“overkill” – men at work (1983)

R-996029-1360615036-4175.jpeg

Spring has finally come to stay in Chicago and I couldn’t happier.  My big coats have been stowed away as the temperatures have been warm enough for just long-sleeve shirts or even plain t-shirts (be still my beating heart).  The sunshine has been generous and I’ve taken every chance to be outside.  Walking around the neighborhoods, reading on park benches, running the lake path, and even enjoying patio season are now filling my itineraries so fast that I need to hire an assistant to keep track of them all.

The crisp mornings and warm afternoons of spring really inspire something in me.  After spending several months cold and inside during winter, spring reinvigorates me and makes me feel more alive.  Though I am a fairly ambitious person, I have been a lot more motivated lately.  In last week’s entry, I talked about taking steps to jumpstart my career.  However, that hasn’t been the only thing I’ve been focused on.

There was a period in my life where I didn’t have the time, energy, or money to focus on hobbies, friendships, or anything else that would contribute to someone’s development as a well-rounded person.  I was working over 70 hours a week for an abusive person and with such a chaotic schedule that it was hard to focus on myself and my well-being.  My health was declining, my relationship at the time suffered, and it seemed as though no other options were available.

Fortunately, that toxic situation ended over three years ago and I’m thoroughly grateful.  My transition after that job was tough, but I got through it.  In some respects, I’ve been living on borrowed time since then.  While, I think, most people would’ve taken some time off, I hit the ground running and started to focus on things that I enjoyed.  In the last few years, I started volunteering for CHIRP Radio, picked up reading as a hobby, volunteered for a few other media arts non-profits, and starting other hobbies that make me happy and diversify my outlets.  Since I knew what it was like to not have a life when someone exerted so much control over you, I wanted to live on my own terms and that involved doing everything I felt like I was missing out on.

I recently joined a gym.  I talked about hating gyms for years.  For the most part, gyms are smelly, overpriced, and you’re surrounded by people who make you more self-conscious.  Plus, I like to run outside and treadmills feel so unnatural to me.  Regardless, I have now become a gym rat.  I recently found a fitness center at a Chicago park near my apartment.  For $20, I can use their facilities to work out and improve my health and physique.  Having been wanting to make more room for exercise, I found this community park gym to be a nice compromise because of the price and the staff has been so nice.  Taking that step and committing to an exercise routine has now become another way for me to live for myself.

I’ve been feeling really good about the life I’ve bene making for myself.  No one can ever accuse me of being lazy.  I love life and I have a thirst for challenge and experience.  And that makes me unafraid to work towards bettering myself.  To do that, I’m engaging on multiple fronts.  I am giving back to the community when I volunteer regularly, I am looking for a new job that stimulates me more, I am working out to improve my health, and I continue to take music classes to stay creative.

For about a year and a half, I’ve been taking guitar classes at the Old Town School of Folk music.  I had wanted to take classes prior, but just couldn’t swing it due to time.  Since starting, I have improved a lot.  I’m still not playing at the level of Jimmy Page or Frank, but I have fun with it.  There are still some aspects I have trouble with.  Barre chords, for example, are my biggest obstacles.  However, with enough time and practice, I’m sure I’ll get there.

This Sunday will be my class’ student show case.  At the end of an eight-week sessions, classes perform on stage in front of an audience to showcase what they have learned.  Classes from all skill levels perform one song.  For my student showcase, we will be performing “Overkill” by Men At Work.  What makes “Overkill” such a good showcase piece is that use of power chords and barre chords.  It is also a song people know so that helps when connecting with the audience.

What is really funny is how apt of a selection “Overkill” is when I think about my life and the changes I want to make.  Written by Colin Hay, “Overkill” is a worrier’s anthem.  In the song, Hay cannot get to sleep because he is up thinking too much about people and situations form his past.  Tossing and turning in his bed, he is driving himself crazy. It is only when he walks the streets and is distracted by the lights that he can momentarily forget about whatever is in the past that is bothering him.

