“one more yard” – evamore (2018)

R-12744549-1541134824-1726.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

“americans” – janelle monáe (2018)

R-12569291-1538259602-7157.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“halloween theme (main title)” – john carpenter (1979)

R-945273-1537246575-6792.png

John Carpenter’s slasher film classic Halloween was released 40 years ago last week.  Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut, the film tells the story of a serial killer named Michael Myers who escapes a sanitarium to murder teenage babysitters on Halloween night in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois.  With the film’s success, a franchise was built containing multiple sequels and inspiring several generations of horror filmmakers.  Since it’s release, the film has been considered one of the greatest horror films in the genre and has appeared on multiple “best of” lists by institutions such as Empire magazine and the American Film Institute.

Last week also saw the release of a direct sequel of the same name.  Adjusting and upending the continuity of the franchise’s other films, the 2018 Halloween sees Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role and returning to Haddonfield to face Michael Myers again forty years after his killing spree in the first film.  Already heralded as the best film in the franchise, the has also become the highest grossing in the franchise.

The original Halloween film is an absolute classic and a must see for anyone who appreciates horror or 1970s American cinema.  It was one I enjoy returning to every few years and I’m still surprised by its ingenuity and nuance.  It is truly a pioneering work of art that still stands on its own.

Interestingly, I have a couple of interesting connections to Carpenter and this film.  Carpenter was raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and went to Western Kentucky University where I also attended.  I had an opportunity to meet him during my freshman year when he spoke to a select group of students who were in the video production track.  He didn’t many, probably about 30 or so, but it was really cool I got to see this filmmaking legend in person.

Before he spoke to the group, I got the chance to meet him.  I told him that I rewatched The Thing a few days earlier when I found out he was visiting.  He asked me if I watched it on DVD and I told him that I didn’t, and it was on an old VHS copy.  He then told me “there is this new technology called DVD and you should probably invest in one.”  It was 2006, so I knew what DVDs were, but he was just giving me shit.

On WKU’s campus at the bottom of the fame hill, there is a log cabin sandwiched between two of the freshman dorms.  It was John Carpenter’s childhood home that, when I was a student there, was converted into an office for the folk studies department.  Around Halloween of my freshman year, they held a screening of Halloween.  I had never seen it before, but I thought it was really cool to have the chance to see the film in the director’s former home.  I remember sitting on the floor and being really amazed by it.  I don’t remember who I was with, but I do remember that someone staring through the cabin window wearing a Michael Myers mask.  That was awesome.

The next year, during my sophomore year, that cabin would also become meaningful in a different way.  While sitting on the door step of Carpenter’s childhood home, I smoked pot for the first time.  It was late at night on a col fall evening in southern Kentucky and everything about the experience felt right.  In fact, I thought it was pretty badass that I was doing that where John Carpenter lived since he was a true badass himself.  I spent the rest of the evening asleep on a blanket a few feet from the cabin and woke up at dawn.  There was no Michael Myers on WKU’s campus.

Perhaps one of the most famous qualities of the film is the score.  In addition to directing Halloween, Carpenter also scored the film himself.  The main theme is a piano melody played in a 10/8 or “complex 5/4” signature.  Despite being fairly simple, the score for the entire film took only three days to create.  However, despite its simplicity, it is one of the most memorable aspects of the film.

While the film was released in 1978, the soundtrack wouldn’t be released until August 1979 and that was in Japan.  The United States didn’t get an official soundtrack release until October 1983 which is five years after the film’s release.  Since then, the soundtrack has been released multiple time and with supplemental material.  While other qualities of the film are amazing, it is Carpenter’s score that truly elevates the film to a higher plane.

“alive” – pearl jam (1991)

10-24-2018 7-39-34 AM

College radio was an important part of my life during the tail end of my formative years.  Many of my favorite bands were college radio darlings at the beginning of their careers before becoming more well-known.  Plus, I respected the institution of it as a bastion of terrestrial freedom within an industry and market plagued with stagnation.  However, above all else, I was active in it.

I started college at Western Kentucky University in the fall of 2006 and, within a few weeks, I started volunteering at the campus radio station WWHR Revolution 91.7.  WWHR was an interesting place to start my media career because of the intense focus and structure guided by the general manager of the station.  For one, it was most important that the station not be free-formed.  There had to be a clear sound and philosophy behind our programming.  We weren’t just going to sound like a bunch of kids on the radio like the majority of college radio stations.

