Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Creative Energy

I had written recently about how time was a concern, because there are so many things that I want to write and draw and learn and do, and it seems impossible. Stumptown gave me two really good perspective checks on that.
The first one was that this is normal. I got to have conversations with both Mike Russell and Adrian Wallace. They were both cartoonists from my time at University of Oregon, and they are both still doing lots of cool things, including some collaborations. One thing that came out in each conversation is that there are projects where they don’t know when they will be done, or when they will be restarted.
Part of that is because comics are highly collaborative. There are times when you will need to wait on someone. They may be busy, just like you are busy, because everyone is working on multiple things.
That was reinforced over and over. Matt Bors has a book out, and is working on fulfillment, which has some Kickstarter obligations, but his regular editorial cartoons are still due. Becky Cloonan self-publishes, but also does work for DC and Dark Horse. That list could go on and on. Some of it is that often this work doesn’t pay well, so they either have day jobs, or just work a lot of jobs. Some of it is probably also where I find myself, in that it seems that the more ideas I work on, the more ideas I get. (Plus, I have a day job too.)
I found it refreshing. First of all, okay, I’m normal. Periodically getting a perspective check is helpful.
In addition, I think a lot of my affection for musicians and writers and artists is because they are constantly partaking in the joy of creation. They have a spark to them. I think they are happier. I know all the stereotypes of the tortured artist – if you don’t have deep pain as your creative force, you are bound to find some as you try and make your vision a reality – but there is such satisfaction in doing it!
I had been thinking anyway about how so many creative types create in multiple ways. I write screenplays and blogs (and now comics, which will involve drawing), but I also write songs. That’s pretty normal. Usually there is something you do more, or you’re better at, but you don’t get only one type of idea.
I was thinking about that, and then one of my Twitter contacts, Ksenia Anske (@kseniaanske), posted this:
“It's hard to walk when your legs are wobbly, but you learned. It's hard to write when your words are wobbly, but you'll learn. KEEP AT IT”
The vast majority of us learn to walk, because it’s expected. It’s just something that we do. What if we felt this way about creativity? What if everyone learned some way to express themselves, and followed through on it, and then found themselves leaning towards other art forms too? I know not everyone can make a living at it, but I think a lot of them could find the energy, and the joy, and the healing.
But Gina, if lots of other people started writing screenplays, wouldn’t that decrease your odds of selling one? I don’t know, my odds are already low. I do not doubt that more people writing and singing and designing would make for a happier and more beautiful world. I will always take that.
So, that was one epiphany, though it’s kind of a long and messy one. The other is that it occurred to me, as I was thinking about how tired I was, and how much there is that I want to do, the worst thing that could happen to me would be chronic-fatigue syndrome.
Yes, I am aware that there could be worse things than that, and without even trying I already have a partial list. The point was, I can’t let myself keep being this tired. I don’t have any horrible illnesses or injuries holding me back now; if I’m feeling horrible, it’s because I’m not taking care of myself.
I know, I find myself here over and over again, needing to be better about sleep, and nutrition, and exercise, which are all such time-consuming things and time is already so precious. They’re important though. I don’t write much when I’m this tired. I dream better when I get adequate sleep, which is an important part of my creativity. Also, I like myself better, which is valuable in many ways. So, I start over again, remembering that success is getting up every time you fall.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Greetings from Stumptown!

Right now, my brain is Comics! Comics! Comics! Some of that is having been at Stumptown Comics Fest this weekend, but there’s also the MOOC and some other stuff going on. However, for the other stuff, there will be more to say next week than this week, so this week will focus on the Comics Fest and a couple of epiphanies I had there.
I believe most of my regular readers are not really into comics, so perhaps a good starting point is to give you some idea of what attending the fest is like. I know I haven’t settled on a regular schedule yet, but I will be reviewing more comics and at some point you may just decide it’s worth looking into.
The first thing I need to do is give kudos to the organizers for a fantastic job. I remember when it was just a bunch of tables set up in one conference room, and as much as it has grown and improved, everything seemed to run amazingly smoothly. That didn’t happen by accident. They put in a lot of hard work, they arranged for more volunteers, and more time than they needed for starting out, and for the time I was there, everything seemed to work really well. (I got there at 9:00 AM Saturday, and left around 1:30 PM.)
I think some of that quality has to be responsible for the great turnout of exhibitors. Yes, locally we have an embarrassment of riches, but there were people who traveled to be here too, and there were some pretty prestigious names, and clearly they believe in the value of this fest.
We start at entering the Oregon Convention Center, easily accessible by MAX, Streetcar, and Bus 6. The center is vast. I was glad that I was at the volunteer orientation the night before to kind of get the feel of it. There were several other events going on that day, including the Gathering of the Guilds (workers in glass, metal, beads, wood, and weaving), a ceramics exhibit (I guess they don’t have a guild), and a dance thing that I think was a multi-age competition, but I am not sure. Fortunately, there were signs all over, with both posters for individual events, and signs for the center point out where various conference rooms and meeting rooms would be.
Tickets could be purchased in advance, but if not it had to be done at the venue box office. This did confuse some people, and it was sort of a pain because the box office was on a different level than the fest, but you could kind of see where you needed to go, and hey, when I was a kid, riding escalators was a treat. Printing your tickets at home could be seen as more convenient, but most people seemed to feel the regular tickets with the Dark Horse lanyard were cooler, and I tend to agree.
Now that you are ticketed and ready to go, you will see that the fest takes up both sides of the area. On one side, behind the Information/Registration booth, are the conference rooms, where the panels and workshops happen. There were amazing options. You could find information on the business aspects, history, storytelling, and drawing workshops, as well as the ever important portfolio evaluations.
I attended Wonder Woman in Bondage, which I guess was more psychological in nature, but I thought it would be most useful while I finish up this Gender through Comics class. Honestly, I should have planned more time and attended more. Some of them sounded really great. However, I’ve been kind of overdoing it lately (which I will probably get into more Wednesday.) However, this was my first workshop, and I sort of increase my participation each year, so maybe next year.
Across from the conference rooms you had the exhibition hall. The thing you need to understand here is that if I counted right, there were over 200 exhibitors, and yet lines, moved, navigation was easy, and the space was used really well. Stumptown isn’t glamorous like San Diego. There were no movie or television stars there. These are artists and writers and vendors. I believe the most famous person there was Bill Willingham (Fables).
There is also less of the pageantry. There were some costumes. I think I saw 7 adults in costume, and probably twice that many kids. Comic-themed t-shirts were more common. However, some of that could have been timing, and some of them I just may not have realized they were costumes. Like the couple with red and yellow face paint, or the woman with black lace wings, or the Na’vi, I was pretty sure those were costumes.
Now, with the guy in army fatigues, or the natty 30’s style vest and hat, or the girl in polka dot sundress and blue hair, those could be characters or that could just be Portland. People totally dress like that here. One my way home I passed a clown walking near Pioneer Courthouse Square. That’s not the Comics Fest; that’s just Portland.
The point is, there are things the Stumptown is, and things that it isn’t, but I really like what it is:  well-done, comics-centric, friendly, and layered like matryoshka. The more you open it up, the more you find.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Band Review: Summertime Dropouts