I connect with this song because I am worrier.  Honestly, I try not to be.  In fact, I work very hard not to worry.  I’ve realized in the last few years that it takes a while to make meaningful change.  And any change worth making doesn’t come easy.  It takes time and a lot of work.  Stay committed long enough and you’ll see the results.

I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life for the first few years living in Chicago because of my job.  Things have improved since then and I am happier for those changes, but I don’t want to take things for granted.  We all have ghosts from the past that try to haunt us.  You can either let them get to you, or fight them off by focusing on the future.  And sometimes, despite all your best effort, they’ll still get you.  It will happen, but you cannot stop.  Don’t look back.

As much as I love “Overkill” as a song, it is not a way I want to live.  That’s why I find new professional, creative, or personal outlets for me to explore.  Change will happen and, when it does, I want to feel like I am strong enough to handle whatever comes my way.  So, I am making things happen for myself now.  I am loving this heightened sense of motivation I have recently acquired to be the best friend, lover, colleague, professional, etc. that I can be.  With warmer weather, spring also comes with opportunities.  Whether they be new jobs, new friends, new lovers, or new experiences, I feel fortunate that I have the freedom to work towards what I want in my life.

Advertisements

“makeout king” – showyousuck (2013)

unnamed

Ambition is something I never really lacked.  As far back as I can remember, I have always been motivated to do my best and achieve my goals.  It is easy to dream big when you’re younger.  That kind of optimism is something I really miss.  As it increasingly disappears over time, reality sets in.  You’re more aware of your own personal limitations as well as the obstacles put in front of you by your environment or by chance.  It becomes a game that requires an evolving strategy as the game board constantly changes.

I am still very much an ambitious person.  However, the only difference between myself now and myself back then is that I have to try harder as I get older.  I wish I had all the free time and energy I wasted so cavalierly a decade ago.  Now, I have jobs and responsibilities.  I don’t have kids, though.  Young parents who manage to still have some semblance of a personal life are super heroes to me.

My career is something I have been very focused on lately.  In fact, I’ve always been focused on my career.  When I first moved to Chicago, I got a non-profit video production job and did that steadily for three years.  Then, I moved on to some freelance consulting for a film non-profit.  When I finally got a full-time video production job again, things were looking up.  Then, the Chicago branch of this company closed and I was left figuring out what to do next.

What followed was me doing a series of administrative temp jobs. Ultimately, one became permanent with benefits, paid time off, and a 401k retirement plan.  I had never had those things before.  While this new job wasn’t in my field, it was stable and provided me with the ability to pay my bills without worry and have health insurance.  Since I just went through a period of unstable employment due to be being laid off and doing low-level temp jobs, I told myself that I would stay at my new job for two years before I pound the pavement looking for a break in my field.

During those two years, I did a volunteer of volunteer work for a few media non-profits.  In fact, I still volunteer because I love it and it builds my resume.  One is a community radio station where I develop partnerships with local businesses and organizations.  The other is a renowned folk music school where I organize and catalogue records in their archives.  As much fun as I have at these places and enjoy what I do, neither directly contributed to my set goal of working in video production.

My two-year anniversary at my current job arrived in January.  That would be my starting gun in the race for a new job.  Finding a new job takes a lot of work.  You send out a high volume of resumes, get met with a high volume of rejections, and the whole process is tedious, monotonous, and time consuming.  I envy people who have been at their place of employment for over a decade or have had a high enough of a position where their job hunting work is kept at a minimum.  Finding a job is a job itself.

The whole process for me is frustrating because I have a lot of great experience and talent.  However, I have hard time telling my story in a way that is attractive to recruiters or hiring managers.  The main issues are that I am just too honest and direct plus I really undersell my abilities due to lack of confidence.  I am working on these things.

Finding a new job requires more than just a standard approach.  You need flexibility to tackle problems with solutions that come in the form of a dynamic, engaged, and multi-faceted plan.  You have to give your all in every aspect of the process and not just one part, or you just may as well not be doing anything at all.  Contacting recruiters is great and all, but you gotta be hungrier than that.  Getting back out in the job market made me realize that while I did a lot of great volunteer work over the last few years, I wasn’t necessarily focusing in on opportunities that were more beneficial to my job hunt.  The solution to this problem?  Work even harder.