Next, the station had to be live 24/7 with a DJ operating the board.  With the exception of overnight hours during the summer and Christmas break, live human DJs were broadcasting around the clock.  Senior volunteers would first pick for shifts while newer volunteers like me would get what was left.  As a result, my first-year shift was Sunday mornings from 6 AM to 10 AM.  This meant my ability to party on Saturday nights was limited, or I just partied all night and powered through my Sunday morning DJ shift in a toxic haze powered by lingering alcohol and sleep deprivation. Oh, to be young again.

Every volunteer was a DJ and could be one after completing training.  However, for those who had a little more ambition, you could take on a leadership role on the board of directors. I spent a year in leadership doing traffic log operations before moving to promotions for a year and a half or so.  There were perks to this.  For one, directors got to go on trips to places like SCSW in Austin, the NAB conference in Vegas, or conferences in NYC.  The downside to all of this was there was the dreaded “director on duty” week.  You got a special flip phone to carry with you to answer whenever a problem ever came up.  And you had to drop what you were doing to handle it.  On a date but the DJ didn’t show up?  Tough shit.  Tuck it back in your pants, play indie rock for three hours, and take care of your blue balls on your own time.  The station doesn’t wait.

I was 18 when I started and 22 when I graduated.  In those four years, I had a lot of interesting experiences.  Most were good, but some were not.  And that’s fine.  A college radio station, which is essentially a collegiate club, is a strange place to be.  It is a microcosm of ego, hormones, and whatever else fuels awkward people transitioning from being kids into something that kind of resembles adulthood.  Naturally, an environment like that is ripe for drama but it is also a place where you make friends and get a sense of the kind of person you want to be.  What pissed me off and stressed me out no longer bothers me and I don’t hold onto to stupid grudges based on college nonsense.  We were all just kids trying to figure it out amidst all the fights, fucking, and fun.

This month marks 30 years since the launch of WWHR’s broadcast.  When it launched in October 1988, the station was called New Rock 92.  Back then, I imagine it was your typical college radio station; freeform and a place for kids to goof off.  Though, in 2001, the station was rebranded as Revolution 91.7 with a specific philosophy guiding the broadcast and aided by a new 30-mile radius transmitter.  The freeform was gone, but we still got to goof off in our own ways.

The last DJ shift of a volunteer was always a special thing.  In the last shift, a DJ could ignore the programming logs and play whatever they wanted.  They had earned the right.  And people would spend months planning their final shift.

I put a little thought into my last shift, but not much.  My musical knowledge, taste, and diversity is more complex and expanded now than when I was 22.  If I could go back in time with what I know now, I’m sure I could’ve crafted a really awesome playlist.  Instead, I just kinda winged it.  And that’s fine.  I don’t think it’s a bad way to go out.  After spending over three years following what a sheet of paper told me, perhaps going freeform with very little thought of what to play was the most spirited and alternative way to end my college radio career.  It is a big middle finger to the establishment within the establishment.  That is very rock and roll.

My last song I played was “Alive” by Pearl Jam.  The band’s first ever single from their debut album Ten, I played it because it was the most quintessentially alternative song I could think of at that time (yeah, I could’ve played something truly alternative, but I didn’t know as much back then so you Gen-Xers can chill out).  I loved the guitar that powers through the end of the song and the passionate shouts from Eddie Vedder.  I played it loud and rocked out in that studio one last time.  The same studio where I spent countless hours as a DJ, hanging out with friends, and doing all kinds of things only a young college student would be so brazen to get away with.

My college radio spirit hasn’t left me.  I’ve moved onto community radio.  I volunteer with a station in Chicago.  I don’t currently DJ (and haven’t since college), but I engage as a volunteer in ways that are helpful to my career.  I’ve also made a lot of great friends.  The age and background of our volunteers is a lot more diverse, but we have tinges of the kind of drama you would find in college radio (as you would with any large volunteer organization).  In many ways, the station I’m at now is a better station.  It is more professional and has a broader presence in the community. However, I won’t have the same memories like those I made while volunteering at Revolution 91.7.  For all the good and bad, it is a place I’ll always cherish.

“so long, frank lloyd wright” – simon & garfunkel (1970)

R-605328-1437550728-2440.jpeg

For me, living in Chicago, October is an awesome time.  The trees are adorned in autumnal hues as the season change and the excitement of Halloween hangs in the air.  I don’t have to start worrying about Thanksgiving travel or Christmas presents yet.  It is a month of subdued electricity running through my veins as I celebrate the season before winter arrives. Also, it is the month of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago!

