“this must be the place (naive melody)” – talking heads (1983)

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I turn 30 next week and I’m flying to New York City on my birthday to spend a few days in the Big Apple.  I booked this trip randomly as a spur of the moment type of thing.  A friend had posted that flights to NYC were only $80 on United and the timing felt right.

Making a random purchase like that is big for me.  I don’t usually spend money on things like flights without putting a ton of thought into it.  Really thinking about it for weeks or even months.  The reason is that money really stresses me out.  I don’t like spending it.  I make enough at my job to enjoy myself and I’m really good at saving money, so I’m not hurting financially.  However, I still hate spending money.

A few years ago, after a nasty break-up, I was flat broke.  I lost my job the same week as that break-up and worked low-paying temp jobs for the last half of the year.  I was scared.  I didn’t know what my future looked like.  I craved stability.

I got the idea in my head that the military was the answer (it was my dad who made one off-handed comment as something to consider).  I spent late summer of 2014 through late winter of 2015 preparing to become an officer in the Air Force.  The only thing driving me was that I wanted financial security and not have a job that I could just lose again.  I was also nursing a broke heart, so I wasn’t feeling great or thinking straight at all.  It was pure survival mode.

I spent my free time reading and studying the AFOQT (Air Force Officer Qualifying Test).  The Chicago Public Library had one copy of a testing guide for the AFOQT and I spent every night with it.  I would read through the concepts, test expectations, and run through practice tests.  Imagine it like studying for the SATs or ACTs, but you have additional sections that test navigation and other skills important to the United States Air Force.

I took the test January 2015 at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Rosemont sitting with 18 and 19-year-old kids.  I got the results a few weeks later and I did fairly well.  The next step, while working through my recruiter, involved getting physicals and working on job placement.  This is where things fell apart.

My career background is in media production and development.  So, upon reviewing all the potential career options in the Air Force, I decided the only thing I wanted to do was work as a Public Affairs officer.  Public Affairs deal with the media and broadcasting arm of the military.  They produce programs for the armed forces radio and television networks as well as work on public relations.

The one issue with this role is that there isn’t a lot of demand for it.  Openings are rare.  So, recruiters don’t usually like working with candidates with such a limited scope.  They have information on quotas and what is needed immediately.  So, they will do what they can to fill those quotas.  My recruiter wanted me to become a radar technician.  I fought that and said I wasn’t going to do anything other than Public Affairs.  Our relationship fizzled soon after.

That outcome was for the best.  By the time that happened, I was permanently hired at the company I am currently employed at. I have the freedom to pursue hobbies, volunteer opportunities, and social engagements with friends.  I also have the freedom to do what I want when I want.  Last year, I went to Europe on a two-week vacation.  I don’t think that could have been done that easily if I was in the military.

That whole Air Force pursuit was an odd experience that came out of fear.  Fear of being alone and destitute.  I’m in a much different place now.

A lot of people do big extravagant things for their milestone birthdays.  I always thought that was a silly thing to do.  My thinking was why wait for a milestone to do something big?  Why not do it whenever?  Before booking the flight, I used vacation time for my birthday and the day after.  So, I was already free.  And then, I saw that Facebook post about flights to NYC.  A good friend of mine named Jean always tells me to live in the moment and listen to the signs the universe is giving you.  I took her advice.

I don’t know exactly what I’m doing and the trip is next week.  And I’m doing my best to not worry about money.  I know I can afford this trip and I tell myself that.  I’ve gotten better at this.  I work very hard at trying not to let the past dictate my future.  I was broke a few years ago.  I’m not anymore.  I could be broke again someday.  Who knows?  But, I can’t let myself be afraid of hypothetical scenarios and my good friend Carolyn says I can’t live my life as a miser.  So, I’m doing this and it will be fun.

While I figure out what I’ll be doing, I’ve been in a New York mood regarding my reading material.  I have already decided that I’m taking Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids with me.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes.  Hermes was a teenager in New York during the 70s.  In the book, he chronicles all the major players and musical movements that originated or occurred from 1973 through 1977 including the rise of punk, the formation of disco, the salsa explosion, and heady origins of minimalist music.

Reading through this book, you get a strong feeling like you missed out on something.  These legendary artists like Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Grandmaster Flash, Willie Colon, and Steve Reich were doing big things and often with each other.  The book makes it seem like you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a rising star.  New York City, despite the crippling economy and rising crime, was the hip place to be if you were young and loved music.  Sigh.

This book has really put me in the mood to explore the city as much as I can over the five days that I’m there.  I am someone who gets out there and walks all over the place seeing and doing and living as much as I can.  Reading this book prior to my trip has really taken my mind off the things the typically stress me out.  This book puts me in the mindset that I will go and have a great time.  And, you know what?  I know deep down that is true.  Sometimes I just need some help remembering that.

