“keep on knocking” – death (2009)

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This year marks a whole decade since the release of …For the Whole World to See by Death, a protopunk band out of Detroit made up of African American musicians.  The album blew me away the first time I heard it.  It was the most exciting thing I had heard in a long time.  Everything about Death was just so fascinating.  From the band’s own journey to the story of the album’s delay and eventual release, it was so mindboggling how such an amazing band never got their due for the longest time. Though the actual anniversary of the album’s release was two months ago, I had some other things going on and knew I would get to it soon.  I knew I would eventually cover it.

I had first heard of Death and their album while working for a National Public Radio affiliate in Bowling Green, KY.  I did board operations every Wednesday and Saturday night, and I would hear shows like various news and arts show during that time.  I cannot remember what show was playing at the time, but it was this environment where I first heard of Death.  It was during a feature on this program that they covered the story behind Death and played cuts from the album.

So, why is their story so important?  These were three black guys from Detroit (Bobby Hackney, Dannis Hackney, and Bobbie Duncan) who started off as a funk band, but changed to rock after seeing The Who perform.  They eventually developed a harder edge and performed music that was a precursor to punk.  In 1975, they started working on their first studio album.  However, Columbia Records didn’t like the name of their band and requested they change it.  The members of Death wouldn’t do it and that is when their studio sessions ended.  The album would eventually be released, with only seven of the original twelve songs planned, in 2009 to critical praise and providing a document to a missing piece of Detroit’s music history.

I was stunned when I first hear Death, and I was shocked that I was hearing about it from NPR.  Before being hired to do board operations, I had never listened to NPR.  At that time, most of my personal life was dedicated to college radio and everything that revolves around a culture of kids on ego trips trying to force their music on everyone else.

I told everyone at my college radio station about Death, but not one seemed to care.  First, if I heard it on NPR, then it must’ve not been cool at all. Second, our station was going through a transition.  The station had been run in a way that many felt was stagnant and didn’t reflect a “progressive sound” culture that we championed.  At that time, the station’s direction reflected the taste and preferences of the student who was hired to be the station manager that year.  The decrease in the station’s quality was even noticed by the university newspaper who ran an article noting the criticisms the station was facing.

As much as the station manager tried to course correct after the article was published, it was the second semester already.  The manager was on his way out since he was graduating that spring, and the younger staff were eager to get new leadership and get back on target towards providing the community with a truly progressive alternative to commercial radio.

I was in my junior year and applied to be the station manager for my senior year.  I knew our station’s vision was off track and I developed plans to get everything back in alignment.  However, I was unable to do carry out my plans.  Due to internal station politics, I was declined for the position.  Plus, I was talking about music I was hearing on NPR and that was just decidedly uncool.  So, Death didn’t make it on the college radio station airwaves when …For the Whole World to See was released in 2009.  My plans to feature interesting music with interesting stories was scrapped and the station adopted the late-aughts hipster sound that was popular with the younger members.  Out with the old, in with the new. I didn’t do much with the station during my senior year.

However, Death did just fine on their own after …For the Whole World to See was released.  A few years after I moved to Chicago, I saw the documentary A Band Called Death at the Music Box Theatre and it was cool to see this incredible band get the attention they deserved after all these years.

The first song I had heard on that NPR feature was the album’s opening track “Keep on Knocking.”  The track open with these guitar power chords and then goes into high gear with pure punk passion.  Raw and angsty, but still tight and controlled, Death comes across as a cohesive entity right out of the gate.  Truly impressive.

If Death was allowed to finish the record, who knows what other great music they could make.  And their story is one of many where a talented, creative band is denied a chance to shine because of some stuff suit in an office.  Gatekeepers, whether they are a record executive or students in a college radio station, can often be blinded by their own interests and prejudices.  It is a lesson everyone needs to learn, one where we consider things outside of ourselves and expose yourself to something new and raw even if unproven.  You just might be surprised.

 

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“communication” – the power station (1985)

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I have been feeling rather introspective lately about a lot of aspects in my life.  I’m sure I’ll cover each of those in the coming weeks but, for this blog entry, I wanted to share some recent insights I have gained about the widening divisions within our society.  Namely, the perpetuation of an Us versus Them culture.

Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, and subsequently was elected president the following year, it seems that the divisions between people, no matter how small, are exaggerated and exacerbated to the point that we cannot communicate with eachother, recede within our own biases and likeminded groups, and react in ways that can foster extremism.  Basically, a sense of tribalism.

While now it seems like this communication breakdown is so prevalent in 2019, I had been feeling some inkling of dissatisfaction with public discourse for a while now.  Coincidentally, right around the time social media became an increasingly pervasive factor in all our lives.

Facebook was still rather exclusive when I started college in 2006, only allowing college students at the time, but it soon evolved to include everyone thus making it easy to collect and monetize data.  My use of social media is so much different now than how I used it then.  Throughout my collegiate years, it was commonplace to argue and debate with people writing whole dissertations that would get ignored.  All of it felt supremely unnatural and ineffective to me.  I couldn’t eloquently at the time explain why, but those kind of exchanges just felt empty.

Now, it is very rare that I’ll respond to a heated thread with an opinion.  It isn’t that I’m afraid of the reaction, but I do consider what could be misinterpreted or lost in translation, whether intentionally or not, and I just decide that it isn’t worth my time.  I no longer view social media as a soapbox as I had used It in college.  Now, it is a means for me to share with family and friends vacation photos, see how they are doing, and post book reviews.  All of this was a conscious decision to shape how I used various social media platforms as a member of the first generation to come of age with social media as a communal space.

The criticism to that viewpoint is that, as a white cisgender heterosexual male, I do not recognize the equalizing power that social media platforms offer.  To the more marginalized members of our society, it is said that social media has given a voice to the voiceless.  And with that, a sense of justice and a fair shot of contributing to and redirecting social dialogue.  It is one of the reasons why proponents of social media, oftentimes people who generate income through their interaction with it, say that social media offers more good than it does bad.  That everything can be utilized in both positive and negative ways.

All of that is true, in theory.  Social media is still a relatively new phenomenon and we have yet to understand the long-term impacts social media has on our society.  Though, that isn’t to say we have not seen immediate effects.  Ones that we are just now becoming aware of and taking time to truly understand.

During President Obama’s second term, I began to understand exactly the issue I had with social media.  I was reading articles about people who made off color or racist remarks and then would be publicly shamed online.  I don’t disagree with someone facing consequences for hate speech, but social media allowed even innocuous, or misunderstood comments, to be blown up resulting in these people’s lives being ruined.  I had read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and he explained that social media was creating “virtual stockades,” environments where people could be shamed in ways unseen by civilization since actual stockades.  This seemed wrong to me to punish people for comments, while maybe inappropriate, that didn’t actually qualify as hate speech or directly communicated a call to action for violence.  I was trying to understand this changing landscape of activism and free speech and my questioning, or even criticism, of overreactions were deemed by my fellow liberals as me being an apologist for racists.

