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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“pulse” – melissa etheridge (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“the world (is going up in flames)” – charles bradley & menahan street band (2007)

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Soul music has been a big part of my life for a long time.  Growing up, I loved listening to old Motown CDs.  I learned all the big hits early on.  As I got older, my tastes became a little more eclectic and refined.  When I started hosting and producing a soul radio show for my college radio station, that is where I started to cut my teeth in the world of independent soul music.  With every new show, I strayed further away from the classics we all love and took chances on niche releases from labels like Daptone and Numero Group.  These labels and their artists were new to me and the college town in Kentucky where I broadcasted from, but their influence, popularity, and significance would only grow from there.

On Saturday, the world lost Charles Bradley.  Affectionately known as the Screaming Eagle of Soul, Charles Bradley was a soul music darling coming from Dunham and Daptone Records.  In his early 60s, he was releasing his first studio albums in front of adoring fans over the world.  However, the popularity and fame he acquired late in his life wouldn’t last long.  He died of stomach cancer at the age of 68.  The golden age of his career would only span six years from 2011 through 2017, but he will be missed and his legacy will only grow.

The first time I heard Charles Bradley was in 2007.  That year, 100 Days, 100 Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings came out.  I bought a digipak copy of the album that came with a bonus CD that featured a heavily stylized faux radio show called Ghettofunkpowerhour hosted by Daptone regular Binky Griptite.   Just shy of an hour long, Ghettofunkpowerhour featured a compilation of Daptone singles and releases up to that point.  Extended snippets of over 20 songs were included in the compilation and featured Daptone stalwarts such as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, the Sugarman 3, the Budos Band, Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, and, of course, Charles Bradley.  Bradley, in fact, had three songs on the compilation which included “Take It as It Come” (with Sugarman & Co.), “This Love Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us” (with the Bullets), and “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” (with Menahan Street Band).  I played Ghettofunkpowerhour on repeat because not only is it a great compilation, but it is also a fantastic introduction to Daptone.  Their catalogue has expanded and grown in recognition over the last decade, but they were already solid when I first heard them.

Other than those few singles from Ghettofunkpowerhour, Charles Bradley pretty much stayed off my radar.  Unlike Sharon Jones and his Daptone contemporaries, he wasn’t putting out full-length albums.  That changed in 2011.  To promote his first studio release No Time for Dreaming, he went out on tour.  While the album was backed by Menahan Street Band, Bradley assembled his own crew under the name the Extraordinaires.

Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires were scheduled to play Subterranean.  The show was in July.  I had just recently moved to the city that February and I found that going to shows were a great way to explore the city.  Plus, I loved what I had heard from Bradley before.

I am known for my punctuality and being early, so I was one of the first people to show up for the gig.  This worked for me because the club is kind of small and I wanted to planet myself front and center.  And how glad I am that I did!  Bradley put on such an excellent performance.  He was 62 at the time, but performed with the energy and vigor of a man half that age.  This was someone pouring their heart and soul in bringing the best show to the people and he accomplished that.

Bradley’s excellent stage performance shouldn’t have shocked me.  He was someone who worked for years to perfect his stagecraft.  Part of Daptone’s revivalist approach is to channel the energetic exuberance of funk and soul music from the 1960s and 70s.   Bradley fit right in with that spending 20 years earning extra money between odd jobs doing James Brown performances.  A pivotal moment in his life came when his sister took him to see James Brown perform at the Apollo Theatre in 1962.  Bradley, after that, would impersonate Brown around the house. He modeled his stage performances after the hardest working man in show business to the degree that he effectively a spiritual successor.

Bradley lived a hard life.  At 14, he ran away from to escape a poverty-stricken household only to live on the streets for two years.  When he was old enough, he enlisted in the Job Corps and worked as a cook for ten years.  After that, Bradley decided to hitchhike around the country finding work wherever he could.  When he overcame his stage fright and channeled the excitement he saw at the James Brown performance, his talents were shown and recognized by the right people.

Bradley’s career got as big as a soul revivalist performance could get.  He released three studio albums, performed in festivals all around the world, and was even the subject of a documentary called Soul of America that premiered at South by Southwest in 2012.  This was a man who had worked hard and lived harder, and it was finally all paying off.

His life experiences were reflected in his songs.  In December 2010, he rereleased the single “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” for the release of his first studio album No Time for Dreaming which was released 2011 (the single initially came out in 2007).  In it, Bradley sings about a world engulfed in flames where no one has any accountability.  He laments about the hardship he has lived through and that no one can tell him what to do if they’ve never felt the same pain he does.  It is a heart wrenching soulful song filled with the emotional authenticity from a man who knows what he’s talking about.  He’s weathered the harshest storms and still has the hope that we can make a better world.

Bradley is a shining example of how we can all choose to live our lives.  Times will always be hard.  Sometimes, things will be less hard.  Other times, you’ll encounter life’s most difficult experiences.  The key is to just move forward and live your life the best way you can.  Things will get better even if they get worst first.  However, that is no reason to give up.  Even if it takes decades, your dream is never worth giving up.  Bradley never gave up and his final years were his most fulfilling.  What an inspiration.

“be your bro” – those darlins (2011)

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Musician deaths can be shocking for many of us for many distinct reasons.  The language of music is universal and impacts each of us.  Various genres, bands, or songs give us unspoken meanings that can change as quickly as the weather or become an unmoving representation for our lives.  That fluidity music possesses to affect people different at any given time is what gives it power.  Music becomes the backdrop for singular moments or whole uprooting changes and gives reference point for who we are at any given time.

