“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.

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“new york groove” – hello (1975)

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This past weekend, I flew out to New York City.  I was to spend five days exploring as much as I could and I flew out on my 30th birthday.  The idea was to treat myself and take some time to reflect and enjoy my life.  And I did just that.  I had an excellent time.  Though I was fighting a bit of a cold, I was out and about everyday walking upwards of 13 miles a day exploring the city and what it means to be young and alive.  The weather was sunny and warm for December and everything fell into place perfectly.

It didn’t dawn on me until I was flying back to Chicago just how much the specter of Death directed the course of my trip.  This was amusing to me.  I booked this trip to celebrate life, take time to personally reflect on what has happened to bring me to this point, and focus on my path ahead and what comes out of the unknown.  The irony of this was just too rich.

Let’s break down just how much I was walking along with ghosts:

Thursday

I land at LaGuardia airport and only have a few hours in the evening to kill. I wanted to see the World Trade Center memorial at night and this was the best time to do it during my trip.  The last time I was in New York City, the memorial and One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) were under construction.  Now, the area is a gorgeous plaza with the two reflecting pools, the 9/11 Museum & Memorial, and Freedom Tower.

That evening, I slowly walked around both reflecting pools casually looking at the names of the people murdered in the 9/11 attacks.  Some of the names had a white rose sticking out of the etching.  I saw on a nearby note sign that the roses were placed there to signify it was that person’s birthday.  It was my birthday as well and I was looking at the names of the people who shared the same date of birth.

While walking along the pools, I came across Betty Ann Ong’s name.  I knew that name.  I didn’t know her personally, but I had listened to her recordings from Flight 11 a few dozen times.  She was a flight attendant.  She is only one of a few people I can name who had perished in the attacks.  I didn’t personally know anyone, but some stories just stuck with me.  Hers most of all.  I didn’t seek her name, but something guided me to turn my head and see her name.  The light shining beneath the etchings and glowing.  It was too much for me and I left soon after.

Friday

This was my first full day in the city.  My first stop was Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty over the horizon.  When I booked my trip a month prior, all the tours of the statue’s pedestal and crown were booked.  So, I didn’t have a need to go there.  Along the way, I saw a heart-wrenching statue memorial to the millions of immigrants that passed through Ellis Island.  Their emaciated faces showed joy, pain, grief, and jubilation as they reached the promised land.

I sat on a bench looking at Lady Liberty and thought about the duality of America.  The reality is that there are two Americas; one that is promised and the reality.  Many people have risk or continue to risk their lives to come to this country.  Historically, America has been a shining beacon welcoming the tired, poor huddled masses.  Freedom’s light shows them the path to pursue the limits of their own happiness and self-determination.  This is a lie.

The idea of America should be what it needs to be for those who need it most.  However, what many immigrants find are nationalists who turn them away, often with violence.  They are forced back or face adversity in the form of discrimination and abject poverty.  They continue to struggle and perish.  Sure, a lot of immigrants have found success and great lives in this country.  However, this nation is more polarized than ever with a government that is banning certain types of people from coming.  That very action betrays what it means to be an American.  I couldn’t help but think of all the lives America’s lies have damaged or destroyed.  We’ve disappointed those who founded this country and those who seek refuge in it.  I saw this in the faces of the people in that statue.

Later in the day, I returned to the 9/11 memorial and visited the museum on the grounds.  The museum is underground and you walk the space where the Twin Towers’ foundations were and the excavation around them.  This was one of the first places I had included in my itinerary to visit.  The attacks on September 11, 2001 is arguably the most significant event of my lifetime based on the fallout and course of world and social politics that followed thereafter.  It defines my world so much that I cannot even imagine where I would be if they didn’t happen.

Visiting the museum, you see the remnants of the destruction.  The original foundation is visible, in the main area sits a burnt and melted fire truck, and a staircase that was integral to the survival of some people escaping from the towers.   Walking through the museum, on display were a couple of steel beams.  I read the plaque and it said these beams were the exact impact point of the first plane.  They were twisted and bent.  The beams looked more like a modern art masterpiece.

Standing by the beams was a docent.  An older man, maybe in his 60s, with a large gut.  He had an air of authority and sadness surrounding him.  I asked him if he knew anyone who was lost in the attacks.  He chuckled slighted and aid yeah.  He then told me he was the sole survivor from his firefighting regiment.  All his comrades passed.  He also had friends in other regiments who died too.  Plus, he lost an uncle on Flight 93.  In total, he knew 85 people who died in the attacks.  I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like with that resting on your shoulders standing next to the exact point of impact.

Later that day, I was venturing back to Times Square and Rockefeller Center.  I was there the previous night to see the sites at night, but I wanted to see them during the day.  Then, I remembered that it was December 8th.  The day that marked the anniversary John Lennon was shot to death at the hands of deranged ex-fan Mark David Chapman.  Lennon has a portion of Central Park dedicated to him called Strawberry Fields.  Of all days, I had to be there.

