Friday, March 29, 2013

Band Review: Man On Earth

In the video for “Dirty Little Secret” by the All-American Rejects, various people hold up postcards describing their secrets. Reading the secrets is alternately disturbing and heartbreaking, and it draws a strong emotional response from me. (I said I’d mention the Rejects in every post this week; did you think I wouldn’t back that up?)

In Man On Earth’s “All We Want”, they have something similar going on, where different people have sent in short videos expressing what they want. A few are disturbing and many are heartbreaking, but also a lot of them are really touching, and as the video starts with the spinning globe filled with light, it gives the sense of our connectedness, as humans living on Earth.

In trying to describe Man On Earth, I think the best thing may be to say that there is a gentle passion to them, and yet that sounds like some kind of an entendre, which is not my intent. There is a depth and purpose and caring in the music, but it is not aggressive or in-your-face. It is gentle.

I listened to an interview with a radio station, and when asked to describe themselves, they said “Eclectic experimental rock based music with a commercial accessibility.” I can buy that. They listed influences as Muse and U2. Possibly, though I don’t think they really sound like either of them. Resemblance is tricky though. In some of their slower passages they remind me of Depeche Mode (when Depeche Mode is being slow).

In Man On Earth’s livelier passages, they remind me of Boys Like Girls, except more high-minded. However, if the band named Boys Like Girls focuses on romantic relationships and attraction, and the band called Man On Earth focuses more on the global nature of our relationships and humanity, well, there is a certain symmetry to that.

I’d say a good introduction to the band would be to go to their Youtube channel and play the Music Videos list. This is only six videos, but fairly well done. They do have other music videos on the channel, as well as the interview I mentioned, and tour updates, but these six videos are a decent sampling, and again, all fairly well constructed. I enjoy “All We Want” both as a song and as a video, but in general they do interesting things with the videos, which works well as I feel there is often a kind of cinematic quality to the songs. Their least exciting of the six is “I’d Be Good For You”, but I really like the song.

The other video I should especially call out is “Come In Closer”. This is an animated video made by two 19 year old college students who contacted the band saying they wanted to do it. First of all, what an honor that something you created inspires others to create. Also, the video is curious, dreamlike thing. There is not a complete unity of the style of the animation, but it is really interesting and often gorgeous.

Man On Earth’s music is available through iTunes and Big Cartel. They are also pretty good about posting tour dates, though I found their home page hard to read. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter. And yes, I know about them because they followed me on Twitter.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Band Review: Partners

This is another band that I found on Twitter, but not in the traditional way. Mike Kennerty, of the All American Rejects, recorded their new album, Sixes, and sent a tweet with their Bandcamp link. They do not have a Twitter account at this time, but they are on Facebook.

Among their tags on Bandcamp is “screamo”, which I haven’t really listened to before, but I have read a little about it. Actually, their music reminds me of two separate genres. One is punk, with the intensity and brevity of their tracks. Only one of the songs on Sixes is longer than three minutes (“Indian Giver” at 3:05), and some of them are considerably shorter (the shortest, “Manners”, is only 1:19). Punk lies at the roots of screamo (via emotional hardcore), so that makes sense.

That being said, the songs are not as fast-paced as more traditional punk. Even the faster songs still feel within the realm of rock more than punk, though that can be a fine line. Actually, in some ways Partners reminded me of Crow Black Sky, who call  themselves black metal, though I question that classification. The similarity is due to the aggressive guitar, still with some intricacy in the lines, but hard-driving and emotionally strong. However, Partners are not as growling in the vocals.

Beyond that (punk and South African black metal), I can’t make any other comparisons; Partners are fairly unique among what I have listened to (which is admittedly limited).

I think some of that intricacy is achieved by giving the multiple guitars different jobs, so perhaps one will be firing off in a machine gun staccato while another one will be playing a gentler melody in a higher register, and suddenly you have layers. “Manners” just gallops. Melody is very much achieved via the instruments, where vocals are more shouts to convey the lyrics and the pain (or anger). These songs would be difficult to sing.

There are two albums available on Bandcamp. Jamme has five tracks, and individual tracks can be downloaded free. Sixes, with seven tracks, is available for purchase, but you can set your own price. All tracks can be listened to for preview, and the Sixes tracks can be purchased individually as well as on the album.

I suppose there was another punk similarity when I was listening to “Call It”. The simplicity and brevity of the lyrics (there are only four lines) reminded me of Pencey Prep a little. However, that is not their norm. Sixes opens with “Call It” and goes straight into “Nearly Met”, which has their longest and most complex lyrics, and the is followed by an instrumental, “Plan Is No Plan”.

I should point out, though, that reading through the lyrics has a completely different feeling than listening to them. The lyrics fit the songs, but understanding the emotions only happens by hearing them with the music. It’s the only way that you can pick up on the energy.

I spent most of my listening time with Sixes, but I especially want to call out two tracks on Jamme. I love the interesting structure on “Nothing” and “Noment” is really rocking.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

All about Family Blood

I wanted to write a little bit more about the genesis of the project and, as promised, explain why it’s not as weird as it sounds. If it still sounds weird after this, I don’t know what to tell you.

Just to refresh your memory, the screenplay grew out of a dream I had where Matt Rubano was in the hospital after being attacked by a vampire, and one came to finish him off. I tried to fight the vampire, but failed, and then Tyson Ritter came to the rescue.

The first thing to know is that when I had the dream, I was going to see the All-American Rejects in concert that night, and then a few days later I was going to see a play of The Lost Boys, and I was looking forward to both of those things, so I think the Rejects/vampire mix is actually pretty understandable in that context.

