Friday, February 27, 2015

Band Review: Milo

I may be premature in reviewing Milo now, because there is a tweet today about finishing the album two days ago. It felt like the right time to do it.

As part of the Hellfyre Club, which many of the links focus on, my listening was skipping around a lot finding different work, some by Milo and some not. I ended up focusing more on A Toothpaste Suburb and Things That Happen At Day // Things That Happen At Night.

There is a mellow feel to the music. Milo does rap, but it is rap that could be accompanied with lava lamps and crystals. The rhythm hypnotizes instead of attacks. It is fitting that it references Freud and Schopenhauer and bergamot.

At the same time there is a playfulness, where the video for "The Confrontation at Khazad-dûm" shows a day of sledding and a costumed white ape. Plus, it's called "The Confrontation at Khazad-dûm". (That's another name for Moria, where Gandalf battled the Balrog.)

There are many references to pop culture and geek culture. I had wondered if "Hellfyre Club" was an X-men reference, and I wasn't sure, but the Kitty Pryde references have to be. I find that the references to cartoons and games and television shows lighten the mood when the subject matter is heavy. There are serious things being sung, but then there are sly smiles inserted with familiar names and nostalgia. I found it enjoyable.

Music can be purchased via Bandcamp and iTunes.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Band Review: TAKNbySTORM

TAKNbySTORM reminds me of All-4-One. Some songs are slightly less mellow, but it is still in that vein.

The artist brings his personal faith and feelings into the songs, which is good, but at the same time it just doesn't seem to go deep enough. A song about starving children should stir deep emotion, but feels amateurish.

This seems to be more of a product of the lyrics than the music, with simplistic rhymes and phrasing. I believe is something that can be improved. It should be improved for the music to stand out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Selma - Lessons For Now

I don't know where I saw it, but I remember reading that the original script for Selma was much more focused on King. Part of DuVernay's contribution was broadening the focus.

It is important to do that. Martin Luther King Jr was gifted in oratory and inspiration, and more charismatic than most people, but he could not have done it alone. That is not taking anything away from King, just as the movie does not take anything away from President Johnson.

This is a story of many people. So you see Diane Nash. You may not realize how instrumental she was in the organization for the Selma Voting Rights Movement or know her history with the Freedom Rides, but at least you see her there.

Bayard Rustin is not the best known name from that time period; he was homosexual and that was at times considered to be a detrimental. The movie still shows that he was the one who had the connection to Harry Belafonte, and that is how you got a chartered plane full of celebrities to the final march.

There were many marchers, and many of them participated in organizing. Seeing Amelia Boynton beaten unconscious may lead you to her writing. Seeing Annie Lee Cooper (who had been a registered voter in Pennsylvania) be denied registration in Alabama may make the conflict more personal (and more satisfying when you see her punch the sheriff).

It is vital to see that there were people contributing of all races, genders, ages, and sexualities. It would be unfair to them, and poor gratitude, to diminish their achievements, but it is also important to remember that everyone has the ability to contribute now. That is an important lesson, but there are other lessons for those contributing now, or wishing to do so.

Activism is hard. It takes a toll. Sometimes it is a physical toll, involving tear gas and clubs and hopefully only bean bag bullets. It could just be aching feet. There is an emotional toll of abuse and exhaustion and being discouraged when nothing seems to change. Also, the emotional toll can take a physical toll.

You can take some tactical lessons from the movie. This is again where I will recommend Abernathy's And The Walls Came Tumbling Down, valuable not just for the warmth of his voice but for being written twenty years later and having the advantage of hindsight.

What I carried away was more the importance of interpersonal support. In one scene, King calls up Mahalia Jackson in the middle of the night because he needs to hear the voice of the Lord, and she sings for him.

What I saw in the movie is them needing each other. They feed each other and care for each other's children. They go on drives together to sort out their thoughts. They joke, and it may be gallows humor, but that can help too. And when there are fractures in their relationships, they need to address them.

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."  -- Audre Lorde

It is true. Eat, drink, and rest. That will still not be enough.

Do you have friends that you can call in the middle of the night? Find some. Find someone who will sing to you, or hug you, or tease you if that is the thing that you need, and do it back for them. The relationships will help you survive, and remember what you are fighting for.

It is all about people in the end.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Selma - Not Even Past

In the Oscar post I mentioned the excellence of the costume design. One aspect that I found interesting was the wardrobe worn by Common's character, James Bevel. He wore overalls, a denim jacket, and a skull cap while the other SCLC members were generally wearing suits. I eventually found this article by Tanisha C. Ford:

One thing it points out is that normally the clothing of the SNCC members would be more similar to Bevel's. The movie did not show that to keep individuals more clearly identifiable, but it is worth noting that Bevel's activism got started with SNCC.

Before I found that article, I had gone to the messages boards for the movie at, because I thought other people might be discussing it. Someone may have posted about it, but it was pretty hard to find in all the racism.