Since 2011, the second weekend of October is the most magical time of the year for Chicagoans.  Put on by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Open House Chicago is an opportunity to see over 200 sites across the cities from as far south as Englewood all the way to Evanston.  The appeal of these sites ranges from their architectural elements, historical significance, normal public exclusion, or for other unique treasures that you weren’t aware existed in this fair city.

It truly is my favorite time of the year and I’ve gone every year since its inception.  Some years, I scramble to see as many sites as possible over the two days.  Other years, I take my time and check out a few places.  And with the variety of amazing places to check out, there are a lot of ways to have fun.

This year, I made an effort to venture out to Bridgeport and Back of the Yards which are neighborhoods I never go to.  Like ever.  Considering this was my eighth year in a row, it was time to break some new ground so to speak.

Due to the time it took to get to that area, I only saw a few locations.  However, they were amazing.  Zap Props was well worth the trip.  Zap Props is a large prop rental warehouse that rents out props to film and television productions.  They had thousands of knick-knacks and other items that are rented out regularly for productions, parties, and even restaurants.  It was a flea market junkie’s dream.  From there, I checked out other place such as the Chicago Maritime Museum, the ComEd training facility, a restored Roman Catholic church, and a Buddhist Temple.

On Sunday, I went north to Evanston to see the American Toby Jug museum.  A Toby Jug is a large pouring vessel modeled after this British guy’s famed love for drinking.  Since the late 1700s, the tradition of the Toby Jug has expanded from jugs modeled after the guy to jugs modeled after animals, world leaders, entertainers, and so on.  It was such a strange collection to see and it was curious that it would be in Evanston of all places. Still, these are the kooky and fun things you may come across on your journey through Open House Chicago.

Open House Chicago appeals to all tastes.  For me, I like weird and unique places.  For others, you may be seriously interested in architecture.  And if that is that case, you may have a deep appreciation for famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Living in Chicago, you’ll occasionally walk by homes designed by Wright.  For Open House Chicago, some of his sites are even opened up for tours.  The experience may not be as comical or bizarre as the Toby Jug Museum, but it is truly a great experience.

In honor of Open House Chicago, architecture, and Frank Lloyd Wright, the song to celebrate all of those things this week is Simon & Garfunkel’s “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright.”  Released in 1970 and closing out the A-side of Bridge Over Troubled Water, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” is a folk ballad tribute to the architect.  Lamenting that architect may come and go, there are fond memories of laughing so long and harmonizing until dawn.  In the duo’s signature style, Simon & Garfunkel bring a shade of curiosity, romanticism, and humor to the song.

Architecture, though admirable ad awe-inspiring in its craftmanship, is also something that can fun and alter your point of view.  Open House Chicago does that for me in a city where I’m sometimes dulled by the familiar during my normal routine.

“autumn serenade” – john coltrane and johnny hartman (1963)

R-773056-1401787318-8351.jpeg

I deeply cherish the transitional seasons.  Spring is an awakening for me.  After a long, cold Chicago winter, I am filled to the brim with life and energy.  I have to get out and do everything.  Exploration is on my mind and I’m an active whirlwind swimming in warm sunshine.  The brilliance of it makes me feel so young.

Fall, on the other hand, makes me sleepy and a bit weary in a welcomed way.  After an active summer of outdoor sports, travel, and social engagements, autumn is nature’s signal for me to start slowing down.  Winter is on the horizon and I’ll need to use that time to refresh.  Until then, autumn is my needed motivation to stop and look around at the beauty and mortality of all things.

The colors, the smell, and the chill are all things I adore about the season.  When spring arrives, I look around and am energized by all the things I can do now that it is warm. With autumn, I find comfort that things need to wind down.  Not just for the sake of energy expenditure, but to appreciate its return after winter.

A lot of my friends hate the fall because of what it represents.  To them it means that winter is almost here, and they’ll be miserable.  So, they don’t celebrate fall because of it’s the season in between winter and summer.

Part of that makes sense to me.  Winter, in that sense, almost signifies a sense of death.  However, that is life.  Embrace it and perhaps you’ll find it isn’t all the bad.