Last week, Jessi Zazu passed away at the age of 28 from a public battle with cervical cancer.  Zazu was the leader singer of Those Darlins, a female alternative rock band from Nashville, Tennessee.  Those Darlins wanted were hard-hitting and wanted to show the world that music coming out of Nashville could have edge and be hip.  As early as 2011, the band was absolutely exemplifying that and even being featured by organizations such as NPR.  This was an exciting group of young 20-something women who were set to light the music world on fire.

Unfortunately, the band would disband in 2015.  And at the end of 2016, Zazu publicly shared her diagnosis.  Her cervical cancer was caused by HPV.  In the same rebellious spirit in which she led Those Darlins, Zazu shaved her hair off in a bold embrace of a new chapter of her life.  Music would have to take a backseat as Zazu pursued chemotherapy and radiation treatments to fight the cancer.  Despite putting up a brave and courageous fight, she passed away on September 13th.

When I heard the news about Zazu’s death, it did impact me.  The band was based in Nashville and I was travelling to Nashville frequently in 2009 and 2010 for work.  I wasn’t aware of the band at that time, but I understood their desire to shake of the city’s country image.  Nashville is full to the brim with exciting musical talent and legendary venues.  It is a music lover’s paradise, but it struggles with the perception many outsiders have due to the overwhelming pervasiveness of country music there.  However, underneath all the cowboy hats and snakeskin boots, Nashville has a punk heart.

Occupying the same city at the same time doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.  However, what affected me more was that Those Darlins was the first band I had seen in Chicago.   It was 2011.  All in the last week of February, I flew from Alaska into Nashville, drove to Chicago to find an apartment, drove back to Kentucky to pack in one day, and then move everything to start a new life.

Once I got everything organized and settled, it was time to figure out the city.  I love live music and sought opportunities to see bands that never come to Alaska and who I would miss in Nashville.  Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears were scheduled to play Double Door on April 2nd.  Tickets weren’t that expensive and I really wanted to see this band.  I had played cuts off their first studio album all the time on the college radio station where I volunteered.  I knew they would be a good live show and I wanted to hear cuts I loved and new tracks from the album they had just released.

While Black Joe Lewis would be the first concert ticket I bought since moving to Chicago, they wouldn’t be the first live act.  Nope.  That honor would go to their opener.  And that opener was Those Darlins.

I was a few feet from the front of the stage and blown away by the performance.  The band packed in so much energy and ferocity.  It was like they played as if their lives depended on it; as if this was the last chance to prove they had what it took to succeed.  It is disappointing when you a see a band, especially a band that is new to you, just phone it in.  But, that wasn’t the case here.  This was great raw music that told me that I had made the right choice moving to Chicago and that I would never tire of exploring what it had to offer.

I don’t remember the exact set list, but I do know they were promoting their new album Screws Get Loose.  While I cannot remember every song they played, I do remember highlights that ar3e forever burned into my memory.  “Be Your Bro,” one of my favorites from that album, I remember was performed with an awe-inspiring intensity.  The song is about a girl wanting to befriend a boy, but the boy only wants from her what young boy wants.  Zazu sings about playing in the mud with this boy, but he is too distracted in his quest to get into her pants.  The song is great on the album, but it was a special thrill to see it live.  The timeless tale of girl tired of boys’ shit was delivered with fire and fury and looked as though performing the song on stage was a cathartic experience for the band.  And I’m sure it was.  This was a badass group of hard-rocking women and they wanted to be heard.  They wanted their share and no one to tell them no.

Sadly, the was the only time I ever saw Those Darlins live.  I had other opportunities, but passed them up because of life’s various obstacles and obligations.  Given the band’s disbandment and Zazu’s proceeding death, I wished I made the time.  Of course, nothing could touch that initial performance I saw. As my first live band in Chicago, that is a significant memory.  And while seeing additional shows would be fun, they wouldn’t carry the same emotional impact as that first time when I was in my early 20s, fresh-faced in a new city, and ready for anything.

“cool disc jockey” – boyd bennett and his rockets (1959)

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The Chicago Independent Radio Project (CHIRP Radio) started their fall fundraising campaign this week.  To do my part, I have set up a fundraising campaign and have begun to solicit donations from friends, family, and colleagues to contribute.  I’m doing this because CHIRP Radio has been a big part of my life in Chicago.  I believe in CHIRP Radio.  And as I was setting up my donation page and crafting personal messages to people to request donations, I spent a lot of time thinking about my personal connection with CHIRP; my story of how I discovered and became involved with such a great radio station.

I moved to Chicago at the end of February in 2011.  When I moved here, I had never been to Chicago before, didn’t have a job lined up, and didn’t know a single person in this city.  I travelled across the country from Alaska to start brand new without the aid of school, family, friends, a job, or any other of the institutions available to make difficult transitions easier.  It was as fresh of a start as you can possibly get.

No one can ever accuse me of being lazy because I am an extremely motivated person.  A lot of this has to do with ambition.  I seek new challenges and find ways to succeed at them to gain some personal satisfaction.  Plenty of good things come that like meeting people or gaining professional experience.  Getting your hands dirty and trying new things, I find, make an exciting life.  Plus, there is also the practical thing that motivation and ambition can generate income.  And being brand new in a city with no prior resources or connections can drain the bank account quickly, so finding work quickly means being resourceful and proactive.

Priority number one was to find stable employment that allowed me to live alone comfortably.  However, I also had to stay grounded and remind myself that I needed to have fun.  I was in Chicago after all!  Moving here was an exciting new adventure.  I had a few months where I could enjoy not having responsibilities before hitting the grindstone at the ol’ 9-to-5.  This is when I needed have a completely open mind and enjoy what this city had to offer.