I was not really surprised that trolls were tearing down the movie; that the majority of them posted multiple times, repetitively, to drown out productive discussion; or that the complaints about the movie started before the movie was released. Being a glutton for punishment, I still read some.

One of the recurring themes by one of the frequent posters was that it was just stirring up trouble now. These things are past and talking about them stirs up bad feelings. I wish it were past.

Thursday will be the 50th anniversary of Jimmie Lee Jackson's death. (He was beaten and shot on February 18th but lingered in the hospital for several days.) The Voting Rights Act itself was signed on August 6th, 1965. It is not even at the 50 year mark and it is already being dismantled:

That's just one article. It's probably not alarming enough. Read more by Ari Berman. There is reason to be alarmed.

Police brutality is still a problem. I know, I keep quoting this from Spies of Mississippi:

"The Jackson Police Department operates with the best demonstration deterrent of any city in the country. In addition to Thompson's Tank, armor-plated and equipped with nine machine gun positions, the arsenal includes cage trucks for transporting masses of arrested violators, searchlight trucks, each of which can light three city blocks in case of night riots, police dog teams, trained to trail, search a building, or disperse a mob or crowd, mounted police for controlling parades or pedestrian traffic, and compounds and detention facilities to hold and house 10000 prisoners.

Along with these ironclad police facilities are new ironclad state laws, outlawing picketing, economic boycotting and demonstrating. Other laws to control the printing and distribution of certain types of information, and laws to dampen complaints to federal authorities."

Now, let's look at this article from less than a month ago:

Commissioner Bratton announced that the extra heavy protective gear, the long rifles, and the machine guns are "designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris."

Bratton later walked back that protests against police brutality should be handled the same way as terrorist incidents, but his other quotes and track record make the original quote seem more reflective of his actual beliefs.

There may be less vigilante lynchings now, but there are more executions by cop:

And the anonymous academy voter was offended by "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts, and school counselors and police sergeants have said they will run over protesters, plus one protester was hit by a car and the driver was not cited.

No, this isn't old news. Talking about it may stir up bad feelings for some, but there are bad acts already happening. Dealing with that is necessary, and I believe the movie helps.

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Faulkner was from the South too.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Selma and LBJ

One of the saddest parts of the backlash to Selma was the number of articles that focused on defending President Lyndon B Johnson, as if he needed defending.

I am mainly thinking of Joseph A. Califano Jr. and Maureen Dowd in this, but I think there were a few others. It's nonsense.

The movie shows Johnson hesitating to push through legislation on voting rights because they had just gotten segregation and he wanted to work on poverty; he didn't think he could get voting rights through. Once the climate had changed with the television coverage of Bloody Sunday, and some of the other news that was coming through, Johnson moved forward and it passed.

The movie never indicates that Johnson was against voting rights - it's pretty clear that he wants it passed - but he is being a politician. That was Johnson's thing. Do you know what the third book in Robert A Caro's series on Johnson is called? Master Of The Senate. It's not sarcastic. The combination of Johnson's political savvy and skill and his commitment to progressive causes was really important. I remember a history teacher talking about Johnson waving Kennedy's bones at Congress, exploiting the circumstances of Kennedy's death, but he used it to accomplish good things. He was also willing to alienate the South, which was a big deal.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was not against fighting poverty. King was turning his attention to that before his death, and in spite of his death the Poor People's Campaign still happened. It is largely regarded as unsuccessful, but a lot of the goals were accomplished. Johnson prioritizing poverty does not make him a villain.

Director Ava DuVernay, in commenting on it, said she considered Johnson to be a hero. Now, he is a hero who thinks about maintaining order at the same time that he thinks about justice, but that has been true of every president and remains true today. That is one very valid reason why some people that we can imagine making excellent presidents might legitimately prefer to not be president.

He is also a president that kept J. Edgar Hoover employed. I had never thought about that before, but it occurred to me watching the movie that Hoover would have been very hard to remove. Luckily, we had a good friend over for dinner last night, and we were talking about this. She had a quote for me on that"

"It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."

Point taken. Johnson didn't fire Hoover, but no one else did. He needed to die to get out of office, and that was serving under six presidents.

The other thing we talked about was Johnson's ambition. I tended to think of him as not ambitious enough, because if he had just been all out idealistic, we are going to go for what's right even if we fail, that could have meant not just pushing through more legislation without waiting for politically opportune moments, but also could have meant getting out of Vietnam instead of not wanting to be the first president to lose a war.

Cathy looked at it differently. His ambition was to have a strong legacy. (She got that from Doris Kearns Goodwin.) If you want to be remembered as a winner, then maybe you don't want to push legislation that is destined to fail, or withdraw troops.

The movie gives a hint of that when Johnson is meeting with George Wallace. Johnson is not only thinking about how he will be remembered (which Wallace does not care about), but Johnson is determined not to be lumped in with Wallace.

