Friday, February 05, 2016

Band Review: Fefe Dobson

Fefe Dobson is one of the names I encountered when I was working on the #BlackGirlsRock play list, and one where I knew I wanted to go back.

This Canadian singer and songwriter is generally classified as pop or rock, and that's fair, but what keeps bringing me back is the strong punk influence.

I notice it most on "I Want You" and "Stupid Little Love Song" - songs from two different albums released seven years apart - but it pops up in other tracks regularly, not as a phase but as a part of her core. It feels like she must have been influenced by the Riot grrrl bands in the '90s, even if her own output is more mainstream.

The pop aspects are real. "Legacy" was not only on a "Degrassi" soundtrack, but is also remarkably catchy and has a fun video.

The most apt comparison may be Pink, whose fans should check Fefe Dobson out. She can be in your face, but not at the expense of the musical quality.

Good listening all around.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Band Review: Scott Barkan

I originally intended to review Scott Barkan right after Blinking Underdogs. I didn't have another Star Wars-themed band for the week, but I am aware of Scott Barkan because he had some art done for him by Portland comic book artist Benjamin Dewey. (You can easily spot Dewey's work at I felt like this at least tangentially connected Barkan to Star Wars via the broader world of geekery.

Then I went on hiatus.

I might have waited longer and at least posted the review, except there was a part of me that felt like I still hadn't gotten the music right, and it made me hesitant to write about it. Keeping at it, I have been listening to him as both Scott Barkan and Barky for just over a month.

I think it is that the different albums pull me in different directions.

Solo/Acoustic/Live and Trio/Electric/Live are both good times. They capture the feeling of a live show and make you want to be in that audience. As much as I like them, I keep going back to Flightless Bird from 2014.

First off, I have to give the title track credit for making me think more than I ever have about what it means to be a flightless bird. At first I rebelled against the harshness of the lyrics, and then I had to admit that they made sense. Some of the other tracks work toward finding one's place and accepting it, but this song faces it in the most direct way.

"Flightless Bird" did some work in pulling me in, but the song that won me over completely was "Crank Radio". Mostly spoken, there is a guitar accompaniment that reminds me of Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk", striking chords along the spine and weakening resistance. As the speaker and his companion deal with a power outage, there is the practical prose of solving issues like no dinner and melting ice cream that also describes a comfort and satisfaction. Any of the inconvenience of lost power feels generously compensated for.

Although another song, "Gone Away" sits between "Crank Radio" and "They're Playing Our Song", my head puts them together, in a natural correlation.

There is a tweet from November that Barkan retweeted. Along with a picture of him playing, "It's @scottbarkan singing songs about murder and dying and self loathing and psychological trauma." (from @nerdsherpa)

Barkan does cover heavy themes in serious, and even dark ways, but that's not all he knows. There is fun and comfort and delight as well.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Native American Heritage Month 2015

I finished while I was on blogging hiatus, and that actually led me to add a book that I had nearly given up on.

That was only one way in which the reading did not go according to plan. I had initially selected a list where I was sure the library had them all, and I was wrong. Then I was scrambling to find any book that I could. If you notice that my Amazon wish list suddenly has several titles with Native American themes, they are all books that the library system does not currently have. If you would like to give me some, I won't really need them until November, but I don't turn down books.

In the process of searching I found that I could get a free electronic copy of the book that I nearly gave up on. Having it downloaded is one reason I was able to decide to stick with it. Anyway, I read in roughly reverse historical order, and I will review them in the reverse of that, starting with the last one read.

The Myth of Hiawatha and other oral legends, mythologic and allegoric, of the North American Indians, by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1856.

I wanted to know more about the historical Hiawatha, and looking in a folklore book to start didn't bother me, but the foreword was so condescending that I was getting really angry with the book. I decided it would probably get better once it got into the actual stories, which was fairly true, but then he conflated Manbozho (a trickster character, but not Coyote) with Hiawatha, apparently copying someone else's error, and the condescension crept out in other places.

Learning later that, after his half-Ojibwa wife Jane Johnston died, Schoolcraft married a woman who wrote pro-slavery fiction and became estranged from his children with Jane, well, it made a lot of sense. Cannot recommend.

Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America's Road to Empire through Indian Territory, by Paul VanDevelder, 2009.

This was pretty good. It gives the legal history of the policies that ended up being used in Indian treaties, which sometimes is very dry, and the history of specific treaties and land grabs. There are heartbreaking stories, with one especially literal one, when a man who worked tirelessly for his tribe at heavy personal cost was killed when "his heart just unzipped" (those were his son's words), but there is also a glimmer of hope. There are times when judges say "no", and law is upheld.

One of the most interesting things I learned in this book is that the Louisiana Purchase was for waterway rights and rights to make treaties with the Indians, not for the land itself. That's kind of important. The other point it really brought home is that whenever anyone talks a lot about states' rights and federal overreach, they want to do something horrible. They seem to have enough authority on their own for anything that isn't grossly wrong.

Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila, 2011.