I’ve talked about my transition to Chicago several times and this post isn’t about that.  It is about reflecting on a period of my life when I discovered CHIRP Radio.  Everything else is just exposition.

During this time, I was living in Rogers Park by the lake as my first neighborhood.   When I wasn’t exploring the Northside along the redline, I was venturing into Evanston because I was just so close to it.  Right off the Dempster purple line stop, there was this great used record store called Second Hand Tunes (it isn’t there anymore).   That was my primary record store.  I had developed a decent CD collection over the years, but I had start collecting vinyl.  Second Hand Tunes was where I bought a lot of the first records I would own.

It was also the first place where I had heard about CHIRP Radio.  There was a bulletin board in the corner on the right as soon as you walked in.  It had the standard fare; bands looking for members, ads for Evanston businesses, and info about upcoming shows and festivals.  On that board, there was a sign that was visually different than everything else on the board.  It was larger, printed on a thicker stock, and quite colorful.  It contained an illustration of a gramophone and featured a little bird.  The poster advertised an upcoming record fair and one that had been an annual event for several years already.  Everything about this from the quality of the poster to the longevity of the event told me this was a great place to be involved with.  That image of that poster is burned in my mind as my first introduction to CHIRP Radio.

Sadly, I did not go to the record fair despite that impressive poster.  I was still relatively jobless and the thought of being surrounded by thousands of great records made my wallet hurt.  So, I kept it in the back of my mind.

By that summer, I got a job which meant money and the security that comes with that.  I was now taking in the sites at the many street festivals this city has to offer.  One summer day, I was touring Edge Fest (in the Edgewater neighborhood) with some friends.  We got food and drinks and listened to music; all the standard street fest stuff.

It was at Edge Fest that I first saw CHIRP Radio in person.  They had a tent set up with a couple people sitting below it with a table full of goodies.  These were the first people from Chirp I had met and we talked for a few minutes.  I spent most of my time talking with a guy named “Steve” who told me about what I was like volunteering with CHIRP.  I had some knowledge of how radio volunteering worked after doing that for four years at my college radio station.  However, I knew being involved with CHIRP would be different.  This was a much larger city than my college town, was more involved with the local community, and it wasn’t entirely staffed with college students.  Talking with Steve was great and I knew that I wanted to be involved with CHIRP as soon as possible.

That was the summer of 2011.  It wouldn’t be until January 2014 when I would start volunteering.  The excitement over the job I just got quickly faded as it became a real nightmare.  I’ve talked about the experience before, but its relevancy to my involvement with CHIRP was that my employer made me sign a document preventing me from volunteering anywhere.  Looking back, I really don’t think that was legal.  Regardless, I didn’t have time to volunteer because I was working so much.  Until I got the opportunity to volunteer, I would just listen to their online in the meantime.

I was an active listener for almost three years before getting the opportunity to join CHIRP which didn’t happen until I parted ways with my employer.  I was patient and I really wanted this.  So, I was going to give this volunteer gig my absolute best effort.  I had some other things going on in my life, so I started doing what I could.  I tabled a lot of events because I enjoyed getting out there and talking about community radio.  My first time seeing CHIRP was at a street fest and that was where I wanted to be; talking with the people about great music and art.

As time went on and life situations settled, I knew I wanted to have more responsibility.  So, I signed up for a leadership position.  I wanted to do a job that involved organizing, public outreach, and would be beneficial to my professional development by looking good on my resume.  So, I became their new Partnerships Coordinator.  Specifically working within the realm of fine arts, I took my involvement with CHIRP to the next level by strategically developing partnerships and sponsorships with local non-profits and organizations to raise awareness for CHIRP’s brand and provide exposure for our partners.  With that work, I’ve been able to support community organizations and businesses.  The work was (and still is) satisfying and makes me feel great.

I have been in CHIRP for almost four years.  And it is a station that I absolutely love and has done so much for me. I really respect their engagement with the community and building up the people within it.  And I feel proud to have been involved with that.

The 501(c)(3) status was established a decade ago with the online streaming component starting seven years ago.  For seven years, CHIRP had broadcast exclusively online but managed to build a considerable hometown following.  And that is due to their strong focus on public outreach and community engagement.  Through the hard work of hundreds of volunteers committing thousands of hours over the years to creating an independent voice for Chicago, CHIRP has not become a cultural institution in Chicago.  It was that focus on community engagement that attracted me to something that would become a valuable part of my life.

A decade after its inception, the station is taking a huge step.  A broadcast license had been obtained and the funds collected to install a transmitter.  On October 21 at noon, CHIRP Radio will start broadcasting live to radios in your car and home.  This is an incredibly big accomplishment for any low-power station and another element that keeps the station focused on building a better community through art and people.

I’ve been listening to a lot of great songs about radio stations and disc jockeys to celebrate the occasion.  In 2006, Bob Dylan premiered his radio show Theme Time Radio Hour on XM Satellite Radio.  Each episode would be centered on a theme and Dylan would play tracks relating to that theme.  None of the show’s themes were vague or overplayed concepts like love or whatever.  Instead, episodes were devoted to more concrete themes like shoes, weather, Tennessee, or coffee.

On August 30, 2006, the “radio” episode premiered and featured a great collection of songs about the radio by artists like the Clash, Lord Melody, and Van Morrison.  It had been years since I listened to this show and I’ve enjoyed the radio-themed episode especially lately.