Selma has some unflattering portraits in there. In addition to Wallace and Hoover, there are Sheriff Jim Clark and Colonel Al Lingo. That covers some great performances in there from some actors I really like, but you do not come away liking these historical figures. That's not what is happening with Johnson. He is shown as flawed, but so is King.

I think part of the problem may be miscasting. Tom Wilkinson is a good actor, and he does okay, but his craggy face doesn't look very much like Johnson. If he had some of that Southern good ole' boy charm it probably wouldn't matter, but having neither the look nor the charm is a drawback. It's not a bad performance, but casting an Englishman is not always the right way to go.

I think the bigger problem, though, is a resistance to letting people of color be the heroes of their own movements. Some of it may be an adherence to the Great Man Theory, which I think is bunk anyway, and which Selma counters. There are many organizers shown, and many people who had been working with voter registration and education. To try and cast the march as Johnson's idea is an insult to them, and Johnson does not need it. The people who have a problem with that need to de-center.

We have seen many movies about Civil Rights, and Native Americans, and other cultures where somehow the protagonist has to be a white person. Mississippi Burning, Dances With Wolves, even Avatar going off-world has to fall into that trap. If you aren't comfortable watching people of other genders and races take center stage that is all the more reason you need to watch that type of content.

That breaks into a discussion for another day though. The message of today is that I am really fond of LBJ, and the movie Selma is not a problem for that.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Band Review: Ledisi

I have really enjoyed listening to Ledisi this week. She has a beautiful voice, but even more than that the delivery of the music is confident and joyful. That makes listening to her energizing.

I preferred The Truth (2014) and Pieces Of Me (2011) to her 2009 album, Turn Me Loose. I thought there might be some maturation going on and that I was responding to that. However, in 2008 she released It's Christmas, which is really fresh and well-done. It feels original, which often cannot be said about Christmas albums. So, I don't think any phase in her career can be discounted.

Special favorites of the tracks include "Pieces of Me", "I Blame You", and "Bravo".

Very much worth checking out.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Band Review: Common

Writing about Selma this week, it felt very important to have the music reviews connect with that as well. That was possible because there were two musicians featured in the movie, Common and Ledisi.

After having praised "Glory" highly yesterday, and seeing a kind of nasty criticism of it today, that feels even more important. That makes it frustrating that I didn't like Common more.

My opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. Hip hop is not my favorite area and I am not as well-versed in it. In addition, Common has such a long catalog that while I have been able to listen to all 10 of his albums this week, I have only been able to listen to each one once.

My feeling from that listening is that he is not a great rapper. There is a somewhat elementary feel to his rhyming and delivery, where it is not very complex. Also, I thought I had read somewhere that he eschewed profanity or the N-word or something, and while there is not that hateful feeling to the language that I often find, the language is still largely traditional.

Based solely on his rapping, I would say he is serviceable but not compelling. That does not give the complete picture.

First of all, he does have one song that I love. It is a collaboration, but he does a lot of collaborations and he finds some pretty good artists to work with, who do choose to work with him. Often the songs are really more R&B than rap, with strong instrumental accompaniment.

Also, one of the tracks that touched me most was "Pop's Rap Part 2/Fatherhood" where his father, Lonnie Lynn, does essentially spoken word. There is musical accompaniment, but the important thing is the sentiment, and it comes through.

One perspective could be that maybe Common is better at acting and music and poetry than rapping itself. There is nothing wrong with that. It's good that he can do multiple things.

At the same time, I can't discount that he does fit in with the larger movement. I was listening in reverse order, and when I got to his 1992 debut, Can I Borrow A Dollar, okay, that sounds like 1992. Also, that so many people are willing to collaborate with him may indicate a regard for him that is shared by fans of the genre.

I probably won't be seeking out more of his music, but for fans of hip hop it probably makes sense to check him out.

And of course, everyone should listen to "Glory".

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Selma - The Academy Fails

It wasn't a total failure. The nomination for Best Picture is reasonable, and for Best Original Song.

"Glory" is a good song in its own right, but the way it blends elements of spirituals and hip hop together - which have been about comfort and self-expression but have also been an important part of resistance - is a most appropriate representation of this movie that is both historic and timely. It deserves praise and it deserves the nomination.

That being said, there are three glaring omissions.

Costume Design - Ruth E. Carter

The wardrobe represented the era well and looked fabulous. I know Selma wasn't the only period piece. I understand the nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Mr. Turner, and for Anna B. Sheppard to make the title character's horns work in Maleficent gets her in there fairly. Inherent Vice doesn't have bad costumes, but I think Selma has better, and honestly the costumes for Into the Woods were not that special. There was nothing wrong with them, but Selma did better.