I love and adore many of the artists profiled in the book.  I own a few dozen Dylan album and almost all of Patti Smith’s studio releases.  Bruce Springsteen is someone I really appreciate having read his memoir.  I spent my high school days wearing Clash shirts declaring them “The Only Band That Matters.”  Television and the Stooges furthered my musical exploration during my college years.  And Grace Jones and Steve Reich have entered my life fairly recently, but have made significant impacts.

However, it is Talking Heads that stand out to me in this book.  I own one record of theirs (Fear of Music) and I don’t listen to them as much as the other artists I previously mentioned.  However, I feel a connection with them that I don’t quite understand.  They affect me on a different level that is primal and emotional.

When I listen to Fear of Music or Remain in Light, I’m enamored by their rhythms and New Wave world beat styles.  I want to dance.  I want to shed all the technological shackles of modern man and regress to being driven by a primitive musical desire.  When I listen to Talking Heads, I don’t think a lot.  I just feel.

There’s one song in their catalogue that just absolutely wrecks me.  “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” was released as a single for their 1983 studio album Speaking in Tongues.  According to David Byrne, the lyrics contain non-sequiturs that “may have a strong emotional resonance but don’t have any narrative qualities.”  Listening to these lyrics, I certainly experience that strong emotional resonance.  The lines are simple to understand and very relatable.  It evokes in me strong feelings of need, fear, lust, and confusion.  The song sounds both hopeful and devastating.  It represents a past self and future desire.  It appeals to a human side of me that has existed for thousands of years and free of our modern burdens.

When I listen to this song, a lot of images come to mind. I see my past and future selves.  I see moments that I lived, experience I could have had, imaginary settings with me in another time and another place, where I see my current self going, where I realistically expect my future self to be, and what my future self could have experienced if variations of my past self if they were allowed to blossom and continue.  Basically, a lot of what ifs that I shouldn’t be concerned with that come out when this song plays.  This song is very bad for someone who actively works to live more in the moment.

A few months ago, a friend and colleague at the community radio station I volunteer with, published his own account of this song.  His name is Tony Breed and he’s a well-known local comics illustrator who lost his partner Eric a few years ago after being together for 20 years.  He has published a few different web comics described as a “queer slice of life.”  However, this recently published work is his first autobiographical comic.

The comic, titled That Night: This Must Be the Place (Link), is a work that serves as an important part of his healing process.  In the comic, Breed goes out to a bar to have a few drinks and then quietly walks home. On his way home, he is listening to a cover of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by Kishi Bashi.  While listening to the song, Breed remembers the time they attended a wedding together and, a decade later, when he lost Eric.  Breed walks down the streets with the song’s lyrics appearing in the panel and Breed shedding a silent tear.  I haven’t experienced that particular pain Breed has gone through, but I have expressed my listening the same way.

I’m going on this trip next week.  I’m going to have a great time.  I will spend my time walking all over the place and seeing interesting things.  I will do so while living in the moment.  I will plan an itinerary, but allow myself some freedom to allow at least a little spontaneity.  I will think about my life and the good things that have happened along the way.  I will feel grateful to be alive.  I will appreciate this.  I will live in the moment the best way that I can.  I deserve this.  I deserve love and happiness.

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“gratitude” – earth, wind & fire (1975)

Living in a big city like Chicago, it can be hard to be festive in the fall. A lot of the typical fall event staples like apple picking, corn mazes, and pumpkin patches are really only available outside of the city. Being someone with no car, that makes getting there difficult. Needless to say, I don’t get to those things every year but I’m excited that they are happening and that some people do get to enjoy those things. However, I find other ways to enjoy the season.

I am currently in Kentucky taking some much needed time off work. Today, I went to a local Methodist church to help my stepmom prepare a Thanksgiving meal. Even though the actual Thanksgiving holiday isn’t for another two days, she was in charge of a really special event.

For over 15 years, my stepmother has been teaching high school students with learning and behavioral issues. When I went to high school, these students were known among the general student population as the bad kids and went to a separate facility a few miles away. Admittedly, thinking that way was due to being younger and ignorant. Now that I’m older and have a better understanding of people and our education system, I no longer think of these students as “bad.”

When my high school got remodeled the year after I graduated, the separate facility was closed down and the students were moved into the main building. In the years since then, I’ve visited the classroom a few times and met the students my stepmother taught. I have even participated in some of their class discussions and exercises.