I’ve now started to find opportunities to get back into media production and to use those opportunities as networking opportunities.  My community radio station, CHIRP Radio, has an ongoing artist spotlight series called “CHIRP Factory Sessions.”  In an episode, an artist is highlighted by the station; usually a local or up-and-coming artist.  They perform a few songs during a professional video production session with interview clip interspersed between songs.  Even though I had been at CHIRP radio for three years, this was something I never volunteered to help with.  That was going to change.

The volunteer work for this program is fairly simple.  When the artist and video crew arrive, you just help get their stuff in the building, clear some stuff to make room, and then step back and let them do their thing.  Like all the video productions I worked on before, there is a lot of standing around.  That is just the nature of the industry.  However, you can choose how you use this time.  My goal is networking.  I hung around and talked with the crew.  Nothing too big or serious.  Just general bullshitting.  This was the first time I had met the crew, so I couldn’t lay it on so thick with the “help me get back into video production” shtick.  Gotta take it slow, let them remember you, and then make a move.  As I mentioned, finding new opportunities is a very slow process.

Even though I am committed to the long game and willing to wait, it still doesn’t mean I don’t get a little down and overwhelmed by how slow things can move.  With how my brain operates, I get a little bummed and then I start thinking about all the bad things.  So, that is when I putting my grounding exercises to use and distract myself with something I like.  This was starting to happen when the video crew was busy setting up and I didn’t have the chance to engage with them personally, so I talked to one of the artists who came in to perform.

The featured artist that night was Air Credits.  Air Credits is a hip-hop duo fronted by Clinton Sandifer who is more known in Chicago by his stage name Showyousuck.  Air Credits provides the soundtrack for the not too distant future where the environment is ravaged and the water supply is virtually non-existent.  There is a message to their music that is all too real given the environmentally damaging policies of the Trump administration.  It is political music for a political time.

I got an opportunity to chat with Sandifer for a bit.  The new Kendrick Lamar was a few days away from being released.  A lot of pressure was on Lamar considering his previous album To Pimp a Butterfly was a commercial hit and critical milestone.  With all the secrecy surrounding Lamar’s album, everyone was dying to know if Lamar could deliver a great work of art again.

One of the big mysteries surrounding the album involved the guests on the record.  Only two would be featured; Rihanna and U2.  Given that U2 had become kind of a joke with the kids these days because of recent mediocre albums, lack of chart-topping hits, Bono’s philanthropy, and, of course, the whole iTunes fiasco, people were freaking out.  How were U2 and Kendrick Lamar going to sound?  Was it going to be a sample? Would Bono rap?  No one knew and it was driving music fans and the Internet crazy.  It was unfathomable for both U2 and Kendrick Lamar fans to imagine such a collaboration.  Who had lost their minds between the two?

Sandifer and I talked about the upcoming U2 guest spot.  Sandifer was super skeptical, but open-minded.  U2 had collaborated with hip-hop and rap artists before, but all those tracks were mediocre at best.  Sandifer is a rap artist and aficionado, I am a die-hard U2 fan, and Lamar’s new track was what we shared.

While speculating on the quality of the track, I was talking to Sandifer about some of the comments I had seen online.  A lot of jokes were being made, but that was to be expected because no one knew.  I frequent a message board run by the U2 fan site atu2.com.  Earlier in the day, I was reading through a thread about the Lamar album.  One user had posted the text from a tweet they had read.  Without crediting who wrote the tweet, it said “DOES KENDRICK EVEN KNOW THAT U2 IS ON HIS ALBUM, BECAUSE THEIR ALBUM IS STILL ON MY PHONE AND I NEVER ASKED FOR THAT.”  Three years later and the iTunes jokes are still coming in.