In terms of the content, I have dreams about celebrities fairly often. I think this has gotten more prevalent now that I am usually on Twitter shortly before bedtime. I also dream about people I actually know, so there’s not a celebrity obsession or anything, but it happens.

It is also not that unusal for me to have scary dreams about vampires. When I was younger I had kind of a phobia about being bitten, and I had a lot of vampire nightmares. Some of those have become stories. It’s been a while since I had one of those dreams, but I think having the play coming up was a factor.

In terms of how it played out, that the lead singer was the one who played the heroic lead is completely typical. My failing to fend off the vampire could show that I was feeling insecure or inadequate for something, which is plausible. Why it was Matt in the bed, I have no idea, but two out of three isn’t bad.

The thing is, it was just a little fragment of a dream, and yet it left a strong impression. I couldn’t get it out of my mind and it kept taking more of a shape and a back story filled in for how everyone who was in that hospital got there, and why. 

That was also not unusual. At this point, four out of eight screenplays I’ve written have started as dreams, and there are several more dreams that have characters and a storyline that I may write in the future. If I do buckle down and write that other television pilot, that started as a dream too. So, turning dreams into screenplays is still fairly typical for me.

However, I had just spent seven months working on a script where the main characters were My Chemical Romance.* Was I really going to write about musicians again? I had just decided that I should focus on editing the old stuff that I could actually sell! But the story kept getting more insistent, so the next day I gave up fighting it and wrote 8 pages just like that.

To be fair, that was my easiest set, and the writing had gone very slowly. The MCR one took seven months because it ended up being well over 400 pages. Family Blood is still less than 90 pages, and it took a little over three months to even manage that. It was a very different writing experience.

I’ve been wanting to share it lately, and write things about it, like in Monday’s post. I have been thinking so much about the guys, and how they turned out as characters, and why, and why Matt had to die, and now I have written all of that out and it’s a relief.

I do think it can be commercially viable. It is disadvantaged as a vampire story in that it is neither ultraviolent and bloody nor romantic and sparkly. With the smaller scale, that leans more towards independent film, but it’s not really cynical or weird enough for that either. I still think it’s a good story, and unlike the MCR one, it is not based on characters and settings that are property of others. Here, they are just people, and the story is completely original.

The issue with talking about it then becomes that you end up giving away plot details that could make reading the whole thing less appealing for people, or you give out information that makes it possible for others to copy your ideas. Just putting it out there on the Studio changes the game. It’s saying “read it” and making it possible for people to read it, and it creates a record that this is my work, associated with me.

Right before vacation I was trying to finish so many things, and one of those was finishing the last scene for Family Blood (Maureen’s death) and posting Coulrophobia to Amazon Studio. I was not satisfied with Coulrophobia, but it still felt necessary to get it up there. I thought when I came back I could revise and post the update, and work on my profile and all of those things, but I came back sick and with no energy. Maybe that was a practice run, and I will do a better run with Family Blood, and just go through each screenplay until somebody buys one. (Coulrophobia is still up, but it just passed its option period.)

The other thing with finishing Family Blood was sharing it with some people, which I did via a PDF hosting link. Those only last for 30 days. The people I offered to, I did so because they fit into at least one of three groups:
  • They think Tyson Ritter would be the best boyfriend ever.
  • They expect Nick Wheeler and Dexter to be awesome.
  • They have difficult family relationships, especially in terms of their mothers.
Obviously the first two fit well within the Rejects fan base, but the last one does more than you think. AAR is not as angsty as some bands, but they’re really good, so maybe that’s enough to attract different types of fans. When I sent the screenplay out then, it was targeted. For some it was because I believed they would enjoy it, but for some it was that I hoped it would help them feel better.

Yesterday I wrote about music being healing, especially in terms of helping us not feel alone. Storytelling can be healing too. As it shows us people overcoming obstacles, we remember that obstacles can be overcome. I don’t know how much it accomplished, and I don’t know how much posting it here will accomplish.

I don’t really think this one will sell. I would love that, but I don’t expect it. I would love a lot of people to read it, and that is also not terribly likely. If a few people read it, and they enjoy it, and maybe are encouraged by it, that’s pretty great (especially if I know that it happened). I would have just kept obsessing over it if I hadn’t written it, so that’s not a solution.

So, if you want to read about Nick Wheeler being heroic, as well as his trusty dog Dexter, or you picture Tyson Ritter as an amazing boyfriend, or if your family situation is bad, where you are unvalued or endangered, or if you just like reading, check it out:

*About that MCR thing…so I just posted the last chapter of When The Lights Go Out, and it was going to be emotional anyway, but doing it a few days after the band breaks up exacerbates that. It has been such a part of my life, and will continue to be as I get ready to draw it. I anticipate writing more about that next week. There are things I could not talk about before to avoid spoilers, but now it’s all out there.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Year of Kids In The Street (#1YeAARKITS)

Yes, today is the anniversary of Kids In The Street by the All-American Rejects. I thought perhaps I could actually do a full review of the album. I even believed that this morning. And yet, I am having so many crazy thoughts and feelings, that I don’t know that I could get anywhere with that.

For one thing, look at that hash tag. I don’t think I’ve ever used one in a blog title before. It’s important, because the AARmy (AAR fans) want to make it trend today, to celebrate the band and the album. Honestly, with the Supreme Court hearing today, I don’t think they have a chance. Furthermore, trying to make anything trend is so not my thing. However, they want it, and I love them, and so here I am, participating.

That sentence could be confusing. I do love the Rejects, but also I love these AARmy members that I never even knew existed a few months ago.