When the Summertime Dropouts started following me on Twitter, and I followed back, most of their tweets were about various places accepting their “Full Time Cutie” video. Most of them were shows and channels I had never heard of, but when you are trying to get exposure, every new acceptance is a small victory.
Behind schedule as always, I finally got around to listening to the song and watching the video this week, as I started reviewing their music in general. Similar to the Breakdown, there were context dependent reasons why that one did not work for me. Differently, I still really enjoy the band overall.
For me the issue with “Full Time Cutie” is that it doesn’t sound real. I’m spending a lot of time worrying about teenagers now, especially “alternative” ones, and that song just doesn’t ring true. I could blame it on a label, but from an interview it looks like Josh Stoll wrote many of these songs several years before the album, Rewind, was even made. It’s not that they didn’t change anything, but that was their starting point, and maybe things looked different then.
Regardless, that is just one song, which, for all my cognitive dissonance, is still pretty catchy, and I like everything else on the album more. It has heart, while still being really fun, and after listening to it I think I get what “pop punk” means. I needed that.
I think part of my more positive response is those years in between. All of the band members have been in other bands with other people, and that dues paying is ultimately necessary. From my other reading, everyone seems to need to go through at least a few bands before they find the right combination. You learn a lot from that, and from the continued presence on the scene.
Also, they really do seem funny and good-natured. On their Youtube page, check out their craft corner video where they teach you how to make jean shorts. They’re goofy, but they’re also pretty clever with it. I like that. And I think they would be good in concert, which I value.
So, for songs I like better, I think “Amie” might be my favorite. One thing that works well on Rewind is that there are two different versions if “1999”, and I think comparing the two gives you a good idea of their range. Incidentally, with “1999” and “Get Lost” they remind me a little of Boys Like Girls, though more punk (while still being pop).
I also like “Getaway” quite a bit, and for that I need to call out one more thing I admire about them, which is their fun and creative merchandising. “Getaway”, about taking off for the beach, has a line “Work on my tan with cheap crappy lotion”, and they actually sell Cheap Crappy Lotion. I’m not tempted to buy it, but it’s a cute idea, and some of the other products just give you a feel for the personality of the band, and it’s a positive feeling.
You can get Rewind on their site or through Amazon now. The second album, Be Kind, Rewind, will be out digitally next week. Check them out!

Edited to add:

After posting I had a nice Twitter exchange with the Summertime Dropouts. One thing they clarified is that 
Be Kind, Rewind is a commentary track for Rewind that they had made earlier, and some fans requested it for release. Also, while some of the songs on Rewind were written earlier, all lyrics were re-written. Mainly we talked about "Full Time Cutie". A lot of their fans listen to the song, and feel like that's them. It does make me look at the song differently, and their songs have, in general, been with me all weekend. 

It was cool to have the additional information, but also to see their responsiveness. Again, I like them better now, and I hope they do well.

It does make me wonder about the possibility of incorporating interviews into the reviews, or at least submitting questions before I post. I suspect that would require not always running behind schedule, but it's something to think about.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Band Review: The Breakdown