The start of my autumn has unusually busy.  It almost feels as my hectic schedule and need to do things from the summer has delayed a true autumnal experience for me.  I’ve been working a personal project that has really been eating up my time (in a good way).  But I’ve been aware of how little time I’ve had to enjoy the colors changing.  The experience I feel I’m supposed to receive of winding down just hasn’t happened yet.  But, that’s life.

John Coltrane is excellent to listen to this time of year.  I’m very partial to the record he released with Johnny Hartman.  Released on Impulse! in 1963, John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman is a jazzy match made in heaven.  Coltrane plays his sax supremely while Hartman lends his iconic vocals to the album’s six tracks.

Closing out the record is “Autumn Serenade,” their tribute to quite possibly the greatest of seasons.  Over the sweet saxophone, Hartman sings a sad ode to the wind coming three the trees which make the sweetest melodies.  Warmed by kisses, those beautiful souvenirs, we hold onto the true comforting value of life’s little gifts.

“je bois (i drink)” – charles aznavour (1987)

R-11102244-1509891704-3195.jpeg

Yesterday, the world lost Charles Azanvaour.  As one of France’s most popular vocalists, and a singer of world-renowned fame, Aznavour was dubbed the “French Frank Sinatra” for his distinctive and classic tenor voice.  His accolades run deep including being named “Entertainer of the Century” by CNN, edging out Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan as being recognized as the world’s most outstanding entertainer, and was even appointed ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland.  HE was also recognized for his activism and sheltering Jews during World War II.  Aznavour sang for presidents, popes, and royalty.  Aznavour was a remarkable human being.

Aznavour was a remarkable talent that I discovered surprisingly early in my life.  I was in high school when I first heard “Je Bois (I Drink).”  At the end of my senior year, Bob Dylan had premiered his XM Satellite Radio show Theme Time Radio Hour.  I was a huge Dylan fan and I wanted to listen to everything associated with that man.  So, naturally, a radio show he curated with thematic playlists was right up my alley.

In May of 2006, Dylan’s third episode was about drinking.  In keeping up with the theme, all of the songs he played were about alcohol.  Dylan was a huge fan of Aznavour and that was evident in his outro for “Je Bois (I Drink)” when he said Aznavour “Sings in six languages, French, English, Italian. He’s written over a thousand songs.  I only know about half of them.”

“Je Bois (I Drink)” was co-written by Aznavour with Georges Garvarentz and Roger Loubet.  In the song, Aznavour sings and laments about the reasons he drinks.  There is a love degraded, a woman who took satisfaction, and the lost of an innocent heart.  Aznavour drinks to dull his pain and find solace within endless confusions, but he also aware of the damage it is doing and how this refuge is killing him.  It is a cynical and heartbreaking song with just a touch a dark humor.

I have a funny story about this song.  I had a girlfriend my junior year of college and we were on-again and off-again throughout that year.  We would break up and then not see each other, but then time would pass by and she would treat me like she missed me and couldn’t stand to be away.  It was confusing and childish. We wouldn’t talk through issues because she was just excited to see me again.  And then the cycle would continue.

One day, after a period of not seeing each other because we are angry, she wanted my advice on a homework assignment.  She was taking a French class and needed a song to feature and discuss.  She knew I loved music and knew a lot about it, so she asked for my advice.  She didn’t pick a song because she felt like she wouldn’t be able to pick something that no one else would.  She wanted to be unique.

So, I felt a bit cunning and told her to play Aznavour’s “Je Bois (I Drink).”  I can’t remember if the assignment was due that day or the next day, but it was coming up soon.  She never did listen to the song beforehand. I knew this because she met up with me a few days later and tore into me about how embarrassed she was to play the song because she knew I was sending a message.  I was and she walked right into it.  It was cynical and vindictive and really played well against the themes of the song.  I wish I would’ve been there to see the look on her face as she played the English language version of the song.

Aznavour was a remarkable talent an incredible person as well.  Not only did he sing gorgeously, but his activism made significant impacts and added depth to his legacy.  With a career spanning seven decades and recording more than 1,200 song in eight different languages, he was the epitome of a truly great entertainer.  We need more people like Charles Aznavour.

“under the pressure” – the war on drugs (2014)

R-5698856-1403885163-5447.jpeg

I don’t watch a lot of television.  Between work, volunteer commitments, a social life, and other hobbies, I just don’t have the time.  I am supposedly living in a second Golden Age of Television, but I just haven’t paid attention to the shows that receive the most buzz.