As Donald Trump was gaining momentum during the campaign, I would even get lambasted by my fellow liberals for engaging the situation that was more nuanced than just spewing vitriolic bile online or in crowds.  I remember telling a friend in December 2015 that the only way to defeat Trump was to ignore him.  I was told I was being complicit.  Complicit about what?  I don’t know.  However, the attitude at the time reflected this liberal bubble mindset that “if we cover everything he says and put it all over the news and social media, people will see how awful Trump is.”  That did not happen and since Trump’s election, media executives like Jeff Zucker and Les Moonves have said publicly that covering Trump meant more ratings and money.  And that’s when I realized the issue I had with social media.  I realized social media was a business that commoditized our outrage and profited off the proliferation of identity politics.

As part of my journey to understand why Donald Trump won the presidency, I had to understand how every side contributed.  I did not feel analyses blaming white people or racists or Russians were satisfactory at explaining his victory.  I began to think about how democrats and the left, my groups, contributed.  This led me to the realization that the left suffers from the narcissism of small differences, the idea that likeminded individuals are more likely to engage in feuds of minutiae. I found all of this so frustrating.  I kept thinking that since we are all on the same side, we should be more unified.  Instead, there were moments I received vitriolic feedback for have an opinion that was generally in the same ballpark, but still didn’t exactly align with the militancy that has been driving social activism.

I’ve been reading two books lately that have really opened my eyes on this subject.  Irshad Manji, a Muslim lesbian, wrote a book called Don’t Label Me, an analysis on how labels are weaponized in ways that dehumanize us and further the divide between Us and Them. She tackles modern social justice philosophies concerning privilege, power dynamics, multiculturism, and cultural appropriation and exposes the flaws inherent in each of those to showcase how people become isolated and gravitate towards extremes; places they can go and be reaffirmed for their beliefs by people who won’t berate and belittle them.

In the book, Manji is quite tough on leftist social activists for commoditizing marginalized people and using them as props to fulfill specific goals. She also stresses that people are more than their perceived labels, that we are plurals with unique backstories that defy the expectations or stereotypes of our labels.  I’m sure my fellow liberals have heard, or even conveyed, that people who voted for Trump are racists.  I have never believed that, though sometimes I found myself wavering when pressured or when Trump said something that really boiled my blood.  Yes, there are some truly vile people in his camp.  However, I have challenged this by telling people that all Trump voters are not bad.  The usual response is that they are complicit with Trump’s actions, or that I am.

Manji’s point is that in order to change hearts and minds, you must listen with the intent to understand as opposed with the intent to win.  As a result, you build a personal connection and are taken more seriously.  This potentially allows them to think on their own values and work on compromise that enforces a more unified outcome.  Telling someone they are wrong and stupid is only going to make them retreat which can develop into extremism.

The other book I have been reading is Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown.  The concept of emergent strategy comes from Octavia Butler, an African-American science fiction writer, and essentially means that large systemic changes can be made through simple interactions.  By developing personal relationships and, as Manji stated, listening with the intent to understand, we can bridge the gap between Us and Them.  It all boils down to building relationships with people with different views in order to achieve a mutually beneficial result.  We gain nothing from isolating people when we assume so much of them based on labels that restrict them and their individuality.

I am vocal about this because I do not Trump to win again in 2020.  And, the way I understand things as they are now, the left is doubling down on failed practices from 2016.  In essence, many of the left are acting exactly like Trump.  Trump claims he is a victim and mobilizes his base to attack the other.  The left, a lot of the times, victimizes themselves and acts in a way that is not proactive in achieving actual results.  In essence, we have look inward to facilitate change if we expect change within our problematic systems.  We cannot ask to be heard if we are not willing to hear.  Achieving honest diversity is about communication and dialogue.

The third single from the Power Station’s debut album, “Communication” is a fun pop rock song from 1985 about, obviously, the need to communicate.  In the song, Robert Palmer is asking someone to stay in touch though things are crazy hectic, and we are all on the move.  He’s urging this person to keep their lines open and exchanges facts through contact, but he just cannot get through.

I know it is a bit of a stretch to connect this song with the main thesis of this blog, but it adds to my point.  Remember when I was talking social media? Our interactions with people online are commoditized, and it shapes how we behave in the offline world. We’re being programmed to not have honest dialogue, but instead focus on whatever is quick and easy to consume because we’re always on the move looking for the next thing, the next click. We have to slow down and put emphasis on listening to each other and not become subjects to corporate mechanisms that generate revenue from our conflicts and anxiety.  Reach out.  I am here.  I will listen.

“shove this jay-oh-bee” – canibus feat. biz markie (1999)

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I’ve been at my current job for about four years.  It is administrative assistant position within a corporate tech environment. It is a fairly laid-back environment, surrounded by introverted engineers and statisticians, and allows me to have a work-life balance which had been unavailable to me before at my previous jobs.  So, that’s nice.  However, I’ve been unhappy with it for a long time.  It is a rather simple job with low responsibility, but presents little opportunity for someone like me with my background to grow and advance.  I’m far too ambitious for that and I know I can accomplish a lot more.  So, for a while now, I’ve been casually looking for another job while pursuing freelancing opportunities in the evenings and weekends that can potentially allow me to advance my career.  It is slow, and a total grind, but that is the nature of the game.

There are times where I am able to practice mindfulness regarding the grind and find some comfort that I’m healthy, gainfully employed, and that all the energy I’m putting into finding another job advances my career will pay off.  However, it can be hard sometimes to maintain that mindfulness.  It becomes too easy to focus on the negatives and become dismayed by the lack of progress I am making.  And this causes me to feel stuck, and uncertain about my future.  I know something will change for better or for worse, but not knowing when and in what form can be hard.  I begin to question my ability and my worth, which makes me feel somewhat hopeless.  This is not a healthy mindset, but I’m trying to avoid it.

Lately, I’ve been feeling more pressure from this grind because my company is going through massive changes.  Every team is reorganizing and moving resources or people to other parts of the company.  This also potentially means layoffs.  Everyone in the company is on edge because of lack of certainty about their jobs, and my team is no different.  People are concerned and worried, two feelings that can negatively impact an office environment.

It also doesn’t help that, among the team, my boss, the director of the team, seems to be the most frustrated and is expressing that accordingly.  He was hired in January, with these major company changes announced three weeks later.  So, I understand why he is frustrated.  The job became something completely different than what he applied for, plus he is at the center of planning for all these changes.  I just wish he carried it better because his interactions with me have caused me to feel increased anxiety.

So, I’ve felt some pressure to change jobs.  Either I’ll be laid off, or I won’t be.  And if I’m not, I’ll be continuing the same job with no growth.  The plus side is that I’ll still be gainfully employed, though I still feel unfulfilled and need a change.

I apply to jobs directly.  Though, I face challenges in the process. Competition is tough, my background is unique and not concrete, and very few opportunities make sense to take because they would result is very significant pay decreases (not ideal for someone who is financially dependent on themselves).