Best Actor - David Oyelowo

This is sort of a tricky one. The academy tends to recognize portrayals of real people, and four of the five nominees are for that - everyone but Michael Keaton in Birdman. All are apparently good performances. People who know say that Turing was not at all the way Cumberbatch portrayed him, but then if that was the script he was given and he did a good job with it, it's more like a regular fiction performance, I guess.

Regardless, Oyelowo did an amazing job with King. There wasn't really a physical resemblance between them, but the voice and mannerisms and the feeling was there, and that is not an easy role to pull off. Maybe it was close, and he nearly made it in, and with the competition it's not as glaring as the omission for Costume Design, but still, he should have been in there.

Best Director - Ava DuVernay

You knew this was coming.

Linklater and Iñárritu were going to be in there no matter what, I get that, but there was plenty of room for DuVernay in there, and she should have been in there.

I'm going to give my reasons for this, and some of these may be reasonably attributable to Paul Webb's screenplay, but my understanding is that the screenplay started in a very different form, and she spearheaded those changes, so I feel comfortable including them here.

One reason is the handling of the church bombing. It is a hard thing to see. It should be felt, but it is important to not be so overwhelming that the viewer can't get back into the film. I wrote Monday about how the scene fits into the scenes before, and that it is structured correctly; that could easily be Webb. In terms of deciding how to show it, that there will be the blast from the side, and that it is almost abstract, and then you are looking at the wreckage, and you see the dresses but not body parts, and it kind of looks like an oil painting. It is horrible but it is bearable, and that is exactly what it needs to be.

Another important scene is an informal meeting where the organizers are discussing the obstacles to voting, and it takes the form of a brainstorming session for what needs to be included in the Voting Rights Act. We have seen some of the obstacles in place when Oprah Winfrey's character, Annie Lee Cooper, tries to vote, but this scene needs to not only reinforce it, but fill in the blanks. That could easily be boring, but the way it is done makes sense, it gives you an idea of how to attack a problem, and there is a liveliness to it that comes from smart, determined people who like each other, but are passionate and can disagree, discussing it. Again, that could be at least partly Webb in terms of the writing, but for capturing the energy the actors and directors get at least some of the credit.

This leads to another point, in that DuVernay got some really good performances out of the actors. There were a lot of good performances, but I was especially impressed by Giovanni Ribisi and Cuba Gooding Jr, who often play more comic roles. DuVernay let them be human and dignified, and they could do it, but she let them. I respect that.

That is also giving credit to Aisha Coley's casting, and I will give credit to Bradford Young's cinematography too. The film looked great. Colors and lighting presented the images powerfully, the way they deserved. Film is all about the collaboration. Putting all of that together, the guiding hand over it all is Ava DuVernay, and for the movie to succeed on so many levels in so many ways is a huge achievement.

I have seen controversies over Best Picture nods not coming with Best Director nods more than once, and it isn't something I worry about a lot, but this one does seem glaring. I've seen the "brutally honest" anonymous explanation, but she also said there was no art (which was blatantly false) and criticized the politics while putting aside the politics of American Sniper in the same breath.

That source also had a strange fixation with Patricia Arquette's aging. Mainly that reminds me that you need to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with anyone else.

For me, the movie had a lot of images of old white men that were dinosaurs, and would have looked a lot like the people who make Best Director nominations. Maybe they didn't like that portrayal, but that's a lot of what makes them dinosaurs. The sooner their perceived relevance decreases to match their actual usefulness, the better.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Selma - Choices

If there were some moments in the movie where I was tense because I knew what was going to happen, there were others where not knowing did not relieve the tension.

When James Reeb's name was first said, I knew it was familiar but couldn't place it. It wasn't until they left the restaurant and were approached that I remembered "minister beaten to death".

With Jimmie Lee Jackson, I am not positive, but they might have avoided saying his whole name until after he was dead. Honestly, I probably still would have been slow to remember. Because I didn't know, all of my tension was focused on his grandfather, Cager Lee.

I saw Jimmie's passion for the cause, but I also saw his constant worry for his mother and grandfather as they participated in the demonstration at the courthouse and then the walk. The whole time I was afraid for Cager, and then Jimmie was shot.

Before that, I was thinking that maybe it would have been better for Cager to stay home. Yes, he cared, and for people who were being denied the vote the demonstrations were one of the few available options to make your voice heard, but then there is this worry.

I was thinking about that throughout the movie, with no good answers.

The movement had martyrs, and that contributed to the cause. Observers were outraged, it gave a clear picture of the situation and the stakes, and yet looking at any case before, you aren't really going to want it. Cager Lee was the first person in his family to vote, but if you had asked him to give his grandson for that, what would he have said? Then what if you had asked him to give his grandson for the Voting Rights Act, where it wasn't just his vote, but everyone's?

Actually, I'm pretty sure he would have said "Take me instead". It's not even that you don't always get that choice, but often it isn't obvious that the choice is being made. When you are walking into a line of mounted police, you know there is danger, but just leaving a restaurant like James Reeb was doing probably seemed safe. Of course it was an integrated restaurant, and he was in town for that walk across the bridge.