I told Sandifer about that and he looked at me and said “I wrote that.”  Immediately, I busted out laughing.  Not only was it a really great pop culture joke, but I was unknowingly talking the author of that solid joke.  I marveled at the serendipity of the situation and how small our world can be.  I told Sandifer his joke had been circulating on message boards and he flipped out in hysterics over that.  He event wanted a picture of the post so he could share it on Twitter.  It was great and hilarious moment.

17862803_10103419667052022_5173060066215167190_n

Of course, I didn’t know any of that was going to happen.  I was going into the evening a little tired, but ready to start working so I can meet the right people and get the right job and so on and so forth.  As a really focused and intense person, it can be hard for me to stop and take in my surroundings.  Just pausing and enjoying the simpler and little things can be hard for someone on a mission fueled by their own hunger and ambition.  My goal was to network and get things done.  If I didn’t talk to Sandifer, I would’ve gone home even more tired and a little stressed.  But my conversation with him and that revelation over our shared interests really made my night.

As mentioned earlier, Sandifer is more known by his rap persona Showyousuck.  He’s always been a great friend to CHIRP Radio and always a delight to listen to and see perform.  One of my favorite tracks of his comes from his 2013 EP Dude Bro.  “Makeout King” is a fun party song with a killer synth and laid back lyrics.  Sandifer raps about coming to pick you up in a hurry while making out in the backseat listening to Journey.  Though Air Credits has a more focused and socially conscious message, Sandifer’s music as Showyousuck is just pure fun.  As with “Makeout King,” his other tracks like “80’s Boobs” showcase his penchant for throwback musical stylings and lyrical pop culture references that are fun and great to dance to.

Still very much an independent local artist, Sandifer still makes his mark as a triumphantly creative force in the Chicago music scene.  Any and all success he gets is greatly deserved.  With a catalogue that continues to get bigger and more prolific, Sandifer’s music has the potential for mass appeal with his catchy tracks and meaningful commentary.  Working and talking with him was a perfectly good reminder that I can work hard for what I want, but that I should still take time to slow down and enjoy the things that I would otherwise miss.  That if I’m not going to drive myself crazy looking for work, I need to remember that I have a life to live to stay grounded, balanced, and happy.  And that includes getting the most laughter and fun out of things that I can.

 

“fight the power” – public enemy (1989)

R-166811-1401537533-4652.jpeg

Growing up, I was enamored by film.  So much so that I wanted to be a filmmaker.  I was in high school when I made that decision for myself because, as we all know, what you decide for yourself as a teenager stays with you forever and you can’t change or else you’ll live the rest of your days as a miserable failure.  But, I digress.

As a plucky teenager in high school, I figured that the first step to becoming a legitimate filmmaker was to study the classics.  To see how people did things before, find aesthetics that appealed to me, and replicate them while making some mistakes that would lead to artistic, personal, and professional innovation.  In other words, I spent a lot of time in my room watching movies and not playing outside.

I tried to watch as many classics as I could growing up.  Any movie that appeared on any curated “best of” list was fair game as I critiques, analyzed, and studied each film to any degree a kid can intellectually dissect cinema.  I was paying attention to framing, composition, blocking, tracking, and any other film trick that was used to project a certain idea.  It was a very academic way to approach a movie and my introduction to film theory.

In college, I watched a lot of films as well.  Before college, I watched movies and listened to talking heads on television tell me why a particular movie was so important.  In college, I watched movies and listened to talking heads at the front of the class tell why a particular movie was so important.  This was the next logical step in my education.  I had the drive and motivation to learn, but now had more tools in my repertoire to really get at the heart of the art form.  Combine that with me studying the technical side in my video production classes and you had all the makings of the next cinematic auteur.

However, things change.  You learn new things, reevaluate your priorities based on what is happening around you, and then explore new facets of yourself you weren’t aware of before.  After college, I lost a lot of interest in studying cinema or even working in film.  I had just worked on a movie in Alaska and I was left wondering if there was more.  I left the experience a little disillusioned which was an extension of inklings of thought I had while pursuing an internship at a major media conglomerate.  I had seen how the industry cultivates a toxic level of egotism and selfishness that just didn’t sit right with me.

