defining battle during a defining war with effects that still reverberate to this day as the world recognizes veterans from the war, both living and dead, the millions of lives lost from the destruction.

During this time, President Trump has been visiting the United Kingdom and taking part in activities commemorating the anniversary of the battle which signified a major turning part in the war.  With such an occasion, tact and humility are needed to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  That is not what we get with Trump.

Trump is a coward, as Senator Tammy Duckworth declared, and I have to agree. Trump received five deferments during the Vietnam War, two of which were allegedly for bone spurs.  Now, we have had presidents who have not served in the military and some who have even criticized American involvement with international conflicts.  However, we have not had one that has expressed such cowardice through their denigration of war heroes, false promises to veterans, and maligned understanding of the impact war has on families than Donald Trump.

In an interview with Pier Morgan, Trump discussed his Vietnam stating he “was never a fan” meaning that he did not support American intervention in the country.  While others felt the same way.  Trump also did not actively protest the war.  Others did not as well.  Where Trump’s cowardice comes through is how he is able to rationalize his deferment.

During this interview, Trump stated that his lack of service has been rectified by him being elected president.  Specifically, Trump said, about serving in Vietnam, “I would not have minded that at all. I would have been honored. But I think I make up for it now. I mean look, $700 billion I gave last year and then this year $716 billion and I think I’m making up for it rapidly because we are rebuilding our military at a level that it’s never seen before.”

In response, Senator Duckworth responded to Trump’s comments by saying “I don’t know anyone who has served in uniform, especially in combat, who would say they are a fan of war,” she said. “In fact, I opposed the Iraq war, but volunteered to go when my unit was deployed.”  Donald Trump, who has never been forced to be accountable about anything, is able to, over 40 years later after being issued five deferments, claim he would have proudly served in a war he opposed.

While the Vietnam War was, and remains, rather unpopular in American history, the way World War II has been depicted in popular culture has reflected an opposite, often rose-colored, reputation.  For many reasons, World War II has been revered as a defining moment in recent history, an epic battle of good versus evil, where America, and the Allied forces by extension, represent the last bastion of freedom against the existential threat to democracy by Hitler’s fanatical fascism and his commitment to racial purity enforced through systemic genocide. Even Trump echoes this simplistic understanding of the war with comments during the Piers Morgan interview saying, in conjunction with his view on Vietnam, “But, uh, nobody heard of Vietnam and then say well what are we doing. So many people dying. So I was never a fan of — this isn’t like I’m fighting against Nazi Germany. I’m fighting — we’re fighting against Hitler.”

Our society reveres our veterans, and rightfully so.  However, we cannot ignore the inherent problems within America before, during, and, unfortunately, after World War II.  Breaking down popular conception of the war, there are countless books and resources that document American debate about interfering in European conflicts. And, more disturbingly, there existed a contingent of Americans that championed Hitler’s ideals and leveraged them as a reason to not engage militarily with the dictator.  While high school courses and popular culture may paint such a complex war in simple terms of good versus evil, Americans were divided because of their racism and prejudice.

While fascism went out of style and stayed underground for several decades after World War II, it has come back in a big way.  Since the early 1990s, fascism and neo-Nazis in Europe have quietly garnered support.  And now, in 2019, we are in the middle of the first term of a president who has emboldened fascist contingencies within his base.  The extreme factions of Trump’s support base, consisting of white supremacists, American isolationists, and just plain Nazis, have now become organized, motivated, and vocal on social media, championing the president to continue sowing discord among Americans for beliefs that resulted in a global conflict in which upwards of 85 million people lost their lives.

This conflict is recent history.  There are people who were alive then, some of whom fought.  The idea that we can be so blind to the reality, or even nuance, of war, whittling it down to concepts of good versus bad or right versus wrong, is unsettling.  And even more disturbing is the fact that there are significant social and political movements that want to return to fascist order that resulted in the war.

I know it can be easy to be cynical and be all doom and gloom about the future. Trump certainly doesn’t make it easier.  However, fascism is on the rise in Europe, especially in eastern Europe.  I hope it can be quashed, but it has a strong momentum fueled by racism and political desires to disrupt global alliances and treaties.  As the world solemnly reflects on arguably the most significant of World War II’s defining moments, the idea that we could realistically be in the same position, but with nuclear weapons, is terrifying.

Jim Radford is the youngest known D-Day veteran having served as a ship’s galley boy during the Normandy invasion.  He helped construct a harbor and ran supplies on the beaches.  In 1969, being a fan of folk music, he wrote a song called “The Shores of Normandy.”  In 2019, 75 years after the Normandy invasion and 50 years since writing the song, Radford recorded a version of the song which has hit the number spot of Amazon’s singles chart.