I was writing recently about how music connects us. It wasn’t a blog post, oddly enough. Another Twitter contact (I hate “tweep”, but I haven’t found a preferred alternative yet) was collecting people’s musical experiences and their feelings. I’m going to copy two paragraphs in here:

They were very different feelings, but they were both real, and those songs helped me through. They relieved the built up ache inside. They took the pain and made something beautiful. They told me I wasn’t alone. Someone else had written and performed that music that was reverberating through me…

That’s what music does. It connects us. It connects us to ourselves, and the deep and hard to reach places within us. It connects us to the bands. It connects us to the world outside. It connects us to each other. And it helps us heal.”

The thing that had kept coming back to me, but I did not use in that piece, is a quote from C.S. Lewis: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” The connections we make over music can be so powerful, and I think that’s because first we have connected with the music, which told us we were not the only one, and then we connect with someone who had that same connection, and it’s multiplied.

Also, I seem to love pretty easily, so there’s that. Regardless, I love the AARmy, and if they want it to trend, I’ll join in, even if I feel pessimistic and silly.

I have been looking at old blog posts that have mentioned the Rejects, because I have written about them a lot. A lot of them are connected with My Chemical Romance, which brings up more emotions. You see, I also love the MCRmy (some of the same members), who are having a rough week right now, after My Chemical Romance announced their split.

So there are those emotions running rampant, and also there are the thoughts of what this year has been for me – mainly as a writer, but also as a person, and the bands have been a big part of that. This is a big week for me as a writer, and I will delve more into that tomorrow, but one of the things I found that I wrote made me smile:

I don’t think I can write coherently about albums.”

Okay, maybe today, for this one, I can’t, but I have gotten a lot better about writing about music. I might be able to take a crack at it now. But I don’t think I can today.

I wanted to. A couple of people had posted asking what everyone’s favorite KITS song was, and most people had to at least put two, or say they couldn’t choose. I did choose two, and then I kept remembering others. Someone had raised the issue earlier, and I said to just let them take turns, but yes, going over each track individually, and writing what was special and beautiful about it seemed like a good solution. I don’t seem to be able to do it today. Too many feelings.

Also, I just realized I’ve been listening to it wrong. I have the deluxe edition, with four extra tracks. I knew the two demos were extra, but I did not realize that “Drown Next to Me” and “Do Me Right” were not part of the original flow. That changes the whole structure, and now I don’t think I’ve understood it enough. That’s okay. I’ll listen again. I can guarantee it.

So, here I am, as I have so often been before, having written something that was not intended, and that possibly makes no sense. However, I am putting links to some of the other things that I have written about the band. It is not every time I have mentioned them, because that would be ridiculous, but here are some, and a lot of them also mention other bands.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kids in the Street Week

Tuesday marks the one year anniversary of the release of Kids in the Street, the fourth album from the All American Rejects. That makes this AAR week, which means a few things. Monday through Friday I will be posting tracks on Facebook, and probably on Twitter, and the blog posts also will reference them.

I am also adding a new script to Amazon Studios. You can download a PDF to read it from (Rating and recommending it would be lovely.)

The script comes from a dream I had where Matt Rubano was in the hospital from a vampire attack, and another vampire came to finish him off. I tried to save him, but was outmatched. Fortunately Tyson Ritter came to help.

The Wednesday blog post will explain more about that, and why it’s not as weird as it sounds, but for now I want to focus on how the story developed.

Starting with characters who are real people can be weird. Eventually I will have to change the names, even if it is just to Tyler, Nate, Mark, and Curtis, or something like that. For now, I like them being them, but also, they are not. As the characters begin to assert their own voices, influenced by and influencing the story, that is something I find really interesting, and I want to write about it.

For example, it was not really surprising that Tyson in the story can be a little goofy and mischievous, and very sweet. However, one thing that has come through every time he has popped up in a dream is that it is always very comfortable being with him – he is good at setting people at ease. So in the script he understands when Sarah needs distraction, but he also remembers what he learned then and uses it to get her to focus on helping Mike and Chris, which is exactly what she needs to do in that moment.

Nick came through as surprisingly awesome. I mean, it’s not that I thought of him as unawesome, but it became clear really soon that he was going to be the one to fire the killing shot, and over and over he just becomes this take-charge kind of guy when needed, coming through in a pinch. Also, he ended up being the most popular with the ladies. It must be the arms.

Mike is the only one I have actually spoken to in real life, and the overall impression there is he just radiates “good guy”. What was coming out more in the story is his wide knowledge of music and movies and things. He is the one who realizes that they should wait until sunrise, and he is quick to see potential issues because he has taken in so much information and processed it. He is smart, but it manifests more as really good intuition because his understanding is so quick.

It felt like they should all have really unfulfilling jobs, which is why Nick is a UPS driver and Tyson changes oil, but it felt like Mike should be at a music or video store. Initially I thought that wouldn’t work, because then he would be working nights and not free for gigs, but it didn’t go away. So, I decided he had an understanding boss, who is probably a little like the character Tommy Chong played in “That 70’s Show”.

Chris came through as overwhelmingly kind. It’s not that the others are not kind, but there was this quiet depth to Chris where he spoke the least, but just with so much caring every time. That is probably why he ended up as an art student, because he spends so much time observing and is so sensitive.

The best example of this is probably something that doesn’t even happen in the script. After the story ends, my mind keeps going, and I see things in the fallout that would not necessarily make a good movie, but I still feel them. Anyway, after the end there is a point when they are going through Matt’s things, and Sarah’s having a hard time. Mike tries to lighten it a little by asking if she plays bass. She doesn’t, but Chris just quietly touches her shoulder and says, “That’s okay. You can still hang out with us,” and it is perfect.

(And Mike instinctively understands that the items she should keep are Matt’s jacket and iPod, because those are the things that will comfort her most.)