My outlook on film changed.  Instead, I applied my video production background in different areas including non-profits where I worked on education initiatives.  I really enjoyed the proactive and socially engaging ways that video could be used to reach people and communicate certain ideas that motivate them.  Plus, I realized that traditional video production was boring.  This is the 21st century goddammit.  Terrestrial media is dying and I can access everything I need on my little pocket oracle.  That attitude my upset purists who enjoy big theaters, but it is truth.  Plus, there is a time and place.  As much as I love sitting in a dark theater watching images on a big screen, video and film have more power than that and how we engage with it is changing.

This also affected my viewing habits.  I stopped watching television and film as much as I used to.  There were other interests and hobbies I pursued.  If I watched anything at all, it was something I hadn’t seen before or was just really goofy entertainment like a John Waters movie.  The classics were no longer a part of my life.  I had seen, reviewed, and analyzed them all. What could I gain from going through them again?

That all changed recently.  After listening to a variety of different Fresh Air episodes and books on film, I started to get the itch to revisit all my beloved classic cinema that I hadn’t seen in well over a decade.  It started with The Godfather when I picked up a copy from the library after hearing Coppola talk to Terry Gross about a new book containing the diary he kept while making that film.  Rewatching it was a great experience.  I remember it was a great film and that it was important in popular culture.  It is so ingrained in our society that whenever that title is mentioned, you know it is considered the pinnacle of great American cinema.  However, watching it over a decade later, I picked up a lot more than when I last saw it in high school.  As an adult pushing 30, I understood a deeper level of complexity and subtlety that I never did before.  I gravitated to different things as an adult.  It was like watching the film for the first time.

That experience led me to think about what I am missing when it comes to all my other favorite classics.  Can I go back and gain a fresh outlook on something I watched so many times already?  I had to find out, so I went to the library and stocked up on a dozen or so classic films that I cherished and challenged me as an adolescence.  Title likes All About Eve, It Happened One Night, 12 Angry Men, and others were calling to me.  So, I’ve begun a journey of rediscovery and becoming reacquainted with the art that inspired me.

One of the films I recently rewatched was Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing which I hadn’t seen since my senior year of high school.  Lee plays the lead role, Mookie, in the film who is employed to deliver pizza for a local pizzeria in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn run by an Italian-American named Sal and his two sons.  The film takes places over the course of one day and it is one of the hottest days of the year.  As Mookie delivers pizzas to various members of the community, we get little glimpses into the lives and struggles of Mookie’s neighbors.  Da Mayor, a local old drunk played by Ossie Davis, attempts to sweet talk Mother Sister, a kind of matriarch of the neighborhood portrayed by Ossie’s wife Ruby Dee.  A group of three black men, including a Caribbean immigrant, sit on the sidewalk and complain all day about the Korean shop owners being so successful after just coming off the boat.  Radio Raheem strolls through the area blasting his boom box while other people yell at him to turn it down.  Mookie’s girlfriend, played by Rosie Perez, raises their kid and argue about how Mookie is away for so long.  And Buggin’ Out, Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito, is leading his own version of a revolutionary civil right movement.  Amidst all these interconnecting stories, tensions between races and classes rise along with the mercury until everything break loose.

While Mookie serves as the voice of reason in the film, it is Buggin’ Out who drives the narrative.  Sal’s pizzeria contains a “Wall of Fame” of famous Italian-Americans which serves as a point of cultural and ethnic pride for the owner.  Since the neighborhood is predominantly black, Buggin’ Out demands that Sal puts pictures of “brothers” on the wall.  Sal refuses because it is his place and Buggin’ Out rallies people to boycott Sal’s pizzeria.  During the climax of the film, Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem storm the restaurant.  Radio Raheem’s boom box gets broken for playing his music too loud and a huge fight breaks out.  The police soon arrive but things continue to get out of hand.  The pizzeria is burned down and Radio Raheem is choked to death by police.