In “The Shores of Normandy,” Radford sings about his experience in the invasion.  About the song and why he chose to record it in 2019, Radford said “It’s very important to me and other veterans that there should be a place like this where people can come and reflect because we’re not going to be around for much longer to tell the story, and the story needs to be told because people need to learn lessons from it.”

Profits from “The Shores of Normandy” will support the British Normandy Memorial.

“stranded” – the gories (1990)

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When you’re young and ambitious, and living in a major city, it is easy to feel anxious.  When you have a sense of what you want to achieve and who you want to be, it is a reflection of an identity you are crafting for yourself.  However, when others disagree with these aspects of the life you want to build then it becomes a criticism about that identity. And that is where the anxiety starts.

I’ve been n a transitional period for a while and I have been feeling rather stuck.  I’ve been on the job hunt for a few years and while I have had a few close calls in advancing my career, I haven’t been able to make that change. I’m gainfully employed now but it is with a company I don’t care about.  They don’t even care about me.  Just this week, when I told my boss that I haven’t been getting much direction in my role, he said he hadn’t been leveraging me as much as he could’ve because he was hoping I would’ve left on my own already.  And while I have been looking for an opportunity to check out, I might as well do the best job I can while I’m still where I’m at.

The constant rejection one feels while looking for a job, and especially if that search has lasted such a long time, feels like an admonishment of the identity you are trying to create for yourself.  It suggests that the image you have of yourself is not shared by others.  And a lot of doubt sets in as a result.

Largely, I don’t have many complaints.  My life is pretty nice.  I get to do the things I want, have nice and supportive friends, and I am able to live alone and be financially independent in a large city.  Many others are not as fortunate, so I should count my blessings.  I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, whether they be more or less fortunate than me, but sometimes it is difficult not to.  When I see my friends and colleagues advancing so quickly in their careers, I think about what I’m doing wrong.  I think about is wrong with me.  Someone somewhere is buying into their identity.  What is my identity worth?

In the last few years, I have really developed some great grounding exercises to help me break out of negative thinking cycles.  And I have really benefitted from them.  Though, sometimes, it isn’t easy to break out of that cycle.  So you just have to sit with the anxiety, acknowledge its existence, and try to let it pass naturally with exacerbating the situation by dwelling and stewing.

I sometimes think of drastic things that I think will help my situation.  Most of the time, it is me thinking about moving to a different city.  A smaller, and perhaps less competitive city that would love to hire someone who survived and (sometimes) thrived in the big city of Chicago.  But, let’s face it.  Do these problems really just go away that quickly?  Do I really think my problems will go away if I move?  Likely not.

I have a strong sense of self.  I am ambitious and I don’t give up.  It is hard sometimes, but I’m someone who keeps trying.  I have a lot of good in my life and I recognize areas that need further improvement or development.  And I work hard in those areas.  It isn’t easy and most people feel the way I do or are experiencing the same things as me.  Though I feel like it sometimes, I am not alone.

I’m ready for a big change.  I’m ready to cross the threshold and take on new responsibilities and have new experiences and learn new lessons.  I’ve always been about growth, both personal and professional, and I’m ready to stretch out because I’ve outgrown certain aspects of my current life.  In the meantime, I just have to be patient.  I feel stuck, but I must remember it isn’t forever.

For this week’s song blog post, I just wanted something youthful and angry that reflected my feelings on feeling stuck.  Something cathartic that allowed me to dance away the negativity.  And I feel that with The Gories, a garage band from Detroit that blends garage aesthetic with blues.  On their 1990 studio album I Know You Fine, But How You Doin’ features the song “Stranded”, a song that illustrates that power can come from anger.  Lead singer yells “Right now, I just want to get the hell out.”  You and me both, brother.

“game of thrones (main title)” – ramin djawadi (2011)

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The quality of last night’s series finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones will be a hot bed of opinions and cultural think pieces for years to come.  Much like the ending of Lost and The Sopranos, fans and casual viewers who followed the violence and political intrigue within the world of Westeros will decipher, discuss, and debate the merits and missteps of the battles for the Iron Throne.  However, whether you loved or loathed the ending of the series, the series has become another example of toxic fan culture that has permeated entertainment.

When the series started in 2011, the show’s runners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss had five books of material from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire to develop the television adaptation.  With the first book in the series published in 1996, Martin had already developed a rich, complicated world for his characters and their adventures, a process not unlike the kind other fantasy authors such as J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien adhered to when crafting their mystical worlds.  It is a process of methodical craftsmanship where an author will outline everything, down to smallest detail, before they begin the arduous task of putting words to paper.