However, there are a couple of shows that I follow and get really excited when they return with another season.  What I look for in a show is a blend of absurdist humor, wit, escapism, and starring protagonists with relatable issues overcoming real-world problems.  And with all that in mind, I stand behind Bojack Horseman as being the best television series currently running,

For those unfamiliar with Bojack Horseman, it is an animated show about a talking horse named Bojack who was the star of a family sitcom in the 1990s called Horsin’ Around where he played the adoptive father to three orphaned children.  Since the show’s cancellation, Bojack’s status as a celebrity faded and he has grown bitter, cynical, and developed substance abuse issues.  He is selfish, narrow-minded, and awful to people in his life.  As the series progresses, he experiences a resurgence in his career coupled with various emotional and professional setbacks.  During this, he faces is demons during a continuing existential crisis that hurts everyone who tries to help him.

Bojack Horseman premiered in August 2014.  It took me a few weeks before I caught in episode.  In August of that year, I was working through a devastating breakup and I spent that month packing out of my girlfriend’s apartment and finding a space for myself.  It was pretty world-shattering for me, so I didn’t focus on much else.

When I got to my new place, I took a few months for me to find my footing.  My whole life involved this person.  I had met them early on when I moved to Chicago, so we shared the same friends with many of them being her friends first.  On my own now, I only had two friends that I would still be able to see and spend time with post-breakup.

Not only that, I wasn’t making that much money and I worked all the time.  What little time I had outside of work was spent with my girlfriend, so I didn’t have hobbies of my own.  My biggest worry after I moved into my new apartment was “what am I going to do in my free time?”

It took months for me to make new friends and find new hobbies.  Eventually, reading would become a passion, I would take guitar lessons, and I would increase the amount of volunteering I would do.  However, I had to get through this rough transitional period.  So, I did something I would never do now.  I binged-watched.

The first few episodes of Bojack Horseman weren’t interesting to me at all.  If this was a show I discovered now or didn’t come to me during a rough patch where I had to rediscover myself, I would’ve just passed on it and never looked back.  A close friend of mine says that things come to you at the right moments.  And perhaps that’s why I started the show when I did.

Bojack Horseman deal with a lot of heavy subjects through a surrealist and absurdist lens.  And in many of these situations, Bojack has to face his past and confront difficulties that leave him guilt-ridden so many years later.  And, often, these are things he cannot change so matter how much he as changed.  The series covers topics such as the death of an abusive parent, infidelity, searching for an identity, substance abuse, and sexuality in ways that transcend the animals in the show and feel real and relatable to the viewer.

This show is heavy.  It makes me laugh, but also leaves me in a weird headspace that I find dark and uncomfortable.  I recently asked a friend who also watches the show if they experience the same thing and what they do about.  He laughed it off by saying the show leaves him in a negative space and drinks through it.  The themes and issues of the show are too real to me, so I try to practice mindfulness.  While the problems Bojack faces seem real and relatable, I don’t want the life Bojack has.

I finished the fifth season which recently made its way to Netflix.  Whenever I finish a season, it takes me a few days to process and work through the weird things that occupy my head.  Basically, I don’t feel that good and I have to tell myself that it is ok not to feel good sometimes.  I then evaluate the positive things in my life and what I can do t continue living well and be good to the people in my life.  After a few days, I get into a better mood and I’m left with a perspective that I’m a good person so matter what doubts may come to mind.

One great aspect of the show is the soundtrack.  Alternative and indie songs are used very effectively to convey a mood or elevate the scene.  In this latest season, “Under the Pressure” by The War on Drugs from their 2014 studio album Lost in The Dream is used beautifully and one of the best uses of soundtrack score in the series.

Bojack Horseman, considering the difficulty of the subject matter, is an absurd and very funny show.  The can be extremely dark, but there is a light-hearted honesty that makes the characters and their struggle somewhat endearing.  You want them to succeed in overcoming their demons.  And despite that I don’t watch much TV, I still stand by my declaration this is the best show currently running.

“lincoln park pirates” – steve goodman (1972)

R-5974931-1483533494-6929.jpeg

Last week, the Illinois Commerce Commission voted to revoke the relocation towing license for Lincoln Towing Service.  To people outside of Chicago, that doesn’t sound like interesting news.  However, it really is.  Lincoln Towing, since its founding, has been a scourge on the city of Chicago for decades. Through questionable operational practices and even direct violence, the towing service has a nasty reputation.  Everyone has a story with Lincoln Towing.