I guess we need to talk about Matt. Matt quickly changed the most, to where the only thing Matt Caldwell has in common with Matt Rubano is that they both play bass and are kind of short. Matt Caldwell is sort of timid, and deferential, and the youngest of the group, where Matt Rubano comes off as more confident, experienced, and smoother with women. I am really grateful they ended up different, because Matt totally dies. Yes, that’s why they are going through his things.

The fact that Matt Caldwell is clearly not Matt Rubano makes me feel a little better about his death, because, you know, then he can be the bass player who works with them when they are successful, and don’t have to deal with vampires anymore, and that’s cool. It still feels pretty bad. It also felt necessary. There was no realistic way that Matt could live.

I think it goes back to the original dream, because I was not able to save Matt on my own. As my viewpoint shifted into that of the protagonist, Sarah, not being able to save Matt would be her worst fear, and it comes true. Tyson is able to help at the hospital, but it is just a temporary reprieve.

Realistically, you need a certain amount of death in a vampire movie. I was initially afraid that Chris and Mike would die too. That didn’t feel right, and I realized it would shift the focus, because it would cloud Sarah’s grief and guilt with Tyson’s, and take away from his ability to be amazingly supportive at the end, which felt necessary. There did still need to be more death though, and that’s when the unfortunate hikers were added.

I was glad for Chris and Mike to live, but it sort of made it worse that Matt died, because then he was the only one, and I don’t want to give the impression that I consider touring crew of the band to be second-class citizens. From a post-story point of view, it is certainly easier to hire another bassist than to replace half the band, but that is small consolation to his devastated sister.

Anyway, if it was the need for the grief to be focused on Matt that saved Chris and Mike, it was likewise Matt’s heroic sacrifice that allowed the others to leave the cave alive. So, I can live with it, largely because I do not believe Matt Rubano’s life will ever depend on my ability to fend off vampires. If I did, though, I would be practicing with a stake right now, because I care.

Aaaaannnnd, I do very easily see a way that he could realistically come back, except it would make things so much worse, and I kind of hate to put Sarah through that, after everything else she’s been through. Still, if there ends up being a good enough story with it, I don’t know. I often think that I am not going to develop an idea, and then do it anyway. I wasn’t going to develop this one. More on that Wednesday.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Band Review: Titors Insignia

Yes, Titors Insignia did follow me on Twitter, but they also specifically messaged me and asked if I would review them, and provided MP3 files without any complaints about waiting in line for a few weeks, so that all won my heart.

After reviewing a lot of more synthesized bands lately, Titors Insignia is very much traditional rock. There are driving guitar chords. There is thumping. Occasionally there is feedback, and possibly even sneering. And, although this is totally not my area of expertise, I think some of it may be suitable for moshing. Maybe “Timewaster” – I mean, if it’s not made for moshing, it’s at least made for driving fast, and “Fair City Riots” definitely has head-banging potential.

It’s not that they don’t ever do anything different. “Lonely Girl” starts off with some lovely strings and then does it’s own thing, where it’s kind of more voice-driven and spoken. It switches between reminding me of Damn Yankee’s “Higher” and Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls”, if that makes any sense.

On the other hand, “The Chancer” stands apart from everything else. It starts with a kind of otherworldly intro, and then morphs into a tune that insists on dancing without being at all clubby.

In addition, “Freedom Fighter” has a quiet energy to it. “Break the Chains” is more forceful, but both of them are powerful pleas for change, and improvement.

So, they can do different things, but it keeps coming back to powerful rock. Funk and groove gets mixed in, and I would say there are even some little disco callbacks on “Bring it On Home” (I could be kidding myself), but it keeps going back to powerful rock. There is an overall feeling of strength throughout.

This strength may come from the character of the members. In addition to some of the messages in their songs, there is a larger commitment to society, where “I Need the Real Thing” is a charity single, benefiting Models of Diversity, and they are working on donating “Freedom Fighter” to ABF (Army Benevolent Fund, for soldiers).

I just want to give a few more callouts. Let’s mention the rolling intro on “Set in Stone”; “I Don’t Love You”, a song that has a similar energy to “Rock and Roll, Part 2” (which makes me want to roller skate to it); and “A Town Called Yesterday”, which I just really like. I don’t always have an analysis.

A good starting point, however, is probably “Beg Plead and Pray”. As hard-rocking as it is, the emotion really comes through, and it sticks with you. (Though, I do feel like “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” would be really good in concert.)

Although the coverage on Soundcloud is pretty good for listening, and the availability on CDBaby is pretty good for buying, you must go to Youtube and check out “Three Lions on Fire”, a song for England’s World Cup. It doesn’t appear to be anywhere else, and they seem to be having a lot of fun with the video, though I’m sure it’s more meaningful if you know anything about the team.

For other links, Facebook does a pretty good job of showing upcoming dates, under Events. They do seem to play fairly frequently, though that is around Manchester and Staffordshire.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Band Review: Mutineers

Mutineers is another band that I discovered when they followed me on Twitter. Formed by four drinking mates from Manchester, their Facebook page describes them as melancholic indie pop, which I initially read as melodic indie pop.

I was thinking about the melodic part, because there is a different quality to their guitars. I was wondering if “jangle” would be the right term, and some of that definition seems to be guitar driven melodies, and having a bit higher sound, which may derive from the using the upper register strings, or from using 12-string guitars.

I don’t know what they are doing equipment-wise, but yes, melodic, and probably a higher register. Actually, one of their related groups is Echo and the Bunnymen, and that seems pretty apt. Think of the accompaniment on “Lips Like Sugar”. (Listen to “The Auctioneer” or “Stick Together” for a good example of this.)