Viola Liuzzo survived the march, and before that she survived her NAACP activism in Michigan. She died giving marchers rides. There were catcalls, but the march itself was over. It could have seemed safe. Sometimes you die just because of where you are in the church when the bomb goes off. You don't know what will happen.

But you never really do. You can just as easily die because someone was drinking and driving, or because your car looked like someone else's car, or you slipped in the shower. The only thing you can really decide is to live well.

That means different things to different people, but it shouldn't mean oppressing anyone else. It shouldn't mean supporting the oppression of anyone else. It should mean being informed about what's going on around you, and not blindly accepting the status quo.

I don't feel like I do very much, and what I do tends to be more for individuals than for society, but there is guidance, and I am trying to follow that. That is worth developing. Sometimes that guide will keep you out of danger, or lead you out once you are in it, but even if the danger overtakes me, I want to know that I was in a good place, doing a good thing.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Selma - Emotional Impact

I am wrapping up a week of vacation now, which I will write more about later.

Having some free time, I finally went to see Selma on Tuesday. I had a strong reaction to it that may have actually been multiple reactions. Since it is Black History Month, this seems like a good time to write about it. In trying to think about how to get everything in, I can't do it in one post, so then it gets back to organizational issues

I think the place to start is with the emotional impact. I had not read a lot about the film because I didn't want to be spoiled. I did know there was going to be a reference to the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. It didn't help.

It happened early in the film. The way it was handled was perfectly placed. You saw the Kings preparing for and attending his Nobel Peace Prize reception, then the girls talking about how beautiful and fashionable she was as a start to their scene. After the bombing it goes to a meeting where one of the points made about the importance of voting rights was that if you are not registered to vote you cannot sit on a jury, and all white juries were continuing to acquit the perpetrators of terrorism and hate crimes like this. It was perfectly logical. It was also gut-wrenching.

I have seen the usual pictures of the girls, which I think are school pictures where they are in school clothes. I knew the four girls had died, but had more recently learned that another was injured. I also thought I remembered hearing "basement" somewhere. Somehow that led to a picture of girls in school clothes sitting in a basement, like maybe they were meeting after school.

No, it was on a Sunday. There were 22 people injured. I learned that later after realizing I didn't understand it. So when I saw one boy and five girls in church clothes - beautiful dresses, and so pretty - heading down the stairs, the picture changed. I realized it was coming. The boy turned back, and the last girl stopped, and it did not matter how close I knew it was, I was not ready for it.

I couldn't stop crying for a while, so if I am wrong about the next scene being King and Johnson meeting, that is why. It hurt so much to see it. It wasn't gratuitous, but it was enough.

One thing the movie did was remind me of the importance of seeing instead of just reading.

I remember once being out with a friend who was a young woman in the '60s, and she talked about seeing these things on television and how shocking it was. It was shortly after I read Abernathy's And The Walls Came Tumbling Down (I think that's why we were talking about it) so I had understood the strategic importance of being well-dressed and using passive resistance, and how that visual impact had been important. It is not the same as seeing it.

The movie showed that with the footage of the clubs and gas, but they also showed people watching on television, and I remembered my friend. One woman they showed weeping, and then volunteering, and of course that made sense that she would want to take action, but then I heard her say her name, "Viola", and there was that emotional thud. It was Viola Liuzzo. She was going to die from this. I knew something about her, but I didn't remember that it was the Selma march where she got killed. I will never forget that now.

I knew about the Edmund Pettus bridge, and John Lewis getting his skull fractured, but the image I had was of him in a hospital bed. Seeing him continuing to work with the back of his head bandaged was different. I read some comments from other people that seeing things in color made it different. Remember, there are a lot of people still alive who saw the original images in black and white.

There is a special impact that a moving picture can have. When it is put together in a strong narrative, it can be a very powerful thing.

If that leads people back to more books, that's great. There were a lot of people and names in Selma that don't usually get mentioned, but there is a lot more to know about them than the movie covered, or even could cover.

Selma reminds us that there is something there, and that it's important. That it is so timely doesn't speak well of us as a country, but perhaps that is just one more reason that there were so many tears.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Album Review: Fall Out Boy American Beauty/American Psycho

As long as we're reviewing new albums this week, I thought I might as well check out the new Fall Out Boy record, released January 20th.

I have a lot of love for Fall Out Boy, but the real reason I felt compelled to check it out is that the kids have been complaining so much.

The complaints have not only been about the music; there was even more fall out when the band announced they would be touring with Hoodie Allen and Wiz Khalifa, two hip hop artists. Fall Out Boy was not hip hop, so what were they trying to prove? Was this just a way to jack up ticket prices?

