“i’ve got my love to keep me warm” – billie holiday (1958)

R-3639616-1512674444-6654.jpeg

While winters in Chicago may be tough, I also appreciate the first real snow of the season. I find such comfort in the dramatic change in the city landscape and a significant blanket of snow radiates a beauty that makes the cold temperatures more tolerable.  The city’s pulse changes and it truly becomes wondrous in so many ways.

This past weekend, Chicago experience its first significant snowfall of the season.  A veritable blizzard was reporting to dump up to eight inches or more of snow on the city.  However, most of that was a bitterly cold rain that is never enjoyable in any context.  Though, I did wake up the next morning to accumulated snow, albeit it about two or three inches, and that was fine by me.

I just cannot stand a winter with no snow.  The cold always seems unbearable and there is an icky gray to the city that is unpleasant.  My belief is that if I am going to freeze, I would like things to be pretty.

Though, as much as I enjoy the snow, I can only take so much of it before I’m tired of it.  And, typically, this happens right on January 2nd.  When the holidays are over, winter becomes something to trudge through. Chicago winters are long and after the holidays is when we get the snowfall that becomes unruly and restrictive.  Just goes to show that there can be too much of a good thing.

Until then, I will continue to enjoy the snow during the holiday season.  It is a great time to eat delicious soups, drink comforting teas, and snuggle under blankets.  Now that I am on the verge of completing a personal project that I dedicated the last month to, I can finally slow down and take it easy for the rest of the year.

Billie Holiday’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” is such a fine song for this time of year as we get settled and brace ourselves for winter.  The season is only starting, but it will get worse.  Holiday sings that she cannot remember a worse December, but she relishes that warm fire that awaits her.  She finds solace in the idea that, through a dreary time, there are still things to hold onto.  You can let the winter make you cold on the inside, or you can keep warm with the love you have in your life, love from yourself and from others.

Advertisements

“light the sky on fire” – jefferson starship (1978)

R-5455635-1490182096-3857.jpeg

This past Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special airing on CBS.  Legendary in the Star Wars universe as being terrible, so much so that George Lucas has personally vowed to destroy every copy and Carrie Fisher would play it at parties when she wanted people to leave, the special has left an indelible mark on that brand that spawns ridicule, confusion, and (sometimes) ironic appreciation.  It is an intergalactic spectacle like any other.

Airing on November 17th, 1978, the plot of the special follows Han Solo and Chewbacca being pursued by the Galactic Empire.  Solo is urgently trying to get Chewbacca back to his home planet of Kashyyyk so he can celebrate Life Day, a deeply spiritual holiday for the Wookies, with his family.  Meanwhile, Chewbacca’s family on Kashyyyk, prepare for the holiday.  Itchy, Chewie’s father, spend times watching a virtual reality fantasy programs starring Diahann Carroll (which effectively serves for pornographic use). Malla, Chewie’s wife, is prepares a meal from a television cooking program hosted by Harvey Korman as a four-armed, purple-skinned alien.  And Lumpy, Chewie’s son, Lumpy tinkers with a video screen so he can watch things such as a cartoon starring Boba Fett.

Imperial stormtroopers and an officer force their way into the Wookie house ins search of Chewie until Lumpy uses a machine to imitate the voice of their commander and they are ordered to return to their base.  The fun doesn’t end at the Wookie home as we are given a glimpse of life elsewhere in the galaxy.  In the famous Mos Eisley cantina on Tatooine, the Empire has initiated a curfew and Ackmena, portrayed by Bea Arthur, is forced to close the cantina early, but not before putting on a musical number.

Just in the nick of time as not to be discovered by the stormtroopers, Chewie arrives and is reunited with his family.  From there, they prepare for the festival at the great Tree of Life, where they hold glowing orbs and are dressed in red robes against the backdrop of space.  As they walk into a star, they are greeted by all of their friends and heroes of the Star Wars film including Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2.  Leia gives a short speech about the importance of Life Day and, in all her coked-up gloriousness, sings a song to commemorate the occasion.

What makes the holiday special an embarrassment for Lucas and the franchise is the shear camp of the thing.  The special was designed to capitalize on the era’s trend of airing variety shows as television specials, which would explain the involvement of Korman and others like Art Carney. Their involvement adds outdated schtick humor that I’m sure was not even funny at the time.