This was a great book. There is an easy flow to the reading, it gives the settings well, and you learn a lot. It totally makes sense to read it for Native American history, but WWII history buffs should love it. I have already blogged about this book a couple of times. Links are at the bottom to avoid redundancy, but I want to make the point that there was a lot of food for thought here.

Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement, by Dennis Banks and Richard Erdoes, 2004.

This was also pretty good. Some of that is in comparing it to Russell Means' autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, because there is so much more clarity here. That may be partly due to this book being much shorter, but also Banks does a better job of providing context and keeping things moving along. There is the big picture of AIM, but also trivia that is interesting, like Marlon Brando's support and the role Banks played in trying to get Patty Hearst released.

That makes two really good books and one pretty good book available through the library system, and one kind of horrible one with information that could surely be found elsewhere and better, but at least I didn't have to pay for it or worry about getting it back on time.

And also lots of thoughts. Some of them here:

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

It's Black History Month again

I haven't started my reading yet, as I am finishing up some reading related to dementia, but I have books on the way.

I am writing now because of a question that was asked on Twitter for recommendations on a Black History Month reading list. That is a question I take seriously. I did end up making a few recommendations.

Most of them came from the lists I had assembled for previous months. I can think of books that would be good that I read for different reasons, or before I started doing this. Still, I believe that doing this every year has made a difference for me.

I also noticed a trend in which books felt most important to me.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, Douglas A Blackmon
At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance - A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, Danielle L, McGuire
Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America (2007 edition), Lerone Bennett Jr.

Mainly it's that they are things that are not commonly known.

Blackmon's book is important for everyone who thinks that slavery has been over since 1865, and so there are no excuses for the families who haven't caught up financially since then. There are other factors in that, which Ta-Nehisi Coates covers in "The Case for Reparations", which could also be excellent reading for this month:

On this particular continuation of slavery there is an article by the author that I have seen being passed around as well. I haven't read it yet, but it would be a good introduction, and then the book is still there if you want to read more:

When people object to the existence of a separate history month (often disingenuously), saying it should be taught and integrated all year long, Bennett has the book for you. He not only goes over what was going on with black Americans, from colonial days on, but also the impact on all of society, which was important. You understand the United States better after reading it.

All of that is important, but one of the most important things is that it shows people doing things who are often forgotten. We read about black abolitionists and journalists before we even think of abolition happening. So often we only remember what the white people did, and what was done in a certain period; that's an incomplete picture with gaping holes.

That is a huge part of why McGuire's book is so important. It is much easier to remember the male faces of the Civil Rights Movement, but so much of the organizing and research came from women, and it was going on before it started being televised.

When we erase the work of any group - whether intentional or not - it can perpetuate the notion that only some people can contribute. If enough people accept that it becomes easy for the marginalized individuals to believe it's true. Don't believe it.

Even with Harriet Tubman, whom we remember as a black woman, we frequently forget that she had disabilities: first seizures and sleeping disorders from a head injury, and then arm and shoulder problems from an attack by the conductor and passengers on a train. Her first injury happened because she was a slave, and her second because she was black. There are reminders in knowing that, but also in seeing how much she accomplished anyway.

I could recommend other books too, but those might be the most important ones for right now.

And, since I was thinking about it, here's the full list since I've been doing this.

Time On The Cross, Robert William Fogel and Stanley Engerman
The Slave Community, John W Blassingame
Beloved, Toni Morrison
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Tony Martin
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley
Ralph Bunche: An American Life, Brian Urquhart
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, Ralph Abernathy

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, James H Jones
King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hothschild
Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, Raymond Bonner
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, Wes Moore
Black Like Me, John Griffin Howard

Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus: A Daughter's Civil Rights Journey, Ana Maria Spagna
Mirror to America, John Hope Franklin
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, Douglas A Blackmon
For colored girls who have considered suicide/When the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange
The American Experience: The Abolitionists (video)
The House I Live In (video)

The Quest of the Silver Fleece, W. E. B. Du Bois
Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves, Art T Burton
Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson
To Keep the Waters Troubled: The Life of Ida B. Wells, Linda O McMurray
Countee Cullen: Collected Poems, Major Jackson editor
The Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks and Caanan White
Spies of Mississippi, directed by Dawn Porter (video)
Black Indians: An American Story, directed by Chip Richie (video)

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance - A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, Danielle L, McGuire
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Black Panther: The Complete Collection, Christopher Priest and others
The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, 1965-2010, Lucille Clifton
Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory, Gregory R Nokes
Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America (2007 edition), Lerone Bennett Jr.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Back from hiatus

It feels right to come back now.

I did not get everything done that I would have liked to while I was out, but things did get caught up at the day job, and that is a big relief. Even when the length of time you spend at work is the same, some time takes a lot more out of you.

I am not finished with the one hundred pages of self-examination that I am referring to as "Everything Else", though some good progress has been made. I really meant to be finished with that.