I took the train to Strawberry Fields.  A large gather was there surrounding the iconic “Imagine” mosaic.  Some people had instruments and everyone joined together singing various Beatles and Lennon solo tunes.  When I got there, they were performing the Beatles classic “In My Life.”  I people watched for a bit and before the sun fully set, I walked across the street to the Dakota.  Lennon resided there with his family and he was shot to death right in front of the building.  Some people were there taking photos and lighting candles.  I was looking for the spot where he lay.  I don’t know what I expected to find, but I scanned the area.  I don’t think I found it, but it doesn’t matter.  I couldn’t believe I almost forgot about the date.  I would be remised if I didn’t go to Strawberry Fields on that day.

Saturday

Snow finally hit New York City.  The city was expecting three to six inches of snowfall.  It came down the whole day and the city was draped in a comforting gray fog that consumed everything.  You couldn’t see where the ground ended and sky began.  It was comforting.

The first stop that day was to see President Grant’s tomb in Riverside Park.  I had never seen where a president was buried before and I knew it would be a quick visit before I ventured into the seemingly endless Central Park.

Snow was falling fat and heavy as I approached the mausoleum.  It was bigger than I expected.  Inside the rotunda was a viewing area into the crypt where President Grant and his wife lay in giant black marble coffins.  Busts of the man surrounded the coffins.  I was only there for about 10 minutes, but it was a thrilling site.  The opulence of it was breathtaking.

Grant’s tomb wasn’t the only memorial I sought out that day. I was going to spend the days and explore the entire length of Central Park as best I could.  My last stop, near the southwest corner of the park, was the Balto memorial.  Having spent a lot of years in Alaska, I have an affinity for the place.  I love Alaskan things.  And hardly anything is more Alaskan than a hero sled dog.  Anchorage is the only other place that has a statute celebrating Balto, but it isn’t that exciting.  It doesn’t really depict him but rather just a general sled dog.  The one in Central Park was THE Balto.  It took me a few hours to get to the memorial, but it was worth it to see a tribute to a true Alaskan legend.

Though I was covered with windblown snow, I wasn’t done with my outdoor adventures.  Next stop was Roosevelt Island to see an abandoned smallpox hospital.  The weather was rough and the landscape of Roosevelt Island reflected that.  The further I walked away from the train station, the more isolated things became.  I didn’t see many people.  The landscape was pure white and match the gray-white sky.  Th hospital was fascinating to observe.  It is a crumbling structure that is incredibly dangerous, so it is fenced off.  However, it sits adjacent to a park commemorating President Franklin Roosevelt and will later see some additional development.  It is amazing that is hasn’t been town down.  I hope it stay because it is truly an amazing thing to see quietly snug in a city that is always changing and developing.

On my way to the smallpox hospital, I looked across the way to Manhattan as I passed the Queensboro Bridge.  Something looked eerily familiar. Then, I remember the iconic shot of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sitting on a bench for Allen’s film Manhattan.  I googled the location of the bench and I was on the wrong side.  Oh well.  I’ll find it when I make it back.

Getting back to Manhattan, finding this spot was an impromptu addition to my trip.  I had to go out of my way to find it but, luckily, I had time before the next item on my schedule.  With the help of my map app, I was able to find Sutton Place Park North which contained some benches overlooking the water.  Googling some articles about finding the bench location, I learned that the area had been redeveloped frequently since 1979 which makes sense.  This meant that the original location of the bench shot is long gone.  However, an article I found told me that this park was the best option to recreate the shot.  It was still windy and snow and the park didn’t see a lot of traffic.  Fortunately, there were two women there who helped take a photo of me sitting on the bench gazing out at the Queensboro Bridge. The area had changed, but enough of its legacy was there for me to make a kickass photo.  Social media can certainly make one vain.

Sunday

This day was a music history tour.  I was going to spend the day finding important locations of New York City musical landmarks.  This included famous venues, album cover locations, and other neat places.

My morning was spent finding the locations of five famous album covers.  They were An Innocent Man by Billy Joel, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan, After the Gold Rush by Neil Young, Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin, and Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys.  In the spirit of walking with ghosts during this trip, I faithfully recreated the covers of the first three albums.  For Zeppelin’s record, the building looked the same.  However, the business featured on the classic Beastie Boys album is long gone.  It is currently a restaurant, but there is a mural paying tribute to the legendary hip-hop tribute.  I liked that the current owners recognized the history.

During this album cover hunt, I made two pit stops.  First was the former site of CBGB.  I knew that the venue had been closed for several years, but I wanted to see the site.  Fans have etched the sidewalk with the name of the legendary rock club and the year it was founded.  Even though things change, it is always great to see some respect to history.  However, that would be the end of seeing touching tributes and homages to great musical history.