I was dreading writing this one, because initially the problem was that I want to like them, and I couldn’t point to anything specifically wrong with them, so it felt like I was going into a faint praise situation, and I’d at least like to be passionate. I think I have more of a finger on it now, though. That’s why I always try and go through every song at least three times.
My initial impression of The Breakdown is that they just weren’t deep enough. I believe they followed me on Twitter at a time when I was reading a lot about 360 deals and label interference, and so that may have prejudiced me, but what I remember feeling was that they started working with people too soon. I can’t even confirm that they are working with someone. They recently did a Kickstarter to get back into the studio, though that could just mean that they no longer have backing.
They do have several videos on Youtube, both music and of them doing other activities, and I may have picked up that idea from the behind the scenes video for “Count to Ten”, that there was some funding and some direction. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is a remarkably generic video. It’s shot well enough, but with no imagination; there is an actress, but she doesn’t do much; and so the main innovation is different color filters. Maybe the song is not terribly imaginative, but I have to believe that if you think it’s worth doing a video you can find something.
And maybe the problem is that the songs are too generic, but there are roots with meaning in there. The songs I recommend most are “How Can You Say You Loved Me”, which has a different tempo and stripped down feel, and “A Way to Say Goodbye”, which has some real sentiment and sincerity. Those songs are starting to differentiate. There is something they can grow from there.
Anyway, that was just the impression that I get, which immediately made me listen to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. That’s the difference see.
In many ways it reminds me of Sunderland: you’re kids, which is fine. Now go live in a cramped van for two months and play little holes, or play parties while holding down mind-numbing jobs, or go build houses in Mexico or work with troubled teens. Earn the videos!
Anyway, I was left with these old impressions and not much to say, and today it hit me with two of the songs: “Friend Zone” and “Paranoid Bipolar Schizophrenic”. It probably helped that they played together.
“Friend Zone” was kind of a dumb term to start with, now really overused, that suffers from association with the triope of girls ignoring nice guys in favor of bad boys, when generally the ones who complain about that are not quite as nice as they think they are. So, if you are in the friend zone, there may be some valid reasons, even if it is merely a lack of commitment in your affection. You could probably still write a funny song about it.
Mental illness, on the other hand, is heartbreaking and can be really crippling. A lot of teens have one or more of those issues, and there are teens who are really worried that it is coming on, and it’s a serious thing.
I guess my problem is that the two songs sounded too much alike. Bands vary in seriousness all the time. That’s not a problem. Many bands have a distinctive sound, where you can always tell that it’s them, and sometimes that’s a bad thing and sometimes it’s fine. I still feel that in this case, songs on these two subjects should not sound this indistinguishable. They try to make the words fit, but ultimately they are still generic, which has me not caring about the one and offended by the other.
They are cute kids, and from a performance point of view they are fine, but I think they need deeper roots if they are really going to reach their potential.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

But it was a guitar too

I wrote the Monday and Tuesday posts a little over a week ago. I had shared aspects of the dream on Twitter and Facebook, and with my family, but the thoughts were still churning.  I wrote in my journal, and that still wasn’t enough. Finally I wrote the blog posts and held onto them while I finished up a different train of thought.

I prefer writing in advance, because it gives me a chance to re-write, and it’s less stressful. The downside is that the material can become outdated before you post. You see, I now have the guitar.

Obviously I was wanting it. I had not found one like it when I was looking before, but I was thinking in concrete terms, like price. I thought it would probably cost between $400 - $600, and I could manage $400. I wanted to see if I was at least close. The Gibson was a limited edition, so there was no point in checking there, but I thought I could do a price search for the Epiphone Flying V bass.

That took me to Musician’s Friend. I have watched some of their online segments with musicians talking about the equipment they use, including one with Frank Iero. That’s how I knew about the Phant-o-matic. I thought they were kind of a magazine, but they’re a store, and this came up right away:

“It’s you! I wasn’t even sure you were real, but it’s you!”

I admit that, from the dream, I did not specifically remember skull knobs with ruby eyes (which I am digging) or the dual humbucker pickups. The neck is not extra long, which is just as well. It already reaches my collarbone when standing on the floor. I can’t get a good picture of the whole thing. None of those things changed the sense of recognition. Looking at the others, they weren’t right. This was. And it was only $300, with free shipping. Yes I ordered!

Yes, I was worried that I was crazy. First of all, this is geared for metal. One of the reviews mentions using it for crusty punk, though, and that does kind of sound like me. Also, there’s the whole issue with me sucking at guitar. However, when I posted the dream, and the picture of the bass, everyone was really supportive.

  • “I saw Randy Rhodes play one like that once.”
  • “I can totally see you fronting a metal band.”
  • “I see you with this model.”
  • “Tyler can give you tips.”
  • “We need to have a bass off.”

Wait, what? Don’t you see that this is ridiculous? Or is that just me?

Thinking back to ninth grade, and Beginning Guitar, and I started to wonder if I was really so awful. I remember people who were much better, but they’d all had some previous experience, and I was a true beginner. What if I was just normal all along?

With driving, part of what worried me was how scared I was, which I later learned was normal. Driving and Dad disowning me was 17, but giving up on guitar was 14. 14 was also when that other thing happened that taught me that if any boy ever liked me it was a joke. That was a false message, but I internalized it. Maybe every time I’ve written myself off I’ve been wrong. And every time I have done that, it’s meant denying myself something that I’ve wanted, so I’m letting myself have the bass. I now own a bass, and I believe I will be able to play it.

I am swamped through May 25th, so I was thinking I would wait to start playing with it, but I have not been able to stick to that. It is nothing amazing. To give you an idea of my ignorance, playing the thickest string takes some finesse to keep it from bouncing off the frets – I guess I need to pluck upward - and I like the sound of the second thinnest string best. It nonetheless feels good.

Right now I am only exploring the feel and sound. Later on I’ll worry about learning which notes are which, and how sheet music for guitar is different from voice and piano. Pedals and amps and all of that will have to wait. Probably. I might want to get a case now.

I was worried about picking up bad habits this way, but it feels right. I always meant to get back into music eventually, and start finishing some of those songs I started. I thought it would be piano, or maybe drums, but okay. Maybe thoroughly exploring the sounds of this bass will help me to get these tunes out of my head and into the world.