I have told these stories before, but it's been a while. Everything Else has a counterpart, "Everything", that I felt similarly moved to work on once upon a time. When I finished it I had a dream that became my first screenplay. When I finished the very long fan fiction writing, I had a dream that became what initially looked like just my seventh screenplay, except I hadn't written a new feature length screenplay for a while at that point, and now we know it was the foundation for a series of novels.

Based on that, I have been hoping that finishing Everything Else would send me forward again, and this time it would be to the project that would sell. I'm eager for that. However, even without finishing, I have had another dream that's sticking with me.

I do love having something I am excited to work on. Currently, that's actually four things that I am excited about.

The next two books are going to have to wait. I had sort of wanted to get Lisa out by Valentine's Day, but I am not really positioned as a romance writer now, so that's not a huge lost opportunity.  Nonetheless, for that series it will be the first one based in Portland instead of Eugene (there are a couple of OHSU students in it), and I am looking forward to working on it.

I never get the Family Blood books out at their corresponding times. Set from October 31st through November 3rd, Family Blood came out in mid-December. Covering November 3rd through the day after Thanksgiving, Family Ghosts went out on March 31st. And set in June, Family Reunion was published on November 18th. Therefore, with the next installment happening over spring break, it seems very unlikely that it could come out in March, no matter how perfect that might be. (But it will go back to Spruce Cove, and introduce a multi-novel arc that will take us to other countries.)

That's okay. Right now I have one feature screenplay to write, and one television pilot. Doing that means working out characters and fictional communities. For one setting up the rules of magic for this particular setting, but I am also looking at the workings of colleges, and the habits of suburban fathers and rock stars, plus maintaining the daily blogging again and remaining civic-minded.

When I started the daily blogging initially, it was intended to meet a need in terms of covering all of the things I wanted to write about, but it was also to see that I could do it. That was important to see, but this time it was important to see that it is okay to take a break. I'm glad I did it. Nothing broke because of it.

I am going to be really busy for the next couple of months, but I am feeling energized again, and it's a nice change.

Friday, January 08, 2016

On hiatus

I have known for a while that as I am trying to accomplish so many different things, I might find I need to take a break from blogging, and I think I am there. It might have made more sense to do it earlier, but I do wait too long to give myself a break. That's one of the things I'm trying to change.

I don't anticipate it going much longer than a week, but we'll see.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Band Review: Blinking Underdogs

The holidays are over, but I am once again reviewing a band that is not current, because it kind of fits with the Star Wars theme of the week. I read a reference about Oscar Isaac's former band, Blinking Underdogs, and then I liked what I heard, so I'm going for it.

Blinking Underdogs is a ska-punk band formed by students at the University of Miami School of Music. They released their first full-length album independently in 2001. There is also a note from 2001 on their archive page that Oscar has gone off to Julliard so they are taking a break, and Alan (Mills, trombone) has gone also, and it isn't really the same band without horns (it wouldn't be) so they are going to be a different band.

Before I get into the music, I want to say some things about that note. It sounds so familiar, remembering my college days and how every time you ran into some people their band name had changed because of member shifts. These things happen, but also the existence of an archive seems brilliant to me. There are so many bands that I wish I could go back and listen to again, where I am lucky if I happened to pick up the cassette tape back then, that finding that this music has been captured saved is a good thing.

I enjoyed the music overall. My favorite tracks were "Away", "Blue Alishia", and "Trailer Park". "Blue Alishia" may actually be the better song, but I am drawn to the class consciousness and loyalty of "Trailer Park".

Some of the tracks seem to lose strength by being too experimental. I love the intro on "Salvation", and it has some other elements that are really good but feel mismatched in their almost cacophonous blend. Still, these are music students, so some experimentation would be almost mandatory, and with the track that seems to be called "artist", while it sounds very different from the other songs it goes to interesting places. (Some tracks show a strong jazz influence.)

There are more links available that you would expect for a band that has not been together since 2001, though some of them seem hastily thrown up by Star Wars fans. The most useful sites were the archive and AllMusic.

Those are listed below, but I have also done some searches to try and find out the whereabouts of other band members. I got the idea after seeing an interview where Isaac said that the bass player, Nick (Speck, also the one who write the note on the archive) plays for Orgy now. Checking them out, that is a pretty good band, and I may want to do a full review of them later. (With some names you need to be careful on your search parameters.) Anyway, this is what I could find. I hope I got the right people.

Oscar Isaac (vocals, guitar)
Okay, we kind of know what he is doing now, but there is a fan page with a section on music and you could start there, or maybe watch Inside Llewyn Davis:

Nick Speck (bass)
Apparently Orgy isn't his only other band. I will probably get back to him.

Bill Sommer (drums)
Apparently also an author now.

Alan Mills (trombone)
All I could find was that he was also in a band called The Know How, but that came before Blinking Underdogs.

Keith Cooper (sax)
There is a nice bio here with his endorsement of a reed.

Matt LaPlant (guitar)
It looks like he might be doing sound mixing now. Some similar names made finding information on him more difficult.

And here are the Blinking Underdog links: