“stranded” – the gories (1990)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ship of fools” – world party (1987)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“which side are you on?” – the almanac singers (1941)

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Last week, on May 3rd, would’ve been Pete Seeger’s 100th birthday.  A folk singer, revolutionary, and social activist, Seeger lived to be 94 after passing away in 2014.  Not only did he secure his legacy as a protest singer during one of America’s most difficult periods of the 20th century, the Civil Rights Movement, he lived long enough to see the ongoing success and failings of the movement as well as to adapt his timeless message of peace, justice, and equality to other causes that would gain prominence and create an existential, or even direct, threat to those values as well as the safety and security of Americans and even the rest of the world.

Had Seeger lived to be 100, he would’ve seen Donald Trump ascend to the presidency.  From the initial announcement where he spewed racist ideology against Mexicans, to his disgraceful behavior on the campaign trail, to his inauguration where he espoused about “American carnage,” to locking up migrant children in cages, to every other morally objectionable thing Trump says and does, Seeger would’ve seen it all.  And I would like to think, even at the age of 100, he wouldn’t have been quiet even with limited ability at such an age.

What makes a great protest song, or even a song that addresses a social or political issue, lies within its timelessness.  The populace tends to have a short memory and with the influence of 24-hour news cycles and the culture of shock it perpetuates as each new story is more disturbing than the last and occurring with more frequency, songs that are about dated issues that cannot be adapted to modern sensibilities and problems get lost in the dustbin of cultural history.  That was never the case for Pete Seeger.

A folk singer is essentially a storyteller, and one of the greatest assets a folksinger has is the concept of folk process.  Folk process, within the structure of folklore studies, is the process of taking a previous form of folk art, whether it be indigenous or generational or regional or whatever, and transforming it little by little.  Not too much as to create something wholly new and different, but just enough to keep the basic framework there.  In the tradition of folk songs, it could be something like a 1930s bluesman changing a few words in a negro spiritual which then gets altered by a white folk singer in 1960s Greenwich Village to protest an injustice.  This is like playing a really slow game of telephone in an age before the Internet, when songs would transform over several generations.

These days, in 2019, sometimes it can be easy to by cynical about all these folk songs.  One reason is because we have more contemporary music options than every generation before.  Plus, there are other distractions that offer people endless entertainment.  Also, the ideas inherent in these songs just seem so obvious to us now.  Besides the fringes of society that advocate for extremist ideology, normal people today tend not to question concepts like freedom and equal rights barring some minutiae that gets debated based on religious doctrine.  Essentially, we’re born into a society where these values are instilled into us at an early age.  While Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Our Land” was once a radical song nearly a century ago, kindergarteners sing it in class. Pete Seeger’s musical catalogue is filled with songs that once addressed a singular cause or issue, but have basic fundamentals and ideas that are still applicable once the song changes a few details through folk process.

One of my favorite protest songs that Seeger popularized is “Which Side Are You On?” Written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the song is about the bitter struggle Harlan County, Kentucky coal miners endured against the mine owners.  Reece’s husband Sam was a union organizer for the United Mine Workers and faced threats and intimidation from local authorities to the point that the Reece’s home was illegally entered by employees from the mining company.

Seeger, as a member of The Almanac Singers, recorded a version of the song in 1941 for the album Talking Union and dedicated to Joe Hill, a labor activist who was shot and killed for his labor rights activism.  While recorded and performed by many artists over the decades (Billy Bragg, Natalie Merchant, Talib Kweli, and Peter, Paul, and Mary to name a few), the song would be attributed to Pete Seeger who continued performing the song throughout his career and reworking into an anthem of progressive solidarity.

While Seeger is no longer with us, his legend lives on through the ideas he fought for in his advocacy.  I often struggle with identifying who among contemporary musicians is leading the countercultural charge against Donald Trump.  And I realize I cannot identify any one particular figure.  There are many artists working to promote the same ideals that Seeger fought for.  It is too easy for me to look back on history and identify a few key cultural figures whose careers and work stands out because that is how these things work out.  The reality is that Seeger was one of many, working together in a collective of unified values, who fought for social justice.  Even if he is the one whose name is more familiar, he didn’t work in isolation.  Just it was unfair in the 1960s to put the burdens of responsibility on one person to achieve social justice, so it is unfair for me to demand that of the figure today.  Though people celebrated Seeger’s 100th birthday all over the world, it is only because he is a representation of a specific set of ideas, the same ones people, both known and unknown, are fighting for today in song, art, poetry, and film in the continuing tradition of folk process.

“spring rain” – bebu silvetti (1975)

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Spring in Chicago is a very awkward time.  With winter in the city being a very long season and one that tests everyone’s patience and endurance, spring is a time when people get anxious.  It means that summer is almost here and that means warm temperatures and fun in the fun.  However, spring’s awkwardness tends to come from its brief appearance.  Balmy conditions most associated with the season are rare, instead bringing random snow showers, cold temperatures, and lots of rain.

It snowed recently, and it has been raining all week.  Certainly, things to complain about as the people of Chicago await their reward for surviving through winter, especially one with a brutal polar vortex.

Like others, I can find the rain to be profoundly annoying.  It can be frustrating and a hassle when all I want is sunshine and not having to wear sweaters or jackets all the time.  Even when I was touring the southwest and southern California a few weeks back, being in the sun sent me on an existential journey question just what the hell I’m doing with my life.

However, the rain is a reminder to practice mindfulness.  The rain is temporary.  I cannot control the rain.  The sun will come when the rain stops.  These are ideas to keep myself grounded, live in the present, and not be bogged down by things I cannot change.  The rain is just a fact of life, here to serve its purpose, and something to just accept at face value.  I cannot let it control my mood, but sometimes it does.

Though, this blog post is not necessarily about rain specifically.  Merely, the rain that Chicago has been experiencing lately is just a metaphor for living in a way where I am not negatively impacted by things I cannot control.  The last few weeks, actually months, have been kind of hard.  I’ve been dealing with instability within my job, problems that I cannot control and are being handled by people in high positions than me.

I’ve been concerned, even worried sick, about layoffs. Mainly, what bothers me is the loss of security and stability.  The loss of control.  Losing a job and then dealing with the grind while unemployed is not a fun challenge.  It is physically, mentally, and emotionally demoralizing.  And I recognize that all my stress has been coming from trying to maintain control over a situation in which I have none.

Sure, I’ve been proactive.  However, I’ve run into obstacles that make me question my worth.  In this case, it has been meeting with potential employers or recruiters and being told I’m just not good enough.  Not enough experience.  Not a good culture fit.  Not this or that or any other excuse that they can come up with because they cannot quite assess my inherent worth to them as a pawn in this capitalist machine. There I go sounded cynical and resentful again.

The truth of the matter is that I have been in this situation before, and I have survived it.  It is never fun, but that doesn’t matter.  Things happen to people all the time.  Things that require acceptance and patience to overcome.  Problems that cannot be solved through worrying or fretting.

As I look out the office window and see the darkened skies, rain drops falling, and the people below me sporting umbrellas, I must remember that this too shall pass.  Just take a breath and go with the flow.  It can be hard.  Some days I’m better at recognizing that than other days.  Some days I’ve been fine.  Other days I have been not.  A grounded outlook is not something that just arrives out of nowhere and stays with you.  It is a process.  One that requires a lot of care and nurturing, mistakes and all.  Respecting that process is what makes you more aware of your role in all of this.  The rain, the job, all of it.  None of it really matters and I just have to live one day at a time, be like water, brush it off, or whatever other idiom one can apply.

For this week’s song blog post, I wanted to find a song that captured essence of spring rain and its potential to be a nuisance that one just has to accept and let pass.  I feel Bebu Silvetti’s 1975 disco tune “Spring Rain” (“Lluvia de primavera”) fits that mood.  It is a track with a driving, steady beat but with an infectious, danceable rhythm.  It even manages to be both melancholic and mellow at times.

There are many ways to stay grounded and accept what you cannot change.  Meditation, prayer, talking with someone.  Though, dancing is always a good way to achieve peace.  And if one is going to dance through the spring rain, Bebu can be your guide.