Upon rewatching this film after a decade, it had dawned on me how this movie from 1989 still manages to be one of the most relevant films out there today.  Do the Right Thing is a complex analysis on race relations between multiple races and the systemic oppression that all face by people in power.  In the last few years, there has been a rise in the reporting of the deaths of unarmed black men by the hands of police; a theme explored in such a real way nearly 30 years ago by Lee.  There are even moments that deal with race issues that are not even as extreme as the death of Radio Raheem.  When Buggin’ Out’s Air Jordans get scuffed by a white resident’s bike, Buggin’ Out is shocked and offended that this white man was born and raised in the same neighborhood and blames gentrification for the decline of his role in the social order of the neighborhood.  His shoes, a point of pride for him, represented his self-worth and were disrespected by this figure he identified as an outsider.  As neighborhoods in cities continue to raise rents and seen an increase in the number of white, middle-class residents, people of color are no longer in control of their own neighborhood until they are eventually priced Out.  Again, another issue that is urgent today that was explored so elegantly nearly 30 years prior.

Do the Right Thing also contains one of the most engaging and shocking scenes involving racial issues I’ve ever seen on film.  Mookie tries to connect with one of Sal’s sons, played by John Turturro, and find out why he has issues with black people.  Mookie asks him who is favorite basketball players is, who his favorite rock star is, and so on.  And Turturro keeps responding with historical or popular black figures and then suggests that he can like them because they are black, but not really black.  That they are beyond black in a way to suggest that they are closer to white and, therefore, more respectable.  This dialog between the two characters then jumps to a montage of different characters saying racial epithets and slurs straight to the camera as it tracks swiftly to a close-up.  Mookie looks straight into the lens and launches into a tirade about Italians, Turturro insults black people, a Puerto Rican neighbor spews hate speech about Koreans, a white police office speaks on Latino stereotypes, and a Korean man goes on an Anti-Semitic rant.  This montage ends with Samuel L. Jackson, playing the DJ of a local radio station, yelling that we all need to chill.   This airing of grievances from a variety of different ethnic groups about other ethnic groups makes such an incredible statement about race relations and the environmental and social factors that influence animosity.

With Black Lives Matter, the racist ramblings of our president, and other problems facing people of color that continue to be ignored, Do the Right Thing continues to be the most relevant film out there.  The only way it could be any more relevant to current times is if it included Muslim characters.  It handles the topic and presents ideas in such a subtle and humanistic way.  Even during the finale when the raging mob targets the Korean shop owner, the Korean man is able to diffuse the situation by telling them the black crowd that they are the same.  He doesn’t mean it literally that his skin tone is the same as theirs, but he means it from the perspective that they face the same issues as non-white Americans. Incredibly powerful, the film is certainly one of the most important films out there.

Strewn throughout the film and featured so prominently as to be a character itself, Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” plays throughout the film.  The song famously opens the film as the credits play and Rosie Perez dances against a stage backdrop of colorful New York brownstones.  It is the song that Radio Raheem plays on his boom box and the track that sparks the fight in the pizzeria.  It is an incredibly thunderous song with a lot of anger and poetic rhythm.  In the song, Chuck D is urging listeners to fight the powers that be.  Confrontational and revolutionary, “Fight the Power” is anthemic and a call to action to start a revolution and engage in intelligent activism.  Famously, Chuck D states that Elvis Presley doesn’t mean shit to him signaling the toppling of a white music legend who stole from black artists only to make room for the next wave of music; music of revolution by black artists for black artists.

If you haven’t seen Do the Right Thing¸ take some time to do so.  It is a cultural tour de force with a message that still permeates our culture nearly 30 years later.  You’ll engage, learn, and fight the powers that be once you see it.

“y.a.l.a.” – m.i.a. (2013)

M.I.A._-_Y.A.L.A.

In the last two or three years, reading has become one of my favorite hobbies.  I’m practically on a new book every week.  Everything is tracked on a spreadsheet including what I have read, when I read it, and what I’m going to read next.  My list of books to read always changes based on library availability, date of release, and general interest at that time.  And I like to keep things diverse, too.  I mostly read non-fiction, but I do enjoy a good novel or graphic novel once in a while.  To help keep things diverse, I compile my reading list based on my interest, recommendation from friends, and author interviews on shows like Fresh Air or Real Time with Bill Maher.