Prior to my stepmom being involved, I can’t say with any certainty how these classes were conducted or how students were taught. I have the feeling that maybe this environment could’ve been better. Since my stepmom became involved, I do know that there has been many improvements to the program which has ultimately impacted the lives of these students.

As mentioned, these students have behavioral and learning issues. And that is me just generalizing which isn’t exactly fair. Every individual student learns and grows differently, so referring to a group of students that learn independently of the general population as having “issues” doesn’t take into account the work they do and the progress they achieve. I’ll never stop being a student. I learn everyday and I’m learning on how to better describe these students. I’ll get there.

These are students that require a little more attention and help. Some, over the years, had developmental problems stemming from their parents’ drug and alcohol use. Many come from poorer environments which has impacted their education. And others lack the resources outside of school to enhance the education they are receiving in school. However, all of these students have the desire to make improvements in their lives. That’s why they are in that program.

A big part of what these students learn is how to recognize and handle their emotions. That when they face a challenge or obstacle, they can keep a clear head, solve the problem, and not make a mistake that could have severe consequences. This involves talking and being open about feelings as well as listening to people and being respectful of their experiences. These are key principles everyone must know to be successful in their lives. And it amazes me how many people in less marginalized or ridiculed settings don’t know that or choose to ignore it. So, when I see my stepmom’s students, I’m amazed at how hard they work to make the best of their situation and not fall into something more serious.

Today was a great example of that. The Thanksgiving meal my stepmom was coordinating was one that involved her students. For the last dozen of the 15 years she has taught this program, she has coordinated a Thanksgiving meal for the staff and students of this program. It first started in a small building on the high school’s grounds, but has now moved into the larger space of this church.

Every student has a job during this event. Some help my stepmother prepare food in the kitchen, a few prepare drinks and set tables, others handle greeting duty, and two were tasked with setting up a Christmas tree. Every student was dressed very well with the girls wearing nice outfits and the boys wearing shirts and ties. Everyone kept busy and did their job well.

This event is a big deal to them. For one, it showcases what they’ve been learning regarding handling emotions and being more successful members of society. This is a meal they plan and work together to organize. Even though they are the ones putting everything together, the event is about them and celebrating their efforts and accomplishments. This is their moment to show they can contribute to their community.

Secondly, this is a nice meal they can share with friends and family. One perk is that each student can invite their friends and family. As mentioned, many of these students come from poorer environments and likely don’t get to participate in large traditional Thanksgiving meals. So, this is one time where they can and be around people who love and support them and only want for them to succeed. The kids prepare the meal, serve the meal, and then get the opportunity to spend quality time with each other.

There was one touch to the whole event I found pretty remarkable. On each table, there were index cards with handwritten notes. Some of these included well-known quotes. However, most were notes about what the students were thankful for. I took some time to read the notes and talked to some of the kids preparing the event. It was great to hear them actually articulate their thoughts instead of getting “I don’t know” or “whatever” responses.

Prior to the actual dinner, the director of the program spoke for a few minutes about the history of the program and the success he has seen over the years. Then, he encouraged people to stand up and share what they were thankful for. It was mostly the students and a few teachers who shared their thoughts. And they were rather endearing. One student actually became really emotional and cried because she was so thankful for the opportunities she received in the program to turn her education, and her life, around. I took some time and observed the other students who didn’t speak up. No one was snickering or mocking anyone who shared their feelings. I was once a high school kid. I know how they act. I was very pleased to not see any childish behavior. Perhaps I would’ve seen that out of the students from the general population. But, they don’t have to work as hard as they kids do. They want this for themselves.

Thanksgiving is one of the rare holidays that I’ll do a themed post for this blog. So, the song of the week is “Gratitude” by Earth, Wind & Fire. Released in 1975 on a live album of the same name, this is a funky track that is about being thankful and giving love. There really isn’t a melody or standard verses and choruses. Just a funky jam with some real meaning; a meaning that is pure and simple.

Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for what you have and showing gratitude to the people around you who love and support you. I know that overall feeling can sound hokey and sentimental, but it is still important. Take into account the good things in your life and how they got to be there because things can change. Just have the strength to know that when changes come, you can be ready for them, and then be thankful you weathered it.

“out of the wilderness” – the como mamas (2014)

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Daptone Records came into my life a decade ago when I was in college.  I obtained my undergrad at a state school in southwestern Kentucky just an hour north of Nashville in a city called Bowling Green.  Bowling Green is a sizable city as far as Midwestern cities go.  It is the third largest city in Kentucky and coincidentally home to the third largest state university.  For its size, it still has a small town feel because of the university’s presence.  Bowling Green is a nice, quiet place to attend school or raise a family.