This was easier for me to deal with because when I was getting ready for the Keane concert I found out that they had collaborated with Wiz Khalifa, which seemed even weirder, frankly. Different artists collaborate with each other, and that's just a thing. I admit to having my own concerns about Pete Wentz going blond, which I blamed on Adam Levine. Actually, "Irresistible" reminds me a little of Maroon 5.

Some of the complaints were worse than others, and I am sure that there will eventually be a post on how weirdly possessive and controlling some fans can get, but this is just going to be my take on the album and the band.

One thing worth pointing out is that for Save Rock and Roll there were collaborations with Big Sean and 2 Chainz. Of course that record was all about the collaboration; other artists who were featured either on the album or in music videos included Elton John, Foxes, Courtney Love, and Tommy Lee. Taking the audio and visual together, it would be reasonable to conclude that for Fall Out Boy the answer to saving rock and roll was to work together across genres.

With the follow-up, PAX AM Days, they went in a completely different direction, a marathon recording session with Ryan Adams. Looking at the two together, that shows a commitment to trying new things. Being experimental has its downside sometimes, but it at least indicates a desire to fight complacency.

American Beauty/American Psycho isn't bad. It's different. I get the concern with that. Once upon a time when a band I loved released something new I would be excited, but then afraid to listen to it, because what if I didn't like it? (Now when I put off listening to something, it's usually because I have too many other things to listen to. There are worse problems to have.)

The first thing I need to say about American Beauty/American Psycho is that I am probably missing things. The title refers to two iconic films that were released a year apart. "Uma Thurman" has lyrics that bring to mind Pulp Fiction. I have seen none of these movies. There could be themes of the hollowness of the American dream, and they could be saying very smart things about it, and I do not know. On the plus side, this may align me more closely with the younger listeners, but I am surprised by how many teenagers have seen American Psycho.

There are other nostalgic references across the album. "Uma Thurman" references the theme song from "The Munsters", there is a "Tom's Diner" reference on "Centuries", and my favorite track, "Favorite Record" mentions Rancid. The title track has a layer of '50s feel, though it is more intense than actual '50s music.

While bringing in the Munsters theme as they do is kind of cheeky, in other ways the album is less playful for them, with fewer obvious euphemistic wordplay. Combining that with the nostalgia, it does make for a more mature record, in keeping with some of the themes of death and immortality. This is a more reflective Fall Out Boy, feeling their way around to their next steps. It's not The Black Parade level of profound, but that doesn't happen very often. It doesn't rule out them having that kind of an album in them.

I still think Fall Out Boy is doing interesting things, and it's worth sticking with them. If any band is used to fan complaining about the new material, it's them.

This does seem like a good time to quote Frank Iero, but there's really no such thing as a bad time for that, so here it goes:

“I like hearing what a band is up to when it’s not just writing a single. I think that’s when you get to really know what a band is all about. That’s when you love a band and not just the music. There’s a big difference between being a music fan, or a popular music fan, and a fan of a band. When you’re a fan of a band, you don’t have to like everything, but you have to follow them, because they know better than you do what their band is supposed to be doing. And when you do follow, and you do give it as many listens as it needs to have for you to like it or to appreciate it, then that band has opened your mind a little bit, and you’re a little better person because of that band, and that’s why you’re a fan of that band.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Album Review: The Amplifires Life's A Gamble

One of the nice things about doing reviews is seeing the bands that you take an interest in go forward. I've recently been able to listen to new music by The Amplifires, previously reviewed in June of last year:

One aspect of the initial review that was frustrating was that while listening to the tracks on Reverb Nation I had the feeling that the sound quality was not accurately reflecting the music. I am happy to report that Life's A Gamble, released on December 22nd, sounds great.

That makes it much easier to appreciate the instruments. The funk on the intro to "Fat Cats" stands out, contrasted with the more classic rock feel of the title track. Perhaps bassist David Brunt had more influence on the first, while guitarist Steve Rawlinson played more of a role on the latter. Realistically, they probably all work together to achieve the sounds they want. You can hear both of them blending with drummer Sandy Mitchell on "Watching the Walls".

Previously the strongest memory was of Sharon Clancy's vocals. The voice is familiar, but with the clearer resonance of the instruments it stands out more. There is something spectral about her voice, and when combined with the earthbound accompaniment it brings you to the right spot. I feel like there is something very '70s about it, but at the same time, I think fans of Concrete Blonde should check out The Amplifires.

The band seems to be getting some notice on independent charts, so let's hope that is a sign of good things to come.

Life's A Gamble is available through Amazon and iTunes, and some proceeds will go to Love Hope Strength:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bad at sports

I just wrote an entire post and realized it was the wrong one for today. It was related, but it went off track. I'll save it for later.

All right, I kind of stopped looking at myself at 6. Part of going through the pictures is remembering that I used to like how I looked. There is a really early picture where I think I look like the Gerber baby, and then some later pictures where the head full of curls reminds me of Shirley Temple. There was a loss there.