One of my favorite tracks from the episode is “Cool Disc Jockey” by Boyd Bennett and his Rockets.  Released as a single in 1959 on King Records, “Cool Disc Jockey” is a fun, swinging rockabilly tune that is pure fun and celebrates the iconic figure that brings us the best music around.  And frankly, CHIRP does have some pretty cool disc jockeys.  And CHIRP Radio has the coolest tunes in town.

CHIRP has been going strong for a solid decade.  I am proud to have been involved with the last four years.  However, I’m looking forward to being a part of something special as it enters its second decade.

“the pink room” – angelo badalamenti (1992)

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Last night, I finished watching the latest season of Twin Peaks.  For nearly four months, the world settled uncomfortably into David Lynch’s world to see how the show’s beloved characters adjusted and changed since the death of Laura Palmer 25 years earlier.  Lynch, the cast, and Showtime were extremely hush hush about what the return of Twin Peaks would look and feel like.  Expectations for the cult classic were high as no one knew quite what to expect.

I had previously written about the new season for this blog series at the halfway point.  Specifically, I discussed the use of music in the series as a narrative device.  Angelo Badalamenti’s score in the original series was so prevalent that it can be interpreted as a character in of itself.  For the new series, Badalamenti’s score took a backseat to make way for an increased presence of contemporary pop and rock music in the form of bands performing at the Roadhouse.

Music was still an integral part of the storytelling and moodscape, but it took on a new role that was vaguely familiar but completely different.  And that best describes the experience of watching this latest series of Twin Peaks.  The characters, scenery, and situations we all cherished from the original series were still there, but time managed to distort our perception of these things.  Everything seemed so incredibly familiar.  However, our relationships to these things has changed.

Before the new series preimiered, I was admittedly skeptical.  I am very vocal about my dislike for nostalgia and for good reason.  While it is totally fine to enjoy artifacts and documents of the past for their own merit as a representation of that period, it is another thing when culture is stagnated to accommodate old ideas that are long past their prime.

People are absolutely addicted to nostalgia because of the comfort it brings.  The familiar is nice for that reason.  However, when you have endless reboots, sequels, and rehashes of well-established or dated intellectual properties that mimic their predecessor as much as possible, the cultural landscape of artistic media becomes stagnated.  It makes it harder for new ideas to get the attention they deserve.  Instead of these new ideas depicting and representing the present as it is, they fade away or never even materialize.  It is a very regressive state that represses our ability to challenge the limits of our imagination and the need to push society forward culturally and artistically.

When I started the latest season of Twin Peaks, what I didn’t want to see, after 25 years, was more quirky dialogue, melodramatic acting, and constant references to damn good pie.  I wanted something that reflected the maturity and growth that comes with time.  And, fortunately, I got that.

It is funny for me to admit that this last season of Twin Peaks left me with even more questions than before I started watching.  I have never had the experience of watching something and getting less closure as the show continued.  And that is an entirely thrilling concept.  Lynch, since the original Twin Peaks series in the early 1990s, has shaped his film legacy by releasing films that are challenging, open to endless interpretation, and leave you with endless unanswerable questions.  For many, I imagine that causes quite a bit of frustration.  For me, I find it fascinating and a bit funny because I laugh it off that Lynch is playing a joke on everyone to see how far he can get away with.  And when I think that way about a major release that generated a lot of buzz, it gives me a lot of hope for the future of art.  This new Twin Peaks season didn’t give the audience what they wanted or expected and it still managed to be one of the hottest shows of the year.  That is what we need more of to combat the ever-increasing presence of copycat nostalgia cash-ins.

As I mentioned earlier, our relationship to this world had changed.  I find it incredibly brave to take those ideas and situations from 25 years earlier and change their meaning.  I attempted to watch the first two seasons of Twin Peaks back in 2011.  I had four episodes left when I just quit.  I felt satisfied that I didn’t need to continue.  Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed and knowing that the show was cancelled abruptly after season two finished leaving no opportunity to pick things back up for a third season, I didn’t feel invested to finish watching.  The concept of the Black Lodge and Special Agent Dale Cooper’s possession by Bob didn’t mean anything to me other than unfinished and unrealized ideas.

I didn’t even feel the need to watch the 1992 film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.  When the series was cancelled, Lynch felt that he could continue and expand the story through a series of films.  The film was considerably darker than the television series and performed poorly at the box office.  This meant that Lynch couldn’t continue exploring the world of Twin Peaks.

A few years ago, rumors started surfacing that Lynch was trying to get a new season made.  At the time, I felt that it was a useless gesture; a nostalgia trip from a guy who hadn’t made a movie since 2006’s Inland Empire.  I wasn’t excited about a new series when I wanted to Lynch to make a new film.

As time went on, the series return finally saw the greenlight.  Even then, I wasn’t quite on board.  It wasn’t until January of this year that I finally took an interest.  So many friends were buzzing about the show’s return.  And I knew I would watch it too even though I was in denial. So, I watched the first two seasons (finally finishing it this time), watched the film prequel, and even read The Secret History of Twin Peaks by series co-creator Mark Frost to get a deeper understanding of some of the themes.

When the series returned in May, I was ready.  Or, at least I thought I was.  I had no idea what to expect at this point and nothing was made much clearer with each new episode.  However, I loved what I saw.  For one, I was thrilled by this new season was a departure from its earlier form taking on themes and style of a thoroughly modern Lynch.  Secondly, Lynch didn’t give the audience what they wanted and instead downplayed key characters an altogether minimizing once prominent roles. And, finally, I was no closer to understanding the scope of what Twin Peaks had to offer than before.  In other words, this was how you handle the stigma of nostalgia the right way.