Where I’ve needed some help, I have contacted recruiters and I hate working with recruiters. I have had very few positive experiences with recruiters.  I find most of the ones I’ve worked with to be aggressive and uncaring.  I have specific needs for a job regarding pay and location, and I find that I’m still pushed to take the shitty opportunities that come by their desk.  And when I express something I’m interested in and qualified enough to do, I’m mainly brushed aside and told generically “this client is looking for someone with more experience.”  Nothing makes me feel more like a cog in the capitalist machine than working with recruiters.  And I get worried that if I am laid off, then they’ll really be aggressive with me about taking the shitty opportunities just so they can fill it with a warm body and get their commission.  All because I absolutely need to get a paycheck.

There has only been one job a recruiter has sent my way that I have been excited about pursuing.  It was an admin role, something I don’t want to do anymore, but it was with a very reputable foundation where there was a lot of opportunity for growth and the most amazing benefits package I’ve ever seen.  I had never worked harder on an interview in my life before.  I did so much research, developed concrete examples to illustrate my experience, deeply believed in their mission and found ways to convey that, put together my smartest looking attire, and consulted with friends working in other foundations.

I went into the interview and absolutely nailed it.  It was the greatest interview I had ever done.  My recruiter was even contacted a few hours later by the hiring manager expressing that I was an amazing candidate.  I was flying high and absolutely confident I had the job.

I waited a week before the answer.  All the while, I was at work and really enjoying the thought that I could be leaving soon. I was also mindful that is was possible I still didn’t get the jobs, but I was confident about my performance and overly excited about leaving the sinking ship that is my job.

I did not get the job.  My recruiter had asked for feedback from my interview because I don’t have direct access to their clients.  Since I didn’t get the job, the feedback would help me improve for my next interview.  Or so I thought.  The foundation said I was an amazing candidate who did an excellent job interviewing and they had no critical feedback.  The decision came down to me and someone else, and they went with that other person due to whatever internal metric I’ll never know.

I was disappointed.  It was Friday afternoon when I got the news.  Then, I went to the gym and then got dinner with a friend before the movie.  I thought coming back to the office would be hard, but it was fine.  I’m disappointed, but I’m still driven.  I’ll persevere.  A change will come and it will come when it needs to.  I know that I’ll still feel down sometimes, but that is fine because it is part of the process.  I hope I don’t get laid off, and I hope I can get a new job I like soon.  I just gotta keep grinding away and being patient, living in the now and not allow my job to distract me from the good things in my life.

Office Space is Mike Judge’s cult comedy classic from 1999 about a group of people who are fed up with their jobs at a software company.  The satire is effective and on point, accurately depicting the inane mundaneness of the corporate environment.  The soundtrack is also pretty legit.  While some songs from the film are more iconic because of the scene (i.e. the use of Scarface’s “Still” when the main characters break a printer with a baseball bat), I’m really partial to the film opening with “Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee” by Canibus and featuring Biz Markie.  Containing portions of “Take This Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck, “Show This Jay-Oh-Bee” features Canibus singing about what it is like to face the grind until you reach the point where you just cannot take it anymore.  Then it becomes a glorious celebration of the freedom one feels when they shed the shackles of their capitalist oppressors.  I won’t be quitting anytime soon, but I think about it so much.  Until then, I can watch Office Space and just dream.

“30 century man” – the jigsaw seen (2002)

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Futurama celebrated its 20th anniversary last week.  As one of the smartest, funniest, and most well-written series, and not just within animation ever produced, Matt Groening’s follow-up to The SImpsons had a major impact on my life as well as many others.  The episodes could vary in tone, often transitioning from absurdism to heartfelt stories, but they all had heart and made you emotionally invested in the characters and their world.  Futurama is an example on how to elevate animation, at once considered just for children, on the same level as dramatic programs that are considered high television art.

For those not in the know about Futurama, it follows the misadventures of a delivery boy name Phillip Fry, often joined by his close friend Bender the robot and his girlfriend Leela, a one-eyed mutant.  On New Years Eve in 1999, Fry’s girlfriend leaves him for a richer, more handsome guy and he is left to continue his lame pizza delivery job alone as the world celebrated the coming of the new millennium.  When Fry delivers a pizza to a cryogenic lab called in by a prankster, he accidentally finds himself frozen for a thousand years.  On New Years Eve in 2999, Fry adjusts to this new world filled with robots, aliens, and all kinds of crazy stuff.  Eventually, he is hired a very distant nephew, the elderly scientist Dr. Farnsworth, and the series then progresses chronicling Fry’s adventures in future and struggles that come with leaving everything you once knew behind.

Despite being a stellar program, Futurama did not receive adequate support from the executives at Fox.  Initially, the show ran at 8:30 PM on Sunday after The Simpsons.  The show would then shift in the programming block before ultimately residing at 7 PM where it was often delayed because of football games.  This led to an erratic schedule that impacted viewership.  Fox never officially cancelled the show, but ceased production of it prior to the 2003 fall primetime schedule.

In 2008, four straight-to-DVD films were released.  Eventually, the films were edited into four episodes each, resulting in a 16-episode fifth season for the show’s later syndication.  These DVDs were designed to continue the story of Futurama as it navigated the changing television landscape, at a time when streaming media was in its infancy but would soon disrupt traditional television viewership.

However, there was also an unintended result of the success of these DVDs.  It proved that Futurama still had a fanbase that could translate into profitable viewership.  And, in 2009, Comedy Central picked the series up.  From 2010 through 2010, Comedy Central produced and aired the sixth and, ultimately final, seventh season of the series as well as syndicated episodes from the days when Fox owned it.

Comedy Central would ultimately cancel the show and with enough time to create an official series ending, after three previous false series finales.  However, the series ended with the possibility that it could return in the future.  And since the airing of that final episode in 2013, Futurama has existed in other forms including comic books, video games, and even a podcast serial.  However, none of those match the tone, humor, and personal appeal of the television series.

There is so much to love about Futurama.  Its brilliance comes from its heart, emotion, and relatability.  Even though this a bizarre world set a thousand years in the future, the audience sees themselves in the stories alongside the characters.  Very few shows have allowed me to experience a whole range of emotions.  I laughed, and I have cried.  And to allow you to feel a range of complex feelings and leave you feeling better as a result, that is something so precious and difficult to achieve.

One of the cooler aspects of Futurama is the show’s use of music.  It is a really smart, pop culture savvy show.  Often, famous songs are parodied to reflect a particular situation, or even a musician will guest star and perform something new for the show.  However, some of the best moments come from using existing songs to drive the narrative of a particular scene.