Bowling Green, however, is not a cultural hotbed.  The city is tucked between Nashville and Louisville which get more events and programs.  Though, there are elements that promote that value.  The university there strives to bring in more international students and increase its scope broadly through exchange and study abroad programs.  Cage the Elephant, which as seen a considerable amount of success recently, originated there.  And Corvettes, the classic American sports car, is manufactured there and maintaining its image as a homegrown icon.  Despite having a lot to offer, Bowling Green can leave a lot to be desired for someone looking for things below everyone’s radar.

That’s how I felt when I picked up my first Daptone Records release in 2007 from a small record store in Bowling Green.  It was 100 Days, 100 Nights, the third studio release from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. It instantly became one of my favorite albums and I could not stop singing the praises of Sharon Jones or Daptone to my friends.

That album dropped at the beginning of my sophomore year of college and really defined the sound of my college years.  At that time, I was entering the second semester of my radio show Soul Food that aired on my college’s student radio station.  I love soul music and Soul Food was an outlet for me to express that.  The first semester went alright, but it had trouble finding its footing in terms of sound.  I ended up playing a lot of classics and threw in some songs that sounded awkward on a progressive college station.  But when I got into Daptone, I got the sound I was looking for and the connections to find similar record labels and artists.

Though I did expand to other independent soul labels like Numero Group, Daptone was my musical epicenter in those days.  I had all the early releases from Sharon Jones, the Sugarman 3, the Budos Band, and Antibalas.  No one else had these albums.  This was exciting stuff and I had to make sure everyone knew about.

I was an early adopter for Daptone and there were challenges associated with that.  I had fans of the show and some colleagues at my college radio station became really into what I was playing.  However, I did get a lot of resistance whenever I tried to speak the gospel of Daptone.

The strangest criticism I had about playing Daptone’s music, or any soul music, was that I could not be taken seriously because I was white.  I got this a lot from colleagues at the radio station a lot in the form of jokes and snide comments.  Just the fact I was white made my show somehow subpar or worthy of ridicule because the idea of me playing music by predominantly black artists was ridiculous to them.  Despite having a solid fan base and high performance evaluations from our quality assurance department, this was something I never managed to evade.

While producing this show, I was also on the stations Board of Directors.  We planned two charity concerts events during the year and strategized on artists, ways to promote, and the overall design and theme of the event.  I would also push really hard that we book Sharon Jones.  The response to this was typically lukewarm.  This issue, to them, was that they felt soul music was no longer relevant and that an act like Sharon Jones wouldn’t draw much of a crowd.  I would protest this.  Not only because we never had soul acts on the bill, but that Sharon Jones would become too big to book within a next year or two.  I had seen her perform live and her records were amazing.  The only way to go was up.  This suggestion would always get dismissed and the station would instead book acts like Freezepop (became the band appeared on the video game Rock Band which was popular at the time) or one-hit wonder Stacey Q to talk for a little bit on a Halloween-themed radio show.  Such a waste of money.

As I was nearing completing my undergrad, I just grew further away from that station.  I was more focused on my video production capstone, internship at Country Music Television in Nashville, and listening to music that I would make an impact.  It was also during the last year of my undergrad that my radio show Soul Food was no longer renewed.  The reasoning was that people didn’t care about soul music.  I didn’t care anymore.  I had dismissed the people around me at the station as idiots who couldn’t see that there was a larger world out there.  I was emotionally checking out.  I wanted to graduate, move, get a job, and surround myself with people I knew who got it.

As I was checking out and doing my own thing until graduation, Sharon Jones did indeed blow up the way I knew she would.  With the 2010 release of her album I Learned the Hard Way, her career was skyrocketing.  She was making appearances on shows like The Colbert Report and performing at massive festivals like Bonnaroo.  When the college station got the album, it was like pulling teeth to get the music director to put a track in rotation.  Eventually, they would just so I would get off their back.

Over the years, Daptone and its repertoire of artists only continued to grow in popularity.  Sharon Jones was the crown jewel of the label, but they also supported some of the hardest working and most entertaining artists on an independent label.  Charles Bradley, the Screaming Eagle of Soul, earned his way and ultimately finding happiness and success after a hard life.  The Budos Band and Antibalas brought their own aggressive form of funk to larger venues and festivals.  Daptone music started appearing in commercials, film, and television shows (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings even performed in a Martin Scorsese movie).  Daptone was unstoppable.

Last week, I attended the opening night screening of the 9th annual Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMFest).  The featured documentary kicking off CIMMFest was the Chicago premiere of Living on Soul.  In the spirit of great music revue concert films like The Last Waltz and Monterey Pop, Living on Soul was a Daptone showcase piece.