Angelo Badalamenti did such an amazing job scoring the new series.  It was subtle early in the return, but gained steam as we neared the finish.  Old scores and themes associated with certain characters and ideas were withheld appropriately.  I remember when rewatching the original series, the music was everywhere and often themes during in episode.  That wasn’t the case in this new series.  As mentioned before, Badalamenti’s music as a character changed over the years making way for new ways to express itself as a narrative device.

The new series had a lot of throwbacks to the 1992 film.  Whole scenes in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me had their meaning changed when viewing this new series; throwing nostalgia out the window and that our old ideas or ways of thinking are not as precious as we thought.

Since many scenes and characters from the film were referenced or connected to the new series, I decided to revisit the film’s soundtrack.  The score for the original series is stellar on its own and contains many of the iconic scores we know and love.  However, I feel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is Angelo Badalamenti’s strongest contribution to the music of this world.

“The Pink Room” is a heavy, dark bluesy track from the film soundtrack.  The title of the track references a room at the infamous Roadhouse.  There, Laura Palmer meets her drug connections and has sex with strange friend.  She is joined with her friend Ronette Pulaski.  This scene is important because it serves as a key connection between Laura Palmer’s descent and the events following her death.  The scene itself is also unnerving as we see Palmer gyrate and grind with the men who would be involved with her rape and murder.  Light flash and drugs are plenty as the score enhances the seedy and depraved mood of the scene in an already dark film.

The finale of the return of Twin Peaks left a lot of questions unanswered and opened the doors for further exploration of the increasingly obscured world of Lynch’s vision.  I don’t know if another season will be made.  Part of me doubts it and a bigger part of me actually doesn’t want it.  I don’t want answers.  I was left with questions at the end of season two and with even more questions at the end of this latest season.  For me, it has become clear that the world of Twin Peaks is not something we are meant to understand.  Instead, all we can do is sit back and observe and let the characters, story, and especially the music take us on a journey.

“truth to power” – onerepublic (2017)

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Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, Texas and the surrounding area over the weekend.  News footage of the flooding and devastation caused by the first major hurricane (category 3 or higher) to make landfall in the United States since 2005 has been disturbing.  Communities and interstates are completely submerged.  Commercial buildings and private residences have been reduced to rubble.  And the death toll continues to rise as thousands of people require rescue.

After the brutal onslaught on Texas, the hurricane has changed trajectory and is currently moving towards Louisiana.  Though 18 Texas counties have been officially declared federal disasters, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards is bracing for the worst per public statements made earlier today.  With the specter of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Louisiana and the New Orleans in 2005, not too far in the past, people are justifiably worried.

In addition to covering the storm itself and the aftermath of its destruction, the dialogue has naturally included President Donald Trump.  Everyone is wondering how Trump till react to the first natural disaster to occur since taking office.  George W. Bush, his Republican predecessor, famously screwed up the response to Hurricane Katrina.  Supplies and trailer were delayed and public policy regarding emergency management were criminally mishandled.

Hurricane Katrina and the mismanagement of its effects have provided precedence for how the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Harvey will be judged.  With Trump’s FEMA director Brock Long calling Hurricane Harvey “the worst disaster” in Texan history with recovery to make many years, not a lot of confidence has been instilled in Trump to issue a swift and inclusive humanitarian cost.

The immediate devastation deserves all the attention and resources required to minimize loss of life.  However, there is another larger issue here.  While it is important Trump handles the disaster effectively, there is the long-term problem of climate change.  Specifically, how Trump will view and handle climate change as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

Trump has not been a friend to the environmental community.  He pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, promoted increased reliance on coal, and reduced regulations within the Environmental Protection Agency to favor businesses and their bottom line.  Though over 99% of all scientists agree that climate change is negatively impacting our planet and that even our own military is treating climate change as a threat to national security, Trump and his administration have continued to push policies and rhetoric that are detrimental to our safety.

Hurricane Harvey is a prime example of how climate change will shape our world to come.  Not only can we expect to see more storms of this nature, but increasingly powerful ones over the years.  We will also see hurricanes hit landfall in places where such events were extremely rare (remember when Hurricane Sandy hit New York five years ago).  Hurricanes are not the only things that will increase in intensity and strength.  We will see continue sea level rising, increased forest fires, longer droughts, and stronger tornadoes.

Climate change has a severe impact on social welfare beyond immediate signs.  Consider the Syrian refugee crisis for a moment.  Since 2011, over 6 million refugees have fled Syria to seek refuge in other parts of the world.  While political factors such as the Syrian Civil War between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents have played a key role in the refugee crisis, much of what has become the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time can also be attributed to droughts that have lasted years because of climate change.

While natural disasters have occurred throughout the ages without human influence, the increased frequency and intensity of these latest disasters should alarm even the most harshest critics.  How Trump will be judged will be based on how he handles climate change.  We have come to a point where temporary fixes are not a solution.  For example, Florida has seen higher tides that have pushed seawater and sea life into the city streets.  Even with pumps running at maximum capacity, the effort is almost futile.  Sorry, President Trump, but building a wall to keep the ocean out isn’t going to help.

The ongoing crisis caused by Hurricane Harvey is a perfect platform to build a sound and progressive climate change plan on.  This should the moment climate change deniers wake up and realize that carbon taxes, cap and trade, increased investment in solar energy, and reduced reliance on fossil fuels are the answers to slow down, or even reverse, climate change.

However, I am being optimistic.  Frankly, no one really knows how Trump will react to the crisis.  A few tweets are meaningless when simple policy can be enacted that could save millions of lives and billions of dollars over the next decade.  But, unless Trump can find some way to make money personally from progressive climate change initiatives, I doubt he will do anything.