Reading wasn’t something I really did.  Of course, I read books while in school.  However, unless I really cared about a subject or author, I really didn’t read for leisure.  When I started becoming an active reader, I picked up my first book November 2014; my first book in four years.  There’s a story as to how I became a voracious reader, but I’ll save that for another entry.

One activity I engage in to keep me a healthy and well-rounded reader is participating in a book club.  Though, you can’t just join any book club.  There’s so much to consider when participating in a book club.  You have to be interested in the book selections, enjoy the company of people around you, and find the time to actually do it.  Finding the right book club for you is like trying shoes.  You have to go through all sorts of styles before finding the right fit.

I like the idea of book clubs on the surface level, but it is different when you actually go.  My first book club I went to was last year.  I went once.  The people were fine and the book selection was fine (Bonk by Mary Roach), but I just didn’t feel like I really belonged.  Prior to that, the only club I went to was one organized by a colleague from CHIRP, the community radio station I volunteer with.  I only went to one meeting.  Not because I didn’t have any fun or enjoyed the book, but because CHIRP’s book club wouldn’t meet again for another year.  The organizer had just been really busy.

Since October, the CHIRP Radio book club has picked back up and meeting every other month.  And I really like it.  Most of the attendees are friends and colleagues, plus we read books on music.  Consistent themes in a book club are an underrated aspect of the experience.

Last week, the book club was meeting to discuss the latest selection Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus.  In short, this book was a history of the Riot Grrrl movement that elevated girls’ and women’s role in the music scene, blended punk rock and fashion, and is attributed to the creation and development of third-wave feminism.  Unfortunately, the Riot Grrrl movement only last for a few years in the early 1990s.

Due to a number of factors such as rainy weather and busy schedules, most of the regulars didn’t show up.  It looked like it was just going to by one of my colleagues and me.  We were even debating on adjusting the normal book club schedule to accommodate such a low turnout.  However, right on time, two women who I didn’t know and were not a part of CHIRP Radio came to attend the book club.

I had volunteered prior to the meeting to lead the book discussion.  Not because I consider myself an authority on feminism or Riot Grrrl specifically, but I just really enjoy talking about books.  My colleague, an educated and fun woman, had me start off the discussion.  I introduced the book and started to summarize the key points when I had a sudden realization.  I was the only man there.  I was the only man there discussing a book about a feminist movement.  I was the only man there discussing a book about a feminist movement to a group of women.  The irony was slowly sinking in.  I nervously laughed it off, addressed the male elephant in the room, and passed off the role of discussion leader to my colleague who had also wondered why I wanted to lead this discussion (Again, I just like talking about books).

Our discussion on the book was fascinating and enlightening.  It was a comfortable space where we shared out opinions and analyses involving the Riot Grrrl movement including what the flaws were, why was the movement so short, or what they could have done to keep it going.  Naturally, since the movement is so heavily associated with feminism, we talked a lot about feminism.  Specifically, what feminism meant to the girls and women in this movement and comparing it the previous feminist waves.

While I am certainly no authority of feminism, I do consider myself a feminist.  And despite my nervousness earlier when introducing the book, I was able to engage actively and navigate very difficult topics.  My colleague had teased me by saying this was a safe space and that it was okay to discuss these things.  That certainly helped and was funny.  I am a straight cisgender white male and my experiences in that world means I don’t always have the most progressive and inclusive views at all times, but my humanist outlook has value and I actively try to be thoughtful and considerate of all people involved in a neutral and respectful way.  For example, my colleague had asked the group if we thought the women in the book hated men and, if so, was that ok.  The other two women in the group stated their points that the women in the book hated men and that it wasn’t ok.  I disagreed and firmly believed the women didn’t hate men and, if they did, that’s ok.  I was asked to explain my answer and I stated that was ok for groups of people with shared physical traits or ideologies to congregate on their own terms.  The girls and women in this book wanted to hang out with other girls and women.  That meant that had to exclude boys to do that.  And I fully support that.  They should have the freedom and ability to do that without question or interference.  This led to a discussion about discrimination and I held onto that belief altruistically.  If a nasty racist group wanted to meet and exclude whoever they wanted to exclude that, that’s tolerable.  It’s not ok in the sense that it is fine or acceptable to let that happen, but it has to be tolerated.  Plus, there are creative ways you can banish those groups to the corner without affecting their rights such as removing their racist posts on social media.  As long as the government doesn’t interfere with their free speech, they can be culturally excluded.  As long as no group isn’t being violent or inciting violence, it’s their right to meet, demonstrate, and be as exclusive or inclusive as they want.  I don’t think the women in the book club necessarily agreed with that point, but I communicated it rationally.  It may not be the most “woke” thing to believe, but I try to learn, be more thoughtful and considerate, and not be a complete shitbag.