Also, the segments of the special are incredibly weird.  I mentioned earlier the virtual reality porno fantasy Itchy was engaging in. That’s true.  It is Carroll speaking seductively and making a lot of sexual innuendo towards the camera.  Other segments include Itchy watching a Cirque de Soleil style acrobatics show.

Strangely, a lot of screen time was dedicated to the Wookie family with no discernible dialogue.  A good chink of the special involves them growling and roaring at each other with the audience unsure of what is being communicated.

I’ve seen several of these clips many times, and I have actually watched the special in its entirety.  Not even Mark Hamill has done that.  I find it entertaining in a this-is-ridiculous-but-fun-to-watch-in-a-group-setting-under-the-influence-way.  IT is certainly not something to sit through sober.

The special, despite the many atrocities it commits towards culture and good taste, did serve an important place in the Star Wars canon.  The special did introduce the planet of Kashyyyk and Boba Fett, who has gone to be one of the franchise’s most beloved characters.  When Disney purchased the franchise and committed everything apart from the films to be considered non-canon, they still made the holiday special canon with the inclusion of Ackmena in a book of short stories about the first film.  So, say what you will about Disney, they at least have sense of humor about this and it is funny to think that the holiday special, despite Lucas’ intent, remains current in the Star Wars universe.

One of the more interesting aspect of the special is a performance by Jefferson Starship.  Lumpy, as a way to distract one of the Imperial guards, tunes his video screen to a music video of Jefferson Starship, as an unnamed human band, performing “Light the Sky on Fire.” Cast with shades are dark pink and red, the band performs their interstellar rock ballad with gusto that effectively keeps the guard entranced.  Originally under the working title of “Cigar-Shaped Object (Vanished Without a Trace),” the song was a promotional tie-in for their compilation Gold, though the single that would appear on that collection is different than the one on the special.  The performance on the holiday special would also be Marty Baslin’s final appearance with the band before later rejoining in 1993.

If you have yet to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special, please do.  Get some friends together and just do you own home version of Riff Trax.  What a great way to spend Life Day and the memories will be implanted in your brain forever as people pity you when you tell them you’ve seen the special in its entirety.

“one more yard” – evamore (2018)

R-12744549-1541134824-1726.jpeg

Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day which signified the end of the Great War.  In order to celebrate the centennial of the international order that ended World War I, dozens of world leaders attended a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe.  However, in what was supposed to be a solemn occasion to reflect on the progress humanity has made over the last century to ensure peace and stability, it turn into a dark reminder of our worsening global instability.

Trump made a big statement about not attending most of the ceremony due to his claims about excessive rain, though the weather actually had minor precipitation. It showed that Trump does not consider relationships with other nations, many with leaders critical of his administration, to be of personal value to him. So much so that his behavior proves that he is only concerned for his own well-being and make a somber occasion about the devastation of global conflict and the need to maintain peace all about him.  Trump even chose to arrive after the other leaders citing safety concerns.

Putin also attended the ceremony, though arriving several minutes after Trump.  What both men have in common is their unwavering nationalism that they do not care about the rest of the world.  Trump has even declared himself a nationalist and is unafraid to demean other nations while praising Putin, the other central figure in global politics who is encourages furthering global instability.

Other world leaders at the ceremony chose to speak up against nationalism both as a commentary about the goals of the original pact and a rebuke of Trump and Putin.  “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying: ‘Our interest first. Who cares about the others?’”  These comments were made to address the resurfacing of old ideas “giving into the fascination for withdrawal, isolationism, violence and domination would be a grave error that future generations would very rightly make us responsible for.”

Trump’s behavior at the Armistice Day ceremony was not only embarrassing, but an indicator of how he will continue his own agenda regardless of its effects.  Even today, Trump went on Twitter to rage against Macron for his comments and insulted him, furthering the divide between the United States and the rest of the world.  Trump’s reaction adds validity to Macron’s comments and, without doubt, signifies that the United States is actively destroying the foundation of the principles of Armistice.

To commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Armistice, several Irish and English musicians collaborated on an EP under the name of Evamore, Chris Evan’s project collecting songs inspired by the letters of World War I soldiers.  The first single released from this project is “One More Yard” and includes contributions from Cillian Murphy, Sinéad O’Connor, Imelda May, Brian Eno, Ronnie Wood, and Nick Mason.  The lyrics, recited in spoken word by Murphy, was inspired by the letters of Lieutenant Thomas Wall from the Royal Irish Regiment to his mother.  Evan’s project will expand into a full album and raise funds for cancer awareness.  “It was incredibly moving to see how the words of soldiers 100 years ago were so similar to those of young people suffering from cancer today,” Evans said. “We can only now honor the sacrifice of those a century ago but there is so much to be done to help those who are locked into the greatest struggle of their lives as they confront cancer. We are very privileged that some of the greatest names in rock music and wonderful actors have chosen to get involved in our project.”

Evamore is an exciting project with an incredible mission.  It is representative of what humanity can accomplish when we unite.  Only in our division will we secure our own demise.

“americans” – janelle monáe (2018)

R-12569291-1538259602-7157.jpeg

The rollercoaster ride of the 2018 mid-term elections is over and now everyone can take a little breather before we start grinding the political machinery for 2020. While the promise of a Democratic blue wave did not happen, a lot of good progress was made.  I feel better after this election than I did in 2016 when the whole world was surprised by the GOP controlling both the House and the Senate and, worst of all, the unexcepted election of Donald Trump.

Admittedly, I was cautious regarding my optimism to the point I may not have been optimistic at all.  The blue wave concept seemed too grandiose to me. If you believed the hyperbole you saw on social media, images of a blue wave conjured a major sea change across House, Senate, and gubernatorial races.  I was extremely confident about the results in 2016, as we all were, but I did not want to get my hopes up this time around.

The blue wave did not happen, in the sense of sweeping change, but progress was made.  The House of Representatives turned blue which gives control of subpoena and investigative power back tot eh Democrats who will certainly be engaged as exposing Trump’s fraud.  That, above all else, is the biggest outcome of the election.

Where the Democrats failed to deliver were in the Senate and governor races, where the Democrats lost seats of power.  For the governors, this means more conservative policies on a state level that repress people’s rights (two states voted on referendums amending their state constitutions to restrict abortion access.  On the Senate level, the GOP still has the majority to control appointments, like the Supreme Court, which will have an effect that will last for generations.

The Women’s March in 2017 that took place the day after Trump’s inauguration seems so far away.  Upwards of five million people marched in the streets of major cities across the United States protesting Trump and his vitriolic and sexist agenda.  The movement was energizing, but there were worries that the momentum would slow down as we got closer to the 2018 mid-terms.

However, last night’s election was a referendum on Trump, and women were largely responsible for much of the Democrats’ success last night.  It was amazing to see that the spirit of the Women’s March was sustained long enough to create some change at the polls, even if it wasn’t as much as hoped.  Here is a highlight of the accomplishments women made last night:

  • 100 women were elected to the House; more than ever before
  • Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia became the first Latinx congresswomen for Texas
  • Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to congress
  • Ayanna Pressley became the first black congresswoman for Massachusetts
  • Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland became the first Native American women elected to congress
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to congress
  • Michelle Lujan Grisham became the first Latinx woman Democratic governor
  • Letitia James became the first black woman to become Attorney General of New York
  • Jahana Hayes became the first black congresswoman for Connecticut
  • Angie Craig became the first lesbian mother elected to congress

Over the next few weeks, when all the election information is collected and studied, we’ll see what all of this means for the GOP and Trump in the long-term.  However, while the 2018 mid-terms did not usher in a blue wave, it was an indicator of what the Democrats could possibly achieve in 2020 and beyond.  The key, and it is no less urgent than before, is to continue the fight.

In April, Janelle Monáe released her third studio album Dirty Computer, a funk neo-soul concept album that she considers to be “a homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities” and an exploration of her more authentic self.  In the track “Americans,” Monáe is urging for America to end the oppression of marginalized people and calls for these oppressed citizens to fight back.  In the song, she plainly lays the gauntlet singing her America is not one where women cannot ear equal pay, where same-gender people are denied love, where police can freely shoot unarmed black people, and where poor white cannot get a chance at success.  It is an inclusive call to arms that mirrors this election’s referendum on Trump, one where women are making the progress the country needs.