The film featured performance recorded during a three-night revue at the Apollo Theater that was held in December 2014 to celebrate Daptone’s 20th anniversary.  This was an incredibly big deal.  No one had played a multi-night residency at the Apollo since James Brown in the 1970s.  Coming from their humbling beginnings in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Daptone had worked for two decades to get to this point.  And they deserved it.

The residency featured over 40 different musicians including performances from Daptone stalwarts such as Charles Bradley, the Budos Band, Antibalas, the Menahan Street Band, Saun & Starr, and Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens.  The film featured a performance form each band as well as behind-the-scene footage and interviews with them preparing at the Apollo or working at the Daptone studio.

Sharon Jones, the leading lady of Daptone, had two performances in the documentary kicking off the festivities as well as brining everything to a satisfying close.  At the time of the filming, she had just beaten cancer.  At the closing, she performed “Get Up and Get Out” from her latest album at the time Give the People What They Want.  She announced that the arrangement was changed from the studio release to give it some Tina Turner flair.  She performed the song spectacularly with the lively stage presence she was known for.  During the performance, she was shouting not unlike a southern preacher about her journey beating cancer and the joy she felt performing that evening at the Apollo.  It was an emotionally driven performance that filled me with absolute joy and brought tears to my eyes.

The film was emotional on a lot of levels.  First, it was great to see these incredibly talented musicians talk about their lives and their struggle to get to this point.  Secondly, both Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones passed away in the last year.  Both had found success very late in their lives after having difficult experiences.  Bradley spent a lot of his time on screen talking about never giving up on your dreams no matter how hard it gets.

Lastly, it was emotional for me personally because I had been a fan of Daptone for a decade.  Admittedly, I have strayed away a bit since my initial discovery.  Over the years, you discover new interests or get busy with jobs, relationships, or anything else life throws at your way.  Still, Daptone had been a big part of my life during formative years and still are one of the best record labels around.  Daptone consists of a group of people that struggled to get the success they absolutely deserved.  And I feel some pride in being an early fan of theirs (though they had technically been around for 13 years, they were still quite small in 2007).  I loved Daptone and I was passionate about them because I wanted to support and elevate these talented artists.  I’m not bitter about the resistance or ridicule I received early on about this.  It is merely just a part of my history with Daptone.  Besides, I ended up being right.  Daptone and artists like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley became huge.  I’m not bitter, but I do feel validated.

While Sharon Jones’ closing performance was the highlight of the documentary, one performance continues to stick with me.  One of the first few performances in Living on Soul featured the Como Mamas.  The Como Mamas are a trio of a Capella gospel singers from the small town of Como, Mississippi.  Ester Mae Smith is powerful and raspy, Angela Taylor provides a deep soothing voice, and Della Daniels is the energetic voice of the group.  Together, they bring their story and experiences to gospel music and breathe new life into it.

The song they performed was “Out of the Wilderness,” a traditional gospel tune.  Their performance on Living on Soul was a Capella, but the recorded versions have a backing track.  It was initially released as a 45 single in 2014, but would appear on their second studio album Move Upstairs in 2017 with a whole new arrangement.  Before going into the song, the group projected pure energy and joy about their excitement performing at the historical and acclaimed Apollo Theatre.  They absolutely loved coming all the way from Mississippi to bring the people of Harlem to church.

Before their performance, there was footage of them backstage hanging with Sharon Jones.  They sung spirituals and offered their praises to Jesus for the opportunity to be a part of something truly special.  Much like the Sharon Jones’ and Charles Bradley’s history I can’t imagine that the women of the Como Mamas had an easy life.  However, they take every opportunity they can to feel joy and I find that so remarkable.

The provided an introduction in the film to “Out of Wilderness.”  Whether you were going through a divorce, illness, or other calamity, you must get through those trials because there is joy and relief when you overcome adversity.  When you emerge out of the wilderness, there is satisfaction and a love for life because you survived.  I really gravitated towards that message because it is something I forget sometimes.  I am here because I have survived and I didn’t quit.  And that means I need to take stock of the good things around me and appreciate them.  That’s the best thing anyone can do for themselves.

 

“silk” – wolf alice (2015)

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This past weekend was atypical for me.  Between work, volunteering, social engagements, and other responsibilities, I very rarely have any “me” time.  Frankly, at my busiest, it becomes something I have to schedule for myself.   I have to work in pockets of time to focus on myself.

During the summer, that’s when I’m the busiest.  Being cooped up indoors during the lengthy Chicago winters makes me want to spend as much time outside as I possibly can.  I fill this in with long walks, coffee dates, and softball games. And when I’m inside on a spectacularly beautiful sunny day, I almost feel guilty about wasting such a golden opportunity.  I do realize it is ok to be inside on days like that and I am working on being ok with that.