This probably sounds like a very hippie-dippy strategy. Well, it is for a guitar that came to me in a dream, possessing both symbolic and literal power for healing my adolescence. I mean, magical thinking seems like as valid an approach as any. I don’t know; I’m still working things out.

Truly, I am working it all out. I wasn’t surprised that as I started leaning towards bass more I started listening to Violent Femmes more, because I associate them with strong bass line, but these past few days my mind keeps going to “Iron Man”, the one Black Sabbath song that really stands out for me. So even though it seems unlikely now, if at 50 I suddenly start a Black Sabbath cover band, the Sabbath Keepers, and that seems like the natural next step in this path that I am on, so be it.

Last week I did some shopping, and I stopped by Floating World Comics. I picked up some Fables, and I asked the clerk about Fast Forward #1. They did not have, but Cosmic Monkey might as he had seen #2 there. As we were talking, I explained somewhat apologetically that I was kind of a latecomer. And he was lovely, and what he told me was that was great, because I had everything to look forward to.

That’s kind of my whole life right now. I keep taking on so many new things where I am just a baby at them, and I want to do so much with the drawing and writing and now playing. It’s like every bit of creativity that I get out just triggers five more things that I must do. Time is a problem, and I feel out of balance trying to get everything done. I need to work that out.

At the same time, everything is so exciting! My world is amazing and beautiful. I guess in some ways it’s terrifying too, or it should be, but mainly it feels like kind of a rush. Maybe that’s because every time I learn that I was wrong, the reality is better than what I had thought. And that’s good, because it seems like I am perpetually wrong about everything.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

It was not just a guitar

Even having one interpretation that I feel strongly about for the first dream, I know I may find other layers at other times. I’m still discovering interesting things about it. I can only tell you where my head is now.
One thing with caring about all of these Twitter teens is that I worry sometimes about not being able to relate enough to them; they have dealt with so many things that I haven’t. On the plus side, a lot of people who are trying to heal have triggers, where hearing about things or seeing pictures can lead them back into their illness. Perhaps one advantage for me is that I don’t have any triggers. Nothing I see or hear is going to tempt me to cut or purge or kill myself.
Lately I have had doubts. I was safe from those things, sure, but I could see starting to feel helpless and depressed, and maybe doing some emotional eating, if I took on enough pain. Empathy’s good, and I value it, but it means feeling things.
I still thought I was pretty safe, but someone had gotten an Ask question: What is the worst dream you’ve ever had? It wasn’t my question, but reading it was enough. I knew right away. It was the one where my father stabbed me.
It was just a dream. It happened when I was 17, my age in the guitar dream. It was when he stopped speaking to me over the whole driving thing. Actually, I had a few bad dreams then. When I was awake I told myself that it was a relief to not have to deal with him, but my subconscious showed signs of stress, and that one was the worst.
In the dream I was stabbed in the stomach, and Dad disconnected the phone and left. I just remember lying on the floor bleeding and looking up at the phone, and knowing that even if I could make myself reach it, I did not have enough in me to get the phone plugged back in.
It was just a dream. For all of his flaws, he would not really do that. He never even hit me that often. He did hurt me though, and the emotions that I felt in the dream, of fear and abandonment and betrayal, were all things that I felt in my waking life. And helplessness. I felt helpless.
It was the phone. Being stabbed in the gut was bad, but the strongest feeling was that I couldn’t get help. I didn’t tell people what was going on. It was too shameful. My family knew he wasn’t speaking to me, but they didn’t know how I was feeling about it. They didn’t know about the nightmares. They did not know that I was suffering. He could walk away, but I couldn’t.
Anyway, that was over twenty years ago, and I hadn’t really thought about it, until I saw that question, and then it wasn’t leaving my mind. The last time I went through soul-searching, one of the conclusions was that my relationship with my father had a lot to do with my lack of other male relationships (http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2012/06/in-which-i-blame-my-father.html). I also decided that I was probably going to stay this way, and I had kind of made peace with that.
Other things have shown me that I may be wrong. Or maybe I am going to be single for life, and that’s fine, but there will be moments where I feel the loss more, and this is just one of those moments. The point is that right now I am wanting love, and as something that I admire and desire and think about, but that seems completely beyond me, where I am completely unsuited to any kind of success with it, a guitar is a good symbol for love.
When I reviewed Reggie and the Full Effect, I said that “Take Me Home Please” had me crushing on James Dewees, and that was not a joke. I have been listening to his music over and over, especially that song, and thinking about him and gazing dreamily at videos. Having gained a little perspective since I was a teenager, I know in many ways he is just a stand-in, and I’m not attaching too much significance, but still, I’m infatuated.
The point is, whether I responded to the song because I was ready to think about love again, or the song affected me and moved me into a state where I was thinking about it again, I’m here now. So James Dewees could be the guitar, and Frank Iero is the gatekeeper to James Dewees, which has a certain logic. Or maybe the guitar is just love. Either way, my father smashed it, and that hurts.
But he’s not here anymore! He’s not in my life, except to the extent that I carry him with me. The roots of my relationship issues and self-esteem issues run pretty deep. I don’t even know what my potential for getting past that is, but I need to figure it out.
Right now, even when my creative mind imagines someone desirable being attracted to me, I’m always asking them if they aren’t worried that they could do better. I might even have enough presence of mind to not ask it in real life, but I will still be thinking it, and maybe thinking it too much to not say it. That’s simultaneously insulting his judgment and not making me look that good. So probably if after this next period of soul-searching and study I can imagine not thinking or doing that, it would be a pretty good goal.
I knew I was going to be revisiting the issue anyway. Actually, everything is following a logical progression. I keep getting led to the next step, and I can handle that. It does leave room for a fair amount of surprises, including one big one that we will cover tomorrow.