Scott Walker passed away a few weeks ago. A brilliant singer-songwriter, Walker’s “30th Century Man” was covered by The Jigsaw Seen for “Bender’s Big Score,” the first of the four DVDs released after Fox ceased production of the show.  The plot involves aliens stealing precious artifacts in Earth’s past and ultimately results in a somewhat chaotic and hectic time-travelling story.  While Walker’s original is far superior, it is the cover from The Jigsaw Seen’s 2002 studio album Songs Mama Used to Sing that made it in the episode and heightened the emotional heft of the story.  Because Fry, though unwittingly, is a 30 century man.

I don’t watch much television, but I feel compelled to pick up Futurama again this year and really take my time with the series.  Catch the entire series a little bit here and there.  I know I’ll be just as amazed as I was when I saw it the first time 20 years ago.

“tentative description of a dinner to promote the impeachment of president eisenhower” – lawrence ferlinghetti (1958)

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Yesterday, acclaimed social activist, cultural critic, and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti officially became a centenarian.  Long before turning 100, Ferlinghetti became world-renowned for his poetry collections and political activism. Urging poets and artists to become more socially and politically engaged, Ferlinghetti was a pioneer in utilizing art to challenge the political establishment and the threats of nationalism on our democracy.  On the occasion of his 100th birthday, his chosen home of San Francisco declared the date as “Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day,” honoring the artist’s commitment to social justice within his own community.

The same day as Ferlinghetti’s birthday, acting Attorney General for the Trump administration, William Barr, issued a summary of the findings from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into the president’s alleged involvement with Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election.  While Mueller’s full report has not been released at this time, Barr issued a statement that said that while the report did not find enough evidence to prove Trump colluded with the Russians, the president could not be fully exonerated.

While politicians, pundits, and the public continue to debate the details over the report, and the aftermath of it, one thing remains quite clear to me. This summary, if accurate and entirely reflective of Mueller’s findings, emboldens Trump and his supporters.  This summary serves to validate their cries that the special counsel investigation was a witch hunt and that Donald Trump is the only person who can save America from the brink of tyranny from the political establishment.

Among Trump’s supporters, there is a subgroup of nationalists and white supremacists that have become the most emboldened and energized of the group.  These are individuals who are committing violence against liberals, people of color, and anyone else who is different from them in terms of ethnicity and ideology.  And this is nothing new in 2019.  Even before the mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, Trump has validated white supremacists going as far back as the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that erupted in violence during August 2017, with Trump blaming “both sides” for the violence.

Recent reports and polling have indicated that nationalism and white supremacy are not only on the rise within Trump’s America, they are on the rise around the world.  Even non-Americans, people who could never vote for Trump in any election, espouse his rhetoric and champion their toxic beliefs that undermine the rights of people they view as an other. And while opponents of Trump’s vitriol were putting their faith in the Mueller report, Trump’s supporters were becoming active, engaging social media on a grassroots level to sow discord and misinformation for mass public consumption.

It is important to stay grounded.  The report has not been officially released, and efforts will continue within the Southern District of New York.  So, work isn’t over.  Regardless of the report’s outcome, it is widely known that Trump is a vile criminal with campaign staff currently indicted or serving prison terms.  While his supporters are celebrating “so much winning,” it is important to realize that there is a long game here and not to give up hope.  If anything, we must step up more to counter this bump in nationalistic fervor.

The fact that Ferlinghetti turned 100 on the same day Barr issued his summary was an interesting coincidence to me, especially considering Ferlinghetti’s advocacy against nationalism and the Trump administration’s sponsorship of it.  I spent some time last night reviewing some of Ferlinghetti’s most political charged writings, to find something that reflected our current political climate with a kind of wisdom only the past can provide.

In 1958, Ferlinghetti released a spoken-word poetry album called Tentative Description Of A Dinner To Promote The Impeachment Of President Eisenhower And Other Poems By Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  The album’s opening track is the poem “Tentative Description Of A Dinner To Promote The Impeachment Of President Eisenhower.”  Backed with a drum beating ominously in the background with varying rhythm and tempo, Ferlinghetti recites his poem.  “Tentative Description…” is a condemnation of American presidents, present and future, for not recognizing the devastating potential of nuclear oblivion, a subject Ferlinghetti came to understand after seeing the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki while serving in the Navy.

While Ferlinghetti’s poem specifically addresses Washington’s complicit view of nuclear apocalypse, a few lines jumped out to me as poignant and relevant on a different level.

And after it became obvious that the President was doing everything

in his power to make the world safe for nationalism

his brilliant military mind never having realized

that nationalism itself was the idiotic superstition

which would blow up the world

Even though Ferlinghetti is addressing the carelessness of nuclear war, he identifies the true heart of why someone can commit such carelessness: nationalism.  Nationalism, now just as much as it was back then, is a philosophy based on hatred for others that don’t share the same characteristics as you or ones that you value.  Whether it is skin color, religion, creed, sexual orientation, or even political party, it is nationalism that gives violent and hateful people an excuse to exercise violence as an act of self-preservation, resulting from fear that their maligned and false sense of reality will be infringed upon by others practicing their own way of life.

There is no debate that nationalism is the cause of violence coming from a sect within Trump’s base.  Patriotism, not nationalism, is an expression of love for country.  However, through misinformation, nationalism has become a sacred right to these people, and they feel compelled to cause violence to uphold it. Nevermind that someone of a different belief system doesn’t infringe on your rights, nationalism has become a motivator to exert power and authority to uphold racist and classist hierarchies.  Nuclear annihilation, while still possible, can be argued as not being as much of a threat now as it was in 1958.  However, the vile acts of destructive nationalists spells doom for this country.  Though the body count is lower, the country and its democratic system will die a death by a thousand cuts.

“big log” – robert plant (1983)

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I just recently returned from driving around and hiking through the southwest inspired by completing a recent book project where the desert is a tangential subject.  I wanted to celebrate by seeing, for the first time, a landscape that was unique to my experience and background.  And considering how I do things, I don’t just dip my toes in.  I dive in.

The itinerary of the trip was to fly in to Las Vegas, spend a few days in Death Valley, drive to Joshua Tree and hike there for a few days, and then wrap things up by hiking into depths of Grand Canyon.  A full circle through the desert, admiring the perfect bleakness and seeking the answer to its unsolvable riddle.

On this trip, I felt like I was living in a novel.  I hiked a lot of different trails and terrain.  I met some incredibly interesting people.  I had a near death experience on the second day.  I lived on a bus on a compound owned by Italian prince. I toured the remnant of a ghost town.  I discovered hidden aspects of the desert that I had never anticipated.

I also did a ton of driving.  So much driving.  Clocked in nearly 30 hours in the car and almost hit 1700 miles on the road.  Living in Chicago, I never drive.  I was a bit anxious about all the miles thinking that I was gonna be constantly maneuvering around fishtailing semis on four lane interstates.  Actually, the opposite happened. I expected small desert roadways in and out of the parks, but I never expected that driving four to six hours from one park to the next.  And It was rather lovely, peaceful, and quiet.