Beyond just merely taking every moment I can to enjoy great weather, there’s a deeper reason to my busy schedule.  I’m essentially living on borrowed time.

I’ve talked about this several times before, so no need to go into too much detail again here.  However, the short story is that I spent my first three years in Chicago working for a tyrannical non-profit where I worked constantly and was emotionally abused.  During these years, I would miss family and friend engagements.  I even went a six-month period where I was working so much that I only saw friends on one evening.  I have memories of spending Thanksgiving alone with a case of beer and a bucket of fried chicken.  Christmas would be spent with my Netflix account.  It was a very lonely time.

When I got out of that toxic environment, I had to normalize my life.  For a solid year, I had sparse employment but I had time to spend with loving and supportive people.  As best I could, I invested myself in rebuilding friendships and relationships with people who were mere acquaintances for the longest time.  There were people I knew for years at this point, but I couldn’t really say I knew that at all.

I also had to work on defining myself as a person.  I needed to figure out who I was and what I was about.  I delve into several different hobbies that have since become a part of my identity.  I read a lot.  I do a lot of volunteer work with a few non-profits.  I perform guitar in an ensemble class for a local music school.  I wasn’t used to having all this time to develop myself as a well-rounded person.  I could never have hobbies or interests outside of my non-profit job.  And now that I was free, I wanted to do everything I could.  I went a little overboard, but I’m managing it.

I don’t share that information to fulfill some egotistical reality where I see myself as a victim.  I share that to provide context to what drives and motivates me.  I went several years where I didn’t feel like I had any control of my life.  My job held the steering wheel and I was locked in the car.  In the last few years, I had to work really hard to put myself back together.

I’m now four years removed from that horrific place and I’m very happy with my life.  I have good friends, interesting hobbies, and fulfilling community service opportunities.  I can do those things because I have the time to do them.  I’m also in a decently paying job with a respectable work/life balance, so now I have the money to do what I want.  I didn’t have these things together before.

So, what about this past weekend?  The whole weekend, I had nothing to do.  Absolutely nothing.  No errands or responsibilities.  Two and a half days to do whatever I wanted.  I know a lot of the things I do are things I want to do.  I get that.  But, those get scheduled in my calendar with reminders and things like that.  This past weekend, I had nothing.  It has been a long time since I have had that kind of gift.  Plus, the rainy weather also helped in keeping me unattached.

I spent the whole weekend doing what I wanted to do.  I went to the gym, drink tea, read books, and watched TV.  Even though I continued by workout routine, I still felt considerably more inactive than I am usually am.

I did a lot of thinking during this time.  I thought about my life a few years ago.  On a Saturday five years ago, I remembered I was negotiating with my boss to allow me to go to an eye exam because I desperately needed glasses.  In exchange, I had to give her a few extra hours in the evening every day the whole next week.  Nevermind that I was already working 70 hours a week already.  But, I had to give her an additional 10-15 just to go to get an eye exam and buy glasses because it was now getting difficult for me to see.  Now, I was sipping chamomile and gazing out the window.

My experience at this job is not something I let define me.  However, I recognize it was a big part of my life for a long time.  And, more importantly, I knew I had a long road ahead to build myself into the person I wanted to be the moment I got out.  I couldn’t be lazy (which I couldn’t do even if I tried) if I was going to do this.  And that included doing things that were going to be healthy for me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  The important thing was get back to a place where I could enjoy life and everything it should offer and not letting opportunities go by.

I caught up on a few movies over the weekend.  One I was eager to rewatch was Danny Boyle’s follow-up to his brilliant 1996 classic TrainspottingTrainspotting is one of my favorite films.  Despite the plot holes strewn throughout and the film changing pace to becoming a heist film, it is a beautiful and tragic slice of life piece; a microcosm of 90s culture and the fall-out of 1980s excess.  When the sequel was announced, I was cautiously optimistic.  I wanted to see the main characters return and how their lives had changed.  More importantly, I wanted to see how they handled the ghosts of their drug-addled pasts.  When I caught in early screening back in February, I thoroughly loved it.

Released earlier this year T2 Trainspotting is set 20 years after the original film.  The four principal characters are reunited with some lingering bad blood and a proclivity for a relapse into heroin.  Despite the onslaught of reboots, rehashes, and remakes that have dominated popular culture in recent years, T2 Trainspotting surpassed my personal expectations and didn’t feel like an unnecessary sequel.  The sequel embodies Boyle’s current directing style.  Despite the distinct presentation differences, the films still connect together nicely.  Although T2 Trainspotting is about 10-15 minutes too long, it is a wonderful sequel with its own style.