Shortly after Joe Strummer died, a mural of him went up on 7th Avenue.  I had found the location and included a visit in my itinerary.  However, I was unaware that the mural was repainted in 2013.  It was there for roughly a decade.  The Clash were one of my favorite bands growing up and this was the equivalent of visiting a holy site for me.  You can imagine the devastation I felt to see a sickly orange color where the mural should’ve been.  The Latin restaurant that owns the building painted over it.  I was crushed.  However, life moves on and so I should I.

I then ventured to Greenwich Village.  I had printed out information on a self-guided walking tour of over a dozen spots that were integral to the development of a blossoming young folk singer named Bob Dylan.  The tour started in Washington Square Park where Dylan would sometimes watch performers.  The tour then took me to places like the Bitter End, Café Wha?, and his former Townhouse.  While the Bitter End and café Wha? are still open, many of the sites were not.

I knew going into this that these sites would be closed.  A lot happens over 60 years and coffee houses and clubs can’t stay open forever.  However, what killed me was that there was nothing at any of these spots to signify the important of the location. I was gazing at a cheap Mexican restaurant and wrapping my head around that Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in there when it once was a coffee house.  Now it was a place that advertised it had one of New York’s six best margaritas with no plaque or sign or any indication that history was made there.  I was so disappointed.  I accept change.  But when people ignore or forget history, it is a hard thing to accept that everything is temporary and will fade.

The last remnant of Death on this day involved me seeing Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room.  It is a 3,600-sq. ft. room that houses 280,000 pounds of dirt.  I had a lot of questions.  I asked if there is any vegetation. The docent told me that stuff used to grow years ago, but they were all picked out.  The nutrients in the dirt have vanished a long time ago.  I went to New York to see dead dirt and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.

Monday

On the last day of my trip, I had a few hours to enjoy the city before flying out.  I spent the morning on a guided tour of Bushwick’s thriving graffiti and street art scene.  After that was done, I had two important stops before I left for the airport.

Also in Bushwick is the legendary Daptone Records.  I first discovered Daptone when I got a copy of 100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.  That album changed my life and provided the soundtrack of my college years.  I’ve been a fan of Daptone for a decade now and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see the building.

Both Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, the leading figures of Daptone, passed away in the last year.  Seeing where they made their art also meant paying respect to their work and the success they found much too late in life.

I saw the building in all its decaying beauty.  The façade is tagged with graffiti and crumbling.  Shingles and paint falling off the sign.  The building had all the character of a dusty box of records you find in an attic.  It was perfect and I was in awe.

With me running out of time, I had one more stop.  Beastie Boys were one of the bands my dad forbid me to listen to while growing up.  I have found this was the case of many people in my generation.  Though the Beastie Boys matured as artists, our parents’ generation couldn’t get past the raucous frat boy persona that embodied when they first started.

Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, passed away in 2012.  I was crushed.  Since graduating high school and free from the shackles of parental supervision, Beastie Boys have become one of my favorite bands.  I loved their attitude and way they blended genres seamlessly to create something raw and authentic.

Last year, a city park in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood was renamed for Adam Yauch.  I have a friend who went there on the first day and beet Ad-Rock and Ben Stiller who were friends of Yauch.  I visited the park and listened to some choice Beastie Boys cuts for about an hour before having to leave for the airport.  It was quiet and peaceful with few visitors since most people were at work.  Considerably less celebrities than when my friend visited.

I texted my dad teasing him that I was visiting a park named after one of the members of a band he said I couldn’t listen to growing up.  He replied with a thumbs up emoji.  Sitting peacefully looking around the park listening to music was the best way to pay tribute to Yauch and end my trip.  I may have been walking with ghosts during my trip, but to end it peacefully enjoying life and its riches provided a rich balance and appreciation for being in that spot in that moment.  We may be surrounded by ghosts and specters of the past, but it only means we motivate ourselves to live life the best way we can.

“New York Groove” is a cheesy, but fun glam rock song written by Russ Ballard and first performed by Hello.  Hello recorded the single in 1975 for their debut album Keeps Us Off the Streets with a chugging clapping rhythm and a train whistle like harmonica.

The subject in the song is returning to New York after a year and falling back into is familiar groove to enjoy what he’s missed. He’s come back with a lady and fistful of cash to dance the night away.  The song is about return and the jubilation that comes with that.

After eight years, this was my return to New York City.  And I was doing it solo.  Doing it my way.  I set out to celebrate my life and create an experience that represented who I am and where I am going.  I learned a lot about myself by creating my own path inspired by those who walked their own before me.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better time to find my groove.  I feel so good and my best days are ahead of me.