When I finished hiking through Death Valley, the next stop was Joshua Tree.  I got up at 5 AM from my Airbnb and hit the road.  For these long drives, I solicited album and playlist recommendations that had desert vibes or made sense in the context of the trip (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly soundtrack and Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs as examples).  I also put together my own playlists based on pop culture projects that evoked desert locales and imagery (Fallout: New Vegas soundtrack for example).  These were really helpful as not only they set the mood and elevated the context of the environment I was driving through, they gave me entertainment considering I as driving through areas with little to no radio reception.

On this drive to Joshua Tree, I spent half the trip driving through the Mojave National Preserve.  This was just a single two-lane road that went through the heart of the preserve where I would only see another vehicle every 30 minutes or so and, because of the timing of when I left Death Valley, drive through during sunrise which allowed me to see the sand, rocks, and trees change shape and color with the rising of the sun. It was absolutely stunning.

AS the landscape was slowly shifting from black to blue to purple to red to orange, I felt like I had the right soundtrack for the experience.  As one of the road trip albums I selected before the trip, I put on Robert Plant’s second studio album The Principle of Moments.  Released in 1983, this album is a departure from Led Zeppelin’s hard rock sounds incorporating a moody landscape of synth and pop, made ethereal with dreamy, existential lyrics.  A great album to get lost in while on the road.

The best song on the album, and the one that truly made this driving experience perfect, was “Big Log.” The first single off the album, it is a slow, methodical tune with tight percussion and a dreamy guitar lick that is reminiscent of the “Happy Together” by the Turtles.  In the song, Plant sings about his love of the highway and the excitement he gets seeing the cities fly by and the slow changing of light as the sun sets ad the tail lights come to life.  His relationship with the road and why he goes down it is unknown.  Plant sings that it is leading him on, joined by a soft chorus repeating line, almost as if he is pursuing something.  Perhaps searching for the unattainable truth all men seek when they wander into the desert.  Even the music video for the song finds Plant lost in the desert, seeking truth and knowledge as he eventually confronts his own limitations in a mysterious classroom.  Given that his car,in the end is towed, has he found what he has looking for, or as he perished on the journey for truth? Either way, there is no turning back.

This was such a remarkable trip and one I hope to do again someday.  The calm and clarity one obtains when hiking, driving, or wandering through the desert provides a value that is only clear when you realize and abandon the superfluous nature of the unnecessary aspects of our existence.

“hey, good lookin'” – hank williams (1951)

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One of the things I do in my spare time is volunteer for a local music school in their archives.  It is a really chill place where I do some data entry, help teachers and students find materials, and organize parts of the collection.  Sometimes, I just sip on a beer while reading or listening to one of the thousands of records available in the archives.  Other than the people who come in and out for any reason, I usually am just chilling by myself.  Though, once in a blue moon, I’ll be asked to train a new volunteer.

I received an email from the archives manager that a new volunteer was coming in and I was asked to train them.  Yeah, I could definitely train them.  I am the one who trains most of the new volunteers since I’ve been an active volunteer myself for several years.  Sometimes, these volunteers end up becoming regulars during shifts at different days or different times, or they might do a shift or two before moving on.  Usually, it is the latter.  And this was especially true for this newest volunteer, but not for a more typical reason like boredom.

Other than a first name, I had no idea what to expect from the person who was coming in.  Given that the classes tend to skew older most of the time, I was expecting someone my age or a retiree who was looking for something to do.  I certainly wasn’t expecting an extremely talkative, 23-year-old waitress sporting a cropped sweater and leather skirt, with an aspiration straight out of Hollywood.  Though, that is what I got.

Since I usually spend the three-hour-plus shift by myself, I am really unaccustomed to holding lengthy conversations in that place let alone lengthy conversations that involve me just silently listening to someone younger than me excitedly ramble endlessly about their dreams and aspirations.  I know I’m coming off as cynical and a bit judgmental, but I was not.  And the reason being is that this girl reminded me a bit of myself at that age.

It didn’t make sense to me why this girl was training with me when she told me she was leaving Chicago at the end of the month.  Within the last few months, she had developed an admiration for old country, western, and bluegrass music, which were all genres she knew nothing about and had generally avoided.  This all changed when she visited Nashville a few weeks ago and fell in love with the city.  Now, she was getting all her affairs in order so she could buy a bus ticket, carrying only her guitar and a single suitcase, and looking to make it big in the Nashville music scene.

Now, all of that really struck me as super weird at first.  Think about it.  Young women hops on a bus to travel across country pursuing her dream to become a star.  If that sounds like something you would see in a movie, it is because it is.  It is one of the biggest tropes of the entertainment industry.  However, she was so excited about all her plans and I couldn’t help but listen.

I am not naturally someone who is going to put someone else down or invalidate their feelings or aspirations.  Quite the contrary.  During the conversation, I gave her as much advice as I could as some of the things she was telling me I had considerable experience with.  For one, I used to work in Nashville while I was attending a university in Kentucky, which were only an hour apart.  And since Nashville was so close, friends and I would often go there to see shows and hang out in a city much larger than our college town.  Plus, I was super familiar with the Greyhound bus route she was taking, so I had learned all the tips and tricks to surviving a smelly, uncomfortable bus ride for ten hours.

Beyond the advice I could give her about life in Nashville and how excruciating Greyhound can potentially be, her story spoke to me on a more personal level.  She was telling me that other than that one visit, she had never been to Nashville before and she was trying to figure out everything as she went along.  I completely empathize with that because I went through the same thing at her age.  Like her, I was 23 when I made a major change in my life by moving to Chicago to work in the city’s film industry.  I had never been to Chicago before (except for when I was about five), didn’t know a single person in the city, and had no job or school or any other institution like those waiting for me.  It was as fresh of a start as you could get.  It was exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. I remember I had quite a bit of anxiety when I was trying to get settled (the economy was awful at that time), but this girl was expressing absolutely zero worry about such a move.

When I made that move, a lot of my friends were telling me how scary they though that was.  And the reason being is that people these days, especially millennials fresh out of college, just don’t do that anymore.  However, uprooting your life and moving across country with no safety net was not uncommon in generations before mine.  People still do it, but it is far less common.  So, it can be fairly typical for someone to tell you all the reasons why such a change is risky, and it can be discouraging.  While I had some concerns about this girl I was keeping to myself (like the fact she’s moving into a giant mansion owned by a couple that just happens to be in possession of a tour bus owned by the band Alabama), I told her she should go for it and watched her eagerly take notes of the advice I was giving her as someone who had went on a similar journey.  Though, my journey involved a U-Haul and was less like a movie trope than a pretty, young woman hopping on a Greyhound with a suitcase and a guitar.

When the shift ended at 9:30, we were still talking about the trip.  Since I live really close to the school, she came over to chat about it further over whiskey.  Then, I pulled out my guitar and we played a couple of songs together.  It was getting late and she had work in the morning, as did I.  So, she called for an Uber and I wished her luck.  Even though she may not find what she is looking for, she’ll be fine.  When you get that itch, no matter how scary the journey may be or how much uncertainty you may have, you just have to chase that dream.  Or else you’ll regret it.