Or you could just start listening to the Mutineers on your own. Their album Friends, Lovers, Rivals is available on Spotify, so you can preview it, and then purchasing can be done via Amazon or iTunes.

Will you find them to be melancholic? Some of the other bands that they remind me of a little are The Smiths and The Cure, so perhaps there is some tendency towards depression there. That feeling is most prominent on “Landlord’s Daughter”. Otherwise, the tempos are often upbeat, and while many of the songs contain serious subject matter, there is an intelligence present that often turns to wit, and it keeps them from being dreary. They very kindly make all lyrics available here:

Okay, they are fairly heavy, but don’t little phrases like “I’m naive to your alchemy” and “cat-suit kamikaze” pique your interest in a way that distracts you from being depressed?

One of the most interesting lyrics for me is from “Hyde Road”:

She said “you can’t see me without my make-up on”
I thought you’ve never looked better

First of all, it’s completely realistic, and it can just be a bit of dialogue from a common frustration. It also works on so many levels. Not only does it represent a desire for greater intimacy thwarted by superficiality, but it carries the message that the superficial is not needed, and whatever it is being used to compensate for, stop it, it’s a waste.

I may be reading more into “Alone In Our Ideas” than there is, because there is a phrase “just kids” that reminds me of the Patti Smith autobiography, which puts some emotions there, but even with the song’s own title – alone in our ideas – how evocative of a phrase is that?

My favorite not mentioned may be “You Used to be Okay”, but the other point I should probably make is that I keep liking the album better as I listen to it more, so I recommend listening more than once. Three times is probably about right. See if they don’t get under your skin.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why have special history months, part 2

I didn’t really spell it out in the first post, but I hinted at how these months we have are about our own history; they are not random. Reading about the history of France would be interesting, and would probably reveal some things about human nature, because history is great like that. Reading about Native Americans or African Americans or Asian Americans, and reading about female Americans, gives us the extra parts to the backstory of how we got here, and often they are not pretty.

The purpose of that is not to say white people are bad, or men are bad, or that America is bad. The purpose of learning more should be that we can have more sophisticated views, not that we get more simplistic.

The benefits of these readings that I posted about Monday are still kind of specific to issues along racial lines, but there are two big general points that have been coming to me during this reading.
One is that the same people can do both good and bad things. That seems kind of obvious, but it is something we have a hard time with.

This has been coming to me a lot in relation to rape. Yes, the logical place to go is Steubenville, but there was another piece I had read recently about rape culture in India, and a woman refers to her long-time abuser as a good father and husband and member of the community. The temptation is to think how could he possibly really be that good, and that’s a complex question.

Some people are good at compartmentalization. Some people are good at deciding it’s okay to victimize some people and not others. Some people have lines that they won’t cross, but perhaps more due to social convention than strong conviction, and so if the temptation level goes up, or the possibility of getting caught goes low enough, maybe it pushes them over. Russell Means worked with a man who treated him pretty well, and was good about a lot of things, but they started getting some donations for a project and the guy took off with the funds. Does it undo everything that came before?

So if we look at the conflict between Indians and settlers, the people who are looking to make a better life for themselves are not inherently evil, and the people trying to preserve their own way of life are not inherently evil, but they both do some pretty bad things. To be able to look at that, and move beyond simplistic thinking about good and bad isn’t just helpful for our understanding of history – it is vital for understanding of right now. We need to know that people we like and love can do bad things, and we don’t have to stop liking them, and it doesn’t mean letting them get away with it. We need to accept our own capacity to do evil, and know that not everything we want is automatically right. There is some sophistication there.

Going back to the book on the Siletz, one point that struck me was that many of the early farming settlers coexisted pretty well with the Indians. When the prospectors came in, whose goal was to pull a lot of money out of the area and leave, then things got worse.

On one level you would think the temporary residents should be less of an issue than the permanent residents if it’s all about land, but that’s not how it played out. The people who were trying to build a life and homes actually did better than the people who were just there for money. Having previously noticed the degrading effects of greed, this is not too surprising, and it leads to another way in which this information is important for everyone.

Things I see through this reading is that the laws aren’t helpful if they are not enforced equally. I see that there are peole who were racist, but still practical and respectful of the law, so that helped. I see other people who meant well, but could not be effective because there were too many others who meant badly, and you see how many things can go wrong, but also that sometimes persistence pays off, and there are stories of triumph and hope throughout.

Let’s go back to that point I keep going back to in The New Jim Crow, that the wealthy used racial issues to divide the poor, who should have been able to unite over common economic interests. We’re still doing this one.

Yes, people of color are disproportionately prosecuted for crimes, but the justice system is still skewed towards wealth. Racism is a problem, but not the only problem.

People in power are still trying to gain support by setting up divisions among the lower class, which is growing. Now they tell you it’s makers and takers, which is still technically colorblind, though they manage to get a lot of race-baiting in. It’s a lie though. Illegal immigrants aren’t sitting around collecting welfare; they are picking crops in 100-degree heat, and people collecting food stamps are working at Wal-mart with unpaid overtime and no health benefits. Sure, there are people who use credit cards incorrectly, but more than 60% of US bankruptcies are caused by medical debt, and student debt is crushing more and more people now.

People find it just as easy now to decide that other people are the problem as they did to decide that slavery was right, or that forcing Native Americans onto reservations was right, because the other side was somehow less. And there were people who benefitted, and they got their homesteads, sure. However, one thing I know from other reading is that usually to succeed as a homesteader you need to already have some funds, and so you could probably already afford to buy land.