There was also a loss of knowing my physical capabilities. I thought of myself as fat and not-athletic, but when I was in high school I would go on six-mile bike rides just for fun, and I didn't think anything about it. There was some actual fitness there.

I was not a great athlete, but I did play volleyball, basketball, and softball on church teams. I was never outstanding but I did make the occasional outside shot in basketball. Even continually running up and down the court requires a certain level of fitness, but I didn't see that.

Some of that went back to grade school. When we would do the yearly fitness testing, there were two areas where I would always fail. I did great on all of the others, and that should have meant something, but I was just more aware of what I wasn't good at.

Those two were the flexed arm hang and the distance running. I believe the distance running was for endurance, and I don't remember how far we had to go in what amount of time, but for the flexed arm hang I know it didn't matter how long you were supposed to stay up because I could never get up in the first place. I had the same issue with the rope climb, which was not a part of the testing, but I had the same problems with it.

I never watched "Dave's World" on a regular basis, but I did tune in a couple of times, and one episode had Dave go to the school for one of his sons. He ended up in the gym with a teacher telling him to climb that rope, which he had never been able to do. However, the teacher told him to grip with his legs and scoot his way up, and he was able to do it.

It never occurred to me to use my legs and my lower body. I was trying to pull myself up with my arms. I thought if you were strong you could do it, and I was weak.

It occurs to me now that there might have been techniques that they could have taught us for running, like what stride to use and how to pace yourself - because maybe you need to work up to being faster instead of trying to keep up with the kids who are already fast and burning out early.

I feel like we had a very Calvinist view of athleticism; you were either predestined to be good at sports or you weren't. Fine, some people are naturally better at things, but I took some coaching classes in college, and there are drills and exercises and things to become better at the things you aren't good at. I guess if they are cutting P.E. classes there is no need to figure out how to do them right, but it seems unfortunate.

The other memory that comes back now was from junior high. I used to be decent at hurdles, and this one year I did them on field day and I knocked over every single one. A friend of mine started singing "I'll Tumble For You" when I got back. It was bad.

It had not occurred to me that my body was changing. It may have thrown off my center of gravity some. Instead I just saw it as more proof that I was not athletic.

Some time ago I made some calculation, and I realized that the weight gain really took off after I turned 14. It is hard to tell, because in addition to avoiding looking at pictures, I also really avoided weighing myself, but there seemed to be a change there. At the time I chalked that up to puberty, because I was not yet admitting that the other thing that happened at 14 had a psychological impact.

It's not necessarily unrelated. Two of the changes that came with puberty were my breasts, which were sizable and well-developed at an early age, and that might be part of what led to the harassment that day. Steve went straight for my shirt, and other guys had shown some preoccupation with them before. Everything relates.

My point is that without being able to accurately see or appreciate my body, I didn't understand what was gong on with it, and I lost things that way. It's been a long time since I've ridden a bike. That may come back easily, but I've tried roller skating again since the time when I was good at it, and that is not the same. Running up and down a basketball court does not feel good now.

I can probably get some of those things back, but if I had stuck with things then, that would have been better. Lots of high school students do hurdles at track meets, and they probably had to readjust after growth spurts, but they found a way. I probably could have.

Also, it's just really important to know that your body is good.

If you have a body, you are an athlete. - Bill Bowerman

I had thought that next week I would write about some of the things that I started focusing on instead, but I may take a break to celebrate Black History month, even though I have not done this year's reading yet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Losing touch with my body

As I write this, I am having to deal with my own shame about my body, and I know it has been destructive. There have been a couple of articles that have hit close to home.

That one was disturbing not just on its own but as part of a larger trend toward fat-shaming infecting health care. Shame about your body is not helpful. If there is any group that is not hampered by it, do not work against that, and don't pretend it has anything to do with health and wellness.

The other one was still worse:

It's not even kids on the playground; it's the school nurse. BMI is not great science anyway. It may not be completely useless, but I don't think it should be done on pre-pubescent children. Their bodies are still growing and adjusting at their individual paces, and this goes beyond ridiculous into evil territory. If the child is does have weight issues that need addressing, you can know without the BMI.

It hit harder because six was the age when it happened to me. I was also an active, healthy child, and I lost my ability to know that and hang onto it. The next two posts are writing about how that happened.

Everything that I had learned told me that fat was ugly, and I would use the word ugly to describe myself, or not attractive if I needed to be less blunt, because "fat" was so horrible that even saying the word was too emotional. The first thing that I did was stop looking in mirrors.

I didn't completely stop, because it was still necessary for brushing hair and some basic things, but they started being really quick and cursory glances where I was not really taking it in.

I did the same thing with photos. We would get school pictures back, I would look and see that they were ugly and quickly look away. Two years later, I would come across them and think they weren't really that bad, but this year's photos were horrible, and that cycle continued until I started hating pictures that were a couple of years old too, because I was so fat.