During our conversation, she was telling me about some of the country music artists she recently discovered that were inspiring her to go on this journey.  One of them, of course, was the country legend Hank Williams. You cannot say you like country music without knowing Hank Williams. And you for sure cannot walk around Nashville without his visage emblazoned somewhere.  His biggest hit, “Hey, Good Lookin’”, recorded in 1951, is a country music staple and, frankly, one of the greatest American songs ever recorded.

We listened to some Hank that evening, though that song didn’t come up.  She was very impressed by the size and variety of the archive that we ended up listening to a whole bunch of different country artists.  I don’t remember much of what was playing because it was primarily in the background as we talked, but this Hank classic seems appropriate for this week’s blog entry primarily for its legendary status in the genre and a reminder of the time I spent in Music City. The Country Music Capital of the World.  Nashville.

“power to the people” – john lennon/plastic ono band (1971)

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Though Donald Trump has only been in office for two years, it has seemed excruciatingly longer than that.  The election cycle for 2016 was brutal as Trump eliminated a whole group of Republicans, one by one, though he was considered a candidate to write off as a joke, his victory in the primaries ensuring a win for the democrats.  That did not happen, and now it is the liberal side of the spectrum struggling to achieve unity within an overcrowded field of democratic presidential hopefuls, debating and arguing over not only who will defeat Trump, but who also represents the diversity of the party’s constituents.  The presidential election is 20 months away, and this dynamic of a seemingly endless parade of candidates is already proving contentious.

Like almost everyone on the planet, I was shocked when Trump won the 2016 election.  After that, I took a step back and began researching what happened.  I read nearly a dozen books, countless editorials, and monitored social media trends to try to find an answer in hopes of getting closure.  All this information about Russian meddling, third party candidates, poor campaigning, and so much more, it was a lot to take and made me feel really uneasy how everything fit together to create this perfect storm that engulfed all Americans.

What I had noticed was the complete lack of accountability from the left. Hillary not winning was because it was someone else’s fault.  It was the Russians for weaponizing social media to undermine our democratic institution.  It was the Bernie Bros for being so militant in their support that they would refuse to vote for Hillary.  It was the Trump supporters who are so comfortable with their racism.  Never mind the fact the democratic party had no platform other than the virtue of not being Trump, it was not their fault.

I was left with the impression that the democratic party has a unity problem.  And the reason behind that is that they suffer from the narcissism of small differences; where the left spends more time tearing each other down over minutiae than they do targeting our ideologically opposed enemies on the fascist right.  It is interesting that lately I have been social media campaigns suggesting “Vote blue, no matter who.” It leaves me feeling rather cynical, which is a feeling I despise, because my thought oscillate between “where were you last time” and “people will throw a tantrum if their candidate doesn’t win.”

This is why the primaries are so important.  This whole “vote blue, no matter who” mentality really only works in the general election, and only if you’re willing to lick your wounds and support the candidate that may have defeated your original choice in the primaries.  And it is the importance we place on the primaries that has made the whole affair so ugly, with people arguing endlessly online over the minutiae between democratic hopefuls.  I applaud their passion and support of their candidate, but you must realize that there is a strong chance you may have to vote for someone else when it comes to the final showdown against Trump.

This primary season has been fascinating to me.  We are still seeing people announcing their candidacy for the presidency, and people being vocal for why they support their preferred candidate.  It can be quite inspiring to see people advocate for their candidate, but it can be downright ugly as well.

I voted for Bernie in the 2016 primaries but voted for Hillary in the general election.  Sanders supporters were upset at perceived corruption within the Democratic National Convention and vocalized that support.  It fueled this public conception of the archetype Berne Bro, a Sanders supporter who is so militant in their advocacy that they negatively affected the election after Sanders’ candidacy ended in concession. Regardless that the Bernie Bro phenomenon is an exaggerated misconception, an idea supported by experts including Malcolm Nance, it seems that the admiration that surrounded Sanders in 2016 is being met with a lot more resistance in 2020 election cycle. And there’s an explanation for that.

In 2016, Sanders was the outlier. Someone on the fringes who had managed to achieve a lot of momentum through grass roots efforts, and really rattled the cages of the democratic establishment.  Sanders was fresh and exciting, and top brass in the party took note.  Now, as we enter the 2020 election cycle, presidential hopefuls are looking to capitalize on that Bernie momentum from 2016 which has shifted the establishment party to the left.  Now, you have a whole bunch of candidates who are campaigning on the platforms and ideas that have become popular since Sanders’ run in 2016.

This ideologically shift in the democratic party has ignited a peculiar debate, one exacerbated by the coverage on both traditional and social media; that people just don’t want Bernie Sanders anymore that that we have so many other candidates to choose from who share the same ideals.  I’m now seeing editorials and posts from friends to support candidates who are younger, ethnically diverse, and not a man. Now that there are candidates who are not old white men who say the same things as Sanders, an actual old white man, we can now find a candidate who reflects America’s growing diversity.

I think that kind of thinking is valid, and some of the candidates are admirable, but I’m not going to risk Trump getting a second term by playing identity politics with my vote in 2020. In the primaries, Sanders will have my vote.  And he’ll have my vote purely on the facts that he has been consistent in his views for several decades.  I like many of the candidates who are campaigning right now, and I find it inspiring that we have more women and people of color running for the highest office in the land.  However, many of these candidates have taken millions in corporate dollars and have sketchy voting histories.  If push comes to shove and one of these candidates become the democratic party’s nominee, I’ll vote for them.  However, in the primaries, I’m not letting identity politics stop me from supporting the old white guy candidate who has been consistent throughout his entire career.

Last night, I attended a presidential rally for Bernie Sanders at Navy Pier.  Thousands of people were there, and the energy was absolutely fantastic. The guest speakers were passionate, inspiring, and reflected the diversity of Sanders’ supporters.  Speakers included a renowned West Chicago poet, a young organizer from a Logan Square youth organization, one of Bernie’s former classmates, and one of the co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

When Sanders spoke, he reflected on his life’s work fighting for racial, income, and environmental equality.  Specifically advocating for things like an end to police violence, a $15/hour federal minimum wage, and real initiatives to slow down and reverse the devastating effects of climate change. I was certainly inspired by his words, and I cannot believe that people can be so cynical about a candidate just because he is older and white, especially when they support the ideals he campaigns on.  I know we want someone who looks and sounds different.  However, we are in the midst of an existential crisis in this country, and our biggest goal is to defeat Donald Trump.  And Sanders has garnered more money ad support than any other candidate, and that’s why his opponents are so loud and vocal. They’re afraid he will succeed.