The most recent book of Martin’s series was published in 2011 with the promise that the final two entries in his saga would soon follow.  Since making television adaptations is a much quicker process than writing a sprawling tome, the show runners for the series had to rely on notes with Martin serving as a creative consultant when producing the final two seasons in 2017 and 2019.  Coincidentally, this timing corresponds with when fans believe the show took a nosedive.

Over the last six weeks as the final season of Game of Thrones aired, it was frankly bewildering to see just how much animosity fans of the series expressed over the quality of the final season.  As each new episode aired, the Internet would explode with comments, editorials, and general winging about how terrible the series had become now that the show was venturing into territory not based on existing published materials.

Even prior to the finale airing, a petition appeared on Change.org demanding that the final season be redone in accordance to the wishes of the fans.  After the finale aired and did not alleviate any of the anger and vitriol the fans felt over the series ending on terms they didn’t want or expect, their demands to have a reproduced final season have only grown louder and the credentials of Benioff and Weiss questioned for their perceived bungling of a complex, richly detailed world to the point of advocating that Disney and Lucasfilm drop the dragon duo from producing their upcoming Star Wars movies.

With all the complaints about Game of Thrones, I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized the premiere of the series finale fell on the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace.  I was 11 when that movie was released but even then I was aware, in this age where Internet fandom culture was not as massive and pervasive as it is now, of the toxic fan culture that responded so intensely to the first new Star Wars film since 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

I was a child and was thoroughly entertained by the movie. Older generations who were kids when the original series came out felt betrayed by George Lucas with claims that their childhood was ruined by bad acting, wooden dialogue, and unnecessary special effects.  For the movie’s 20th anniversary, I actually rewatched it right before the premiere of the Game of Thrones finale (and actually was late to starting the finale so I could finish it).  And while it is flawed and definitely not as good as its predecessors, it is still a fun movie that served its purpose in the series and did an excellent job at expanding the look and feel of the Star Wars universe.  Worst film in the franchise?  Not by a long shot (sorry Attack of the Clones).  However, it will never shake that reputation.

Though, think about the immense pressure and responsibility that was put on The Phantom Menace because of fan expectations.  This was going to be a unique experience that would be very loosely connected to the original films.  So much so that it almost feels like a completely different fantasy franchise.  As a result, you find very little familiarity to generate feelings of nostalgia with the fans who would end up being the most upset and vocal. And there were consequences. Ahmed Best, the actor who portrayed Jar Jar Binks, almost committed suicide. Jake Lloyd, the boy who played Anakin Skywalker, was bullied and quit acting.  And George Lucas, the creator, wasn’t having any fun making the movies so he sold the rights to Disney who then went in directions that conflicted with the intent Lucas had for expanding the saga

And sadly, toxic fan culture has only grown worse as technology has increased the speed, frequency, and range in which negative opinions can travel.  You may have forgotten about Best or Lloyd or Lucas, but the actors in the latest Star Wars films have been bullied and quit social media because of toxic fan culture.  Same shit, different decade.

And so, as I am reading the critiques of the final season of Game of Thrones, I am seeing some familiar criticisms.  Claims of bad acting, prioritizing cinematography over the script, and not adhering to whatever vision these fans had for the series.  For people my age, this generation has always experienced toxic fan culture.  From The Phantom Menace, the first big worldwide cultural milestone of our lives, to Game of Thrones, the latest in worldwide cultural milestones, it is hard to remember a time when toxic fans did not ruin things for everyone else.

What comes from all this?  The democratization of creative content.  Toxic fans have become such a major problem that creative control has increasingly been shifting from the content creators to the fans as major multimedia conglomerates work to appease fans as it has become such a profitable business model.  So much so that it is almost an absolute science.  A formula that can be plugged in to give you everything you wanted as opposed to anything you need.  Just take a look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a 22-film franchise that has been studied and crafted for over a decade to create a moviegoing hegemony where fans don’t have to worry about getting something they do not want and did not ask for.  As all these media companies combine, fans will never have to worry about being challenged again when they can simply vote for what they want with their dollars.  A “choose your own adventure story” where the media companies know what you’re going to choose even before you do.

Benioff and Weiss had an impossible, almost Sisyphean task; tell the story of A Song of Ice and Fire before its own creator could.  No way was this going to please everyone, and I am sure they anticipated much more negative criticism than they are receiving.  However, they stepped up to the task and did so admirably.  I could not have written a better ending, something all these toxic fans and fan-fiction writers have yet to admit themselves.