It is easy to believe that you are ugly, and easy to find reinforcement. In 4th grade there was apparently a boy that liked my butt. That was a weird thing, that I did not comprehend. In 6th grade there was a boy that called me Bubble Butt, and that I understood. Even in the past few years, when guys have hit on me (which has happened periodically) in my mind it indicated they had a fat fetish or something gross like that. It couldn't be real.

The thoughts that make it into your head are powerful. Being ashamed of them meant that I didn't say my worst fears out loud. Someone might have contradicted them then. I'm not sure if it would have helped, but I didn't really do anything to fight it. To be worthy of love and acceptance I was going to have to lose weight, and if you show an inclination toward that there is always someone willing to support you and offer tips, reinforcing that clearly you were right all along.

It is just very unfortunate that weight loss is difficult, and dieting changes you mentally. It's bad enough on its own, but when all of your future chances of happiness depend upon it, that's a lot of pressure for someone who has already learned to have a low opinion of herself.

Monday, February 09, 2015


The organization for this section of my writing is very difficult. There are a lot of layers, and they aren't even neatly stacked, but all knotted and twisted together. The insights have been good. Even just thinking about what to write this week I have made some connections that I hadn't before. There are just going to be a lot of detours along the way, and in some ways that makes it easier.

I have sort of an instinct about what to read when. One of the directions I have been led in recently is about dreams. I will probably write more about that later, but one reason it interested me is that I used to have more productive dreams, where I would get a lot of story ideas from them and insights about where I was in my life.

I had been in a rut lately, awake and asleep. All the dreams I could remember were about trying to get someplace and encountering obstacles, or having tasks to do that keep expanding. It's not that those dreams were not saying anything valid about my life - they totally were - but I was wanting more, both awake and asleep. I thought the reading might help me get unstuck, and there have been two dreams recently that have been kind of pertinent. I want to write about one.

I have written about finding one great friend in grade school and then a good group of friends in junior high. Things changed a lot in high school, and my friends changed too. Some of that was different activities and interests, but part of that was also just lunch schedules. It changed a little every year, but for a while I was eating with one old friend, one new friend, and a couple of people that I didn't love.

I still hadn't gotten into "frenemy" territory, because no one was doing any manipulation or power plays (or they went over my head if they were), but I didn't connect to the others as well. One of these was Michelle.

A memory that comes back to me periodically is that we were talking about marriage and how old we wanted to be when we got married and things like that. I thought I would be the first married because I was always all about that and the whole chastity thing. I said I thought I would be first, and Michelle contradicted me in a very knowing way.

She was correct - the people that I know of have all been married and I have not - but the smug way that she said it kind of bothered me, like she knew something I didn't. I would sometimes think that I should have asked why, and I had thought that recently.

Well, the night of the 6th, I dreamt of Michelle. We were riding a bus (public transit, not school bus) and we recognized each other so we were talking, but she had headphones on and she kept mishearing me. Everything she heard was insults. I didn't pick up on it right away until she repeated something, but then I was horrified and trying to correct her, only she kept the headphones on so it was not going well.

I went past my stop to try and fix it, quite a bit out of the way. I was trying to transfer to the MAX line to go home, and we ended up crossing the river into Sellwood. Finally she said, I guess as an explanation for why the communication was so difficult, "I am an unhappy and judgmental person." Then we hit the end of the line, and she was the relief driver so she left the conversation to go drive the bus. It occurred to me that I should have asked about that other incident, but she was already gone.

There are many things that I could see in this dream, and probably some things I am missing. I don't think I was insulting to her back then, but I do know that there are people I deal with now who take me wrong, and I think it is fair to believe that they are not hearing me right. It doesn't mean that I couldn't do things better, but there may be some points that it's not worth making.

That's just something I thought of now. What struck me then was that I do let other people's needs take priority over my own, sometimes pointlessly so. If she was that motivated to understand me, she would have taken off the headphones.

When I do this, I let other people set the course. Okay, I don't drive. That often puts me on the bus, I do run into people that way, and I am fine with that, but here she literally became the driver, and I was not.

I am working now with issues of communication, but also with issues of prioritizing my own needs. I know it has not been my strong point, but that was a highly visual representation of how far I can end up off course if I don't put my foot down.

The other thing that was nice was that it answered the question for me. I know that I have my insights now into how I got from there to here, including never having been married, but there was this thought that if I asked then maybe I would have learned something valuable. Now it clearly feels like a "no", she did not have any valuable insight for me. She didn't really know me or care about me, so she was not going to give me wise counsel.

The blogging right now is more about my past, and the things in my dream were really more about my future, for getting where I want to be (and for the present, for some of the things I am dealing with), but it all connects. As a person who was part of that time period that I am going back to, she was a good representative for the dream, but she also reminds me of what won't work going forward.

It works for me.