The music at campaign rallies can be kind of monotonous.  They are powerful in their messaging and what they represent, but tend to lose meaning when you hear them all the time and they become nothing more than an election trope.  “Power to the People” by John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” is one of those songs.  Released as a single in 1971 during the sessions that would produce Lennon’s Imagine album (though this song would not be included), Sanders walked onto the stage to this liberal anthem. And I really felt excited by that.  Sure, it has been overplayed a lot of places.  Much of Lennon’s music is overplayed.  However, I really felt moved by the song last night, and that is a reflection of the context in which I heard the song.  It felt powerful because when it comes to Bernie, it isn’t just a trope.  The song means what it says, because Bernie means what he says.

“do what u want [remix feat. christina aguilera]” – lady gaga (2014)

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The Oscars aired last night and, continuing my streak for a while now, I did not watch. For me, watching the Oscars has always just been entertainment, not something to take seriously.  And while the Academy deserves to be checked for not being inclusive enough when it comes to films coming from people of color or from smaller, independent filmmakers, how seriously people take this celebrity spectacle frankly just bores me.

After the broadcast, I did check online to see the winners.  Most were standard and assumed, and a few were surprises.  And, as expected, people ended the evening upset. It always happens. No matter what, the toxic culture of social media amplifies the manufactured outrage and they rally about injustices that really do not matter. This usually lasts a few days, sometimes a week, and whatever did upset them goes into the dustbin of history to be remembered years later in some snarky op-ed about some future Oscars ceremony or in a pub trivia question.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

Of all the categories, the only one I felt was an absolute 100% guarantee was “Shallow” for “Best Original Song” from Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born.  Joined by his co-star, Lady Gaga and Cooper performed the song together at the ceremony with all the confidence of people who knew their Oscar was just moments away. And while “Shallow” was the best song in the category, this win, unlike the others during the night, troubled me a bit.  Specifically, its loose connection to the other big pop culture story of the last week.

Kelly was arrested last week after two decades of committing sexual assault against minors, many of whom he had groomed from an early age and kept trapped in the cult of personality carefully crafted and cultivated by the disgraced singer. Kelly’s arrest came right off the heels of the documentary series Surviving R. Kelly that aired in January.

While I applaud that Kelly has been arrested and will, hopefully, pay for his crimes, I am deeply disturbed by how long it has taken. Kelly’s sexualizing of underage girls and women can be traced back to the early 1990s through his lyrics and comments he has made, both public and in private. In the mid-1990s, Kelly married his 15-year-old protege, Aaliyah Haughton. In 1996, Tiffany Hawkins sued Kelly for emotional and physical abuse stemming from a sexual relationship with him.

In 2000, Jim DeRogatis and Abdon M. Pallasch, two reporters for the Chicago Sun-Times published the first report of Kelly’s relationships with underage girls. Since then, DeRogatis became entrusted by these girls and young women to expose Kelly for the abuser that he was. DeRogatis was sent video evidence of Kelly having sex with an underage, immediately sending it to the authorities.

One would think that video DeRogatis received would have ended Kelly’s career and landed him in prison.  However, it did not. Kelly was sued and taken to court by multiple women in 2002, but all the cases were settled out of court and Kelly was able to continue living as a free man. Being a teenager at this time, this part of Kelly’s history will always be remembered through Dave Chappelle’s portrayal on Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show, a satirical take on Kelly with Chappelle performing the song “I Wanna Piss on You.” This was a takedown from a comedic master who was truly ahead of his time, even though the rest of his industry was not. Kelly was allowed not only to continue his career but thrived within it every time he faced controversy over the years.

Now, let’s jump to 2013.  It has been roughly two decades since the earliest documented evidence of Kelly’s comments about underage girls, over a decade since his first court appearances and Chappelle’s super popular portrayal, and Lady Gaga is preparing to release her third studio album Artpop. In just a few short years, following the release of The Fame, The Fame Monster, and Born This Way, Lady Gaga was dominating the music industry with her pop hits. Designed to be an introspective look into pop stardom with a Warholian slant, Artpop was meant by Gaga to show that she was more than just the latest pop star in a long line of pop stars.

When the second single from Artpop, “Do What U Want” dropped, it was blowing me away.  Filled to the brim with raw, dripping sexuality and the freedom within, this 80s-style synthesizer-heavy track was a serious jam.  I loved it.  Or, more correctly, I wanted to love it. As hard as the music slapped and as well as Gaga performed on the track, one thing kept me from truly enjoying it as much as I could; R. Kelly was a guest vocalist on the track.

I listened to “Do What U Want” a lot when it came out.  However, with each listen, I liked it less and less.  Not because I was getting tired of it, but because Kelly’s involvement with the song really made me feel uneasy.  I was questioning why Gaga, who had survived sexual abuse herself, would give Kelly space on her album. It felt like a slap in the face to people who had experienced violence and had seen Gaga’s music as a place of refuge where they felt valid for who they were.  Gaga, in response to the criticism to working with Kelly, said

“I’ve been living in Chicago and spending a lot of time there, and that’s where R. Kelly hails from. I was working on Artpop and I wrote [‘Do What U Want’] on tour. It was about my obsession with the way people view me. I have always been an R. Kelly fan and actually it is like an epic pastime in the Haus of Gaga that we just get fucked up and play R. Kelly. This is a real R&B song and I [said ‘I] have to call the king of R&B and I need his blessing.’ It was a mutual love.”

Gaga also said

“R. Kelly and I have sometimes very untrue things written about us, so in a way this was a bond between us. That we were able to say, the public, they can have our bodies, but they cannot have our mind or our heart. It was a really natural collaboration.”

It wasn’t long before I stopped listening to the song and just kind of gave up on Gaga.

Within the last few years, the #MeToo movement swept through the film industry and took down some of the more serious abusers. While a lot of past behavior by many people within the industry went unchecked as the media focused on the bigger Hollywood names facing scrutiny on social media and in the courts, the music industry largely went unscathed.  And despite the massive cultural shift tat #MeToo and #TimesUp were bringing, Kelly continued to thrive.

Even DeRogatis, who had been championing justice for the young women abused by Kelly, was becoming frustrated with how Kelly managed to continue having a career.  I remember reading Jessica Hopper’s First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic in 2015, and she discussed the time DeRogatis called her out for supporting Kelly headlining the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2013. DeRogatis had questioned Hopper how, as a woman, she could support someone who had a long history of abusing women.  Like Gaga, Hopper’s excuse was that she grew up with his music.

As #MeToo continued to dominate social media and the entertainment industry, some commentaries questioned when it would get Kelly. In 2019, it took a new documentary series, largely retelling the story DeRogatis had been reporting to disinterested audiences for almost two decades, and a new tape sent to lawyer Michael Avenatti, to finally bring Kelly into custody. On one side, it is great that it looks like Kelly will finally pay for his crimes. On the other, when I consider how long it took to bring Kelly to justice, and the voices of people like DeRogatis being largely ignored because the music industry is a large fraternity organization only looking out for their own, I am also disappointed by the complicities of the music industry and the players involved.  Players like Lady Gaga who, because she grew up with his music, felt compelled to introduce Kelly to a whole new generation of potential fans.