Actions spearheaded by lawyers, alderman, and other city officials have been conducted to reign in the unruly towing service.  Chicago Daily News writer Mike Royko, since 1967, had written several articles about the founder of Lincoln Towing, Ross Cascio, claiming that “to intimidate those who objected, Cascio hung bats, blackjacks, chains and other pacifiers on his office wall. If a person tried to escape with his own car, Cascio’s men would dance on his chest.”

James Kargman, in his race for alderman in 1971, campaigned to “hit Cascio in the pocketbook—where it hurts.”  Kargman encouraged many businesses to cancel contracts with Lincoln Towing.  He inspired such ire against the towing service that after the campaign, 300 people attacked a Lincoln Towing employee who was removing a car from a lot.  That is how much they are hated.

As mentioned, everyone has a story about Lincoln Towing.  I even have one though I don’t own a car.  During the summer of 2015, I left my apartment to get some food.  At that time, I was living in Buena Park and I walked a half mile or so to Wrigleyville to get some pizza.  It was quiet because there weren’t any concerts or a Cubs game.  Either of which make the area hell.  So, I had planned to enjoy a quiet walk at night.

On my way back, I passed by an apartment building with a lot.  I saw that a tow truck had a car hitched to it.  And, sure enough, it was a Lincoln Towing truck. The driver was outside of his vehicle arguing with two women.  The driver’s partner was still inside the truck.

The tow driver was a big guy; tall and round.  He looked rather intimidating and someone who had a short fuse.  The car he was towing belonged to one of the women arguing with him.  Now, I’m sure that being a tow truck driver is not an easy profession and I’m sure drivers are met with lots of anger and aggression.  However, the women were considerably smaller than the driver and he threatened to beat the shit out the women (his words).

I was startled by that and knew that Lincoln Towing was a nasty business even though I didn’t have a car let alone a car towed by them.  I decided to take some video of the altercation because this was an example where an employee of Lincoln Towing was threatening physical violence against someone.  Granted, the woman was angry but she didn’t threaten the man.   I kept my distance at about 50 feet from the incident and just recorded without saying anything.

I recorded video for about thirty seconds before the driver’s partner in the truck noticed me and yelled for the driver.  The driver stopped arguing with the women and walked towards me.  As he walked towards me, he was yelling at me to mind my own fucking business.  I stopped the video and put my phone away.  After I did, he pushed me into the street.  There was a car heading my way and, fortunately, it swerved away from me just in time.

The driver got into his car as I was getting up and dialing the police.  HE blared his horn driving past me while I was on the phone.  I gave the police some details of the incident and was told someone would be by shortly.

After the call, I stayed with the women until the police came.  They were upset because they had some personal belongings in the back of the car that the driver refused to let them have.  They were sure that the items would be stolen or thrown away.

It took almost an hour for the police to come.  In the meantime, the guys from Lincoln Towing drove by us a few times and glaring.  They were trying to frighten us, but I was having none of that.  I started right back at them.

When the police came, they said there was nothing much they can do.  I did explain that I was pushed into the street and almost hit by a car.  However, they just shrugged it off since I had no injuries.

That’s my story with Lincoln Towing.  I know some people have had much worse experiences with them.  But, everyone has a story.

For his 1972 studio album Somebody Else’s Troubles, folk singer Steve Goodman wrote “Lincoln Park Pirates” lambasting Lincoln Towing.  Though the song was about a Chicago business, the themes were relevant elsewhere as well.  It is reported that that Chicago stations initially would not play the song for fear that Ross Cascio would sue them since Goodman named him in the song.

Good riddance to Lincoln Towing.  Though their license was revoked, a judge has recently said they can still operate pending further litigation.  Though, I hope this move from the ICC was the death knell for a shitty business.

“alaska & me” – john denver (1988)

R-3335632-1326304531.jpeg

Alaska is home to countless wilderness trails of varying difficulties.  Regardless of your physical ability, there are a number of trails available to you if you’re looking to engage with nature in a respectful way.  If you’re looking to just stroll through a forest or brush, there are easy walking trails that are safe and well-groomed.  If you’re more adventurous, you can try to something rockier and with a higher elevation.  Or, if you’re an expert or stupidly brave, you can travel in unmarked areas and test your will against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you.  While I have no desire to blaze my own trails as a relative novice in such dangerous areas, I always look for a challenge.