I recently saw Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.  Released 11 years after his groundbreaking and Academy Award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth, this new documentary shows the damage caused by climate change since then and the work Gore has done to promote his initiative.  In the film, Gore gives presentations on the effects of climate change over the last decade. Sobering new information about recent climate influenced crises is presented, but there is room for hope as Gore also reports on how domestic businesses and foreign nations have adopted policies friendly to climate change and invest in alternatives to fossil fuels.

Since seeing that documentary a few weeks ago, climate change has been on my mind a lot.  Being a millennial, I had always known that environmental issues were worthy of attention.  Earth Day, our holiday to promote environmental awareness, only started in 1970 which means that my parent’s and my generation are only the first two to really embrace the cause.  Fifty years can be a long time, but not so when it comes to government bureaucracy.  While a lot has been done to raise awareness of the effects of climate change over the last five decades, the last 11 years since Gore’s first film have proven to be the most significant due to urgency.

In the climax of the documentary, Gore is at the Paris Climate Accord.  After successfully negotiating with a solar panel company to donate panels to India thus getting their government to join, Gore feels vindicated after dedicating several decades to fighting climate change.  However, that joy is short lived.  Gore meets with Trump to get his cooperation on sticking to progressive climate change policy, but Trump ultimately pulls out of the Paris agreement.

“Truth to Power” is a single recorded by OneRepublic for the film.  Produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett, the single is an emotionally piano-driven ballad that captures the raw yearning for change seen in Gore’s film.  Quite benign and uninteresting as a song on its own, the song carries power given the context.  It is certainly a track that is meant to be more about the message rather than the aural aesthetic.  After the intense experience of the film, the song packs a punch as the viewer reflects on their world and what they can do to change it.

If we haven’t passed it already, we are very near the tipping point. And Trump is a threat that could exacerbate the situation beyond repair.  One of the key aspects of Gore’s film is the wave of support an activism that followed the 2006 documentary.  In the sequel, we see Gore training climate change activists who then venture into their community to help them adopt for climate friendly practices.  That is the truth to power.  People have the power to enact the change they want to see.  And it starts on an individual level.  Teach friends and neighbors to be more environmentally friendly, vote for people with a pro-environment agenda, and hold our current leaders accountable.  If anything good comes out of Hurricane Harvey, I hope that it inspires people to act together to prevent it from happening again.

“do you wanna hold me?” – bow wow wow (1983)

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I’m an avid reader.  And I seek out a lot of different kinds of material to read.  Reading mostly non-fiction, I look for resources that can offer great recommendations or other motivating factors to pick up a book.  These include listening to author interviews on National Public Radio, chats with friends, or even book clubs.  I’ve been a member of several book clubs.  However, the latest one I’m in is facilitated by my community radio station and we read highly engaging critiques on cool music.

For the music book club, I’ve been reading Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds.  Published in 2006, Reynolds’ book is a thorough exploration of the music created after punk came and went.  A progressive form of rock music that distanced itself from nostalgia-driven punk musicality, postpunk drew from avant-garde ideas, world music, and a DIY aesthetic.  Only lasting a few years, postpunk would diverge and develop into other forms such as New Pop, New Wave, and New Romanticism.

Throughout the book, Reynolds spends entire chapters focusing on a particular band, region, and musical style.  Whether it is breaking down the Midwestern industrial motif of Pere Ubu, the bleak gothic stylings of Joy Division, or John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols anti-music of Public Image Ltd., Reynolds’ book is thorough and thoughtful.  He frames bands and their geographical upbringing from a historical perspective while also breaking down signature tracks in the poetic fashion only rock journalists know how to write.

While his analysis of songs and their compositional qualities are interesting, a lot of it is flowery descriptors that can be hard to decipher even if you know the song well.  Basically, semantics and objective at that.  While I enjoy critiques like that, I can only take so much before it becomes boring.  Fortunately, the book does provide a historical narrative when explaining musical context.

History provides a great framework for storytelling and I like a splash of narrative in non-fiction reads.  I enjoy postpunk and New Wave a lot.  They are among my favorite genres of music.  And this books has helped further my appreciation.  As I’m reading, naturally I enjoy the chapters covering bands that I am very fond of.  However, I’m enjoying the exploration of bands I either don’t know well beyond a single (or two) and those I had never heard before.  It motivates me to check out those bands or look deeper into their catalogue.

One chapter I found incredibly fascinating was the one about Bow Wow Wow.  Of course, I had grown up hearing their cover of “I Want Candy” throughout my entire life.  I had heard another song or two in recent years, but not much beyond that.  Before Reynolds’ book, I had regarded Bow Wow Wow as a one-hit wonder band and assumed that their history was bland and uninteresting as a result.  Oh, how wrong I was.

Malcolm McLaren is the impresario that managed the Sex Pistols.  Not only did he have a heavy hand in crafting their delinquent image, he sought ways to make them even more polarizing and repulsive to people.  I had been listening to the Sex Pistols since high school and I had always known Malcolm McLaren to be a provocateur which is a classier way of saying that he was a big wanker.  Until I read this book, I had no idea of far McLaren would go to be absolutely appalling.

I was amazed to learn that Bow Wow Wow was a McLaren creation much like the Sex Pistols.  The band was formed after McLaren encourage Adam and the Ants to ditch their front man and pursue his new music project.  Needing a charismatic and captivating lead singer, McLaren recruited the 14-year-old Annabella Lwin.

Initially, the band was put together to carry out McLaren’s vision that music was destined to be disposable background noise.  With the arrival of cassette technology, McLaren prophesized that role of music in the future would be removed of its purpose.  Before, people would gather in their homes or clubs to listen to music.  Now, with the introduction of the caseate and the rise of portable music, McLaren believed music would lose its importance and meaning.  To further this, Bow Wow Wow’s first album was initially a cassette only release that nearly tanked the band for having poor audio quality.