Revisiting the film allowed me to concentrate more on the subtext of the film: change.  Change is huge part of this movie.  We find that while a lot of things are different about the four mates, nothing has really changed.  They’re addicts.  They have a severe drive to feed that addiction.  Twenty years ago, it was heroin.  Now, peace of mind comes in the form of other drugs, suicidal thoughts, journal writing, committing felonies, or even exercise.

Ewan McGregor’s mantra in the film is “You’re an addict.  So, be addicted.  Just be addicted to something else.”  And the more I think about that, the more truth I see in it.  Perhaps, I thought, I’m an addict.  Makes sense to me.  I read a lot and do a lot of stuff in my spare time.  Both more than many of my friends.  I get asked how I’m able to read or volunteer so much.  I say it is because of time management skills.  And that is true.  But, it also because I’m addicted to it.

That was a huge revelation to realize.  I’m sure most people would tell me that reading too many books and filling my life with too many activities is not an addiction especially when you compare it to drug and alcohol abuse.  But, I’m not sure about that.  I do these things because they make me happy and I enjoy them.  Sure, I have moments where I wish I had more free time and room to breathe.  But my life is so much better than it was before I could do those things.

Though, having an entire weekend to myself gave me some things to think about.  I thought about how nice this was and that it is ok to slow down sometimes.  And while I’ve been really good regarding self-care and doing things like exercising and engaging with friends and having mentally stimulating hobbies, maybe there is more I can do for myself.  I’m getting better at not always needing something to do.  I know where that comes from.  It comes from a need to feel like I am living my life on my own terms as opposed to someone else dictating how I live my own life.  And I’m in a good place.  Perhaps it is time to take it down a notch and relax.

Winters are my slower times anyway.  However, I’m going to take this winter to relax and not schedule and do so many things.  I think I will benefit taking some time to be on my own, in my apartment, and alone with my own thoughts.  It will be an exercise for me to learn to live more in the moment, but I’m going to do my best.   In the last few years, I wouldn’t have done well with a do-nothing weekend.  I think I’m at a point where I’m ok with that.

Reading over this before publishing, I know it all sounds so silly.  If it does to me, I’m sure it does to other people.  It is difficult to live in the moment when you are so compelled to fill your life with constant engagements and responsibilities.  The stress that comes with thinking I need to be busy with something because I cannot be alone with myself is hard.  For many, that simple cup of tea with a book or a bad TV show is par for the course.  For people like me, it represents me wasting my life.  I struggled and worked hard to get to a point where I could live the way I wanted.  Before, I couldn’t allow myself to waste time on such quiet moments.  Now, I’m starved for them.  I need more of those moments in my life.  And to get to that point, I have to alter behaviors and expectations for myself.  I must teach myself that it is ok to slow down. And that isn’t easy to do.

The Trainspotting films really drive home the consequences of addiction.  Also, they both have killer soundtracks which reinforce those points.  The first film has a superior soundtrack, but the sequel has many gems as well.

One track in the sequel’s soundtrack that sticks out to me is “Silk” from Wolf Alice.  The track appeared on the band’s 2015 debut album My Love Is Cool and was featured prominently in the film’s trailers despite not being a single.  The song starts off a little slow, but gains some energy and life when the shoegaze element gets electrified with hard hitting indie rock progression.  There’s a poppy energy buried in there.  However, there is also a hard-hitting narrative about loneliness and coming to terms with one’s own self and role in relationships.  It is a brilliant track and a signature piece on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack.

It is ok to work on yourself.  A lot of people become complacent as they get older.  They get stuck in this mindset that who they are will always be who they are.  They’re right for the most part.  People don’t really change.  You see that in the Trainspotting films.  However, you can still make an effort to channel certain aspects of yourself and direct in healthier ways.  And everyone struggles to do that.  We’re all working towards our own happiness.  For some, it just takes a little longer.

“cry little sister” – gerard mcmann (1987)

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Halloween has increasingly become by favorite holiday over the years.  And the older I get, the more I get into it.  With each new year, I spend more time planning my costume.  I strive to put together something that is iconic and recognizable, while also minimizing the likelihood I’ll see others with the same costume.

This year, I partnered with a friend to recreate the two iconic leads from 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? With me as Bette Davis’ “Baby” Jane Hudson and my friend as her sister Blanche, we donned our makeup, wigs, and dresses for Halloween mischief in Chicago.