The most interesting discussion revolved around third-wave feminism’s relationship to the second-wave and what will the fourth-wave look like.  We discussed why well-established feminist organizations didn’t step in to help support the Riot Grrrl movement.  There may be a lot of answers to that question ranging from those organizations didn’t know to that they didn’t care.  I personally believe it was the latter.  We discussed how the values of third-wave feminists weren’t respected by second-wave feminists who had more limited views on the definitions of femininity and what it means to be a woman. That generational divide applied to both age and ideals and is a logical answer to the question of why Riot Grrrl wasn’t supported by the likes of Gloria Steinem or Andrea Dworkin.

Third-wave feminism is, currently, the last wave that is agreed upon en masse.  The fourth-wave, in terms of what it means as well as the people and ideas that embody it, have yet to be agreed upon.  There are a lot of ideas floating around that fourth-wave feminism means including social media’s impact on feminism, transgender support, reproductive justice, and increased presence of women in senior leadership roles.  All of those are great things.  It is just that there is not solid outline as of yet.

I had raised the question to the group as to what they think fourth-wave feminism will look like and their goals from that movement.  My colleague, a woman of Indian ethnicity, stated she wants the fourth-wave of feminism to be led by woman of color.  We talked about how feminist movements had been led by educated western white women and there had always been issues with inclusivity when it came to woman of color (the Riot Grrrl movement experienced the same criticism in the book).  While a lot of progressive liberals are focused on ivory tower feminist issues such as why Mayim Bialik thinks women shouldn’t be referred to as girls, women of color abroad face issues and unspeakable horrors that simply don’t enter into the lives of white women in this country.

The rapper M.I.A. was brought up as someone who has been valuable at raising awareness over issues facing women of color.  Born Mathangi Arulpragasam, M.I.A. has been an activist focusing on issues facing Sri Lankan Tamils, Palestinians and African Americans.  She cites her voicelessness as a child as being the motivation for her role as a refugee advocate.  While M.I.A.’s activism has drawn a considerable blend of criticism and praise, she has undoubtedly been influential in elevating the role of women of color in not only music but also their place in the world.

I wasn’t really aware of M.I.A. when she released Arular in 2005.  Like most people, my introduction to her music was the 2007 album Kala because “Paper Planes” was a huge hit.  It was all over the radio and featured in commercials and movies.  It was a popular and inescapable song.  And rightfully so.  It is a great song.

I’ve paid attention to M.I.A.’s career since then.  In 2013, she released Matangi.  The fourth single released from that record was “Y.A.L.A.” and instantly became my favorite M.I.A. song.  With its heavy beat and hypnotic rhyming, it is a catchy song that is also poignant and clever.  “Y.A.L.A” stands for “You Always Live Again” and is a direct reference to Drake’s song and the popularization of his term “Y.O.L.O.” (“You Only Live Once”).  M.I.A. uses Hindu themes to lampoon a ridiculous pop culture statement that invites recklessness and thoughtlessness.  She poses the question of why, if we only live once, then why do we keep doing the same shit.  Culturally aware, M.I.A.’s critique of such selfish disregard is enlightening and indicative of her work blending social justice and music.