In addition to managing a band that would promote McLaren’s vision of music’s decline, he also sought a means to exploit rock’s baser instinct of tribalism and sex.  To achieve that, McLaren would coerce Lwin to be photographed nude or be subjected to sexual situations even going so far as encouraging one of the bandmates to deflower Lwin which McLaren believed was the reason why she was so resistant to his deranged and hypersexualized ideas.

McLaren’s fascination with exploiting child sexuality was exclusive to Lwin.  He had a whole grand vision to carry out his belief that pop music was pornography for children.  So, he set out to use pop music as a medium to use child pornography to titillate adults.  TO achieve this, the early Bow Wow Wow songs featured overtly sexual lyrics and Lwin was photographed nude for the band’s promo materials even appearing nude on their second album.

His provocative mindset extended beyond music and into other media.  McLaren wanted to create a children’s version of Playboy called Chicken which would be a publication featuring underage boys and girls engaging in pleasure technology.  While McLaren persisted that his Chicken publication was designed to be consumed by children interested in becoming adults that were different than their own parents, it is especially troubling considering “chicken” is a pedophile term for children.  Some even believed that Bow Wow Wow and Chicken were grand schemes by McLaren to implicate BBC and EMI as child smut peddlers.  While much of this material of Bow Wow Wow and the young Lwin were published, Chicken remains in the vaults.

You can imagine how surprised I was to learn about the history of Bow Wow Wow.  I had heard “I Want Candy” all my life.  It is a fun, catchy pop song.  However, knowing their background and especially McLaren’s manipulation of Lwin, the song carries a whole new subversive meaning that makes me a little ill.

Since reading that chapter, I’ve been exploring more of Bow Wow Wow’s short catalog.  Though they only released three studio albums, there is a lot of great material. For the last few years, I’ve really enjoyed “Do You Wanna Hold Me?”  The song is chaotic and absurd with allusions to California and a demonic Mickey Mouse being as big as a house.  It didn’t chart as well as “I Want Candy,” but it is one of their stronger tracks.  And given that it was recorded and released on their third and final studio album before breaking up, I would like to think that it was conceived on the tail end of whatever McLaren had planned for them.  I would like to be optimistic that, by this time, he was losing interest in the band and not interested in exploiting them as he had before.

“writin’ on the wall” – boscoe (1973)

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Like many people around the country, I’ve been upset by the violent events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.  When white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the Alt-Right descended upon the city to preach their own brand of hatred and bigotry, violence erupted resulting in many being injured and the death of three people including Heather Heyer.

Before the wounds of Charlottesville have even begun to heal, the painful feeling was only exacerbated by the President Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn the violence perpetrated by his supporters.  A few days after reading a half-assed generic statement from a teleprompter, he showed his true colors yesterday when he coined the term “Alt-Left” and refused to condemn the violent white supremacists at Charlottesville.  He cited that both sides were to blame and that he demanded he have all the facts before making any kind of statement.

The incident at Charlottesville had occurred 72 hours before his press conference yesterday, but Trump still insisted on not issuing a formal statement until he felt satisfied that he had all the facts.  Beyond what he did say about the (non-existent) “Alt-Left” going to the protest armed and without a permit, it is also troubling to consider what was not said.  Trump, the man who is currently holding the highest office in the country, did not sincerely vocalize any condemnation of his supporters for the chaos and madness they caused.

Trump’s psyche has not been hard to understand.  In his world, there is no “right” and no “wrong.”  His assessment about your value to him is only determined by how well you like him.  If you praise and support his actions and words, you are “good” and deserving of his respect and attention.  If you are critical of him, or simply did not vote for him, you are “bad.”

He has exemplified this view countless times, but yesterday’s press conference was the worst.  Reporters and members of the press were asking simple questions about Trump’s feelings about the Charlottesville violence.  During this, Trump pointed aggressively at them calling them fake, questioning their integrity and honesty as reporters and journalists, and made statements aligned himself with the violent rhetoric and actions of his reporters in Charlottesville.  By saying that both sides were to blame, he made a clear statement comparing violent Neo-Nazis to people who wish not to be hurt by violent Neo-Nazis.

The Charlottesville violence and death of Heather Heyer hit me so hard.  Since then, within the last few days, I still haven’t really found my balance yet.  Like many people, I couldn’t stop looking at the news.  Videos of fights and photos of armed racists were all over my social media feeds.  It was inescapable.  As I watched video footage of unknown militias marching, men holding shields with white nationalist imagery chanting “fuck you faggots,” and Neo-Nazis proudly wearing the swastika.

As I watched this, I felt a fear I hadn’t felt since the 9/11 attacks.  Our country has gone through some difficult times over the last 16 years.  However, at no point did I ever fear for my safety, the well-being of my friends and family, and the security of this country.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to be optimistic about where we are going.  And that is because I have no idea where this country is going.  Since Donald Trump’s election win last November, our state of affairs have steadily declined.  The threat of political violence is always present to the point where this insane discourse is becoming normalized.

The fear and anger I have felt since Saturday has put me in a place I do not like to be.  Reading through all the commentary and posts on social media, I got caught in the mire of the sickening depravity that is the Alt-Right’s social media presence.  I started engaging with white supremacists online shaming them for advocating additional violence and murder.  I knew you couldn’t reason with these people, so my goal was to call them out for their asinine behavior and holding them accountable.