Monday, April 22, 2013

My dream guitar: A story in three parts

I have written about dreams and interpretations before, with the most recent being about how the Family Blood story came about, and the most general and analytical being http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2012/06/these-dreams.html.
I had a new one a few days ago, which relates to an old one, and it’s opening a lot of things up, which we will be delving into.
First off, let’s start with the details of the dream. Frank Iero was bringing me a guitar. He was not current Frank, a rock star, but teenage Frank, a friend and only a friend (he had just started dating Jamia). We were probably both around 17. That’s how old we looked, and it makes the most sense based on other things. We were clearly both sad teenagers who loved music, but that club has a lot of members.
Frank was bringing me a guitar that he had helped me get, but my father stopped him, and did so in a way that I think the guitar was broken and Frank was roughed up a little. There was some other awkwardness and frustration, but I just remember being suddenly wide awake at 5:30 AM.
If you think it sounds like there’s a lot going on there, you’re right, but first I want to focus on the guitar. I remember being really taken with Dan K. Brown’s bass when I saw The Fixx:
At the time, I thought that was the most beautiful bass ever. Not any more. Mine was more beautiful, even if it was only from my mind. I did internet searches to see if there was even anything like it out there, because it didn’t seem likely.
It was a flying V bass with a long neck and it was all shiny and black. Yes, there are long neck bass guitars, and it turns out that Gibson once made a flying V bass, and Epiphone does now. They both have them in black, though not as shiny as mine. Also, both of those had white pickguards. That makes sense because then you can see the volume controls and everything better. I’m just saying mine was more beautiful. It would probably need to be a custom job, but actually Epiphone did work with Frank to create the Phant-o-matic, so them customizing, and the involvement of Frank, is completely legitimate.
There are other things that make it more problematic. First of all, I am horrible at guitar. I cannot stress this enough. My fingers are weak and awkward. I am physically clumsy trying it. My ear is good enough to know when I have it wrong, but I can’t ever make it right. I literally have less aptitude at guitar than anything else I have ever tried. (So that’s why it’s a bass! Just kidding bass players; you know I love you!)
Even if all that were not true, I’m short, so my arms aren’t particularly long, and neither are my fingers, which leads me to think that a long neck would not be the way to go. Even if a guitar were not a completely impractical acquisition, this one would probably still be. And yet, I could not stop thinking about it.
In the dream I had wanted it so badly, and was so excited to get it, so there was a real sense of grief at its loss, though that was somewhat overshadowed by the humiliation of Frank being exposed to my father.
So, the dream weighed on me, and stayed with me. As I was sorting it out, someone else posted about a dream on Twitter. Going back and forth about her dream helped clarify mine.
There was the symbolic, and the less symbolic. For example, I had just seen some pictures of Frank shortly before bedtime, so Frank showing up was not really that strange. Also, something had occurred two days previous where I was thinking of my father more, and so him being there kind of made sense too. I have been listening to a lot of guitar.
On the symbolic level though, and with that other thing making me think about Dad, there is a lot to it, and fairly emotional at that. I need to go into another dream, which I will do tomorrow.
For now I will just say that even though the guitar was not really a guitar, it is now literally my dream guitar. If I ever see one like it, I don’t see how I will be able to refrain from buying it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Concert Review: The Gaslight Anthem