So then, and now, there is always this trend towards greater aggregation of wealth, and now seems like a particularly bad time for it. Greed does bad things to societies and individuals. Racism, and ignoring of history, allows those skilled at manipulation to cover their greed.

The thing I hate most of all is how often the manipulated feel so righteous about it, and I feel great inadequacy in having made this point at all – that this needs to be clearer or more elegant, and I can’t seem to manage it. But of course, my point is for people to read more, and if they do that, maybe they’ll get those points on their own. However, there is one thing that keeps coming to mind, so I’m going to end on these words from Pastor Niemoller:

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2012 Native American Heritage Month

Yes, I started late, but I also had a harder time with the reading this year. Some books are more dry and academic, and slower reads, which I expect, but then being ill really slowed me down. Because of that, I am actually not finished with one of the books, and yet this still seems like the time to write about it. Some of that may be issues with that particular book, which I will get into.

The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon, by Charles Wilkinson

This may have ended up being the book that resonated the most, due to it being local. I have been some of these places, the author taught at U of O, and a lot of it is just close to the heart. That being said, it may not be the best written, with the tone varying widely. In the beginning when they are covering the tribal life before the arrival of white explorers and settlers, it is really dry and slow-moving. It picks up in interest as we get more to the initial period of conflict and removal, and then as we get to the fight for reinstatement and modern day, the text really comes alive but starts jumping around a lot.

That being said, in addition to value for Oregonians, there are some really important inclusions here. The Siletz tribe were terminated and then reinstated, and the book does an excellent job with covering the costs of termination, as well as providing hope that it does not have to be permanent. There is a lot of good news in the book about what can be accomplished, as well as the obstacles. And even if it at times does make the tone uneven, there are real benefits to having an author who is passionate about the subject.

One thing that was a little disappointing, though not a flaw of the book, is that it mentions a short film that was made by the Siletz in 1977 as they were working on reinstatement, and I was not able to find it anywhere. I would like to see that.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, by S. C. Gwynne

This is probably the best written. My only complaint is that at times the author seems a little condescending, and that’s towards everyone – not just the people he is writing about, but also the reader. That does not go through the whole book, and the book covers an amazing scope. You do learn about the Comanche, but also other tribes, and how the area was settled, and the rise of the Texas Rangers. There is a stunning amount of research, and a lot of interesting information to be found.

The Mototcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America, by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

This was my Latin American entry, and it sort of falls short for history, because it is really more of a travelogue. At times it hints at the history and the resulting present situation, but it is ultimately pretty light. However, if you want to know more about Che Guevara, I think it is an essential starting point, and the descriptive language is often beautiful. My translation was by Ann Wright, and I thought she did a great job.

Reclaiming Their Voice: The Native American Vote in New Mexico & Beyond, by Dorothy Fadiman

This is my video contribution, a short (about 40 minutes) documentary of efforts to increase voter participation among the Laguna people of New Mexico. In light of recent attempts at voter suppression, this seems particularly important. The first round got several people interested, but registrations had not been processed and there was a shortage of provisional ballots, so many people could not vote. That could have been a permanent setback, but they came back, found ways of resolving issues, and increased voter interest by focusing on a local issue. I still think every state should move to vote by mail, but working within the existing system is important, and some people really made a difference here.

Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiograph of Russell Means, by Russell Means and Marvin J. Wolf

Okay, here’s the one I haven’t finished yet. I am on the last section, and I should have it done this week.

My first year in college I was taking a communications/media class that I skipped a lot, which may have been part of why I read the entire book, not just the assigned chapters. (I did that in other classes too, where I did attend, so it may just be a nerd thing.) One of the extra things I read was an essay by Russell Means. It was fascinating, but also bitter, and I was not sure if I could trust what he was saying, especially his criticism of other AIM members. So later, when he started an acting career, I thought maybe he had mellowed. Maybe not.

That’s still how I find him. Some things he writes could be true, but there are things that are at least exaggerations, if not completely false, and so I find him an unreliable narrator. If I liked him better, it might help, but while I care about him, I don’t like him. He is so quick to label others as sellouts, phonies, liars, crooks, and thugs, and he seems to do it with no sense of irony when he is by his own account doing many of the same things.

This is important, because many of the actions he takes are things that would normally be wrong.  There are extenuating circumstances where you can see doing something extreme, but to make that allowance I want to have more faith in his judgment, and I can’t. He complains about things that are awful the same way he complains about things that are really petty.

Contrasting it with Vine Deloria, whom Means considers a friend, Deloria says a lot of harsh things about white people, but because he seems pretty meticulous in his research, and to be taking it all less personally, that helps me to not take it personally and focus on what he is saying.

Reading Means is more like reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, except that with Malcolm there was a sense that he was cut off if the midst of change, and we don’t get to see how he would have turned out. With Means, he had a lot of time and opportunity, and he had some real gifts of intellect and charisma, and so there is this frustration that he could have been so much more. And he was a lot, I’m not denying that, but I still feel some loss. And yes, there is plenty to be bitter about, but it just doesn’t help.

In some ways I feel like the reason I am summing up my reading without finishing it is that I have demoted him to just regular reading, and not history reading. I think it’s really more that this just feels like the time to write about it, and that in the blog I need to move on, but my feelings are all roiled here.

So, what are the key lessons from this round of reading? Actually, a lot of that has gone into yesterday’s post and will go into tomorrow’s post, on a more general level. Specifically, I have been thinking about the isolation.

If we were going to look specifically for colorblind solutions to racial problems, my vote would be for working against poverty. Many of the more insidious results of racism come down to economic inequality, which also functions brilliantly to perpetuate those results and to perpetuate the racism, and that focus on poverty would include strengthening education.

