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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“pulse” – melissa etheridge (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“i won’t back down” – tom petty (1989)

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When I started this blog, the original vision was to summarize a week’s worth of my life into one song.  And I left room to be fluid while doing so.  The idea was to use the context of that song to document my life or to put some ideas into perspective.  Each post has served a specific purpose.  Some I write about a specific connection to a song I had that week.  Others are written because of some event that occurred and I use a song to put my thoughts and feelings into context.  In either case, the purpose is to reflect on how important music in my life and to keep myself open to the music everyday life has to offer.

The latter has been happening a lot lately.  I really enjoy writing about a song and exploring themes within it and how they relate to what I’m feeling at that time.  However, life does happen to you while you’re busy making other plans.  And during those moments, an event determines the focus of that week’s post.

When I woke up to news about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I knew that would be my next topic.  However, I had enough foresight about how current events flowed to know not to write about it immediately.  I was going to wait a few days and read about the developments, analysis from lawmakers and experts, and official response and reaction from the president.  That takes some time to unfold.  However, yesterday became an even bigger news day covering the death of Tom Petty.  When that happened, I knew my next post would be about him.  Las Vegas, while the more important subject, is a much more complex topic and I need a few more days to process updates and reactions.

This is also the third week in a row where my post has served as an in memoriam.  I have written tributes to recently deceased artists before, but never with such frequency.  However, several artists close to me have been passing and I feel the need to write about them.  I’m looking forward to writing about more pleasant subjects.  Recent posts have been about musician deaths, devastating hurricanes, and next week’s post will be about gun violence.  I’m eager to get back to writing about more pleasant subjects.  But, despite the recent news, I can find a glimmer of happiness and appreciation in those dark moments.  And although we lost Petty, it has given me an opportunity to explore what he meant to all of us.

Tom Petty has been one of the few cultural icons that had been with me my whole life.  He’s had a storied career spanning four decades that has been consistent in terms of quality and longevity.  While some songs from his catalogue were bigger hits than others, no one can ever accuse Petty of putting out a bad record.

Growing up, you would always hear Petty’s music on the radio.  And whenever you did, it energized everyone around listening to it.  Petty had an appeal that anyone could appreciate.  He could deliver the rock goods, pen a poignant and brilliant song, and take risks that were innovative and unlike what anyone else was doing.  Petty was an American music icon because he was an American icon; someone who represented all the qualities that embodied America simultaneously.  From the young to the old, from the hip to the traditional, and from liberals to conservatives, Petty represented ideals and values that united Americans in a country that otherwise has seen itself becoming increasingly divided.

I love Tom Petty’s music, but I know I wasn’t the biggest fan per se.  I didn’t go to see him perform live in concert and I only owned one album which was the 1991 Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits compilation.  To many, he meant much more.  These are the fans who own every album, post on fan message boards, and travel from show to show.  Still, I don’t think it means Tom Petty didn’t have an impact on me.  Petty had an impact on all Americans whether or not they knew every song on every album.  Both casual listeners and hardcore fans could still find common ground.

Petty’s death was the most peculiar celebrity passing I had witnessed.  Usually, one of two things happen.  Either I wake up and find that someone died late last night or I see a breaking news alert during the day.  In both cases, it is very sudden.  With Petty’s death, it was a slow burn filled with anxiety, confusions, and conflicting details.

Yesterday afternoon, TMZ broke the story that Petty was discovered the previous night unresponsive following a massive cardiac arrest.  It was then reported that he had no brain activity.  When he was pulled off life support, I knew that was it.  It was only a matter of time.

Even before it was confirmed he passed, tributes from celebrities and fans were hitting social media feeds.  There was no official word that he had passed, but the memorial articles and posts were coming.  I kept refreshing sites and feeds for about 90 minutes before I saw CBS News report that Petty, in fact, finally passed.

I spent the next few hours streaming Petty’s most well-known songs as I finished my work day.  When I got home, I heard word that Petty hadn’t actually passed and that reports of his passing were premature.  This was especially upsetting to his daughter who released a video and a social media statement chastising media outlets for prematurely reporting her father’s death.  While he was definitely without brain activity and no longer on life support, he was still breathing.  A distinction very important to a daughter who was bracing herself for the inevitable.

This was a confusing time.  Since previous reports were inaccurate, it was hard to believe any of the details that were available.  As a result, people were being hopeful that Petty would recover.  Although we all knew it was highly unlikely he was going pull through, it still didn’t stop people from clinging onto Petty’s music and the ideals they represented.  It was beautiful to see people reflecting on what Petty meant to them and how they changed their lives.  Very few cultural icons can achieve virtually universal adoration.

It was late last night that Petty’s manager finally confirmed he had passed from complications relating to his cardiac arrest.  After a long, confusing day, it was finally over.  I cannot imagine what Petty’s life was like during those final hours, but I wish he could have known how much the world was grieving.

This was a celebrity death experience I never had before.  Unlike the surprises that usually happen, we were riding this one out with Petty.  Between the initial false reports and the later confirmed reports, we were all in this confusing journey together fueled by speculation, hope, and faith.  It was almost as if we were there in the hospital room next to him waiting for any sign of life until the final moment came.  In during that waiting, we all shared our experiences with his music.  I was wondering what song I was listening when he finally let go.

There are so many Petty songs I could’ve chosen for this.  I adore so many of his songs that it almost seems impossible to choose.  However, the one song that stood out the most yesterday was “I Won’t Back Down.”  It was the first single from Petty’s first solo album Full Moon Fever released in 1989.  I’ve loved that song my entire life.  And while there are other songs I enjoy more or on different levels, this one stood out because of its use in social media posts commemorating Petty’s life and final struggle.

When reports came back that his reported death was premature and false, the hope people clung to gave inspiration to the idea he was coming back; that he wouldn’t back down even in the face of death.  While naïve, those kinds of comments about the song were clever and inspirational.  Even standing at the gates of hell, we knew Petty wouldn’t back down.  If there was only thing we could learn from Petty, it was that.  I won’t stand down and neither will you.  That’s how we live up to the vision of America Petty had.