The series’ main title, composed by Ramin Djawadi, is iconic and one I’ll never forget.  Kicking off the soundtrack for the first season, the Game of Thrones main title kicked off an epic journey that has secured its place in pop culture history.  Hearing it at the beginning of every episode and seeing how the opening title animations would change from week to week was absolutely thrilling.  I don’t know when I’ll return to the world of Westeros, but I am eager to see what Benioff and Weiss come up with.  And my advice for anyone engaging with creative content as massive as Star Wars or Game Thrones is to just watch and keep an open mind.  The creators do not owe you anything and making demands on them only limits them and restricts their output.

“ship of fools” – world party (1987)

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In December, a GoFundMe campaign was initiated to fund Trump’s border wall.  Spearheaded by Brian Kolfage, a Purple Heart recipient and triple-amputee veteran, the goal was to raise $1 billion to build portions of the border for a “fraction of what it costs the government” and do so on private lands owned by a nonprofit launched by Kolfage.  Within just a few weeks, Kolfage raised over $20 million from thousands of donors.  These donors were people so desperate for their wall, a symbol of bigotry and white supremacy, that they would give their money away to a man like Kolfage who promised results during April 2019. Though the GoFundMe did not achieve the goal Kolfage set, the timeline to begin construction has started and his financial backers are no wondering what is happening with the wall.

Reports have been coming through alleging that Kolfage recently bought a $1 million yacht using the money intended for the border wall, and is described as living a “high-flying lifestyle” with the rest of the funds. During their reporting of Kolfage’s campaign to raise fund for the border wall, The Washington Post that alleged Kolfage has a long history of scamming people using sensationalist anti-liberal propaganda to generate revenue.  Investigations led by NBC and BuzzFeed have also provided examples of Kolfage using conspiracy theories and fake news articles to harvest, mine, and sell email address and other data from his supporters.  Kolfage has also been linked to other crowdsourcing efforts that scammed financial backers including projects mentoring wounded veterans.  While Kolfage has not been charged or convicted for any of these scams, he has certainly been linked to scams for quite some time.

I cannot imagine being so desperate for a symbol of isolationist bigotry, such as the border wall, that I would be willing to unquestioningly give my money to some clean-cut, conservative white guy in a pressed polo in the hopes he could make by nationalist, white supremacist ideals into a reality.  Frankly, it is a mentality that I do not understand, relate to, or empathize with because of the amount of putrid hate that goes into that kind of thinking.  I can generally find myself supportive of anyone taken advantage of, but I feel nothing for these dumbasses who sold their souls for a stupid wall.

While these reports have been coming through about Kolfage, I have been reading Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.  As of the date this blog is published, I am just over the halfway point of reading through this report.

While much of what I have read in the report I already knew, I did learn some details that add some context to larger issues.  However, it all boils down to one consistent thought throughout and that is “why do people believe this man?”

Ultimately, the report suggests that Trump and his team were not knowledgeable that what they were doing was wrong and the inherent difficulty of assessing the value of the damage from that wrongdoing.  It is crystal clear Trump has lied, cheated, and stole throughout his life and that did not stop when he entered the White House, using the 2016 campaign as a big informercial to raise his brand awareness and profitability.  This is a conman who is scamming America, but he still manages to have a third of America enamored and defending his every move.

The reason why is that they are nationalists, racists, and white supremacists who have a very specific vision of America.  I’m not suggesting that every person who voted for Trump in 2016 adheres to any of those disgusting principles.  However, the fringe elements of Trump’s base have become so mobilized that they are helping drive national policy with Trump acting in their interests because they adore him.  These people want a wall built and Trump will do it because they love him.  As a result, the rest of America, people who don’t want a wall or are even ambivalent to it, are lumped in with those who are giving this country a bad name.  A name that suggests we are racist, hateful, bigoted, and uncaring to the rest of the world.  Those of us who oppose the wall are stuck on a burning ship set aflame by those who will distort America’s inherent vision and framework to align with their own to the point of altering America beyond recognition.  And It doesn’t matter if they get conned along the way, whether by Kolfage or trump, because they are always willing to throw in big bucks or put in long hours to get what they want.

“I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools” sung by Karl Wallinger, the producer and multi-instrumentalist behind World Party.  As World Party, Wallinger released “Ship of Fools” in 1987 from his studio album Private Revolution.  In the song, Wallinger is decrying the greed and avarice that defined the 1980s in favor of a more fair and inclusive direction.  This ship is travelling the world in search of no good, exploiting the work of galley slaves as the ship sails further away from the light towards darkness.  In a time when America faces an existential crisis on a level unheard of in our history, World Party’s “Ship of Fools” maintains a relevancy three decades after its initial release as a statement about the absurdity the majority endures at the hands of an extremist minority.

It is frustrating to know that a third of the country is being lied to but is still willing to give everything they have to secure a masturbatory fantasy regarding their bogus national identity.  It is important to fight against this at every step because we will not like what comes after America.