I guess before I get into the concert I should say a little about the music in general, so you know where I’m coming from. The ’59 Sound is my favorite of the albums. It starts out with my two favorite songs, “Great Expectations” and “The ’59 Sound”, and then goes right into that great intro on “Old White Lincoln” and into “High Lonesome”, and that is just an amazingly strong opening for an album. I can only think of one stronger opening, with My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, and that is coming from a completely different point of view and trying to accomplish different things. 
My point is that if a few tracks into The ’59 Sound you are not tapping your feet and feeling good, okay, I guess we have really different tastes and I’m trying to respect that, or maybe you are just dead. And it has “The Patient Ferris Wheel”!
I am currently reading John Taylor’s autobiography, In the Pleasure Groove, and he points to the influence of church hymns on British pop, and attributes much of American music to Gospel, especially with the tradition of call and response. There’s a fair amount of that in their music, not just with the responses, but also with the sense of joy and elevation. That seems to be what a lot of the fans gravitate towards. They know all of the pain in life, but they turn it into something beautiful. That’s fair to say across all of the albums, even if I am playing favorites.
That sounds a little gushy, but I do admire the band, and I am not too cool to admit it. I can also be analytical though, and I will try and do that as we continue.
Last night Brian Fallon, lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, sent out a tweet with a very negative review of them. It was on the Vice site, so I guess it counts as professional, and maybe that was the problem, because it represented everything that turns me off about professional music writing. It was mean-spirited, with an attitude of superiority despite the lack of actual depth, and used ill-founded comparisons that made no sense.
It was interesting on one level, because my post on deciding against pursuing music writing has been getting hits again, and hey, this is exactly what I meant! Also, it reminded the band seems pretty comfortable with negative feedback. The main Twitter account has re-tweeted many instances of @JADEDPUNKHULK ripping on Fallon’s nerdiness, and they were the ones who forwarded Rachel Barber’s Tumblr post. Her post was influential for me in feeling comfortable doing reviews, in that she loved them but still made fair criticisms.
Links to both pieces, and my related blog posts, will be at the bottom. I kind of don’t want to refer people to the Vice piece, because I don’t want to popularize it at all, but I guess it provides background. For Hulk and Rachel, I totally see their points more now.
With Rachel’s essay, the line that really got me, after saying they weren’t that remarkable, was “Sometimes Brian Fallon’s voice is up to snuff, sometimes it isn’t.” That took me aback, because I was just starting to listen to them a lot, and I was constantly thinking, Whoa! They are so good! How can she say that?
With @JADEDPUNKHULK, I thought the nerd thing was because there are so many literary references in the songs. Of course, that’s actually pretty common with punk. I think they’re more on the side of rock than punk, but there are punk roots. (There is, however, absolutely not a Blink 182 beat, and certainly not on “45”.)
Besides, what I have been learning over the past year is that a lot of musicians are really nerds, though it tends to only come out in interviews; on stage they seem cool! (I don’t hold being a nerd against anyone anyway; that would be grossly hypocritical.)
Brian Fallon is kind of a nerd on stage too. Some of it may have been an acoustics issue, because he was trying to hear what the audience was saying and having no luck, which may have impaired banter. He was quoting Anchorman, and actually, he was quoting the best scene of Anchorman (the one with Jack Black), but I’m not sure that it registered with a lot of people. And his speaking voice is not as imposing as his singing voice. Also, I can concede that there are better singers out there. It simply does not matter.
The Gaslight Anthem is not a flashy band. They don’t have a fancy stage show, or costumes, or banter. They smile at each other a lot, so I believe that they love what they are doing, and doing it with each other, but they don’t even move around that much.
The most frenetic person is Benny Horowitz on drums, and he’s sitting down. He pounds those drums though, and he was kind of the most interesting to watch because of his high energy and his outfit, where with the sleeveless black t-shirt, long hair, and fairly new but still well-established mustache, he looked kind of metal, which is not how the band sounds.
The guitarists could have been jumping around and trading places –that happens with a lot of other bands— but they didn’t. I think Alexander Rosamilia would have been perfectly happy playing the show offstage. He waved to us at the end, but it was the first eye contact. On the other side, Alex Levine almost seemed to do some posturing at times, or maybe it just looks that way when a tall handsome guy is playing rock, whether he’s trying to or not. Again, none of that mattered.
The other input I had was from the liner notes for Handwritten, with a piece by Nick Hornby, and he was addressing it from the point of view of how it’s all been done before, so how do you try and say something new? You can make it really weird, or you can just make peace with it and try and be authentic.
I really don’t think The Gaslight Anthem are worried about their legacy, or where they fit, or anything like that. They just get up there and play, and it is amazing. The throaty voice does work, but it works because of the soul in the music. In many bands it is the job of the lead singer to flirt and coax and get the audience pumped up, and that’s not really what he was doing, but he didn’t need to. He just needed to be there, pouring out all of the emotions of their songs. There is intellect and there is skill and all of that, but mainly there is this heart.
I suppose their performance is kind of workmanlike in that sense, accomplishing the job with a minimum of stagecraft, but there is still that joy too. It infuses the music listening at home, and it becomes a shared thing with the crowd at the concert. We had shared joy.
Their inability to hear our requests probably had nothing to do with how many different songs they played, but they played a lot. It was a long set, and then the encore was longer than most bands do. They were so generous! For me, a good concert always results in me loving the band more.
I really love The Gaslight Anthem. More now than ever.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Concert Review: Westchester United Football Club and Matt Mays