However, if we were addressing poverty, we would probably focus on urban first, and it would be easy to completely forget about what is happening on the reservations. We have done too good a job of hiding the Indians, making it really easy to ignore their problems, including things like this:

Having read this article before watching Reclaiming their Voice just made it resonate that much more. Who courts the Native American vote? Okay, there are weird things happening there on the Republican side now, with more of a focus on keeping minorities from voting than gaining their votes, but still, how many Democrat campaigns pay attention? And this isn’t just about the presidential election. Governors, senators, and house members, on the state and federal level, all matter, but they need to believe that votes can be gained or lost to care. The Siletz did a lot of work on getting their reinstatement and the new land and the casino, but they needed the cooperation of elected leaders to make it work.

So, voter registration and engagement is something that Indians need to do, and really all people need to do. For non-Indians, I guess my first thought is just to be more aware. Don’t let them be out of sight, out of mind. Read. Talk to people. Reach out.

Linking to the last two summaries for suggestions of reading and viewing material.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why have special history months?

I recently learned that March is Women’s History Month. Since I am still finishing up my Native America Heritage reading for November 2012, and then will need to start my Black History month reading for February 2013, I am not sure if I am going to observe this one. My next round of reading will involve women’s issues, though it is not specifically historical, so maybe that will count. Also, just now I wondered, and looked, and found that May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Regardless of my own issues with keeping up (which I could probably resolve if I would pick just one or two books instead of four or five plus supplemental video), obviously, I find value in doing this. There are people who don’t, and I want to take a moment to address that.

I have recently come across two specific complaints. One was that we shouldn’t keep dividing people into groups. We should just study history. The other was using exaggeration to point out how ridiculous it was by asking why stop there? Why not months for each country?

To be fair, if people would make a point of reading books about all of the different countries there could be a lot of good derived by that. However, the purpose of these months is to get a better understanding of our own history.

There are many noble and courageous acts in thehistory of the country, and there is also lying, theft, and genocide. That’s uncomfortable, but the point of looking at that isn’t to make anyone feel guilty for things that other people have done. The point needs to be to understand where we are now. That’s what history does. It provides us with context and it can help us predict how things will turn out and guide us to better outcomes.

If we were truly a post-racial society, we might not need that so much. If you think we are there, I refer you to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Pretending that race doesn’t matter when it does still matter has horrible consequences, and if you truly do want peace, and equality, then you need to have your eyes open to various means of oppression.

Here are some recent items that make me feel that awareness months need to be more widely observed:

Philadelphia Magazine’s “Being White in Philly” article
Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover illustration on the housing recovery
Zerlina Maxwell getting rape threats due after suggesting that we should tell men not to rape.
Female debaters getting rape threats for having opinions.
“Mike & Molly” joking about Indian alcoholism
Poppy Harlow’s first reaction to the Steubenville conviction being sympathy for the rapists.

So, what are some of the things that we can get from studying the histories of specific groups?

One thing that I would hope we can get is some empathy. I was recently reading about generational trauma, where you have psychological trauma that was visited on one generation showing up in their descendents, because you get a mindset where there is this background of horror and hopelessness that is hard to shake. It was something that came up with Holocaust survivors, but also with many American Indians.

This makes sense. Without the gas chambers, there was still the vilification, there was deliberate extermination, there was isolation and disruption, there was the constant loss every time they would get settled, and then someone would want the new land, plus frequent attempts at erasing the identity which involved beatings, loss of language, and separation from family. So when you read Sherman Alexie and the problem with the reservation is the lack of hope, then it kind of makes sense.

Reading the histories can make people think a little, so that when someone mentions Frederick Douglas forgiving his former owner, that instead of saying “For giving him shelter and food?”, that maybe they will realize that taking people who were feeding and clothing themselves, and kidnapping them into forced labor and separation from families, is not really a favor. (No, that’s not the only reason that CPAC made the list.)

I would also hope that increased study could give a better perspective on what different lifestyles are like. First of all, you should know when you have it good, and maybe part of that is knowing about these backstories of abuse and poverty, and also the genetics and heredity and dietary changes that have caused alcoholism to be a real problem for Native Americans, you don’t turn that into a cheap joke.

One thing that I really believe about humor is that it works among equals, and it works to joke against power, but power joking against the powerless is nasty, and “only a joke” is not a defense for that.

There’s another aspect that has become clear to me recently. When we talk about the importance of having black dolls, for example, or that you can see minorities represented on television, we generally look at the importance of that for the minority. It is important for people of color to see themselves represented, but it occurs to me that it is also important for white people to see people of color represented, and not just fulfilling stereotypes.

Let’s go back to that “White in Philly” article. The concern was that white people were feeling like a minority and yet afraid that if they talked about it they would be considered racist. However, at least one referred to black people just sitting on their porches smoking weed, which does sound really racist. However, it is easy to believe racist stereotypes if that is all you see. When you are introduced to many black people, and Mexicans, and every other ethnic group, it is harder to hold these stereotypes.

Now, part of the history that we have built up is that even without segregation being legal it often exists in de facto form, because we live in neighborhoods and attend schools and work in businesses that aren’t very diverse. However, books can introduce us to people too, and we can widen our minds that way, which will perhaps prepare us for actual contact.

I have one more point for today, and I am not even sure it fits in here, but again, I’ve been thinking about it. It’s about our own histories.

One of the books that I read this round was about local tribes, and so there was a lot that was familiar there. Some of the events are things I actually remember, and there are familiar names, and places. One thing is that I now know why the casinos are in Grand Ronde and Lincoln City – how that land was originally selected for the reservations, and how it got divided later, and what went into putting them there.  This book was about the Siletz, who have the Lincoln City casino, Chinook Winds.