Gaga has since recognized the error of her ways.  The track “Do What U Want” has been pulled from all streaming services, and Gaga has gone on record saying she stands by survivors.  She rationalizes the collaboration with Kelly saying, “as a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and video at a dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life.”

I am unsure if I can accept that given that Kelly’s history of abuse had spanned two decades by the time the collaboration was released. I don’t question that Gaga was going through a rough patch in her life, but I do have to question her judgment when there was so much evidence against Kelly. In 2016, prior to denouncing the collaboration with Kelly, Gaga performed the song “Til It Happens to You” at the Oscars, a song written for The Hunting Ground, a documentary about universities covering up rape and sexual assault cases. In the performance, Gaga shared the stage with the victims of campus rape. It surely adds some complexity to Gaga’s history when it comes to working with Kelly. So, with her being celebrated at the Oscars for her performance this year and ultimately winning the award, I’m not impressed. While #MeToo did some great things, there are still many problems within the entertainment industry.  Not only did they award Gaga who was previously complicit when it came to Kelly, but they gave an Oscar to a man who would frequently show his penis to people on set.  It reinforces to me how the Oscars are a farce and not something to take seriously as a measure of quality.

After not listening to “Do What U Want” for several years, it wasn’t until recently that I learned the song was remixed to exclude Kelly’s vocals and replaced with Christina Aguilera’s. Debuting on New Year’s Day inn 2014, this “Do What U Want” remix with Aguilera was still released during a time when Gaga was complicit when it came to Kelly and his crimes.  However, I loved the that I could now listen to this jam again guilt free because Kelly was nowhere on it.  Recorded in a session in Carly Simon’s living room, this new version elevates the song and gives it a power that was absent when Kelly’s vocal was originally included.

As people everywhere are groaning over the wrong film winning the top prize at the Oscars for being too white, let’s not forget that the industry is still problematic when it comes to sexual abuse. And Gaga’s win last night reaffirms that.  While people grow and learn from their mistakes, the media cycle moves so quickly that we forget sins of yesterday for the outrages of today. I am not saying that Gaga cannot be forgiven for her work with Kelly. I am sure she is sincere when she denounces it now. We all learn and grow and better ourselves.  However, this was not that long ago, and people are largely quick to forget when they are distracted by things that do not really matter.

“i’m still standing” – elton john (1983)

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This past week has been a real emotional rollercoaster. Some highs, some lows.  So, this blog post may be all over the map today.  And that happens.  It is OK. Not every entry will be strong or necessarily cohesive.  So, I’m treating this week as if it is a diary about my weekend.

Late Thursday night, on Valentine’s Day, a close friend from the community radio station I volunteer at passed away unexpectedly.  As of this writing, there is no known cause.  She was someone I admired because she was always full of joy and lived life in a way where she did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.  She did not give a damn.  I deal with anxiety more than I would like to admit, so I always saw her as an inspiration for the way one should feel about themselves and the life they live.  I was devastated when I got the news because it was not something anyone saw coming.  I’m still processing it.

All Sunday morning, I was feeling rather moody. It is February and that is the worst month.  I know January gets a lot of flak for being terrible, but it is nowhere near as terrible as February.  February is colder, snowier, wetter, and just generally miserable.  The earliest signs of spring are just a few weeks away and February just exists to test one’s patience.  For being the shortest month, it feels like the longest.

Sunday was also a day where I had some social commitments.  I didn’t feel like going, but I felt compelled to do so. And I’m glad I did.

First stop was to meet friends from my book club for a social gathering at a German bar in Logan Square that is closing called the Radler, a place where beer comes in boots and you can hammer nails into stumps.  I started feeling better.  Maybe it was the beer, but I really enjoyed the warmth and positivity I was feeling around me.  The energy felt fantastic.

After that, I walked about a mile through the snow to get to a friend’s place.  He’s a guy who used to work with me at this terrible non-profit when I first moved to Chicago.  We made some vegan pasta and just chilled listening to music.  First was an EP of tropical disco tracks that were just amazing jams.  Then, we moved on to Led Zeppelin’s untitled record (typically Led Zeppelin IV) before moving onto Led Zeppelin III. It was a very primal and masculine experience. We rocked out and chatted and got our stuff to go out that evening, two warriors ready to conquer the night.

We went to a bar where a friend from the radio station was DJing, playing a mix of all women and women-identified artists.  It was a very different atmosphere and energy from the one I just left.  My buddy and I just chilled and listened to the music.  It was a rather feminine vibe, but the emotion behind the music was warm.  The energy was soothing.  I talked with my friend DJing about life and missing our friend we just lost a few days earlier.

After a while, my buddy got bored and said we should hit up a nearby arcade bar.  I said sure.  However, I was not feeling the energy when we got there.  Lots of noise, plus my buddy was just working the crowd to get laid.  It felt very weird being there as I just wanted to chill and didn’t want to play games or hit on women.  So, I split and went back to see my friend continue her DJ set.

I sat there listening to the music until a friend of the DJ came and talked to me.  He was an anxious guy who seemed troubled by something.  He was asking me very deep and personal questions about me such as how I find happiness and why do I drink alcohol.  I just kept telling him that happiness comes from within and that everything is fine and that we were all there to chill and relax.  I’ve got my problems too, but I was really feeling good where I was.

After some time, I left and ordered a Lyft.  On my way back home, I spoke to a beautiful woman who was sharing the car with me.  We talked about our evenings and her studying psychology.  It was such a lovely conversation.  When the car arrived at my apartment, I turned to her said “I hope you find joy wherever you’re going” and we shook hands.

Monday, I spent time with myself.  Cleaned my apartment, made a healthy lunch, and walked around a few different neighborhoods killing time until I met with friends to play trivia.  The friend who passed away was also friends with one of my trivia partners.  We talked about that and what we appreciated about her.  I didn’t stay long.  The trivia was being held at a new venue and it was loud and disorganized.  So, I went back home to read and finish planning my vacation for next month.

On Friday, my dad came to town to visit.  I had tickets to see Elton John perform during his final tour, Farewell Yellow Brick Road. I went with two close friends.  The concert was fantastic! Elton performed well and I heard all the songs I wanted to hear.  My friend had just passed the night before, so a concert sounded like a nice way to distract myself.  Especially a concert that was a farewell tour where memories and lessons were talked about with wisdom and nostalgia.

The song I had to hear the most was “I’m Still Standing.” I wasn’t sure he would play it, but he did play it before the encore with the video screen playing clips from Elton John’s many performances and pop culture cameos.  Released as a single in 1983 from the album Too Low for Zero, the song is about Elton still maintaining relevancy as his career entered the 1980s.

When I was talking to my friend during her DJ set, we talked about how we felt about our friend passing.  I told her I was upset and that I was processing. She told me it hadn’t hit her yet but anticipated when it will.  I told her that we were still alive and the best thing to do was to continue living our lives the best way we can.  We were survivors, and we should find joy in that.  I find joy in that.  I’m still standing.