I read something recently about a fan tweeting a musician upset that they were playing new songs instead of songs from the album, which offended the musician greatly, because he felt they were lucky to be hearing new things. (It wasn’t someone I listen to, and I have forgotten the name.)
As exciting as hearing new things is, I kind of get where the fan was coming from, because processing the previously unheard in a concert, with all of the distractions, is kind of hard. Live versions of the songs you know sound different, but there is still a familiarity that helps you comprehend what you are hearing.
That is a big part of why I have been trying to prep on opening bands too, lately, and I really did try for this show. The Gaslight Anthem had re-tweeted something from Westchester United Football Club, so I knew it was them, and they didn’t have a lot of songs available, but hey, that made it easy, and then seeing them live combined with the two songs on Facebook would give me enough for a decent review. It did not work out at all the way I expected.
First of all, from listening two the two songs on Facebook, Westchester seemed like a good match with Gaslight Anthem. I’ll call it chord-rich blue collar rock. “Pillow Talk” reminds me a bit of the Clash version of “I Fought the Law”.
When I walked in, though, it was one guy with a guitar doing an acoustic set, and it sounded nothing like what I had been listening to. I thought perhaps it had been a mistake, but no, the name was right. I was able to talk to him after the show, and something came up where they couldn’t get everyone’s schedules together, so he was improvising.
I was hoping I could pick up a CD, and have more to go on, but they don’t have one. They will be releasing more songs in July, as a free download, and so that’s something to look forward to, but for now, I can’t tell you a lot about their music really. As a band, I can tell you that if they are supposed to put on a show, they will put on a show, even if that requires significant restructuring, and I admire that. I hope they do well.
I will make one criticism, in that I think there name is overly complicated, and brings up a lot of wrong results in searches, so that may be something to think about.
In some ways it may have been good that they did not have the entire football club, because that stage was small, and pretty full with the equipment for just two bands. There was another band.
Matt Mays actually has a fairly extensive discography on Spotify, so I could have prepped a lot there, but I did not know about him. Opening bands are often changed around at the last minute, and that’s just how it goes, but I try to give them their due. So, I have not listened to everything by him, but a sampling, and I have seen him play. “Take It On Faith” is probably my favorite. Overall, I would say there is a sort of a 70’s rock influence as it was coming into the 80’s, with maybe some Blue Oyster Cult Influence, but kind of with 38 Special. I could be way off.
So, my first impression when they came on is that they didn’t seem like a band. Okay, it is a vocalist with a band supporting him, but they did not seem cohesive. In the center, Matt himself seemed a little grungy. On the right, two guitar players seemed a little more rockabilly, and then on the left a keyboard player and drummer, were maybe more indie rock. Actually, I didn’t get a good look at the drummer until they were clearing off, as the cymbal was blocking his face. It was a nice face though. And the keyboardist looked really familiar, but I could never place him.
Anyway, the initial impression was that they didn’t really belong together perhaps, and Mays was explaining that they keep trying to find a name for the band, but nothing sticks. That night they were The Burger Family, but the night before it was Chewbacca’s Sash. Well, that just confirmed the lack of cohesion to me, but they played really well, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves for all that, and this is despite issues like a cable coming out of the keyboard three times. So I was curious about that, and did some more research, and found out that they just lost their guitar player less than a month ago.
If something happens with my family or me, I have time off I can pull from. I have people who can cover my work load, and supervisors who will make sure that it happens. Musicians don’t get that. Things can go catastrophically wrong, and you can disappoint people, and you can lose pay, and you can run into penalties for defaulting on contracts. And you could decide to just deal with that to take time to grieve, or you can decide to take the proceeds and donate it to his children, which is what they’re doing. I really want them to do well too.
 “The show must go on!” We hear that so often that it feels like just a cliché, but Tuesday night it was remarkably real and vital. Two acts had to reconfigure and make it work, and they did. I find it inspiring.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bad reactions

We’ve seen a few tragedies. I usually don’t write about things until long after they are done, because it takes me a while to sort everything out, but then there’s always the next one. So maybe it seems like I am writing because of the Boston Marathon bombings, but I am really writing about Sandy Hook, and it all flows together.
It also goes back to the web harassment issue though, and many other things, where the point is that sometimes we make things worse without meaning to. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The issue I am going to spend the least time on is ideologically driven abuse. If you need to believe that a school shooting is a government conspiracy to steal your guns, so you will harass witnesses, and people who were trying to help, or if, without any proof, you start Muslim-baiting, I doubt my abilities to make a dent in your twisted motivations. I’m not actually into lost causes, though I can see how that impression could be given.
There are two other ways we make things worse, though, and I am very sympathetic to these issues, so I want to talk about it non-judgmentally, and maybe we can get somewhere.
The first issue is spreading rumors and misinformation. I get it. We point and click and find things instantaneously when we’re just mildly curious, so when we are shocked, and hurting, and worried, and we feel that more information will help us make sense of it all, we scramble for any scraps we can get.
Don’t think there aren’t people who take advantage of that. Whether it is from a desire to feel important, or a twisted enjoyment of misleading people, false reports are put out all the time. Some are almost true. A child really was one of the first dead, but the child was not one of the runners, and the picture of the little girl running and the little boy running were both not of the child who actually did die. They both got re-tweeted a lot though.
It takes time to get good information. Disaster leads to confusion, and doctors and police and mayors know this, and they try and double-check and get it right, because they don’t want people to be grieving or relieved, and then have it be wrong. They try to contact families first, so you don’t have your heart ripped out by a newscaster. Good information takes time.
Because we can’t manage waiting, we spread rumors that tend to sound worse, and make people feel more fearful. Suddenly there are shadowy figures on building tops, and Arabs are in custody, and there’s a woman whose boyfriend will never be able to propose to her. If someone really has footage, getting that image to investigators will be a lot more effective than endlessly re-tweeting it. For the human interest stories, aren’t there enough real problems to deal with? We don’t need the fake ones.
 The news knows that we are only interested in that story, so they play the same footage over and over again, and we watch it on that loop, and that is not good for us either. It just fuels our sense of outrage and helplessness, and that increases the odds of us making things worse. In the case of shootings, that endless news feed may influence the next shooter. We may not be able to change how the news is covered, but we can turn it off.
One of the things that really bothered me in the wake of Sandy Hook was that day multiple hate pages were put up for the shooter’s brother, after he was incorrectly identified as the shooter. That’s someone who was having a really bad day, and maybe he’s barely even noticing, honestly, but it seems cruel, as well as pointless. Even if they had the name right, what does hate-posting accomplish?
It’s very common when there is a case of animal cruelty for people to desire the same thing to be done to the perpetrator. I get it. I love animals, and cruelty to them makes me physically ill. I know the person who does it is a risk for taking that abuse to humans further down the line. I still know that wanting to beat them with a baseball bat, or ram them or blind them or any of the things they did doesn’t help the animal and it doesn’t help us.
I am very sympathetic to the desire to lash out. I have felt it before. I am also not at my best when I am feeling that, and not productive, and the lack of a clear target is only going to make that worse. Again, this may be a time to unplug.
So much of handling life is maintaining perspective, and that’s tricky. Yes, less people died in Boston than in Iraq that day. The news cares about one, and not the other. Some of that may be racism or nationalism, some of that may be proximity, and some of that may be shock because we are used to bombings happening in war zones but not at finish lines. And there were cameras in Boston. Don’t think that doesn’t affect it.
So to be able to be sad for the three, and for the thirty-three, and then to not be overwhelmed by the sadness, where caring for all the pain in the world leaves you curled up in the fetal position in bed, is a tricky thing. I have better days and worse days, and days when I see articles that I feel like I should read, because the subjects are important,  and that day I just can’t. Okay, my mental health is important too.
Part of that perspective is also being alive to the good. There were people who ran towards the explosion, and gave blood, and comforted those who were crying and opened their homes. That is good. Part of it is remember all of the non-tragic things that are still happening, even though they don’t make news. There are families and friends and birthdays and completed goals and spring flowers. That is good.
There are three other pieces of advice that I would give though.
  1. Read The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin DeBecker. We notice and understand more than we realize, and learning to pay attention to that, and listen to that inner voice, could help us to prevent future problems.
  2. Read The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why, by Amanda Ripley. Then, for when something can’t be prevented, having a better understanding of what physical and psychological factors are in play may help us better help ourselves and help others.
  3. Learn first aid. Take a Red Cross class where you learn first and and CPR. Join your local Community Emergency Response Team, where you learn other skills, like triage and fire suppression. Have that knowledge ready an on hand for whenever it comes up.
Okay, my coping methods are always trying to read and learn as much as possible, but you know, sometimes it helps.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Teachable moments