Of the several trails and hikes I went on last week, one stood out over the rest.  Just outside of Anchorage is the Chugach State Park; a mountainous area with lots of trails for people looking to get out into the wilderness but not travel a long way to do so.  The drive from the city is only about 15 t0 20 minutes, but the change in terrain and scenery is quite significant.

I went to this area twice during my trip.  The first time was to climb Flattop Mountain.  Flattop is the most climbed mountain in the area and is one I’ve climbed several times.  The last time I did so was in 2010, so I felt a need to go back.  Flattop was my first hike of the trip and it is a great hike.  The path is groomed and some of the steeper parts have wooden beams to help with the climb and stabilization.  Also, there is always someone close by on the trail.  It is not a difficult climb, but it isn’t easy either.

The day after climbing Flattop, I spent some time in a flatter and more forested area outside Anchorage in a town called Girdwood.  Those kinds of hikes through the woods offer a different kind of experience.  While both hiking on a mountain and through a forest can offer meditative experiences, you have a different frame of mind.  Walking through this area was a nice refresher after climbing Flattop; my first mountain in eight years.  However, the next day, I wanted to really test my limits.

I went back to the Glen Alps Trailhead of the Chugach State Park.  Instead of the path taking me to Flattop, I took a different path that took me down into the valley.  My goal was to reach the summit of O’Malley Peak.   O’Malley Peak is the tallest mountain in the area and just across the valley from Flattop.  To get there, you must walk through a brushy area, scale the slope of the first ridge, walk across a relatively flat but rocky bowl, and then start ascending the base of the peak to the summit.

I was travelling at a time where I wouldn’t see many people.  Since it was off season for tourists and during work week, I was guaranteed to be one of the few people out hiking.  Also, O’Malley Peak is harder than Flattop and, therefore, not climbed as much.  It was a guarantee that I would only see a handful of people the entire time I was out there.

The brushy area is the first part and is bear country.  Signs at the beginning of the trail warn you of this and offer guidance on what to do if you encounter a bear.  Again, I’m not an expert.  I should’ve been equipped with bear mace or a gun.  I had neither.  It was just me and some snacks (I guess you could count me as a snack too).  If I couldn’t defend myself from a bear attack, the best I could do was prevent one.

In order to prevent an attack, you warn the bears that you’re coming through.  Bears don’t like surprises, so warning them early with noise is essential.  Some people hike with dogs with jingle belles strapped to their collar.  If you’re like me and don’t have a dog, you make noises by clapping and talking loudly.  In this part of the trail, you’re walking through brush with very little visibility so bears and moose can easily blend in.  However, this part of the trail is beautiful.  It is very green with a beautiful creek running through it.

When you get to the base of the ridge, things become a little harder.  You’re official out of the brush, though there might be some patches here or there.  However, you have a lot more visibility.  The challenge now is to climb a slop that is more than a 45-degree angle and slick with mud and loose rub (known as scree).  Due to the elevation rate, it is already a strenuous activity.  But footing is really important if you don’t want to fall. One unlucky or not well-thought out step and you could fall and injure yourself.  And while there is a discernible trail from hikers before you, there aren’t any installed wooden beams to flatten the terrain or stabilize it.  It is all natural.

Once you successfully have climbed the slop over the ridge line, you have made it to the part of the trail known as the Ballfield.  The Ballfield is a relatively flat (not really flat but is compared to what you just hiked) bowl with rocks and tundra soil.  While the terrain is rocky, it is a nice break.  Also, there are no trees or brush, so your visibility is much greater.  It is also very quiet.

After hiking for about 45 minutes across the Ballfield, you make it to the base of O’Malley Peak.  This is where the rocks start rising from the land.  This is where you quit hiking and start scrambling; hiking involving a lot of use of your hands for stabilization.  This is also the most dangerous part of the hike since the peak is ridged.  Two steps in either direction and you fall to your death.  Footing, hand placement, and concentration are absolutely important.

I ascended the peak for about 30 minutes before I stopped and took a break.  I sat and leaned against a rock and just looked at the valley below me.  The expansiveness is beyond words and no pictures do it justice.  I don’t know how long I sat there, but I looked at the next mountain ridge and valley lakes for a long time.