I was just at the Grand Ronde (that’s the name of the location and of the tribe) casino, Spirit Mountain, a few months ago. One of the musicians we were going to see was a member of another tribe, and one of the people in my group had just learned that she had Native American ties as well.

In her case, there were issues with family separation and divorce and religious isolation that led to there being a lot of things that she didn’t know about her background, and was starting to learn. If her reasons are a bit more unique, her situation is not.

How many children who were sent to boarding schools and forbidden to speak their native tongues never made it back to their family? How many children who got moved into foster care got out of the system without knowing who they were any longer? Many things that were done through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, through slavery, and through other social services have been disastrous for families, and therefore disastrous for society (which then tends to be kind of quick to condemn the families for being broken).

I believe knowing personal history is important, as well as knowing our collective history, and we find bits of ourselves in the larger study.

This is already lengthy, and coming at it from a completely different perspecitve there is still more value in these reading months. So, I believe tomorrow I am going to cover my recent reading, and then Wednesday we will look from that other perspective, and I will try and blow some minds.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Band Review: Bauer

And Bauer also followed me and I followed back. That’s quite a few of these. It kind of works for me.

One reason I am reviewing Bauer now is that there is another musician trending, Baauer, who has a song that is associated with an internet meme that is all ridiculous, and I tend to look badly on it as my first hearing of it was people actually from Harlem not appreciating that the name of something that is a real part of their history has been used this way.

The point being, I don’t want people to hear of Bauer, and think “Oh stupid Harlem Shake thing.” Bauer has been pretty gracious about the whole thing, but I still want to do my part. I will start by taking you to their Tumblr:

Now this is going to be my big criticism of them. Although the navigation buttons on the side make it the best organized Tumblr I have ever seen, it is still a Tumblr, and not great for reading or navigating. It works best for showing upcoming gigs (they are based in Manchester), but you can confirm that their music is available on iTunes, Amazon, and 7Digital.

Tumblr also says that you can preview the new album on Spotify. This is true, but searching on Bauer did not work well. I had to use the album title, Sleeping Giant, and then it came up through the radio. Their Youtube channel is pretty good too, though mainly with multiple versions of the same songs:

Because of my starting there, the songs that are most familiar to me are “Change Forever”, “Sky Turn Black”, and “Connected”. This is interesting for me because I was thinking of Bauer as mellow, but still upbeat, and then looking over an explanded playlist some of the track titles seem more discouraging.

To be fair, it’s not that these songs are super optimistc – there is standing in the rain, and stubborness, and the sky turning black – however, there is also a sense of determination. I can turn the sky black! I’m going to get myself connected! Maybe I can change your mind! So, yes, there is a definite touch of melancholy, but they’ve got some grit for the hard times too. Actually, “Shotgun” feels a lot more fun than it should be, looking at it lyrically. “Starting Again” feels very upbeat too. Maybe that’s the point. You have to start again, but you can do it and you are going to do it!

Bauer has an interesting sound, especially due to the vocals. The voice is kind of androgynous, but tonally rich, reminding me of Everything but the Girl, or Yaz, with the addition of plenty of synthesizer and an undercurrent of longing. Perhaps in keeping with this influence from the early 80’s, they have done a surprisingly touching cover of Fiction Factory’s “Feels Like Heaven”.

As interesting as the voice is, there is some really beautiful music from the instruments as well. This makes me glad that they have some well defined intros, where you can hear some of the delicacy and intricacy before the singing starts. “Don’t You Move” is an excellent example of this, with a really arresting intro, and “Nowhere to Turn” is musically beautiful throughout. There is generally a soft sound, but it takes a harder edge on “Get It Right”, and yet they consistently sound like Bauer.

This may be a shift, as there are some other albums on Spotify Radio that seem to be Bauer, but sound quite different. It could be a change in direction, which would be fine, or it could be an issue with categorization – and it would not be the first time I’ve run into that on Spotify. What I can say is that I feel completely comfortable recommending Sleeping Giant.

Edited to add: Bauer confirmed that Sleeping Giant is their first album, and that the other albums are by a Dutch band. This makes a lot more sense. I'm not recommending the Dutch band.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Band Review: Face the King

So yes, this is another band that followed me on Twitter, and I followed back. This is a good time to cover them because they are working on a new album (You, Me, & the Sound, of which the title track is already available) and have recently announced that they are joining with an anti-bullying initiative, and so are looking for stories.

The have eight previous tracks available. According to Spotify 3 are from 2009, and then there was a 5-track release in 2011, The Burning & The Falling Down.

I like the other tracks. “Descender” is a short piece – less than a minute long – but it is beautifully written. However, there is something about “The Burning & The Falling Down” that really grabs a hold of me. It starts with an interesting tempo on the intro, and it just builds in emotion and passion. Honestly, I feel like I am not getting the whole of it, like there are references that I’m missing. It feels like there is a lot to the song.

Actually, in a possibly contrroversial statement, that I hope no one will take in the wrong way, it kind of reminds me of what U2 can be like when they stop being pretentious and just rock. You know, if that happened.

Based just on “You, Me, & the Sound”, Face the King may be moving in more of a rock direction, as the driving beat is the first thing that grabs your attention. In many of the older tracks, what you notice more is the plaintive quality. However, the emotional depth in the new material is still there, and of course, that’s only one track.

One thing that I love about the site is they have a player built into the bottom where you can play various tracks, and navigate through them. That worked very well.

The free download of the new track did not work well. I tried via both Reverbnation and the email list, and at first I could not download, and then the file wouldn’t play. The band does sell their music directly, but The Burning & The Falling Down is available on Amazon as well.