Our costumes were a complete hit.  We spent the Friday night at Metro in Chicago for Nocturna, an annual goth Halloween ball, and spent Saturday in Boystown.  A lot of people complimented the accuracy of the look and we played to the roles imitating the duo’s tense relationship.  Davis’s and Crawford’s hatred for each other was the stuff of Hollywood legend.  The making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was adapted to a television series earlier this year.  My friend and I watched Feud: Bette and Joan when it premiered early 2017.  We knew that’s what we should do for Halloween.  The show was a complete hit and aired early enough to not exactly be in the forefront of anyone’s mind to imitate.  This was perfect for us and we delivered.

Though we didn’t win any costume contests, the comments and feedback make me feel validated for the costume choice.  Plus, we looked like the real deal.  Even the FX Networks twitter tweeted pictures of us.  Lavish costumes and attention are the stuff Halloween dreams are made of.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a great thriller, but isn’t a Halloween film.  In addition to planning great costumes, I also make time to watch as many horror and Halloween classics that I can.  I watched Hocus Pocus for the first time since the 90s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an annual favorite, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first viewing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for its lavish and complex set designs.

I also revisited The Lost Boys as well.  I don’t remember the last time I watched the film, but this year marks 30 years since its release.  Directed by Joel Schumacher, The Lost Boys is a horror comedy about two brothers (played by Corey Haim and Jason Patric) who move with their mother from Arizona to the small beach town of Santa Carla, California.  Santa Carla is home to a vibrant wharf complete with a Ferris wheel and roller coaster, but there isn’t a lot happening otherwise as the town’s youth cause trouble and engage in illegal activities to pass the time.  When Jason Patric’s character meets a young woman played by Jami Gertz, Patric starts falling into a bad crowd led by a sinister teen played by Kiefer Sutherland.  It turns out Sutherland’s gang are actually vampires and Patric unknowingly underwent their initiation process, so he sets out to escape and teams up with two eccentric vampire hunting teens (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to kill the head vampire and lift the cure hanging over Patric before its too late.

As mentioned, I don’t remember the last time I saw this film.  In act, I largely forgot about most of it.  While rewatching, I vaguely remembered having seen some of the more shocking scenes before as fragmented childhood memories were slowly coming together to try to complete the portrait.  Despite that, I enjoyed revisiting the film.  I think, for the most part, a lot of it stands up 30 years later.

I was recently reminder of the film while listening to the Halloween radio station on Apple Music.  During the entire month of Halloween, I listen to seasonal music endlessly.  While at work, getting ready during the morning, or completing chores, I’ve got Halloween music playing almost around the clock.  I love the song.  I love the novelty songs. I love the “Monster Mash” rip-offs. I love all the popular music choices that somewhat pass for a Halloween-themed playlist like Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” Kanye West’s “Monster,” Rob Zombie’s “Dragula,” and Nine Inch Nail’s “Came Back Haunted.”  It is all good to me because it is all in the spirit of Halloween from the most absurd Dr. Demento classics to the stray Marilyn Manson song following Ray Parker Jr.’s ghostbusting classic.

This is my third Halloween entry since starting this blog.  In my first year, I explored the world of amazing “Monster Mash” rip-offs and discussed Don Hinson’s version of “Monster Swim.”  Last year, I praised “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” for using Halloween to lampoon Christmas charity songs.  This year, I wanted to focus on a different type of Halloween music: movie songs.

Considering I dressed as an iconic film character and spent some time relaxing with Halloween classics, it is only fitting I highlight a movie song.  Constantly present in any Halloween playlist I find are tracks from The Nightmare Before Christmas which I don’t care for and always skip if possible.   Between that and Rocky Horror, it didn’t seem like I had much choice in great Halloween movie songs.

However, one morning last week, I was getting ready for work and this song came on.  It was brooding, anthemic, and rich with 80s production value.  I didn’t recognize it.  The song was the theme to The Lost Boys.  Gerard McMann’s “Cry Little Sister” is the musical center of the film.  So much so that it’s presence suggests that it’s a character in of itself.  The song is, according to McMann, about “longing for family from a rejected youth’s perspective” which perfectly summarizes the central narrative and themes of The Lost Boys.

In fact, it was hearing that song that motivated me to revisit The Lost Boys when I was compiling movies to watch during the Halloween season.  I’ve been listening to “Cry Little Sister” a lot since that film.  It’s a great song for its lamenting vocals and haunting instrumentation including a sinister organ.  Even the children’s choir doing the backing vocals adds an extra sinister appeal.

Halloween is amazing and I anticipate my love for it will continue to grow.  I love dressing up for it and making a big deal.  And to see everyone else’s costumes are a treat as well.  The creativity that people put into such rich and complex outfits is really cool.  And if costumes aren’t your thing, then stay at home and watch a movie.  There’s so much to enjoy about this holiday.