When we left off, there were disturbing, inappropriate things being tweeted at Frank, and I wanted to do something, but I wasn’t sure what. Suddenly, there was a regular tweet, not specifically to Frank, “Let’s face it, Frank’s not gonna reply me.”
I replied: “Well I wouldn’t expect answers to any sex tape or dog killing questions. That’s not fun for them.”
This is an abridged version of how the conversation went:
L: I’m just kidding around.
Me. I know, but I remember how at one point the band was pretty much all off Twitter? It was stuff like that.
L: How do you know? And I wasn’t the only one sending silly questions so
Me. I know other people are doing it. I’m just saying the band members don’t enjoy it, and I like them sticking around.
L: alright. I don’t think they’d get off Twitter at a time like this though regardless of tweets they get. But okay.
Honestly, I thought she was going to unfollow me, and I still felt like I was on probation for a few days after that. I think we’re okay now.
As it was, from the conversation alone it does not look like she really agreed with my point. There was definite resistance, because other people were doing it, and she was not being serious. I tried to really acknowledge that, but it probably still felt like an attack. You should not be doing that! With all of those factors, though, she still stopped doing it.
I think you will encounter similar reactions when raising gender issues, whether it is related to comics or gaming or jobs.
Some people will be irritated. This is how it’s always been done. It’s not really a big deal. It’s not hurting anyone so get a sense of humor and lighten up. Some will have a worse reaction, because they are personally invested in it, but you won’t necessarily know who’s who, and you won’t know what’s going on in their heads. There may be embarrassment that leads them to be more defensive, or they may be seriously offended that you are spoiling their fun, and they will very possibly believe that you are crazy for even bringing it up.
Last week I got to hear Tim Wise speak on racial relations. One point he was very clear on was that we don’t choose what lenses we view life with. There are things that you deal with or don’t deal with, and things you don’t have to deal with. As someone who is physically able, he did not have to think about getting into the auditorium. There may have been steps, or not, and he didn’t even notice. If he was in a wheelchair, he would. It doesn’t make him able-ist; it’s just the way it is. I knew that, but it is good to remember again that it’s not a matter of choice or thought, but really automatic, and so you don’t want to get angry at people for not knowing.
Now, when you are trying to tell people, and they refuse to know, that’s more problematic, but the starting point should be compassion, and a willingness to understand.
One point he made is that people do not like talking about race. Different groups have different reasons for that, but often with white people are afraid they will say something wrong and look racist. His point there was that saying nothing makes it easy for the racism to be assumed.
I know the way some people deal with this is to just say, look, we’re all racist and we need to deal with that. The problem with this is that “rascist” has really ugly connotations, as it should. You don’t want to identify with neo-Nazis or the Klan when that is so stupid and offensive, so how can you take the word that means that and say that’s you?
Perhaps it makes more sense to think of it in terms of lenses, and to just realize that there are things you don’t know, and accept that. You may say something stupid, or at least ignorant, but admitted ignorance is way better than ignorance that thinks it knows what’s going on. And, if you ever want to accomplish anything, you’re going to have to accept that you don’t know it all, and that pretending to is pointless.
It’s uncomfortable to find out that so much of your comfort is due to privilege, as opposed to being a manifestation of how deserving and good you are. That goes with race, and it goes with gender. In one of the articles that I read (I wish I could find it again), the author had, after a female coworker told him that her ideas were ignored, but accepted if someone else mentioned them, paid attention in a meeting, and found that was exactly the case. Teachers think they are calling on boys and girls equally, and observers think they are, but when they count, the boys are being called on twice as much.
These biases are so deeply woven into our fabric that there are going to be some pains in getting them out, but I believe those pains are growing pains. So much of what is wrong with the world comes from us setting ourselves apart from each other, and against each other. When you stereotype people, you are mentally stripping away their humanity, and turning them into objects. We miss out when we do that. We miss out on people.
And these issues are important. We can’t keep stacking the deck against whole bands of society. It makes for a stupid, unhappy world.
So, it appears that I will keep speaking up when things strike me as wrong. I do need to learn to do it better. With the Catwoman thing, I don’t think I did any good. I also don’t think saying it differently would have helped there. So I think what I need to do is contact DC.