To be clear, I was alone during these hikes.  And, as mentioned, I didn’t see many people.  In fact, I had been hiking for over two hours at this point and had only seen two people so far.  I didn’t have noise from other humans to distract me, so I was truly alone with my thoughts.

Hiking alone is not for everyone.  For starters, it isn’t the safest thing to do.  The “buddy system” saves lives.  However, hiking with friends can be distracting and I wanted to avoid distractions.  I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and focus as intently as possible at the environment around me and allow myself to be overwhelmed by the experience.  Many people are uncomfortable being alone with their thoughts.  I know I used to be.  However, I worked through those things and now I can be alone with my thoughts be OK.

Exercising your ability to be alone with your thoughts is absolutely important to personal development.  And I know it isn’t easy.  The reason why people don’t work towards that ability is that are afraid of what they will think of and I can understand the hesitation.  Bad thoughts have happened, do happen, and will continue to happen.  No matter how skilled you are in mindfulness and living in the present, bad thoughts happen.  It is an important part of self-thought and self-reflection.  The key is to develop and carry the right tools with you to handle those thoughts.  If you’re reflecting on life and something bad pops up, you can strengthen your ability to swat that bad thought away like a fly.

I won’t share everything I think about, but I will share the most important thing.  While I was sitting on that ridge, I felt insignificant and small.  And I don’t consider that bad all.  I hate it when I hear Mother Nature described as cruel or any other descriptor that suggests the concept of nature has an investment in your well-being.  Guess what.  It doesn’t.  Mother Nature is indifferent to your success, failures, happiness, and problems.  No matter what you say, think, or do, Mother Nature will continue.  They key to surviving it is to respect it.  If you walk into a situation thinking you’re better than Mother Nature and can overcome it, you will die.  You will die, be forgotten, and decay back into the Earth like every living being that came before you and will arrive after you.

I was not troubled by these thoughts.  In the grand scheme of things, I am insignificant.  That is not to say I am void of meaning.  I have meaning to myself and to the people who love and care about me.  But those worlds are much smaller than the one I was sitting in at that moment.  Where I was at that time sitting in the shadow of a mountain over a steep valley, I had no value there.  I was a visitor; neither welcomed or unwelcomed.  I was allowed to be there on the condition I respect the land.  If I didn’t, I would die.

To be in a situation like that and feel so very small, it is a humbling feeling.  It puts your life into perspective.  Every problem or issue you think you have suddenly doesn’t matter.  It is a strong mental refresh that reframes your thinking.  The key is to remember that lesson.  You may not always consciously act on it or apply its value, but that is fine.  Things do happen and you cannot help how you feel.  However, you can help how you react.  This is what I mean about having the right tools to deal with unfortunate situations.

Being in that frame of mind is not easy.  It takes hard work, but the effort is worth it.  If you’re the kind of person who always needs people or other things to distract you from diving into your own mind and confronting your thoughts, this is something you need to do develop if you want to become a stronger and more well-rounded person.  Though I’ve made a lot of progress over the years, I still have work to do.  Even the most mindful and enlightened of us still have work to do.  It is a journey that doesn’t end until death.  You will never stop facing problems in your life, but you can stop being overpowered by them.

While I scaled Flattop, I didn’t reach the summit of O’Malley Peak.  I had probably another 30 to 45 minutes of scrambling and I had the physical ability to do it.  However, reality set it.  I was hiking alone and I hadn’t seen anyone for almost two hours.  While I’m confident that I could’ve scaled O’Malley, I still had to respect Mother Nature.  It didn’t feel right to continue, so I turned backed.  I have no issue with not reaching the summit.  I made it further than most people could’ve on what was a rather difficult hike.  However, the trip wasn’t without purpose.  I was shown something I was meant to see; both with my eyes and with my mind.  And that something extremely valuable.

Thirty years ago this month, John Denver released his 20th studio album Higher Ground.  Closing the album is the song “Alaska & Me.”  In the song, Denver dreams of Alaska and flying over mountains and glaciers.  He toasts the people who are wild and free and wishes that his children can gaze at the northern lights.  It is his chosen country.

I struggled to find the right song to fit this narrative.  I thought of perhaps two dozen songs to highlight, but none seemed to fit the way I want them to.  Perhaps I could’ve gone with a different narrative.  However, I didn’t want to.   I wanted to talk about this experience I had hiking a mountain.  And with this being a weekly blog, not every post is going to be a winner.  Just like how I cannot climb every mountain, not every song will be perfect.  And that is fine.