I quickly realized how naïve that was.  By engaging with this scum, I had opened myself to receiving targeted threats of violence, death threats, called names aimed at my masculinity, and other targeted attacks.

Frankly, it was strange and fascinating.  I took their comments about committing murder and laughing at the death of Heather Heyer seriously, but I could not take the people behind those words seriously.  All of these disgusting people had one thing in common beyond their hateful rhetoric: they are all cowards who hide behind monikers and Pepe avatars.  They are afraid to show themselves as they spew their garbage.  They hide behind their racist frog meme as they call you faggot and make statements about how afraid you are to meet them.  Real tough talk coming from someone hiding behind a cartoon.

It got to a point where I found the exchanges fascinating and comical.  I would call out someone’s racism and that they were too afraid to show their true selves.  And the only thing that would happen is that they would send me some meme implying committing violence or murder against me or others.  Or that they would send their supporters from multiple states to come find me.  No matter how you looked at it, they were just losers throwing cartoons at me.  One even used my picture as their profile picture thus making me the representative face of their vitriol because they are too frightened to use their own.

These disgusting social media fiends are actually afraid.  They hide behind their memes out of fear of being “doxxed” (term to describe when a person’s identity and contact information has been discovered and shared).  When doxxed, their hatred is shown to their family, schools, and places of employment who will then respond appropriately.  These racists don’t want to lose their jobs or be expelled, so they use anonymity as their only weapon.

As I engaged further, I learned so much.  In addition to the psychology of these pathetic losers, I also learned some of their tactics they use to further spread hate.  In the spirit that these people are truly frightened of being discovered, I noticed that most of the users I engaged with would change their identities every day or two.  This included changing their profile picture, profile name, and social media handle in order to make it harder to trace their hateful rhetoric.  To do so properly, you would have to track them with databases and a lot of screenshots.  But, who has the time to follow racists assholes (besides me for the few days that I did).

When I got bogged down with this over the weekend, I spent a few days treading through their shit.  I didn’t care about the threats of attacks.  I was on a search and destroy mission.  My goal was to engage these people, discover who they were, and make them pay.  Now, I don’t know how to dox someone properly.  I’m not a hacker.  That’s how this stuff gets done.  But, I was able to find out who one of the guys was and called his university’s police to report the violent threats he was making in relation to the Charlottesville.

I tried to tell myself that taking down one of the people was worth it.  However, I know that isn’t the case.  Engaging with anonymous assholes on social media is the not an effective way to deal with what is happening right now.  We are all still healing from this weekend and processing what is happening.  Between the violent white supremacist gathering and Trump’s statements (or lack thereof), it is easy to get emotional and lost in confusion.

Never in a million years would I be telling myself in 2017 that this country needs to stand together to take down literal Nazis.  Trump and his administration has emboldened a movement with a specific agenda. An agenda that says that racial purity is required to make this country better.  And many of them want to achieve this through violence.

The most frustrating aspect of their movement is their quickness to play victim when it is convenient.  They will gather, carry tiki torches symbolizing torches and pitchforks, claim their white heritage gives them dominance over this land, and vocalize that any non-white people, homosexuals, and women should submit to their will.  However, stand up to them and they cower by claiming the legality of their actions.

They remind me of those kids who want to get a reaction out of someone by hovering their hands over the other person and saying “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you. You can’t get mad because I’m not touching you!”  And the moment that you smack away their hand for invading their personal space, they cry and play the victim as they condemn you for your reaction.   So when these white supremacists gather to saying awful, violent things about non-white people and they are met with resistance, they cry that they were only gathering peacefully and that the antifas broke the law.  They say the resistance didn’t have a permit or that they are violating their freedom of speech.  They deflect, pass blame, and change the narrative to make sure, in their minds, that they are legally protected.  Their goal is to antagonize someone so much that their reaction can be spun to reflect their narrative, embolden their supporters, and gather centrist support who are too stupid to see the difference.

There can be no room for centrists.  If you are someone of sound body and mind watching the violence unfolding on your television or phone and you cannot tell the difference between those who advocate violence and those who wish to live free from violence, then you are a complete fucking moron that is ruining this country.  Much like the actual Nazis in the Third Reich, the Nazis in Charlottesville are trying to appeal to centrists.  Their movement, which started out as a fringe before picking up mainstream support, relies on recruiting people on the fence.  Before, they were too weak to take on the mainstream.  So, to gain strength, they rely on the stupid who cannot pick a side. Slowly one by one until they are now a force that must be dealt with seriously.

In 1973, Boscoe released their only studio album.  Initially only pressing 500 copies, their eponymous studio debut became a lost record of the South Side of Chicago’s rich culture of black music.  Such a profound musical statemen remained obscure until being reissued by Numero Group in 2007.  That is when I bought my copy.  A decade later after my purchase and 44 years after recording the album, the message remains as relevant today as ever.

“Writin’ On the Wall,” running over eight minutes, is a powerful condemnation to those who cannot see for themselves what is happening.  While the context of the recording in 1973 was about the passing of Malcom X, the message of black America struggling for peace still carries on.  As white supremacists battled against Black Lives Matters protestors and chanting for their death, it is so difficult for me to understand how someone cannot see the truth when it is right in front of them.  And for our political leaders to carry a message that “both sides” are responsible for our current violent discourse, it only makes the situation worse.

We’re still healing from Charlotte and I don’t know what to do.  As ready as I am to fight, I am also afraid of what the next day will bring.  And I feel that way because things will only get worse before they get better.  I know where I stand and my enemy knows where they stand, but people who stand in the middle silently are the ones who will shift the direction this nation will go.  And if they can’t see the writing on the wall, then goddamn them.